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...

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Working for a Living

This world is no place for the faint of heart.  Children die in mall fires and in the scratchy heat of famine.  Illness stalks its prey and devours without discrimination.  The second law of thermodynamics shoves every last thing toward a destiny of decomposition and decay, our feeble attempts to hold it back crumbling like rust in its path.  Mention disappointment in any language and heads nod all around – we know it, we have felt it.  We have been disappointed, too.

I am glad I do not run this earth – I just work here.  The power to grant life or death, the wisdom to raise up governments or cast them low again is not mine to hold.  Directing the weather or the stars or the souls of men is a responsibility I’ve not been given.  And though I sometimes fuss and fret and deceive myself into thinking I can control more than I’ve been allotted (nothing but my thoughts, my words and my actions), ultimately, my powerlessness is a good thing.  It presses my heart to trust.  It presses that trust to God.

He knows this world is no place for the faint of heart.  He hears the cry of the childless mother and the weight of the doctor’s words.  He wrote the laws of physics and nods at the mention of disappointment – He has been disappointed, too.  He directs the weather and the stars and the souls of men, it is He who runs the earth and I just work here - but I work here. 

God rewards my trust with delegation.  While He controls earth and sky and sea, His intentions for mankind He shares with me.  He lets me be involved.  He drew me into His plans when I was born, breathing life first into my lungs and later into my spirit.  Now He breathes through me, warming cold and weary souls, whispering hope into hopeless hearts.  My job is to love and give and serve and pray and speak and praise, to sew and pay and bake and go and cry and laugh and hold.  I am asked to feed hungry spirits and bellies, to offer home to those with no home of their own.  Water to the thirsty, comfort to the weary, value to the downtrodden – there’s a lifetime of work to keep me busy.  Job security doesn't concern me.    

In this working life that is a privilege and a difficulty, a joy and a sorrow, I hold unswervingly to the hope I profess.  For He who promised (to be with me, to strengthen me, to love me, to forgive me) is faithful. And so I consider how I may spur others on toward love and good deeds (Hebrews 10:23-24).  Could any other work be more important?

It is through love and good deeds that the world becomes bearable for the faint of heart.  It is through partnership – God’s strength, my skin; God’s voice, my lips; God’s power, my weakness but willingness – that comfort, healing, and redemption kiss the wounds common to man.  Most days I am more human than holy and don’t feel worthy of the task, but what God starts, He doesn’t quit.  He writes even my humanity into my job description, for who can empathize with a broken heart if they have never felt the sharpened stab of it in their chest?  Who can speak knowingly of forgiveness if they have never been forgiven?  Who can offer comfort if they have never known sorrow in need of comfort?  He who has called me is faithful, and He will do it – empathize, forgive, comfort - no matter what it costs.  It’s in the contract.

There are fleeting moments of feeling settled in this world, when the long-broken arms of Eden brush my own in simple pleasures – laughter with friends, early morning sparkles on the water, pistachio gelato.  Most days it’s good to be alive and work is a pleasure.  But some days I feel the silence of Eden.  It echoes with innocence lost and a world gone wrong.  The cries of motherless children and childless mothers rock my spirit till the tears are shaken free and fall like rain on a ground crumbling and thirsty for more.  Disappointment smothers like a blanket. 

We, who in this world march unswervingly towards decay and decomposition and are often blind to God's full intention for mankind, are pressed to trust.  We trust in an unseen future that will not disappoint, a home that will not decay or decompose.  We trust in a God who with His own hand will touch our cheeks, catching our tears with His thumb and casting them farther away than our memories will reach.  Spirits and bellies will be filled, the downtrodden crowned with glory, the faint of heart finally find themselves home.  I know, because that’s where I live – really.  I just work here.        

"Rather, as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way: in great endurance; in troubles, hardships and distresses;  in beatings, imprisonments and riots; in hard work, sleepless nights and hunger; in purity, understanding, patience and kindness; in the Holy Spirit and in sincere love; in truthful speech and in the power of God; with weapons of righteousness in the right hand and in the left; through glory and dishonor, bad report and good report; genuine, yet regarded as impostors; known, yet regarded as unknown; dying, and yet we live on; beaten, and yet not killed; sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; poor, yet making many rich; having nothing, and yet possessing everything." -2 Corinthians 6:4-10 

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Pieces and Pictures of You...

Dear God,

If I had a photo of You, this life might be easier.  If I could picture every one of Your million different glances or Your smile wrapped up around Your eyes, if I could watch the wind in Your hair when storms come whipping through my world my heart might not be so prone to doubt.  When tears come on like a clap of thunder, sudden and strong and heaving in my chest, I could see through the watery blindness to a face worn familiar by gazing.  I might not mind if I could look at You looking at me.  I might be stronger.

But You come to me in fragments, not all at once, like so many puzzle pieces.  I have found them scattered long and wide across the earth and collected them as far back as this mind can reach.  I find You in places I wouldn’t expect and when I don’t, it’s because You were right where I thought You’d be all along.  Every bit of You I find is worth hunting because I’d rather have an incomplete idea of You than none at all.  I’ll collect those bits till Your image comes as clear in my mind as You say it should be in my mirror.  I imagine I’ll collect them till I die. 

I found a piece of You laying at the base of trees once, with the sun all fine and dappled on leaves above it, the sugaring of nameless flowers in the air.  Its gentle corners revealed Your preference for peace, the edges curling round my heart and lips and soul until contentment pressed and stretched them into a grin unrestrained. I gathered that things might be made to be lovey simply because You like them so, and that green might be your favorite color.

