Friday, July 4, 2014

On Fireworks and Freedom

I step out onto the stairwell and take in the 4th of July fireworks show by myself.  It's one of those perfect Abilene nights where the breeze hits just right, and I can't stop smiling.  The sparks fall glittering over the town, and I am thankful.  I am thankful for Freedom.  The pure grace of being born in this country is not lost on me.  The life I am allowed to live I will never take for granted.  But maybe it's the light breaking through the dark, the colors raining, the wind in my hair, but I'm thinking about Freedom.  I'm thinking about how it is more than a declaration or a constitution or a set of laws to be upheld.  It's more than patriotism and pride.  How many American flags wave in front of the homes of people still held captive?  

And I exhale it soft.  I am thankful that I have been set Free.  Will you teach me to walk in that Freedom?

I fiddle with the bracelet on my left hand.  It was woven out of red thread by women in Nepal.  I think about how God doesn't see international borders in this world He created.  I think about how we aren't all free.  I remember the sound of fireworks down the street from the little foster home I lived at when I was in China.  The construction workers would set them off each time they completed a new section of the building to ward of evil spirits.  I think about how we all have our demons.  I look out across this town I am growing to love so deeply, in a way I never imagined.  The words come like a whisper, "for such a time as this."  I think about how poverty can live right next door to affluence, and it can be hard to tell which chains are stronger.  

I think about what a Revolution can mean to a community, a nation, a planet.  

But this is not a revolution of independence.  No, this is a revolution of complete dependence on the One who said: 

The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me,    because the Lord has anointed me    to proclaim good news to the poor.He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,    to proclaim freedom for the captives    and release from darkness for the prisoners,to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor    and the day of vengeance of our God,to comfort all who mourn,    and provide for those who grieve in Zion—to bestow on them a crown of beauty    instead of ashes,the oil of joy    instead of mourning,and a garment of praise    instead of a spirit of despair.

Yeah.  Give me that kind of Freedom.  Sign me up for that revolution.  He came and valleys were raised up, mountains made low.  The captive was set free and the prisoner was released from darkness.  And it is for Freedom He set us Free.  And what does that look like?

The big finish of the show begins and I can feel a cry rising up from my heart. My own Declaration:

I want to see strongholds bursting into flame.  I want to become more like You, proclaiming freedom for the captive and release from darkness for the prisoners.  I want to know what it looks like to live out of the Freedom You purchased for me, and then, I want to go and do that.    

Friday, June 20, 2014

On Stillness, Simplicity, and Solitude - How I'm turning 24, and turning life upside-down

In one week I will turn 24, and that is worth celebrating.  So the Montana roommate bakes this beautiful cake and we all hop in the car to meet my sweet pianist friend for dinner.  There might have been more of us, but in that moment, four is the perfect number.  The restaurant is nearly empty.  We pick a corner booth, and there is laughter and there are trick candles that almost set off the smoke alarms (Word to the wise: save the trick candles for private parties!).  Memories are made in laughter and in tears (especially when the laughter draws the tears), but they are solidified in the silence.  And we have that too, those moments where we simply exhale and enjoy being together.  It is some kind of wonderful when we find those certain people and certain places that teach us how to breathe and how to be.  I think of all the joy this time has held, joy that I might have missed had I been in my usual distracted state.

But I am on vacation this week.  No, I haven't left the red couches of my apartment, haven't left the streets of this town that has become home (to think I am starting my seventh year here!).  But I have done much.  I have stayed up late into the night until my eyes on their own grew heavy and slept until my body was ready to wake.  I have gone on runs and plopped on the couch.  I have studied the Word, soaked in great books, and had private movie and TV show marathons.  I have brewed pots of coffee in the middle of the afternoon and sipped it slow, instead of chugging it down as some desperate source of energy.  I have been decidedly unproductive, as well as decidedly productive.  I have begun to re-find balance, and it has been wonderful.

