Love Head On

“I have loved you with an everlasting love; I have drawn you with unfailing kindness.”
-Jeremiah 31:3

 

What is love?

What is grace?

What does it look like? Your unmerited favor, unearned, given for the taking. How many times is it talked about by preachers, read in the Bible and one of those popular discussion topics? Told a million ways, sung to a thousand tunes. Grace. Covering my sins, easing my burden.

I don’t want the paper definition, the flat word that sits on the page like You’re stiffly sitting on Your throne, tossing out grace to beggars like loaves of bread to hungry stomachs. I want the real thing, the violent, fragrant life in what You say will set me free. Somewhere, it starts in Your love. And I need You to break apart my body so that love goes from my head to my heart. So it can course through me, hot and sticky, crash into my soul time after time, furious foam waves slashing to shore. I need it turning me inside out, knocking me over at the magnitude of Your intimacy. For You to take my hand, pull me close so I can sink into Your solid side.

I want to know what comes when I let love in. When Your presence presses in so still and beats reassurance, when Your lungs move into mine and our breath lifts and falls as one. For You to be alone with me, capturing my attention. For You to fight for me fiercely; spoils of war, I am Your prize. And I’d like to know exactly what You mean when You say You have loved me with an everlasting love. How could there have been no beginning to Your delight in me, and promise it never ending?

If truth ties my heart together, bind me with Your word. Let freedom fall from Your heart to my chains, clenched around my faith. Grace. Five little letters that contain a universe of revelation. Open me to the waterfall pouring this out unobstructed, abundantly and wildly.

What does it look like to stare You square in the face and take Your roar of love head on?

 

I am in need of understanding the life that is grace. To know what You have set before me, what You have done before me to make my life free from guilt and perfection and head knowledge. You want to reach into my heart, to blaze a light inside its chambers, and I cannot quite unlatch the lock. Show me what it looks like to be loved with an everlasting love, to hold grace in my grip and never let it go. Amen.

 

God in the Clouds

It’s appropriate how incredibly foggy and gray it is. The weather matches my insides.

Why do I have flare-ups of God’s goodness, and I’m grateful and feel lighter, but then I go back to gray? Why an empty, lifeless feeling?

God is there in the clouds.

I can barely muster up the strength or desire for my devotional time today, yet I pry open Streams in the Desert. It’s been a good companion for my darker treks, and today’s entry does not disappoint.

God still has His secrets–hidden from “the wise and learned” (Luke 10:21). Do not fear these unknown things, but be content to accept the things you cannot understand and wait patiently. In due time He will reveal the treasures of the unknown to you–the riches of the glory of the mystery. Recognize that the mystery is simply the veil covering God’s face.   -Streams in the Desert

This speaks to me. This is the only thing I’m able to open this morning. The mysterious veil covering His face. God in the clouds.

In a quick moment, my mind flashes to a story in Exodus. I manage to exert enough strength to find my Bible and move the pages.

When the people saw the thunder and lightning and heard the trumpet and saw the mountain in smoke, they trembled with fear. They stayed at a distance… The people remained at a distance, while Moses approached the thick darkness where God was.    -Exodus 20:18,21

The people were afraid and remained at a distance. But Moses chose to lean in, move closer to the smoke and dark because it brought him to You. You were in the thick darkness.

I take Streams in the Desert back onto my lap from the end table where I set it down, pull out the string bookmark and read the accompanying words:

Do not be afraid to enter the cloud descending on your life, for God is in it.

God is in the darkness, the thickness, the clouds. He is in the waiting, but tells me not to keep away. He invites me not to remain at a distance, hesitant, terrified, but to lean in and approach the gray, the cloud, the dim–He is there, He is waiting.

 

***

This is part of an ongoing series that will share excerpts of my book-in-progress, tentatively titled Grappling for Good: Revealing grace to light the dark. It’s my journey through a year of unexpected circumstances and soul excavation to discover the goodness of God in surprising ways.

