Sunday, December 28, 2014

stupid grin

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

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

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

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

Sorrow just reminds my soul
My eyes are open,

my heart is beating,

my lungs are full,

and my body's breathing.

I'm moving forward.

I found my freedom.

I know this sorrow.

I know the heartache.

I know with fear comes a tragic heartbreak.

Well I'm moving forward.

I found my freedom.

I found the life that gave the reason to love.

Thursday, December 25, 2014

If only

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, December 6, 2014

trusting the story

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, December 1, 2014


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