Prone

Oh, to grace how great a debtor
daily I’m constrained to be!
Let thy goodness, like a fetter,
bind my wandering heart to thee:
prone to wander, Lord, I feel it,
prone to leave the God I love;
here’s my heart, O take and seal it;
seal it for thy courts above.

What complicated, restless hearts we have. In the heat of the moment when I face difficult relationship problems, I always hedge my bets and blame the other person first. They weren’t thinking about me. They are avoiding this. Their insecurities have shaped that. I’m very innocent in the court of my mind, as luck would have it. But, of course, upon further examination, nothing is so one-dimensional, and it further extends the hurt and separation.

There’s a theme I don’t like that the Spirit has been raising a little antenna to in my heart. Abandonment. It’s a tough one. Not a pleasant word or idea, so harsh, so final. I haven’t learned too much about this theme in my life so far so will spare you the rambling, but I know it’s there.  And it has less to do with what actually happens to bring up my strong emotions currently than scars of my past and outstanding spiritual needs.

Today my guide for Lent directed me to the story of Hosea and Gomer. What a mess. I mean, really Lord? Here we see a painful marriage used to exemplify Israel’s abandonment of God, and God’s relentless pursuit and loyalty. Marriage, unsurprisingly, is great fuel for developing this abandonment theme in my life (sorry, Ryan…), and whatever the heck God wants to show me through it. I’ve said before, that to stay married is to stay a beginner. So this story of Hosea and Gomer, and his call to start over, and over, again, is compelling.

To Start All Over Again
v14-15 MSG “And now, here’s what I’m going to do:
I’m going to start all over again.
I’m taking her back out into the wilderness
where we had our first date, and I’ll court her.
I’ll give her bouquets of roses.
I’ll turn Heartbreak Valley into Acres of Hope.”

v23″I’ll have mercy on No-Mercy.
I’ll say to Nobody, ‘You’re my dear Somebody,’
and he’ll say ‘You’re my God!’”

Hosea was an imperfect husband, no matter how many times he went after Gomer. But, he is a great archetype for a perfect, loving God who powerfully speaks belonging and identity, hope and resilience, to the wandering. Even as I slowly start to wrestle with this word ‘abandonment,’ I sense His mercy. I sense that this is not a journey I have to go alone, and that He wants to show me that I was never alone, even when the seeds of these fears and trials were planted.

Fellow Wanderer, this is the Savior for us. This Jesus, this Good News, is the antithesis of abandonment. You’re the dear Somebody! The Gospel is for the Gomers. You’re the cause to start it all over again, which, really, is what Christ endured in a nutshell. A new suffering, a new courtship, an endless pursuit. Even as we prepare our hearts for the cross, no matter our sadness and suffering, we have the comfort of this loyalty and care. No relationship on earth comes close; this is not that which hurt us in the past, or repels us now. Likely, our experiences will only heighten our hunger for this, the original love.

I am praying for reminders for us of this perfect love. I’m asking to see glimpses of this extravagant faithfulness we so desire.

 

Advertisements

Corners

It’s hard to breathe sometimes, isn’t it?

 

I can name 4 major crises my small circle is facing right now. This morning, in the midst of doing something very inconsequential, scrubbing the neglected corners of my kitchen floor, I found myself on my knees, which is not very inconsequential.

I cannot do much for these loved ones. I can give strong hugs, I can suggest ideas from my finite mind, I can feel–oh, I can feel–their sorrow and grief. But I cannot abbreviate their grief, end the illness, free the captive, raise the lifeless or infuse identity.

As I bent low, making a difference in the dirt, I used a basin older than me. It was my grandmother’s. A woman who is going to welcome her daughter soon in the heavenlies. A woman of faith and gentleness, servanthood and humility, that I rarely resemble. As I considered the hours she spent scrubbing, the moments she must have used this bowl, the small, calloused hands I remember that gripped so many young children’s palms in her own and cleaned so many spills, I felt connected to a lineage of people who endured, who believed, who saw the best in people.

The prayers of my grandmother live on, much like this enamel basin. It helped me to pray on the floor this morning, for the sorrow and trauma my loved ones are suffering, for the milieu of danger and suspicion and blame in our nation, for the strength to wait and be loving.

I don’t know how God endures the grief He must feel over His lost and hurting people. Over our refusal to reach out, our rejection of His citizenship, and our constant evaluation of one other in self-defense when all He has done has been for our belonging and to grow our grace. I don’t know how He faced this earth and said He would stay with us Always.

God the Son bent low and washed feet. It didn’t end cancer. It didn’t fix the betrayer’s heart. It didn’t save them from martyrdom.

All that is wrapped up in Christ’s basin and kneeling eludes me but today this occurs to me: He is with us at the lowest and messiest. This is my God–the One who serves, weeps, and gave up His breath so that even when it is so hard, we breathe on and we have someone to pray to who knows this pain.

