That is something

It’s a rather common experience to feel like everything is black and white, clear cut and concrete, when you are younger, and as you age, you begin to understand more of the complexities and confusions of a deeper understanding of life. I am finding myself mucking around in quite a bit of that, so much so that I feel like I have to question almost everything I once thought was plain. A friend of mine recently asked what love even is, and I felt horrible that I had no kind of answer. It’s something that I’m struggling with, too.

That seems so horrible to me, because it seems like, I don’t know, if that’s not a basic need, what is? Shouldn’t everyone be able to experience and know a basic definition of love? But it seems to me that love is yet one more mystery, and not always in the Princess Bride kind of wonderful mystery of untold depths of enjoyment and delight.

I’ve seen things called love that were not love, and things called not love that were, and most confusing of all is this thing called the love of God. If John can say in all honesty that God is love, and that God loves us, then it can only make ones head and heart hurt trying to understand this thing called love, and why people all experience life so differently. If you and I are both beloved saints of God, then why is one of us given the answers to a prayer or a longing for love and the other not?

The only answer I have is no answer at all: that love is a mystery. That there is so much our finite minds can’t truly comprehend. I’m near-sighted, and there’s much that I simply cannot see. And as much as we try to reduce complicated things into things that we can understand, I’m more and more convinced that the complicated things are simply too much to be reduced to human terms, and there absolutely no satisfaction in that.

Job called for a mediator and demanded and answer and was told he couldn’t handle an answer and went and put his hand over his mouth. And the biggest piece of confusion for me has always been how that can possibly be a satisfying ending to the story, how that could possibly justify all the suffering and mistreatment that came to Job. And why God deemed that it was a sufficient answer for us as human beings, instead of making us capable of understanding.

Paul said the clay can’t question the maker who forms it, and sometimes that makes me shy about asking questions like this. But as best as I understand it, if you are seeking to understand and know your maker, you will invariably wind up with questions of “why?” and “how?” and “what is this?” What does it say about God that life is the way life is? The hard part is staying curious instead of falling into judgment. It’s very easy to go from “why?” to “this is not fair, and God is wrong.” If you truly understand your own incapability, then it becomes fairly obvious the stupidity involved in judging God – like a child who thinks it’s parent is mean for not letting them walk barefoot on broken glass. But when life feels very unfair, the aching hole of “why?” is very hard to keep from falling into.

I know that the answer of action is the same: acknowledging that that God is who He says He is. That He cannot lie, that He is love, that He works all things for our good, that He is faithful, that He knows, that He is holy and perfect.

But the “why?” is still there. And though there is no satisfying answer for it, I don’t think we’re wrong to ask it. Jesus, hanging on the cross: My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?

And God didn’t answer. But the veil tore. Or maybe that was God’s answer. Come here, and I’ll tell you.

So much of this life is the waiting to be made whole. So much of this life is finding out again and again how broken we are. With death, with abuse, with lies, with disappointment, with insufficiency, with just plain emptiness. What do we have left to offer each other, in this time of now?

I don’t know. At one point I thought it would be clear cut, a list of “10 things we have left to offer each other.” Now, I wonder, because our desire to offer is different than our ability to offer, and our ability to offer is different than our ability to convince others to receive or reciprocate.

If there is anything that I still think I do know, though, it’s that we have to keep trying. That we’re never released from the obligations to seek God, to love, and I think to ask hard questions and admit we don’t have the answers. Even if the only answer behind any of those actions can only be boiled down to, “Because God said it was pleasing to Him that we do.” It’s a hard place to be, but I think a true place to be, and that is something.

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What do you say?

You know what they say: Love Wins.

And if you are anything like me, “they” make you very frustrated and sad, because that’s jut a feel-good cop out that refuses to look at what love is. First of all, love is verb. People want to think it’s a noun, and I’ll dig around at that thought a bit more later, but the consideration of love as a noun is usually an attempt to avoid the difficult questions.

Love Wins. Love of what? Love of others? Love of nature? Love of self? Don’t try to squirm out of this – if you don’t confront that love is a verb, you are trying to pretend that those above choices will never be in conflict and that is demonstrably false. One of the most painful examples I have seen of Love Wins is people trying to use it to justify infidelity. It’s okay that I left the person I promised to love forever, because I love this other person, and Love Wins. Yes, that is “love winning” but that’s love of self winning. By dropping the direct object of “love,” it makes it sound very pious but is actually deeply deceiving.

The idea is, any action goes, as long as it’s in the name of love, because love wins. There’s no condemnation with love. But that’s still avoiding. Love of what? Love of whom? Because the object of your love is the object of your worship. There is One who claims the noun of Love — God. And that’s exactly what it means: the love of God, the love through God, the love toward God: the worship of God.

That’s the love that made the only innocent and holy man take on the full wrath and judgment of God. Love of God. I’ve seen a lot of people say Jesus did that because He loved us, but I don’t believe that to be it at all. He did it because He loved God, more than He loved us or Himself. Love is so very often what leads to self-denial, the exact opposite of how most people are attempting to use the slogan Love Wins.

Love Wins. Do you not understand what hard things this means in the real life? If there is one who wrongs, and one who has been wronged, who do you love? And is it really for you to judge about wrongs and wronged? And this question requires that one be worthy of love. Is that love? How do you love awful things? People like to use Hitler as an example of all that is wrong in this world — so do we love Hitler? Have we judged that Hitler is not worthy of love? If we get to decide who is worthy of love, is that Love Winning?

The only way I can see for Love Wins to make any sense at all is to appeal to authority: what you love. If what you are really saying is Love for Self Wins, you justify your actions by yourself and what benefits or harms you. If what you are really saying is Love for Dogs Win, well, heaven help you, you are appealing to the authority of dogs for your actions. And if what you are trying to say is the Love of God Wins, then you have do this other thing: submit to the authority of God, even when it means self-denial.

That is what Jesus was called to do. And I think that is what we are called to do. I don’t think it’s easy, nor is it always pleasant or feel good. And in all honesty, I don’t think it is often easy to understand. But when you are caught in the struggles of understanding what the loving thing to do is in this messed up situation, the only way to make any sense out of anything is to admit that you do not have the authority to decide what love is. Only God does. Or whatever you have decided to worship as your god.

