Fear

I have a couple of fears about God.

And by ‘a couple’ I mean ‘I could fill a book and still come up with a few more things for the cover’.

I fear God is angry. I fear he doesn’t like me. I fear he is actually indifferent and doesn’t even care about me one way or the other.

I fear that he enjoys withholding things from me or giving them to me and then snatching them away. I fear he is disappointed with me. I fear he doesn’t want to know me at all, really.

I have many fears.

I think about this sometimes. I know that God isn’t really like that. I mean I know it but I don’t always know it. I tell myself that God isn’t like that, and then I end up feeling guilty that I’ve been thinking the wrong things about God, so of course he wouldn’t like me at all then, would he?

Today I was thinking about this again, and I wondered what God thinks about it. Usually, of course, I assume he’s angry that I’m getting it wrong again. Which is exactly as helpful as you would imagine. But really, what DOES God think?

Of course I can’t really know what God thinks. But what would I think, if it were me? Suppose my best friend came to me and said she was afraid I don’t like her. Suppose I found out from someone else that my best friend thinks I get a kick out of withholding good things from her. How would I feel?

I can tell you how I’d feel. I’d be absolutely devastated. I’d wonder how she could possibly think that. And I’d wonder what I could do to convince her of the truth. My priority would not be on telling her off for  believing lies; my priority would be on trying to restore the relationship, on gently restoring trust.

I’m pretty sure God is sad when I, and other people, believe things about him that aren’t true. But I’m also pretty sure that he values the relationship and wants to maintain it.

I’m sure that he wants me to trust him. And I’m sure he is safe,

The City

A long time ago I wrote a story. It was a little bit about counselling and a little bit about other things. This month, after more than six years of weekly counselling, I have switched to fortnightly sessions. Because while there is still plenty to talk about, it feels like ‘healthy’ is no longer on another continent with shark-infested waters in between. So last night I read my story again and I wondered… if I wrote it again today, how would it end?

It was dark in the City where the Girl lived. She’d seen photos of when she was a very small Girl, photos of herself in a field, but she didn’t remember that place. All she remembered was the City with its narrow streets and tall buildings that completely blocked the sun. There were no other people there; just the Girl and the Dog.

Sometimes the Girl wondered who had built the City. It was so large and the wall around it was so high… why would they build it and then move away? Why did they leave the Girl to take care of it all alone? She wondered this as she carefully repaired the walls of the tall buildings. She wondered it as she painstakingly tended the garden where nothing grew. She wondered it as she checked the City gate, making sure it was secure. She wondered it as she listened to whispers that sounded like the ghosts of those who had built the City. She never saw anyone but she heard their voices constantly. She wondered and wondered but no answers came so she shrugged, picked up the Dog, and returned to her house in the middle of the City.

Of course the Girl didn’t always stay there. She left to visit friends or to walk in the other gardens, gardens where trees grew. She left, but she always carried with her a picture of the City and she looked at it often in secret. She didn’t show it to anyone. No one knew where she lived and she was careful not to be followed as she made her way home. When she was in the City she was as grey as the walls themselves and she didn’t want other people, those bright blue and white people, to see how dingy and dark she was when she took off her colourful coat. She was ashamed of the greyness that she couldn’t hide when she came home to her City.

After a long time, many years, the Girl opened the City gate to let the Helper inside. She didn’t show her the whole City. How could she? Even the Girl didn’t know all the streets. The Helper looked around curiously. She saw the high walls and the tall buildings that blocked the sun. She saw the garden where nothing grew. She listened to the whispers and she understood them as the Girl never had. Finally she spoke.

“If you let me, I can help you tear down the tall buildings. It will take some time and we’ll have to be careful but when we’re finished… then you’ll see the sun.”

She spoke with compassion and hope, but the Girl didn’t hear. She was too busy repairing the walls of the empty buildings and methodically, lovingly, polishing the shiny lock on the City gate.

Seize life

Seize life! Eat bread with gusto, drink wine with a robust heart. Oh yes – God takes pleasure in your pleasure! Dress festively every morning. Don’t skimp on colours and scarves. Relish life with the spouse [people] you love, each and every day of your precarious life. Each day is God’s gift. (Ecclesiastes 9:7-8)

My devotional this morning, based on the above passage, asked this question:
What pleasures do you enjoy that you think God might enjoy with you?

