Monday, December 30, 2013

snow globes and black coffee

The other day I craved black coffee, and enjoyed it.  That is a sure enough sign that something is dreadfully wrong with me.

Consider this from N.D. Wilson's Notes from the Tilt-a-Whirl:
Honestly, I wasn't expecting this book to be all that deep, but it has proven to be one of the best answers to David Hume and the long tradition of skeptics that I've ever read.  And the book is hilarious.  That helps a lot, especially because Hume is really boring.

The problem of evil is a genuine problem, but it's not a logical problem. It's an emotional one. Wow.  My mind has been dancing around that truth for months now, but I never had such simple words to express it.  The problem of evil is not a problem of God's existence, it's a problem with our humility.  Without God, the concept of evil cannot exist.  Discomfort, yes.  Inconvenience, sure.  But not evil.  If you remove God, everything and everyone from Hitler to Mother Theresa is simply a matter of taste and fashion, not good and evil.

We do not want to hear an answer that puts us so low.  That's the real problem.


I am in a season of resisting the lowness, of not wanting to accept a cosmology that doesn't feature my comfort as the central focus.  Ouch.

In the book Prelandra, by C.S. Lewis, Dr. Ransom travels to Prelandra, or Venus, and attempts to keep Dr. Weston (who has been possessed by something completely evil) from introducing evil onto the maiden planet.  The book is kind of dull, as most of it consists of one long argument between the two men, but at one point Dr. Ransom realizes that words are useless, and he actually has to kill Dr. Weston.  Such an action offends his very cultured, British sensibilities.  Eventually, though, Dr. Ransom realizes that at its most fundamental level, evil cannot be reasoned with, and it must be killed to be stopped.

Wading through the content in my head is like sloughing through a blizzard some days, but every once in a while, a chat with a good friend stirs things up.  Thoughts dance around my head like flakes in a snow globe, and a beautiful landscape is put back aright.  We were exchanging prayer requests, and I finally found the words to express where I am.

I want to carry this unfulfillable longing without falling into despair or covering it up with a false reality.  To do so, though, I must both accept the smallness of my place in the grand story of everything and simultaneously put to death the sin and evil in my own heart.  I must both be still and put on armor.  Somehow it all ties back into Tolkein's concept of fighting the long defeat, but I'm going to need more coffee before I think about that.

Monday, December 16, 2013

fighting the long defeat, santa, and a soapbox

Tis the time of year for Christmas concerts, readings from the Jesus Storybook Bible, shopping, scarves, coats, and unfriending my uptight Christian friends on Facebook….

...okay, so not really unfriending, but definitely hiding them.

I was reading a great article from The Gospel Coalition about Tolkein's phrase "fighting the long defeat." His uses of the phrase both in his fiction and to describe the Christian view of history are pretty amazing.  He talks about our war against evil as one continual fight against the long defeat because until Christ returns, evil will come back, and sometimes even appear to win.  But be careful.  This isn't a hopeless view of our struggles, indeed it's just the opposite.  Fighting the long defeat is about recognizing that there are battles worth fighting even if we expect we're going to lose. It's about sending your men into battle knowing they might die with the hope of giving the hobbits a little more time to destroy the ring.  It's about fighting poverty and injustice one case at a time, knowing there are millions more out there in need and no one may notice what you're doing.  It's about starting another round of chemo when you'd rather give up, or apologizing when you'd rather lash out in anger, or even getting out of bed when it's too cold or hopeless or lonely.  It's about fighting even when you may lose simply because the fight is good. Fighting the long defeat is looking at the Shire or your childhood or your family traditions, it's about fighting for the possibility of joy and hope and laughter on this dying planet and trying to preserve the possibility of freedom.

And when I think of Christmas and growing up in a secular family, I remember the sacrifices my parents made to make it special.  I remember the family trips and crazy food and Santa and shopping. And I love it.  Yes, I love Jesus, and I love Santa and gifts and elf on the shelf, and all the other things people want to make me feel guilty for.  I love it all. And I don't feel guilty.


Because I know what it means to fight the long defeat.  I have no illusions that life is easy if I just find that magic solution.  If I just act Ike a certain kind of Christian, then suddenly I'll be rich and happy and carefree.  I know that pain will come no matter how hard I fight, but I still fight.  And I know that fighting the long defeat with grace and joy is about imagination.  It's about being able to imagine a new creation, to look forward in hope to things yet unseen, to pulling from past experiences of wonder, awe, and hope and peace so we can find strength in the moments we can't muster them up on our own.
Because when I'm tempted to fall away from the fight, it isn't just a Bible verse that corrects me, it is the Spirit of God who brings to mind not just a verse, but the smile of my son, the memory Emmett's laugh, the knowledge of what my family has sacrificed, the stories lived out by my friends, and the the knowledge that these witnesses are just a small part of the great crowd of witnesses watching history unfold. Mine is a faith that has been fed by imagination, well trained to hope in the Gospel because it was raised on fairy tales and imaginative play.  A fairy tale isn't evil because it isn't true, and people didn't stop celebrating Christ at Christmas because of Santa, the elf on the shelf, presents, or any other tradition.  People have stopped celebrating Christ at Christmas because there is sin in the world whose whole goal is to separate us from Christ, and maybe just maybe Christians are spending too much time making each other feel bad about their family traditions instead of sharing the joy of the gospel of Christ.

Last I checked we are saved by grace alone through faith alone, and you can give everything you have to the poor, but if you don't have love, then it's meaningless.

So if, like me, you are feeling a little beat down by all those holiday Scrooges who wave the banner of self-righteousness because they are more holy than you since they don't this, that, or the other and can slap you with Bible verses to prove it, then remember that the courage to fight the long defeat comes from a life filled with joy, laughter, and hope.  Whatever traditions you do, infuse them with grace, mercy, love, and laughter.  And if waking up each morning to look for the elf on the shelf gives my son a memory of joy and expectation that in some tiny way makes him look forward to the new creation where each day we will get to explore the depths of God's infinite majesty, then I will wake up early and move that silly elf.

Because one day my son will be discouraged.  He may lose his sense of wonder, feel lonely, be tempted to abandon his own family, lose his way, or any number of things.  But I know that what will hold him steady or bring him back is the Spirit of God using the longing, the hunger, the desire for truth, beauty, and justice that fairy tales and stories, both real and imaginary, give him.  This kind of longing keeps us fighting the long defeat when the nights are darkest and Christ is impossible to see. So I will cultivate that longing, that imagination, that desire while I still can, in any way I can.  And I trust that God will use my flawed, human efforts for his glory because after all this is his story, and there is no perfect formula to achieve my comfort.  There is only a good fight that may kill me and those I love, but the hope fueled by faith and fed by stories tells me this fight is still worth fighting.