If love was easy to understand, or love was easy to do, there would be a whole lot more “love” in the world. Let us not do ourselves the disservice of pretending that the struggles of loving in this broken word can be distilled down to a catchy, dismissive slogan that requires not heartache or difficulty self reflection, or brutal examination of all that you believe and worship.

I was listening to someone tell me the other day of her raw heart ache and her feelings of not being worthy of love, and how she felt badly betrayed and mistreated by her most recent lover, who had rapidly moved on to someone else to love — better and more gently than he’d ever loved her.

And sitting there listening to her pain and her grief, I kept wondering what love was. Love, in that moment, it seemed to me, was just hearing her, and recognizing her hurt. So that was what I endeavored to do. But all the while, my mind churned. You keep going from lover to lover and you think you will ever feel “worthy of love”? You think love is both something we must be worthy of and something that is still worth it, as conditional as you seem to understand it to be? In light of eternity, is true love rebuking you — painful in the moment, but so life giving in the long run? What would the apostle Paul say? Probably something starting with “brethren and countrymen–” and I’m just not feeling the brethren and countrymen thing right now. What would Jesus say? How the heck can I know? Sometimes He rebuked and sometimes He said, “do not rebuke her.”

Love Wins? Love Wins what? No, truly, what is love winning? You can’t even remotely pretend that love makes this world okay. This world is coming apart at its seams, has been, will be, and cannot be patched back together with love. Love can be a balm in this world, a comfort, a refuge sometimes, but what does it win? And I say this in all seriousness, because if you are going to die for love, you had sure better know what it is you are winning. And if you don’t think love is something you’ll ever be called on to die for, what makes you so sure it’s winning? How do you expect to actually make a difference against darkness and hurt and hate if you aren’t going to have to sacrifice for it? Plenty of people have died in the name of love. (Jesus, for example, comes to mind.) You can’t love and be safe and not do hard things.

Love Wins. It’s called, “sticking two verbs together and pretending it makes a sentence.” It doesn’t. It’s a slogan to hide behind, but doesn’t actually do anything in the way of guidance or illumination of how to deal with the hardness and the brokenness of life, and the confusion we all face when we come face to face with the command to love and the ugliness of the fallen world.

I don’t have an answer back, and that makes some people angry. Don’t just criticize. Keep your mouth shut unless you have a solution to offer. But people, you’re missing a step. Don’t you open your mouth and pretend to offer a solution when it’s a solution you haven’t vetted. If you won’t do the work of vetting your own offering, don’t be surprised or offended when other people are testing it and trying it. Love Wins is a feel-good farce designed to belay guilt, accountability or authority. It’s the childhood chant of “I’m right, you’re wrong, ha, ha, ha” without actually having meaning or depth behind it.

Love is supposed to be sacred, so playing “love” is supposed to be the trump card. If you don’t agree with me, you’re just a hater. No, I’m not. I’m someone who’s desperately trying to love, who finds that all sorts of different definitions and objects of love are completely contradictory or antithetical to each other. Love Wins is not a solution to someone struggling to understand how to love guilty, condemned people who have done horrible things. Love Wins is not a solution to understanding how people can say they love you, and love someone who has wronged you, hurt you, torn you apart, and ripped your life to shreds. Love Wins doesn’t help you understand when you are loving someone, and when you are enabling them more and more into their own self destruction and destruction of others. Love Wins doesn’t bring people back from the dead or end suffering. Love Wins has never helped me figure out Love or Winning, and in all honesty, I’ve never seen it used as more than sickening expression of “I’ve Got Mine!”

Do I believe in Love? Yes, but it’s not pretty and neat. I believe in the love and the authority of God. I don’t believe I’m worthy of love. I believe it is only the judicial act carried out against the innocent Son of God that satisfies a holy and just God to love, but as such, I don’t need to be afraid of losing that love. Because I never claimed it by my own action or merit anyhow; I was declared worthy by One in authority, and His declaration and intent stands. I can’t accept that love without also accepting that authority, and that means my measuring stick for love is not my own: sometimes, I’m called to love when I don’t want to, when I want to wash my hands of the whole situation. Sometimes, I’m called to not love when I want to, like when I want to love myself more than any kind of self-sacrificing love. I don’t get to say, “well, I don’t think that aspect of God is very loving,” because I don’t get to define love, because I don’t have the power to love. Not even as I think I should love.

I’m twisted, I’m broken, I’m weak. My love is tainted and fragile and without power. That means the only love I really have to offer is the love that God gives me, and that must therefore be defined by His authority. That really is all I have to offer you. Do I believe love will win? Yes, but winning is defined by God’s terms, not ours. And God was pretty blunt about saying that won’t be how we expected it or valued or how would have done it ourselves. So, no, I don’t really know what that means. I don’t know if I’ll be seeing my great-grandmother again. I don’t know what happens to people who seem to have broken other people by their inability to even understand what love is. I don’t know what the fullness of God’s love looks like; I only know I don’t have the authority to define God or His attributes. It is He that has created me, not I that have created Him. Love wins, in that love remains after this world has passed away. Love wins, in that it is Love that has sought to redeem us. Love wins, in that it is God who wields the love. Love wins, in that we can’t really commandeer it, and it will always be beyond our definition and power, as we echo faintly of what we’ve heard.

If I have to pare it down to a scant sentence, I cannot say Love Wins. I can only say, the Love of God will Win.

“God Himself will be with them and be their God. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away.”

When Waking Up Doesn’t Fix the Problem

I have been staring at this computer screen, trying to get something out of it, and of course, getting nothing. I either need to get away from the screen or make something out of it myself, and my difficulty getting away makes me realize that I am actually avoiding dealing. So deal I ought.

The problem with the perpetual use of hyperbole is that it leaves you with no words at all when exceptional and extraordinary things happen. Those two adjectives are most frequently used as positive exclamation, but please recognize that they most certainly do not have to be.

How about when two people you know are arrested on charges of murdering their own son?

I can’t even.

See, people usually say, “That sweater is so cute, I can’t even!” You can’t even what? You can’t even come up with enough use of the English language to denote your happiness with it? How unfortunate.