This question was surprising. I have a number of things I enjoy doing, but I have to admit that I often have a vague sense of guilt about them. The activities themselves are fine – knitting, reading, going for a walk, having a nap, sitting in the sun – but they feel like things I’m doing instead of spending time with God. I don’t read the Bible and pray during these activities, and after a full day of doing stuff like this (or squeezing the fun stuff in around work) I often go to bed, see the devotional Bible on the shelf next to my bed and feel bad that yet another day has passed without me ‘getting serious about spending time with God’.

And then I read this morning’s question and that kind of turned everything on its head. Because I HAVE been spending time with God. I haven’t been intentional about acknowledging it, but that doesn’t mean God was absent.

I was chatting with my housemate last weekend and I said that one of these things I am really enjoying about sharing a house with her and her family is how comfortable it is to be in the same room without speaking. We are all voracious readers, and often spend time sitting in the same room reading silently together. Occasionally someone will share a quote or a thought, then we go back to reading. Hanging out together, sharing thoughts if we feel like it, but mostly just enjoying the comfort of having someone else there.

My time with God – what I think is my time with God – is not like that. I try to make it structured. Ordered. Discrete. This block of time right here is me-and-God time, so I need to study hard, come up with an action point and pray the right things in the right way. And then heave a sigh of relief, put the Bible away and get on with the things I enjoy doing.

But not today. Today, I made of point of saying to God, “I’m going to do X. Will you come and do it with me?” Yes, of course I know that he would have been with me anyway, but saying it helped remind me that I was doing the things with God. All the things in my life are things I do with God. Today, God came to work with me on a Saturday and didn’t mind. He hung out with me while I was reading my book. He ate vanilla slice with me. He was there while my friend and I watched telly and chatted.

God and I, we seized life today. Together. And it was good.

Passions

Last weekend, I injured my back. I did it by… actually, I have no idea. It was fine, then it was a bit not fine, then it was very much not fine, then I was starting to black out from the pain. (That happened over a couple of days, not the 3.7 seconds it took to read the last sentence.)

I am fairly certain – and so are two doctors and a physio – that it was caused by my job. In particular, the repetitive movements I do all day, every day. I will be making some adjustments when I go back to work on Monday but some movements are simply unavoidable if I’m to do my job. So we’ll see how it goes. But in my pain-ridden, prescription-drug-filled state earlier in the week I decided I would have to find another job, because this pain is unbearable. Nothing like clear, rational thinking and decision making when you’re at your best, right? I spend some time scrolling through a job website and decided there are NO jobs available, and I have NO skills and there are ZERO jobs that I can do and by the way I have no interests either and therefore I totally SUCK and I’m useless.

(See previous point about clear thinking.)

Once the drugs had kicked in a bit more, and after I’d seen the Sorcerer (er, I mean physio – who spent 3 minutes, if that, pushing at a spot near my spine and managed to improve my range of motion by about 300% and decrease my pain by a comparable amount… it’s sorcery, I tell you!) I decided that rushing off to find a new job right this instant is probably not the wisest option. But it got me thinking about what I would do if I wanted to change jobs.

I know I could do another admin job. I’m really good at it. I’m also a good editor, and if I put in a bit more effort I could probably get a lot more freelance work. These are my skills. But what are my passions?

That was – is – a much harder question. I think it’s a harder question because I want to neatly align my skills and passions, but I can’t do it. I’m not passionate about admin. I can do it, I’m good at it, and I find it quite enjoyable to bring order to chaos. Passionate about it, however? No. I’m not passionate about admin. I’m barely even enthusiastic. If I’m honest, I don’t even like the word passionate all that much. It implies a certain level of commitment, and suggests that if I am not DOING ALL THE THINGS then I’m not really passionate; I’m more of a slacktivist. However, I can’t come up with a better word right now, so I’ll reluctantly stick with it. And I think these are my passions (at least, they are right now):

I’m passionate about women and girls.
That is, I want to see women safe from emotional, physical, sexual, spiritual and financial abuse. I want women to have access to safe medical care. I want women to be free from sexual coercion and rape (both in relationships and outside them). I want women to have access to education and employment in all areas. I want women to know they have a welcome place in their society regardless of their income, marital status, parenting status, job, looks, size, weight, health or education. I want women to be valued as human beings, not as (only) wives and mothers – which means I want to see unmarried and/or childless women treated the same way as wives and mothers. I want girls to have choices beyond princess culture, a sea of pink and a life of ornamental inactivity. I want to see women truly empowered, not believing the lie that empowerment means stilettos, nude celebrity photo shoots and pole dancing ‘exercise’ classes.