Thus concludes my soapbox.

Monday, December 9, 2013

the blubbering cripple

Oh mercy people, I think my ENT must have accidentally tweaked my anterior cingulate cortex.  Yeah, don't go thinking I'm smart here.  I had to google what part of the brain controls the executive function that allows the brain to override emotion (at least most likely).  Because I've been a seriously emotional nut case recently.  I can't get through a morning advent reading from The Jesus Storybook Bible without choking back sobs.  Cracking my Bible to Deuteronomy sends me nearly into hives, and two verses in my heart is racing like my Bible's on fire.  And Christmas music.  Seriously do not get me started on the choking sobs evoked by a really good rendition of O Come O Come Emmanuel.   And when you've just had sinus surgery, let me tell you the last thing you need is to open up the floodgates with a good cry.

Sometimes I feel guilty for reading fiction. Well, actually at any given time I feel a little guilty about something I'm doing in my life that's actually harmless or even good for me, but lately it's been about reading fiction. Now don't get me started on a defense of good fiction, because I can whip out some G.K. Chesterton and C.S. Lewis, leaving you begging for mercy and a good novel. But no matter how much I defend it, I can still feel guilty about reading even the best fiction because I have a professional grade guilt complex. And it's better than yours.

I just finished The Ashtown Burial SeriesI'm actually going to have to go back and re-read the last book because I read the ending so quick, I can't exactly tell you what happened except that all the right people survived. It's a juvenile fiction novel series written from a redemptive paradigm, like most books I love, and it leaves you all inspired to be brave and awesome and a teensy bit rebellious. Except this time I've been left feeling all terrified.

I'm sitting here recovering from sinus surgery drowning in mucus, with a dead husband, a leaking roof, an overly emotional six year old son, a full time job, and an NPO on the side because I get bored easily, so pardon me if I'm feeling a little like hiding under the covers and never coming out. ever.

But there he is. Everywhere. It's like you can't get away from him. I mean, we'll take prayer out of public schools and then blast The First Noel over the loudspeaker of every department store for a month straight. And just when I want to hide, too. Dang it.

Because he loves me. And I can run from anything.  But not love, not love.  And believe me, I've tried.    There is beauty and there is terror in knowing that the bonds of love are stronger even than sin and death.  It's like Jesus lures you in with this beautiful promise of love and redemption just before he delivers the sucker punch that you're supposed to go out love like this too.

But you can't run away because you've known love. And it's just too amazing. But Christ took this love and knelt down to wash his disciples feet. He went to the cross and died when he could have just changed everything with a word. And it terrifies me that this kind of love is beginning to make sense. I can't hide behind doctrines and rules and pet projects and a thousand other walls of self-righteousness that keep from actually dying to self.  No wonder I want to throw up every time I open my Bible.

I put Quinn to bed tonight with one of the old nighty night mixes Emmett made for him years ago. The first song on the list was Carbon Ribs. I love that song.  Here's why:
A Thousand pairs of firey eyes
Burn like a serpent down the hwy 5
As the Long amber tail to Los Angeles unwinds
I've got his resurrection down in side my skin
But for all my revealating
I just cant make sense
Of this gravity we're in

Cause I'm a dead man now
With a ghost who lives
Within the confines of
These carbon ribs
And one day when I'm free
I will sit
The cripple at your table
The cripple by your side 
Right now I feel like a blubbering cripple at the table. Completely useless, unable even to live the life before me with some modicum of faith and courage. But then comes these words:
A thousand miles of pain I'm sure
Led you to the threshold
Of my hearts screen door
To tell me what it is I'm dying for
Gravity comes
Like a cold cold Rain
To lead me to the rope again
But someone is standing in my place
 Because every time I pray about dying to self, I find someone else standing in my place.  That is grace. That is mercy. That is love. And those things are terrifying. Beautiful and true and necessary and amazing, but mostly terrifying right now.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

eight signs your ent surgeon is a sadist

8 - The last thing you hear before blacking out goes something like, "huh, looks like she's having an allergic reaction to the anesthesia.  oh well."

7 - You're not allowed to blow your nose, sneeze, pick your nose (maybe, see #6), or let it drain down the back of your throat, but here's a handy bottle of saline you can spray into the wound every hour to keep it fresh. Just because we care.

6 - After specific vehement verbal pre-op instructions to pick my boogers like a stealth ninja, every post op sheet specifically warned agains the serious perils of picking your nose. The phone nurse then evades all booger-related questions like a highly skilled lawyer.

5 - Whatever pain meds they give you are specifically designed to both dehydrate you and cause you to hallucinate about drinking the water 2 inches from your mouth so you won't actually get any relief.

4 - Your son (most likely prompted by a phone call from your doctor) announces every bowel movement and trip the bathroom like he's trying to make you jealous.  Then he sings and tells himself stories really loudly while in the bathroom so you'll make sure to know what a joyful occasion it is.

3 - The stint in your nose feels suspiciously like someone shoved their leftover chopsticks up your nose after taking a lunch break in your OR.

2 - After your best efforts to convince the nurse on the other end of the phone that you're dying, her genius solution is that you come pick up a new prescription downtown in rush hour traffic on a Friday afternoon when you're in so much pain you can't even sit up.

1 - You wake up from a drug induced nap, brush your nose very slightly by accident, and erupt in a string of curse words, most of which feature your surgeon's name.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

big, big hands

There's something about going in for surgery that makes you feel incomparably tiny.

I remember being quietly terrified for my second c-section.   For my first c-section I was completely knocked out so quickly and unexpectedly that I hardly even knew what was happening.  All I remember was lots of drugs, a doctor's head doing things heads aren't supposed to do (hopefully because of the drugs), and some anesthesia intern clamping my airway shut (I still have nightmares about him).  But I had months to anticipate the second one, and I felt like the bad kid being sent to time out when they took me into a room to give me the spinal block.  I was pretty sure the command to "hug a pillow" was going to be followed by a firing squad to the head.  Sometimes parenting makes me wish it had been.

Tomorrow I go in for sinus surgery, or as my students and I like to call it, "Nose Job November."  I'm hoping for some relief from these crazy long sinus infections I get because my severe dust allergies and tiny sinus passageways have been secretly conspiring to bring about my demise these past ten years.  But I kind of want to fake a fever in the morning.  Or maybe cut off a toe.

Too bad they give you so much time to think about these decisions, because right now I'm pretty well convinced that some med school dropout with a fake diploma is going to miss my sinus cavities and suck out my brain instead.  Don't say I didn't warn you.  Actually, I'm probably going to be fine because I suspect my death will be infinitely more absurd, like tripping over a student's backpack and accidentally impaling myself on a meter stick.  If I were writing a script of my life, that's how it would end because occasionally my life comes dangerously close to resembling that old Alanis Morisette song, "Isn't it Ironic."

