Monday, October 31, 2011

Do This in Remembrance

Since this time last week, I have been engaged in some type of activity outside of my normal routine, and with the exception of two evenings last week, these activities carried me away from home. I am grateful, and I have had some wonderful days, and grace has abounded.

But man, am I tired.

My body has basically stopped believing it will be getting sleep, and its cues are a little off. So while I down my kava tea and wait for that stuff to take hold, I thought I'd share a little something from my day.

The subject is Communion. In 1998, I entered a period of doubt and confusion regarding my faith - particularly regarding my security as a believer. It was horrendous. But it was when I learned what it is to draw near to the heart of God. It was when I fell in love with His Word. It was when He began to lovingly show me how my mind works, and how the Spirit works, and how the two work together. And what to do when they do not. During this time, I didn't take Communion. I didn't feel it was right for a person to take of the Body and the Blood when she wasn't even sure if she was covered. Also, I rarely had the opportunity to take Communion. Springs on Singers tours and summers spent away doing mission work meant no church home for me. When the opportunity would present itself, I would sit in somber silence and meditation - usually confusing - glued to my seat, afraid to sin against the Body and the Blood with my doubtful hands.

Then I went to China. It was 2001. There was one state-approved church that we could safely attend, and on the Sunday we went, you guessed it - they took Communion. After the singing and the sermon, the bread and juice were passed around, and the pastor invited the congregation to pray, meditate, then eat and drink when they each were each ready. An older Chinese woman sat alone, in the center of the third pew from the front. She gingerly cupped the bread in her hands and rocked back and forth, weeping and praying, an endless stream of Mandarin. I was transfixed. I was certain that whatever she was saying had to be among the most eloquent of prayers uttered. I was in awe at the profundity of this moment, and I knew that if I could understand her words, I would never forget them...I would never forget her, this frail Chinese woman, weeping and praying over the Body and the Blood.

So I leaned forward, and I asked our translator, seated in front of me, what she was saying. She turned, looked at me, and said: "She is saying 'thank you.'" "What else?" I asked. "Nothing else," she replied, "only 'thank you.'" I sat back, stunned. The woman literally had not stopped speaking for minutes on end. And she had so much to say. For every sin forgiven, a thank you. For every grace received, thank you. For every breath, for every new mercy, for every gift: thank you. Thank you, thank you, thank you. Gan xie. Shi fen gan ji.

After returning to the States, opportunities to take Communion were still rare, and when they presented themselves, I still held back. And then I wandered from the Lord. Heartbreakingly, foolishly, wandered. And I stopped going to church altogether. He drew me back to Him, and even in the midst of great pain, all was light and life. Through bitter tears, my eyes saw the depth of His grace, the breadth of His compassion. And one Sunday in April of 2006, I was invited to share in Communion at the church I'd just begun attending. It would be the first time since China that I had participated. As I sat there, cracker and juice in hand, I thought about the Chinese woman. I thought about the years since that day in China, the years that the locusts ate. And I wept. Only these tears were not as bitter. They were grateful. And all I could manage, the only words my lips wanted to form were: thank You. Oh, thank You.

This morning, we took Communion. Considering the schedule I've kept lately, and the issues I've been dealing with, I was concerned about partaking. I never want to be distracted in is, after all, an act of remembering. And how can you remember something when you can't get your mind to be quiet? But I stood anyway, took the bread and the juice, and returned to my seat. And I began to pray. Rather, I closed my eyes and tried to pray. I was instantly overwhelmed. Guilt, shame and accusation tried to elbow their way into my mind. Feelings of inadequacy, of condemnation, even fear. But the thing about physical exhaustion is
that it makes it so much easier to get to the place where you throw up your hands and yell help!!! to the heavens. The moment I did, the Spirit brought to mind the Chinese woman and the simplicity with which she approached the sacrament. So I ate, and I drank, and I simply said thank You. And you know, the miracle of gratitude is in its growing more gratitude. One simple thank You became the act of remembering, of communing, of believing. And before I knew it, I couldn't think of anything but thanks.

And so I do not lose heart. I am hard-pressed, but I am not crushed. And though outwardly I waste away, yet inwardly He renews me day by day. And in the act of gratitude, He allows me to glimpse some of that far-outweighing eternal glory.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Behold the Manner of Love

It was a Sunday. I’d behaved terribly. Pouted. Shrugged shoulders. Sulked. In the words of my mother, showed my rear. The fallout was evident before I really knew what had happened, and then I spent the next six hours…processing.