I’m passionate about Health At Every Size.
The website says it best:

Health at Every Size is based on the simple premise that the best way to improve health is to honor your body. It supports people in adopting health habits for the sake of health and well-being (rather than weight control). Health at Every Size encourages:
* Accepting and respecting the natural diversity of body sizes and shapes.
* Eating in a flexible manner that values pleasure and honors internal cues of hunger, satiety, and appetite.
* Finding the joy in moving one’s body and becoming more physically vital.

Related to this, I’m also passionate about exposing the truth about dieting (ie, diets don’t work, and about 95% of people will gain back all the weight AND MORE after 5 years) and getting past society’s obsession with food regulation, labelling foods as ‘good’ and ‘bad’, and being thin at all costs. I suspect some of my friends would call me obsessed, not passionate…

I’m passionate about children’s ministry.
This doesn’t mean I want to teach Sunday Club for the rest of my life. Or even at all, just at the moment. It means I want to see children’s ministry taken seriously and treated as important and valuable. I want to see children welcomed in church as believers, not as disciples-in-waiting who have no place in the Christian community until they’re in their late teens. I want to see kids’ ministry given the same weight as ‘big church’ – it’s not a babysitting activity, it shouldn’t be cancelled at a moment’s notice (would you cancel the ‘main’ service if the preacher were sick?) and it is vital to select, train and support your leaders with care and wisdom.

So… those are my passions. Is there a career path there? Yeah, maybe. But maybe not. I think what I’ve learned from this exercise is that I do have things I care about, and I’m already ‘active’ in various small ways. And that’s okay. Perhaps, one day, it would be good to have a job in an area that develops one of my passions. But for now I’m simply happy to have clarified the things that matter to me.

(For the record, I’m also passionate about sci-fi, chocolate, relaxation and caring for my friends. Not necessarily in that order.)

Reflections

I moved house about six weeks ago, which means for six weeks I have been using a bathroom that doesn’t have a mirror in it. There was a full length mirror tucked away in the back of my wardrobe, so I got it out and attached it to the wardrobe door with about 50,000 sticky mounting squares. It turns out that in a heatwave you need about 70,000 sticky mounting squares and maybe some superglue, otherwise the whole thing will slide off the door at an unexpected moment and bounce on the carpet. Happily, it didn’t break, but it left me without an easily-usable mirror. I have propped it up against the wall for now but in order to see what I’m wearing I need to stand well back, and to see my face I need to hunch over at a weird angle. Kind of like this:

gollumThe upshot of this has been that I haven’t looked in the mirror much lately. Which has been an interesting thing, in that I have found that I haven’t really worried about how I look. I haven’t spent ages on my hair… although to be honest that is nothing new. I saw my hairdresser yesterday and she asked me a question about my blow-drying routine. I said it consisted of turning up the air vents in my car on the way to work. But I also haven’t fussed too much about making sure everything is Just So before I leave the house. I have a quick look and if I look reasonably respectable with nothing out that should be in, then I’m done. It’s been good.

There are mirrors in the bathroom at work, and I do occasionally go in there and think “Oh, so that’s what my hair looks like today”, but I haven’t worried too much. It is what it is (and what it is, is curly and a bit unkempt, and all the fussing in the world won’t change that anyway).

But here’s the interesting thing. Yesterday I bought a bathroom mirror. I like how cheery it looks with the purple walls, and it was only $10, so why not?

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But this morning, I got up and fussed about my hair. I looked at blemishes. I felt depressed about my broken teeth. I peered at my fat face, wishing it were smaller. I found more wrinkles. And then I went into my day feeling fat and ugly and old and wrong.

