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...

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Hope, Unfettered...

“I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved. They will come in and go out, and find pasture.  The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” –John 10:9-10

Nearly gone.  Lungs weary and trembling.  Pulse thready, barely there.  But there.  If she were conscious enough to know it she would have cursed.  A pulse meant she had failed.

Fifteen and already fed up with the story life had written her.  She had spent months - years even - drowning in a suffocating sea of being misunderstood.  She felt unloved, unappreciated, unknown.  Her arms were delicately ribboned with scars, the tops of her thighs, too, deeper-than-skin tracks of a desperate journey towards feeling.  Something.  Anything.  Anything but the emptiness she woke and fell asleep to every twenty-four hour turn of the earth.

Hope.  It was an empty word, one she only associated with eternal nothingness.  Maybe death would silence the condemning voices she heard alone in her room, whispering words of disapproval wherever she walked, humming pain in the pauses of every conversation.  Silence was the only thing she hoped for - life had become too loud.

There are things that are true whether we know them or not.  Protons, neutrons and electrons whiz around the atoms building us up whether we understand their frenzied dance or not.  Stars are born in intricate nurseries out past Orion’s Nebula whether we witness their hazy burning birth or not.  And the Creator of it all loves humans, deeper-than-skin wounds and all, whether we realize it – whether we feel it - or not.

Our souls were birthed with a purpose; they were made to be known.  They were created to be understood, designed to breathe deep the air of love, peace, and hope.  Our souls are programmed with a longing to find pasture, to run free in safe places and gloriously be our unfettered selves. 

But, we have been robbed of our spiritual birthright.  Sin condemns and isolates, whispering words of disapproval and humming pain in the pauses of every conversation.  Our sins, coupled with the sins of others, twist into a deadly noose that chokes the hope right out of us.  It steals, kills, and destroys.  Feeling unloved, unappreciated, and unknown, we get fed up with the story life is writing us.  Sometimes, we get fed up enough to quit.  

That’s where He found her.  Though her life was weary, thready, and barely there, there was a beauty in her still – He knows because He placed it there, Himself.  He can’t forget.  Jesus loves her – loved her when she carved out the delicate tracks of her journey towards feeling.  Loved her when she held tight to things that robbed her, loved her when she would rather love the thief of her soul.  He loved her when she couldn’t hold on – He loved her when she let go.  What else could He do?  He, the source of all love, peace and hope, came to bring her life –more of it, not less.  He came to lead her soul to safer pastures, came to call her to a life of being her gloriously unfettered self.

It’s what He offers every human soul. No matter where He finds us.  No matter what state we’re in, no matter how dead we nearly are. Bringing dead things back to life is what He does and He has a lot of experience.  He's been there before.             

Some things are true whether we know them or not – but knowing them makes a difference.  Praise God He sometimes lets us fail because she knows, now.  Knows that she was made for life. Knows that she is worth loving not because of what she does, but because of who He is.  She is discovering the beauty He placed inside of her. The scars will remain, for a time, but her pain?  It’s nearly gone….

(Hope.  It was an empty word, but now it’s overflowing with eternal promise… and life.)

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Into the Great Unknown....

There’s nothing quite like flying.  Nothing like looking down on clouds from the sunny side of the sky, nothing like watching ribbons of river flash gold as though traced by a celestial finger.  Patchwork farms and gently rippling mountains mark the spots in between as blinding fire passes from lake to pond to river again.  Cotton wisps drift lazy in the middle, pulled thin by winds unseen.

The world looks different from here.  My usually limited lens has zoomed out to big picture view, so details blur vague and hazy like the smoky clouds leaning up against my window. Forces I cannot see jostle and gently jar my sense of stability as the steel below skips over choppy tides of air.  The motion is both soothing and unnerving.  Knowing the cause of it doesn’t prevent the occasional leaping heartbeat when greater waves crash against the hull, sudden drops and dips expected and yet unexpected.  Like the sea, oceans of air are untamable.

