Sunday, October 18, 2015

Secrets and songs

Lately I'm noticing how life has a way of trying to usher us to a dark room, tucking us in, and persuading us to shut off the deepest senses. Turn down the heart-cries, because they may not be heard. Cool the emotions, because no one can bear them. Keep Sadness away from the controls because she just might break you (I'm referring to the newest Pixar film Inside-Out. You saw it, right?). And while your heart quietly goes to sleep, notch up the white noise and the performance instead.

I'm trying to stay awake. I'm trying so hard.

An endless parade of distractions, set-backs, and chores tempt me to fall in line, soldiering on, sleepy-headed. But my heart beats with the truth that the richest things are not visible and don't clamor for my attention. Don't we live with an inherent awareness that things are not what they seem? That there are secrets to discover?

A story is being told, whispered over me like I whisper mother-tales over mine in the dark. I'm trying to hear it, I want to know every word.

When I brought my baby girl home, we were both small and alone in our big, blank house. My sole desire was to master the art of getting her to sleep. It was a daunting challenge, and neither of us knew anything about self-soothing. When a hundred and one methods failed to get her to rest, two were finally found to be effective: the heat of my own body and Norah Jones' first album.

Connection and song. I get it now, daughter; they are my survival too.

Today, 13 years later, for the first time, I realized that the name of that album and the primary line in the primary song, "Come away with me," is a chorus throughout the Bible. I heard the song hundreds of times in that season with my baby. I know its every note. And not until today did I connect that it's also a song God can't stop singing. Most of the time, this chorus is repeated in Song of Solomon, the love story. More than any other, that book IS connection and song. It's skin-on-skin, heat and comfort and rest.

My beloved speaks and says to me:
“Arise, my love, my beautiful one,
    and come away with me..."

Song of Solomon, 2:10

He can't stop calling me. And I can't stop wanting to know the secrets.

When we moved to Montana, I shared a bit in this post about how others thought the relocation was for Kevin. He was the outdoorsy one. I was the California girl, making some geographical sacrifice. I didn't feel that way, but I started to believe it was a decent theory. Nature and mountains and such didn't speak to me like it did him, and surely God wouldn't choose this setting to do his best work in someone like me.

And then things didn't go so well. The metaphor changed to an exodus out of California followed by testing in the desert. No, Montana isn't a desert. But it's felt like one in so many ways. So many wandering ways.

Then today I heard the refrain. Not the literal song. The one in my heart. The one he has sung over me for a decade, "Come away with me." It was like a memory of a call because I am away, now. I am living in the away; I've been set apart from all familiar geography and relationships. But not solely for my husband's sake. Not solely for testing. He's brought me away for his own tender reasons, as I've wandered, often wounded, sometimes crawling.

This song, to be clear, has not been the call of the teacher to the student, nor is it of the parent to the child. God isn't pulling me aside to improve me. It's the call of a lover with secrets, untold mysteries that can't be spoken in the crowd or in the city. His call is the kindling of my heart's deepest desires for connection and song. And lately He is keeping the fire ablaze.

There is a world of difference between succumbing to the lullaby of shut down and falling into intimate rest with the lover of your soul. When He whispers, "Come away with me," I'm not sure you can find that rest unless you say yes and go. Don't you feel your heart longing for something more, something richer? Even if you have to crawl, even if you're afraid, say yes.

Love won't drag you away; it respects your freedom too much. Instead, it draws you with the promise of secrets and story. Tonight, I find myself awake, leaning in to listen, far past my bedtime.


Wednesday, September 02, 2015

On wanting to be Edmund.

The August-is-too-early talk about Halloween costumes came on as quickly as it ended. My big girl was hard lobbying for all of us to be pirates, but my little guy was not about to let his freedom of choice be pillaged by her plan. I know it was because he watched half of a Narnia movie (and has read half the books) a few nights ago that he blurted out, "I want to be Edmund."

I actually thought he was confusing the two brothers in the story - Edmund for Peter. "But don't you mean Peter, he's the one who is High King, the hero who gets knighted and has the special sword?" I questioned. "You don't mean Edmund, the younger brother...?" He knows, in my pause, that I imply Edmund is the one who sided with the White Witch. Edmund lost his way. Edmund became the cautionary tale.