This was unexpected, to say the least. Now I’m in a bind. I want to keep the mirror, but I don’t want to feel bad every day. Of course, the mirror didn’t cause all of this. It’s not a magic mirror. But having it there threw me back to some unhealthy habits of self-criticism and body hatred. And now I know that, and I can be aware of it. So I guess what I need to do is look in the mirror. Just look. Looking is fine. Listening? Not so much.

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A bad rap

The other week in church we had a sermon on John 11 – the story of the raising of Lazarus from the dead. One thing I’ve always liked about this story is what it says about Martha. Usually, the only thing anyone knows about Martha is that she rushed around the house doing stuff and whining about her ‘lazy’ sister Mary, who was sitting at Jesus’ feet listening to him. She is the classic cautionary tale about getting too busy to listen to God. In many Victorian girls’ books, the characters who bustle around doing things are called “little Marthas”. Yet in John 11, this is not the Martha we see. In this story, Martha, who is grieving her brother’s death, has this interaction with Jesus:

When Martha got word that Jesus was coming, she went to meet him. But Mary stayed in the house. Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if only you had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now I know that God will give you whatever you ask.”

Jesus told her, “Your brother will rise again.”

“Yes,” Martha said, “he will rise when everyone else rises, at the last day.”

Jesus told her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Anyone who believes in me will live, even after dying. Everyone who lives in me and believes in me will never ever die. Do you believe this, Martha?”

“Yes, Lord,” she told him. “I have always believed you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one who has come into the world from God.”
(John 11:20-27, NLT)

This doesn’t sound like someone who is too busy to listen to God. This sounds like someone who, even in the middle of her grief, knows the truth and has always known the truth. Her faith in Jesus is absolute… even though he didn’t come to save her brother.

I love this view of Martha. I love that the busy Martha is not the only one we get to see in the Bible. I love the reality of it – sometimes she gets it right, and sometimes she doesn’t. But there was another thing in the story that I had previously missed. It’s about Thomas.

Thomas is another person in the Bible who has a negative reputation. We know him as the disciple who doubted, who needed to see and touch before he would believe that Jesus had risen from the dead. Like Martha, he is a cautionary tale – even today, a skeptic is called a “Doubting Thomas”. But in John 11, we see a different Thomas. Here’s what happens:

So although Jesus loved Martha, Mary, and Lazarus, he stayed where he was for the next two days. Finally, he said to his disciples, “Let’s go back to Judea.” But his disciples objected. “Rabbi,” they said, “only a few days ago the people in Judea were trying to stone you. Are you going there again?”

Jesus replied, “There are twelve hours of daylight every day. During the day people can walk safely. They can see because they have the light of this world. But at night there is danger of stumbling because they have no light.” Then he said, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but now I will go and wake him up.”

The disciples said, “Lord, if he is sleeping, he will soon get better!” They thought Jesus meant Lazarus was simply sleeping, but Jesus meant Lazarus had died. So he told them plainly, “Lazarus is dead. And for your sakes, I’m glad I wasn’t there, for now you will really believe. Come, let’s go see him.”

Thomas, nicknamed the Twin, said to his fellow disciples, “Let’s go, too—and die with Jesus.”
(John 11:5-16, NLT)

Thomas – doubting Thomas – is the first (and possibly only) disciple to jump in there and say ‘Yeah, it’s really dangerous … but you know what? Following Jesus is more important, even if it means we die.’ He didn’t say ‘show me that you are the Messiah’. He said ‘I will follow, no matter what it costs me’.

We all doubt. We all get distracted and forget about Jesus. But wouldn’t it be sad if that’s all anyone ever remembered about us? If that’s all we ever remembered about other people? Sometimes we make mistakes. Sometimes we hurt people, and do things that make people think our faith is shaky. We get hurt and annoyed by other people and their stupid and thoughtless actions. Maybe, when those things happen, it would help to remember Martha and Thomas, who made mistakes, but who were willing to stake their lives on following Jesus… and who are so much more than their bad raps.

Lessons

Today was my first day back at work after nearly five weeks off. It went so fast! I kind of knew it would, but I’m still surprised at how quickly it zipped by.

Of course, I had a few things to do. Like pack up my house. And move. And unpack. You know, small stuff like that.

