Saturday, December 29, 2012


One of the most beautiful things Emmett taught me was how to build a fire, even with wet wood.  The way you arrange the wood, prepare the kindling, even place the lit match and nurse it just so when it begins to burn.  I loved watching him build fires when we went camping because he made it an art form, and though the patience required nearly drove me crazy I became so good at building them that he often told me I was better than him (though I suspect he was just trying to curry favor).  Whenever we had fires at the house, he would sit up and watch them burn out long after I had gone to bed, always the rule-following boy scout, waiting for the embers to be cold to make sure we were all safe. 

So as I stay up waiting for he fire to go out tonight, I keep listening to his song on repeat:

          Kate York, Lay Down Your Sorrows

          Lay down your sorrows so troubled of heart
          come to the tree on the hill as you are
          Lay down your burdens that you've called friends
          watch as it blooms into life again

          Here is the ending and here it begins
          here at the river that washes your sins.
          Cast all your shame, all your sorrows and guilt
          here on this altar that love has built.

          There is no burden too heavy for him
          There is no battle scar he cannot mend.
          Love is a man well acquainted with grief,
          He longs to show you the way to peace.

          Fathers and mothers, O daughters and sons,
          Mercy is waiting with wide open arms.
          Heaven's a feast and the table is set.
          Run with abandon and never look back.

I love the rhythm of this song.  It makes me feel like a little girl dancing.  Not that I actually danced in my living room.  Who would do something so silly....  Sheesh.  When Quinn dances, which he still does frequently and with great abandon, it is a glorious sight to behold.  His awkward hips and flailing arms interspersed with short, jerky hops delight my heart, even as I'm silently praying he doesn't fall on his face again because, let's face it, the poor guy inherited my coordination.

Someone responded to one of my last few posts, commenting on my grief journey, and I was a little surprised.  There is so much darkness and struggle in my life, and grief - of a sort, yet I haven't felt particularly like I've been grieving.  Rather, I feel like grief over Emmett was just the first step into a new dimension of my journey, a new awareness of God at work.  It's funny to be pigeon-holed as "the widow," and it sometimes catches me off guard when I get the impression that people expect me to be carrying some kind of weight ready to dump on the next unsuspecting victim.  Yet I can honestly say that precisely because of the intensity of the battle, I've never felt this light.

Perhaps it is because I've given up trying to arrange my life just so, trying to get the stack just right.  As I watch the fire die tonight, I'm praying for God to arrange the pieces of my life just so, to stack each gnarled, soaked, twisted branch into a glorious heap ready to catch on fire.  And that's not a place of grief.  It's a place of reality, not a blind superficiality, but a tenuous hope.  Not ignorant of suffering, but not driven to despair.  I've found it to be part battlefield and part ballroom.  It's a curiously secure yet fragile place where joy is forged from sorrow and peace is the hard won prize for long-suffering.  

still standing

Music never really defined much of my life until Emmett began making me mixed tapes in high school. Now I find certain songs bring memories rushing back, like Michael W. Smith's, "Friends are friends Forever."  That's such a horribly cheeseball song, but it's apparently exactly what you should put on your girlfriend's mix tape when she graduates from high school.  At least Emmett isn't alive to kill me for telling the world that he put that on a mixed tape for me.  If he were alive right now, then I'd be in big trouble for ruining his street-cred.

Whenever I hear Cleareyed by Glen Phillips or Sons & Daughters by the Decemberists, I'm immediately transported to Quinn's nursery just after he was born where I read my way through the Harry Potter books and Neil Peart's Traveling Music while I nursed Quinn and Emmett toured the country playing drums.  Those were songs of hope and endurance, but they were also lighthearted and merry.  

When I downloaded, Light for the Lost Boy by Andrew Peterson, a few months ago, I was initially disappointed, and I put it down for a while.  But when I picked it back up in September and fell in love with it, I didn't really know it would be the soundtrack for the last couple months of my life.  Let's start with these lyrics from the first song:

'Cause every death is a question mark
At the end of the book of a beating heart
And the answer is scrawled in the silent dark
On the dome of the sky in a billion stars
But we cannot read these angel tongues
And we cannot stare at the burning sun
And we cannot sing with these broken lungs
So we kick in the womb and we beg to be born
Deliverance, O Lord!
When you look into grief and refuse to cover it up with self-justfication or co-dependencey or martyrdom or food or comparison-- when you face all the hard parts of reality without glossing over them or making up alternate stories that sound better-- when you stand on the edge and stare into a darkness you cannot read -- this is the very spot where I have been frozen these past months despite all the busy holidays and friends and work and family.  For a moment, when the shootings happened in Newtown, I felt that most of the world had come to join me in my little spot, yet how quickly people drifted to distractions, to find any petty argument to turn their gaze away from the darkness.

But it was in the darkness, surrounded by a sky more beautiful and terrible and lonely than we can imagine, that God gave Abraham a promise.  I had no idea this darkness was the place I had to stand to see God.  I don't think I could have signed up for this gig so many years ago if I had known it would lead me here.  And yet...

