"The sweetest thing in all my life has been the longing —
to reach the Mountain, to find the place where all the beauty came from —
my country, the place where I ought to have been born. Do you think it all meant nothing,
all the longing? The longing for home? For indeed it now feels not like going, but like going back."

~C.S. Lewis

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

The day God said "I'm sorry."

I see pictures in my head sometimes.

Not like full out visions that play like Netflix in my head complete with sound effects and credits that last too long, but more like memories I knew once and forgot a long time ago. They come and go and I know when I’m forcing them. And when I don’t force them they usually show things I don’t expect. And sometimes I know what it means and sometimes I don’t.

One morning I was lying in my bed looking at my ceiling and I saw one of these visions. Actually I wasn’t really lying in my bed looking at my ceiling at all. I was lying on the floor looking at the wall. I was on an air mattress that had a leak, which kind of made it like a slow-motion magic trick because you started the night on a bed and woke up in the morning on a floor. And I was looking at my wall at a painting that was held up by a Command strip, a pink clothes hanger, and packing tape. Except it was falling down, because I guess I hadn’t used enough packing tape.

It wasn’t that I was poor, exactly, but I also didn’t have any money. Otherwise I probably would have bought a new air mattress. A few weeks ago I had seriously considered becoming a breatharian, because I had read about them on the Internet once and apparently they don’t eat or drink or anything and just live off sunlight and air. I didn’t really know how they did it but I thought it sounded like a good way to cut down on grocery bills.

So I was lying there and looking at my painting and thinking about God. I had planned on talking to him but I guess God wasn’t talkative that morning or maybe I wasn’t listening very well, so I ended up sort of just staring at the wall and thinking about God and my life and the air mattress. The day before I had more or less lost my job and now I had two weeks to find a replacement, and for months, maybe four or six or nine months prior, life had been really hard. It seemed like nothing had let up in any area of my life—job, finances, relationships, health, spirituality, infinitely more. I had moved three times, changed lives how many times.

Lost one of my favorite earrings.

I was tired. Not sleepy tired, though the magic-trick mattress was starting to fix that too. But tired of fighting. I couldn’t remember the last time I had been truly happy. I didn’t feel like myself.

But nothing really bad had happened. I hadn't died and I could pay my bills this month at least, and I had a family who loved me and more packing tape to fix the painting on the wall. I was going to be okay.

But I still desperately wanted someone’s sympathy. Just someone to say, I know this has sucked. You’ve gone through more than a lot. I know you’re really tired and it’s okay to be that way because anyone would be after all this. Not someone to tell me how they were tired too, and their life was exhausting too, and I-know-how-you-feel-when-you-say-you’re-done, but someone to look at just my life, and say, it’s been hard.

I wanted God to say it.

But it hadn’t gotten bad enough yet to earn God’s sympathy. And so I lay there thinking about maybe what would be bad enough to be really bad. Maybe my house burning down or my parents dying or losing my other favorite earring. Certainly not just an exhausting six months or losing my job, because I was supposed to run the good race and persevere in trials and see God’s provision and remember he works all things for good and rejoice in all things.

Which I guess I wasn’t doing.

So I’d failed at that too.

And that’s when I saw the vision.

It was short. God just came up to me, and he sat down next to me and put his arms around me, and he gave me a hug. And he said two words.

“I’m sorry.”

God said, I’m sorry.

Not, fix it. Not, try harder. Not, be more grateful or praise me more or look on the bright side. Not, use this for my glory or pray about it or fast over your next step or remember those worse off than you.

But just, I’m sorry.

Sometimes I think God is very different from who I’ve believed him to be.

Friday, June 13, 2014

When Jesus asks me for a drink

I want to hear his voice.

So I wait, and sit, and stare at the window, determined to stay silent until I hear him speaking, hear what verse I am supposed to read, what life-grace is set out for me from the pages of this Book.

And I hear nothing, and Louisiana sun settles toward the land and shadows from pine trees creep across blades of browning grass. And the world breathes out as it waits with impossible patience for a kingdom we cannot quite grasp, fingers brushing the corners of its power, thrilling down to our soul and tearing our heart in two.

So I wait to hear his voice. What verse, Jesus?

4:07 p.m. this afternoon, and the silence breaks, but he answers with a question instead of the answer—a teacher at heart, my Rabbi. What do you need to hear?

I do not know. I have too many questions to know which to ask, journal pages full of scribbled inked-out tangles of four-letter words and too many question marks and words blurred down by tears.

So I say, Jesus, tell me what I need to hear—you know—and he says, you need to hear my love.

