Monthly Archives: October 2013

inefficient

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They call this style of apartment an efficiency. Every space has a defined purpose. Streamlined.

But a lot of days I ache for the empty spaces. I go over to the big house and sit in the unnecessary room with the hunter green wallpaper and the termite damage. When we walk people through the house it’s the room we breeze by, explaining that as soon as we start fixing the kitchen the wall will go and it will be useful again. But I like it I like the way it doesn’t tell me what to do in it. The kitchen wants me to cook, the living room wants me to find a way to converse with my family, and the office wants me to fight my way out from under the piles of schoolwork. But this room seems to be telling me that it’s okay to just sit here (on the floor, because there are no chairs, but that’s okay because it means I can also lay down if I want to).

We like for things to be efficient. We like days with blocks for driving and learning and working and eating and sleeping. We like to have the right amounts of time to get where we need to go. To have places for all our possessions. Places for all our emotions. A need, and a way to meet it.

I am inefficient. I run late, and clamor in with my hurried footsteps out of sync in the echo-y space of the lobby. I am early and chewing a stick of gum in my car while the clock ticks and a new song comes on the radio. I have needs with no hope of being met, and I have grace for which there is no application. There is no place in efficiency for the times when I stare at nothing in particular and start to feel my heart relax.

The road is curvy. And I know that the fastest way to where you’re going is a straight line, but I am, to say it in the most cliché way I can, prone to wander. And yes, I feel it. This is what I’m learning from the charismatics (which is, of itself, an inefficient place for me to land. My type run again and again to the Anglicans for deep, calm simplicity and richness. That is not my story). In the cluttered mess of church the people clap noisily and pray for words and visions. The simple, efficient thing would be to read the words. To believe them. Not to struggle with them. Not to celebrate every victory and mourn every defeat with such intensity. But in the midst of this haphazardness I am loved. And I don’t feel that pressure to be or feel anything. I thank God for the grace to laugh hysterically when the night is heavy and to cry when there is absolutely nothing wrong. Because if there is one thing I don’t need, it is someone telling me how this transition should have gone. 

It was always going to be hard. And I’m thankful for the people who leaned in and listened and reminded me that it isn’t going to be perfect. I’m finding I can believe in a God who doesn’t always make things neat and perfect right away (and it’s easier to believe He could love me because let’s face it…I am neither of those things). 

The road is curvy, and I am leaning into yet another bend; the journey winds on itself and painstakingly continues up the mountain. Twisting around truths. I’m learning to pray like it’s just talking, and I’m wasting my words. Prattling like a toddler with her first full sentences, there are hurried monologues and faltering spaces in the words I give to God. We stand for communion, and it is not the practiced perfect application I have seen before. We come in huddles or alone and scatter. We hold it in our hands, and wait until we’re ready. Quietly, we raise it to our lips and wander back. The empty plastic cup stays wedged in my jeans pocket all day.

And love was not the efficient way to save me. Jesus came as a person, and it was messy around the edges. He wept and ached and was tired. For part of the time God walked the earth He was a person who took naps at strange moments and pulled the occasional all nighter. I was not the efficient way to reach the world. Instead I was Jonah, making a mess (and again with the weirdly timed naps). God uses the weak and foolish things to shame the wise. It seems like He could do that differently. His grace is perfect in weakness, and my strengths are really just in the way. That’s not the way they teach it in management seminars. Maybe I’m just slow on the uptake in this upside down kingdom.

She told me from the passenger seat of my car that I can learn to love the wandering. That the uncertainty is what makes the story mine. 

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grace

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Thursday. Waco. She pressed her palms flat into the edge of the table and leaned forward, searching my eyes for a second. “You really scared me.” It’s matter of fact, but I feel guilty. Until she looks a second longer “but I think you’re going to be okay.”. I’m glad someone thinks so, and it feels like grace. 

And it’s a month ago, and I am sitting across a different table looking at a different face. “I’m not sure I really believe there is grace for me anymore. Or at least there won’t be again. Ever again.” And my jaw is set and I’m too deeply sad for tears. Too deeply guilty about the brokenness. Wondering if I could possibly have stopped it.

But there is grace. This moment, across this slightly sticky table with her searching my eyes, is grace. Here, it is easy to feel it. It seeps into the soles of my bare feet as I make my way across parking lots in the dark. It is grace to be here again. To have air in my lungs. Like I do pretty often, I trace the scar. It’s grace.