"I know. But I want to be Edmund." I didn't say it, but I thought, "Who wants to be Edmund?" He went on, "Edmund learns from his mistakes. Just like me."

Silence. I don't even know, guys. Usually I'm right there, BOOM, with a great, parental affirmation. But this time, silence. My own unsettled heart was turning his words over and over.

Let's go full-on disclosure: I personally don't want to pretend to be a person who is the same as I am. Given the choice, I want to pretend to be a character I wish I was. One who starts and ends as the hero. One who doesn't make mistakes to begin with. That mask feels most appealing, and it doesn't even have to be October.

But that child of mine challenges me to no end. Clearly, he has no baggage or shame or masks. And tonight, I realize he isn't actually trying to pretend at all. This is about something different. He is not only relating to Edmund; he knows he is Edmund, and there's nothing pretend about it. 

Maybe that's what I'm missing: the unblemished peace with being Edmund.

Frankly, I'm not at peace with the fact that I can be found siding with the enemy. I can easily lose my way. I can sell out for a quick fix, my own variety of Turkish Delight. I too can be disloyal. Self-interested. Unbelieving.

I am Edmund. Of course I am. And I'm not at peace with it. In my flesh, I'm really not.

But. I know Jesus is at peace with all the Edmunds. It's what makes him a radical. He sees all of us traitors and isn't shocked. It's not that he is at peace with sin. He's not winking an eye at my mistakes and waving me onward like a policeman who decides to give a warning instead of a ticket. The peace of Christ hasn't ever come cheaply. Let's not forget that the spiritual transaction that happened at the cross violently shook the earth and opened tombs.

And simultaneously, his payment for my traitor-heart ripped the masks off. It had to. Maybe you've felt the stab of finally realizing Jesus knows the truth. You are the traitor. I am the traitor. And yet he lays down his own life for me. I find all of this - still, after decades - difficult with which to be at peace. But difficult is not impossible.

Self-exposure, baring one's brokenness, ceasing to pretend all seem to be prerequisites for accepting forgiveness when we are face to face with the Lion. I know, because I've been there. Taking off the mask of Who You Wish You Were is at once brutal and the thing for which you were born. What freedom there is in finding an Eden in our hearts, where we are totally exposed and yet totally loved. How unexpected, how counter-intuitive.

Jesus is at peace that I'm Edmund because he made a way out; even as he watched me doubt and wander off into the woods with the enemy, his plan all along was to bring me back into the camp of Kings. If I never left the camp to begin with, I may have some crown of loyalty, but I'd have no testimony. My little guy is so wise; of all the characters, Edmund really does have the best story.

And no doubt, so do you.


Friday, August 14, 2015

I blame everything on the Pottery Barn art table

Well, it's been a long time since I've blogged. I won't attempt to cover the past, or make any predictions about the future of my blogging, but today I have a moment to write. And I want to write. The climate of things in my life is calming, which allows me to remember I have a voice, not just a life preserver. I'm not sure that made sense. Moving on.

When I was a new mom, I spent a lot of time learning to run my home and family. And stores sent me all manner of catalogs, presumably trying to help. I assumed it was part of my job to look at them. I was the primary mail collector and reader, after all (remember when that was kind of a big deal?).

Pottery Barn in particular kept trying to tell me that soon, as soon as my children were just a tad bigger, I needed their super-special art table: the one that had storage cubbies underneath and the attachment for a roll of butcher paper at the end. It would provide an infinite number of art opportunities (from the unending roll of paper) to children who were likely going to be deprived of them by the government and the public school system. The art table was basically a housewife-coup against the Man, and also something told me my children might seriously suffer without butcher paper.

I'm assuming this entire line of reasoning unfolded in your brain too. That's what happens. We get ideas of the way things should go, the way our lives should look. Sometimes those ideas get very specific. I'm going to just keep calling them ideas, not the awful E-word ( know, the one we all know is waiting to disappoint us). They're just ideas, right? Really good ones that involve amazing, cultural priorities like art. Let's also ignore the fact that my children weren't exactly Picassos and could be just as happy with a random crayon and paper they pulled out of the base of my printer as they would be with the overpriced and under-quality PB art table. But logic was never in the equation, much less experience in either art or children.  