Sometimes I read the Bible.  I say sometimes because other times I open it and the words bounce off my eyeballs as if they were one way mirrors, determined to let nothing pass through to my interminably slow brain.  Then comes Deuteronomy 8. Of all the obscure passages to make it past my crazy old eyeballs, this one is pretty far up there.
Remember how the Lord your God led you all the way in the wilderness these forty years, to humble and test you in order to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep his commands. He humbled you, causing you to hunger and then feeding you with manna, which neither you nor your ancestors had known, to teach you that man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord. Your clothes did not wear out and your feet did not swell during these forty years. Know then in your heart that as a man disciplines his son, so the Lord your God disciplines you.
Their feet did not swell.  Of all the random blessings to point out to the Israelites, God picks this one.  Talk about a God of details.  Although, I think after 40 years of wandering in the desert, not having swollen feet might be more than a minor detail.  Think about all those pregnant women whose feet didn't swell.  Wow.  I'm jealous already.

There is something about being led that is very humbling.  There is something about being fed without earning your bread that makes you feel very small.  In our culture we don't have much experience with being made to feel small.  I avoid feeling little.  I'd rather cut off my toe or pretend I'm sick.  Seriously.

I also feel a little lame because I live in America where we have surgery to correct our sinus problems and other people in the world can't even get a Tylenol for a headache.  Seriously, shouldn't I just suck it up and shut up and be thankful?  But God has a way of making everyone feel small, whether it's sickness or surgery or leadership positions we can't quite seem to master or bills we can't pay or…..  Yes, we have a very creative God who finds ways to make us feel tiny that we never thought existed.  But his promise of provision, even in the details of swollen feet and dirty clothing, reminds me of his tenderness.  He makes me walk through some crazy wilderness, but every once in a while I get tiny enough to see his hand in the details.

So tomorrow morning (actually, now it's later this morning) I'm going to try to embrace my tiny-ness and rejoice that there are big, big hands leading me.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

blown away

It's a magical night, tonight.  In the midst of all the frenzy about when and where to trick or treat, the blustery storms, the blog posts about people suddenly becoming convicted to the evils of celebrating Halloween, and the barrage of cute kid pics, I wonder how many of us actually stepped outside and just felt alive.

Not so much out of conviction as a general desire to avoid the rain, Quinn and I spent the evening in playing strategy board games, like the hopeless nerds we are. But now, he is asleep and I am on the porch because I can't quite bring myself to go inside.  It's just too alive out here.

If you aren't in Nashville or if you didn't go out today, the wind is swirling through the trees, sending the newly emerging fall colors into a kind of frenzied dance.  Some trees along my drive went from fully loaded to completely bare over the course of the day, and yet the wind remains relentless in its determination to strip every last leaf from the arms of its mother tonight.

It's a restless night to match my restless heart.  This would be the perfect night for the beginning of a story.   If I were a character in a novel, I might hear voices in the leaves or see a face in the wind.  A gnome might pop in for a spot of tea, or perhaps the tree in my front yard would spontaneously combust, opening a portal to another dimension.

It's not cold enough for goosebumps, yet they dance along my skin as if the whole world were alive with the breath of God.  "Ah," the spirit whispers, "but it is.  Only perhaps today you have been still enough and I have been loud enough for you to finally notice."

I've been reading a lovely little book by N.D. Wilson called Notes from the Tilt-a-Whirl.  It's pretty fabulous.  Although he's primarily a secular juvenile fiction writer, this book serves as his statement of faith and a deeper call to the wonder and awesomeness of God's creation.  It isn't really quotable because he travels along at breakneck pace, intoxicated by creation and the story woven by our creator. It almost feels like he's on drugs, and indeed he does apologize in the preface for being intoxicated with this life we live.  I am reminded that God is way past crazy.  He is completely ridiculous in the way he lavishes out his love and unreasonably extravagant with his creativity.  I suspect most of us would find him terribly gauche and embarrassingly over enthusiastic if we were to see him laugh and cry and rejoice over his creation.

Throughout the book I find myself laughing out loud, caught of guard, simultaneously reprimanded for my lack of faith and reminded of the very things that brought me to faith.  It has been exactly what my creator ordered, to see through a new set of eyeballs, to feel through a redeemed skin, and to taste flavors beyond imagining.

Before Quinn went to bed tonight I said we should play one last game.  He was very excited and asked me what the rules were.  I said, "It's very simple.  We go stand on the deck and the first one to get blown away loses."  He laughed and we continued getting ready for bed.  But now as I sit here on the porch, I can't help but wonder if maybe, just maybe, the first one to get blown away by this wind might actually be the winner.

Saturday, October 26, 2013


From Day Will Come by Keane:
The winter night has wrapped a rag around your eyes
And stolen your sight
Oh you seem so far away
I hope you find your way back someday
I miss you, I miss you

Some days set your world on fire
And some days they sink like stones

That's when your heart will cry out
Until your body is numb
And the night will try to tempt you
But the day will come
It has been a long winter of the soul these past few months.  Many, many of my days have sunk like stones.  In some ways October is always a rough month.  Intensity at work, exhaustion at home, shorter daylight hours - all these things work together to make it hard to see each morning's new mercies.

October 27th would have been Emmett's 34th birthday.

Alice Walker has a volume of poetry out entitled, Hard Times Require Furious Dancing.  The title alone is perfect, but the poetry is exquisite.  In the preface she says
It struck me one day, while dancing, that the marvelous moves African Americans are famous for on the dance floor came about because the dancers, especially in the old days, were contorting away various knots of stress.  Some of the lower-back movements handed down to us that have seemed merely sensual were no doubt created after a day's work bending over a plow or hoe on a slave driver's plantation.  
Those days that set my world on fire - those are the days that are most appropriately described as days where I'm overwhelmed by the desire to dance, when I crank up the music, put on my favorite apron, and make something fabulous in the kitchen or get outside and run around with Quinn like I'm still six years old.  As a new creation in Christ, I am learning to contort away the various knots of my sinful nature and embrace who I was created to be.  That process will be awkward, and I may end up looking like Elaine from Seinfeld more often than not.

But I'm finding that hard times not only require furious dancing, they carve out the spaces in my soul that make dancing possible.  In Phantasties, George MacDonald says
As in all sweetest music, a tinge of sadness was in every note. Nor do we know how much of the pleasures even of life we owe to the intermingled sorrows. Joy cannot unfold the deepest truths, although deepest truth must be deepest joy.
There is an elusive connection between truth, sorrow, and joy, but I'm pretty sure that connection has something to do with dancing.  So where's my apron?  This night is trying to tempt me with it's siren song, and I am weary.  very weary.  So it's time to get my groove on and dance until I can see daylight again because the day will come, so I might as well dance like it's already here.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Ooh Shiny

Sometimes I feel like an overstimulated raccoon.

