A Spinal Tap, A Syrup Spile and the Slow Drip of Refinement

“For You, God, tested us, You refined us like silver.” Psalms 66:10

Toward the end of February I attended a high school basketball game. Sitting in the stands with a couple of friends, I turned to one of them and made a modest attempt at small talk with the universal opener of “What’s new?” Since we talk on the phone regularly, she chuckled hearing that question because I most likely already knew the answer to that question. However, she responded with, “Just waiting for syrup season.” Walking through a season of so much unknown personally, I quickly responded with, “I’m waiting for any other season than the one I’m in.” We both laughed at that statement and continued on with conversation amidst the varying levels of gymnasium sounds that were all around us.

A few days after that conversation, I felt drawn to research the process of making maple syrup. Specifically, I wondered what biblical aspects one could derive from the process. I called my friend who was more than willing to explain it all because producing maple syrup was not only her family’s small business adventure but it was something she was passionate about as well. She explained how the trees are tapped to draw out sap. When the bags are full they are taken to a building called the sugar shack where the sap is boiled down and made into syrup. She compared her family’s very traditional process to that of mass producers who don’t tap the trees but vacuum them in order to increase the amount of sap collected. She explained the comparison because the traditional/manual way of producing syrup was more timely but produced a richer and tastier product than anything the mass producers could make. I took plenty of notes but couldn’t quite pinpoint any key biblical aspects tied to maple syrup. So I prayed for insight and let the idea go.

Fast forward to last Friday, (five days ago from the date of this post and nearly two months after that phone call with my friend. Last Friday I found myself in a hospital emergency department, waiting on the outcome of my daughter’s spinal tap. For over a week she had developed symptoms of tingling in her hands and feet that moved into her legs and arms and was accompanied with excruiating pain. She was hospitalized for three days and screened for multiple sclerosis. All labs and scans came back clear so she was discharged. On the day of discharge she was unable to walk without the assistance of a walker. The following day she was seen by her primary care provider. She was told there was nothing physically wrong with her but that her condition was 100% psychological. At this point she was paralyzed but told it was “all in her head.” Thus, I took her to the local emergency room where we stayed for three days waiting for an inpatient mental health facility to accept her.

While in that ER, her condition continued to deteroriate. I was at a loss as to how to help her. I also couldn’t understand how her brain somehow had shutdown to the point that she convinced herself she couldn’t walk. Thankfully, one ER doctor and one neurologist kept digging for answers and after she had lost her leg reflexes, a spinal tap was ordered. The test results led to the diagnosis of Guillain-Barre Syndrome. Turns out, there was 100% something physically wrong with my daughter and left untreated, could have quickly worsened or become fatal.

After the spinal tap was finished, my daughter had to lay flat for two hours. She had been given some medicine to sedate her in order to keep her still. To allow her time to rest, I stayed in the waiting room area. While in there, a nurse friend of mine, who just happened to be visiting my daughter at the time they decided to do the spinal tap and stayed with her during the procedure, came to visit me. When I mentioned I was surprised with how long the procedure took she explained that a spinal tap draws fluid off the spinal cord in the form of a slow drip. She further added, “It’s like harvesting maple syrup.” That statement was all I needed to recognize what God was speaking through the process of maple syrup.

God sees and knows everything about us, especially all the impurities we hold within us. These impurities can look like bad habits, self-destructive thinking, wrong friendships or relationships, etc. These things can weigh us down or even interfere with God’s calling for us. God longs to draw them out just as dross is drawn off of silver during the refinement process. At times, God draws things out of us suddenly. Every day someone wakes up and has a “sudden” realization that they need God, need to change or need to repent. God changed Saul into Paul through a “suddenly” moment. But more often than suddenly, God’s refinement process in us is like a slow drip similar to a tapped maple tree or the process of a drawing fluid off the spinal cord. David’s life is a prime example of God’s drawing out process. Time and time again, David found Himself in a situation that He had to wait on God to redeem. God didn’t do it suddenly, He did it in the form of a slow drip. But He always sustained David during the waiting providing him the strength needed to endure until God brought deliverance.

What God pulls out of us He can use to diagnose what’s crippling us spiritually. Depending on what He draws out, He can also “boil it down” into something more beneficial to us that ultimately brings Him glory. Most people liken refinement to that of being in a fire, melted down into the Jesus’ image. But another perspective of refinement is the act of the Holy Spirit tapping into us to draw out all that keeps us from being who God created us to be.

If you are in a refinement season, be encouraged that God is doing a new thing in you and your circumstances. If you’re not seeing His hand in your circumstances, He could still be drawing things out of you. If you’re feeling like your in the fire, it could be God boiling you down into the creation He made you to be. If you’re praying for God to change someone’s hardened heart, keep believing He will do it. God has already tapped that hardened heart and is drawing everything out that caused it to petrify. But just like the process of tapping maple trees or conducting a spinal tap, God’s refinement process happens at the pace of a slow drip. Just as a maple syrup producer covers the spile with a bag and walks away, trusting the spile to do its job, we must cover the person in prayer and walk away, trust God to do His job also.

