Last night, I found myself on the edge of the water by a field in Silverdale, Washington, walking with a dear friend. We met one another back on the East Coast when her husband and I were in seminary. We were fast friends and she was a stellar hair stylist, so she would cut my hair in exchange for photo sessions, which happened to tell the story of their family. First it was the pregnancy announcement, then it was the maternity shoot, and then the newborn shoot of her daughter who is now nearly four years old.
My job is 15 minutes from that field in Silverdale, but I work remotely from Nashville so a few times a year I get on a place and “go to the office” in the Pacific North West. She asked me if I wanted to explore the property while her husband put the kids down (because they now have two, if you can believe it). I hopped up from my chair by the bonfire and we took the trail down to the shoreline, mountains rising up behind the city before us.
As we sunk lower into the coolness of the marshland, I was overcome with a sense that has been overtaking me in the last few months–wonder. Spring has brought a cold and long winter to a close and we almost reverently stepped into the grass, overcome by how beautiful the newness and green was to behold. Finally, in a moment of freedom, I turned to her, walking backward and said, “This–THIS is the Kingdom of God. He made this. All of it.”
She smiled and replied, “And there was so much more before this and there will be so much more after.” I shook my head and held my camera lens up to capture the vesper light, wandering with my friend further into the Kingdom.
Something sacred and simple has been churning deep in my heart for the last 378 days. It started with a blogpost that led an editor at a publishing company to this website and she emailed me, asking if I had ever considered writing a book. I ignored it because of course I’d considered it–but not for another 20 years or so when I actually had something to say.
But my pal Kate said to me, “This isn’t normal–you need to talk to that woman.” I followed the breadcrumbs and slowly, carefully, prayerfully walked the path toward publishing. In May I had an idea after being locked in an AirBnB with my friend Amanda for two days. In June I had an outline. In July, I signed with a literary agency. My agent, ironically, is a friend from college whose wife used to cut my hair back during my undergrad.
We assembled a proposal. I finished my sample chapters at Camp Well in October and tearfully told a group of Dream Defenders that I was trying to write a book and didn’t know if it would work and if anyone would want to make an offer and I knew it was too early to say something but I needed that community to prayerfully see me through. They became my secret cheerleaders and their kindness changed me.
In February, I agreed to work with a publisher and yesterday we signed contracts.
Of course in the midst of all of this, a thousand things happened. I was single, I was dating, I was single again. I left one job and started another. All the while afraid, I moved forward, asking Jesus to show me what it means to wonder over the gospel.
We finally made it to the border of the property and my friend and I stood at the edge of the water, where she told me that she wasn’t the best at skipping rocks. So we tried. We practiced. And I found myself bending over to pick up smooth stone after smooth stone, almost out of breath with laughter as the wind blew our hair across our faces.
Try this one.
Try this one.
Try this one.
We walked back toward the fire at the top of the hill and stopped to smell the lilacs and take in everything about this magic moment where we were just wandering in creation, laughing hard and throwing rocks like children. And this is what I need you to know: it was the best way I could have possibly spent signing day.
As we roasted marshmallows and assembled s’mores with babies sleeping in the house behind us, she reached over and tapped my graham cracker against hers and said, “hey. congrats.”
I felt tears start to form because I realized that this is exactly how I want to write this book. With nights spent by the fire and dear friends and acknowledging beauty and simplicity. With slow and steady patience and honesty. With s’mores and joy and tears and wonder. With an eye on the world around me and a heart set on the Creation that’s still to come.
In these last 378 days, God has reminded me of the power of the wonder of the Here and Now. He’s shown me that His presence is my good and His Kingdom is my home. And the story He’s laid on my heart to write down is that of those two things: the Kingdom and Presence of God. It’s an anthem for a generation who believes that there’s still wonder left if we know how to slow down and watch for it. It’s a theme for a people who have forgotten what it means to find home and safety and peace in the Presence of God. It’s a victory cry for those of us to need to be reminded that we’re just part of the bigger story of the Kingdom and living through that lens changes everything from our relationships to our vocations to how we risk and love and pray.