Seriously.  There are just too many shiny things to look at.  Emmett used to love it when I got my engagement ring cleaned because I'd play with the light to make it sparkle, and then he'd feel all manly like he'd just dragged home a buffalo he'd shot or something.  We were definitely ridiculous.

I took a class last year where we looked at a lot of poetry, and the teacher would often read a poem and then ask something like, "What sticks out to you? What shimmers?"  I began to realize I am continually asking myself that same question as I walk through life, like I'm on a covert raccoon mission to find all the "ooh shiny" things I can before I die.  If you don't know what I mean by those little "ooh shiny" moments, think of a conversation with a good friend where they say something that sticks with you, or that Bible verse you've read a thousand times that finally makes sense, or that song lyric you can't get out of your head.

Sometimes I go weeks without any shiny moments.  Those are hard weeks, where I can't see the shiny because I'm not looking outside of my self.  And there's nothing shiny on the inside of this girl.  Trust me, I've looked for it, dressed it up, painted over it, and still can't make it shiny.  The past few weeks, maybe even months have been hard ones, difficult to see anything shiny.

But then someone says something and everything I'm reading or working on or studying begins to fall into place.  I got an inkling that something was brewing when I was working through one of John Newton's letters.  In a letter about the fallen state of man (because that's what I write letters to my friends about, sheesh!) he says, "but for the grace of God, the Earth would be the very image of hell."

That quote was the first bit of shiny I'd had in weeks, and it was like the snowflake that starts the avalanche.

But for the grace of God, the Earth would be the very image of hell.

Wow.  If that doesn't sum up how depraved we are, then I'm not sure what does.  I'm not sure why he even wrote the rest of the letter.  I'd have written that single sentence and then been like, "boom! I'm outta here!"

One more time.  But for the grace of God, the Earth would be the very image of hell.

I've been a Christian a while, and I'm not sure I've ever really understood what the grace of God means, but that sentence gives me a much better idea.

I have lots of friends who either are counselors or are in counseling, so I feel like I'm constantly using counseling lingo.  Shoot, I could probably play one on TV. I can't even remember which one of my friends said this, but it went something like, "If you're not in love with the idea of marriage more than the person you're married to, then you won't stay married."

Genius.  It was like God slapping me upside the face with a truckload of shiny.

Yeah the quote's about marriage, but it was like God was telling me, "you have to love the idea of me more than your experience of me in this moment or we ain't gonna get anywhere sweetheart."

I mean, duh.  It's so obvious after it hits you over the head.

In the book Where The Red Fern Grows, they make a raccoon trap where the hole is big enough for the flat hand to go in but too small for the fist to come out.  I've always wondered if this trap was legitimate, but apparently raccoons are so stubborn they won't let go of something they've picked up. So the raccoon just sits there, stubborn to the death because it won't let go of whatever was in that hole.

And I got my fist wrapped so tightly around my own agenda that I'm sitting on a log just mad as can be at God for not working things out like I asked.  Here I am shaking my fist that's stuck in a trap and looking like an idiot and missing all the shiny things out there because I'm so fixated on this one little piece.  All I have to do is let it go.  Why is that so hard?

Sunday, September 22, 2013

twinkle lights

Years ago we put up some twinkle lights on our deck.  During the day it looked pretty redneck, trailer park ghetto.  But at night, you couldn't see all those crazy wires sagging and flapping in the wind.  You just saw the little lights replacing the washed out stars.  I could sit out there for hours on a summer night with some tea and a notebook.

Brene Brown speaks of cultivating vulnerability like stringing together a strand of twinkle lights, tiny shimmering lights of courage, compassion, and connection that shine in the darkness of our struggles.  But one of the ways we fail to develop healthy vulnerability is through over-sharing.  She uses the metaphor of the floodlight, which leaves the recipient of your sharing confused and blinded, and they have no choice but to turn away and disengage.  It isn't so much the audience that measures over-sharing, a speaker or blogger for example can share with people they've never met.  Rather it's the nature of the content and the needs of the sharer that determine whether something is over-sharing or not.

When I read this, I suddenly felt relieved.  Sometimes I simply cannot blog, and until I read this I had no words to understand why I couldn't just push through the fog and figure out which end is up.  Sharing something you haven't processed isn't healthy, and recently I've found new freedom in taking the space to process things.  big things.

And it takes a lot of time.  Sometimes it feels like I'm chewing spiritual cud or working on some kind of spiritual hairball.  The process isn't beautiful or pretty, and most of the time, I have no idea what is going to come from it.  I mean, after all that squawking, a chicken is going to lay an egg.  But what the heck am I going to get for all this awkwardness?

I didn't hear a word of the sermon in church this morning.  I suspect it was good, but I'm not really sure.    I did read Ecclesiastes 3:11, though, "He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also, he has put eternity into man's heart, yet so that he cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end."  My mind wandered through Hebrews 11, the book Surprised by Hope by N.T. Wright (that I still haven't finished reading), back through an Indigo Girls song, and another recent sermon I listened to online.  Hence not having time to actually pay attention.  Somewhere along the way I realized that I was grieving the loss of mystery in my life.

After Emmett died living in mystery was an every day reality.  Lately, though, the lie of certainty has been creeping stealthily back into my life.  I read somewhere that certainty, not unbelief, is the opposite of faith.  So in many ways, living without mystery is living without faith.  Without faith, sharing anything is like shining a floodlight of awkward neediness to any random passer-by.

But it's the impenetrable darkness of mystery that provides the perfect canvas for those twinkle lights of faith and vulnerability.  Without mystery sharing is all awkwardness of exposed wires and dirty bulbs.  Shining a little light on the infinite landscape of darkness formed by my inability to comprehend anything about God's fulness, though, there - there- is something worth sharing.  I suppose my craving for mystery is why I've laid aside the Letters of John Newton recently and picked up the poetry of Edwin Muir.  It's why I've taken my crazy, beautiful, fragile favorite teacup into my sterile, cold lab at school.  It's why I've blocked out so many sermons trying to explain God and prayed through the Psalms.

It's why I burst into tears tonight at the recollection Romans 8:1, "For there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus."  Because there should be condemnation for a sinner such as me, and yet there isn't.  That truth is a beautiful twinkle light that I can only see when I embrace the mystery of this sinful, awful world coexisting with a beautiful, loving God.

Sunday, September 8, 2013


This is one of those blog posts I have to force myself to write in the interest of full disclosure.  I'd rather be hiding under the covers of my bed.  Or maybe hiding in another state.  Or on the beach.  Yep.  I think that one wins.  But instead Emmett's voice drags me out from under the covers.  I hate it that he can keep me honest even when he's dead.

