juxtaposal

Irrepressable; or, how to, river-like, change your course

It’s a worthless task for me to make a book list – a reading list. My tastes change so much from day to day, even within in a day, from morning to afternoon to evening, that by the time I reach a certain book on my list, I will almost always have no patience for it.

Some days I feel an irrepressible urge to read nothing but the weather almanac, all day long. Maybe once a month I decide to read Shakespeare, then put it back on the shelf the next day. I read two Jane Austen books in five days several weeks ago.

Inevitably, I find myself reading the same book nearly exactly one year from when I read it last. In the spring, I’m drawn back to Till We Have Faces by C. S. Lewis, because I read it in the London airport one spring several years ago.

We are creatures of habit. We live by precedents. We carve a course for ourselves, river-like, and unless we smash forcefully into an obstacle, we will continue to move over the same curves and narrows, smoothing them out, wearing them deeper, making them our own.

We can only truly speak and write from what we know. When we speak of what we don’t know, we’ll inevitably get the terms wrong and be ignorant of our blind spots on that topic. We can intuit – we can infer – but there is something to be said for experience.

What are you waiting for? The black letters on a page glare up at me. What are you waiting for to make that life-changing decision?

As creatures of habit, we don’t know how to change. Our ideas remain our ideas; the word change enters our minds and gets caught up in a stream of consciousness, something about  birds migrating across the Atlantic, elephants crossing jungle paths, dhows meandering up the coast of India. This is what we know.

And then we’re reading, one day, a self-help book called How To Change, and it strikes us, all at once, that we have to take action immediately. We begin to put our socks on inside-out, and we try to like the taste of black coffee. We buy, impulsively, a plane ticket to New Zealand. The hills aren’t as green as we had imagined, the hobbit-holes are smaller than we’d pictured. The next time we read The Hobbit we have a hard time remembering the way it had looked in our imagination.

We realize that we don’t know what we’ve been waiting for – no one has ever told us. We hope we figure it out someday, but we likely won’t know until it happens. And we’ll say, “Oh! This is what I’ve been waiting for.” And at that moment, we’ll realize that we’ve changed, nearly without trying to.

Falling Into Faith

I made a list of goals last September, and somewhere on that list was “learn to pray.” I was enamored with the idea of being a ‘prayer warrior,’ falling on my knees and claiming the power of God, seeing miracles and breakthrough.

You’re supposed to write out small steps to your goals when you do this type of list, so I wrote two. 1) I would get in touch with the local prayer ministry and 2) I would read books on prayer. I didn’t do either of these things.

Finally, after watching a movie about prayer, I emptied out a hall closet and taped pretty print-out prayers over the walls, and labeled this place prayer closet. It was lit by one old, yellowed light bulb that blinked disconcertingly. If I turned it off, the tiny space became as black as night. The closet echoed; when I prayed aloud, you could hear me all down the hall. There was hardly enough space to sit, and when I closed my eyes, the room seemed to get smaller.

Despite all of this, I would sit with my knees pressed up against my chest, talking to God for hours. I filled journal pages with questions, and I began to pray through the Psalms. So many things in my life were upside-down, and I wanted answers. Friendships were becoming elusive – I needed someone to talk to earnestly. I had to pray.

Everything continued to go downhill. I prayed for redemption. I prayed for my idea of redemption. I was faced with decisions that paralyzed me; I asked Him not for clarity, but for faith take the right steps. I only became more confused.

One afternoon, I cancelled everything and decided to pray through – to pray until I had a definite yes or no. I prayed for a yes, and I could feel Him saying that He wanted to say yes. I was determined to neither mourn nor to rejoice until He had given me an answer.

His answer wasn’t immediate, but it was definite – a no. I lay on the floor, sobbing, with my Bible open in front of me. Elisabeth Elliot writes that “God’s refusals are always merciful – ‘severe mercies’ at times but mercies all the same.” I tried to understand it.

With the loss of a dream in the Lord’s refusal, I lost my trust for Him as well. I slept fitfully, shaking. I was too afraid to pray again.

The Lord is good in this: I ended up at the prayer ministry office looking for help. Slowly, painfully, I began to speak to Him again. For days, I listened to Jon Thurlow’s My Little One on repeat, the promise of His unfailing love. Prayer times became so much sweeter because I knew my need for Him.

God broke my heart, and in my heartbreak, He won me to himself.

When I ask why, He offers Himself. I sit down to pray with a list of worries, and I laugh because I’m so thankful for these small things that bring me to Him. I found a book on prayer that someone lost, and I’m reading it. It’s changing my perspective.

I didn’t ask for a no. I didn’t ask Him for broken friendships that would force me to get on my knees. But I can see the mercy in it now.

I haven’t become a “prayer warrior.” I’m not like Brother Bevington – I don’t crawl into a log for five days to pray, and come out again to see everyone healed. Prayer has become more real to me, more natural, more like breathing.