Since the days of the PB art table, it turns out that I've learned I don't get all the things I want, nor do I get many things I'm pretty certain I need. It turns out that I had to let the dream of the art table die a slow and painful death. I wasn't going to have that ridiculously massive playroom with canvas kid chairs with their names embroidered on them next to the art table with infinity paper. I had to accept that it would not happen for my kids that year, or the next year, or ever.  

The thing is, you know I've had to let go of more than an art table. Really, much more valuable plans than having butcher paper. Much more painful deaths in my agenda. Too many to count. It's rough learning what we all have to learn: I am not the boss. I don't get to point at things and order them up for my life like in a glossy catalog.

Learning that I don't get to choose many things about my life is both perplexing and freeing. I'm never swinging too far into the freeing side either. It doesn't get less perplexing, really, when I still love my own ideas. For instance, I love the idea of having an "easy" child. I don't love when he changes and presses all my ugliness out and is no longer what I consider easy. I like the plan that healing in my marriage always moves forward and always feels positive. But it doesn't. Its staggered and unpredictable and God's idea of "progress" is nothing like mine. God's ideas for what I truly need are continually surprising and mostly uncomfortable. And half the time, I'm suspicious that they have VERY LITTLE to do with my circumstances and everything to do with abstract things I can't even put my finger on, like my perseverance. I think I need an art table, and He thinks I need perseverance. We're not even looking at the same catalog.

It's uncomfortable at the least and gut-wrenching at the worst when our reality doesn't match up with what we imagined. And if I didn't trust that God knows better than I do, I honestly don't know what I'd do with that pain. I'd maybe carry it around like a self-pity badge or allow bitterness to harden my heart. Or maybe I'd just fill my life with distractions and call it something else so I wouldn't feel the hurt.

But I do trust Him, at the end of the day. He has such good plans for us. When He says No, of course it hurts, but we have to stay on the path of faith. There's so much comfort available there, so much patience, so much grace. That's what helps me walk away from the art tables and other wants I'll never have.

That's what keeps me squinting my eyes, looking for the meaning of what Jesus called "the abundant life" that can only be found as we walk hand in hand with Him. Because obviously it doesn't involve an art table.

And obviously, it is infinitely better.  


Sunday, April 26, 2015

This is not a joke.

What's not a joke is 6" of snow in mid-April. Darn Montana is full of surprises. This is me last week, the day before I left for a women's retreat in San Diego. It was in the 70's the whole time I was in CA, and I wondered if three partial days in the sun could replenish 6 months of probable Vitamin D deficiency.

But I didn't have much time to soak up the rays because I was actually the retreat speaker. The only speaker. For the whole weekend. It feels strange for me to type that out and read those words.

I never asked for the job. I wasn't at all pursuing anything of the sort. In fact, when someone hinted a year ago that I may be invited, I wished they'd forget or find someone "who does this." Months later, I found out they didn't forget or find someone else.

I don't see myself as a women's retreat speaker. Just like how a few years ago, I didn't see myself as a MOPS speaker, or any kind of speaker. And how a few years before that I didn't see myself as a blogger. And before that, I didn't see that I had a voice or a story at all. You get the idea.

I remember that the first time I was ever invited to hold a position of leadership in a ministry was during my first year in college. I was asked to manage the slide show for our on-campus Christian club. The SLIDE SHOW. Yes. It involved actual slides that I had to get developed at a specialty photo lab from actual film. (I mean, it was the 1900's, as my kids say. Do you young ones even know what I'm speaking of, here? We put like 150 slides of our beach trip into a slide projector and timed the sequence to some peppy Steven Curtis Chapman song. I pressed the "next" button on rhythm, obviously.) My initial reply was, "OH no no no, I couldn't be in charge of THAT. It's far too important." The leader who asked me - a guy named Jamey - basically said "You're doing it."

Apparently, my dubious ideas about whether or not I was a women's retreat speaker meant nothing to God. He basically said, "You're doing it."