We keep asking people the same question. “How do you know you love God?” (it’s the question I couldn’t quite figure out how to ask all summer). And getting different answers. That it isn’t about that. That God loving us is enough. That you feel it. That you make yourself do it.

I think about love, and it blooms immediately in my chest, sweeter and warmer than the drink in my hand. It is the children that, in such great grace, I got to see and hold and talk to this week. If I have ever loved at all, it is these kids. I think about the way this love is fierce and brave and undeniable. How it makes me strong. I think about the love I have for this city, and for these people sitting around this table. But mostly I think about these kids who taught me so much about love. It feels differently than the way I feel about God. It worries me. Is it sin to wish He had made other arrangements? 

And the response comes frankly over the top of his pumpkin ale as whiskey warms in my chest, “You know because you keep His commandments. It isn’t complicated.” For a half a second I want to punch him in the face (maybe for longer than that).

And, almost shouting, I tell him that it’s been hell. I ask him, and I’m a centimeter from tears, if it still counts when I’m miserable about it, when the commands have destroyed me. When I’m broken and aching and at the point of giving up. Does it count then? (it feels so different from the love I know. It can’t be love. I’m obeying but it’s awful) Is this feeble stumbling along the path in the dark still somehow an act of love? 

They nod, the whole little cluster of them. Like it’s obvious. With so much grace it could break your heart. Like maybe they understand more than I give them credit for. “Yeah” he tells me “It counts”.

Later they laugh and think I’m exaggerating, or maybe just tipsy, as I slam my hands down and explain how excited I am to hear that song on Sunday. They laugh because it’s me, and I get excited easily.

But it’s a month ago, and I’m in the fetal position. I’ve chosen to sit in this for one more night. And the tears run through my body like dry heaves, and I swear a little between them and wonder what I’m doing wrong. Wonder why I can’t shake this. And the latest argument is branded on my brain, and I’m wondering what on earth God was possibly thinking, sending me here. And an inch from my ear the play count on the song hits 26 and I hear the words one more time, keep going one more time:

“Lord I find you in the seeking. Lord I find you in the doubt. And to know You is to love You, and to know so little else. I need You.”

This song could save your life. And it’s grace to sing it between the tears alone in the dark. It’s grace to sing it in a room full of people you love.

Maybe this is loving God. To do both. This absolutely broken state of affairs where I hated everything, but I knew I couldn’t turn away. This absolutely beautiful moment when God showed me that love never left me, and I was never condemned. I know that at the end of the day, this is what’s holding me together and I cannot let go. Maybe it’s simple like getting back in the car at the end of a trip that’s so beautiful and limping home. But going. Still going.

And this morning Boggus said it so beautifully. “God is also saving you from your feeble efforts at righteousness.” And I cried quiet tears as we took communion because it’s grace. It’s all grace (I said I would never see it again, but it never left). The depression, the hurt, the loneliness…it happened. And the guilt isn’t about what I did or didn’t do. The healing isn’t. Instead it’s about God who gave me grace to keep going. To keep loving him crookedly, achingly. The grace to drive away from Rebecca’s house knowing that this is obedience. Hearing their voices still echoing in my ears. “It’s enough”.

I hope you have people in your life who give you grace. People who pray for you on Sundays and sit up late with you on hard nights. Who know the parts you edit, or the parts you don’t say. Who see the ways you are trying to hold onto God and remind you that you are loving Him, even now. But if you don’t, consider this me staring you down over the top of your beverage of choice and telling you it counts. Telling you that loving God doesn’t always feel like fire and joy and enthusiasm. Telling you that the obedience when you’re torn apart is still obedience, and that 1 John says that obedience is how we love Him. That it brings us into the light whether or not our eyes are open enough to see it.

And if you’re not obedient. If you’re running. Consider this me giving you the kind of hug that spins a little in its fierceness and looking you in the eyes, telling you like Becky did for me once “you are ready and you can do this and you are brave and I love you. And then the two of us can climb into the car and drive, go on to the place God is bringing us. Together. Because there’s grace.

 And you’ll live to sing the song in a room full of love again.

the stuff that doesn’t burn- for the wwwof synchroblog

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the stuff that doesn't burn

If you have ever read this blog, you know that faith isn’t a simple issue for me. It’s a messy, tangled, loaded question.
Feel like that, too? Allow me to recommend Addie Zierman again. This time her book is out. And you need to read it if you understand the messiness I’m talking about. Also cool? If you click on this picture you can see a bunch of other people telling their stories about when they were on fire.
It’s really neat. I really wanted to play along. I’m nowhere near the kind of writer that the rest of these folks are, but this topic means a bunch to me.
It’s also a kind of letter. To the people I scorched when I was on fire. An apology, maybe.
so…with that…

Fire is so violent when you dump water on it. It hisses, steams, and sends sparks everywhere. That’s the way it was. When doubts started to quench the flame of our faith we were loud and angry. We fought back. It still sputtered, still died, but not before it consumed everything it could.
We never would have imagined that would include so much of all of us.

