Thursday, January 1, 2015

go to the work


I've never much enjoyed New Year's Eve. I don't particularly enjoy staying up late, and I don't see much point in getting wild to celebrate a tomorrow that will most likely look very much like today. But this morning I was beginning the final chapters of my study in John with a look at Jesus's resurrection, and this verse has been with me all day. The reading at our wedding was from the beginning of Revelations 21, finishing with this verse. And something about the coming of this new year reminds me of the new creation Christ ushered in when he defeated death.

Because I've been dwelling on the theme of a new creation all day, I flipped back through Surprised By Hope, by N. T. Wright, and I came across this gem towards the end:
The genuine Christian hope, rooted in Jesus's resurrection, is the hope for God's renewal of all things, for his overcoming of corruption, decay, and death, for his filling of the whole cosmos with his love and grace, his power and glory....  What I am saying is, think through the hope that is ours in the gospel; recognize the renewal of creation as both the goal of all things in Christ and the achievement that has already been accomplished in the resurrection; and go to the work of justice, beauty, evangelism, the renewal of space, time, and matter as the anticipation of the eventual goal and the implementation of what Jesus achieved in his death and resurrection.
I've been sloughing through some really tough school work this break that is preparation for the upcoming semester. In a profession like teaching, it's easy to get distracted with thoughts that outcomes are directly impacted by my level of preparation and skill. But I'm learning more and more that when my focus narrows simply to my own efforts, despair and hopelessness creep in and begin to take control. I needed this reminder to go to work with the anticipation that my greatest goal has already been achieved and I get the joy of watching it unfold. My work for today, and each new day, is to act as a faithful steward of the new creation, ushering in a tiny foretaste of what God has in store for us, showing this decadent world a picture of what God is doing in the whole cosmos.

Despair and hopelessness are loud voices in my head, so today I am arming myself with his victory and his promise in order that I might go to the work that is before me with joy and trust that all things will be made new.

Sunday, December 28, 2014

stupid grin

Last week, when I was back in my old stomping grounds, I was able to get away for a couple long runs through the neighborhood where I passed my youth. Both times I started my run with this song (Moving Forward by Colony House) and a huge, stupid grin on my face.


From sermons to personal study to advent devotion, so many topics are all converging on the glory of Christ. Perhaps I'm also noticing it more since I'm working through John Owen's The Glory of Christ. There I've confessed that I'm back to reading John Owen again. I tried to take a detour through Charnock, but he just wasn't cutting it. 

I also confess a distinct, sustained season of dryness in my spiritual walk, mostly borne of physical, mental, and emotional exhaustion. Unbeknownst to me, trickles of faith distilled through sparse quiet times and cold prayers, were pooling into a wellspring of joy just waiting to crash down over me. This brief respite, still overfilled with work and home and parenting, has provided much more than physical rest. 

From John Owen:
He himself, out of his infinite love and ineffable condescension, upon the sight and view of his church, and his own graces in her, with which she is adorned, says, 'You have ravished my heart, my sister, my spouse; you have ravished my heart with one of your eyes, with one chain of your neck' (S of S 4: 9). How much more ought a believing soul, upon a view of the glory of Christ, in whom it is pleased the Father that all fullness should dwell, to say, "You have ravished my heart, taken it away from me! O you whom my soul loves, one glance of your glorious beauty upon me has quite overcome me, has left no heart in me to things here below!"
I have indeed been quite overcome, and it is both beautiful and humbling. The demands of the next few months, both personally and professionally, are so intimidating, that I dread them coming. I know I will wash up on the shores of May bruised and bloody, weary and broken. For that reason I am hesitant to leave the comforts of December. But I shall tie my laces, stretch my legs, and set out on this race with open eyes, a stupid grin on my face, and a great song at the top of my playlist:
Sometimes 
life can feel so unkind.
Sorrow won't define me

Sorrow just reminds my soul
My eyes are open,

my heart is beating,

my lungs are full,

and my body's breathing.

I'm moving forward.

I found my freedom.

I know this sorrow.

I know the heartache.

I know with fear comes a tragic heartbreak.

Well I'm moving forward.

I found my freedom.

I found the life that gave the reason to love.