I love my job, and I'm getting pretty darn good at it, but teaching leaves me with a pretty serious vulnerability hangover.  every. day.  "Vulnerability hangover" is a term coined by Brene Brown (no surprise there) for the feeling after you've just shared something deeply meaningful.  That feeling that you've just vomited out your soul and need to mop it up quickly before anyone sees.  But to teach well is to do that every day.  Hence the vulnerability hangover.  every. day.  I'm not sure what the term is for too many consecutive vulnerability hangovers, but I think I hit that wall a few days ago.

The problem with a vulnerability hangover is that it makes the shame gremlins (another great term from Brene) louder.  You know all those crazy voices in your head that drag up every awful thought about your sin and inadequacy?  Imagine them shouting at your with megaphones right in your ears.  That's been my battle for the last few weeks.  Times a million bazillion, as Quinn would say.  Brene's suggested cure?  1 - recognizing shame (check).  2 - reality-check the message (check).  3 - Reach out (crap). 4 - speak the shame (no thank you).  Seriously, couldn't she come up with something easier than that?  Like, a pill or something?

The transition back to school is always difficult, which surprises me because I love the routine, the work, and the people.  But I think this year I'm finally figuring out that the feeling of wanting to throw up that arrives about two weeks before school starts is the secret anticipation of these shame gremlins.  Because there is nothing I can do to make them go away.  Even when they're quiet, I can feel them out there waiting for just the right moment to latch on like a rabid dog and tear me to shreds.  The irony is that my instinctive response to those shame gremlins is to disengage, which is the very opposite of what the research says I need to do.  I hate research.  Actually, I don't.  I love it, but only when it proves me right.  That's why I teach physics.  

So I almost didn't go to church this morning.  Heck, I almost didn't get out of bed this morning.  Because I'm just so hung over from the vulnerability, and the one person to whom I could easily reach out and speak the shame with complete trust is dead.  And well that just really sucks.  

I've been reading Joshua 24 and digging into some material for a women's retreat I'm developing with a friend.  And then I read it again.  and again.  and maybe some more.  I don't think I'm done yet.  Here's the short version:
Joshua: God did these awesome things, now serve him with all your heart.
Israelites: Yeah, sure will serve the Lord.
Joshua: No you won't. And God will bring disaster on you if you forsake him.
Israelites: Yes we will.  No really.
Joshua: Well, then you are witnesses against yourself.
Israelites: okay. (seriously? did they really just agree to that? I'd be slinking out the back door about this time)
Joshua: (vs 24) "throw away the foreign Gods that are among you and yield your hearts to the Lord, the God of Israel."
Israelites: (vs 25) "We will serve the Lord our God and obey him."
Is it just me or did the Israelites totally miss something in what Joshua just said.  He says yield our heart and they say sure we'll obey him.  But those seem like two entirely different things in my book.  I even checked a bunch of translations, and they all come across with the same contrast.

I'm not entirely certain, but it seems to me that it is one thing to do what God says and an entirely different matter to yield your heart to the Lord.  I can do what God says while hiding all my crazy, but I can't yield without letting it all out.  Yet that phrase keeps coming back to me.  Yielding.  Right now it feels a lot like throwing myself off the crazy cliff with a pair of homemade wings glued together with wax.  And that sun is awfully close.

But that's what the spirit keeps whispering to me.  Yield.  No promises that I'll get less crazy, that things will get easier, or that I'll even manage to get out of bed tomorrow.  Just shut up, press into the shame, and yield.

In case you're wondering, that's not the answer I wanted.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

leaning in

It's been what I like to call a Habakkuk season in my life.  In fact, last night I reread Habakkuk along with 1 Thessalonians.  Here's the Cliff Notes version of Habakkuk:
H: God, what are you up to?  These people who claim to know you are acting awful, and you don't seem to notice.
G: That's okay, I'm going to raise up even more awful people to destroy those people.
H: Ummmm... God?  That doesn't seem very righteous.
G:  I'm really awesome, and let me tell you how much I hate sin.
H: Wow.  I don't get it, but I'll trust you anyway.
When I get to the point when life doesn't seem to make sense, I always come back to Habakkuk.  I read it a lot.

Adjusting Quinn back to early mornings for school is like trying to wake an angry bear two months early from hibernation.  Every day.  It's emotionally exhausting.  Add to that jumping back into teaching high school, which can best be described as interactive improvisation with a captive hormonal audience, and I've been exhausted.  Then throw in an intense personal life that has me feeling drained of every last smidgen of emotional stability, and it's no surprise that I've cried multiple times every day for the past two weeks.  You know it's bad when I'm crying at Taylor Swift songs at 6:30 in the morning and reruns of The West Wing while running on a treadmill.  There's no chance I'm going anywhere near the Hallmark card isle right now, that would invoke reactions too embarrassing even for me.

So what is up with Habakkuk?  I didn't like that book the first time I read it.  If you just read the words, then it doesn't really make sense.  Why would Habakkuk suddenly become okay?  I thought he had a pretty good point that God's actions don't seem to make sense or really fit into his character.  But what really gets me is that God never really answers his questions, and I don't like that because I have a lot of questions, and I want answers, and they need to be better than the ones he gave Habakkuk.  For sure.

Brene Brown (just had to work her in again) talks about the need for certainty being one indicator of our fear of vulnerability.  Bet you're squirming in your seat after that sentence.  Wholehearted people have learned to live without certainty.  Another ouch.  But she also talks about leaning into the difficult emotions of fear, grief, and uncertainty as being healthy.  That is the tension of Habakkuk, leaning into the fear and uncertainty while accepting that there is no good answer here.

For months after we lost our daughter, my only prayer was to know that God loved me.  I knew there were no satisfying answers.  No matter how God redeems grief, there is no good answer for why things like that happen.  Ever.  And anyone who tries to give you an answer should be immediately punched in the face.  Immediately.

But knowing there isn't an acceptable answer is exactly why I need to press into God and ask the questions.  At some point it occurred to me that Habakkuk's answer isn't in God's words, it's in his presence.  God doesn't say anything particularly different in Habakkuk.  In fact, God spends most of the Bible repeating himself.  But God shows up when people really ask, maybe not immediately and maybe not how we expect, but he shows up.

Sometimes asking the questions, though, feels like leaning off the edge of the roof and hoping the wind holds you up.  Just asking the questions often feels like opening the whirlwind of crazy hiding out in my head.  And if I open the door to my crazy, I may not be able to close it again.  I'm not always willing to take that risk.

So I read Habakkuk and shake my head and pray for God to show up because I just don't understand a whole lot of things.  This crazy joy that floods my heart doesn't push out the grief.  In some strange way it makes the grief deeper and harder, even though those emotions coexist with joy in some bizarre harmony.  It's the joy that helps me lean into the grief, like an anchor that helps me know that even if I fall off that roof and unleash my crazy, God will show up.

