When I was training for a marathon, I would fill my pockets with orange slices in Ziploc bags. As weariness snuck up, one or two slices popped in my mouth would push it back and give me strength to press on another few kilometers. God's words and His encouragement sometimes come in bite-sized slices -impressions, experiences, encounters - and are just enough to push weariness back and keep us pressing on a little further...

Wednesday, January 25, 2012


“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.”  This is the first and greatest command...
Mark 12:30
What if we just loved God?

What if, just for a week, just for a day, just for an hour, we let go of the ‘coulds’ and ‘shoulds’ and ‘ought tos’, we resigned from the all-consuming business of image-maintenance and expectation management - we sent our religion packing?  What if our focus slid from self to Savior – not out of guilt, or pretentious, pious habit, but because we like it?  We like Him.  We like how it feels to lift our weary busy eyes from this loud and fickle world, resting them instead on the starkly simple beauty of His holiness.    

What if we softened in the Presence of our Maker?  What if we allowed the stress and the tension of daily life to drip out of our shoulders and down our backs, over our shoes and down the sidewalk?  What if we breathed every breath as though oxygen was laced with the potent goodness of God, lifting our chests with life, filling our souls and our lungs with the raw and utter sweetness of living?  (What if we knew the sweetness of living could be so easily tasted?)

What if we enjoyed God?  Not pretended to, as you do with people you chat to politely while waiting for your real friends.  What if we enjoyed Him – genuinely - as though He were the friend we’d been waiting for?  What if we liked to be with Him?  Not to ask, not to question, not to request, not to blame, not to wrestle, not to learn, but, maybe, just to walk.  To settle in to a comfortable rhythm of affection, His steps matching our own, awash in the fondness we share.  To ask His opinion or laugh at a joke. To remark on the loveliness of sunset.

What if loving God was the driving force behind the whole of our existence?  What if we allowed the Creative Genius behind quarks and nebulas and tiny infant noses, the Writer of every mathematical equation and the Author of every good story to tether Himself to our hearts and souls and minds and strengths?  What if we became so enamored with Him, so lost in His love that the line separating our selves from His wavered and blurred, slipping into extinction with each passing day?  What if our time with Him was so easy and common and frequent that we picked up His habits?  Would we find His words spilling from our lips, His hands and our fingerprints reaching out to every creature around us with compassion and kindness?  Would love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control flow not from us but through us, as light from a bulb or heat from a flame?

What if He was the first thought every morning and the last thought before sleep?  What if we let go of our trying and fussing, our fretting and struggling with our admittedly imperfect selves and let the anxiety we bear over pleasing Him melt into simply being pleased by Him?  What if we let perfect love drive out fear?  What if we discovered His yoke was easy and His burden was light?  What if we knew, down deep in the very darkened depths of our souls that He would never, never, never, never, never leave us or forsake us?  What if we believed what God said?

Would loving Him be enough?  Could we live on the sumptuous riches of God’s love, if it meant poverty in every other area of our lives?  Could we have nothing and yet posses Everything?  Would the knowledge of His relentless affection be worth every trial, every pain - the loss of every limb, every lover, every other pseudo-life-giving substitute we hold dear?  In the light of all possible occurrences, good or bad, hedging the road from this life to the next, instead of asking, “Why?” could we simply nod, “Yes – and can I be with You?” 

What if we loved God with ALL our heart and ALL our soul and ALL our mind and ALL our strength?  Could the world resist Him, then?  Could we?

What if we just loved God?

“If you continue to love Jesus, nothing much can go wrong with you, and I hope you may always do so.”
-C.S. Lewis, Letters to Children

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Yoga Babies...

I’ve been breathing through Warrior Two. 

I can feel it in my pinkie toes and thighs; there’s a tiny trembling cramp at the base of my shoulder blade.  Elegance has settled in my wrists, but my chin tends to wander - my neck is tight and a little awkward from pressing it back into position.  Now, we arch back to Reverse Warrior, pulling taut the strings of muscle running from ribcage to hip. Warrior Two, again, then straightening and reaching, reaching, reaching out and down.  Triangle pose.  Today, it feels good.

Some days, it doesn’t.  Some days I make excuses and pretend it’s not Yoga Tuesday.  I go running instead or put it off until it’s too late to bother.  Yoga feels unnecessary or tiresome.  Sometimes, I think it’s boring.  It’s just stretching, after all.

But stretching is good for me.  It conditions the muscle fibers I use for everything else in life, from eating to running to shopping.  The gentle strain of stretching brings grace, a flexibility and fluidity to everyday movements that decreases the risk of injury and increases my ability to react to stressful situations with less stressful responses.  It creates space in places where space hasn’t been, space I can enjoy and fill, if I like.  Space I can love leaving empty. 