And I've noticed that.  How I feel such strength when I am rested.  How I can so easily (if that's even possible) take both the good and the bad, the light and the burdensome in stride when I have space to breathe and process.  How I can accomplish so much when my mind isn't cluttered and my work is not pressured.  I can feel it getting into my very bones, this love for the quiet, the still, the small.  Each moment has its own abundance of life held within it, its own experience of the sacred, so easy to miss in the distraction and the chaos.  But when we choose to still, to create space, we taste the moment and we see the beauty and we find that He is good.  And it makes the laughter richer and the conversation sweeter and the work less burdensome - this simple, small, quiet life.  And maybe my "old soul" is showing...  Because the women I am reading whose writings so reflect my own heart are women at least twenty years my senior.  Women who are raising families, managing households, or are done with all that.  Women in a completely different season of life.  They cry for a simpler life, a different rhythm.

And my peers and I, in our youth, we applaud them, even encourage them, for they deserve a simpler life.  They have earned it.  And then we turn back to our running, for we must build our lives and hack a path for ourselves.  We are young.  We must fill up our lives while we can - cram it all in.  YOLO is our modern equivalent of carpe diem.  But even we, if we are honest, are crying out, in the midst of our quarter-life crisesfor space and wholeness, tired of fragmentation and strife.  We who are fighting a battle to find who we are.  We who are climbing the ladders and competing against the world and putting on our masks, shining up our armor so we stake our claim and our place.  We, too, long to shed it all.  We, too, long for it to be simple.  We, too, grow weary of the noise.

I wonder if maybe we've got it all wrong.  Maybe this time in our lives doesn't have to be about fighting and filling and running ragged.  Maybe what we need, what I need, isn't another activity or experience or award or relationship to prove I have a place in this world.  Maybe what I need to find my place is to find myself.  And to find myself I need silence, simplicity, stillness, solitude.  I need to embrace the grace of the quiet and the small.

Maybe I need to do life totally different to find a life that is totally abundant.

Maybe if I choose to protect the white space, instead of cramming it all full, I will find fullness of Beauty and true Joy.

Maybe I'll make 24 different.  Maybe I'll make 24 revolutionary, by making space.

Friday, April 25, 2014

Hardest Work, Fullest Life - The Art of Believing

It's Friday morning and I'm straightening chairs, hoping to bring some sort of order to this room where the 300 children will come in and out and sing and run and talk and... learn?  Maybe?  And music will be made and there will be laughter and there will be frustration and there will be impatience.  And I will fail today.  Like I feel like I've failed every day this week.  And I'm tired.  And it's Friday.  And I straighten the chairs.

I have the words spinning in my brain, words that I've read from the blogs of women who are shaking up this world for Jesus, who are living as the Esther Generation.  They are mothers and they are speakers and they are teachers and they are women of God... And I wonder if I have a place among them?  And I believe that I do because Jesus is for all and the calling of the gospel is for all and the commission to be Jesus to the world and to allow Holy Spirit to flow through me is a call for all.

So I ask for strength, and I ask for help to do the job that God has called me to do today.  And I plead for eyes to See, to look into their faces and SEE... the stories and the hope and the future and to live out the work that He has called me to do.

I go back to John, and Jesus says that the work that He has called us to do is to believe in the One that the Father has sent... And maybe that is the hardest work of all.

To believe that I, who fail daily, raising my voice in impatience, forgetting to See their faces - that I could be an instrument in the hand of God for them today.  Maybe that is the hardest work.

To believe that there is Redemption in every moment.  To believe that in the here and now, in the mundane and the frustrating. God. Is. At. Work.  And it has NOTHING to do with me.  Maybe that is the hardest work.

And maybe that is the Fullest Life.

To bow the knee and to confess my weakness, to confess my own need, to confess that I am nothing.  And I am full of pride.  And I am full of self-centeredness.  Full of every broken thing that is wrong with this world.  Full and still so empty.  I am flesh.  I am but dust and to dust I will return.

