Monthly Archives: March 2014

be present…

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He ran up to me and hugged me, and I could feel the weakness in his arms. And his face had aged, just enough that it reminded me of how time passes.
Even when you wish it wouldn’t. Even when a little boy is dying.
There were days that I scolded God for not taking care of his children. There were parents who went to jail and families who moved. There was so much pain on such small faces, and I used to be mad. “Where were you, God?” I asked Him when I saw siblings struggling to keep it together as their father walked out of their lives without a backward glance. I asked Him as I held them close and told them how much I loved them, and He reminded me “I’m right here.”
And this small boy is dragging me around the playground, pointing things out and asking me “do you remember, do you remember, do you remember?” I laugh. “I was there, buddy, of course I remember.”
We were here. We wiped away tears on hard days and celebrated every small victory. We hugged and held and spun jump rope. But Thursday after Thursday we were here. And He was with us. And when we had failed tests and broken hearts and worn out bodies He was here. Every Thursday. With us.
When you set out to serve God, you expect to see mountains move and lives change and everything be different. But maybe, four years later, you come back and see a bunch of hurting kids who still need the touch of God in their lives. But you come back, and you see that there are still faces among them reaching, touching, holding, laughing…The faces change but the presence remains. And the voice of God comes again and reminds you that He is still here. For these kids. For these helpers. For this city. Seasons change, we graduate, we move away, we move in. But through it all, God has been here. There has never been a day when He was not before us and after us and around us. Never a day when He wasn’t holding, reaching, laughing. And I scream at Him that He has forgotten me, and He laughs and tells me that of course He hasn’t. The faces change, but He is here, in my life.
The grace is that we have been here with Him. We have learned to be faithful in this one small thing. To these small people. They have smeared fingerprints on our hearts. We are here. He is here. And we’re like this little boy begging to help hand out snacks. We are eager to please and to help. And He smiles at us and tells us He is proud. He sees us learning to be open. To be constant.
I’ve heard people say that there is little constancy in poverty. You move, you change schools, your family drifts in and out. Volunteers and agency drift in and out. Life shifts and changes, and you hang on with everything you have. And a group of college kids doesn’t change all that. But we are here. We can hold and reach and touch and laugh. We can be a steady, dependable thing. Like God is a steady, dependable thing. We can be His arms and eyes and ears.
It’s been almost a year, and his face still recognizes mine. He still runs forward and hugs me tight. He asks if I remember, and I do. And the words I’ve shouted about God’s absence and doubt start to fade, and I remember that He is here with me. That He remembers. That He longs for these moments with me.
We offer service, sometimes, like we’re magical. Like we can waltz in and spray Jesus around with a fire hose, and everything will be better. And sometimes I wish we would come like the rain, instead. Faithful. Soft. That we would find this rhythm of God’s presence and that we would just be that…present.
Can you go to a place once a week for four years, have conversations, give hugs, play in the dirt, share food, can you do all this and not be deeply changed? It’s a simple obedience. It’s a small incarnation. And surely your constant, dependable presence will not instantly change the way this world works. But never think it is for nothing. It can change you. It can change the people around you.

Because time passes. And the little boy is dying, and the time is gone and you can’t have it back. But you can know that you were present, and that you were a solid thing, and that maybe, for a moment, he has seen Jesus somewhere in your eyes.