Don’t grow impatient and try to vacuum all of it out of yourself or the person you’re praying for. Just as mass production produces a less quality product than traditional boiling, our attempts to manufacture our own miracles will not produce the outcome we are praying and hoping for. Trust God and trust His process. Just as a syrup maker has to keep a careful watch over the sap during its boiling process to ensure the product doesn’t burn, our Maker keeps a careful watch on us and will keep us from being burned up in His refinement process also.

You Have Already Been Chosen

“Even before He made the world, God loved us and chose us in Christ to be holy and without fault in His eyes.” Ephesians 1:4

Everyone, at some point in their lives, waits to be chosen. In grade school this may have looked like raising your hand and waiting to be called on by the teacher or being the first selected for the playground dodgeball team. In high school this may have been waiting to be selected as the captain of an athletic team or the drum major in marching band. For me, it was making the varsity cheerleading squad when I was only a sophomore, landing the roles I would audition for in school plays and being asked out on a date by my latest crush. For me it also meant having a dad who chose me, who stepped in when my biological father had stepped out and opened his heart up to love me as if I was his very own flesh and blood. Each choosing provided me some value but my dad choosing me, that’s where I placed my value the most. That is, until my dad died. For many years of my life, losing him meant losing his choice and losing my value. Although I met God in the emergency room the night my dad died, I had no idea that He had already chosen me or that my true value came from God alone.

Recently, during an online Sunday morning sermon, I heard a pastor tell his parishioners that we are all a chosen people. He went on to quote someone who believed that if you exist, if there is breath in your lungs, then you have been chosen. Chosen for what? To be God’s minister and voice to the lost and the hurting. During my morning prayer time the following day, God reminded of this sermon. In my prayers I confessed that in this life, it really doesn’t matter who does and does not choose us because we are already chosen by God. Suddenly I remembered all the waiting I’ve endured throughout my adult life. Waiting for what? Waiting to be chosen again. My dad died 40 years ago and I’ve spent those years trying to replace the value he gave me. I also have tried to overcome the message of no value my biological father gave in his choice of walking away. This has ended in much heart break and too many opportunities for others to define my value. It’s led me down a slippery slope of morphing myself into someone I was not made to be simply to fit in or please the company I was with. This has included toxic and/or controlling relationships with employers, significant others, long term friendships and even with select family members. How often do many of us run after value through people, careers or material things?

What was God’s answer to what I told Him in prayer that morning? God showed me that my dad didn’t choose me. God chose my dad for me. God knew the man my biological father was and the dad he would never be. So God sent my dad, a man who loved and protected me, to gift me with a glimpse of just how my Heavenly Father loves me. This is true with every provision God has given me right down to my career, my children, even the modest home I have raised my family in. God chose me to love Him and to love others. He also chooses other people, circumstances and things to show His great love for me (and you.)

My dad loved me fiercely, but he was human and no human love can come close in comparison to God’s love for you or me. I once heard a true story about a father who gave his youngest child a very expensive watch. He did it in front of his oldest child. As he was gifting this watch to his youngest offspring, he looked at his first born and said, “When you make something out of your life, I will buy you an expensive watch too.” This father died before he could keep that “promise” leaving his oldest to believe his value was defined by his father’s definition of success and measured through the cost of an over priced arm ornament. This father missed out on seeing his oldest as the person God made them to be: a person who fiercely protects their family and friends, a business owner and provider for their family, a person who loves unconditionally and who works harder and more honestly than their father ever did. Also a person who plans to someday buy their own expensive watch as proof that they are not what their father saw in them.

God will never define our value through material things. He doesn’t define our value through a relationship status, body size, hair/skin color or job title either. God doesn’t even define our value through our ability to bare a child or not. This one is especially important to women because marriage and motherhood still seem to be determiners of value placed on women even in 2023. God defines our value one way: while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:8). How much does God value us? I know it sounds cliche but He thinks we’re too die for. to God, we are more valuable that the world’s most expensive watch. We are worth dying on a cross bearing all condemnation and sin. Like a shepherd cares for his sheep, we are worth leaving the 99 and going after the lost one. God’s love for us outweighs any measurement of human love and human value.

Are you waiting to be chosen? Are you chasing after people or success to prove your worth or replace the abandonment or judgement from your own father (or mother)? You can stop waiting and you can stop chasing. You are already chosen and more valuable to God than you will ever be able to understand or conceive. No watch, career, relationship status or other human definition of success will ever give you the value that God already gave you when He created you. His value isn’t meant to understand either. It’s simply meant for embracing and accepting even though it’s beyond human comprehension.