Just Believe

Ignoring what they said, Jesus told the synagogue ruler, “Don’t be afraid; just believe.”
-Mark 5:36

 

It’s a simple thing, You say. To have faith. Faith in the smallest measure moves mountains, makes a way. Faith is honored, acknowledged, and in faith, I can come closer to You.

But I believe I have a brittle faith, one that still shakes and tremors. I pull into myself, bow my head and make myself unseen, not daring to lift my eyes and open my mouth to agree with You in faith for the deep things of my heart.

Why can’t I just believe? Why am I afraid to believe? I am afraid that if I release myself into freedom of believing You, I’m just tricking myself into creating an excuse to go after what I want.

I cannot equate the way I feel with anything that could be from You.

“Do not be afraid; just believe.” Your words, meant to soothe and build trust, strengthen faith. In context, You raise a man’s dead daughter. You do the impossible like it is simply Your everyday way. Because it is.

I can feel like the man’s dead daughter, lifeless, unmoving. Frozen in fear that what I want doesn’t line up with you, and if I open up to my deepest desires, I’ll be falling into sin and away from Your best for my life. I do not want to sin for the sake of my desires. Though what really calls to me the deepest are those places of desire and need nestled carefully in my tender heart. You tell me to believe, to follow You, and You give me just enough light to see the next step. But how do I know if it is You I am following when where I’m going couldn’t possibly make sense, couldn’t possibly be a part of Your plan? Even when my heart cries desperately otherwise.

Slow down. Remember to breathe. I am still breathing, and You are still here. You tell me to stop thinking, just believe, that I am missing the mark when I manifest my fears and diminish my faith.

Look to You. Look to who You are, who You have shown Yourself to be. Faithful. True. Loving. Kind. You do not want me to torment myself with wondering where I should draw my line on belief, how I should rate myself on my perspective of faith. I’ve already spent too much energy on worry that won’t come to life because it’s all in my thoughts, nothing has happened. I make it a mess and don’t sit still long enough for you to untangle me.

I am tangled, yes; my heart has slowed, yes. But I do not want to stay like this. I will sit still for You to carefully pull apart my confused thoughts, quiet me with Your love, and remind me I am fully Yours and because You are, I am.

You bring my belief back to life when I quiet myself and choose to believe my desires and heart align with Yours. Because we are connected, because I long for what You long for, because my heart beats for what Yours beats for.

It is a new awakening, holding on to hope. Lifting my face and meeting Your eyes, my heart jumping with expectancy.

Don’t be afraid; just believe.

 

Sometimes, my faith falters and I find myself doubting. But You know my heart, and You know who I can be in You. Thank You that You love me enough to still my racing thoughts and untangle the mess I make in my disbelief. Thank You that You fill me with trust in You, to remember Your character and how You love, and that You align my heart with Yours. Help me to hold tight to You, to stretch my faith and choose to believe Your truth over any fears I may have. I love You. Amen.

 

Uninhibited

First, a finger. Grazing the water at the edge of the shore, a dainty swipe of hand beneath the cool, silky water of the lake.

The sun is hot, air heavy with humidity. Above, only blue with no covering of cloud.

Shoes come off, along with the socks, and the soles of my bare skin press into the burning sand. I make my way across the stones, step into the small waves lapping the shore. Submerge my feet, my ankles, wade to cover my shins.

This is not enough. I turn and trudge back up the sand to where my shoes lie next to washed driftwood, where my house key and phone perch on the wood. I strip off my tank top and shorts and place them over my phone, feel the air on my bare belly, my thighs, and walk slow back into the water. Lower myself in the cool currents bobbing through, take my time submerging. And then I freak out for a moment that I am in a lake with fish and they could swim up to me at any moment. My crazy phobia keeps me wary of wandering under the water, and I take a few moments in sun and water and the quiet of waves to coax me into giving in.

With a quick intake of breath, I plunge myself under the surface and am immediately swept up in the light, smooth hands of the water enveloping me into part of itself. I am weightless, rolling with the current, brush against the sand at the bottom.