I’m going somewhere, but getting there is beyond my control.  Lifts and currents carry me, powerless to steer or stop, from one point to another. I’ve actually lost all sense of direction.  Perhaps if I studied the angle of the sun, measured it as it leaves a gilded trail along the land below I could reorient, but clouds make it difficult, and I’m unsure if we’re flying due west or tipped slightly north or south.  I suppose knowing wouldn’t make any difference - the tossing sky is navigated and captained by hands not my own.  I placed my life in them under full disclosure that I would not be consulted on such matters.

Flying is a matter of trust, but it is also a matter of choice.  Waiting at the gate I assumed the same posture I assume now, seated and drowsy (though slightly less cramped).  My flight was booked but I still had a choice – to board or not to board.  I still maintained some sense of control over my comfort and my whereabouts.  Abandoning ship was as simple as getting back on the escalator.

But I want to go places in life.  I want to see new vistas and meet new people.  I want to become what I’m meant to be and sometimes that means submitting myself to lifts and currents I am powerless to steer or stop.  

The grand adventure of knowing God is the same.  Too often we reduce our lives of faith to a manageable hobby, a casual pastime we pick up and lay down as we find convenient. When we gave our lives to Christ, however, we did just that – we gave our lives to Christ. We often forget that in doing so, we gave up all rights to ourselves, forget that when we boarded this flight, we did so with full disclosure that we would likely not be consulted on matters of navigation.  And while there are breath-taking glimpses of gold amid smoky hazy clouds, we control neither.

Loving God is a matter of trust, but it is also a matter of choice.  I choose whether I will allow God to captain my life or whether I will abandon ship.  Positions of waiting may look the same as positions of movement and sometimes it’s hard to distinguish between them.  The difference lies not in the posture of surroundings, but in the posture of my soul.  When I am waiting, wondering when the life I’m expecting will finally go somewhere, I maintain the choice to get on board with God’s leading or walk away.  The me I could become hangs in the balance.  

Once I step out, however, I abandon myself to forces I cannot see and currents I cannot control.  I am headed for a holier life, but may lose all sense of direction along the way.  God’s Word leaves a gilded trail to help me reorient, and though invisible waves may crash in, my sense of stability jarred and jostled, sudden drops and dips coming on expected and yet unexpected, I am confident in the Captain of this craft.  He knows where He is going and will take me where I need to be – I have only to sit back and let Him.

Life is a journey.  Whether moving or standing still, going forward or pausing to rest, I always have a choice.  I can dig in my heels, refusing another step; I can turn back, ignoring the destination to which I am called; or I can willingly take off into the great unknown, letting God carry me along on currents unseen.  My life is not up to me, is not about me and is not meant to please only me.  It is in giving it up, in posturing my soul towards surrender that I gain everything I never knew I always wanted.  Life is untamable and though the occasional leaping heartbeat rises up, I’ll be all right.  I have learned to let go and simply follow the golden traces of a celestial finger.  It’s the only way to fly. 

“Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.”  Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.” James 4:13-14

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” Jeremiah 29:11

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Life is for Living...

Meadows of Mercy
I think we forget, sometimes, that we are alive.  We know that we are busy.  We’re aware that we are stressed.  We have no doubt we’re under pressure to do more, be more, make more (though we’re trying to accomplish it by weighing less, sleeping less, eating less….). We may breathe in and out - our nerves humming and muscles contracting, heartbeats chugging along pressing oxygen into bone and skin and brain - but we often forget what for.

Trying to life “the Christian life” often further complicates matters.  We shuffle along, trying to do what we ought under the great and mighty shadow of “should”.   We should be nicer and more patient.  We should give more money away.  We should invite those people who drive us batty over for dinner.  We efficiently keep our emotional baggage packed and ready for frequent guilt-trips.  

The problem is, as I read my Bible, an existence like that is a pale and feeble excuse for the LIFE for which I was made.  Jesus said, “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” (John 10:10), which would be a terrible thing to say if life was never meant to be more than mere survival, a tedious trudging along towards sterile righteousness.  If He came to give me a life like that (and more of it on top of a first tasteless helping), I want a refund.