The preparation was one of the hardest things I've ever done. Not so much in difficulty. But in personal expense. I felt so far out of my comfort zone that I was regularly throwing myself at God's mercy to give me what I needed. I'm sure that was the point, to make me wholly dependent on Him and His resources to write and listen and practice and pray over all of it. I would be exhausted after each night of writing because it was taking my whole heart. And through most of the process, I was horribly attacked by the enemy. I can think of only one other short season of my life when it was as bad. And I can't say which was worse. Both times were equally horrible; I want to say I was barely holding my head above water, but that is a gross simplification. It felt like torment which left me emotionally fragile, fuzzy-headed, and regularly telling God, "You've got the wrong girl!"

But last Sunday, as I walked out of the hotel pulling my suitcase, I was literally speechless. I still can't wrap my head around the ways in which God worked. Now, I've been to countless women's retreats, myself. I've been to probably hundreds of women's events in churches my whole life. And I can confidently say I've NEVER seen God work like He did last weekend.

I'm not certain why, but it wasn't the usual flavor of "Jesus comes to comfort and encourage his girls". Of course, there was some of that. But a better description was this: Jesus came like a warrior. Jesus came to slash the throats of the evil forces choking the life out of his daughters. Jesus came with a FIERCENESS I've never seen. And I was speechless. We were all speechless. It was so powerful that none of us in charge could reasonably take ANY credit for what was taking place. It was so far beyond human ability or planning or anticipating.      

The thing we kept saying until it became funny was "This is not a joke." Because it so wasn't. Lives permanently changed, prisons opened, and women rescued wasn't funny at all. It was humbling and worth crying over, with our faces to the ground in worship.

Friends. We are in the last days; these are hard times. And I have no doubt that God is looking for His lost lambs. He is searching for those who have faithful, believing hearts for Him, and He is reaching down with fury and justice to snatch them out of the hands of the enemy. He is purifying for Himself a flock that will stand firm. A flock that isn't afraid to speak the truth.

If you read Ephesians 6, the part about putting on the full armor of God, notice that it doesn't say the armor is so we can fight. Look at this. Verse 13: "Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. Stand firm then..."

Three times. All we have to do is stand. And we won't be able to, if we're not equipped as He instructs. (Go review it. Refresh your memory on this passage. Even teach it to your kids to help you memorize it, maybe.)  

I'm going to be posting the content of my talks from last weekend, in case His words might encourage you to stand firm too. As much I love to laugh with my friends over coffee and a little Bible study, I'd rather cry and pray and watch freedom flood our lives. Because the power of God is not a joke, and witnessing it is actually quite addicting.


Tuesday, February 17, 2015

When it all burns down

When I step back, I am nearly overwhelmed by all the burning down going on.

My husband lost his job early summer and it's easy to pin things on that; but in retrospect, the kindling was lit long before. Now, I stand among embers, still smoldering. So much has burned down. God has stood back and allowed it to burn, the dead branches, the excess, the unfruitful. And there are heaps of ash in every corner to remind us. Our livelihood, marriage, and faith have been reduced to a mere framework. Utilitarian. Raw.

It was shocking when we moved here to Montana, from California where the smallest strike of a match in public sends the authorities flocking to your side with rules and regulations. Southern California is fire country, and any spark, firework, or tossed cigarette feels like a threat. But in Montana, I watched our neighbor burn a massive pile of trash in the yard behind us. It produced twenty-foot high flames no more than 100 feet from our house. And in an agriculturally centered community, widespread burning of land is common; a good fire purges, starts things over. Rebirth starts in the ashes.

But there is a space of time before things regrow, a hush of activity after the fury of the fire has died down and licked up the last bits of brush. In this quieter space, God is calling me to kneel and listen.

In Bible times, people mourned by scooping ashes over their heads. Think of the smell of a latent fireplace or your clothes after a campfire. Imagine handfuls of that ash in your hair, on your face, in your mouth. We tend to avoid mourning in our culture. Back then, people got intimate with the concept that things burn; they knew there was a time for grieving in the ash.

Tonight, with a heavy heart, I shared with my kids how twenty-one Christians were killed this week for their faith. My son said, "My heart just almost broke." My daughter made a comparison to something in Mockingjay. And both were silent for a while. I then shared with them that tomorrow is Ash Wednesday, the start of Lent, a time to think about sacrifice and repentance.