How about you can’t even stop thinking about it? Can’t even figure out what you think or feel? Can’t even imagine something so horrible, but can’t even shut of the part of your brain that tries to play images of things in an attempt to process them. Can’t even stop talking about it, but can’t even figure out what I’m trying to say. Can’t even bear to read the reporting on it, but can’t even stop trying to figure out what is going on, as if in someway any of this could make sense.

Once, maybe about 7 years ago, something similar happened. A horrible shooting event in my home town at a civic center. And when it first happened, I confess to my shame I rolled my eyes at how the news stations tried to bring as much drama and fear-mongering into it as possible. How the media makes such a big deal out of these things, when more people are dying by the minute by things no one wants to talk about.

Partly, those things are true. Partly, I think, they are one of our coping mechanisms to try to keep the horrible things at bay. Rationalize, distance, talk about in cold clinical terms. It is only when those horrible things break through into our own personal circles that we have to face the reality of how devastatingly broken and unrepairable this world is. That did happen to me, 7 years ago. Unbeknownst to me at the time of my scoffing, one of the people killed that day was someone I knew. Not knew well; maybe even more so knew of. But the event ceased to be impersonal, and suddenly it was horrifying.

We know there are horrible things going on all around us. But we like the illusion that those things only happen to Other People. Maybe, in the backs of our minds, to Other People Who Probably Deserved It. We don’t like to admit that, and maybe we know it isn’t really true. But still, this idea that if we live our life right, horrible things won’t happen to us. That if we keep our nose down, make good choices, and be, you know, generally “good people,” then our lives won’t turn into living nightmares.

It’s a lie. A lie we try to use to comfort ourselves, but nothing we say or do will ever be able to influence the horror of suddenly losing a parent to car accident. The truth is, death is in the world. Some of us fight to hold it back, to delay it – but we never can prevent death. And death is in the world because sin is in the world, and that is rampant.

People say, “Look at all the beauty in the world!” Yes, there is beauty. There is beauty. But even the beauty in this world is a decaying beauty. It is corrupted. There are the tombs, and there are the white-washed tombs. We can turn a blind eye, pretend the horrible things happening Over There won’t ever catch us. We can be shocked when the horror breaks open in front of us. We can build our dreams and fantasy worlds as fast as we can, but we can never escape sin and death and horror.

And all the coping mechanisms of this world, all the ones I have found or heard of anyway, keep going for the rationalization, the clinicalization of the horror, to build a wall between you and it, to wash your own life of the horror and turn your backs on the ones being buried in it. But it doesn’t go away. The world is still steeped in it. You might be able to cram the monster down for a little bit, but it will be back. You can’t build a life bullet-proof to horror.

I know of no earthly balm. Creation itself is groaning for the redemption of humankind. The justice of this world will not stop the horror. The mercy of this world will not stop the horror. There are those who would wade out and try to stem the tide of death and pain and hatred and abuse and torture and need and desperation. But no one is strong enough for it; the horror takes you down, one way or another. The careers of paramedics are short, for example, because there are too many horrible things and too many limits to our powers to fight back. We can’t be good enough to stop the horror. We can’t fix it.

You’re not supposed to say “no earthly balm.” You’re supposed to say, “Help is available!” You’re supposed to say, “But, counseling!” You’re supposed to say nice things about healing and being made stronger. And about being a warrior who overcomes hurt and fear. You’re supposed to say, “It will be okay.”

But it won’t.

There’s no way to make horror okay.

And if you think there is, I deeply question whether horror has yet broken in to your own safe little circle.

I have been struggling with the concepts of mercy and justice. They seem to be entirely opposed, do they not? Both right and true, and yet a paradox of existence. Which do you long for? If you have been wronged, justice. If you have wronged, mercy. Which of us has not been in both places? But what if it is a wrong, but not against you? Do you have any right to ask for justice? Or for mercy?

The only place where I see them coming together is in redemption.

When you redeem a soda can, it’s not that you’re getting free money. It’s that someone already paid for it. And when there is redemption of souls, it’s not that mercy is being poured out without cost or consequence. It’s that justice was paid by someone else: the innocent Son of God, who bore the just wrath of God against sin and corruption and horror.

But when you redeem a soda can, you give it up. It will be made new again for a purpose, but first it will be destroyed. If a soul is redeemed, it is given up. Life is no longer ours to live for ourselves. Our bodies will be destroyed, but will be made new again for a purpose. And that’s the only way I can see mercy and justice for this world: redemption, which will only come through destruction and being made new. You can’t have the justice without the destruction, and you can’t have the mercy without being made new.

This is the hope: not that tomorrow, I will wake up and there will be no more horror in the world or in MY world. But that someday, there will be redemption. There will be justice and mercy. There will be destruction and being made new.

Well,then what of today?

And every time I ask about today, I hear, “Today, if you will hear His voice, do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion, in the day of trial, in the wilderness, where your fathers tested Me, tried Me, and saw My works forty years. Therefore I was angry with that generation, and said, ‘They always go astray in their heart, and they have not known my ways.’ So I swore in My wrath, ‘They shall not enter my rest.’. . .exhort one another daily, while it is still called ‘Today.'”

So Today is the time of trial and wilderness and forebearance. Not that Justice will never be, and not that Mercy will never be. But like the beauty, the corrupted beauty, the justice and mercy of this time is only an echo, only a foreshadowing, and never enough to satisfy. Never enough justice and never enough mercy, because now is not the fullness of redemption, of destruction and being made new. The hope for today is not that it IS the rest, but that a rest does exist and is coming, and we have something to hold onto in the midst of the horror: all things made new.

We can’t make the horror okay, because inside of us all is a piece of the horror. Trying to make the horror okay now denies the truth. But the truth is not that we are good enough or can be good enough to escape the horror or defeat the horror. The hope, the joy, the desire is really for our own redemption, when the horror will be purged out from inside of us and we will be made new.

So today is the time of bearing the burdens and the heartache and the trial and the wilderness. And by bearing I don’t mean fixing, or moving beyond. I mean holding fast to the living God, in spite of all the terrible, horrible and wretched things of this world. It is because of God’s great patience that we exist, that we will find Him when we seek Him. And His patience is still working out, as long as it is still called Today. And this calls for endurance and faithfulness. And recognizing that we don’t get to be done with the horror, not in the world or in our world.