Monday, August 12, 2013

feeling 12

Sometimes I'm convinced life is a bad imitation of middle school.  I had one of those moments this week where I felt like I was the awkward girl in a Mean Girls movie.  So I've been channeling my awesomely awkward middle school self that shrinks away in shame whenever that happens and giving her a little extra love.  She convinced me to buy the latest Taylor Swift album.  Judge away.  I won't be able to hear you anyway because my middle school self is singing off key and dancing around the house.  Three cheers for learning to take myself much less seriously.

  I've been reading this book lately.  Go buy it.  Now.

In fact, you can go buy it here.  Seriously.  Buy it and then keep reading.

Read this.

Notice my great little earmark labeled blog.  Yep.  I'm a nerd.  I've been photographing pages and sending the pics to friends, posting them on Facebook, and pulling out the book and showing it to pretty much everyone I meet.  I'm going to have considerably fewer friends in the future.

But seriously.  This book is like the manual to the last 17 years of my walk with Christ that I needed but didn't have.  And it's not even a religious book.

On the page prior to the one above, she goes into the difference between the Greek words for happiness and joy.  Happiness connotes the freedom of the wealthy from the cares of everyday life.  Joy is defined as the culmination of being that comes with virtue and wisdom; Joy is the most difficult of virtues to achieve.  Now reread he page above with those definitions.

Mind blowing.

The connections between joy, vulnerability, gratitude, and courage are so obvious.  At least in hindsight.  But being vulnerable and grateful means facing our fears of failure, scarcity, not fitting in, and not finding certainty.  Maybe that's what Jesus means when he says you have to lose your life to find it. My last seventeen years have been an exercise in losing control over my life, and I'm in love with what I'm finding.

A friend of mine in Chicago runs these great workshops called Fear Experiment. I love the premise of getting strangers together to push through their fears.  It is amazing how leaning into and embracing your fear can be transformative.  The past few years have forced me through a number of personal fear experiments I would never have chosen, but lately I've embarked on a few of my own fear experiments just to see what happens.  I'm sure I'll write more about those as I learn from them, but for now I'll just leave you wondering what they are.  

In a previous blog I talked about the tender shoots of joy beginning to poke up out of the soil, but I was greatly mistaken.  Joy, when it takes off, is nothing like the tulips poking out in the spring ready to whither at the first hint of frost.  No, joy is like that %#@&! virginia creeper that springs up everywhere and seems to live off air.  Once rooted, it can be clipped and trimmed by the mean girls, but never eradicated.

So bring on the cheesy middle school songs and my awkward middle school self and ridicule all you want.  I won't care because I'll be the one dancing.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013


Nothing can undo seventeen years worth of sanctification like teaching your son to ride a bike.  All I have to say is that there were lots of mutterings at God for making me do this alone and lots of praises when the task was complete because I didn't want to revisit that part of myself anymore.

Saturday would have been my 11th wedding anniversary, and though I sat down to write something, I couldn't find any words.  The day passed with lots of cleaning and some hang time with a dear friend, and I almost forgot what day it was.  Almost, but the day wasn't sad, in fact it was more characterized by wholeness and deep joy.  Unlike when I tried to open a pickle jar yesterday and nearly had a meltdown at God for taking away my husband because now there was no one in my life to open the pickle jars.  At least I have my grief priorities figured out.  Sheesh.

Earlier this summer, I dropped by to visit Emmett's grave and wept when I found the Cheerwine bottles I left last year still there, one empty and one full.  Sometimes life gives you metaphors so obvious an English teacher would cringe at the tackiness.  But it occurred to me that in reality I was the empty bottle, not the full one, and that fullness doesn't come here, at least not completely anyway.

Lately I feel surrounded by a number of friends who are under attack. I find myself coming to God in prayer, simultaneously deeply burdened yet completely helpless.  Sickness, divorce, single parenting, depression, grief, money problems, loneliness... these are just a few of the things weighing heavily on some of the people I love most.  One friend recently joked that it felt like a quarter-life crisis.

In another conversation recently a different friend said something like, "I guess people just aren't as nice as I thought they were." I can't escape the haunting idea that we carry a deep grief about the injustice of sin in the world with no idea how to process it, starting when we realize that this life isn't what we hoped for or what we were promised.  My own grief has been so great for so long that I'm only just now feeling able to breathe for the first time in years.

I suppose we don't have to process this grief. We could ignore it, pretend it doesn't exist or try to cover it up or medicate it away with careers, money, alcohol, etc...  There are plenty of distractions or excuses to keep us busy.  Only I had no choice.  I was given grief so staggeringly large that I had no choice but to face it head on.  And I'm just now realizing the deep mercy in being forced to face what I would rather have buried.

People had told me the second year of grief would be worse, and I think I finally understand why.  The second year of grief is when you grieve the expectations you had for your future: the children, careers, anniversaries, and lives you hoped to have.  I kept reciting Ephesians 6:13 to myself: "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 have been to the point where all I could do was stand.  In the past year I have been emptied of every hope and longing.  Not that I don't still have hopes and longings, but I have given up my delusions of control and my expectations that I will get what I want.  And I find in the emptiness an inexplicable joy.

I'm newly obsessed with Johnnyswim, and I love their latest single, Heartbeats.  My favorite line is, "I've got Heaven locked up in these bones, Oh I feel you coursing through my veins like fire."

So when I am forced to confront my old self, like teaching Quinn to ride a bike, I can honestly say I no longer want to return there.  Egypt no longer holds any appeal for me.  I have stood.  And in standing, I have found that if you stand long enough, there will eventually be space to dance, especially in your kitchen while you're cooking.  It feels good to be made into the new me and to see the promises of scripture being fulfilled in my heart.  For the first time in my life, I can say I love the person God made me to be, and I'm excited to be better acquainted with her.  That has been my hope in grief, and I have not been disappointed.

Wednesday, July 31, 2013


Sometimes I marvel to think how much less crazier I am than I should be.

In many ways this summer has been a breath of fresh air, providing the kind of deep restorative healing I haven't felt in years - maybe ever.  How does one write about healing? Grief I understand with its wrestling and longing, its ups and downs.  But healing is so delicate, so fragile, you don't want to even hope the word for fear it might get skittish and retreat back into hiding.

Grief leaves no one completely unscathed, yet healing is so tenuous, so fragile, that I cannot possibly see it happening without grace.  Like some hidden path along a mountain precipice, no power or wisdom of mine couldn't recreate these steps, they have simply appeared at the next turn.  Perhaps that is faith, to trust the path leads somewhere even when you haven't seen a trail marker in a while.