I couldn't really put it into words until I read Ann Voskamp's One Thousand Gifts.  It is a beautiful little book that I avoided because it was so trendy and her writing style is not my favorite.  When a dear friend gave it to me, I started it with mixed feelings of obligation and curiosity, yet I quickly devoured it as words of life to my soul.  While the book is an amazing testimony of the transforming power of thankfulness, I was struck by so many of her stories.  The moments where she learned to be transformed by gratitude were the moments when she came face to face with the darkness, the ugliness, the hopelessness, and chose to face that emptiness and wait on God.  I was overwhelmed with the importance of learning just to stand in the darkness and intentionally open yourself up to God.  I had not been practicing euchariteo as she calls it; instead of "thank you," my thoughts were more like, "um... i'm here, now what..." But I was amazed at the ways in which God would meet me in those moments, ways that are probably not even noticed externally, but speak to my soul that God is accomplishing a beautiful work in my soul.  And I was so thankful to know I wasn't nuts, or if I was nuts, then someone else was there with me.

Don't get me wrong.  I'm still an expert sinner, but by intentionally removing all my coping mechanisms and forcing me to metaphorically stare into the abyss, God is also training me to see him.  But standing on the edge of the abyss can really take it out of a girl.  I mean, sheesh, have I been tired.  Sometimes I feel like the work of faith is more like just standing.  You know the last scene of the last X-men movie where Wolverine is standing there regenerating his skin as fast as that Jane girl can burn it away?  I kind of feel like I am living that scene every day.

It's like Paul says in Ephesians 6: 13, "Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand."  I am just standing lately.  That's it.  Nothing glamorous, but some days when I get to the end of the day and I'm still standing, stripped of all my coping mechanisms that I so desperately want to use to hide the abyss - oh man - those are the nights I want to laugh out loud or dance a jig precisely because I'm still standing.  

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Recycling and Bicycling

Shortly after we were married, Emmett and I were cleaning out the last remaining items we had left our parents' houses.  I was going through a box of school items under my bed when I came across a green notebook full of poetry that I wrote in seventh grade.  Seventh grade girl poetry.  In other words, epic.  It was entirely about dolphins and saving the planet and recycling, which by the way, only sort of (in a very unsatisfying, contrived sort of way) rhymes with bicycling.  Yep.  That's how good I was.

I cringed as I opened it, so of course Emmett immediately snatched it from me and began reading them aloud, much to his delight and my embarrassment.  After wrestling him for the notebook, I vowed to rid the world of my awful poetry, once and for all.  Although Emmett protested loudly, I finally managed to destroy its contents, and the world is a much better place.

I remember showing that notebook to my seventh grade english teacher, and I was so proud of it.  The response I got from her when she returned it was much less enthusiastic than I anticipated. I'm surprised she managed to say anything nice at all.  That is why middle school teachers are saints and I teach high school.

Lately though when I sit down to write, I end up closing my blog, putting away my story outlines, and writing poetry.  What?  Yeah.  Somebody shoot me now before I embarrass myself again.  That's how I feel about it.  After swearing I'd never attempt poetry again, I can't seem to stop (although I'm so dreadfully slow I feel pretty much like I'm not moving).  And no, there is no way I'd post a poem on the internet, so don't even suggest it.

But there is something about poetry that fits with my life right now.  Sometime this week I realized that today would mark 18 months since Emmett died.  Today I learned that a Team Emmett board member and new friend had passed away after his cancer returned a couple of months ago.  I've been watching friends have babies, get married, take new jobs, move, get promotions, grieve, and suffer while I feel forced to sit still, merely a spectator.  So when I have a chance to reflect on and engage with reality, the true reality of God and creation, I find myself being thrown up against this invisible wall that I can't seem to penetrate.  I sit down to read the Bible, and I know there is deep, life giving truth, but the words ping around my brain like meaningless hieroglyphs. And not for lack of knowledge.  It's like no matter how much I study or read or work, I keep hitting a wall and truth - real life-giving, soul-satisfying truth -  is always on the other side.  I picture myself beating desperately on this wall, asking to be let in, shouting meaningless words at the chaos just wanting confirmation that I've been heard, much like Habakkuk.

N.T. Wright, in Surprised By Hope says that:
When the Bible speaks of heaven and earth it is not talking about two localities related to each other within the same space time continuum or about a nonphysical world contrasted with physical one but about two different kinds of what we call space, two different kinds of what we call matter, and also, quite possibly (though this does not necessarily follow from the other two) two different kinds of what we call time.  
I never really had any perspective on heaven and earth because heaven being a place in the sky somewhere past Jupiter never really worked for me.  But the way Wright speaks of it here, I can't help but geek out over how much this resonates with my science nerd brain.  Now if you've read anything or seen any PBS specials on string theory, you're probably no better off actually understanding what it says, and I'm not even going to try to explain it because it doesn't really make any sense and there's no way of testing if it's true, which makes it a pretty useless scientific theory.  However it presents a very similar possibility of extra dimensions, present but undetectable (hence the uselessness of the theory).