I look at the wrinkles and ridges of sand under the water that current and wave have formed washing over again and again, untouched for days. But now I am here, ruffling the sand prints and smoothing them as grains dance upturned in the water.

With legs crossed, I let the waves lap against my shoulders, caress my skin. Stare above at the swirl of greenery along the shoreline, trees waving in the breeze, color pops against the clear blue.

I blink away the drops of water running down my face, feel the warmth of the sun begin to dry them. This is freedom, unabashed, joyous freedom at its most natural state. This, I believe, is how God intended us to live, uninhibited.

For Me

It is my pleasure to tell you about the miraculous signs and wonders that the Most High God has performed for me.
-Daniel 4:2

 

For Sarah, You kept a promise to fill her barren lands with fertile soil, producing an heir and assuring her heart of hope.

For Moses, You made his mumbles move Egyptian mountains, pulled back the curtains of the sea to let Your glory gleam a path of rescue.

For Rahab, You sent Your spies into her sultry lair and softened her heart to save her life, to keep her family from crumbling with once impenetrable walls.

For David, You took a shepherd boy and anointed his head with dripping oil, sealing his service to the power of Your kingdom.

For Esther, You held an orphan in Your arms and presented her as Queen of a nation, Your mouthpiece to save Your people.

And for Daniel, You sealed the mouths of mighty beasts and kept their claws from the skin of one who refused to bow before any name but Yours.

For me, You heard a lonely cry and caught my tears pulling me to Your protection and the warmth of Your light.

For me, You walked across the universe and slipped into a waiting world, speckled Your sandals with dust and dreams and took the trail to my redemption.

For me, You called my name upon the cross, carrying my soul through the cosmos to touch the door of death, so You would keep me at the threshold, never allowed to enter.

For me, You reached towards my trembling mouth and set Your speech upon my lips, growing my gladness at Your grace.

For me, You claimed me as Your own and bound me to Your side, where I will stay with sweet certainty and promised peace.

 

Father God, the Most High in the heavens, I thank You for the miracles and wonderful works You have done for Your people! Throughout history You have had Your hand upon Your servants and have led them to You. But what is unfathomable is that You remembered me through the generations, that You called my name to make me Yours. Let me marvel at Your grace and make my life point to You. Amen.

 

Place of My Own

I am not meant for the fast-paced whirl of the world, for loud sounds and shifting ideas, for the roar of motorcycles out my window, blast of exhaust and engines, crowds of people.

My pace—my soul—is slow, takes its time to expand and receive the world in quiet breaths, savored moments. The tapping of leaves against the wind, ruffle of bird feather, the pull of rain down a heather gray sky. To sit and pay attention, to invest deeply in a few valued relationships, to immerse myself in a small community—this is what fuels me, energizes in the right way. Nature was carved by God and so am I; we are linked in an eternal purpose following the here and now. The slow way of life allows me to notice, to examine, to unearth my feelings, the way of the world and my place in it.

Do not give me a rush, a schedule, an examination. Rather, set me in the middle of a limestone beach, the crest of a jutting cliff, the glass water of Lake Michigan, and let my heart fill, form and feel. Let me wander for the sake of wandering, to pause and praise the One who made the shape of my spirit and set eternity in my mind, one slow breath at a time. //

Languid, listening to the murmur of stars, stretched across time. No hurry, no order, simply being present. This is my gift, my design.

When we slow down, we see, and I don’t ever want to lose my sight. The day is for wonder, and so is dusk, and the deep evening shadows. It all has its place, and in the quiet swing of seasons, of scenes, I nestle in and find a place of my own.

 

**

Continuing my attempt at the Five Minute Friday weekly writing challenge. Five minutes to write on the assigned topic. Raw and unedited. (Yikes!) This week’s topic: Slow.   // symbolizes where five minutes started and/or stopped.

Glory in the Good

God is glorified in our suffering, yes. But He is also glorified in the good. Through joy, hope, wonder.