And yet.  And yet.  And YET.  He has equipped me for good works.  And this is the Best Work.  To believe in the One He has Sent.  To believe in the Hope of Glory.  Christ in me.  Christ IN me.  CHRIST IN ME!  And I speak it out loud in the silence of  a classroom during the one moment for the next eight hours where life will not be chaos:

Help me to do Your work.  Help me to believe you.  I believe, Lord!  Help my unbelief!

And Spirit falls and Grace wraps around.  The sun comes up on the second day of Spring.  And it is forward.  And it is always enough.  And He is here and He is good and we are loved.  Now.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

More than Sin - A Tenebrae Reflection

It's crazy how in the midst of all this pursuit, all these words and all this life, I can so easily manage to forget what is most important.  And there is something about looking myself straight in the eyes in the morning with a makeup brush in one hand that makes everything come back into focus.  Something in my reflection catches, and I stop.  The moon is still bright in my window.  The stars still shine.  And I can choose today.  Right now.  Before the sun even rises.  I bow my head, and I breathe, and I soak in the grace, and I listen for the whisper.  Beloved First.  I open hands, translate it all into love.  Didn't I do this yesterday?  Didn't we have this same conversation yesterday?  But I must do it again.  This is my manna.  This is my daily bread - soaking in the presence of God, being with God.  It is God Himself that is enough.  Not what God gives.  And if God and His heart are what satisfy my soul - I always have enough.  Where God is, I have all I need.  I don't need another blessing, another evidence of grace.  I need to experience the presence of God.  And God is in all, so all is grace.  I can't TRUST someone whose presence I haven't experienced, whose heart I don't know.

And where is His heart more clearly seen than at the cross?  I'm lifting my eyes to it now, on the day of Tenebrae, the day of darkness.  I am looking up at my suffering Savior, refusing to gloss over the brutal, bloody reality of it, refusing to fast forward to the good part.  Because life is broken and dark, and we all hurt and feel hurt, and I'm not sure which is worse.  I'm not looking away.  I'm not averting my eyes from the broken body, from the flow of blood.  And the Cross, it's more than the cleansing of sins and the purchase of righteousness, though it is that.  It is Jesus taking on all the grief and pain and suffering of all the world.  

It is the Father grieving the loss of His Only Begotten, and every loved one any one of us will ever lose.  

It is the Son feeling the sharp pain of abandonment as the Father turns His back, feeling so alone for every time any of us will ever feel alone.  

Jesus takes more than nails for our sins - He takes every broken shard of every broken mess that pierces every one of our broken hearts.  

He takes on every grievance done against us and all we've done against ourselves and others. 

Every moment we think might kill us - It killed Him.  He bled out.

When Jesus took on flesh, it was to do more than understand our pain.  It was to take on our pain.  It is the flesh that feels pain, holds me back and weighs me down, and it is the flesh that Jesus put on Himself.  And even in the resurrection, He kept the scars.  He never let go of the pain.  He gained our victory.  He declared it finished.  And still He never let go of the pain.  

He never let go of the pain so I can finally let go of mine.  

He kept the reminder of His suffering so I can remember where to put mine - right there in His nail-pierced hands.  

Love bled.  Love was broken.  Love took the pain.  And He keeps taking it over and over and over.  You never need to hold the weight again - not the weight of your sin or the weight of your pain or the weight of your suffering or the weight of the brokenness.  He took it.  He takes it.  All the way to the grave.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Watching Darkness Fall (Or How to Unwind and not Unravel)

We're standing in the parking lot, both tired at the end of a long day.  It's colder than it was when I left my jacket in the car, but that's not why I wrap my arms around myself so tightly.  I rub a knot in my shoulder.  I feel like I'm about to unravel, so I keep myself wound up tight.  I feel like I'm about to lose my grip, so everything in me clutches tighter.  And there is this battle raging inside.  I want to be sensitive.  I want to love lavishly and take risks and exude grace and See everything before me - God in the moments and the faces I'm facing.  But this is the third time in four months that a significant relationship has left me gasping for air.  My world blurs wet and wild, and I am just so tired of pain!

