Thursday, March 21, 2013

tiny shoots

The first day in February that's warm enough to tolerate being outside for more than a few minutes, I dart out and plant my snap pea seeds.  Usually by mid March tiny little buds are popping out everywhere.  This year though the cold weather has been unusually tenacious, punctuated only here and there by the shameless teasing of a wonderfully warm day.  With one lonely exception, the little seeds are still hiding in the ground.  Quinn no longer goes to check them and has already forgotten he helped me plant them.  I still go out in fair weather to check their progress and stare at the bare ground wondering if the grackles found and ate all the seeds when I wasn't looking.

Just the other day I was out watering when I saw the tiniest green shoot coming up from the ground.  Sheltered by the leafy compost, it was almost impossible to see.  My heart leapt with joy as it always does with the first stirrings of life in spring, but there was a deeper level to my joy this year.  I see the same tiny green shoots poking through the soil of my heart, opening fragile buds to the sun after a long, cold winter.

Parenting, working, and life mean that my gardening becomes more of a haphazard adventure in survival than an intentional, thoughtful process.  I'm never quite sure what will come up (partially because Quinn helps me plant the seeds), what will live long enough to bear fruit, and exactly how to keep the ravenous wildlife away. Thankfully God is a patient and thorough gardener, cultivating my heart with a skill beyond imagining.  And though I've spent this winter wondering whether there was any life hidden in the soil, I am beginning to see tiny shoots poking cautiously out of the soil of my heart.

That's the kind of hope I've needed lately.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013


I have a rock from Emmett's graveside.  Stained red from the Georgia clay, it leaves a rusty trail even now almost two years later as it bounces around my purse, makes it way to my gym bag, and then finds its way to my bathroom counter before repeating its endless cycle.  This little rock has nothing to recommend itself.  In fact it's rather ugly and dirty, with no happy memories in its favor. Yet it keeps following me around, and I find this little token of death strangely comforting.

I'm sitting at work. The time change means the sunrise coming through my window is spilling over my desk and blinding me if I look up.  I left the light off in my room to soak up this anointing and bask in a moment of unexpected wonder and holiness.

Reading John Owen's work on indwelling sin has equipped me in ways to fight sin that I've never imagined.  Don't get me wrong, I'm not suddenly holy.  Indeed it is quite the opposite.  I'm learning that sin includes so much more of my life than I ever thought possible.  Lately I have felt my sinful nature raging out of control, but I think my eyes have just been opened to depths of sin I never knew were sin.

Still, this morning I'm remembering Hinds Feet on High Places, with little Much Afraid and her collection of rocks.  This anointing, this path through death of self, though I've prayed for years to make my way here, is much less glamorous than I thought.  There is much more dying and much less victory than I'd imagined.

And yet...

I often feel my sinful nature rattling around in it's cage, raging that it can't get out because God himself is restraining it, since it's quite obvious I'm powerless to do so.  There is great comfort in knowing that stronger arms than mine hold sin at bay.  There are times, more rare than I'd like, when I laugh because I really know that all manner of things shall be well; when I can almost feel the other side of the veil, and the wonder of the new creation ushered in by Christ comes crashing down around me in overwhelming waves of mystery.  Times when my soul flexes like a runner at the starting block, and I'm eager for the fight because I know it has already been won for me.  There are moments when I palpably feel the victory beyond death, and I know that nothing, absolutely nothing is wasted.  Even in the moments where I grieve deeply, I grieve with a longing so deep that I wonder how even God can fill and satisfy it, and I weep out of an overwhelming desire to go further up and further in.

So I find myself bouncing around in my endless daily cycles, leaving my own trail of Georgia clay, with nothing particular to recommend me to the world.  At this moment, my anointing is death, and I find that also to be strangely comforting.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013


A friend sent me this quote a few days ago:

Jesus' compassion is characterized by a downward pull. That is what disturbs us. We cannot even think about ourselves in terms other than those of an upward pull, an upward mobility in which we strive for better lives, higher salaries and more prestigious positions. Thus, we are deeply disturbed by a God who embodies a downward movement. Instead of striving for a higher position, more power and more influence, Jesus moves, as Karl Barth says, from "the heights to the depths, from victory to defeat, from riches to poverty, from triumph to suffering, from life to death."  Henri Nowen, et al. The Downward Pull
It's perfect.  Only I don't want it to be perfect. I want it to be wrong.  Completely wrong.  But Jesus himself says it over and over; a kernel of wheat has to die, you must take up your cross, etc.

Only here's the catch.  I can't even trust myself on what it means to die.
God, who searches the hearts of men, knows that most of the things that are done with other pretenses in the world are nothing but the actings of men mad and furious in the pursuit of their lusts.  John Owen, The Power and Efficacy of Indwelling Sin
We can all point to other people who have gone on holy crusades of entering ministry, working with the poor, or going crazy with each and every particular religious trend in an attempt to get closer to God.  Even the best of intentions become an idol of self-worship.  Although I find it easy to point out in others, the real trick is rooting it out in my own heart.  I mean, I can't even set out to go lower without getting all caught up in how awesome I am and how much God must love me for being so willing to die to self.  I may set out with the best of intentions, but this festering heart of sin transforms my desire to die to self into a crusade for my own self-exaltation.


What is a girl to do?

Sheesh.  If I had the answer to that question, I'd go on TV and sell it for a lot of money.  Well, not really, but I'm sure I'd do something equally ridiculous.

I suspect the answer has something to do with loving your neighbor.  Another thing I don't want to hear about, by the way, because I'm particularly lousy at it.  I was at a study this weekend where we were talking about love.  And the discussion opened up with brainstorming a time when someone had loved you well.  From there we teased out characteristics of real love, and the words self-less and humble kept coming up.  Turns out, according to 1 John, I can actually know how well I'm loving God by how well I'm loving my brothers and sisters in Christ.  But even loving and serving those around me can become an agenda to make myself feel better, and then I'm back where I started.  As it turns out, people aren't very cooperative when you're trying to serve them from your own agenda, and suddenly I end up wondering why I ever thought I liked people to begin with.  Then God asks if that's how I feel about him, and I'm caught.


My new answer is starting with prayer.  I'm 24 hours into a prayer I hope will last the rest of my life, a prayer to "go lower."  If I knew what that meant, I wouldn't have to pray it.  Honestly, I'm not all that excited about finding out.  But I suspect God is waiting there for me, and having once tasted his love and mercy, there's nothing else I could ever find satisfying.