I haven’t invented any of this, but I feel compelled to re-tell the same story we’ve been passing from grandparents to parents to children for thousands of years. It never gets old–it’s that good.
This book is, simply put, my attempt at bringing into focus the things we get to put our weight into when everything is caving in. To point toward the Gospel in a way that renews our love for the Great Tradition of Theology in ways we can see and feel and touch and hear. To stand on the shore and invite you to walk alongside me, wandering and wondering as we venture through the places He’s already planted us, if only we would blink and focus and see with better clarity what’s before us.
So, it’s Lent.
Winter is slowly giving way to Spring and we’re met with snow on Monday and rain on Tuesday and sun on Wednesday. This is an insane time of year and somehow it feels just about right for this season of discipline and fasting.
When it came to what I was “doing for Lent,” I decided to do something simple–daily prayer. In the Book of Common Prayer–this handy little prayer guide that’s roughly 230 years old–there are prayers for all kinds of occasions. Seasons of doubt, seasons of healing, seasons on the liturgical calendar like Easter and Advent. And there are simple during-the-day prayers that take about two minutes, four times a day. I find something so comforting about the fact that when I open up to Morning, Noon and Evening prayers they’ve been prayed by millions of people for hundreds of years.
I’ll be the first to admit that I’m the worst at it. I started off totally on-track, stopping three or four times a day to refocus and be grateful. But over time, it has dropped to sometimes once or twice a day. I carry that little book around and across the country and there are moments when it stares at me while I avoid it, and other times when I hold onto it like a life raft on uncertain waters.
Also, I’m in physical therapy. The kind where you show up and they work with your muscles and try to help you rebuild something that’s broken. The kind where you’re getting to know the staff because you’re there three times a week for a while because you need to do some hard work. The kind where you have roughly 10 exercises that you do 2-3 times a day.
I’m not entirely sure what went wrong in my back and shoulders. Maybe it was years of golf or long commutes in a ’98 Buick that had a seat that leaned a little left. Either way, I feel like I’m under construction and I hate it. I hate not being well. I hate every weak place it takes me back to. I hate that it seems to line right up with some upheaval that’s been happening in my heart.
The kind physical therapist watched me move and do squats and assessed me on my first visit and finally she said, “You have inner instability.” What she meant was that the inner muscles around my spine are weak and need to be made stable again. But when I heard those words, I nearly burst into tears because how did she know?
It took me back in my mind to the eye doctor the day before. I’d been getting headaches so I went in and got an eye exam and she kept switching between lenses, telling me to focus. And I couldn’t. At 28 years old, my vision is starting to go. Little by little, headache by headache. Over and over again, she clicked and the letters were B’s or maybe F’s or maybe A’s.
Finally, after a few minutes, I sighed that sigh you let out when you’re exhausted and simply said, “I can’t.”
Something about not being able to see and being told you have to stabilize and having to stop and pray all the time wears a person out. Something about humanity and brokeness and not being able to do it strikes a nerve in my get-it-done heart. Something about the fact that my left side is weaker and what’s simple on the right leg or arm just isn’t the same on the other.
I honestly thought this was a season of stability and certainty and for once I wasn’t worried about adulting, but isn’t that the way things go?
The bottom of the grocery bag falls apart and you lose the jar of pasta sauce. You spill salad in the front seat of the car. The dog gets out again and you’re walking in the rain, carrying her to the backyard like a little lamb, reluctantly accepting the fact that now you smell like wet labradoodle.
This is what I’m learning: sometimes, rebuilding is slow and hard. And it honestly feels pointless in the middle. You start to wonder: what’s one missed exercise or prayer or conversation or headache or text message in the grand scheme of things?
But let me tell you how muscle is built. When we move in certain ways (like lifting weight or stretching) we get these tiny rips called ‘micro tears’ in our muscle. Then, they heal and grow stronger, rebuilding better muscle as a result. This is one of the reasons you’re sore after a work out. Because your muscles are literally being pulled and stretched and having to re-grow on a minuscule level.
Sometimes, alone in my house, I yell as I sit on my 90-year-old hardwood floors about how I want to be fine. I do these stretches or say the same exact prayers and can’t help but feel like it’s pointless and difficult and I get overwhelmed by how tired my muscles are and how weary my heart can get as it tries to carry more than it seems to be able to handle.