It was the first summer we were all driving, and we spent an inordinate amount of time at Mardel, listening to the elevator hymns and picking up books from the discount rack. Reading titles and summaries, thumbing pages, debating the merits of one or another. We bought the devotionals and the missionary autobiographies and cracked them like a whip, herding everything we did into this mold of what it looked like to be ‘sold out’. We went off to camp after camp, and came back full of exciting, world changing ideas. We all had a favorite worship band, and a speaker we would have followed anywhere. We laid relationships we didn’t have yet and things we hadn’t gotten yet on the altar before we could even hold them in our hands, the fire lit and already licking at their edges. We mortgaged the future like it didn’t matter (and we would later wrench it out of God’s hands, burning ourselves a bit and swearing we never meant a word of it). We turned our faces away from the garish lights of adolescence and felt ourselves settle into rhythms that felt adult, mature.

We spent our junior year laying on our backs on the fifteenth hole at midnight. Laughing and staggering around while we screamed and talked about how big God was. And we drove down the dark, unlit country roads listening to Christian radio and planning our lives outside the confines of our little town on the edge of a little city in the middle of America. I remember the way the stars were, more than anything. They were bright, and the sky was dark, and they were far away and close all at the same time. Like in the Lion King, we could almost believe they were watching us. We prayed in voices that were small, but the air and the sky and God were all so big that it made us feel brave and powerful and invincible We wanted more emotion, more sacrifice. We wanted to prove that we loved Jesus in a big, obvious, exciting way. We wanted to be seen. It didn’t matter if we never fit in anywhere else, in this moment we were a part of all we ever needed.

It ended. Things do that. There were three of us, and I remember when she started to ask hard questions. We were angry and certain of the truth. We hit her with a barrages of clichés and verses…assumed she must be the problem. We blamed sin, we blamed her, we tried to make sure that God didn’t hear the questions. Tried to make Him think we had the answers. We hissed like doused fire and created steam and smoke to screen the hurt. In the chaotic transitions of graduation, friendships splintered and broke. We pretended not to care. Pretended not to see it. Pretended God was all we needed. It was like we were afraid the doubt was contagious. It was terrifying to realize that not all fires burn forever. I haven’t really talked to her in years.

It was getting better. We were deepening into something sustainable again, something real. We were rooted deeply in things that cannot be consumed. Until fragility began to well up in us again. I never thought I would see you falter.
But it happened. It broke slowly at first, then all at once. I remember sitting at the coffee shop where everyone went to talk about big things. It was nighttime, and the sky had the reddish glow of the city. I didn’t see a single star, and you told me frankly that God felt fake. It entered my mind, as the sky was so void, that maybe no one was watching us after all. The thought rang out like an alarm, and I quickly squashed it. I didn’t fight you, because I couldn’t bear to lose you. I didn’t want the time we’d had to mean nothing. But I felt like I had to somehow defend something. Like listening was somehow treason, like it would pass the disease on to me. So I cried and shouted about how hurt I was. It never occurred to me that you were hurting. That you didn’t need that guilt on top of everything else. I am so sorry. My fire was weaker already. I guess I thought if it burned fiercely in that moment it might somehow stay lit. But it dulled into barely glowing embers that glow white hot from where the fire has been, but don’t seem to be doing anything anymore. It burned by itself, and everything felt cold around me.

And so it was that when my own fire went out I saw the rain coming dimly from far away. I knew what it looked like. Somewhere in the haze of a thousand goodbyes and moving home I just stopped, and it was a relief. I had nothing left inside of me to burn. Just emptiness. The doubts caught up, and the weak flames barely made a sound as they faded into nothing. The depression swallowed it, and I was met with an ugly surprise.
Everything that had fed the fire was missing. Everything was consumed. I hated all my books, all my music…myself. I had no idea what it meant to exist as a person whose faith was on life support. I reached for the things that used to sustain me and found nothing but scorched bridges. It was lonely. It was cold. It was dark.