Thursday, December 25, 2014

If only

It's late and I'm tired, but as I sit here looking at the Christmas tree, I can't seem to make myself go to bed. There is something in this moment that is too sacred to let go of easily. When someone you love dies, the first night is the hardest because you think, I don't want it to be tomorrow.  You don't want it to be possible that a day could exist without that person in it. Someone somewhere is feeling that kind of anguish tonight, but there is a similar anguish in stepping away from sacred celebrations and back into the normal rhythm of life. I don't want it to be possible for tomorrow to exist without this same measure of peace and joy.

Yesterday as Quinn and I were making homemade pasta, our Christmas Eve tradition, I couldn't help but see what our family should have been. There should have been Emmett with a couple more kids running around. There should have been a swirling chaos of noise and mess storming through the house. But it was just us, and though we had a great time, it was relatively quiet and clean and predictable. I'm realizing that grief has very little to do with a loss in the past, it's a continual loss of what the present could have been.

But that story isn't to make you cry because I wasn't so much sad as I was struck by what Christ's grief must be like. Luke 19 records Jesus weeping over Jerusalem during his triumphal entry: "If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace - but now it is hidden from your eyes" (vs. 42). In this moment, Christ expresses his grief over the loss of what could have been, if only they had known what would bring them peace.

If only they had known, and yet I, who knows and have been known by the very word that created the universe, still struggle to live as if I really know what will bring me peace. I wonder how my present, how this very moment would be different if I really knew what would bring me peace. Sitting by the Christmas tree with a fuzzy blanket, warm cup of tea, and high speed internet makes it easy to pretend I really know. But enter a few relatively minor inconveniences tomorrow morning, like a grouchy seven year old boy, an endless to do list for the house, a mountain of school work - and suddenly my warm, fuzzy peace is looking pretty fragile.

In my travels with grief, I've learned the path to real, deep, belly-aching joy involves embracing grief like an old friend and letting her walk with you. But I never expected her to open my eyes to the if only moments of the present. I'm learning to ask myself what this moment could be like if I really knew what would bring me peace. I still don't really have eyes to see the answer to that question, but at least know I know the question and that gives me courage to face tomorrow morning.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

trusting the story


Thursday morning we said goodbye to Smudge. Quinn said goodbye before he went off to school and then I sat with her a while until it was time to go. I spent the next couple days listless, moody, and weepy. From getting out the carrot peeler (a sound that would being Smudge running from the other side of the house) to passing the dog food isle at the grocery store, I found it hard to keep it together. It wasn't until late yesterday that it registered, "oh yeah, this is grief. I've been here before." It felt so normal.

When Quinn started reading Harry Potter, he wanted confirmation that all his favorite characters would live. He has been known to have an all out melt down because I won't give away the ending. He doesn't deal well with not knowing. He wants assurance that the characters he loves will win and the characters he hates will be punished because he thinks he knows after one book who is good and who is bad. I keep telling him to trust the story and just keep reading, but he gets so mad at me.

For Advent, I've been studying the last week of Jesus life in the gospel of John. Strange, I know, but there's something about remembering his birth that makes me look ahead to the cross. I don't see a sweet little baby in a manger anymore. I see humiliation and separation from the father. I see determination and grit and a terrible purifying love incomprehensibly wrapped in swaddling clothes. I see the cross. 

One of my favorite Advent traditions with Quinn is reading the Jesus Storybook Bible every night. Even though we've moved on to a bigger Bible, we come back to those stories every year at Christmas, and the opening story always gets me right here:
I tear up every time I read this. Seriously. I know so much more about the ending of the story than most of the characters in the Bible. I'm not wandering in the desert following some God who came out of nowhere and told me to trust that he would give me a son. I'm not praying from a balcony in Babylon as part of an exiled Israel longing to return home. I'm not a member of the early church threatened with death, having only a few stories and letters to hold my faith together. I have the promised Holy Spirit and the Word of God. But I still find that, in the face of overwhelming loss, those things sometimes don't feel like enough for me. I have read quite a few chapters of the book and I still don't feel like I can trust this story.

I think I'm beginning to understand why John wrote the book of Revelation. It's always seemed like a strange book to me. I mean, what's the point of writing a book no one really understands, no matter how many fancy terms we use to describe our theories. The reading at our wedding was from Revelation 21:
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, "Look! God's dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. he will wipe away every tea from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away. He who was seated on the throne said, "I am making everything new!" 
As I grow older the path of faith requires more discipline and endurance than I expected. The path to the cross became more painful for Jesus as the cross drew near, and I find my life to be following a similar pattern of intensity, and I have trouble trusting the story. So I'm looking at Jesus's final days on this earth, looking for faith to trust in the storyteller even when I cannot seem to trust the story.