Essentially, whole worlds could exist right in front of us and we might never know.  Doesn't this sound just like the veil Paul talks about in 1 Corinthians?  Like Lewis's Narnia?  Jesus could be standing right in front of me like those guys on the runway guiding airplanes waving giant sticks of light (I'm sure they have a fancy name but I don't care enough to google it), and I have no sense of his presence.  Yet in some mystery of faith I know he is there, even though I can't get past that veil.  And what's more embarrassing is to think of that great cloud of witnesses from Hebrews 12 standing just on the other side of that veil cheering and booing and whooping and hollering as I live out the success and failures of my daily life.

Hence the poetry.  How that veil can be frustratingly impenetrable and yet so tenuously thin makes my breath catch and my body tremble and my brain shut down.  It simultaneously makes me want to conquer the world and never get out of bed again.  So metaphors are the only things I have left to work with anymore.  Sometime in eternity when I can see clearly, I will cast off these words as a child's attempt to explain the dim shapes in the mirror.  But for now I'm still stuck trying to get recycling to rhyme with bicycling and it's still very unsatisfying.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012


When you live over seas for an extended period of time, it isn't so much the large things that get you, like being a thousand miles from your family.  You prep for those kinds of things and adjust your life.  It's the little things, like the clerk not helping you bag your groceries or not getting ice in your water at a restaurant - the little things you don't prepare for mentally, that somehow have the power to spontaneously and completely unhinge you.

Being a widow and a single mom is somewhat similar.  You expect holidays to be difficult.  You plan ahead and put on your game face.  It is almost surprising how easy they are because of the hustle and bustle.  But changing the light bulbs... Now there's a task that can completely unhinge me.  Shortly after Emmett died, I was wondering why all my rooms were so dim, and I realized that about half my lightbulbs were burnt out.  I'm not sure I changed a lightbulb for the entire time Emmett and I were married.  It's just something he did.  He noticed poor lighting and changed the bulbs.  I noticed dirty bathrooms and cleaned them.  It wasn't exactly equal division of labor, but it worked.  So when I went to change the lightbulbs, I wasn't even entirely sure where we kept them.  And wouldn't you know that nearly every single light fixture in my house requires a different size and shape of bulb.  So when a light goes out, it's another trip to the store for a special bulb.  So when my shower light went out again this week, I sure did want to cuss.  I'm still showering in the semi-dark with the sensor light in the rest of the bathroom turning off every five minutes.  Because I'm awesome.  And lazy.  Mostly lazy, I guess.

Quinn came home from school yesterday, and when I asked him how the day went, he suddenly got very confessional.  "Mom," he said, "I'm sorry. We had to write down what we were thankful for, but I only had room for three things, and you didn't make it on the list, but I really am thankful for you."  I chuckled and asked him what made it on the list.  He looked me straight in the eye with the biggest grin on his face and said, "ME! And the world and God because I love the world he made."

Recently Quinn has been bringing up the world and how God made it and how much he loves it.  On Sunday we talked about what it meant to be a new creation and how God was making all things new.  Last night as we read the last chapter in his Jesus Storybook Bible, which is amazing, by the way.  The chapter is about the letter of Revelations, and it is such a beautiful picture of heaven and God making all things new and right.  At the very end, after this chapter, is a little part about saying yes to Jesus and being made new.  Quinn likes to read that, as I've always assumed to stretch out bedtime a little longer.  He's seen baptisms, and when he brings it up we talk about that passage and how one day he can make a choice to follow Jesus.  Usually we go on about our business and he forgets about it, but last night he was adamant that he wanted to say yes to Jesus right then.

Now having come to faith as a young adult, I have a hearty skepticism that borders on a sinful disdain of people who say they accepted Jesus as a child.  Now I know it can happen, but I sure was surprised to find Quinn so adamant and myself so hesitant.  I caught myself wanting to say he couldn't pray right then because there's no way he was old enough to really choose.  And then I thought, "but that's not the gospel!"  So being the good mom I am, I threw out a caveat knowing how much he doesn't like to pray out loud.  I said "okay, but you have to pray for yourself because no one else can do this for you."  He looked at me without flinching and agreed, though he asked me to help him know how to pray. I also said he'd have to talk with our pastor and let him know how he felt about Jesus, to which he also very surprisingly agreed.  And then totally out of the blue he said, "but I'm only going to get baptized if I can wear goggles."  I'm sure Jesus got a chuckle out of that one.

After praying and finishing bedtime I hopped on the treadmill for a long run to help me process the day and the upcoming holidays.  On the one hand, I was overflowing with joy at Quinn's heart, but on the other hand, I thought, "well, crap, now he's got a big target on his forehead."  I found myself thankful, but mostly terrified about how to shepherd this child without Emmett.  How in the world will I do that when I can't even manage to change the lightbulb in my shower?

Sunday, November 4, 2012


Epistemology.  A fancy word that nerdy people like to throw around that essentially means the study of how we know something.

Hope. An expectation of or desire for something good to happen in the future.