We can’t fix the horror. We can’t make the horror go away. We can’t be safe from the horror.We can only cry out with creation, “Come, Lord Jesus!”

 

First

I am a child of God first.

This became my mantra this week. It began to grow out of a conversation I had with a friend.

I have just been thinking that a lot of my stress comes from feeling insufficient, and if I just work harder, I’ll be more sufficient. I’m trying instead to look to God, who alone is sufficient, and declares us sufficient by His blood But I lose sight of that every other minute.

Lord, let us find our satisfaction in You, instead of in ourselves, and let us receive Your grace, a grace unknown and unoffered by this world.

Do you see the outgrowth? I feel insufficient. . .as a student, a friend, a practitioner, an adult. But! I am a child of God first. So when there is a person or situation that is standing there, making me feel insufficient and incapable, I remind myself that I am a child of God first, before any other thing or occupation, and that it is Him only I am living to please. Not others. And not myself.

But it has been a very sobering mantra. I am a child of God first. It seems almost like a feel-good cliché. Instead, it has been revealing to me how very little I have thought about what it really means to be a child of God first. What does it mean, really? In some aspects, I think it means we have to pay attention even more to what God says about Himself, because, as His children, He is also saying it about us. A complex thought which I am afraid of being misunderstood, but bear with me.

To paraphrase Rich Mullins, “Jesus didn’t come and die so you could live a comfortable life.” Okay, yes. But you cannot always define things by what they are not. Why did Jesus come and die? The most succinct answer I can give is, “To be about His Father’s will.” Jesus prayed a multitude of times for the cup of suffering and judgment to be taken from Him, yet, “not as I will, but as You will.” What He did, He did not out of self-fulfilling joy, but out of deliberate obedience to the Father, and the work the Father meant to accomplish.

I think that puts us, though perhaps not to the same degree, in the same place. It matters what God is doing, if we’re His children. Not children in the sense of spoiled royalty who get whatever we want. His children that are about the work of their Father.

What that has revealed to me this week is how very much I am not interested in being about the work of the Father, but rather how much I’m drinking the wine of this world. Its cares, its values, its priorities, its reason, its logic, and a pervasive desire to figure out how to get along with its people, its systems and its social rules. It has shown me how very much I have been trying to figure out how to get comfortable, and how to paint my favorite fairytales–how so very much I have been trying to create my life and lead my life, two things which are very acceptable by this world and contrary to a life of obedience to something much, much higher than you are. The first step to acknowledging the greatness of God is a deep humility in regards to yourself.

The more I try to define what a child of God is, the more I find I have been running the other direction. Not deliberately putting myself up against God, but fearing created thing (humankind) more than it’s creator. Avoiding speaking the the truth to avoid conflict, because sure, judgment is coming sometime, but. . .I mean, that’s between them and God. Well, the judgment is, sure, but how about the truth that we are supposed to bear witness too? I don’t want any type of conflict, but. . .isn’t light and dark supposed to be in conflict? If it were a novel, we would all be desperately hoping that the powers of light wouldn’t be giving way to the powers of dark, wouldn’t be accommodating, wouldn’t be trying to fade into the background and fit in. We’d be hoping they were putting up a strong resistance, because they would be the only hope of a happy ending. This would be horrifying, and isolating, and offending so many people. . .and possible only if you really acted as child of God first, knowing that this world and it’s forms are passing away and God’s word is enduring forever.

I don’t mean that we should go around deliberately trying to offend people. But Jesus was an offense, and warned us that if they were offended by the master, how much more so by the servants? He testified to the truth; He was the truth. He was perfect in every way, and utterly and completely rejected by this world. And if I am honest with myself, I very much would like to avoid that rejection.

I will try one more time to say it, to clarify what I am trying to get at: we can’t serve two masters. We will either please the one and anger the other, or anger the one and please the other. Yet at a certain level, I’ve been trying to please both. It doesn’t work. But committing to one most certainly means rejecting the other.  “Fleeing” to the place of affirming my identity as a child of God de facto means that I have to take a position of enmity toward the ideals of this world, which are resolutely set against God. Their god is their pleasure. Not so for the Child of God, who prayed with blood and sweat. Not so for us, if we truly go to join Him. There is a joy and a peace in following God, but it is not the comfort of this world. We cannot honestly pursue both.

And I am a child of God first. And still trying to learn to understand what that means.

Light

I grew up under the rather Puritanical mindset and teaching that life is miserable, and you had better just start getting used to that now. In classical fashion, my first growth beyond that mindset was rebellion against the bitterness and anger that so filled the people who accepted that mindset. Being angry at anger doesn’t solve anything, but sometimes it is our first step in waking up.

It’s still a struggle for me, though. That’s why I’m writing here under pseudonym. The people I grew up with would still be quick to tear all of this apart as “too optimistic” and “naive” and even “delusional.” Maybe. Maybe not. Sometimes I think people stay in the darkness because it seems safer. If we already expect the worst, we can’t be let down. And so they proclaim this darkness as “truth,” but it’s a self confirming bias. If you only take note of all the horrible and dark things that happen, than it certainly seems like “truth” is that life is made up only out of horrible dark things. These dark-livings then loudly proclaim that they have the truth, that everyone else is too childish to deal with. Maybe. Maybe not.

Even if we were to grant the dark-livings that they have the truth, or a portion of it, even, there is still this: But now abideth faith, hope, love, these three; and the greatest of these is love. And truth didn’t make the list. And if you put truth in the same category of fathoming all mysteries and knowledge (which I think is how the dark-livings are using the word truth, in that instance), then it gets the slam that it’s worth nothing without love. And love, we have plastered everywhere to the point that further words on it are at the moment rather unmeaningful, ought to be casting out the darkness.

But setting aside that worn path, what about faith and hope? The dark-livings would say that “if in this life only we have hope, we of all men are to be most pitied!” clearly implies that there’s NO hope for this life. It’s only in the ever-after that that there is hope, or fruit from faithfulness.