Monday, December 1, 2014

smudge


Almost exactly twelve years ago we rescued this sweet little girl who fell asleep in my lap and has been the best dog ever since then. Because we didn't have much money she was our Christmas present to each other the first year we were married. Today we got some bad news about this sweet little girl. She's old. She's a dog. I knew it was coming because the way she'd been acting. When they told me it was a uti a couple weeks ago, I hoped, but also doubted, it was that simple. She's home with us for now. We'll spend the next few days, maybe weeks, saying goodbye. The next time we take her to the vet, she won't be coming home with us. But talk about opening up a can of worms. I don't think I've cried like this since Emmett. It's going to be another hard month here.

Monday, November 17, 2014

wonder and trust

When Quinn picked up Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone last week, it finally stuck. He's tried it a couple times, but he's now knee deep in Hogwarts politics, brewing imaginary polyjuice potions, and may have recently declared to a group of his peers that Harry is his new favorite superhero. I love the wonder of a good story well told, and I remember reading the books for the first time - picking up the first two on a whim the year I lived in England. 

I've been thinking a lot about my time in Oxford recently. A new greenway near our house winds through woods and fields, reminding me of the walking paths near the house that I called home that year - in the Jericho section of town right on the canals. I remember the church services in the dear little Anglican church I attended - the mystery of communion where we actually all drank real wine from the same cup and lived to tell the tale. Uneven cobblestones and life size chess boards and wine served at evening lectures and running along the canal and fresh chips from a street vendor and libraries so big you need a map to get out - these are a few of my favorite things.

My heart is restless with the coming of fall, the passing of Emmett's birthday, and a recent vicious viral infection. I want to change, to move away and start over, to find a new job, a new church, a new life.  But I recognize that in doing any of these things, I will inevitably take with me the only thing I actually want to leave behind - my sinful, stained, corrupted flesh. 

I have many fond memories of Oxford, but the most vivid memory is the weight of transformation pressed upon me by God during my time there. Through pain and loneliness and falling short of many standards despite my intense studying, I was held together by the beauty and the mystery of grace poured out on the weak. My restless heart seems to be learning those lessons anew this fall. My prayer is for a faith to see the wonder in the story unfolding in this moment and trust in the one who is telling it.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

injured

The hills were on fire tonight, a vibrant green set aflame with the red of autumn accentuated by the  fiery golden glow of a particularly beautiful sunset. We rounded a corner and were blinded by the red gold blaze on our drive. There is still life and warmth, but it is now impossible to ignore the cold death march of winter. This week, tonight, I feel like these blazing hillsides - deep wounds spilling out over abundant life.

I sat at school this afternoon with a couple of my favorite students long after others had left robot team practice. We talked of nerdy things like math team and favorite words and how awful sponge bob is. Earlier this week I took my advisory group to volunteer and we ended up having an impromptu tea party at my house. I sat and listened to them talk about life and senior year, only asking questions to break up an awkward pause. I can't believe I almost stopped teaching a few years ago. I have the best job in the world, seeing these students on the cusp of adventure, making decisions, just about to really bloom. Despite how much I love my students, I do not envy them their youth. The fire of youth is beautiful, like the first crocuses poking through the snow in early spring. But autumn lends itself to a peculiar kind of beauty, the beauty of a life surrendered and consumed.

Older music has been the soundtrack for my life this week, mostly Chris Rice's Deep Enough to Dream album. As I drove over the hills in Chattanooga last weekend, I couldn't help singing his Hallelujah song, but his song Welcome to our World surprised me again, particularly these words:
So wrap our injured flesh around you
Breathe our air and walk our sod.
Rob our sin and make us holy,
Perfect son of God.
As I've dwelt in Jeremiah this week, I've felt the deep wounds of sin. I have felt myself wrapped in this injured flesh, incapable of obedience. I've felt myself to be stubborn Israel. To be pierced with the tiniest of understanding about what it cost our Lord to walk this earth, though, is not the grief it might seem to be. To be acutely aware of my injured state is to know the tenderness of the Lord, to draw close to the veil and know him who cannot be seen. To be injured is to find peace and love and to be set ablaze with life in the face of so much death.