At some point last month, I sat among the women of our community group and couldn't think of a single prayer request to offer, even though I felt adrift in a sea of chaos.  I couldn't put my feelings into words until later when a friend from that group asked me how I was doing, the real question, not just the passing courtesy.  It was a hard question to answer.  Luckily it was a friend who expected a real answer, and I said, "honestly, the best news I could get right now would be that I had a terminal illness or that Jesus was coming back tomorrow."  Like the best of friends, she wasn't embarassed by the weightiness of my confession, and so we embarked on a short conversation about hope that stirred new thoughts and feelings to the surface.

I have been aware for some time of this overwhelming desire to be with Jesus, not because I'm particularly holy, but rather because I have no reasonable hope that my life here will get better before then.  Yet I have also felt this desire to be peculiarly sinful because it is a desire borne from weariness rather than love, a desire more focused on squirming out of responsibility rather than following Christ.  I suspect that anyone who has also seen her future drastically redefined by the illness or death of a family member might feel this way.

So I find myself on a prayer journey towards hope.  At a funeral recently, so many strange phrases were thrown out about deceased loved ones, that I began to realize that people, myself included, have no idea what the Bible says about death, resurrection, heaven, and the new creation.  My heart has always been stirred by passages like Isaiah 54 and Revelations 21 that speak of creation being made new and whole again.  Yet I find myself stumped at how this future changes my life today.

So I picked up a book called Surprised by Hope by N.T. Wright.  It's been sitting around for a couple months, and the Spirit finally pressed it on my heart.  In grand Eeyore fashion, I picked it up and said to myself, "Well, maybe it'll do some sort of good because, after all, it does have the word hope in the title."  Big pathetic sigh.

I hesitate to quote the book because I am pretty sure I haven't got to the really good part yet.  I'm still in the opening chapters, where I'm only underlining about half the sentences.  But I will leave you with this tidbit:
Hope, for the Christian, is not wishful thinking or mere blind optimism.  It is a mode of knowing, a mode within which new things are possible, options are not shut down, new creation can happen.
I'm learning that God is transitioning my hope from a small, selfish desire for things to work out for my good in this world to a broader way of seeing the story of Christ unfolding in his new creation.  That maybe he wants to transform not only my actions, but the way I see his story unfold in the world.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

how my mother-in-law ruined my life

I mean, did October really have to come with a bulldozer and bury me alive? Sheesh!  I was doing really well as a single mom until Quinn's fall break and a visit from my mother-in-law completely unhinged me.  Now, I know that the phrase "mother-in-law" is almost universally negative because of cultural stereotypes, but I happen to love mine.  She cooks, she cleans, she spoils Quinn but still enforces basic manners, and she made my life much easier during Quinn's fall break the first week of October.  I got to wake up at a reasonable hour, leave for work early, get things done, work out, attend an event on a school night by myself, not do the dishes and find them magically cleaned the next morning, not make the final round to shut things down every night.  All the things you get to do without thinking about them when you have a husband, but none of which you get to do as a single mom.

And then she left.  That's how she ruined my life.

Because I remembered all the selfish reasons I miss Emmett.  Apparently so did Quinn.  He's been dreaming about his dad and asking for pictures and stories.  Add to that Emmett's birthday, which was  yesterday, and we've both pretty much been basket cases all month.

Two days ago Quinn and I went to bed at 7 pm.  Yes, 7 pm.  Now I'm pretty sure I even broke my own record for early bedtime that night because I was asleep by 7:30.  On top of just not being able to get my act together this month, this week has been particularly tough on multiple levels.  A student lost her mom this week and Quinn broke his arm.  So as I crawled in bed Friday night I prayed one of those wordless prayers that come out when you get way down to the bottom of your soul and there's nothing really left to say.

And then I slept the whole night for the first time in weeks, although by whole night I mean until 3 am.  Because let's face it, when you go to bed at 7 pm, then 3 am is a reasonable wake up time.  I got out of bed around 4 am and did what I always do when I'm crawling back from that place at the bottom of my soul; I cleaned my room.  You'd think I would clean my room on a weekly basis since it is apparently such a spiritual event for me, but really it only happens every few months.  Just when I seem to get a little balance in my life, God tweaks it just enough - like that game Jenga - and everything crashes in a heap, and then, I clean my room.

But seriously, people.  I spend time with God.  I pray.  I live a quiet, sober life full of reflection and meditation.  I go to Bible study and try to be nice to people.  I give where and how I can.  I play with my kid and pack him healthy lunches.  And I do these things even when I'm not feeling the Holy Spirit mojo because I know I need these things.  Then SHOULDN'T I BE OVER BEING CRAZY BY NOW?  I thought I was an adult.  Isn't that what being an adult means?  That sensible, responsible living means you get to stop being crazy?

If truth be told though, I found plenty of reasons to lose it when Emmett was alive and well.  Maybe it's a good thing he can't tell you the whole truth.  Cause I could get crazy.  All that has really changed is what kinds of things make me lose it.  God likes to nudge me over the edge just in case I might start to feel like I have it all together. And nothing I can do, no matter how holy it is, can prevent God's little nudge from sending me whirling into chaos. I've discovered that I like orderliness and quietness and sensibleness and peace, sometimes more than I like God.  I can carve a life that suits me out of the chaos around me, and I can defend that little space against all sorts of evil.  But then God sends someone like my mother-in-law to be kind and caring and loving, and He completely destroys my little space.