But you were there. What do we do, in the land where every dream we ever had was all knotted up in the desire to be crazy for God? Can we sustain the brashness when we stop feeling brave? I don’t know.
But the faith comes back to us gently. And after the way I’ve burned you, we edge around it. We talk about everything else, and leave those sentences trailing into the ether. Wondering if it’s a betrayal to believe again. But what’s left, as scattered as it is, glows a little in the blackness and we can almost see the end of it.
I came back, broken and stumbling and slurring my words, to a God who was my last option. Like Peter wondering if there was anywhere else to go. I was standing there with a burned out lantern, when I saw Him standing there, like a father who has been up all night waiting for his daughter to come home safely.

We were on fire. It wasn’t entirely wrong. It stretched us and moved us and showed us what the ground looks like from a long way up. But it burned like a firecracker: brash and bright brief. And we’d given up so much of ourselves that there was nothing to burn away. It couldn’t keep us warm. But we discovered that the darkness isn’t any better. We need the sparks. We need a fire.
Like a light we can put up on a lampstand. Like a candle that trails a sweet scent around the room, that burns quietly but insistently long after the fireworks have faded from the sky. We were on fire, and we burned out, and we were left with the few unshakable pieces of ourselves…with a candle burning bravely in the corner.
The things that remained were surprising. The Chronicles of Narnia. A few old Rich Mullins CDs that feel strangely like a Mumford record. An album of pictures signed by my first mentor, who I still miss when I drive down a dirt road. This friendship. The path at the park where we used to feel God so close I’d swear I saw Him. I set them on the shelf next to a Shane Claiborne book, A CD by The Killers, a journal full of foul words and frustrations, and a picture of a little girl on a swing. And this book, this one that seems more than anything to embody the way the boundaries have fallen for me. The shame and healing and pain and awe and wonder… It’s all here inside of me, unshakable in the hands of the one is making all things new.

Not everything burns away.

i am not enough

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Have you ever been hurt by the comparison game? Yeah. Me too. We play it with ourselves when we look at our peers, role models, whatever and say “man. Why can’t that be me?”. And we become dissatisfied with who we are. We get it from others, too. From people who don’t love us the way we want to be loved or see us the way we want to be seen. And they’re both hard. It can be impossible to silence the voices telling us we aren’t good enough.

Tonight I listened to someone I care about more than almost anyone in the world rattle off a long list of all the ways I don’t measure up. And it sucks. I ran to God, looking for some kind of assurance that I was okay. Because it’s hard. I used to be so on top of it. I was a leader in church, in my sorority…I had it all together. And now I’m here, and it’s different. And there are days I feel so distant from the girl everyone expects me to be (the one I used to be) that I can’t even define myself. I wanted God to remind me that I am enough.

After all, that’s the mantra. That’s what the psychologists all tell me. The commercials, too. That I’m worth it, that I need to think about my needs, take care of myself, that I am uniquely gifted…all this stuff. The whole world is looking at me (and maybe especially me) and trying to tell me that the way to fight back against depression and inadequacy is to get excited about myself. To dig into all the ways I am special. And the church can be the same way. Telling me God has some awesome plan for me, and it won’t be hard. Telling me God wants me to prosper and be awesome. That’s what I wanted to hear.

That isn’t what God said. I came running to Him, and His word told me over and over again “you’re not enough”. Wow.

Even if you feed all the orphans.

Even if you preach the Gospel to every person you meet.

It doesn’t matter.

You can’t cut it.

But then again, this makes sense. We try to save the world from poverty and sell Jesus short. We try to celebrate Jesus and end up retreated into a holy huddle. We try to reach out and end up dragged deeply into actions and attitudes that pull us away from God. We seek to understand and get legalistic. We seek wonder and awe and end up theologically bankrupt. We aren’t enough (but then again Jesus never said we would be. He said He is).

It is so frustrating.

But maybe that’s the point. Maybe we’re supposed to need each other. Maybe it’s somehow good for us to work together, help each other. Maybe we are actually just little pieces of this great big body, and maybe our shortcomings are there to keep us from trying to do it all ourselves.

And maybe it’s to help us lean on God. To keep us from constructing yet another idol in our own image, or in the image of some other flawed creation.

Jesus is enough. I don’t want you to get confused while you’re listening to Klove, Walmart, MTV, Joel Osteen and Hollywood tell you what a special snowflake you are. You aren’t enough. That’s Jesus. Just him. Not you, and not the person sitting next to you who looks like they’ve got it all together. Jesus. And the best news? He’s enough to fill your gaps as well. 