Yoga isn’t just about stretching.  It’s about strength and balance, too.  Patiently holding poses quietly strengthens muscles that make balance possible.  Remaining still can be as beneficial to a healthy body as running fast.  The race is won just as much in moments of mighty motionlessness as in leg-pumping, lung-tearing, sweaty-eyed sprints.      

Life is often a string of one breathless sprint after another and I’m only learning now that my spirit needs to stretch as much as my limbs.  Maybe more.  Not an outer Upward Dog or Child’s Pose, but an inner steady arching of my heart up to God.

Isaiah knew it.  Looking through prophetic eyes to future days of famine and ruin, he found the secret to surviving such painful days: the patient holding of worship postures before the Lord:

“You will keep in perfect peace
Him whose mind is steadfast,
Because he trusts in You.”
Isaiah 26:3

 “This is what the Sovereign Lord, the Holy One of Israel, says:
‘In repentance and rest is your salvation,
In quietness and trust is your strength.’”
Isaiah 30:15

Repentance and rest. Quietness and trust.  A steadfast mind.  Yoga of the soul.

Stretching is not easy.  When I am out of practice, too busy for intentional movement of any kind, my attempts to lengthen tight muscles meet resistance.  It hurts.  I can’t follow through the way I wish I could.  My heart is the same.  Repentance is the lengthening of my soul.  If I don’t find time for it on a regular basis, it feels awkward and tight when I come back.  It hurts.  My desire to change meets resistance and I’m afraid that follow through won’t be what I wish it was - I’ve already failed so many times.

But, the gentle strain of repentance, the opening up of myself before God, is the only way I know to find grace.  Grace that brings flexibility and fluidity to my everyday movements.  Grace that decreases the risk of injury – my injury to others, my perception of their injuries to me. It creates space for forgiveness and restoration, space that hasn’t been.  Space that needs to be.  It’s in that space I find rest.  In that rest I can finally understand the depth of my salvation.

Trust is the strength posture that brings balance.  I find it through a steadfast mind, focused on the words spoken to me through God’s Word.  They tell me who God is.  What He said.  How He behaves.  How He expects me to behave.  Who I am.  I cannot trust my own inclinations or ideas about such things – they knock me off balance every time.  It is the mighty quiet stillness of relentless belief in the character of God - trust - despite whatever winds may blow that is the source of my strength.  No storm can knock me down, no tempest throw me off course.  He will hold me in perfect peace.

Family and friends all around have been recently sprinkled with the magic of tiny fingers and toes, little noses and soft spots under super-fine baby hair.  The stork, it seems, has been working overtime.   I held a delivery today, a brand new person clothed in flawless skin and sweetly scented potential.  He’s been breathing our air for only one day – so many more still spread out before him.  He spent his time in my arms sleeping and squirming, yawning and stretching.  Stretching is instinctive to him – he hasn’t forgotten to be intentional about it.  When I had believed in God only a day or two, with so many others spread out before me, stretching was instinctive to me, too.  Repentance and trust, prayer and Bible reading were as natural as breathing.

But I am grown now.  Years can have a stiffening effect on body and soul and sometimes I forget to bend.  Life feels like one sprint after another and I am often tempted to believe that the race is won by simply running.  Perhaps if I run from one need to the next, I’ll have a fighting chance of fixing a broken world.  

Running in my own strength, however, may get me from place to place, but not without awkwardness or pain, injuries that prevent me from being effective when I get where I’m going.  God made me for balance.  I can run, but not without rest; I can speak, but not without pauses for silence, serve but not without grace born of repentance.  Through it all, I’ve got to breathe, inhaling His steadfast strength into every space He opens, releasing stress and injury with every exhalation.  He bends my soul ‘til it’s supple, and my faith is once again brimming with sweetly scented potential.  When I am limber enough to fall on my knees in worship, truly taking a child’s pose, He lifts me up.  Then, I’m a warrior, too.  

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Cinderella in Wonderland (or Down the Rabbit Hole in Muddy Glass Slippers...)

“Though the mountains be shaken and the hills be removed, yet my unfailing love for you will not be shaken, nor my covenant of peace be removed, says the Lord, who has compassion on you” Isaiah 54:10

So….. I may have fallen down a manhole last night.  Sadly, I’m not kidding. 

It was late, and I was parked in an unfamiliar neighborhood.  Nervous about getting a parking ticket, I had almost moved my car about five times over the course of the evening, but each time had gotten distracted and forgotten.  Eventually, it was too late to bother. 