“I will cause all of My goodness to pass in front of you, and I will proclaim My name, the LORD, in your presence.”  -Exodus 33:19

He causes all His goodness to pass in front. On purpose. Intentionally and specifically. I swipe my fingers over the thin pages of Exodus over until I reach 2 Peter, find what I’m looking for, and peer in the page:

His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and goodness.  -2 Peter 1:3

Glory and goodness go together. Appear together in the same breath.

I am learning to grow with God is to grow in goodness, that goodness makes way for glory.

Nine months ago, did I know what this was? Nine minutes ago, I didn’t know.

In the confusion and reset and health mountains, adjustments, so much newness. I have never fully experienced His goodness as an intentional set up for the display of His glory.

But this is what God calls us to. What He invites me to experience. Abounding goodness, displayed for His glory.

Back to Genesis, to look closer at Moses and His friendship with God. Moses isn’t satisfied with simply hearing from the LORD; he hungers for more. He dares to ask boldly: “Now show me Your glory.”  (Exodus 33:18) And, in a surprising response, God grants him a portion of his request. No one can see God’s face, but He hides Moses in the cleft of a rock and walk by, allowing him to see His back.

Moses dares to ask.

What do I dare to do? Do I even dare? Is a part of my hindrance to seeing the glory of God my passivity?

Boldness belies the breadth and depth of my faith. Confidence that I can come before Him with whatever I dare to ask. I may find comfort in the crack of a rock, tucked tight to glimpse the goodness of the LORD and His glory.

 

***

This is part of an ongoing series that will share excerpts of my book-in-progress, tentatively titled Grappling for Good: Revealing grace to light the dark. It’s my journey through a year of unexpected circumstances and soul excavation to discover the goodness of God in surprising ways.

That Elusive Wonder

It’s bright in the camper cabin, starting at six. I manage to roll back to sleep a few times until the lure of seagulls and other birds calling to each other and the slow motor of boats heading out to the open water pulls me from the bed.

I try out the new by-hand coffee grinder, which is already a game changer, I can tell, brew my Chemex, sit my Bible on my lap, and look straight at God’s promise for me this year.

You have made known to me the
path of life;
You will fill me with joy in Your
presence,
with eternal pleasures at Your
right hand.

-Psalm 16:11

 

You will fill me with joy

Joy, that elusive wonder I have side-stepped for years, and the claim to be full of it this year. Full. With joy. With the presence of my God.

He is already slowing me down, switching me to a new season. Stepping me out of my nonprofit director role, pulling me to Him to simply be.

The sun has already broken in the wide sky over Lake Michigan, calm and slow the pace of today. Eric sleeps heavy as I bang open the door to let more air dance through the camper. To let more space in to breathe.

There is nothing needed to do today; we get the gift to simply be.

Being is a beauty all in itself we never seem to stop and pay attention to.

We keep to the clamor, the frenzy, and pride ourselves on how crammed we can get ourselves, then wonder why we can’t feel our pulse. We are existing, but are we alive?

I am. At least, I am beginning to be again. It is a beautiful thing to remember how my heart sounds, the words it is allowed to say once more, after so much time stifled and constricted.

My Jeep Cherokee is parked on the grass, its forest green paint reflecting the mint-colored tree above it. This vehicle is new now, a new part of me but has somehow always been there inside. This is a season of discovery, set to explore my soul, give it room to move around and get back to what it’s longed to be. To simply be is the best gift we never knew we needed.

The coffee from my Chemex is smooth and goes down easy. I have a feeling this next stretch of time will be the same.

Hard to Hold

Heartbeats are hard to hold in the palm of my hand when they are new and slippery and never stay in one place.

But here they are, just out of their plastic wrap, not a fingerprint mark on their surface, brought to life by the warmth of blood beneath my skin. Such innocence. Such amazement. Such determination to show me what it looks like to fully break open and out.