This summer I've negotiated an insurance settlement, stood on the edge of the Grand Canyon, taught Quinn to ride a bike, started allergy shots, bought a car, and picked blueberries.  I started cooking again, purged different rooms in my house, and finally, after eight years in this house, I put things on the walls.  Tomorrow Quinn begins his first day of first grade.  Next week, I begin working full time again for the first time in a few years.

And nothing at all seems to have changed except the mysterious lifting of some weight over which I seem to have no control.  So I'm forging ahead, without any clear trail markers, trusting the map and enjoying the cool breeze this summer has brought in my life.  I'm reading and collecting thoughts to store up in my heart that should spill over some day soon.  but for now I'm just treasuring this wholeness.

just in case.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013


When I wrote the last post, I sincerely struggled for words to express grief without expressing a human-focused neediness or a desire to be fixed.  I didn't even really need people to read it, and I almost didn't publish those words because I knew they may be mis-read.  But Emmett and I had always committed to honesty with each other, and when he got cancer, it seemed only appropriate to extend that honesty.  In the last few days, I've been humbled by the notes I've received publicly, privately, first-hand, and sometimes even second- or third-handed about people who are struggling finding comfort in the fact that there is at least one other person out there trudging through the mud of life.

A few weeks ago, on a particularly sinful day, I let my sin nature walk right through the gate of my heart and take over.  Heck, I practically invited it to stay, fed it a meal, and made it a bed.  I ended up saying some downright awful things to a friend and then padding my smug sense of self-righteousness so I wouldn't have to feel the shame of being a grade A jerk.  But the prick of the Holy Spirit sent me on the path to reconciliation, and as we talked things through things a few days later, I was humbled and led to worship by the reminder of the sweetness of reconciliation.

I was reading through The Letters of John Newton this week, and yes, I will probably quote this book as obsessively as I did the last one I read.  One of his letters was subtitled by the editors as "spiritual blindness," but I think a more appropriate subtitle might be, "The distinguishing mark of a believer."  You see, sometimes I get in my head that the distinguishing mark of a believer is a certain level of annoying combination of perkiness and unfailing optimism, usually accompanied by charming good looks, well behaved children, and a casually held coffee cup from Starbucks.  But a comparison Newton made keeps resonating with me - that the highest level of human attainment cannot rival the lowest degrees of grace.


The mere desire of salvation with no actual spiritual enlightenment of grace may flourish for a while but will always waste away in the end.  But even the lowest degree of grace, as granted through divine enlightenment, will be a continually progressive work no matter how small the steps, how slow the progress, or how feeble and weak the person.

I kind of wanted to dance for joy when I read that, and it occurred to me that the distinguishing mark of a believer is someone who always returns to the sweetness of reconciliation in Christ.  I love that when Christ prayed for Peter in the garden, he prayed not that Peter wouldn't sin, but that after he sinned, he would return.  In other words, he prayed that sin wouldn't hold dominion over Peter, but that grace would have the final say over his life.  The mark of a believer is not the absence of sin, but the continual longing for and returning to a relationship with God through his mercy and by his grace - no matter how ugly or broken or feeble the return appears.

I'm finally grasping what Christ meant when he told the pharisees that the woman washing his feet loved much because she had been forgiven much.  When I finally realize the complete worthlessness of my own smug sense of self-importance and seek true reconciliation with Christ, I find myself free to be honest without needing to be fixed, free to love and laugh and dance like Elaine from Seinfeld.  But the best part of reconciliation is the sweetness of not needing to be fixed, of being accepted and loved and welcomed as my broken, repugnant self.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

4 a.m.

I find myself up at four a.m. having another brain dump and knowing I will regret this tomorrow about three in the afternoon when I'm staggering around the house more useless and ornery than a drunk person.  I don't suppose we always get to pick the most convenient times to process our lives.  Sometimes I stay so busy this is the best time for me to hear God and work through my issues, of which there are enough for a lifetime of sleepless nights.

Sitting on my back porch at four a.m. (I'm going to keep saying the time so you'll pity me as you read this) I am overwhelmed by how achingly beautiful this summer has been.  Cooler than normal temperatures, an almost six-year-old boy, and a really terrible year in my rear-view mirror have left me with an achingly beautiful kind of brokenness.  Even now as I sit in the cool night air, the bugs are asleep and the birds are just beginning to wake up somewhere far away from here.  And I feel in love with all of creation.  Except for ticks.  That's where reality hits, and I remember we live in a fallen world.

It was just a few days ago when I realized how awful this year has been.  Just over a year ago I sprained my ankle so bad I thought it was broken.  Two weeks later my refrigerator leaked into my sub-flooring, which led to a year of fixing, replacing, and updating that just ended about three weeks ago.  I had a tough year at school with very little encouragement.  Quinn broke his arm twice in two months. I had a four-month long sinus infection that never really went away.  But the saddest parts of the year have be things like completely losing interest in cooking (seriously, I even dread going to the grocery store... I think I need a culinary intervention), not even wanting to pick up a fiction book for months at a time, and an incredible spiritual and moral lethargy that has left me thoroughly mired in sinful habits.

I'm not whining.  Really, I'm not.  I just need to communicate without exaggerating that, in some ways that are very hard to explain, this year has probably been the worst of my life.  Having lost a child and a husband over the last years, you  might think I'm nuts to say that about a year in which no one close to me has died, so I've just avoided writing lately while I've tried to figure out why I feel this to be true.

In the random Internet wanderings that inevitably precede any middle of the night conscious thought, I came upon this lovely little blog post, entitled "God Does Not Owe Us A Happy Ending."  If you had a choice between reading that blog post and finishing this one, then go ahead and stop reading this and head on over there.  It's that good.

I have watched and fervently prayed for friends as they bring their husbands home from the hospital and children home from the NICU, and thought why didn't I get to do that? I have deeply rejoiced rejoiced with friends who have bought new home and new cars and found new jobs and had more children all the while thinking about how I would have been doing these same things if God had written my story differently.  I've sat in a beautiful barn surrounded by wonderful people watching the sun set over the hills of Tennessee while people played a concert.  And while I loved every minute, I also grieved deeply because this is exactly what Emmett and I had thought our life would look like when we retired to the family farm one day.  Just the other day at the pool I watched Quinn watch as one of his friends saw his dad far away and ran toward him, screaming, "Daddy!" He just sat quietly and watched his friend break off their conversation and run to his dad.  My already mangled heart broke into a thousand more pieces for the happy endings he won't have.

This year I have watched everything I've prayed and hoped and imagined for my family come true when I have prayed it for someone else.  I can honestly say that I have thoroughly and without reservations prayed for and rejoiced with and tried to serve each one of my friends without interjecting my own baggage.