Our words wander from there, swirling on the breeze.  My weary heart is reaching, grasping, hoping to catch something, then comes the Knowing, the Whisper - grasping is never the answer.  We talk far longer than we intended and as we part ways, her words challenge me.  "What is it that fills and refreshes your soul?  And can you go and do that?"  She's asked that question before, but I've forgotten the answer.  I am determined to find it again.  A few minutes later I climb the stairs and pull out my keys.  I stop.  I can't go in.  Not yet.  Learning my head against the wall, I gaze west. The sky is fading to black, but not without one final blaze of glory.  I had forgotten how sunsets always remind me how to breathe.  I'll just stay here for a little bit.  I think it to myself, and exhale, the weight beginning to lift.  And I've found it right here.  Feeding the soul is like opening a door.

The words come in a rush.  I whisper thanks.  I plead forgiveness.  I confess my failure and my pride.  I bow my stiff neck. I hold nothing back.  I need to feel it again.  I need to feel loved.  This is my manna.  This is my daily bread.  His whisper that I am His Beloved.  Darkness falls, and I soak in beauty.  And I realize that in all my counting of gifts, in all my hunting for grace, I had forgotten what is most important.  I had forgotten how I need to translate this language, translate what all this grace and beauty is really saying - I.  Love.  You.  It's there.  He's writing it on the sky, singing it in the breeze, all that I need.  Will I feel it?

This Love, it to pulls me deeper.  Clarity coming with the falling darkness.  Sweet paradox of Grace.  And I have been shown such grace.  He offers me His hand, and He calls me out.  I can see it now.  How He has given me a place to put the pain.  How I don't need to brush it off, or shove it down.  He's given me a place to rest.  And the reflex reaction to pain is to clench the fists and hold the breath and fight back.  And the question is:  Do I trust God enough to exhale and open the hands and be still so He can fight for me, instead of me fighting the suffering?  Do I trust God enough to stop fighting the pain?  I will never understand why it is so much easier to clench the fists than to breathe grace, and release the pain, but I finally do it.  I breathe deep and open each wound and I give. it. over.  I take the weight of it all off my own prideful shoulders, and I place it on my wounded, crucified Savior.  And I plead forgiveness.  And I wait for resurrection.

The sky is all velvet black now.  I go inside.  In the darkness, I am covered, and I can rest.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

In the Very Center - A New Picture of Trust

I knew from the moment she said she had written a letter that nothing but pain would follow.  I purposely sit facing that wall as I read, the wall where I had nailed my one word: TRUST.  Words from the gospel of John surround it.  One catches my eye.  "The Light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it."  Oh, but I do feel quite overcome.  The pixels cut so deep.  I try to breathe through the pain, through the questions, through the anger.  And as it all rises, like a storm, like waves, pick your metaphor, I reach for my Bible.  I need the Word in my hands, something to steady me, as her words strike blow after blow.  I'm not the only one who has ever felt this way.  Her words are not the only piercing, breaking, wounding in this world.

All of us, we need some miraculous healing, and it's not coming.  I feel helpless, and I carry it like a weight for a week or more.  I can feel it in my shoulders, the tight jaw, the clenched fists.  Mostly I feel it in the way the tears are always close to the surface.  How hard it is to smile, to think straight, to keep my own sharp words at bay.  There's the ranting, the wrestling, the trying to reason, and I'm getting nowhere.  

"There's so many things I say.  So many things I preach.  And I want to believe... I just can't!  And that's the hardest, most painful part... I have no hope."

I exhale after that admission, like I've finally found the release valve.  She looks at me, and I think how we all need friends like her, "You know, often..." She trails off, searching, making sure they are the right words, the truest words. "Yes.  Often your hope is in you and your ability to do something to fix things and to have the answers. Your hope is not actually in God.  Your trust is not actually in God."  

I feel like I have no hope because I have no answers, no idea what to do to fix things and my hope is usually dependent on that, rather than on God.  Sometimes the truth is hard to face, and that's why Jesus came in both Truth and Grace.  Because the Truth is I often fail miserably at walking by faith.  But the Grace is that God knows that, and that's why He's called me into this journey of TRUST.  It's not Him pointing out my failures.  It's Him inviting me to walk with Him on a journey that will transform and change and set me free.  I exhale.