How was I so foolish, so reckless? How did I miss that first sign of Temper raising her ugly head to fight? Fearing the worst, and knowing it to be plausible, I geared up. Running shoes. Ponytail. Pullover. As I headed into the street, the thought occurred to me: music. I need music. So I went back and began again.

Setting out, my playlist was tailor-made. Songs of security, comfort, protection. Songs of grace, forgiveness. Songs of hope for those times when the world comes crashing down around your ears, and you hear every last piece of rubble topple, fall and settle into dusty place on the ground. My exhausted soul soared. It’s the weary joy, the faith of saying – this may be really difficult, but I refuse to despair because I know better.

Really, how could I not know better? How could I possibly even skim over the chapters of my history and believe anything other than the Father’s grace and protection over my days? And so I ran. And I prayed. I cried and sang and pushed myself to go as far as I could until I the pain in my lungs finally overpowered the desperate ache in my chest.

I came to rest on the half-finished deck at Mom and Charlie’s house. Mom had been asking for the deck for a while, so Charlie began to build as soon as the weather got cooler. For some reason, it felt like the right place to land, so I sat and was still. I prayed for more hope, for a unique word spoken into this mess I’d created.

I looked around me at the tools, boards and scraps scattered about the patio. The work was about half done, but Charlie’s design was clear – boards running diagonal from brick to post, one level, fenced in with two openings here and there. Already, it was beautiful because you could tell how it was going to turn out – you could see what he had in mind. And so I was lost in thought when the song began. You make beautiful things, You make beautiful things out of the dust. I brushed sawdust from my pants, hugged my knees to my chest and thought, Indeed. It was the word I'd prayed for, the hope I needed in that moment.

Not long after, the storm passed. My broken spirit gave way to a whole new brand of humility, contrition. Through no skill of my own, I found the words to say what I felt, what needed to be said to mend the fence. And even now, when the hope that gleamed uncontrollably just days ago is faintly flickering and threatening to disappear, I go back to the deck and I sit. The work is almost finished. Just a few more boards, a few more nails. I imagine by this time next weekend, the tools will be gone, the sawdust will have been swept away, and the memory of wood, metal, dust and chaos will begin to be replaced by memories of evenings spent outside in crisp air, taking in the beauty.

And I will remember the greatness of the love the Father has given unto us, that we should be called the children of God. That we are His workmanship, created in His image. That He is the ultimate Craftsman, and that my soul full well knows that His works are wonderful.

I will trust Him.

What He has built already is beautiful beyond words. Years ago, I wouldn’t have dared hoped for this restoration of dignity, for this setting of feet in such a spacious place, for the continuation of anything but sorrow, much less the beginning of a good work in me. I know that He will be faithful to complete it.

I know that He will be faithful. Tonight, and for always, that is enough.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

To Follow You More Nearly

The painted words on pavement are written so that pedestrians will see them as they are in motion. They are written to be seen in that order, but we, we squint and peer as far ahead as we can, always wondering what's next, when will we break into a run, what we will find further down the bridge. We ignore the steps falling in this moment, and we read the messages backwards.



It doesn't compute and the brain tells me it's meant to be read opposite and why, but my eyes refuse to adjust and read the way I'm meant to. My gaze continues fixed, trained on the distance and not the race. I know I need this trek today, but my goodness if I don't have a to-do list one mile long waiting for me at the end of it all. I start every run like this - counting seconds that pass too slowly, wondering when I'll get to the end and claim my share of that sore muscle satisfaction. He asks me about the words, why do they sound so backwards, and I explain: it's because they are.

But are they?

We continue to walk, brisk, planning the future. Buying this kind of house, pursuing this kind of work, finding this level of joy. He runs ahead and I stop to stretch and rest on the bench overlooking the river. I'm afraid of heights, and I'm afraid of this river, but I lean on the rail, fully lean, and stare over. It's just water. It's just space. And I stand safe, braced by metal that I'm sure won't give under my lean, feeling peace. Allowing myself to take in beauty instead of imagining a terrifying fall. He makes me this brave. I sit on the bench and stretch out warm in the sun. I close my eyes to be still and silently giggle at the detailed explanation of gussets being given behind me. I had no idea that word had multiple meanings. I don't think these folks do, either...