But when I look around, out past the shadow of “should”, over the towers of “worry” and the skyscrapers of “circumstance”, when I let Him lead me out to a sun-dappled meadow of mercy, a whole new world (don’t you dare close your eyes) opens up.  I remember that God is bigger than I think.  And He loves me more than I know.  And He has already given me gifts greater than I can comprehend.  And if He says that life is SO good that He (the source of all good, love, light, peace, hope, joy, and a million other mind-blowing realities) came and lived and died and fought death off so that we could have MORE of it, it must be something worth celebrating.

It’s really just a matter of perspective.  When struggles come (and they will) we can focus on the instability lurking inside the struggle – what we don’t know – or we can focus on the stability revealed in our lives by the God we do know.  For example, some people may not know how they're going to pay the rent next month.  Fear, worry, and nervousness hitchhike with uncertainty in a time like that, the whole gang of stress gunning their motors and rising up fast on the horizon.  But the instability of the future cannot affect sun-dappled meadows of mercy.  Or the fairy footprints of a swelling moon over still water.  Or the taste of a nectarine.  I don’t know if tart flirts with sweet from a distance, or if sweet and tart dance a tight tango through fleshy pulp from pit to skin, but however they meet, it’s magic in my mouth.  A God who can cook up a taste like that clearly knows what He’s doing.  I’m fairly sure He can shut down any gang of stress with just a look.  When I’m confident in Him, and in His intention for me to have life -and have it to the full - a whole new world (a new fantastic point of view) of trust and understanding opens up.  We don’t have to be bullied by struggle, guilt, or pressure.  We can unpack our emotional baggage and stay awhile.

The secret, of course, is knowing Him (again, the reason why it’s so important to know what our Bibles actually say).  So what if everything falls apart around me?  He never said it wouldn’t.  It doesn’t change who God is.  It doesn’t change what He said.  It doesn’t change the presence of gifts He has already given me.  I received no guarantee that my time on this planet would get spent being healthy, wealthy and wise.  My motivation for living according to His standards cannot stem from guilt, resentment, habit or self-righteousness – if it does, it will not hold up.   Scattered remains of that sort of fractured faith litter the parking lots of churches across the world.  A life lived His way bubbles out of gratefulness and joy.  My life, as best I can, is offered as a “Thank-you”, not as an obligation or a bribe.  We settle for so little (a pale and feeble existence) when he offers so much more (LIFE!).

The life I live as a Christian is not about “shoulds” and “oughts” and “can’ts”.  It’s about “get-tos” and “guess whats?” and, “did you sees?”  The God who births star nurseries out past the edges of our vision, tucked among the twinkling gems and milky pink clouds of distant space, the God who stuck rainbows on fish who’ve never seen one, the God who continually presses oxygen into bone and skin and brain, into taste buds, optic nerves and hammer, anvil, and stirrup has placed us in a world where it’s good to be alive.  We have the opportunity to dance in His meadows of mercy, to drink deep the wisdom of His word, to taste the sweetness of His presence, coming back for helping after helping, dish after elegant dish of rich, savory satisfaction for our souls.  And when we are no longer alive - by the standards of this world - we will finally be fully alive, by the standards of a whole new world (hold your breath, it gets better).

O Barefoot Sun walk soft upon my face
And let me breathe deep the vapor of life’s fragrant transience
I want to sleep in the arms of the wind
And upon my waking
May every fragmented moment
(Forgotten by lesser dreamers)
Unite in their fullness and taste
Sweet and stolen upon my wondering lips

Living, laughing, dancing, learning
            Ever yearning for
The life
            The life
                        The life
That is my sojourn,
That is my birthday gift,
That is my Once Upon a Time (forever)

(Would that I might never die while there is still breath within my bosom to burn with the life that is my passion.)

Thursday, February 2, 2012

The Kingdom Inside

I’ve got a kingdom, you know.  It’s currently stuffed inside the envelope of this life, a universe concealed by skin and breath and tears.  It lies within, but is governed from without.  Joys and disappointments bump up against it like the weather, alternately storming and passing, but its walls remain impervious.  When sorrows rain down, my soul is kept dry; when contentment shines, the shutters are thrown open and the doors swung wide to let in the light.  My heart then basks in the warm and gentle goodness of my King. 