I told them I was going to church to do some of my own repenting. Frankly, at first I wanted to go in order to cry out for our country, for our world, and for believers. But the darkness isn't "out there." It's here, in my own heart. I need to bow my face to the ground and scoop the ashes over my own head, for my selfishness, for foolishly neglecting my relationship with God, for my grumbling over serving my family, for my impure thoughts and motives.

I need the ashes in my hair and on my face, and to taste the burning with my ever-harsh tongue that casually lashes out at my loved ones. How can I be a passionate disciple in our lost world when I can't even go a single day without misrepresenting Jesus to my own family? Well, grace. But first, mourning.

I read something yesterday that stuck with me. That the gardener stops pruning those vines from which he expects nothing. But he diligently works on cutting back those from which he expects more fruit.

There's a promise in the ash: God believes in me. He's shaping me, washing me with hope, anticipating the rich fruit to come later on.

But today, He's whispering that it's time to kneel and wait. It's not a time for sweeping up the mess, but resting in the middle of the devastation, clinging to the truth that He is in control, He is good.

On Wednesday, take some time. Bow you head; picture the ashes. Mourn for yourself and your own heart.

But don't ever, not even for one day, forget: God has a habit of trading ashes for beauty.

Love you.


Monday, February 09, 2015

The word I didn't want


The year was so bad, I didn't even ask.

I couldn't ask. I couldn't speak to Him about it, the tradition we bloggers have to choose a "word" for the year.

In the past, we'd settle on one together, happy anticipation flowing from what was to what was to come. All those other years seemed to arrive with the shining glow of promise.

But promises seemed dim and distant this new year's. Still existing, but hazy and threatening to disappear all together.

This time, the year turned over slowly, like a child heavy with sleep, sluggish to wake. I was sluggish to embrace it. And when I did finally turn to face 2015, I felt myself shrink from a hope that might disappoint.

Of course, my Father knew my wounds, my fears, my weariness. He saw my heart balled up, on it's side. He spoke anyway, on His initiative, not mine. His grip on me is always stronger than my grip on Him.

I thought, "Stupid word thing."
He said, "It's Full."
I said, "I'm not asking. And what does that even mean?"
"Just, Full."
"I'm not playing the game this year. I don't want it. That's not even a good word."
(my eyes blur just typing it out)
"Because you've known a lot of Empty lately."
And then obviously, I cried at that, saying nothing, so painfully aware of the steady emptying I'd been living for a length of time I could no longer measure.

"And this year, what I have for you is Full."

2014 meant an emptying of our lives on so many levels. From income to time to health to faith, it seemed all our resources, all familiar securities, healthy or not, dwindled consistently and seemed to have no bottom. We expected God to wait till the usual last minute to dramatically rescue with a metaphorical shout of "BUT I LOVE YOU AND WILL NEVER FORSAKE YOU!" However, we thought our last minute was last month, and the month before that, and the month before that. The fact that the emptying was so continual and so unrelenting made our heads spin.      

And in many ways, we are still spinning. Still confused and feeling emptied. Still waiting for His plans to be made clear.

I still don't really want the word, because disappointment, dispersed over a long period of time, becomes a deafening command to stop wishing so hard. But I want God, more than ever. I don't pray for His presence because I know I do have that; He's closer than my breath. That's one comfort I never lost. And I want to believe. Not that He will someday trade ashes for beauty, but that He is right this moment doing exactly that. I want to believe that all along, I misjudged when the "last minute" really was.

I want to believe that January meant a flipping of the hour glass. And so the empty side just waits to become full.


Monday, February 02, 2015

Try-harder Christianity and why it has nothing to do with God

In high school youth group, we sang a song actually titled "Ephesians 2:8 & 9". It's youth-group, 90's style, guys. Some of you know it. Fess up.

Let me refresh your memory - it is comprised of the exact verses, but let's say, flashier than the original text?