And that’s when it starts to click: it’s always more than we can handle. It’s never firmly in our grasp. It’s always by the grace of God. It’s always slow and steady. It’s always a small tearing that makes us whole.
So I’ll set my alarm and show up at physical therapy and sometimes I’ll be able to move quickly through my exercises and other times I’ll wince a bit and try not to think about the fact that my muscles just aren’t what I want them to be. But this is what I know: the other day, I started morning prayer without looking at the words in the book. And I felt my back move correctly when I had to pick something up with my left hand.
You may be in a place where you don’t see the benefit of the discipline or small acts that make up your day. Maybe the toddler isn’t into listening or you don’t remember the last time you had date night or you are sitting in a counseling office wrestling with the same demons you hoped to be rid of by now. Maybe you’re in a season of feeling stuck and uncertain and doubting that you’re where you’re supposed to be. I get that, friend. You have no idea how much I get that.
But hear this: It’s slow. It’s steady. It’s painful like a thousand micro-tears in your muscle. And it may sound like a load of garbage, but I have to say: Keep going. I don’t care if it’s one breath at a time–that’s all you need sometimes. God will meet you there.
Whisper it to yourself when you wake up.
Take today one step or stretch or prayer at a time.
Look in the mirror and make eye contact with yourself and say it out loud if you have to.
Write it in text messages to your friends.
Carry it in your pocket on a scrap of paper.
Say it like an anthem; shout it alone in your car if you have to.
This isn’t a blog post I thought I would write. I was convinced that it would never happen. I planned my life around it never happening.
But then, 238 days ago, I was healed. And I wish I could tell you that I, like people in the Bible who encounter Jesus, ran to tell the others. That I sounded the alarm. That I was walking and leaping and praising God. But I wasn’t. Rather, I was sitting in silence, trying to figure out what just happened. It was a gift to be healed, but it’s a story bigger than me, and I wasn’t giving Glory to the One who made it happen.
Let’s back up to a post I wrote a year ago. Make that two posts. I was diagnosed with a life-changing condition in which my body stopped retaining water. I would drink a liter, I would lose it within an hour. A constant, exhausting, grief-stricken pattern of never-ending attempts at hydration.
A friend, who didn’t even know I had this condition, felt compelled to pray for me. To pray for my body to be well. For a few days, it kept floating into her head, and she obediently asked for a good thing on my behalf. She didn’t really have this kind of thing in mind, either.
Meanwhile, I noticed that I could go a few hours without losing water. And then a few more. And the next thing I knew, I didn’t need medication to help me retain water for 44 hours. And then it turned to four days. I went from needing between 9 and 11 liters a day to 2.
And you guys–I was so afraid that it wasn’t possible. That it wasn’t real. That it was a fluke. So I told no one and I waited. That was June 1. Now it’s January 25. And still–I’m waiting for it to not be real.
What is it about Good News that feels hard to swallow? Why is it that we’re holding the Word of God and not talking about it? Why is it that we live in our brokenness and never dare hope that one day we could be well? And since Jesus is renewing us daily, why are we still timid about that?
I always knew that Jesus was Hope. I always believed that God could heal. I always knew that miracles still happened. But even after one happened in my life, I shut my mouth and kept water-retention medication in my suitcase–just in case. Just in case He’s messing with me. Just in case I’m not healed.
We like to pretend that the Bible is only a little bit true–the fun bit, mostly. The parts with the baby Jesus and the parting of the Red Sea and the widow who gets provided for. But the ugly parts? The ones that remind us that sin is a thing? We stay away from those. Those are hard to look at and difficult to swallow. But those passages, they are setting the stage for Jesus show make his grand entrance. If we don’t need saving, we don’t need a Saviour. But as those who belong to Jesus and claim to have been saved? We have to open our mouths.
For weeks, we’ve been watching the news as name after name flashes across the screen. Another woman abused. Another person silenced. Another sin committed. And I haven’t known what to say, exactly.