And that is when I hear the passage.

Jacob’s well was there; and Jesus, tired from the long walk, sat wearily beside the well about noontime. Soon a Samaritan woman came to draw water, and Jesus said to her, “Please give me a drink.” He was alone at the time because his disciples had gone into the village to buy some food. 
The woman was surprised, for Jews refuse to have anything to do with Samaritans. She said to Jesus, “You are a Jew, and I am a Samaritan woman. Why are you asking me for a drink?” 
John 4:6-9

And I am back in November seven months ago, at an upper room in Dallas so crowded people were turned away, when the pastor stood and declared, “We wish to be a people who minister to Jesus’ heart.” My pen froze then, like when I would fall asleep in morning college classes (writing slanting off the page), but this time, I am woken up. Does that mean heresy or freedom?

Maybe it means hope.

Maybe it speaks of a Jesus who is thirsty. Who wants to be heard, who wants something far simpler and sweeter than I ever thought.

Maybe it is the love of one who asks me today not for more tears and trials and frustrated paragraphs of I-do-not-understand, but just one thing.

Just a glass of water.

Just a here-is-what-I-have, with dirt under my nails and a frayed rope at the well, no special skills and just a bucket for water at noon on a hot day, and we will sit and you will drink and maybe we will talk about the parts of life that hurt and that I don’t understand while we get sunburned and dig our feet in the dark-flecked dirt.

Because you were thirsty.

And I gave you a drink when you asked.

Friday, March 28, 2014

I am all right with wind

I am all right with wind.

Wind is the breath of God. It says, a storm is coming, there is change and danger larger than yourself.

Though I don’t think I know what is a storm anymore. I used to think it was when things did not go as expected, but too many times the unforeseen led to more blessing.

And I thought a storm was uncertainty, but I began to realize that certainty is a state of the soul and not of your circumstances. Life moves forward; you lose things, you gain things. One may not be better than the other. Your plans change, your plans go as expected; both end up all right.

You change and move and it’s not what you thought. So you change again. And you find a way to happiness in that place as in the other.

It is a radical peace, to love the storm. It is not safe, and your bruises show it, and today, you may be tired. But when we say, be safe, travel safe, and pray for safety, we lie through our teeth as heretics. We do not need that and we never did; we need pain and danger and change to be driven to the light-slashed glory that reminds us who we are created to be in a kingdom that was never meant to be safe.

Not even heaven will be safe.

Because God is not safe.

But He is good.

So you the see the wind through the window and you step out into it from the four walls that protect you to your death, and the wind hurts, and you remain alive.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

When toothpaste is your only strong point

“Well,” I thought dourly, “at least my toothpaste is still the same.”

Five minutes prior, I had been sitting on the floor, back to my bed, journaling and praying about why I felt so unsettled. Was there sin in my life? Was I trying too hard, or perhaps not enough? What had changed from the times I would feel so rooted in myself and in my Lord?

And as I wrote, sentence after sentence, words uncensored, I realized the answer.

It was uncertainty.

Everything was different now, since I moved to Florida a month ago. Nothing had been left to me the way it was—job, home, state, family, friends, coworkers, doctor, church, schedule, income, weather, spirituality, exercise, pets, hobbies, health—and with my mind unable to settle on even one unchanged element of my life, it floated in some sort of land in the looking glass, unable to find a resting place.

It was like my life was saying, Here, be a new person. All at once. Have fun, goodbye.

I got up from the floor, walked barefoot to the kitchen, and pulled out the bread. Was there anything that was still the same?

Home? No. Job? No. Income? No. Good grief, I thought, even my makeup is different.

I put the bread in the toaster. There had to be something.

I pulled out a plate.

Of course!

My toothpaste. My toothpaste was definitely still the same.

I set the plate down. Toothpaste. That had to be the absolute stupidest thing to be encouraged by in history. Toothpaste. What the heck.

Put the bread on the plate, pour my milk, get a napkin.

Toothpaste cannot seriously be the most unchanged part of my life right now. This is ridiculous.

Let there be grace.

Sometimes when I talk to my friends, and we sit across from each other on a sleepy looking couch with our tea in our hands, I hear stories of frustration or confusion or fear, and a decision needs to be made, I ask them—What would make you feel light?

What would take away the heaviness, the burden? Not that there are not crosses to bear, and that those crosses are so often good, but where is the place for your heart that would allow you to move forward in lightness and hope, that makes you feel not just that you can go on, but that you can go on with beauty?

What would be grace to you?