So be careful when you're nice to people, because genuine service and love may be God's way of showing them kindness. And the kindness of the Lord, though it be all sorts of painful, truly does lead us to repentance, but often the road to repentance first passes through the land of crazy.  So when you're kind to people, they may get crazy.

I don't even have words yet to say what I'm repenting of because in the midst of all the crazy, I've felt deeply cherished by God, like he's ridiculously in love with me and well pleased with me.  Maybe that's all I needed, was to feel that again.  Either way, I'm glad my mother-in-law likes to ruin my life and I'm very thankful that she does, even though I'm still clawing my way out of crazy.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

tenant wanted

At some point last week I remembered that I had a blog.  It's been several weeks, nearly a month, since I've written.  At first I thought, well, I don't have anything to write.  And then I thought, oh, well, I'll write later because I'm not feeling so much like writing now.  Now I wonder if anyone will even read this one, as it's been so long.  And I find I don't really care about the readers, but I'm drawn back for the words - words that have been swimming in my consciousness, catching bits of light now and then like baubles hung in my grandmother's window.

I'm reading so much and living so intensely.  I found myself weeping over the passages in Exodus about slavery, weeping for the tender way in which God constructed his laws to protect the poor and helpless.  I've driven into a sunset whose brilliant colors were muted by a wispy, almost invisible cloud line on the horizon and thought how perfectly that fits how I see God's brilliance right now.  I've taken a walk on a fall morning after a night of rain and felt poetry drop into my heart, like a little gift that blossomed and grew.  My skin bears numerous scars from the yard work during our service project day where we cleaned up another widow's yard.  The angry red welts looks so much like my soul feels, that I smile at them like they're old friends.

In Phantasties,  by George MacDonald, the narrator traveling through faerie land notes that the irony of sorrow is how it carves out hollow spaces in our soul where we can experience a uniquely deep and abiding joy.  You might even say that we can only experience joy to the extent that we have lived well through sorrow.  I have whole new unexplored caverns in my soul carved out by sorrow.  Joy is poking around, trying the new spaces on for size.  We'll see if it takes up residence.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

little by little

Last weekend I attended a conference with a high school friend.  We made a couple new friends while we were there and were blessed by so much laughter that it was deeply good for the soul.  I forget exactly how it came up -- maybe we were arguing about who had to go ask something, I'm not quite sure -- but one of our new acquaintances suggested I go do it, followed by saying something nice like, "because you're so good at meeting people."  To which I laughed out loud.  Then my high school friend said something to the effect of, "I'm glad you laughed because I was going to try to hold my tongue, but you weren't like that at all in high school."  We then regaled the girls with lovely stories of me in high school to demonstrate exactly why that statement was so funny.

When I think about my life and the redemptive power of the Holy Spirit, I just have to laugh.  Recently I started a journey through the books of the law with the idea of looking at the law through the lens of Christ coming to fulfill the law. I thought I would breeze through Exodus on the way to more high brow (aka boring) passages of the law where I would make all sorts of intellectual parallels because I'm awesome like that.  Please read the sarcasm in that sentence because I really was feeling pretty impressed with myself.  But as I got into Exodus where God was talking about the promised land, he pressed on my heart that if we are a new creation in Christ, then we are called out of the wilderness of sin and death and into the promised land of that new creation.  That "new heart" he talks about in Ezekiel so much (see chapters 11 & 36) is just like the promised land where God was leading Israel.  God promises to drive out the nations from the promised land by sending his angel before the people of Israel.  The way God talks it sounds like the Israelites just have to saunter in with a toy sword, kind of like Quinn does every morning in his underwear, and the nations will fall over dead.  But here's what struck me in Exodus 23:
I will not drive them out from before you in one year, lest the land become desolate and the wild beasts multiply against you. Little by little I will drive them out from before you, until you have increased and possess the land. (Exodus 23:29-30 ESV)
 This verse is repeated almost verbatim in Deuteronomy 7, and when I read it, I thought, "Of course! This is my life!"  When I became a Christian I spent so many years being mad at God because he didn't make it easy to be holy.  For a long time, I've clung to the verse in Hebrews 10:
For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified. (Hebrews 10:14 ESV)
 This intricately, patient, focused, almost surgical attack on my sinful nature has been going on so long that sometimes I have trouble noticing it.  Honestly, though, if God had changed my heart all at once, I'd have fallen over dead or still be drooling in a looney bin right now.  Because I did not grow up with Jesus, even my issues have issues, and giving me a new heart is more like a lifelong heart surgery that a cheap magic trick that is no more than a slight of hand.  More than just giving me a new heart I need to learn holiness so that I can increase and possess this new creation that God calls me to be.