What are truths in this? What are the great broad truths? I don’t know. I know that God is good and that He wants us to talk to Him, even about the little things, though He knows them already. I know that His love is steadfast and unfailing, really, truly, all the time. I know that He even more powerful than we hope – that if it’s impossible, He can do it, we need only ask.

When you don’t know what to say, He hears you still. There aren’t specific words – you don’t have to say “Amen” when you’re finished, He knows. You can tell Him, “I don’t know, Lord,” and He draws near.

I think this is a story worth telling.

 

Rise up and Walk

I don’t know how to introduce this. Only – I’ve spent a lot of time on Pinterest, reading all the quotes. You know which ones? All the self-esteem boosting ones, about moving on, leaving things behind, and becoming stronger. I’ve read the blog posts full of wise sayings about how you’re better off without certain people, you don’t need them in your life, you can have courage and move forward.

All these bitter things.

Because the people who write these? They never learned that the best thing to have is a soft heart, a heart that can be wounded,

that sometimes ‘tough skin’ is a euphemism for ‘resentment,’

that the safest thing to do is to cry,

that real things are so much better than glass walls and burning bridges.

They say that the bravest thing you can do is be yourself,

but I say that the bravest thing you can do is stop remembering to be yourself and just live.

They say to only trust people who are trustworthy, who aren’t going to break your heart, or else to trust no one at all.

They say that you don’t need to forget in order to forgive – that “[d]on’t think it’s in the past… time can heal but this won’t…

Oh, but this isn’t the way to a whole, healed world.

IMG_6140

I can write about this because I’ve been hurt deeply, and I have learned to lean my head on a God who catches all my tears and hurts more deeply for me than I ever could.

If His love isn’t great enough to take away the fear, then what is?

Don’t we learn forgiveness from Him? “We love because He first loved us…” (1 John 4:19) “Forgive as the Lord forgave you…” (Col. 3:13).

How does He love? He doesn’t keep track of wrongs (1 Cor. 13:5).

How does He forgive? He casts our sins as far as the east is from the west (Psa. 103:12).

Am I willing to include forgetting in my definition of forgiveness? Really, am I willing to let go of my right to be hurt?

And I want to – I do, truly – but some piece of me wants to be affected. I want to flaunt my scars, to say that I’ve been through a hard time, but it’s made me stronger. I want those who’ve hurt me to know that I’m irreparably damaged.

I’ve had to wrestle with this question in the past weeks. When someone asks me how I’m doing, am I willing to give up my shrugged shoulders and weak smile, my “I’m not doing well… but God is good,” my badge of I’ve been hurt like someone took a Sharpie to my soul?

Am I willing to give up my right to pain, willing to give up my right to a scar, and to say simply, “Lord, let me see the whole thing as a blessing”?

Anita Dittman, survivor of forced labor and abuse in a Nazi concentration camp, does not cry as she talks about the horrors she endured. She declares she will not cry. “But I will cry,” she says, “because of the goodness of God!” And tears cascade down her cheeks as she tells of it.

We are fragile human creatures, with fragile bodies and spirits that are often severely injured. But we have a God who is near to the brokenhearted – oh praise Him for it! – and isn’t He God enough to redeem?

I still believe in redemption. I believe in a God who is Who He says He is, capital letters and all. I believe that He can turn the bitter into sweet. I believe that forgiveness can be complete, that He can fill the gaps with His love and that someday, soon, I will be able to see the whole thing as a blessing.

It happened – I can’t erase it – and by forgetting, I don’t mean not remembering that it ever happened. It’s letting go of the idea that there has to be a scar

and waiting to see where the Lord will bring redemption.

 

Run

 

He says, “Come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters –”

You’re going to need to run to the waters.

Leave your jug right there at the well, and just run – because here is the water that satisfies.

Leave your jug at the well of redeemed endings, the well of long-enough prayers, of hard joy and hard work, of wise decisions and white sheets and waiting for something to come around the corner and turn your winter to spring.

Jesus asks,
“Why do you labor for what does not satisfy?
Listen to Me and eat what is good,
And delight yourself in abundance.

… Come to Me.
Hear, that you may live;
I will make with you an everlasting covenant,
My steadfast, sure love for David.”

The psalmist pleads, “Seek the Lord while He may be found – call upon Him while He is near!

No matter how crazy they look at you, you have to keep repeating it over and over for your own sanity. I need You – I need You – I need You.

Leave your jug at the well and run to the quiet and kneel.

Stop trying to fill your jug at the well – the water recedes as you approach it – and come to the One who draws near at your coming.

Whether you’re stretched out on the ground, weary, or whether your hands are lifted and your face is turned up, He hangs on your every word, and you and the universe hang on His.

Wait in the quiet and listen – wait ’til you see the glory.

His word shall not return to Him empty.

You shall go out in peace.

He is so faithful.