No wonder I'm soul-crushingly exhausted in a way that no amount of rest or vacation can cure.  At 4 a.m. this morning (had to remind you one more time) I finally got it.  I have been a magnet this year for people who want to tell me God is good because he got their kids into a certain school or they found the perfect house or he kept their child/spouse/refrigerator from dying.  And I have smiled and said, "why yes, He must be." But when you tell me that God is good because he did something you wanted to make your life fit your idea of a happy ending, it reinforces the lie in my heart that God is here to make my life easier and I must be doing something wrong because my life is so freaking hard.

I need to be reminded that God is good because he is God and not because he fulfilled the next step in your happy ending, and that being holy is about knowing God instead of putting in your dues to get that happy ending.

And I wonder if my preoccupation to happy endings is really standing in the way to my experience of God.  Okay, I really don't wonder.  I'm pretty sure it is true.  Another blog I stumbled upon recently reminded me that the most satisfying worship comes in the midst of emptiness, not plenty.  But emptiness is so hard and so painful, that I cringe to go there.  In fact, I won't go there, so God has dragged me there kicking and screaming and blogging the whole awful way.  And so help me if another person tells me not to worry because surely I'll get remarried, write a book, watch Quinn live a happy life, and bounce fat grandchildren on my knee, then I might just say something inappropriate.

Because it's not those things I want.

Honestly, I want to stand with Job and Moses and Habakkuk and ask God questions and have him answer me.  I want to face the mystery and power and emptiness and not have the answers and be okay with not having the answers.  I want to find the energy and strength to fight the fights that won't necessarily have happy endings just because they're worth fighting. I want to find other people who don't have happy endings and tell them it's okay and walk life with them.  Because so many of the battles I fight aren't really worth it, and I'm still having a hard time telling the difference.

So I'm raising my cup of tea in salute to the sunrise and praying for fewer happy endings and more fights worth fighting.

Friday, June 14, 2013


Sweat pants on my back porch in June.  Just over two years since Emmett passed.  The big dipper hanging overhead.  A firefly trying to court my computer screen.  My life feels a little surreal at the moment.

A couple dozen elementary school children effectively dulled any sense of loss I might have had last week.  Random stories that made no sense, trips to the bathroom, reminders to wash hands,  dozens of balloons, and the phrase, "Miss Wendy," repeated at an unnaturally high pitch until I was teetering on the edge of crazy was probably the perfect distraction this week.

And then the fireflies came out.  Quinn and I got home this evening and he danced and twirled in the fading light trying to catch fireflies and probably murdering more than he managed to capture alive.  We took a walk and he maintained a continuous stream of chatter that makes me wonder how he has time to breathe sometimes.  His endless chatter ranged from questions about the exact meaning of the word dusk to how to make a firefly rocket by attaching a bottle of diet coke to its rear end and dropping in a mentos (and I'm not making that up).

I'm not exactly sure where the bottom dropped out, but with all the distractions gone, and so many reminders around me, the wave of grief finally crashed down.  In the past few years, I've found that embracing grief somehow makes it easier.  So I caught fireflies, listened to sad songs, cleaned, baked, and somehow came right back around to alright.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

another dead guy named John

After nearly a year, I finally finished Overcoming Sin and Temptation.  The book.  Unfortunately not the actual overcoming of sin and temptation.  That would have been way more awesome. You see the complete ripoff of the book is that you don't actually overcome anything.  In fact, in the last few pages of the book he says that when the law exposes the indwelling sinful nature (see Romans 7), that sin
...finding its rule disturbed, it grows more outrageously oppressive and doubles the bondage of their souls.... yea - It is so far from being conquered that it is only enraged.  The whole work of the law does not only provoke and enrage sin, and cause it, as it has opportunity, to put out its strength with more power, and vigor, and force than formerly.  
So you get through the whole freaking book before he drops the bomb.  Oh by the way, if you try to be holy, you're just going to anger your sinful nature and it's going to lash out like an enraged heroin addict intent only one satisfying his unquenchable lust for more.  Lovely.  The book should come with a warning label acknowledging what you're getting yourself into because that kind of crazy redoubled psychotic attack is not what I signed up for.

I've always read Romans 7: 8-11 with some bewilderment.
For sin, seizing the opportunity afforded by the commandment, produced in me every kind of covetous desire. For apart from the law, sin was dead.  Once I was alive apart from the law; but when the commandment came, sin sprang to life and I died.  I found that the very commandment that was intended to bring life actually brought death.  For sin, seizing the opportunity afforded by the commandment, deceived me, and through the commandment put me to death.
It's like when I watch the news giving every detail of how a terrorist attack or school shooting happened, and I'm thinking, "awesome, you've just told a bunch of angry, imbalanced crazy people out there how to carry out their psychotic impulses and become famous."  In a similar manner, it's like the law is an instruction manual on how to sin, and as I read it my sinful nature says, "Oh, wow, I hadn't thought of that yet.  That sounds like a great idea."  And off it runs with even more enthusiasm than before.

Moreover, Owen points out that any attempts to suppress the sinful nature through our own power simply restrain certain types of violent eruptions of sin, diverting the flow of sin to other outlets while leaving the root of sin intact and flourishing.  Not so encouraging really.  Then you get all inspired because there is this great passage about how only grace can change the heart and remove the poison and fierceness put there by the sinful nature.  And then the book ends, and I'm like, "Um. Excuse me, but you can't just end there. That is completely unacceptable."  But apparently he didn't listen to me.

Because how does that grace thing work?  ACK!

Good thing I picked up a copy of The Letters of John Newton.  After following one of those random Facebook rabbit trails (don't judge, you know you do it too), I happened across a mention of Newton's Letters as a great collection of writings on personal holiness.  John Newton, most famous for authoring the hymn Amazing Grace, was a key figure in the Great Awakening in England during the 18th century.  He saw his letter writing as one of his greatest ministries.  I haven't even started the letters, and I'm already hooked by the introduction:
...true Evangelical religion produces intense exercise of soul.  Where the life of God has been implanted in the soul, a warfare begins between the good and the evil, between the new nature and the old.  If there is one thing outstanding in Newton's letters, it is, perhaps, the happy combination between spiritual mourning and spiritual rejoicing...  The purpose of God in showing believers the evil of their own hearts is to make them prize more highly the grace and all-sufficiency of Jesus.  In this way they go through life "sorrowful yet always rejoicing."
Wow.  It couldn't be more perfect.  Somehow the mix of mourning and rejoicing, of sin and holiness, works together for my sanctification.  I'm excited about embarking on this strange quest.  Even though I have no idea where it is headed, I can hear a voice calling my name.  I know that voice, and I'm both terrified and thrilled to follow it.  So here's to eavesdropping on the centuries-old conversations of another dead guy named John.