Because suddenly, it seems that sin is EVERYWHERE. It’s in our workplaces and our homes and our hearts. It’s hurting celebrities and housekeepers and athletes and neighbors. It’s tearing things apart in front of our eyes and we can’t look away. And with every #metoo or #TimesUp we’re dragging the hard truth of sin into the light and it’s like we’re standing in rags, begging for a solution–everyone needs a solution. Everyone needs to be healed.
I think that I didn’t talk about my healing because it really felt too good to be true. And, ever the suspicious Enneagram Six, I didn’t want to accept it. Even after I felt like I needed to share it months ago, I stayed quiet until this afternoon when I had a chat with a friend and it came out of me like–oh I don’t know–a testimony.
We have to talk about the good and the bad and the Gospel. So I’ll start with this: I was broken. I’ve been healed. And it might come back tomorrow, but for MONTHS I have been well. I have gone on runs and traveled to other countries and hiked at high elevations and maybe the most miraculous thing is that I doesn’t feel insane anymore. I forgot my water bottle the other morning for the first time in YEARS.
And I could say it was a fluke or a medical mystery like my doctors. But my blood work shows that there is nothing in my brain that is telling my kidneys to hold onto water but they’re doing it. By definition? That’s a JESUS THING.
I was quiet about healing, and I was wrong.
And when I say wrong, I don’t mean shamed or worthless or counted out. I mean wrong–as in didn’t do what I felt like I needed to do. Wrong because I felt compelled to share and didn’t. Wrong because I kept it to myself. Wrong because it could have reminded someone somewhere that Jesus is real. Wrong because I’ve been carrying around a book that says, “God is a God of miracles” and I have been silent about the miraculous thing taking place for 238 days and counting.
If we’re living in a cultural moment where victims have been silenced, we cannot return their cries for healing with more silence. We have to, as people who love God and believe his Word, tell the truth. To listen to their stories and say, “Yes. Sin has been committed. And there is hope for redemption and healing and one day, this pain with lessen and you’ll stand on your own two feet and see that it was Jesus who brought you to a land of Hope.”
Sometimes, in our ordinary life, we believe the lie that unless it’s extraordinary, it doesn’t matter. But let me tell you as a woman who was healed in a way doctors can’t explain: even if it were big and miraculous, that doesn’t mean you’d change. It has to start in small ways. In fact, I believe that some of the most important things are said while loading the dishwasher or driving to work or on a walk around the neighborhood. If the Word matters, it matters in every moment–which means none of us have an excuse to ignore it.
Y’all. If we live in a place where sin isn’t real, we’re never going to get to a place where salvation is possible. If the pain of others isn’t moving us to pitch our tents and drive our tent pegs into the ground of Scripture, we are forgetting that God has spoken and his words are true. May we look at sin and how it destroys others and ourselves and say “Me too,” remembering that this life is but a vapor and Time’s Up on keeping silence when we’ve seen the goodness of God right in front of us, in the grief and in the joy.
May we soak our hearts in the Bible, anchor our souls on its content–all of its content–and may we learn to tell the stories it tells, preach the gospel it preaches, offer the hope that it offers. May we look to those who ache over abuse and injustice and ache alongside them, showing them this Word that is a lamp unto ALL of our feet and a light to ALL of our paths. May we, the healed, be beacons on the hillside, pointing the way to healing for everyone else, too.
I’ve been on the road again, wandering through airports and streets I’ve never seen, reconnecting to family and friends out west. I’ll be home soon, but today I find myself along the Olympic Peninsula, on the edge of the water near the woods on a foggy afternoon. I look out to the trees on the other side and they cannot be found, hidden in the mist.
This is how my heart has felt lately. Unable to see clearly what’s across the water, but standing with the mainland at my back. The last few weeks have been familiar, but I’ve been feeling the shifting in my days as I adjust to some new things. It feels slow and steady and precarious and curious. The tide rises and lowers and there I stand, swaying forward and back, learning to find my balance.
This week, I was talking with my boyfriend about the goodness of God. He mentioned that sometimes we forget that Jesus is unceasingly good, and as the conversation went on, I said to him, “We treat God like Midas.”