"For by grace - doo, do, do, doooo - you have been saaaaaved,
Through faith - (yelled) do, do, do! - and that not of your selves, not of your selves, OH OHHH...
It is the gift of God, not as a result of works (yelled) do, do, do!,
So that no one can boast, NO ONE CAN BOAST, AHH AHH
Ephesians 2:8 and 9, I'm saved till the end of time,
I'm saved by His grace, I'm saved, (big finish) DO, DO, DO, DO!"

You saw that finale coming. But I totally learned those verses. So when we covered them last week in Bible study, I was obviously singing them in my head.

First, we poured over the verses before the song, though, noticing the harsh words used to describe our lives before Christ. "We were dead in our sins...sons of disobedience...children of wrath..."

Then verse 4: "But God, being rich in mercy, because of his great love....made us alive in Christ..."

Those two little words. But God. It's the turning point, and the defining moment that distinguishes our faith from every other faith in the world. Did you know that? Every other faith on the planet hinges on man's work. Man's attempts to reach God. The Bible says the real deal hinges on God's work to reach us.

All the others basically say, "We were children of wrath...But man worked his tail off for his whole life desperately hoping to make it back into God's favor by holding up a long resume of good deeds." They say, "If you just keep trying harder, God might eek out some love for you."

And I COMPLETELY get it. If I'm honest, I wish salvation worked this way. I mean, I don't, because I'd never earn it. But I see how easily I could be tricked into thinking I could. I know achievement. I get the satisfaction of embracing a reward because I've earned it. That feels good and right and fair. It's practically a universal truth: You get what you deserve.

Yet, this is what I read in verse 4: "But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love..." saved me through Christ.

I did nothing to earn it. Trust me, the first-born in me tries super hard to prove myself to God, but I FAIL him over and over. Not once in a while. Every day. I fail God every day. Thank you, motherhood. Furthermore, I don't truly appreciate or thank Him for his love. But God acted, anyway, despite me.

Since I am tired of nagging my child to practice piano and brush his teeth and wake up on time for school, I started a sticker chart for him. It works for toddlers; I figured why won't it work for big kids who are motivated by earning the carefully rationed golden nuggets called screen time? Well, as soon as he saw that chart, never before has he put so much enthusiasm into all of the above. Like, he was running to complete the boxes.

Know why? Because it's in our blood to perform for a reward. "I do this, you give me that." It's what every person on the planet, from the toddler to the CEO, understands as Fairness.

Our heads spin because God in His mercy is crazy unfair. It's starting to make sense to me why the majority of people in our world will say 'No' to the one true God. They'll shake their heads and furrow their brows and say, "No, free salvation doesn't make sense. I must need to work for this. If there is a God, I'm certainly going to have to prove myself."

I think this attitude breaks God's heart. It's pushing away His free gift of love and saying "No thanks, I'd really rather make up a super complicated, and difficult earning system to show you how good I am and how much I deserve a reward." Let's be very clear: that kind of religion is never about God at all. Not the real God, anyway.

Try-harder Christianity will always be about me and my work. It will always seek to glorify myself and the good things I feel I'm accumulating on my goodness resume.

The Bible says that compared to God's goodness, all our good works are like filthy rags (Isaiah 64:6). Think about when all your dishtowels are heavy with damp and yuck and they sit in the laundry room sink for a week (No? Is it just me who does that?). People are living their lives trying to improve their smelly rag piles. Comparing their rag piles. Judging other people's rag piles. People are consumed with building a more impressive rag pile than the next guy. Remember the song/verse? Salvation is a gift of God, "not as a result of works, so no one can boast." I imagine God's like, "Dude, are you really trying to boast about your rag pile? This is about me and my attempt to rescue you; it's not about you and your attempt to deserve it. And if you could deserve it, by the way, how would that be Love?"

In a couple days, before my son wakes up, I'm going to put a sticker in every box for the day. When he comes down for breakfast, I'm going to say, "Guess what? Today, you just get the stickers. For free. Because I love you." Cue hugging and kissing.

I imagine he'll be confused. Aren't we all, by unmerited favor? It's a grace test. I'll keep you posted with the results. One thing I do know: if I am to model God's grace to my kids, then at times, they'll need to get rewards they don't deserve. They'll need to deal with the racy unfairness of real Love.

I'm saved, by His grace, I'm saved.

(Do, do, do, do!)