He returns, drenched and happy, and we sit, talk. Our words somehow glance the past, and he struggles, works hard to say what I need said, that all is well. We stand and I struggle, I work hard to tell him that I know, and that I believe it too. And as we walk, pulled unexpectedly and fully aware into this moment, this tender declaration of now, by the pain of our past, I look down and read:

Walkers, stay right.

My eyes widen and I realize and I laugh, grateful for the ways He shows us grace. For the reminders we have of our own limitations. For a mind that isn't designed to know the future but is built to know the now, to seek Him today. To find grace and joy in Him today. And oh the grace I find when I do. Oh, the joy.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Somehow You Needed Me

(Archived post, written April 2011)

My child has always been a squirmy worm at the doctor’s office. Maybe all the poking, prodding, shot-giving and such that our little ones endure when they enter the world really does stay with them. They learn to recognize the walls of the clinic, the crackle of exam table paper, the faces and voices of doctors, receptionists, nurses. With all those triggers, it’s no surprise that my sensitive daughter won’t even let them take a look in her ears without putting up a fight.

Until today.

Having had it up to here with her particularly persistent sinus issues, I decide to take her in and get things checked out. The nurse weighs her, asks me the standard questions, and Liv sets about her usual wandering around the exam room, picking up this book and that, jumping on the step stool, asking to play Angry Birds on my phone. As the doctor walks in, I’m prepared – as usual – for Liv to come sit on my lap, act shy/scared, bury her head in my chest and then generally resist, squirm, wriggle, whine while the doctor and I awkwardly try to hold her still for the exam. Instead, my little Olivia Carolyn Grace ever so casually wanders over to the bench just beside mine, climbs up, smiles sweetly at Dr. Y, opens her mouth, and says, “Aaaaaaahhhh.” With as far as my jaw drops at that moment, the doc may very well decide to have a good look at my tonsils, too. I am stunned at this new display of independence. The exam progresses as it has began, and I wonder at how well Liv is behaving for the doctor, making a mental note to call my mother and tell her what a big girl I have…until I realize that she is sitting there, by herself, in the doctor’s office, unphased, and what a big girl I have.

With the actual examination over, the doctor turns her attention to me. I wonder if she has ever felt her own mommy heart pride-swell and break in time’s hands. We talk about treatment, she recommends a certain course. I take notes and make sure I’m straight on times and doses. Smiling, Dr. Y offers the standard end-of-visit assurances. I stand, gather our things, and walk with my daughter out of the clinic, still unsure of exactly what just happened back there.

We return home to rest and let the medicine do its work, and my child – stubborn as a splinter in the heel of your hand – refuses to sleep. I refuse to rebut her refusal and opt instead for low-energy activities like coloring and Blue’s Clues. As she occupies herself and I focus on bits of work, I keep remembering how she looked, sitting there so tall and confident. So grown up. So not needing me. I chide myself for my melodramatic mommy moment even as April thunder shakes the walls of our house and I turn on my heel to comfort my daughter who, as luck would have it, is unimpressed with the storm.

I want to honor and encourage her growth. I want to be present for that journey, to see her become an amazing woman. So I want her to experience all of the right levels of independence at all of the right times. Like, when she’s 27.

After the Little Naptime That Wouldn’t, dinner and a worship team rehearsal, I prepare my sleepy one for bath and bed. Because I am her mother, I know that she is too tired to manage bath time on her own tonight. No nap and new meds – that’s enough for one day, and after getting her into the tub, I ask her to tilt her head back so I can begin washing her hair. She insists she can do it herself. I insist that, tonight, she will not. She splashes. She dives. She grapples and cries and screams – loud, angry screams that actually alarm me. As steadily as I can manage, I hurry through shampoo and soap and rinsing until I can finally drain the water and rescue the both of us from drowning in this hysterical moment. When I wrap her in the towels and pick her up, her previously tense and punch-throwing body instantly relaxes into my arms and she goes quiet. Moments later, dry, warm and pajama-clad, she crawls under her covers as I cue Lullabies on Pandora and sit up in bed next to her. It’s one of those nights when I know that we both need a little extra comforting, so I promise to stay with her until she falls asleep. She rests her clean, wet head on my chest, and we stay there, just like that, through Rock-a-bye Baby, Sleep Baby Sleep, Good Night and Beautiful Dreamer. She asks me to rub her back, and I feel her eyelashes flutter shut against my chest, giving thanks for this little one who needs me after all.