Now it was after midnight, and the neighborhood was quiet, save for the distant occasional whoosh of late-night drivers on the main road.  I walked quickly but gingerly to prevent my heels from clacking loudly on the sleepy pavement, keys interlocked and jutting from my fingers until my car was in sight.  To my relief, no tickets mocked me from my windshield and no muggers stole my purse.  All potential dangers had passed.

Or so I thought.  Approaching the car, I briefly considered the acrobatic trick where you enter through the drivers’ side door arms first, shoving purse, bags, etc. onto the passenger seat before making the quick twist to sit, hopefully landing squarely behind the steering wheel, having avoided a head butt to the rear-view mirror or a game of Twister with said bags and the gear shift.  But, it was late and I was tired.  Acrobatics were for busy afternoons and speedy get-aways.  I had time. 

I stepped onto the curb by the passenger door, inserted my key into the lock and BAM!  The ground collapsed.  Suddenly, I was looking up at the key in the door, one leg dangling free into recesses beyond the iron ring I straddled, the other awkwardly shoving my knee into the space between the corner of my jaw and my right ear.  A gnarled tree root pressed mud into my palm.  I felt a bit like Alice, halfway on her way to Wonderland, one leg down the rabbit hole, the other awkwardly stuck in the reality of this world, caught between the unlikely and the mundane.   Alice at least got biscuits and tea with the Mad Hatter for her trouble.  My unwelcome adventure left me muddied and bruised.

As I drove home, having extricated myself from the manhole and trying to soothe my throbbing dignity with hopes that no one saw, I wanted to be angry.  But, who to blame?  The city of Washington for placing a manhole on a quiet neighborhood curb?  My colleagues for not showing me where to park?  God, for somehow not alerting me that danger lurked near the passenger side door?

It occurred to me then how often we expect God to keep us from every potential harm.  We praise Him loudly when we, or our loved ones, are kept safe in the face of physical danger, are healed from painful diseases, or are financially rescued in a crisis.  We base our perception of His love for us on our circumstances: God kept me safe – He must really love me.  More than that, we measure our love for Him on the same scale: How could I love a God who would allow me to be ill, injured, or heartbroken?  Can I trust a God who would let me fall (down a manhole)? It seems that sometimes our entire spiritual lives are reduced to asking for God’s favor (read: a comfortable, stress/pain-free life) and judging His character on whether we receive it or not. If life is good, God is good – if life is hard, God doesn’t care.

The problem is, God is not my fairy-godmother.  His role in my life is not to wave His magic wand over the rags of my circumstances so that they disappear in a cloud of sparkles, replaced by ball gowns and glass slippers, morphing my everyday self into the belle of the ball.  For too long we’ve been convinced that if our mice were only stallions and our plain old ordinary garden gourds sweet rides instead, our dreams could come true.  We expect happily after to be just around the next corner.  And we get mildly irritated when it isn’t. 

The truth is, life is hard sometimes.  We get unexpected news, unexpected frustrations, unexpected holes lurking along the curbs of our otherwise well-ordered lives.  We prepare for all contingencies (parking tickets, muggers), trying to guarantee safety, never once thinking a manhole may lay under our next step.  Then suddenly, we’re down on the ground and dazed, gazing up at the world from an all-together awkward angle and wondering what happened.

What happened is that God, while legitimately concerned about my health, wealth and happiness, is actually more concerned about who I am than what I have.  I'm going to fall down sometimes, whether by my own doing or by circumstances I can't control.  God is still God if I do.  Whether my life is a fairy tale or whether it resembles a dark and twisty rabbit trail, I don't run to God simply for Him to wave a magic wand.  He's not a fairy godmother.  He’s the Prince. 

He’s got a Kingdom to run, a long-term vision for me and for those around me that far exceeds my understanding.  He makes His love known to me the way lovers do, in the little things.  Tiny heartfelt gifts – a breathless kiss of sunset, a diamond flash of light dancing on leaves in the afternoon - timely words whispered from His Word to my heart just when I need them.  If I look for Him in the realms outside of circumstances, knowing that He meets me there, I need never doubt His presence inside the hurts that come, whether He exercises His authority over them the way I expect Him to or not. 

There are days He pours His blessings over me and I stand breathless and dripping beneath the torrent, worship rising and bursting in response.  There are days when life collapses beneath me; worship is still the appropriate response.  Hard times come – it’s the way of life.  The point is, God is good either way.  His reputation does not rest on my circumstances.  He is good when I fall down a hole and He is good when I sidestep it neatly.  Mud and bruises do not challenge His character - they challenge mine.      