 

Maybe

In the shadow of the cross, how can you give thanks?

I know I’ve written about this before, but I can’t get if out of my head – those three days in-between Jesus’ death and resurrection.

This is the part where you start to wonder – was it all real?

He told us He would rise from the dead, but we didn’t believe Him. So when they took Him and nailed His body to the cross – because He really was just flesh and bone, like us – and when they took Him down hours later, dead, and a hard-faced Roman soldier who had looked into death’s face a thousand times didn’t blink, we didn’t know anymore.

And someone who had loved Him went and pleaded for His body, and laid Him in his own tomb. He had to do something. 

I can’t write out this kind of pain.

We hid – we looked around in the dirt and tried to find our broken pieces, and we couldn’t see anything.

Somehow, “On the night when the Lord Jesus was handed over to be killed, he took bread and gave thanks for it,” knowing fully what would happen in the next twenty-four hours. 

And oh, it’s so dark right now. We’re waiting – we don’t know what for, but we’re waiting.

it is provided // cardboard faith

Oh honey, I know that life is really tough right now.

(We can sit in the dim light and wait it out together –)

I’m praying Psalm 139 for you,

because He has searched you and known you – He discerns your thoughts from afar – He is acquainted with all your ways.

Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too.

When you don’t know where you’re going, and all you can do is cry and cry,

I fall down on my face before God and “because He stoops down to listen, I will pray as long as I have breath!” (Psalm 116:2)

O Lord, do not relent! Would you continue to hem her in, behind and before, to lay your hand on her? It is too much for her – but Lord, don’t relent! 

It overwhelms me. I can’t believe anything but that God is working right here. This is his work, and his territory, and his domain. It’s His – no one may touch it.

Honey – no one understands. They’re all calling it something else, labeling it the way the weathermen name hurricanes, but this is the wind of the Holy Spirit.

My God is so good.

To begin: He heals me when I don’t know how to ask wholeheartedly. I pray for healing, and I doubt that He will.

I pray that He’ll knock down all my cardboard faith. I’ve built it up in imitation of real faith – so I can say I believe, but I’m really only wishing. There’s a lot of it, and it’s real and stands as tall and proud as castle walls, but it doesn’t hold against pressure.

With the hard-as-diamonds mustard seed of faith left in the heart of me, I ask Him for healing.

“Answer me quickly, O LORD! My spirit fails!

Let me hear in the morning of your steadfast love, for in you I trust.” (Psalm 143:6-7)

So, honey – you are fully known and fully held by the One who shaped the world. Maybe that isn’t enough for you right now, and that’s okay.

What I know is this: He has been working in your family for decades, and He’s beginning in earnest on you now. Do you feel the earthquakes? Is your world crumbling to pieces? Those are the tremors of His love. 

 

 

a letter to hurt

To me:

Remember how you used to paint your face five different colors, trying to look like an Indian out of Peter Pan or a howling Pict who battled the Roman legions, and how you would work with the camera for an hour to get the right shot?

Remember how you woke up at five in the morning and it was pouring rain, and you put on an old t-shirt and went out into it, giddy? You were soaked in seconds.

Remember how you would tramp through all the melting snow and cross busy roads to get to the yarn store, and the woman at the counter would go crazy by how long it took you to choose your yarn? (You were enamoured by all the colors.)

If there is no God, why is there so much good?

To hurt: you will not have the last word.

“My comfort in my suffering is this: Your promise preserves my life.” The Psalmist writes these words and knows that God is one-hundred-percent faithful.

The LORD made a covenant with Israel in the very-beginning of the Bible, and declared it to be everlasting.

Everlasting means that it will last forever – for all eternity, with no expiration date.

No matter what history might tell you – Israel’s failure to obey, centuries of maligned prophets and wicked kings, and the ensuing four hundred years of captivity, destruction of the temple, Inquisition, and Holocaust – God has not given up on His nation. He never will.

If the Jewish people cannot believe His promises to them, how can we believe His promises to us?

His words in the Old Testament are still just as alive as if He had spoken them yesterday.

He knows the pain I feel. He’s with me when I’m stretched out on the floor, weeping. He is the reason my Bible seems to always fall open to something about steadfast love. Psalm 13, Psalm 146, Psalm 109, Psalm 115, Psalm 144 – and so many more.

He says, “Is it so hard to forgive?” And so as soon as my eyes open in the morning, I pray a prayer of forgiveness. I don’t want to become bitter. (Didn’t Jesus pray for forgiveness for his enemies as he hung on the cross, dying?)

There are good things in the world; I write them down every day.

He listens to us and will answer us for His name’s sake, and because of His steadfast love.

To hurt: sure, you exist.

But with all this steadfast love and goodness filling up everywhere, there isn’t any room for you.

Doors will close and we’ll be left standing in an empty hallway – but His promises are hope and there are windows opening all around.

& we’ll all laugh in the joy of the Lord.

 

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