Lately I have felt the weight of emptiness on my heart.  I found myself grieving all sorts of random things, some valid like the loss of the family Emmett and I wanted to have, and some ridiculous like the   size and shape of my head.  In creeps the worm of Satan, whispering to me, "God doesn't really love you.  He doesn't really want you to be happy or he'd have given you a prettier head."  Just like the Israelites are about to mess things up when Moses goes up to the mountain, I feel the temptation to doubt God's goodness and love pressing down on me, tempting me to turn away.  But that phrase - little by little - keeps haunting me, foreshadowing the new creation God is working in me.  And if He can do this much work in me since I became a believer over 15 years ago, then I'm going to be freaking awesome when Jesus returns. Just sayin.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

vector addition and dance parties

I have a class this year I particularly love.  It's the kind of class where you put on a random music playlist for lab day only to look up and see them all dancing in perfect time to "Call Me Maybe."  Even the quiet ones have a little head bop going.  It is a rare mix of students that can mix laughter and work without losing one or the other, and we have a lot of fun doing the strangest things. Yesterday I was teaching vector addition using the component method (aren't you jealous?) because I'm about to begin projectile motion and forces (again, I can sense your jealousy).  It is easily the most difficult and least exciting class because it's all math and we can't quite shoot anything yet.  We basically work three problems in ninety minutes, but at the end of class I look around, and every single one of the students is thinking and wrestling and working together and sort of getting it and learning.  And every single one of us needs a nap because we did more thinking in ninety minutes than most people do all week.  Even if they never really get vector addition (and some may not), I feel like I've given them practice in how to engage in a difficult problem in an energizing way.  That lesson is much more useful to learn than vector addition.  Sweet.  Now I can retire, or at least take a nap while my next class builds robots.

I've been meditating on the topic of desire for some time now as God has been teaching me about the inner recesses of my heart.  It's pretty ugly in there.  Working through Exodus has been eye opening.  For the past few days I've been looking at Exodus 15-17, where God provides water and manna for the Israelites in the wilderness.  There's a strange tension here that never really gets resolved throughout the whole Bible.  The tension between asking and receiving.

Look at the Israelites.  They're stranded in the desert with no water and lots of people and livestock.  It's hot, it's smelly, everyone's thirsty.  It isn't really that surprising that they grumbled and moaned instead of skipping up to Moses and using their best manners with the qualifier, "if it's your will, Lord."  They really were going to die if they didn't get water.  And God came through, despite their lack of manners, yet he continued to point out that his provision was a test to see if they would diligently listen to the voice of the Lord.  And they don't.  They try to hoard the manna.  They go out on the Sabbath to "get ahead" instead of resting.  Anything they're told not to do, they try it like a bunch of mindless sheep, just in case God was wrong.

um... conviction, maybe?

And, if that weren't enough conviction,  then Jesus had to go and call himself the bread of heaven in John 6.  He feeds 5,000 people and they follow him because they want more.  I'm assuming most of them could have gone back home and had something to eat.  It wasn't really a dire situation, but why not follow this dude who just creates food out of nothing because that is way easier than working for it?    Jesus calls them out on it, pointing out they're just following him to get something, and they need to go work for food that doesn't spoil.  Not only does he not give them more food, he tells them to get to work for God, not for earthly food.  And you know what, the people are okay with that.  They're willing to work, but they want to know exactly what to do to get what they want.  They're willing to be plenty polite and respectful, as long as Jesus will give them what they want.  When Jesus tells them the work of God is to believe in Jesus, they're okay with that too...  As long as Jesus is willing to work another miracle (I mean, just one more so I can be REALLY be sure...).  Lo and behold, the miracle they ask for is more bread, "after all," they say, "Moses gave us manna, what can you give us that's better?"  Needless to say the conversation degenerates from there because the people following Jesus here are only interested in whether he can give them what they want.  The crowds end up leaving because they can't get what they want, so they go elsewhere to find it.


And I'm struck at how God gives us what we need, no matter how much grumbling we do, but he will not give us everything we want no matter how polite we ask or how much we conform to a set of outward rules.  But even his provision is a way of testing us to see if we are faithful.  Do I hoard what he's given me today? Do I try to get ahead when I should be resting?  Do I grumble because the manna he gives me today is the same as it was yesterday?  Do I turn away or grow weary or complain because he hasn't given me what I wanted today?  The answer to all of these is yes, of course.

Later in Numbers 11 it talks about how the people of Israel grumbled about how boring the manna was, and they were longing for the cucumbers and melons of Egypt.  I may have laughed a little out loud at that verse, but I'd pay serious money for Quinn to fondly long for a cucumber.  I've noticed in my heart that I have been complaining the same way lately.  I am grateful for the Lord's provision.  I am aware of the Lord's provision, but does it really have to look like this? Couldn't it be more exciting, romantic, adventurous?

When I first began to know the Holy Spirit, he was doing a lot of work on my outward attitudes and words.  And though he still has a long way to go, I can now blend in pretty well in Christian circles.   The state of my heart is a different story, as it has been largely neglected through self-delusion and blindness.  It's like God is rubbing his hands together and saying, "It's time to get down to business."  Because what I say and how I say it doesn't concern God nearly as much as whether the desires of my heart are aligned with his desires for me.