I don’t feel any obligation to remain poised in the midst of today’s hurt. But I must stay prayerful. I must stay knelt at a humble basin, facing the dirt, remembering that though the air is thin, this is not the end. We come from a tradition and a Lord who embraced those margins. We are not unfamiliar with the dark corners of life and fallenness. And we are not conquered or calloused under their persistence. I reach deep into the water of faith at these times, and stay low to listen and to love. It is all there is to do.

Deliverance from Adultery: A Message for the American Church

Every day I need deliverance. I just forget it, which is the scary thing.

All day I have a scrolling list of shoulds and T-charts and timers. I have the domestic burden and blessing of trying to decide if organic zucchini is worth the price if they won’t eat it anyway and how much screen time is a good reward and how big of a deal is picking up dirty socks and the word “fart.” I have the Enneagram type 1 hat of problem-solving and advocacy and general discontent (my prescribed growing direction is Ryan’s type 7, which carries the motto “I want to have fun!”). Oh YEA!

This time in history is like a warm, moist environment to this bacteria of constant reform and conviction within me. When my breath catches in my throat under the wave of an injustice or a worry, when I see the feeds that starve, and the posts that dismantle, when I feel the weight of responsibility and disappointment over what the margins have to say and what the powerful keep missing, I wring my hands with the rest of them. And I labor…I dream of fixes, simplicity, solutions and revolution.

But well-meaning thoroughness, and honest engagement, are no substitute for deliverance. I do not muster deliverance; I take hold of it. I receive it. I let go because of it.

And it is a time, more than anything else, for deliverance. 

Yes, there is advocacy and sacrifice. Yes, there is becoming informed and listening. Yes, there is civil discourse.

But first, and last, I want to pause before the throne, before calvary, and say, “Yes, Lord – please deliver me. Please deliver us. Through all this chaos, all the violence and false narratives, all the fear and greed, and cloudy future…You’re here. You’ve done the work, as irrelevant as it may seem some days. In You I place my hope and I see You in these shambles.”

And there shall be a time of trouble, such as never has been since there was a nation till that time. But at that time your people shall be delivered, everyone whose name shall be found written in the book. And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt.  And those who are wise shall shine like the brightness of the sky above; and those who turn many to righteousness, like the stars forever and ever. Daniel 12:1-4

History tells us this isn’t actually the worst of times. I’ve seen people call this election, this anti-everything, binary mode the worst–for Christians, cops, voters, the like. I don’t need that to be convinced things are bad. No, but it is raw, and there is no lapse of evil to take a breath.

But in this very moment is our deliverance, Christian Americans. In this very hour, we might be saved.

Awake, souls. No longer is there an autopilot, and that myth of a Christian nation must be a little tipsy by now. Let it fall. No longer can faith pretend to sleep with a political party in wedded bliss, all the while committing adultery. No longer can righteousness be molded into a political system and a national story that was never capable of holding eternity and never had an edge in God’s economy. No longer can the sleeping American Christian avoid shining awkwardly or owning its shame and contempt. It is a day of reckoning, and in case it hasn’t dawned on us yet, the alarm will undoubtedly keep rising.

Receive your deliverance. Take hold. Let go. Step out.

We have the opportunity to be delivered from mistaking a government’s promises for God’s, and a government’s best interests for our own as His children. We have the opportunity, like Israel so many times in the Old Testament, to be delivered from a sinful apathy and assimilation. To be liberated from a facade of Christianity to our true status as foreigners in this land, meant to engage vigorously but not to enmesh seamlessly. We have the opportunity to re-find ourselves and be delivered from a lack of critical-thinking that has too long forced the Good News into an either-or tug-of-war that cuts the knees off of our Christ and took all our energy and resources. I love and respect this country but I will keep her an important acquaintance. We are not to confuse our way of life what the one–whichever one–she purports.

I am pained by who has fallen and by who we’ve elevated, and all the in-between plaguing our nation right now. But I am comforted by this deliverance. I am hopeful that my children will walk with God and the Church and not have to argue about the connection between abortion and healthcare and racism. I am hoping that they will not find it difficult or unique to attend a local congregation that sings in different languages and has no one ethnicity or gender or class in power, that doesn’t mind talking about a political candidate because everyone is a Christian before they’re an American and the bullying vehicle of political argumentation finds no fuel in the Church. I am hopeful that today’s deliverance means that tomorrow’s Christianity is brave and loving–and incongruous with any one nation’s fears or worldview.

This election, and the constant pitting of souls against souls in the rest of the headlines, could be enough to break up this sham of a marriage between the Christian faith and a great country. Oh, would it! Too long have we looked for Him under a flag and anthem rather than around the eucharist, kneeling beside the footwashing basin. Perhaps His Bride may return–beleaguered, but delivered. Perhaps, in the midst of this cracking we will find missing pieces and our voice again. Shining like stars, delivered.

