Friday, February 20, 2015

snow day revelations

Things I've learned from our epic ice/snow break.

  1. The topography of my neighborhood, with its perfect combination of hills and shade is excellent for sledding. We may still be iced in come May.
  2. Neighbors with children your son's age are the best.
  3. Be careful where you start sledding because instead of going the anticipated 20 yards, you may run into an elderly, confused beagle way at the other end of the street.
  4. Having an impossibly long to do list is a really good thing when you're snowed in for four days. 
  5. All these years I've been thinking I don't get to folding the laundry because I have other things to do when actually it turns out that I will do just about anything to procrastinate folding laundry.
  6. I don't get bored. I'm too nerdy. My laundry may never get folded.
  7. Quinn is not nearly nerdy enough. We're going to have to work on that.
  8. I may play like an 8 year old, but I hurt like an old lady.
  9. Number 8 leads me to point out that sledding for three straight days when you're recovering from a pinched nerve and separated shoulder and you're allergic to ibuprofen will cause pain so bad you think you're dying. 
  10. The postal service motto apparently no longer applies...
Here's to more snow!

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

swallowed up

I know very little, about photography. Okay, really I actually know nothing about photography. I have observed however that the position of the sun is essential to taking a good picture outside. Last weekend we had one absolutely lovely day. As Quinn and I soaked up the last bit of it outside on the greenway, I played with my camera phone a little and snapped a couple quick shots to remind me of the contrast. The first one:

A picture taken mere seconds later simply changing my perspective:

As we walked into the setting sun, it cast shadows over the road before us but painted the road behind us in the perfect hues of sunset. The metaphor felt so obvious it is almost embarrassing to recount.

I read this the following morning:
For we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands. Meanwhile we groan, longing to be clothed instead with our heavenly dwelling, because when we are clothed, we will not be found naked. For while we are in this tent, we groan and are burdened, because we do not wish to be unclothed but to be clothed instead with our heavenly dwelling, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. 2 Corinthian 5: 1-4
As I long and groan and wait, I stare into the dark shadows of the promises we have in Christ. I can make out dim shapes, but I fail to see the color. When I look back though, the brilliant hues of past grace remind me to press on with great endurance. Because one day all this mortality, this frail imitation of life, will be swallowed up by an eternal life so incomprehensible, so radiant, that looking at it form this side casts everything else into shadow.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015


Cold, bright days like today are one of winter's few crowning glories. The warmth of the sun on my face juxtaposed with the crisp, stinging air stirs up a thousand beginnings to stories I could never have the time to write. Today feels like it could give birth to some great adventure. The gray, rainy days of weeks past weigh heavily on the soul, and not just because of the vitamin D deficit. They are a reminder of the heaviness of sin, the fullness of the burden we carry that taints every thought and word and deed like so many muddy footprints in my foyer.

Spring is coming, bringing with it the promise of those wild storms we can get here in the South. California has earthquakes, Florida has hurricanes, but here we have tornadoes. Wild beasts of wind borne of the clash between hot and cold air, they dish out judgment with vengeful fury. The violence and randomness of their destruction inspires a peculiar mix of awe and fear. Most of us will never actually see a tornado, but the paths they leave are unmistakable.  

The memory of elementary school tornado drills has been bouncing around my head. I can still remember what it's like crouched up against a wall with hands protecting the neck and trying to shift your weight so your feet don't fall asleep. Mere minutes of practice left me with the sole thought that I'd rather risk dying than spend more time on my knees feeling that dreadful tingling make its way down my legs. 

I have been uncommonly short of words lately. Although I'd like to blame it on the work load, a shoulder injury, or traveling with students, I really can't. I just haven't had words, and that does not bode well for the state of my heart. Although I still struggle to find those words, I finally found that the picture of me stuck in tornado drill position portrays exactly how I feel.

Experiencing pain and brokenness in close relationships, losing Smudge, single parenting - a perfect trifecta for emotional retreat. I have been receding from community so slowly, I hardly realized it was happening. But the tingling effects of emotional and spiritual numbness have been working their way up my soul. Actively resisting quiet times is unusual for me, but I've been pushing even God away, despite his overt tenderness and compassion towards my stubborn heart.

Reading 1 Corinthians this morning, I came across this little nugget in verses 37-38:

When you sow, you do not plant the body that will be, but just a seed, perhaps of wheat or of something else. But God gives it a body as he has determined, and to each kind of seed he gives its own body.
February, with its unpredictable weather, its crazy lows and highs ushering in the first hint of spring storms to come, is the month I plant the little dried snap pea seeds in the ground. They'll weather the final frosts of the year with sober dignity, peeping their brave little heads above the soil in early March. My prayers and reading and studying feel like the hard wrinkled edges of that snap pea seed. Worthless and dead, dried and hardened to protect the faintest promise of life. But the promise is there, however lifeless it may seem at the moment. When those tiny buds pop their heads out of the ground into the blustery spring storms, they won't have any more hard edges to protect them from the blasting winds; they'll have something better, a supple grace to not only survive the violent winds of a passing tornado but also in the midst of the chaos to bear the delicate purple blooms that will birth life giving fruit. 

So is his promise to me, despot my stubborn resistance:

So will it be with the resurrection of the dead. The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable; it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body. (1 Corinthians 15:42-44)
My new prayer is to submit to that grace at work in me, to trust the mystery, and give myself over to him who has promised to clothe me with immortality.
1 Corinthians 15:51-58

Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed— in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality. When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: “Death has been swallowed up in victory.”

“Where, O death, is your victory?
Where, O death, is your sting?”

The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.

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:
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.