Because my awesome class is teaching me that when I teach something mind numbingly difficult like vector addition with components, it helps to be a good teacher with good lesson plans, but what really matters is that my class is ready and willing to go there with a good attitude.  Am I willing to jump into my life and engage with the difficult parts because that is what God wants me to be doing right now?  Or will I grumble and complain to get what I want?  Or maybe retreat into my exterior conformity and argue that I deserve something better?  I think today I've decided to join my awesome class for a brief dance party in the midst of a mind-numbingly difficult life, rejoicing in every last circumstance God has given me, especially the tough ones.

Monday, September 17, 2012

parallel universe

Pretty sure I woke up this morning in a parallel universe.  I mean, everything was technically the same and I couldn't really point out any meaningful differences in my life, except for a number of odd interactions.  Finally when Quinn looked at me over dinner in complete seriousness and totally unprompted says, "I really should be making my own lunches."  I thought, "Sure, why not? And let's just apply for college while we're at it.  Where did I wake up this morning?"

I was reading in Exodus about Israel's journey from Egypt, and I never quite realized before that an alternate route through the land of the Philistines existed (check out the end of Exodus 13).  By leading the Israelites to the Red Sea, God was leading them to an apparent dead end.  It seems that the ten plagues weren't sufficient.  God wanted to make sure the Israelites knew that they had no part in their own deliverance.  Then when the people are stuck and see Pharaoh coming, they cry out to Moses, who in turn cries out to God, and God replies, "Why do you cry out to me?"

Um... hello?  You led us to a dead end and Pharaoh's chasing us.  Thought that was obvious, God.

So God rescues them and then the Egyptian chariots get stuck in the mud.  I mean, what a great picture.  The most technologically advanced culture of the time is chasing the Israelites with their fancy schmancy chariots that no one can beat, and God takes them out with a little mud.  Gotta love his sense of humor, except when it's aimed at me, that is.

And I was reminded of Psalm 46.  You should go read it now.  The mountains are falling into the ocean, the earth is melting, wars are raging, and he commands us simply to behold and be still.  I suppose that's where I feel like I am, standing on the edge of the chaos and simply beholding.

So as I was beholding Quinn trying to make his PB&J with what he considered the appropriate peanut butter to jelly ratio, I felt like today was a beholding day.  I've spent a couple weeks beholding the depth of my sin and powerlessness to change myself, and today I felt I was beholding something a little different, only I'm not quite sure what He's up to.

Friday, September 14, 2012

catfish wrestling

On drives down to the Stallings' farm, Emmett and I would use the down time to catch up and reconnect.  While there we'd spend time with the family, pick blueberries, visit the waterfall, and feed the catfish off the dock.  When we'd dump the bag of food into the lake, the catfish would surface in massive groups, flipping the water until the dock around the lake appeared to boil.  We'd look for the albino catfish and point out particularly big or small ones, leaning against the rail in the casual attitude you would expect from good company.

Monday morning neither Quinn nor I were ready to start the week.   When we got to the bus stop, he wanted to be held so he pawed at me like a badly trained dog until I complied.  Wrapping his arms and legs around me, he tucked his head into my neck and bemoaned the prospect of having to leave for even a single moment.  Later that morning, I mentally put myself into that same posture in God's arms, expressing the same desire to hide there forever.

While the furnace of life has ramped up around me these past couple weeks, I have been circumstantially forced out of fellowship and taken up residence inside my own head, which is a rather nasty place to spend time.  I was finally able to break through this week and spend time with a few lovely ladies, and as the fresh air hit my soul, I suddenly realized how stinky it was inside.  I have been secretly cherishing and feeding the roots of temptation.  Though I've managed to not sin in large ways, my grumpiness, lack of patience, and ungracious spirit testify to the growing bitterness in my heart.  I was sitting with a friend yesterday morning, the type of person you can air all your dirty laundry with and she knows exactly what you're talking about and manages to make you feel better while simultaneously wanting to be better.  Love those friends.

She was talking about how just driving in the car you can get 10 minutes down the road before you realize your mind has run away with some crazy thought process.  And I thought, "That's it! That's exactly what I do!"  In less than ten minutes I can derail my thoughts so completely that even I don't know how it happened.  I found myself praying at one point this week, "Can you give me a lobotomy, God.  This is ridiculous.  Seriously.  How am I supposed to get anywhere with this kind of mess going on in my head?"

Of course God ever so graciously replies, "I mean, that's what I've been trying to tell you for, well, you're whole life."

And though I keep asking God to hurry up the process, with infinitely tender patience, he continues to refuse my requests because, as he says, "I'm trying to make you holy, not kill you... yet."