And there I part. There are a lot of hard and horrible things in life, and that I do not argue with at all. But they abide. Faith, hope and love. Now AND later. Some times you read about or witness or go through yourself some hard and horrible things that seem to be so pointless and endless. Other times, hard and horrible things and yet you can see the faith and hope and love shining through the absolute shit (in it’s literal meaning). If we are not the ones called to faith and hope in middle of all the darkness, who is?

So Faith is here. Hope is here. That is still hard for me to understand. I don’t think that hope means getting everything you want. But it has to mean something. And I think of the pillar of light leading the Israelites. Not everything was light. But there was that pillar, and it was bright. You have to have faith, though, or else you won’t follow it. The pillar of light goes wandering off, and you stay put, gritting your teeth for the darkness, now that the light is gone.

I’m not trying to imply there aren’t times when it seems like all goes dark and the veil is rent, and that is all. What I am saying is, when we do see light, do we shield ourselves from it, and from what it might mean? Or do we follow the light in faith and hope?

It’s easy to say the second. Not so easy when you have lived or seen others live through being so happy to see what looks like light, and then having their hopes dashed. What do you say? My faith is better than yours, so the hope that I have won’t be disappointed? That’s why this is such a hard topic for me to write about. How can you claim hope for yourself when you know other people have hoped and seen no fruit from that hoping?

And that’s where the anger and the bitterness come from. I understand that a little better now that I did before. But I still don’t think it’s right. We are no where called to be angry and bitter. So understandable or not, we have to reject the mindsets that inevitably lead us there: they aren’t really truth, in it’s ultimate sense. They can’t be.

Understanding the hurt that can and does exist can make us more fearful and doubtful of both faith and hope and even love. Yet even a fool can see that the greatest faith and hope and love is that which has withstood the greatest fears and the deepest darkness. So it cannot be naivete that causes us to stumble after the light, but rather courage.

I read the works of Emily P. Freeman once, and to paraphrase, she was putting forth that sometimes God uses both our human limits and our deep-seated desires to guide us, to actually lead us into what He had prepared for us to do. This both at once had the sense of being very liberating and a ring of truth, and also, completely against everything I have ever known. You fight and wrestle with human limitations. You are always called upward and onward toward more. You are never enough and must always keep striving. And you should put to death any of your desires for pleasant things, which you wouldn’t get anyways, and besides you don’t really need them, and besides, it’s probably just your fallen nature seeking after things you shouldn’t really be wanting anyhow.

Not that there’s any bitterness there at all or anything.

Ok, lots.

The thing is, it seems to me, a lot of darkness-living people are doing a lot more gritting of their teeth than they are praying. Not even asking for things is different than respecting the authority of God to have a better understanding than you of what is good. The darkness-living winds up being a lot more like the un-prodigal son, who is mad he never got to have party, even though he never asked. Or like the miserly servant who refused to do anything with his talent because it would all be taken away from him anyway.

And asking is different than setting an ultimatum. One of the most wondrous passages I’ve ever read is when it says that those who seek Him will find Him. And it seems to me that if we are finding Him, then we are finding His will. And it seems to me that part of seeking is asking. So if you have this desire in your heart, how do you know if it something you should be following up on or not, unless you ask?

And if you keep asking for clarity and direction and understanding and discernment, and the same thoughts keep coming up again and again, at what point do you allow that maybe the desire is the answer?

I don’t know the answer to that. But it does seem to me that the important step there is the seeking and the praying about it. Only you won’t ever do that if every time the thing that you want pops up, you stuff it back down because it’s obviously too good to be true. And if you accept the teaching that life is all about not having what you want and always learning to live with doing things you don’t like and are hard for you, then you don’t ask.

I have sometimes seen this line of thinking shortened down to “the desire is the answer.” That I do not mean. That implies that you wouldn’t be wanting anything, unless it was God’s will to give it to you, and I don’t agree with that at all. But what I have found is that instead of feeling frustrated and angry when the minute I get a free moment, my thoughts invariably fall toward some of the same old familiar topics and themes, what I should really do is take it seriously. Think about it. Pray about it, very specifically. And be at peace that if it stays, you keep praying about it. And if it goes, you got another kind of answer.

But it staying is a kind of an answer. You can’t really in good conscience pretend something isn’t important when the same thing keeps coming up over the course of your whole life. Even if it is what looks good to you. It’s real. It’s important. It deserves prayer. It shouldn’t be dismissed. It should be treated with faith and with hope even more than it should be treated with logic and rational thought and emotion. God is still leading, sometimes with a pillar of cloud, and sometimes with a pillar of light.

Trust and obey

So often I only seem to manage to write here when I am stuck in an ugly place, and that makes it all the more refreshing to be able to write, occasionally, from places of noteworthy peace. Not, mind you, noteworthy energy or noteworthy answers, or noteworthy understanding. Just peace.

This is not a peace that comes from knowledge. I mean, my peace is “God has a plan.” But I’ve heard that and “known” the unceasingly. Sometimes, what we know becomes in a more full sense for us Truth: in the words of Thomas, “My Lord and my God.”

Since there is no new knowledge, it seems at times hard to describe to anyone else the kind of change that takes place. There was no sudden revelation or clear words from heaven. If I could partially attribute it to anything, I would attribute it in part to finally having a chance to digest some of the most difficult and unpredictable things I’ve ever gone through. Note that I did not say “going through those things”; I said digesting having gone through those things. There was very little peace in the midst of them, or even right after them.

In the space of one night, I went from my body functioning, to my body and my mind not functioning at all. When you cannot even depend on the body that houses you, so many kinds of uncertainty open up. This lasted months upon unending months. In one year, my health dipped drastically lower than it ever has, improved to higher heights than I can remember in decades, and finished the roller coaster by dropping once again. I am in the process of spending the better part of a year being essentially homeless, and driving north and south and east and west across this country, big enough to span many countries. In this rotation alone, there’s been more nights than I can count where I literally did not know where I was going to be sleeping that night.

I have said it before, but one seems to have to continuously re-learn: Sometimes having utterly all control stripped away from you leads to a greater peace when you finally have no choice, no option, no power or ability or determination to do anything other than trust.