I wonder, what does it look like, to begin again? A new life, a thaw from the frozen fields of my heart battered and upturned? To step into the new world, the people and places that swirl about, unfamiliar shapes and colors, all a blur, everything foreign to my eyes.

At the crossroads of my identity, my heart’s skin is patching up the bones. It’s been such a battle to bring breath back into my lungs, to lock eyes with the landscape around me and dare to believe that I can rework the soil, clear space to cultivate something completely different than the forsaken remains of rubble that once housed my dreams.

God and I, we’ve unearthed the underside of my darkest pain, my scarred memories, smashed soul, and belief hammered down before it could climb into sunlight again. Over and over, I spoke a mantra that He is good, that He is good to me, even when I couldn’t keep tucked secure in faith.

But here I am, waking up one weekend with a wave of fresh air, on the edge of coming into my own in an environment where through and through I am completely alone. Starting over, seeking truth, beginning to understand that this continued path will not be easy. It will be messy, ensnared, rough choices every moment to decide to do work for my heart. Lessons lived, truths learned in earnest, catastrophe and incline.

Will I be taught to tie anchor to His strength and gear up for the battle? To reclaim ground, I must be grounded in the fire beneath my veins, remember how it burned so great within once before.

There are still vast wonders to find. Otherworld treasures that glow in the eternal realm, flicker in the here and now.

How to be bold in the face of the excruciating pain it will take to stand day after day in the open, heart hanging in suspension, exposed and aching. Learn what it means to lean into hope, hold onto it like a lifeline, that even when what I ask for doesn’t answer like I desire, that it is not the end. That it is good, because God deems it so. But to continue to hold out my hands in offering, accepting what instead He has to give.

To take heart, stand with a shield of courage banded in front of me, bravery a voice that had forgotten to share its tone with me for many years. Stand in the face of lions baring teeth like swords, stare them in the eye.

Keep kissing the hurt when I am pushed from my protection, of my natural response to shrink back inside myself and push away. No. This time I stay. I do not drop my gaze; I do not hide my heart. If at first it takes a lie to pretend I am someone stronger than actuality, then so be it. Soon enough, the more I speak to this persona, the more it will embed into my DNA and evolve into truth.

Here I stand, breathing out loud in the quiet. Listening to the way my lips exhale this newness, first blink of daylight in darkness long curtained in timid caverns.

I must begin to fight.

For creativity, the aching in my chest that pops like sparklers in July dusk. It’s been a black and white existence burrowed into my marrow, where once flashed multitude of magic shades. Words pierced me, brought this terrible and beautiful world bright and full when I first bloomed into being.

For love. To walk that road with head up and hands waving, smile sewn across my face. Even when it broke my bones and jaded my rose-colored glasses, dare to cast out fear in perfect love. Turn the spigot, spray me with that crimson stream that grows my desolate places. When love hurts, know the pain reminds me that this body, these organs, all particles unseen, are sparked reminders that I am alive.

Battle up for being brave. Because my heart, my hope, my faith, my soul, will take hit after hit, knockdown after disappointment. I want to know how to retain the courage to keep moving. To plow forward with confident determination that though I stumble, I will not veer.

Fight to feel. Break barriers to believe. Fresh cleanse from the musty attic of words I would not say. Refuse to fold. Trust Him alone who heals my hurt, makes all things new. To begin again is to behold the blank canvas, the color wheel, the first slide of step that lights the way.

I am the walking miracle regaled in stories whispered in awe around the world. Believe this. Begin again.

Grown So Lovely

How has this life suddenly grown so lovely?

Brush of color on the edges of oak leaves, spindled branches curled along the beige brick buildings lining my new street. Sweet tinkle of bells above the coffee shop door across the street, patrons going in and out for lattes, gathering together at the patio tables with bright red umbrellas. The hum of cars grazing puddles from last night’s showers. Sun sifting through hazy clouds to wash the town in a soft cream glow.

And I am still here. Alive, awake. Experiencing the glory of a morning arising in this small town. I do not take a single second for granted.