The next day, I'm rehearsing the story, yet again to another one of those friends everyone should have, adding in this most recent revelation. I say it, more for myself than for her.  "Maybe I just need to stop, take a step back, and surrender.  Maybe I need to just lay it all down.  Maybe that's what trust actually is."  

She smiles gently, "Ah yes.  Rest.  That's all I would want for you, all He would want for you.  Just rest."        

And all that to say this... That's why when that author posts this picture on her blog, my breath catches and I want to reach out and grab it, like it's grabbed my heart.  This little girl takes the chalk and draws a picture of her mother, then removes the shoes and curls up right in the very center of her, ear against her heart.  And I know she's right and it's all I want.  This is how to live when life just hurts.  

When life hits you so hard you find yourself curled up in tears in the fetal position, you can also find yourself in the very center of Him.  I see the little girl surrounded by the lines she drew, and it's me drawing circles around what I really believe, around the Father's beating heart, and pressing into it, pain and tears and all.  And it's the Father's arms, encircling me, surrounding me, as the mountains surround Jerusalem.  And can I finally just allow myself, just for a moment, for as many moments, as many days as I need, to pull the knees into the chest and lay myself all down right in the very center of Him and let Him surround me?  


It's a new picture of trust.  Not the clinging to the rope and holding on for dear life, but Him holding me.  Him holding me as I curl up, whispering until I can uncurl, "Fear not.  Fear not.  I am here, and I will not let any of you go.  I see you.  I know your pain.  I will not leave you in it."  Trust.

Monday, January 13, 2014

He Knows and He Sees - The Secret to Standing When Your World is Shaking

I forget, and all too easily, the things I always tell my kids to remember.  Like "You are learning.  I don't expect you to know this or get it right.  That's why we're here!  All I ask is that you don't give up."  But then I look at my life and this first week of the new year, first steps of a journey with trust, and I already feel like a failure.

And I long for it deep - this continual coming of Christ in my life, this constant Light shining.  And I don't want to miss it! I don't want to walk with the clenched fists and tight jaw saying, "No, God."  And we sing it at church: "Let us become more aware of your presence.  Let us experience the glory of your goodness.  Holy Spirit you are welcome here..."  And after the way my year started, I know what a dangerous prayer that can actually be.  

As we talk over brunch, it is clear - I am experiencing the glory of His goodness, and it is beautiful.  But it is not without pain.  That confuses me in a way.  But then I read John's words - preparing a way for the Lord.  So I flip back to Isaiah with Handel's Messiah playing in my head and I think, "It's earth-shattering!"  Valleys raised up and mountains laid low and rough ground made level.  This will rock your entire world and leave you feeling shaken, at least.  And this is the making a way for Jesus!

And yes, the ground beneath me and around me shakes, but He is good and I can stand and it's there at the end of chapter 1.  Jesus says to Nathanael, "I saw you while you   were still under the fig tree before Philip called you." And I gawk at the thought of it.  Jesus saw him before he was called.  Jesus saw him.  He took notice of him.  And maybe that's the real miracle of it all.  And yeah, when the Son of God says He knows me because He sees me, it does lead me to believe, to stand firm while the world shakes and say, "Come Lord.  You are truly welcome here.  Have your way in me."  And Jesus said it to Nathanael, and He says it to me and to you as well, "You believe because I saw you when you were still sitting under the [fill in the blank.  Bondage of anxiety?  Depression? Fear? Idolatry of comfort? Self-doubt? Self-sufficiency?  Self-righteousness? Fig trees come in all shapes, like baggage.]  You shall see greater things than this."  Oh, how I love that!  I saw you when you were a mess and I called you... and as if that wasn't miracle enough, you'll see greater things than this.

It's like my voice teacher used to say... There's more!  More love.  More faithfulness.  More goodness.  More grace.  More than I could ask or imagine.  He sees and He knows and I can stand through it all.  No fear.  All trust.