And sometimes you don’t or can’t, and you just slog through weeks and months of misery. There’s that, too.

That’s why I feel like digesting all the hardness and uncertainty is only part of it. The other part — again, we are not discussing new knowledge, so my apologies if you were hoping for a revelation to change your life — is the growing conviction that God loves me. That God likes me. That He’s not arbitrary and distant. That He has plans for me — GOOD plans, not cold, calculating, take-your-medicine-and-stop-whining plans.

I can’t for the life of me tell you how or when that happened. Except, obviously, sometime between now and the last time I wrote. Again, no grand revelations. Just a quiet coming along side, you and Me — we’re in this together. He goes ahead to prepare. And it’s going to be okay. It’s going to be more than okay; it’s going to be good. I don’t know how or what or why or when. I just know it has to be good. Because He is good, and He is in control, and I have heard that all a million times before and sometimes it just turns into Real. My Lord and my God.

 

If I was a good writer, I would stop right there. Many a good work has been painfully burdened with an uncalled for epilogue that doesn’t display any trust in the reader. Even knowing that, I feel compelled to point out that “my Lord and My God” is what Thomas said after God rubbed his face in the fact that that he was not believing the things he needed to be believing. Come to think of it, that’s pretty much Job in a nutshell, too.

It continues to fascinate me how it is so much easier for us to believe the things that terrify us rather than the things that will comfort and encourage and strengthen us. Perhaps, for some select few, hope comes easy; but for most of us, it seems, it takes a good deal of audacity to hope. (This concept did not, incidentally, begin with a certain senators book; I dare say it’s been around a good long time, but you might enjoy reading this: http://www.theatlantic.com/daily-dish/archive/2008/03/for-the-record/218866/ ) I think that everyone can interpret the use of that word – audacity – a little differently. For me, it is the idea of, “Who am I, that I should expect any good?”

Again, maybe not everyone struggles with that particular aspect. But while it is more frequent a topic to discuss “hidden sins,” most people don’t even seem to acknowledge another fault: hidden dreams. On first scan, it seems unnecessary to call it a fault. Wanting good things, verifiability good things, and not making a fuss out of it, hardly seems like something to complain about. But the problem, I have discovered (and to me, this part is new knowledge) is the “hidden” part. Because hiding implies that it isn’t safe or can’t be trusted. To “hide good things” is to in a way act as though one cannot be trusted with good things, or with us, or with our delicate hearts. Rather than dare to tell Him, “God, this is really what I want from the future,” I stash it in the corners and peek at when I pretend He isn’t looking. That’s not trust.

Upon reflection, maybe this piece has more to do with it all than I first realized. The last month or so has really been a time of me confessing my hopes and dreams and desires to God. I don’t think I ever before really understood how hopes and dreams could be involved in the same sentence as “confessing,” but I have been becoming increasingly convicted that this was an area that I tried to keep from God. That He could have His plans, and I’d make my little doll house plans, and if they didn’t happen, I understood, but I would have my own little doll house plans, that I would mostly try to hide from Him so He wouldn’t mock him. That’s not trust.

I do repeat myself. It’s important. Sitting there and saying, “You know, God, this is what I want,” is something that I actually continue to find to be incredibly difficult to do. But as with confessing sin, also strangely freeing. There’s a quiet resentment to hiding your dreams. And there is no guarantee that by confessing your dreams, you get them miraculously fulfilled. There is freedom in clearing the air and admitting freely that you do have hopes and dreams. But there is also that audacity of hope.

And that is when I discovered, when I bring the desires of my heart before Him — as is His explicit injunction — He doesn’t mock me. He doesn’t crush me. He doesn’t promise blank-check I’ll get everything I want, but (curiously!) there seems to be no offense in me saying, “these are my dreams.” I might not get what I want, but if I don’t, it’s only because He has something better planned.

I still wonder. I still want to know. But I am so much less afraid.

Comprehendeth Not

After the last series of complaining  was tried, wondering if I was sick and wondering if I was depressed– well, I was sick. After the antibiotics, I went back to wondering if I was just tired, or maybe some depressed, or maybe the antibiotics weren’t enough.

Well, maybe. Maybe any of those things. Maybe none of those things. Maybe all of those things together. But I was suddenly struck with an epiphany that regardless of ANY of those things, problem numero uno was: I was believing lies.

Believing lies doesn’t make them true, any more than “knowing” the truth means you are always believing it.

More often than not, I find that looking to actual children helps me to understand my own situation. A child may “know” that there aren’t monsters in the corner of the room. But in the darkness, the child may see what looks scary. . .and it feels scary. . .and believes it to be scary. And maybe the adult tells the child not to be afraid, and the child knows the adult is telling the truth, but maybe it’s still hard to believe. Maybe it takes the light coming on in the room to see the monster is just a sweater over a chair for the child to believe the truth, but the truth was always the truth, no matter what the child was believing. And maybe, once the light is off again–even though the child has seen the truth–it’s hard for the child to keep believing the truth. Because, there it is, looking scary, feeling scary, and seeming to lead to nothing but scary conclusions.

And looking at my future, short-, medium-, or long-term, has looked pretty scary. It’s felt pretty scary. I’ve believed it to be scary. But that doesn’t actually mean that it is scary.

I grew up with the Bible. I grew up hearing the very word of God. I know those words, and not only do I know them–I’ve never known not knowing it. And it’s very easy to take for granted the things you’ve always known, like that the earth is round or like when you jump up you’ll always land on the ground. It’s very easy to take for granted the people who have always been there, like an annoying older brother. And sometimes, I wonder if the fact that I have always had a Bible at easy reach, always heard the promises of God read aloud, has lulled me into taking them lightly.

Yes, yes, I know everything will be okay–but right now I feel frightened, I feel hopeless, I feel. . . and then I stop, suddenly struck but the realization that a lot of people can’t say, with true certainty, “everything will be okay.” A lot of people can’t say “the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed within us.”

Having the promises of God are, truly, a precious thing. Because that means we have something to cling to. We have an adult, even if at the moment in another room, speaking the truth. We’re not left alone in our terror, and the truth of the situation has been revealed to us for us to believe it. Although we see, or hear, or feel, or reason, or logic out scary things – we don’t have to believe those terrifying things, because we’ve already been given the truth by the One who actually understands what is going on, and the truth that He speaks is: Fear Not.