You want to get depressed? Think about yourself a bunch. Make every task you do, every goal you set about self improvement. Set out to fix the little annoying things about you. Celebrate your awesome traits. That will depress you. Your failure will be in your face every single day. Because it will never be enough. It can’t be. And the world gets incredibly lonely and incredibly stressful when all your energy is focused on yourself.

You want to get better? You want to have healing from the pain, from the isolation, from the failure? Make a big deal about the people around you. Figure out how you can help each other. Be honest with them, and let them do the same. Get interested in them (furthermore? it’s hard to be lonely when you are really and truly looking out for the good of somebody else. Yeah, it might be you end up across the table from someone who doesn’t seem to have any way to help you out…….but you’re not the point, remember? Also people surprise you). Even better? Make a big deal about Jesus. Be so excited and consumed by Him and the example He set that you start to realize just how flimsy you are in comparison. You decrease. He increases. That’s the design here.

The goal is to be small. The goal is to be a little, tiny speck of dust caught in the gravity of a huge God. And that runs up against everything I’ve ever been told.

But… the first will be last. The master should be the foot washer. The meek get everything. The hungry have food. Your enemy is beloved. The ache is the gift. To die is to be alive. Vulnerability is strength. The children will lead the way. The rich will fight just to get in on things…  

Jesus didn’t see things quite like we do. And you know what? I can’t even pretend to understand everything. The only thing I’m sure of is that I am going to make some more mistakes. But every time I do I’m kind of surprised to find that grace looks really big when I am really small.

It’s enough.

my cup is empty

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There’s a distinct difference between thinking about suicide and planning it. That’s what I learned this summer. The first is dreamlike, vapid; the second has sharply focused edges. The first becomes an almost addictive coping strategy, pulling darkly at the corners of every thought. As recently as July, they were both phone a friend occasions, things that stuck out in the spread of a day or a week or even a month. Now it takes a significant amount of planning and intention to even make a blip on my radar.

I haven’t been well. Not at all. My life…it was okay. Things were good. My…self…wasn’t.

And if I’ve lied to you, I’m sorry. But I needed to. I needed to feel like things were going to get better, or at least like I was better than it seemed.

 But, actually, that’s not what this is about. Not entirely anyway.

So I cruised into church on Sunday somewhere between thinking and planning, but mostly okay. Mostly hanging in there, toughing it out, pick a cliché. Mostly. But I was frustrated because it had been a good weekend, and yet there I sat. Listening to a pastor lay out the Gospel frankly, at a church I’ve sort of landed in by default. Because I haven’t been trying. I haven’t been doing much of anything.

So I sat there, unflinching. Mired in the middle of a day were the world didn’t really have a chance of getting in. I might have heard seven words, total. And then we stood to take communion. I’m a Baptist by nature, and it’s never meant that much to me. This was different. I slumped against the wall, holding the cup and the bread in my hand. If I’ve learned one thing as a Baptist, it’s that you don’t take communion when you’re not right with God. So I stood against the wall, wondering if I could be.

Depression makes you humble. And when you let it take over time and time again…

“It is always before me” those are the words I said. The thing I confessed. It would not go away. And that was true. “I don’t want to need you, but I do. I wish you hadn’t had to die for me. I wish I could get there on my own. But I needed it. I do need it. I need you to help me.”

The words were simple, and I’m sure you don’t really understand the drama there. I choked the bread down. I felt it all the way down my throat. I asked God to let His death nourish me. It seemed barbaric, desperate, and pathetic. But I needed Him. I needed Him to die. 

I didn’t drink out of the cup right away. I didn’t. Because as I stood there, staring at it, it all came rushing in on me. The hurt. The pain. The hopelessness. The despair. The emptiness. And I choked out a paraphrase of Jesus “If it can pass over me, please let it. I can sit in this but…please”.

And I knew. I knew that Jesus drank that cup. The cup of being deserted by friends, and alone. And exhausted. And in despair. And far from God. At the end. That was never mine to drink. I stood there, staring at it. It was just grape juice.

I swallowed it, and at the risk of you not believing me, the world came back into focus.

As I fell asleep last night, I swear I felt the words in my soul: “If the darkness comes back, you tell it your cup is empty”

I’m not going to say that everything is better, but…

It has been more than a day. That hasn’t happened since June. And I slept for nine hours last night. And every emotion I had today made sense, had a reason. There’s a lightness I haven’t felt in what feels like a million years. I really think I am going to be okay.

I don’t expect you to understand that as a miracle. But it is.