When I am willing, it gathers round my eyes and colors what I see; sometimes it camps upon my lips and guards the words I speak.  It is the force guiding hands and feet and elbows and knees.  It is the stronghold of my soul. 

I’m told this Kingdom comes to the poor in spirit1, and, truly, I know of no other way to find it.  Only those who are lost will see the need for direction, those who are helpless will accept the outstretched arm.  Only the broken will receive with gladness the pain of healing.  Sometimes this life renders me lost and helpless and broken – I am poor in spirit.  The frailty of my humanity and my self are overwhelmingly obvious when I look at the storming circumstances that surround.  I am not enough to handle them alone; not perfect enough, not patient enough, not wise enough.  If I were to rule this Kingdom of mine, it would come to utter ruin.

But, God is building it in me.   And He is ruling it for me. Ironically, my weakness is what strengthens it2, my yielding release of each brick into His waiting hands the manner He chooses to build a Kingdom strong enough to protect me against the tempests of difficulties that come.  For they do come.  No matter how strong I think I am, or how well I may have prepared for such days, a severe wind of adversity will at some point rail against me.  The strength of those walls will be tested. 

And what He has built will prevail.  What I build crumbles beneath me.3  I have held the resulting dust in my hands, choking on the grit of it, and sweeping it into great piles of disappointment.  My ever patient King gives me opportunities to try again, however, placing bricks in my hands while holding out His own.  He waits for my yielding release, allowing Him to rebuild a Kingdom that will endure.   The tempests may blow again and again, but His stronghold remains.  Nothing can truly harm me there.

For, what can prevail against my God?  What circumstance, what situation, what trial can separate me from Him?4  What pain or level of discomfort can possibly eradicate the Kingdom He is building?  What, then, could I be afraid of?  My skin and muscle and bone and sinew may walk on feet fitted with shoes for the soil of this earth, but my true self walks along the paths of His Kingdom.  I am subject not only to the laws of my temporal government, but also to the laws of my heavenly one – laws that set me free, calling me to greater heights even in the midst of the greatest depths.

(SIDE NOTE: In light of those laws, I am not commanded to be tolerant, I am commanded to love.  Tolerance is an anemic substitute for the passion with which I am told to comfort, encourage, strengthen, empathize, and liberate both my enemy and my brother.  None is exempt (from loving or being loved)5.  As a citizen of the Kingdom of heaven, our Law is Love and anything less is criminal.  I don’t decide the laws of the Kingdom, I am simply called to obey them.  Give, serve, hope, pray, learn, worship, sacrifice, love – these make up the Kingdom constitution, my King wrote them on my heart; they are exquisite graffiti on my soul.  I do not have the right to ignore any or all of them.)

One day, one glorious day, the walls of our universes concealed by skin and breath and tears will come tumbling down, not from conquest, or tribulation, but from liberation.  The envelope will fall away and we who have been lost and helpless and broken, we who have been poor in spirit and yet followed the King, will walk together in the greater Kingdom each one of us has been carrying a piece of around in our souls.  The boundaries of our ‘selves’ will both expand and contract - we shall be more ourselves and yet less separate from one another than we could have imagined.  The King will stroll beside us and we will bask together in His warmth and goodness.6 This is the Kingdom I know.  (It’s called, “Happily Ever After…”)

1 “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven”  -Matthew 5:3

2 “That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”  -2 Corinthians 12:10

3 “For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ. If anyone builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, their work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each person’s work. If what has been built survives, the builder will receive a reward.  If it is burned up, the builder will suffer loss but yet will be saved—even though only as one escaping through the flames. Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in your midst?” -1 Corinthians 3:11-16

4 “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword?  …No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. 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 8:35-39

5You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’  But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven.”  -Matthew 5:42-45

6 “Then I saw “a new heaven and a new earth,” for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband.  And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and He will dwell with them. They will be His people, and God Himself will be with them and be their God. ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!”  -Revelation 21:1-5