And just because we’re screaming in the darkness, seeing and feeling frightening things. . .does not negate the truth.

What it means is that we’re being lied to. And, for the moment, believing it.

And oh, there is such freedom in that, do you know? When you suddenly realize the horrible things you think you are seeing aren’t the truth, and you don’t have to believe them? It is a bit like waking up from a bad dream. You might still feel jittery, and in some ways  it might still feel real — but you know it’s not really the truth. Not really.

And there’s another way that it’s freeing. You have to respect the truth, no matter how painful or uncomfortable it might be. But you don’t have to respect lies. There’s no need for “well, maybe. . .” or, “I guess I should see how it goes. . .”No. Wholesale, out-right, complete rejection. That’s a lie. That. Is. A. Lie. And the truth, the certain, unchanging, unrelenting truth is: Fear Not.

Hallelujah.

Even So

“I don’t really know where I live anymore.”

I just blurted it out, and then felt the weight of that unexpected truth.

Someone asked me if I still lived at home. I was preoccupied with what I was doing, so I guess the truth was closer to the surface without my mind being available to keep it in check. The person wanted to know if I still lived “at home” but I haven’t been living “at home” for over two years. And I’m not even living in the same state I was in for the last two years any more, and although I know where I park my car every night, in a few months I’ll be in a different state. . . and then a few months later, another state altogether.

I miss my family and friends, but it’s hard to feel like that’s “home” when I feel like I don’t have much autonomy there. I made good friends while at school, but I never felt at home in that city or under those mountains. I’m staying with relatives now, and I like the place where I’m working, but it doesn’t ring as home.

It was such a succinct statement of the real crux of the matter that when I was thinking about it later, I wished I had time to sit down and have a good cry. I’m not homeless in the sense of sleeping under an overpass. But I feel very homeless in the sense of feeling like I don’t really belong anywhere, that “my place remembers me know more,” that I don’t know where I’m trying to get to anymore, and that I don’t ever know when “this” will be “over.”

And aren’t the homeless to be pitied? I pity me.

But Jesus said, “Birds have nests, foxes have dens, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.”

Which leads me to my perennial question: why? Why does God have this thing for homelessness?

Abraham? Leave your home. Go wandering aimlessly for the rest of your life. Joseph? You’ll never belong, no matter how long you’re there. Moses? Take a whole lot of you people and go get lost in the wilderness. David? Just ’cause I said you would be king doesn’t mean I won’t have you driven out of your own country. And He didn’t spare His only Son, either, who grew so famished in the wastelands that He had to be fed by angels.

I want to stamp my foot and demand that God gives me a home. But I can almost hear Him laughingly say, “Why would I do that?”

I know home is not home is not home until we are finally Home. I know it would only be a shadow, a foretaste of what is to come. But in the meantime, while we’re waiting, why don’t we get that taste? Yet the theme of having no place to rest is quite strong, and I don’t think it can be easily dismissed. But why? Why is it so much to ask, to know that kind of goodness in this world? Why does He say, “blessed are those who give up home and family for my sake”?

It’s so easy to say trite things about “making us depend on Him more” or “showing us how trustworthy He is” or “nothing of this world is really of value, anyhow; we have to keep our eyes fixed on the the things above.” But you know what? When you really get right down in the midst of it, when you really feel this millstone of it around your neck? You still ask “why.” You still ask why there can’t be a better way to know Him or trust Him or understand about what things have value. You still cry out, “how long, O Lord?” Because it’s still the pits, and quaint sayings don’t change that.

And I have no answer. And I have no comfort.

But if I were to respond to one blurting of the truth with another unexpected expression of the truth, then it would have to be with. . .

“Come, Lord Jesus!”

Amen.

Blessedness

Today is a gift for me to receive, not a burden for me to bear.

I kept telling myself this as I got ready to leave the house, because, naturally, the whole day feels like a burden. I thought maybe I had convinced myself of the truth of the statement, but nearly feel into tears twice during casual conversation while talking about the things I needed to accomplish in the next two weeks.

I know I didn’t get enough sleep last night. I know that’s a big part of it. And I know I’m primed now to catastrophsize at the slightest provocation. But I also know that part of the problem is that I truly have not learned the truth of what I’m repeating to myself.

Today is a gift. For me to receive. NOT a burden for me to bear.

I don’t like it when I start getting frustrated or worried about the future or counting off the things to do, and people tell me, “But you’re here right now, and it’s a gorgeous day, and. . .” Don’t minimize to me what I’m going through, people! It feels patronizing. This new “mantra” feels different to me, because it doesn’t argue with any of the things I’m saying. It says, “regardless of how uncomfortable or unpleasant this may feel, it really is a gift. And you would do well to consider why the One who loves you saw fit to give it to you. And if the only thing that is unpleasant right now is all that you have to do, you should remember you’re trying to lift a load that someone else is already carrying.”

There are a lot of things of nearly every moment of the day that are privileges. Some people like to list them, but I don’t. Count your blessings, they say. But that makes it seem like they’re finite, and CAN be counted. Express your gratitude! they say. But that makes it sound like we really have any idea what is good for us, what we should be grateful for. We’re like two-year-old children throwing fits because we can’t drink windshield-washer fluid. We grateful for being able to eat the unripe fruit that will only make our stomach hurt, and would have been so much better if we’d just waited, just a little. We resent rebuke, chastisement, and the challenge and correction that makes us grow. How can any “counting” make things better? Sometimes, you look and you look and you look, and it all just looks like CRAP.

I don’t think looking or counting or saying the right words is what it really takes. I think what it really takes is faith. That EVEN THOUGH everything looks like crap, it isn’t. That EVEN THOUGH it might look like dreams are crushed or hopes are dashed, God is good. That EVEN THOUGH grief and suffering at times become suffocating, God does love our own particular self. That EVEN THOUGH the blessings just don’t seem to be there, they are, because God never stops giving good gifts, even when we can’t recognize them..