My life is spent seeking Him, Himself, not simply His blessings, because the sacred tender knowing of His heart is what gives me the ability to rejoice when life is good and to mourn with hope when life is not.  I am confident God knows what He’s doing.  He has His Kingdom in hand, and I cannot possibly understand all the intricacies involved.   My everyday me is being transformed into the belle of the ball, but My Prince does so from the inside out, and He’ll use whatever it takes to uncover the beauty He knows is there. Sometimes He uses ball gowns and glass slippers, and sometimes, just a manhole will do.    

"For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers,  neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord."  -Romans 8:38-39

Monday, January 2, 2012

Showing Up

It’s January 2, and I’m showing up.  
For years I’ve told people that 90% of the Christian life is just “showing up”, and it’s true.  We often think that the power to change the world with ideas and intentions is ours; we assume full responsibility for transforming ourselves and others.  On good days, we humbly swat away praise (we secretly know is ours) for a harsh world now gentler because of our interaction with it - on bad ones, we lie crushed under the guilt of our impotence to fix it.  Either way, the burden of change presses hard on us.
The truth is, I don’t know how to change someone’s life.  I don’t have a five-year sustainable plan for changing the world.  I barely have a grasp on how to change myself.  This burden of change is one I cannot even slip my fingers under or my soul around.  But, I do know how to show up.
I know how to show up with soup for a family undergoing a crisis.  I know how to show up with arms empty and available for hugging or carrying boxes, with hands for cooking or washing dishes, the same hands that hold other hands or wipe tears away.  I know how to show up with kleenex and banana bread, coffee, tea and me - my ears for listening, my shoulders for leaning on, my heart for loving.  I’ve learned to show up in God’s presence with no agenda but to love Him and listen, to read what He says and do it as best I can.  I have no doubt that He is the One changing lives, the world - me.  I just show up, and He lets me come along for the ride.   
Many of us are now recovering from and beginning to put away remnants of the season that celebrates a time when God showed up.  Jesus’ good friend John told the Christmas story from a unique perspective:
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.  He was with God in the beginning. Through Him all things were made; without Him nothing was made that has been made... The Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us. We have seen His glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.” (John 1:1-3, 14)
I like John’s version because it reminds me that Jesus is not simply confined to a Christmas manger or an Easter cross.  He is the Son of God and He is God, a concept that is mind-bending at least, especially when He adds that He and the Father are one, though somehow the Father remains greater (John 14).  Seeing Christ as the Word of God, being clearly spoken from before the beginning of time until this very minute, smoothes out some of those wrinkles.
Words are the embodiment of our thoughts.  They are bridges carrying our passions, fears and ideas from the bony prison of our brains to the bony prisons of others.  They stand independently but rely on us for their existence - our words are extensions of ourselves, minute manifestations of our minds, communicating the mysteries within us to a world incapable of fully understanding us from the outside.  
When God showed up, He came as the physical manifestation of His own mind.  For centuries, He had used prophets to play the bridges for His passions and ideas.  His Word flowed through lesser lips: 
“Comfort, comfort my people, 
   says your God. 
Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, 
   and proclaim to her 
that her hard service has been completed, 
   that her sin has been paid for...”
(Isaiah 40:1-2)
Then, in a stroke of genius, the Word once spoken leapt off the page, becoming flesh and dwelling among us.  The God who spoke comfort became comfort.  The God who set the price of our sin became the payment.  The tenderness in His tone became arms empty and available for hugging or carrying burdens, hands that held other hands and wiped the tears away.  The Word was heard, showing up as ears attuned to cries trapped and echoing within our bony prisons, shoulders of sinew and strength upon which the whole universe could lean.  He spoke Himself into a heart beating with red blood cells and plasma and love.
This is the God who has asked me to show up.  He still speaks, His words flowing again through lesser lips, now typed out by faltering fingers dependent on spellcheck and the delete button for clarity.  He is the Speaker, I am the secretary.  He has asked me to write what He speaks to my heart and although I am afraid (of getting it wrong - of getting it right and humbly swatting away praise I secretly think is mine), He reminds me that the responsibility to change the world with ideas and intentions is not mine.  It is His.  My responsibility is to show up.
So, here I am.  And here you are.  God said that where two or three of us are gathered in His name, He will join us (Matthew 18:20).  This year I am resolved to remain there, in His presence and yours, with no agenda but to listen and to love, to read what He says and do it as best I can, to write what I hear Him speak, no matter how daunting the task.  I will leave the burden of change on His strong and sinewy shoulders, for I am powerless to transform anyone.  I am capable only of listening for words that I pray will leap off the page transforming us who hear into the embodiment of His mind.  
I’ll be here. 
I hope you show up, too.