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about doubt

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    It was dark, and the fire was at that stage of dying where it was mostly just a weird glow on the log, but it was still warm and we were still sitting around it. The heavy words kind of seem like they’re still hanging there with the smoke. I think he turned his flashlight on for a second, aiming it right at the center of the embers. “Isn’t it weird that when we put a light on it we can’t see the fire at all? It just looks like a dead log.” I roll my eyes in disbelief that he could possibly be lecturing me right now. I wonder if I should have said anything at all. But then again, there’s a particular kind of earnestness in him as he pokes at the glowing places in the dark. I start to wonder if it’s just that we both need these words.
     And it’s three in the morning. I’m thinking about Madeleine L’Engle and how we can’t keeping offering finite answers to infinite questions. I’m thinking of waking up in the darkness from a dream and being furious at God. I’m wondering if you can, in fact, be furious at someone who does not exist.
      I think about Hebrews, and about faith as a hoping for completion. A hoping for rescue. I think about the faithful as those of us who stumble around, unfamiliar with the path ahead and knowing somehow that this cannot be the end of the trail. Searching for the place where the road cuts into the clearing and the light is suddenly all around us. And the lost bits will be burned away, and the light will remain. I think about the way the clarity will come, and we will no longer have to keep rationalizing the need and the hope with the twisted state of things down here. I think about how that hope will turn to peace and just be real…
I’m aching for it, tonight. I’m aching for nights like these, gathered around and together and eating and drinking and laughing. I’m aching for the time when it won’t have to end in hugs and goodbyes and promises to keep in touch that we know we won’t keep the way we should. I’m longing for an end to the endings. It’s these lonely spaces, these seemingly endless disappointments and hurts that have left me staring accusingly like Job at a God I am hesitant to trust. And yet who am I, that He should have given me a hope to reach anything more than this? Is it a vague memory of heaven that fixes my eyes, or is it just a longing for something to fit into the broken edges? Regardless, I feel it burning inside, consuming the hapless, meaningless things and shining even more brightly against the hazy darkness of uncertainty and sadness. There is doubt, but there is also hope, and it is not overcome.
     Those of us out here wandering are far less lost than we imagine. After all, we were never supposed to be at home. We were meant to be immigrants, aliens. We were meant to tread with uncertainty, because we were meant to know that this is not the way it should have been. Maybe the doubt is nothing more than an echo of that dissonance, resonating through our souls and reminding us that we are made for more than this. And one day it will not be like this.
     One day we will be at home. And maybe that’s a place that we will know the instant we see it.
     Until then, the embers burning are so beautiful in the dark.

like a child

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Like a child. Children seem to know they’re special. They are proud of what they do. They tape the painting to the fridge and show it to the neighbors. They give you the crusty colored paper cards with the words spelled wrong. And they feel like they are generous. And they feel like they are special. And they feel like they are loved.

But they also ask for help. They ask openly, shamelessly. They cannot reach, they cannot count, they cannot spell, they cannot use…And somehow the needing doesn’t diminish from the being loved. Somehow the asking doesn’t take away from the knowing.

This is my family. I drew them in stick figures. Also there are hearts. This is my home. This is where I belong. These are the people who take care of me.

And the needing doesn’t subtract from the wholeness. We were not ashamed to be empty, once. But when I tried to come to you as a child I remembered the self assurance, the easy babbling to strangers as though the words mattered. I remembered being sure I was special Along the way I seem to have forgotten how to need you. I have shown you my scrawlings. I have tried to call them art. I have tried to be sure of it. But I haven’t found the words to ask you if you will sit beside me and help me with the hard parts.

Like a child. Like a child who has never been hurt. Like a child who trusts. Who hopes.

We’re not children. We’re not kids anymore. Our arms grew, and we could reach the top shelf. We learned to do it on our own. We didn’t want you to see until it was perfect. We used to see our work and think about how it was our best, that it was beautiful. It was joy, and we would like to see it that way again. The problem is that we ate from the damn tree and it doesn’t look beautiful the way it did. And we show it to you, and we are ashamed. We hide ourselves. We don’t want to talk about the things we can’t figure out.

You wanted my brokenness increase, because you needed me to see how lost I am. You gave me this law so I would see that I could never do it. You wanted me to learn to ask you. You wanted me to need you. I’m just afraid that, here at the very bottom, I will forget how to feel whole and safe in the midst of the needing. And when I try to protect myself, I will shut you out again.

Like a child. Like a child who believes that they will keep growing and learning. That every day they will draw a little better, until they are a famous artist. Who is going to be a professional athlete. Who is going to be completed. A child who still believes the best days are coming up. A child who can ask for help until they learn to do it. A child with so many  things they can learn.