We’re not fit to weigh our existence in the balance. Our balance is exceedingly far out of collaboration and has “NOT FOR LEGAL TRADE!!!” all over it in red letters. Only God actually has the capability, the “equipment,” to take the real weight of anything, the real sum of any whole.

Sometimes, we think about our own self worth. We know we aren’t to overvalue ourselves. But we forgot that we’re just as wrong to under-value ourselves. Sometimes it feels like every accusation is true and that we’re right to blame ourselves, and that we do only make every thing worse, and we deserve nothing better. And it’s hard to stop these lines of thoughts, because we know that we aren’t like God.

Only, in a way, we are. Because on God’s scale, on God’s balance, on the sum of our whole, is the blood of Jesus, the holy and righteous and sufficient sacrifice. And to do away with ourselves is drastically undervalue the redeeming work of the only Son of God. And to stop to consider what Christ accomplished is to realize that He is on those scales with us. So how can we not be loved?

In the darkness and the suffering and the grief and the complete pointlessness of it all, Jesus our Lord is with us. Are we not filling up His sufferings and grief until the times are full? It is a cursed world. But He is with us.

In our frustration and our hurt and our fears — things we can’t find any way to count as blessings — He is with us. And for that reason, and that reason alone, we are blessed.

Thoughts

I don’t write because I have extra, leftover time and resources to write. I write because I’m losing my freaking mind, and I’m trying to salvage a few pieces of it.

I have  a lot of thoughts. About what kind of clinician I want to be when I’m done with school, about what it means to take care of our bodies and why we should, about how to try to fix my as-of-yesterday dead car. But I feel like although some of those thoughts may be interesting thoughts, they aren’t relevant thoughts.

Relevant thoughts are like the one I stumbled upon this morning:that while my car is currently dead-in-the-water, my future is up in the air, my health issues remain a mystery, and I’m not the person I want to be. . .my biggest current stessor is still the desire to excel in school work. Not just show up. Not just pass. Cross my t’s and dot my i’s and feel like I did an excellent job at that student thing.

And I feel like that is what I’m being asked to lay on the altar. Yes, take a bike ride instead of do school work. Yes, visit with friends instead of school work. Yes, agree to “fail” at schoolwork. Will I really fail? I don’t know. I never have before. Somehow God always gives me ludicrously high scores when I am least prepared. But it seems like that’s what I’m supposed to do — stop trying.

That’s hard, though. It’s hard, because the to-do list is long, and there’s not a whole lot of room for pairing down. And the list of things I’d like to do is even longer. Going to bed on time, eating decent, exercising every day (but one), and writing for sanity’s sake seems to take up 80% of time not spent in the classroom. But there’s still eating and cleaning and grocery shopping and cars breaking down and school assignments to be completed outside of class, and friends you won’t get to see for much longer and family’s waiting for updates and stuff, nevermind the wants or the creative juices or the interesting thoughts.

What I want is, I want a break. Not a, “sit on the beach in the sand and do nothing” break. I want a break where I get to be me for a while. “Me” is not a sitting, stationary, passive kind of person, so it doesn’t look like a break for a lot of people. But I’m not asking to stop doing, I’m asking to stop stressing.

I was talking with a friend a while ago about how I am suspicious that we have a lot more freedom than we ever take advantage of. As I’ve been saying and saying to myself, we’re never told it’s our duty and responsibility to be stressed, and in fact are frequently told to knock it off. Yet we don’t want to give it up. Why?

I usually brush it off as lack of trust. I don’t trust God enough. Bad me. Guilty me. Heave a huge sigh, but maybe I never will have enough faith to stop stressing. But I’ve also been challenged lately to look at the other side of that card a little more. Maybe I want the stress more than I want God. We all get indignant, because what?! Who wants stress? That’s foolish talk.

But maybe we want our pride, and that leads to stress. Maybe we want control, and that leads to stress. Maybe we want vindication more than we want God, and that leads to stress. Maybe we want praise, and that leads to stress. Maybe we want to avoid experiencing the disappointment or displeasure that others demonstrate toward us, and that leads to stress.

It’s easy for us to say we want God, but it’s hard for us to let go of our “and, also”s. And, also, I want to to do every scrap of my school work. I want God, and, also, I want to get on top of my to-do list. I want God, and, also, I want my life to fit together neatly like carefully chosen Lego-blocks. I want God, and also, I want to be beautiful, or at least fit. Coordinated. Graceful. I want God, and also, I want to be the one to tell Him what He should look like and act and decree.

And there’s a crux there, or something. I mean, if I don’t pray to Him about fixing my car, who can I ask? But I feel like that statement ought to be absolute. I want God. More than my car, more than a place to stay, more than health, more than restored function, more than a sparkling transcript, more than passing the course or program, more than a license to practice, more than a family, more than a lifestyle, more than my own views of what life is supposed to be like.

In the abstract, this can be agreed upon. In practice, it’s hard to hold onto in the midst of this militant demands, right in front of our face. “You HAVE to figure out what to do with your car!” “You HAVE to figure out what to do about the doctor’s recommendations!” “You HAVE to do lab prep!” Oh, right! Right, right, right! I’m coming, hang on! Just let me–finish this thing here, and attend to that crisis, and–” and before we know it, we’ve practically forgotten about God.

I keep wondering what it means to walk with God. Because I don’t think it’s about check lists of reading the proper amount from the Bible every day and praying enough prayers every day. I do think it has to involve a radical shift of focus from what the world says is important to what God says important, but I don’t know how to do that while, you know, living in this world.

I think this is where people generally insert a pious platitude about “only by God’s spirit and grace!” and heave a huge sigh. A sigh which is supposed to be relief, but somehow usually seems be one of regret and shame that we’re not spirit-filled enough to do what we ought. And I don’t think regret and shame is a way to walk with God, either.

The thing is, of course, how to “walk with God” is not ever going to be summed in a few brilliant thoughts, or a best-selling book. Even our own personal “ah-ha!”s can’t really transform others, because we are all in our own unique tumble of gem-processing, and rarely connect on the same plane in all the same ways.

But He does say that those who seek Him will find Him. Which prompts an awful lot of us to say, What the heck, God? If this isn’t seeking, what is? When do we get to find You? If this is Hide and Go Seek, come out already.