Monday, August 1, 2011

What I Learned in Louisiana

Tonight I sat down to add to my gratitude journal, and my eyes wandered from what I was writing to what I recorded last weekend. I drove to South Toledo Bend, Louisiana, with my sweet friend Robin, to stay with her family on the lake and enjoy a few days away. My mom even offered to keep Liv so I could relax as much as possible while down there. And relax I did. If you're a state parks kind of person and you don't mind crossing on over into Louisiana, do yourself a favor: go to South Toledo Bend State Park. It is everything a state park should be.

I must admit, I had an agenda in mind as we were planning the trip. See, there's this issue I've been processing for the last several weeks, and it has to do with worship, callings, gifts, community....all of that. Since I first started mulling all of it over, I've realized that I can just as easily talk myself out of one corner and into the next, and I just can't seem to gain a clear sense of direction on things. So I figured I'd go to the backwoods of Louisiana, spend exactly 48 hours being quiet and get myself an answer. Cause that's how God works, right?

Needless to say, I did not return to Arkansas knowing exactly what to do with all of the question marks in my head. And at first I felt a little disappointed, like maybe I had somehow missed the point. Then I remembered that just because I planted myself somewhere without cell reception for a day or two didn't necessarily mean I would find clarity on this complex, multi-faceted issue. In fact, it stayed fairly far from my mind the entire time I was down there. And maybe that was the point.

Whatever the reason for my being there, I remembered tonight some of the grace-filled moments that I took the time to jot down in my journal. And they are....

Six-hour car rides with bestests where the radio is never necessary

Learning more about what makes our dear ones who they are

Awe-struck at stories of humble parents raising children well

Welcoming families

Saturday morning coffee made just for me

Pajama walks to the dock, coffee mug in hand

Robin's Texas nephews with their unmistakable Texas accents

Eagles swooping down over lakes

Cloaked in wilderness, all greens, browns and blues

Pine trees and ceiling fan breezes

Screened-in porches and pouring Louisiana rain

And tonight, I call those sweet moments to mind, and my sleepy hand scrawls...

Lists that help us remember

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

He Has Shown You, O Man

Micah 7
18 Who is a God like you, pardoning iniquity
       and passing over transgression
       for the remnant of his inheritance?
     He does not retain his anger forever,
       because he delights in steadfast love.
19 He will again have compassion on us;
       he will tread our iniquities underfoot.
     You will cast all our sins
       into the depths of the sea.
20 You will show faithfulness to Jacob
       and steadfast love to Abraham,
       as you have sworn to our fathers
       from the days of old.

Several years ago, my sister Holly wrote these verses for me on the back of a leftover welcome card from her wedding reception. It was a precious gift from her, coming just after a difficult period in my life, when the Lord was restoring me and showing me just how loving and gentle He is. The card has stayed in my Bible since then, and its edges are creased and curled from where the paper has jutted out just so from my pocket-size NIV. Having broken loose and spent the last several weeks floating around in my purse, the poor thing was begging to be rescued, so I pulled it out and placed it in my gratitude journal, but as I did, I paused to read the words again…words now familiar but still so cherished. Tonight, I saw them new.

A fresh wind so needed, I read that He delights in steadfast love. The lovely thing there is that it allows me to stop thinking about all of my junk – all of the things that I think make me so ridiculously difficult as a person – and I get to relax into something that does not depend on me. He delights in steadfast love. That’s honestly just such a relief. Slow reading, I see: He will again have compassion on us. Compassion. Again. Not just this one time. One word: again. And subsequently, our iniquities are tread underfoot. Trampled. By Him. Whether we choose to realize it or not, sin always threatens to enslave and embattle us. So I imagine myself, in a helpless heap on the battlefield, and I think of Trampling Feet, warrior-stomping to my rescue. Again.

Three verses earlier in the prophecy, God references the Israelites’ exodus from Egypt. Then here we see that He promises to cast all our sins into the depths of the sea. That ring any bells for you? It didn’t for me at first; not until I started doing some digging (read: Googling). Think Red Sea. Pharoah’s army. Enemies literally vanishing into the bottom of the sea while the Israelites are free to run onward, away from captivity, away from slavery, into a life of liberty, rescue.