Although I’ve moved house a lot of times before, this particular move has felt like a big one. I think it’s because it’s brought a lot of changes with it, including…

…rehoming my cats. (This actually happened before the move was decided. Long story, but the upshot is they both have fabulous new homes where they are pampered, well loved and very happy.)

…severely culling my possessions. I’ve gone from a two bedroom unit on my own to moving into just one room (plus some bits and pieces) in a well-established household. Astute readers of my blog will know that I’ve been banging on about minimalism for quite some time. Actually putting it into practise, for real and in a major way, has been exciting. And rather terrifying at the same time.

…house sharing. I’ve shared many times in the past, so it’s not an unknown. This time I’m sharing with a friend and her two kids, which is rather different. I haven’t lived with kids since I was one myself – or at least since my little sister was, and I moved out of home when she was 12. Happily, these kids are very awesome and I love them (and already spend heaps of time with them) so I’m not too worried about that adjustment.

My counsellor asked me, before I moved, if I had any concerns. I said my only real concern was about food. I still have a few disordered-eating habits and behaviours that I haven’t quite managed to let go of yet, but it’s difficult to engage in ED behaviours when sharing a house (and meals) with people. So really, my only concern was that I might not be able to fall back into unhelpful and unhealthy behaviours. That I might actually do some more healing. Ha. That’s not a bad concern to have, is it?

After the move, she asked me what I’ve learned in the process. That was a hard question, but I think the thing that stands out the most to me is that I really don’t need stuff. And getting rid of it – or about 90% of it – has been incredibly freeing. I kept clothes and bedroom furniture and one bookcase. I kept my knitting, crochet and embroidery things, and some art supplies. I kept sentimental items like photos, and books that my dad got as Sunday School prizes in 1941. The rest? The lounge room furniture? The kitchen items? The TV? The dozens of things I’ve moved from house to house because I loved them 20 years ago or because they were a gift from someone I never see anymore anyway? GONE. All gone, and it feels great. I feel light. I feel free. I feel like I am now surrounded by only the things I love, the things that comfort me or challenge my skills or make me happy. It’s a great feeling, and I’m so happy to have made this move so I could find out just how much I don’t need.

A depressing shopping trip

I went bra shopping today. There are some really lovely bras out there.

And then there are the bras that are made for people my size.

Let me be clear… whilst I hover between regular sizing and ‘plus’ sizing (ie, I buy larger sizes in a regular store but I can also shop at the lower end of the plus stores) I am by no means an uncommon size. It’s not like I’m asking for a 26GGG – I acknowledge that it’s not financially viable for places like Myer to stock loads of non-standard sizes. But for goodness sake, I just wanted a lousy D cup with a band size somewhat larger than 12 but smaller than 20. And yes, they had bras in my size. Mostly, they looked like this:

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Utilitarian, and always beige. Okay, I get that they need some reinforcement, but do they have to be so ugly? But what really bothers me about this is the implication that larger women don’t need nice underwear. Who cares what the fatties wear, right? If they happen to be in a situation where undressing is involved, they should just be grateful they’re getting some. But of course that’s never going to happen anyway, so we’ll just stick with the ugly underwear. Like it even matters.

I know that sounds like a huge leap, but it’s part of a larger culture that wants fat people to be invisible. Try shopping in the plus size section of Target or Kmart or any other non-specialty store (like, where most people shop) and see what clothes are available. There is an ocean of black, because it’s slimming. Occasionally there will be some solid colour items – usually red or purple – and VERY occasionally there’s a print. Most items are wide leg trousers and long, draped tops. And baggy tee shirts. There is nothing fitted and there are no cute sundresses or flared knee length skirts. There are no jeans unless they have an elasticised waist. Because these things apparently ‘don’t suit’ fat people. Which can be translated as ‘these clothes allow society to see their fatness instead of covering it up in shame’. That is NOT okay. No one, no matter what their size, needs to be ashamed of their body. People rarely try to tell skinny people how they “should” dress (although ignorant, thoughtless people are often more than happy to say things like “look how skinny you are” or tell thin women that only ‘real’ women have curves – which is also not okay). So why is it acceptable to dictate to fat people how they should dress? Hint: it’s not.