And I feel like I'm on the dock at the farm with God this time, watching my little catfish thoughts in their tumultuous quest for food.  Except when we point out an ugly one or a large one or a tasty looking one, instead of just remarking on it, God wants me to jump in and wrestle it into submission.  Except, I'm not really that into wrestling catfish.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

the botanist

So the picture that keeps coming to my mind is of a little old archaeologist patiently dusting away sand from the toes of a massive skelton, the rest of which has already been unearthed. The whole skeleton sits there but is patiently ignored while the archeologist simply and thoroughly digs out the last little bits.  Or maybe it's not a skeleton after all, maybe he's patiently brushing dirt away from the roots of a giant plant that are stretching deep into the ground, and he's a botanist instead of an archaeologist.  Either way, the thing is huge and this little man is getting OCD about unearthing every last extremity.
Another image that keeps coming to mind as I read Owen is of Mad Eye Moody from Harry Potter saying, "constant vigilance."  I apologize if you're sick of me telling you about John Owen's book Overcoming Sin and Temptation, but I really can't help telling you about something that is so radically changing my heart. I'm beginning to realize how blind I am, though I suspect the word "we" instead of I would be entirely appropriate. 

Because let's face it. We can rationalize anything. Owen points out that we are often conscious of the fruit of sin, but not the root of temptation that births the sin. The particularly adept will cut off all visible fruits of sin while letting the temptations of pride and honor and esteem and learning create a chokehold on the heart.

Particularly convicting is how Owen describes when the heart begins to secretly cherish and feed temptation.  While the person may be able to avoid outwardly sinning, the lust is still killing the soul. Such people keep up the duties of religion to earn honor or esteem despite having lost the substance of religion, namely the joy and power and vitality that come from true worship, prayer, and communion with God. 

Owen warns against the false security of participation, arguing that when our hearts are not satisfied in the duties of worship, that is the first sign that have entered into temptation. And though we may not be sensible about the nature of our temptation, It will lead to sin and death if left unchecked.  Our various lusts for pleasure, power, honor, love, etc plunge our soul into violent, tumultuous upheavals where outward temptations have a peculiar attraction they might not otherwise have.  Sins we would have never thought possible become normal, rational behavior.

I couldn't think of a better example than Saul.  Lately I've been reading through 1 Samuel, and I'm struck over and over by the blindness of Saul.  There is a funny temptation in Bible study (and I suspect in life as well) to look at another person's sin and chuckle about how blind they are from our exalted position of superiority.  Jesus accused the pharisees of doing just this by trying to point out the speck of sand in another person's eye without removing the plank in their own eyes.  But it hit me while reading this time that I am just like Saul.  The theme of the book of Judges (which happens right before Saul becomes king) was that Israel had no king so everyone did what was right in his own eyes.  And what, might you ask, would that be?  Well, it includes rape, murder, stealing, idolatry, etc.
So coming out of that kind of culture, Saul was pretty amazing.  He brought order and stability and law back to Israel. If I weren't privy to Samuel's account, I probably would have thought he was a pretty awesome guy.  Outwardly, he was not only doing the right things, he was doing them more devoutly than anyone else.  But there are these little things, like offering the sacrifice himself because Samuel is late.  I mean, if I were with Saul, that would look like Samuel's fault, not Saul's.  Or not completely destroying all the livestock of that little town, as that crazy nut Samuel told him to do.  Samuel must clearly be a stick-in-the-mud or crazy-cult-extremist to come up with such an obviously bad idea and waste perfectly good resources.  Saul would have definitely done the right things in my eyes if I had been there.  And chances are, we'd all be standing up applauding him right now, possibly exactly like so many people are applauding their favorite political figure right now because he seems more right in our eyes than the other guy.

And yet, what seems right in our eyes is very often self-deception.  That's not a political statement, by the way, I'm back to the contents of your heart and mine.  How I'd prefer to judge other people rather than look at my own heart!  how many times a day do I make a perfectly reasonable judgement without ever considering what the Spirit is pressing on my heart?  I'm afraid I'd be ashamed to keep count.

God, like the little old man in my head, is patiently unearthing the roots of the sin that has wrapped its little tentacles of temptation around my soul.  He's not just aiming at outward conformity, he's going for the whole thing this time.  That new heart he talks about in Ezekiel?  Sounds nice until he actually sets to work at taking out the old one in order to make room for the new one.  And while I'm jumping up and down asking him to get rid of the giant flower of sin that is so huge and obvious, he just shakes his head and keeps digging at the roots.  Because it turns out that it isn't the flower that strangles our souls, it's the roots no one can see.  And those roots can live without the flower.  We can be so good at pruning the flowers and ignoring the roots that we, like the pharisees, are just dead men in whitewashed tombs.  
We can diet and exercise and vote a certain way and go to church and never cuss and never get mad and live in the right school district and buy just enough stuff to look good but not so much to look too good and make sure our kids go to college and sponsor a hungry child in Guatemala while ignoring the ones across town, and do all of these things and still be dead.  But people will thump us on the back and tell us how awesome we are and set us up as an example to follow.  

So I'm a little bit thankful today that I tend to say the wrong thing, that I get a little moody now and then, that I have trouble cleaning my house and doing the lawn work, that I buy myself something pretty every now and then because I'm shallow and it makes me happy.  Because all of these flaws make me realize how much I need God, how much this life is about him changing me and not me changing myself.  So dig away little botanist, because those roots go deep!  Meanwhile, I'm going to pray that when God finally rips out those roots, that the I can scream hallelujahs instead of cuss words.  Cause it's going to hurt.