See you at the table.

A Bedtime Story

This time it’s over a miniature stuffed zebra toy whose back lights up through a star-filled plastic plate, sending an array of changing-colored stars on nearby dark walls. It’s over a tiny thing that a minute ago was disregarded on the floor, but now, since it is in little brother’s hands, is The Most Treasured Toy of All Time.

The boys share a room because we want to force them to be friends and in each other’s space as much as possible. We figure at some point the ganging up on us for the delay of bedtime and the pre-sleep squabbles have to evolve to deep-rooted camaraderie and lifelong looking out for each other. (Please do not tell us if this did not turn out to be true for you, please and thank you.)

After 8pm, emotions are rampant here. (And let me tell you, they weren’t in short supply at sunrise.) We devolve throughout the day apparently; our meds have worn off. It ain’t pretty, folks. Tonight is no exception. Tears, so many tears, when I vetoed older brother’s demands for HIS toy to be returned to HIM because HE wants it and the enemy-he didn’t ask [for permission to pick up disregarded/treasured toy—a birthday gift from a friend—off of floor], hmph!

The 4-year-old is less calloused by life (I hate to brag…) and in his sincere yearning for older brother’s approval and eternal happiness, often appeases him. While Dante and I were in the throws of a heart to heart (read: low-toned battle), mini-zebra Hope Diamond appeared on his pillow. Asher was already back in his bed, covering his ears, for the tears from the next bed over are always accompanied with wailing, in good post-8pm fashion.

I’ll spare you the details but eventually, slowly, with many comments about being “the most grown up” and “making me sad” and “worst day ever,” we eventually talked about what the most brave and most loving thing to do could be. Dante’s tears and torment didn’t end with the return of the Crown Jewel. It stung that his brother was feeling bad, and that his brother was demonstrating one of our rules that hasn’t fully taken effect: People are more important than stuff. It made him cry more that Asher felt sad but that Asher was being praised, that now he had this mini-light-up-stuffed-animal-plastic-thing and he kind of did want it but now he kind of didn’t. He didn’t fully believe that Asher wasn’t somehow the enemy, and cried, “We never get along!”

Eventually, Dante wanted to give the treasure back to Asher. He wanted to give him permission to have it. But he didn’t want to talk to him. He wanted me to give Asher a message. I was alright with that. The titanic doesn’t turn quickly, and it was enough that he was whispering with me, to keep from disturbing Asher more from further emotional trauma, and that he wanted to do the most brave and most loving thing: hand over the toy willfully. I dutifully delivered the package and the message to a relieved little brother, and returned to Dante’s side.

“Mom,” he whispered, “Now I feel sad like Asher did. I still feel a little sad!”

It’s true. My heart beat hard. I know you do, Sweetie.

Doing the brave and loving thing can help us feel better, it can let us go to sleep, but it doesn’t leave us feeling void of sadness. It’s true, we can feel a little sad even after All the Things we could do, we’ve done. Because it is a good toy. Because we still feel shame about our part in the problem. We wanted something else, other than what happened. Because we can’t control the Other, and we can’t control the future. We can’t ensure that they’ll remember our goodness or even recognize it, that the next round will go our way, that God Himself will keep the tally according to our terms of justice, and we just feel a little sad. The emptiness of doing the right thing, or letting go when we should, or giving the benefit of the doubt when it isn’t merited. Yes, it’s all true.

It’s okay to still feel a little sad.

The journey to rest tonight was long and imperfect and messy. We achieved some semblance of peace… but it wasn’t complete. We found some way forward… but it wasn’t perfectly satisfying. And this is so grown up, little boy. This is the Already and the Not Yet, in our simple shared space, with our friend-emies, in our late night fragility. We hold on to the Not Yet part of the Story of Brave Love and do our best, with our sadness, with our brother… together.

IMG_6151

Review

I am working on my annual review and what an annual it has been.

 

Even as I know the shadows and still feel their touch, their implications, I feel the breeze. I read the scrawl of the past year and find green, buds, sprouts that will get us to tomorrow. To springtime.

 

Help me fix my eyes not on the remainder of things looming but the finished grace you give over and over. Truth over fear. Be our glory. Be our treasure. 

Not one is missing. To him who has no might, He increases strength. (Is. 40:26, 29)

He covers the over-done like a weighted blanket, while His angels bear you up. Set your love on Him and find your terror in night, your daytime arrows, absorbed. Gone. (Ps. 91)

When we have been brought to a place we never wanted to go, the Lord enjoys our attention as never before. (adapted from Acedia, Norris)

Keep at it. He is a sure thing. Perfect peace is there for the stubborn. Our cumulative longing bears shalom–wholeness, safety and welfare. (Is. 26:3-4)

 

“But I am like a green olive tree in the house of God.