Anyway. I ended up searching through pretty much every rack and managed to find a few bras in my size. I don’t mean I managed to find a couple I like; I mean I eventually found the half dozen bras in the entire store that came in my size. They’re not pretty, but they’ll do the job. Now, I do know that there are plenty of places that cater for non-standard sizes, and I know I’d be able to find nicer underwear there. But those places, being a niche market, are usually massively pricey. Like most women, I have one or two expensive but really nice bras. However, since I don’t want to spend every night hand-washing my lovely bra so I can wear it again the next day, I have chosen to fill in the gaps with some cheaper, less awesome bras. Like everyone does. And it ticks me off that a quick trip to the shops for some okay underwear becomes this massive production where I have to search through rack after rack after rack to work out whether they even make that bra in anything above a 14C, then grovel on the floor to find the ONE bra left in my size, if I’m lucky. Frankly, that sucks and it’s humiliating. I want the same choices that everyone else has. If they’re making a 12A bra in purple velour with silver polka dot straps, then I want it in my size too, please. I might not buy it, but I want the option. I don’t think that’s too much to ask.

Changes. Lots of them.

I have moved house a few times. I’m at my 11th address now, although the first one doesn’t really count since it’s where I grew up. I mean, yes, I lived there, but it’s not like I had to furnish it or buy the teaspoons or anything. I moved out of home in 1991, when I was 20. I moved again in 1994, 1996, 1997, 1999, 2000, 2002, 2004 (interstate move), 2006 and 2008. My furniture, which was in storage 2004-2006, also moved a couple of times without me.

I’ve been in my current address for almost six years. I like it here and I’m very settled, so… hey, guess what? I’m moving house!

I know, it’s insane. Except that it’s actually not. Truly. It’s very sane.

So I have this friend. (Just the one. No need to go crazy with this whole ‘friendship’ thing.) She’s a lot of fun. She’s also kind and thoughtful and willing to feed me dinner, so I go around to her house a lot (…at meal time). I babysit her kids and shamelessly use them as blog fodder. It’s a good arrangement. We’ve joked for a while that we need to build a tunnel between our houses to make it easier for me to come over, since I’m there so much. But it turns out that an even better idea than the tunnel – and requiring less earth-moving machinery – is for me to move in there. When we first talked about it I thought it was a great idea… then when I found out I’d get the main bedroom with the ceiling fan and en suite I knew it was an awesome idea. No self-interest there at all. None.

It’s a pretty big move for both of us. It’s a big deal to have someone else living in your family home, and it’s a big deal for me to give up a rather awesome unit to move into one bedroom, but I think it’s worth it.

And I’m not just saying that because my friend reads my blog.

Although I love living alone, the past couple of years of hanging out with my friend and her family has shown me that I’m getting very tired of it. For two decades (wow, I’m old) I have alternated between living alone and sharing and I enjoy both, but six years alone has been too long. I’m so ready to go back to sharing. I’m a 43 year old introvert, so I don’t want the wacky-crazy-best-friends-who-do-every-single-thing-together-and-live-on-2-minute-noodles kind of sharing that I did in my early 20s. But I want to know there are other people in the house, even if we’re all doing our own thing. To be able to share housework and cooking and bills. To know that I will be rescued if I accidentally lock myself in the toilet. (My current toilet has no window, just an exhaust fan. I’ve spent six years worried that the door handle will somehow jam or fall off and I’ll be locked in the toilet with no way out, waiting for someone to realise I’m missing. My friends all think this is hysterically funny, and if I’m missing off Facebook for a few days I will sometimes get a message asking if I’m trapped in the toilet. My friends are mean.)

So I’m spending this part of my holidays packing up my house. I can put my things in storage at the new place (there’s a huge shed) but I don’t want to do that. I will store some things, but mostly I’m selling or giving away or donating to charity. And I’m loving it. I’ve talked about minimalism before and I’ve done quite a bit of culling, but this… this is different. This is an opportunity to pare down to ONLY what I really need or really love. It’s kind of scary, to be getting rid of 80% or more of what I own, but it’s exciting too. It feels like an opportunity to clear the slate and work out what really matters to me. The people in my life matter. The things that bring me happy memories matter. The things that help me love God and love his people matter. The things that bring me joy and contentment, like writing or knitting or drinking tea from my Nan’s teacups or walking in the sunshine – they matter. Tables and muffin tins and vases? Not so much.