I found a piece of You at the seaside, too.  Charging waves and sherbet stripes of sunset where sky and water kiss were on it, a double-sided coin of variability and stability.  It showed that change may blow through sky and sea and me, but You remain the same.  Crashing waves churn the same salty water, and the same heavens re-dressed debut every evening.  The hand that bids them come is the hand that beckons me, calling me to follow though waves of pain crash over and skies grow dark and dim.  When life moves in ways I don’t understand, the ground slipping beneath me like sand, I remember I saw You there (where Your favorite color is blue).

I have found You wild and untamable, humble and strong and passionate for joy in the papery thin rustle of Scripture. I’ve seen You walk steady and faithful across problems without answers, and questions without reply.  Your unwavering determination for love at all cost swaddles me like an infant when my soul flails and    Your presence is stitched in and out, up and down along the uneven edges of me, continually sewing back together scraps of a heart shabby and torn. The bits and fragments and puzzle pieces of You as protector and provider, healer and helper, father and fiancĂ© and friend have been gathered, collected and compared with those found by others.  They are clutched tightly, sweaty and slightly bent by fearful palms but legible if I look close, visible in the same manner as memory, pieced together to show a God who is no less real for lack of polaroid picture. 

And so, I suppose, a composite is building.  Your heart is taking form, Your hands nearly visible when I look at mine.  Your image is clearer than Your face and though I cannot see Your eyes, I feel your million different glances when I close my own.  It might be true that I’d be stronger if I saw You, but then maybe strength isn’t found as much in the seeing as in the knowing.  I’ve met You a thousand times over, through the pieces I’ve collected, and every time we meet I see You more clearly than I ever have before.  I know Your smile is all wrapped up around Your eyes though my eyes now are sometimes blind and full of tears.  I’m finding Your Spirit worn familiar by gazing.  I imagine I’ll find You like that till I die.

And when I do, it’ll be less like death and more like birth because all the fragments and bits and pieces I've placed this way and that, here and there searching for You through squinted soul will fall into their rightful places.  You’ll be all of YOU and I’ll finally be all of me and we’ll meet as our full selves for the last and best time because there will be no need to ever be introduced again.  Doubt will be as if it had never been and cries of recognition will echo with delight up and down the grand avenue of heaven.  Gold will shine like glass, twinkling and true in the all-pervading light of You.  When I find myself there, I’ll know I’m home with You - it’s Your favorite color…  

"You will seek Me and find Me when you seek Me with all your heart." -Jeremiah 29:12-14

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Running On and On and On...

There’s a determination in weariness that is seldom found elsewhere.  Tired steps have nowhere to go but onward, and though the road home may be formidable, it is feasible.  If steps are possible, they must be taken.  Forward is the only way back. 

I run.  Not because I have high aspirations of being an athlete (I know I am not) or because I have great strength or stamina (I know I have not).  I run because the steadiness of my steps sorts things out in my head.  I run because I love to be outside, to drink in the scents of every season, to see the sun, translucent and yellow from the underside of leaves.  I run because it draws me wide-eyed into awareness of beauty and settles my mind so that new, interesting thoughts find space to enter in.  I run because, more often than not, I run into God along the way. 

But, that doesn’t mean it’s easy.  Two days ago I ran a mile farther than I normally run and for some reason, my body rebelled against the effort.  Tired, sluggish, weary, my muscles whimpered and whined and wanted to stop.   My blood felt thick enough to clog my veins.  I knew we were all capable, even if we weren’t comfortable, so I pushed tendons and muscle and corpuscles on to the end.  Spent and breathless, we crossed the mental finish line, sweet gulps of air beneath boughs of honeysuckle our reward. 

The ordeal was quickly forgotten in the casual busyness of days until my run this morning.  Extra strength seemed to spring from every step, my muscles gliding with ease along the well-worn route.  So opposite and surprising was it from my previous run that I was startled into turning the experience round and round in my head 'til it was sorted.

It seems that the very weariness tempting my muscles to give up on Tuesday was, in reality, the strength-building mechanism enabling them to fly today.   Perseverance through the slow and difficult steps built in them a resilience that wouldn’t have come if I had quit.  Pressing on in the midst of weakness didn’t just get me to the finish line – it actually made me stronger.

I have no doubt that there a plethora of inspirational online posters touting this same sentiment and maybe Nietzsche said it best: “That which does not kill you makes you stronger.”  However, in life there’s always knowing something and then knowing something, knowing it in the recesses of deeper understanding that lie at the base of our command centers.  Now that I have seen it and I have felt it, I know that weakness is not a thing to be feared or avoided.  It is the passage through which I often must pass in order to become strong.

I take it back about Nietzsche – God always says it best: 

“Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything” (James 1:2-4)

“…We know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.  And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.” (Romans 5:3-5)

I run because it forces me to simply keep putting one foot in front of the other.

There are times in my life when I feel tired, sluggish, and weary.  My heart whimpers and whines and doesn’t want to go on.  Hope seems so distant and the world so dark, I just want to stop.  But the steps taken on those days are the ones most crucial.  When I have nothing and I understand nothing and my sorrows seem thick enough to clog my soul, all I can do is keep putting one foot in front of the other.  I have nowhere to go but onward, and though the steps may be painful, they are also strengthening.  Each step is obedience.  Each step is praise.  One after the other, again and again, step by life-giving step I run after the One who ran to me.

The road is formidable, but it is feasible.  I don’t run it alone.  I run it with the God whose strength shines in my weakness, whose promises include hope, maturity, and a shameless abandon to love.  Difficult runs happen, but if the steps are possible, they must be taken.  They lead onward and upward, to strength and to glory, to the awareness of beauty and God along the way.  They lead me back Home, and when enough steps have been taken, I’ll fly.