I trust in the steadfast love of God forever and ever.

I will thank you forever because you have done it.

I will wait for your name, for it is good, in the presence of the godly.”

Ps. 52:8-9

 

Wait. Be silent and thankful in the presence of good company. His grace is finished and new.

Love

It is after the turn of the year, after the day we remembered the Baby King and I am still stringing along the advent themes. And that is just how it is right now.

There are days when the love doesn’t seem thick enough. It doesn’t seem loud enough or near enough or real enough. It doesn’t seem like it can hold the frustrations, the pain, the way we play out lies and tumble in disappointment.

But then, just as I am not defined by a person or a role, but only by His image, Love is not defined by my sense of it. Of them. Or my imperfect dance with its shadowy imitations.

It is January 2nd which seems promising but a flip of the calendar is not reflected in our everyday lives. The vices still stand. The weariness was not wiped. The gaiety does not dissolve the grime.

The advent guide begins with Zephaniah 3:17, which was the verse I had in my profile in the 2002 yearbook. I couldn’t know then how I would lean on that verse hard and long the next year. The year I felt alone and liberated, devastated and thrilled, faith-less and faithful. It says “The Lord your God is with you, he is mighty to save. He will take great delight in you, he will quiet you with his love, he will rejoice over you with singing.”

It is hard to think of delighting anyone except my parents and babies. Let alone Him, Love.

When everything falls down around me, my dreams are up for grabs, the suffering of the world and my neighbor weigh in, and I can’t think of how to pray, I sometimes see I know nothing of this Love. And it is actually a relief. This Love that delights, that quiets, that sings. It lifted me in the darkest, private corners of my first year of college by its relentlessness; it has been the backbone to my story, but still I peer at it awkwardly, uncertain and blurry. Sometimes then I see that I have been sacrificing but not loving, like when Israel’s love, just as the prostitute’s, is considered the morning cloud, the early dew–quickly going away (Hosea 6:4-6). I have forgotten that He loved me first, and He loved him first, and her, and them, before I did anything right. Before he changed that habit. Before she realized she was like that. Before they called Them their God.

This Love, that broke in to the lowest parts of the world in the form of a baby, says this:

“I took them up by their arms, but they did not know that I healed them. I led them with the cords of kindness, with the bands of love, and I became to them as one who eases the yoke on their jaws, and I bend down to them and fed them” (Hosea 11:3-4).

We are the children, the enslaved, the sick, the asses, the babies. We are the whore that the Love came for, pursues, forgives, delights.

IMG_2924

The Love returns us, returns me, to being a helpless baby. And it meets me when I feel like one. When the advent writing didn’t finish in time, when the Christmas cards didn’t go out, when I forgot to show that person I cared, when I fall, fall, fall. When I forgot that nothing I do or sacrifice replaces holding fast to Love. Holding fast to the first identity of Beloved–of Enough. To a full and divine dependency on a Triune Love Being, like an infant on its caregiver, from dawn till dusk, and through the night. From the first breath.

And He loves us all last too. Still taking us up by our arms, healing us, and wrapping up with cords of kindness. He’s at the end, with the same Love. That is the relief. No matter how poorly I have received and clung to and extended this Love, it is force I do not effect. I cannot mess up the constancy of the invitation.

He came as the invitation. And oh so early in this new year, I receive it again.

She

The words fail when I am asked what this is like. When I turn to the One we call Father–a familial term–to ask, to believe, for my family–to ask what? to believe what? The words fail when I describe her and this and I wish it were that easy.

My home is sprinkled with signs of a baby girl. We are attached and attaching. We have known of her as long as we have held her, which is to say, not long at all. We do not know how long we will be able to smell her and dress her. How long the honor of comforting her and bathing her is ours. We do not know.

Like most of life, this process of adoption is entering without knowing the location. Without knowing what you are about to do and how much you can handle. Without guarantees.

I know that this could be the beginning of a very long road of finding our daughter. I hope that this is the beginning of a long story together. I know that the labor pains are in the future, rather than the past. I know that the painful contractions of something yet to come and trying to be are going to be ongoing, going to hurt, and may not produce what we think. I know that things will become more intense before we are discharged from this stay. This undefined mysterious stay of Unknown.

It is a beautiful and tender time, vulnerability included. We may not have the words, but we are so thankful. We may not have any answers, but we believe for her good. We have her, for now, right now, and it is our pleasure and a grace. She reminds us that today must be enough and must be significant. That we are not masters of our own lives. That to love fully is to grieve and to risk. And that is life. She reminds me that some of the most sacred parts of life are the ones least accommodating to words, security and definition.

Image