Now, I think I can say with some confidence that the Exodus story, while I believe it fully, probably does not resound with me the way that it would have resounded with an 8th century BC Israelite. So from my modern day viewpoint, I consider: He doesn’t promise to stand on the shore, carelessly toss our sins into the waves and see what happens…we’d be scooping those same things up just as soon as the tide came back in. No, He will cast them into the depths of the sea. Where they will sink. And stay. Never to be found, thought of, or relevant…again.

Finally, Micah reflects on the faithfulness God has shown His people from the beginning. He has not forgotten His promise to Israel’s fathers; it is as alive today as it was when Abram gazed at stars and Jacob used a stone for his pillow; as alive as when Sarah laughed and Jacob wrestled and Israel and Judah rebelled. As alive as when I sang wandering songs and lifted my soul to another.

The prophet Micah wrote a beautiful song of hope to follow some very hard lessons learned. Not surprisingly, that's about when these words fell into my hands. I am as thankful for them tonight as I was five years ago. And forever thankful I will be.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

In What Ought To Be A Dream

After a solid year of wondering, puzzling and vaporous attempts at interpretation, I decided it was honest appraisal time, and after a thorough review, I somberly said to myself: this isn’t what I thought it was.

My Self replied: You’ve no substantial reason to suspect anything other.

She really can be quite contrary. Just the same, my next steps became clear: cease and desist. And don’t expect any push-back. Or push-forward, for that matter. An end to expectations, period.

As they say, it is what it is.

For a day, maybe three, I was sad. How, with so little fanfare, does this parade come to an end? I can’t have been the only sponsor. And then, early winter’s days turned to evenings in spring and I found myself in the April Gulf, all sun, sand and bleach-blowing wind. And the truth caught up with me, ringing bold and clear.

Out of sight, out of mind.

At midnight, I stood ankle-deep in chilly waves, gasped at stars and felt an inkling of what I believe will beat within all of our hearts when the ‘is’ is finally made clear, when all questions are answered and all things bright and beautiful finally bear brilliant fruit. Only now, I mourned having spent so many days tied to a thing that had vanished from my heart so easily, without so much as a whimpering hint of a fight. And words that had seemed so sincere from my mouth and to my ears ceased to voice any intention – hidden, mistaken or otherwise.

As the summer began to unfurl, I settled into one of the most contented spaces I’ve found in some time. Then a seemingly harmless hello became a knock at the door and before I knew it, the apple cart was tipping, threatening an upset of epic proportions. I might could’ve joined the circus with the ensuing balancing act – all at once comic, tragic, awkward and strange – until finally, I landed, flat feet on the ground, heaving chest with heavy breath, thinking: whew. Didn’t see that one coming.

Still I hastened to answer, and in my haste, fumbled. And while part of me naturally inclines to feel disgrace, the greater part testifies of grace, protection, contentedness, and beauty. To darling friends who are sent at a moment’s notice to remind me of ease, laughter and the present hour’s joy. Whose tiniest actions urge me to remember my worth and the danger of entering into any contract where it is questioned.

As with so many young single Christian women, for days on end I've been encouraged to be available but not too available, willing but not desperate; to not wear that ring on this finger, and memorize the fine, fine line between feminine frailty and offensive strength because really, in the end, men are such simple creatures who need just the slightest hint of encouragement, dear, and you wouldn't want to miss out on THE opportunity, now would you?

Even when I was younger, I didn't care for the ambiguity game. See, I'm fettered to One whose intentions were established before the foundation of the world, whose promises cannot fail, whose Word can be fully trusted. One who chased me down to show His love for me. That chase is and has been my gold standard. For as long as I've imagined my life falling into the frame of the bridal portrait, I've imagined a holy pursuit. Never once have I enjoyed dancing to the melody of mixed signals. I confidently assert that I never will.

My God is so very, very big. He owns - made - controls the cosmos. I trust that His purposes, whatever they may be, will be realized in my life, without any help from my frantic second-guesses and wildly unsuccessful attempts at being the perfectly balanced image of all womanhood. So, I give. I breathe. I sigh. And I get back to life, most gratefully.