The vessels are earthen. But they are not fired. They are not brittle. Instead they are clay. They are shape-able. They can be crushed and still begin again. They have not been finished. It is the humility and the hope of believing that tomorrow I will be better than I am today.

And yet I’ve lived enough brutal days to doubt even that. To doubt my ability to keep improving. Because I’ve done everything I know to do.

Like a child, who believes he will be strong and brave one day because his daddy is strong. Because his daddy is big. Because his daddy will show him. Is showing him.

Can I be the way You are? Is that the hope I’m holding? The idea of it is enough to kill the pride. If I am to be like You, then I must be so far away. And yet the promise of the distance reminds me that we have time, You and I.

Do we have time?

lent: to enter the darkness

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I came to Christ in the words of His temptation in the desert.

More specifically, I have never really known if it was a coming or a returning. I have never had the words to characterize the drunken, hormone fueled intoxication that was the lord over my adolescence. And to be honest, I would love for that to no longer be the thing that matters. The truth of it is that it was the moments in the desert that brought me here. That is the thing I can’t let go.

He stood up high, the way I like to. He saw it all beneath Him, and He could have jumped. He could have let Himself be rescued from all of it. He could have stayed there, atop the temple, and ruled it from up there. He could have gone down and turned the stones into bread. He could have put a fix on the problem and been the hero handing out sandwiches to strangers. But the fourth way is harder. It’s harder to go back into the darkness, and not be afraid. To live in the middle of the hurt and not give up. Every day. To be a brightness in the dark. And Jesus came down from the desert and walked among us. In the sadness, He became the brightness.

I read this in a new way, and I loved Jesus in a new way. It was the February I listened to The Bright Sadness by Charlie Hall until my CD player left it scratched up and skipping. I did the poverty simulation, and I cried at Prayer Awakening.There were kids and an egg hunt, and a blind lady on a bench who felt through the bag for her favorite candies. When I think about Lent, I think about all this together. I think about the way that my surprise party came right after Easter, and we danced on the suspension bridge and watched a wedding happen below us. And for me, that is what it means to rejoice. To be broken, to struggle, to fight your way home. To rest. To be known. There is pain for our brokenness, but at the same time there is hope.

And she told me I’ve made an idol out of the sadness. That sounds about right. But this…

This has not been a bright sadness. It has been dark and empty. I have embraced it, wanting a reason to be broken. Thinking that if I let myself be filled and happy I may have to stay here. Wanting someone to acknowledge the depth of my sacrifice. These are the temptations that have always been in the desert. This is not the way to enter Lent. There is nothing in the blackness. It always fascinated me to see the people with ashes on their foreheads. Ashes, where you can see them. This is what remains when the fire is gone. Like Israel, limping away from the place where he was Jacob and he wrestled with God. It’s a very public mourning, but I have been mourning the wrong things, while I turn a bored eye on my apathy and anger.

“Do you ever worry that you aren’t the best version of yourself?”

Yes. Because I’m not. I’m depressed and I drank bourbon in a church parking lot on Thursday. I made my mother cry today, and sometimes I wear the same pair of sweatpants three days in a row. And this year, the thing I need is to leave the gray, horizonless landscape that my brain has become. I think I shut down, because I was afraid it would hurt to try and fail. I was afraid I couldn’t hurt any more.

This is not abundant life. In the next 40 days, I’m going to into the desert. Walking in on purpose. Like Harry Potter, walking into the forest to peel the horcrux off of his soul. I’m letting the hurt happen, the ache happen. I’m facing the things that have made me afraid. I’m waking up the dead fragments of my soul.

And if it hurts, at least I will know I am alive again.

And maybe Easter will come, and I will sit again and look at the world from the way up high. Maybe I will see it all below me, and I will remember the joy of coming home. Jacob wrestled in the darkness, and the day broke, and he went home to his brother and his family. And he was welcome. And it was home again.

This Lent, I want to stay up through the darkness until I see the sun rise. And so I am entering into the darkness I have hidden from for so long. I am honest. I am sorry. I am ready to be whole again.