This is a question I easily ask others but so rarely offer myself. They should have grace—I should not. They should be able to hold themselves lightly—I must live with an iron grip.

But if I cannot extend grace to myself, how can I grant it to others? I have fallen too many times to be offered grace yet again, the lies say. But in this is the ultimate danger, for I either give grace or I do not. I cannot pick and choose the recipients, for grace is less a choice of the mind as it is a way of the soul. So let me first offer grace to myself—to the one who has hurt me the most and is the hardest to forgive—that I might be grace to all others in this world.

I step back into my bedroom, toast and plate and glass. I am glad for my toothpaste, as I am for my life, for much can be borne when you hold yourself with open fingers and let there be light between them.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

This is the key to lasting change

This morning I was lying in bed, thinking about the coming week, knowing I needed to talk to Jesus, because I could feel my spirit twisted up inside me. It’s the kind of fog that makes you think so unclearly you can feel it, when you see the lies you’re believing and know they have to leave, but only Jesus can free you.

My thoughts: they are the dirty dishes, the spilled puddle on the floor, the back of the tapestry. They are the real life that I hide, and by doing so, I take my own poison.

So I needed to hear Jesus. There are times I can’t stop hearing Him; this often seems to be around four in the morning, when Jesus seems especially chatty, or, perhaps, I am especially silent.

But it was seven in the morning, and there was silence.

Jesus, I need you. I want to hear you. Please don’t leave me alone like this.

And suddenly, He spoke. He spoke with the sort of clarity that I don’t always receive but desperately pursue, the Voice that cuts so deeply and so unexpectedly that you wonder if you heard it out loud.

This is the key to lasting change, He said.

I waited for the rest.

Be yourself.

It is not that anything is permissible. It is not that I was being told to skip off and live willfully blind to responsibilities or people or truth, for that would be a sort of death.

Instead, what had upset me that morning was expectations. There was the person I thought others wanted me to be (whether that belief was rooted in reality or my own insecurity), and, even more, she—the “me” I wanted to be—was good. It is hard to fight a good idea, even if it does lead to death.

For I felt to get there, I had to run until I dropped. I had to work harder. Be more. Don’t disappoint. Don’t be a failure. Follow through. Be everything to these people you respect. Just thinking about it made me want to give up, made me die a little inside.

And yet, in all that, I still knew who I wanted to be.

I wanted to bring beauty and peace and grace. I want to operate out of the overflow.

I want the supernatural, the beauty, the laying hands on people and healing them, the miracles. I want to see more pictures for others in my mind and words for them in my heart, and I want to my joy to infect the world. I want to hear Jesus’ voice and go into the realm of heaven. I want everything, all the gifts of the Spirit, to see angels and release power and be the most radiantly loving person the world has seen.

I want everything Jesus and His kingdom has to offer. I want the miracles and signs and wonders, I want to see His face and hear His voice, I want to bring others before His beauty and to rescue others out of their captivity. I want to act and I want to fight.

But all of that is the power of Jesus flowing out of you.

And you can’t have Him flowing out of you if you’re not overflowing to begin with, and the overflow comes from His heart.

It comes from spending time with Him, it comes from sitting at His feet: the one thing that is needed. I want the heart of Jesus, not just the actions or the power of Him, for without His heart, I am just a noisy gong and a clanging cymbal. To become who I want to be, sometimes I don’t have to do anything more at all.

Sometimes, I just have to be myself. I have to go for a walk in the woods, or rest for a day, or read all night. Sometimes I have to try against all logic and perhaps then to fall, for to fail is not to be flawed. Sometimes I have to follow where my heart leads in order to find that He was guiding it all along to His own.

For in the end, even if He never gave me power, if He took away everything I held dear, if I never witnessed another miracle or saw another vision, but if He gave me His heart, I would be content. For out of the radiating glory of my life would come all the beauty and joy and calling I longed for when I was pursuing the power and the kingdom in itself so desperately; in His heart I find the victorious life that, when I pursued it for its own sake, became a freakish carnival maze of mirrors that leads only to confusion and death.

For while all of the power and eternal expanse of glory in the kingdom is indeed part of His Spirit, His heart is always where it begins. It all begins there, and it never leaves. It stays. You stay at His feet. You’ll stay there forever. You stay in His heart as it becomes yours, as He pours out of you—as He pours out into your life and world and kingdom, He pours out in power and love and grace.

This is living in the overflow.

This is the key to loving without getting tired.

This is the way to stand against the evil of the world without getting lost in the darkness.

This is the beauty that sets the captives free.

With His heart, I will be content.

Only one thing is needed.

Love Yahweh your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment.