Stained Glass

For years, I’ve been fascinated by stained glass windows. Other than the obvious reasons for their appeal—the way they add an interesting element to a room and how they change colors according to the light shining in from outside and that they have limitless possibilities for artistic expression—I also appreciate how difficult they can be to construct.


There’s glass-cutting, welding and soldering, painting and sealing. There’s sharp tools and hot kilns and noxious epoxies and a material that can easily crack and break. No doubt being a stained glass artisan is a methodical and sometimes frustrating job with cut fingers and strained eyesight.


None of the outside windows in my home contain stained glass, but I do have seven old, discarded stained glass windows hung across two of my kitchen walls. I collected them over the years from antique stores, some pricey and some dirt cheap. Though they don’t catch the sun’s rays, they still brighten up a boring off-white corner above our kitchen banquette.


All of my collection are just for show. They have no practical purpose or function. They don’t keep out the winter cold or the summer heat. My windows are just there to look pretty. But the stained glass windows in ancient churches and cathedrals had a real purpose. Besides insulating the people inside from the weather outdoors, they were designed to tell a story.


In medieval times, artists would work with church leaders to create a Poor Man’s Bible. They would explain the narrative of the Bible to a mostly illiterate population through a series of pictures. One whole window might be filled with panes depicting the story of Jesus’ birth. Then the one next to it might have pictures only relating to the book of Genesis.


I can just imagine an uneducated laborer walking into one these Gothic structures and sitting down on a hard, wooden pew. He would look up in awe at the massive glass story boards surrounding him as he pieced together these epic sagas from God’s Word.


I am a window, in a way. Just like those complicated and exquisite stained glass windows in medieval churches, I have the ability to tell a story, too, but my story will be more effective if it isn’t just hung on an off-white wall—decorating without educating, adorning without informing, embellishing without enlightening. The story I have to tell will be so much more powerful if I allow a bright, sunny light to pass through the colored panes. If I can deliver my testimony from the point of view that God’s light has shown through every moment of my life, it will be a compelling story, for sure.


When we remodeled our master bathroom several years ago, I decided we needed to have some kind of clock in there to let my husband and I know if we were on schedule while getting ready in the morning. I found a large clock on clearance at Hobby Lobby that would do the job, so I hung it to the left of the mirror where it could be easily seen.


Since it was the right size, color and price, I didn’t really pay much attention to anything else. It wasn’t until I had it hung on the wall that I noticed why it may have been on clearance. It wasn’t that it wouldn’t operate correctly—the hands ran clockwise and the Roman numerals were in the correct order. The flaw was something more subtle.


It was designed to look like a giant, old-timey pocket watch. The metal frame looked aged with a faux bronze patina. The paper face of the clock was cream with slightly darker splotches of color, suggesting this antique piece had sat in a dusty French shop for centuries.


The key giveaway that it had actually been made in more recent history was the wording on the clock. Just below the XII, it reads, “Antiquité de PARIS” and just above the VI, there is a date stamp: 1987.


Now, you’re never going to see me on the Antiques Roadshow, identifying myself as any kind of expert, but I’m pretty sure something made in 1987 isn’t a genuine antique. (If that’s true I need to raid my parents’ house to see if they still have any of my old Pound Puppies, Swatch watches or dresses with shoulder pads.)


Though the clock doesn’t live up to its implied promises of being a valuable antique, it does keep time fairly well with the occasional battery replacement. So judging by its usefulness, it’s a good clock.


In Matthew 7, Jesus warns his disciples about teachers who would weren’t what they claimed to be. He said, “Beware of false prophets who come disguised as harmless sheep but are really vicious wolves.You can identify them by their fruit, that is, by the way they act.” (NLT)


He wanted them to be on their guard for inauthenticity, knowing that it is sometimes tricky to spot a fake. In Luke 6, Jesus explains further that, “A good tree can’t produce bad fruit, and a bad tree can’t produce good fruit…A good person produces good things from the treasury of a good heart, and an evil person produces evil things from the treasury of an evil heart. What you say flows from what is in your heart. (NLT)


Though He gave them this advice thousands of years ago, it still rings true today for us. We are how we act. What comes out of my mouth is a big indicator of what is in my heart. Being authentic is more than just being transparent about all our mistakes. It’s also about what comes next—actions which reinforce a life dedicated to love and truthfulness.

No more playing

On Saturday, I helped my husband dismantle the wooden play set our kids no longer use. When we first bought it, a dozen years ago, it was our daughters’ favorite spot. It had swings, monkey bars and a trapeze bar with rings where I showed them how to “skin the cat.” (That’s where you hold on to the rings and flip your feet over your head.)


Along with the swing set, there was a little house just a ladder-climb up. It had real glass windows that slid open and close just like the ones at home. There were shingles on the pitched roof and a plastic, green slide you could whiz down for a dramatic exit.


The play set survived a move from our original home to a second location. Soon after we moved it to our current backyard, I spent one hot afternoon painting the inside of the little house: the walls in chalkboard paint so they could add their own decorations and the ceiling to look like blue skies with white clouds and the floor to look like different types of rooms—tile for a bathroom, checkered linoleum for a kitchen, carpet for a bedroom, an oval, braided throw rug for a living room. I painted the inside of the door to look like it had a stained glass window design of white birch trees standing in front of distant mountains.


You could argue that I loved the play set as much as they did. But time marches on, and now I have three kids in high school. My youngest is still in elementary school, but he hasn’t shown much interest in it in a few years. Instead, his focus is on the soccer goals standing near the play set or the bike in the garage. My kids just stopped paying attention to the play set.


If this were a children’s book, the ending would be different. If it were like The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein, you would see the play set giving of itself until all that was left was a few rungs of the ladder and a broken tire swing. Since that would make my kids like the boy in the story—selfish and negligent of the needs and feelings of others, I’m okay with it not being that particular story.


If I could choose, I would rather it be like The Little House by Virginia Lee Burton. In that story, the house is built out in the country. It’s lived in and loved on until the bustling city crowds out the area and the little house is hidden by the train lines and the towering skyscrapers. Just when things look bleakest, the descendants of the original owners jack up the house and place it on a trailer. They drive it out to a new place, farther out in the country where it can be lived in and loved on again.


Sentimental as I am, I was hoping someone would do the same for our dear play set, but it was too complicated. Taking it apart is hard enough, but reconstructing it would be even harder. A few people looked at the structure, but no one decided it was worth all the hassle. I can’t blame them—it’s been sitting out, exposed to the elements for a while and it shows, but it was sad to pry up pieces and toss them in the bed of the pickup truck before hauling them to the dump.


This is one of those necessary phases of parenting. The fact that they don’t play like they used to has been true for a while, but growth is gradual. When you suddenly realize it’s time to box up the Barbies or give away the train table, their evolution out of childhood becomes more tangible. It breaks my heart a little, but I can say for sure that this deep bout of heartache is absolutely worth the years which preceded it. I wouldn’t trade watching these kids play for anything.