In Greek mythology, Midas had a touch that turned things to gold. This would be a convenient gift to have because you’d never have to worry about going poor. Of course, Midas’ story is tragic as he turns his own daughter to gold. But whenever someone has the ability to make things turn out well or in their favor, we say that they have “The Midas Touch.”
Sometimes, when things are thriving or a clear answer is given, we say, “Wow. God’s fingerprints are all over this.” It’s a way of saying that God is present and his favor has been found. Or sometimes, we say, “That’s great! God is so good.” And while those things are true, they were still true in the midst of doubt and darkness and fear. Lately, I’ve been wondering who God is to us when things aren’t golden and clear.
God’s character is good–always, always. His character is just–always, always. His nature is divine–always, always. He’s not good only when we close on the house we want. He’s not just only when slaves are set free. He’s not divine only when we “hand him control.” We never had control, dear ones.
As we set out into a new year, the hope is for the golden and the clear. We believe that we can set resolutions and they will happen if we will it. We set goals and make lists and secure plans. We get away and focus on what we want to accomplish and while that’s all good and well, I’ve found myself pausing for a moment and asking myself what it is I’m after. If I’m honest, I do have a few things I hope to nurture and grow and trim back this year. But I’m starting to see that just because it’s written down in my day planner or on my mirror or my journal doesn’t mean it’s going to be firmly in my grasp.
A few days ago, I found myself on the water’s edge again, wondering how I could possibly write to you people if I was tired and weary and stretched too thin. How can I remind people of Truths that I’m aching to see in my daily life? How can I lead anyone if my feet are sore and my map just got blown away in the wind?
In the last little while, everything has felt new. I’m just now starting to get a rhythm with my job after 5 months at it. I’m learning to consider others in new ways and to make time for quiet. I’m making myself eat healthier because I’m 28 now and a little something in the mid-section is a whole dang thing. And while some of these new roles feel unfamiliar, I’ve found that Christ is the same as He was yesterday, today and forever (Hebrews 13:8.) I’ve found that His love is steadfast (Lamentations 3:22.) I’ve found that he can see everything and our blindness isn’t going to stop Him from getting to us (Acts 17:27.)
My concern is that we tend to make lists and “invite” an ever-present, all-powerful God into the picture. That we compare ourselves to everyone else and make their version of success the end goal instead of reconciling ourselves to the fact that we walking toward a Holy Horizon that seems foggy and unclear but will lift to reveal straight up GLORY. We actually believe that we’re the ones writing the narrative and controlling the outcomes and God is just there to watch. As if I must be put together to type words. As if it all hinges on my performance.
To be resolved is to be set or placed intentionally somewhere. We see it in the book of Daniel when Daniel is “resolved” to obey God. It’s not a quick decision, but a place of deep commitment, a character trait that seeps down into your bones. A few months ago, as I explained this to my neighbor’s kids, I said, “Here’s the difference between deciding and resolving: if you could have anything for breakfast tomorrow, what would it be?”
“Grits and cereal!” one of them shouted out eagerly, clearly a child of the South.
“Okay, so what would you eat if you could only have one meal for the rest for your life?”
There was a pause and a moment of thinking things through before they revealed their carefully considered options.
“See, a decision is what you want for breakfast tomorrow. To be resolved is to figure out what you’d eat every single day forever.” I said.
“Oh.” the same kid said, “It’s like a self-promise.”
“Exactly.” I smiled.
More than making my own specific resolutions, I hope to be resolved. To be set on God’s character and realize that I am firmly in his will. To be found in a place of telling the truth and clinging to the Word of God.
If you hit every goal or grow your business or buy a new home or get engaged or pass the bar or potty-train your kids, thanks be to God. But don’t believe that He’s suddenly good because of those things.
Because if you don’t hit the number of followers you want on Instagram, you are still miraculously and beautifully being made into the image of Christ. If you don’t lose all the weight you hope to, you are still inheriting the Kingdom. If you find yourself silenced by someone’s unkind comment, you are still an ambassador of the ever-living God. Nothing gets to take these eternal realities away from us.
My prayer is that as we venture into 2018, motivation abounding or insecurity haunting, we’d be able to get quiet and recall the character of God. That we would find ourselves standing at the water’s edge, shaking but moving forward, certain that the fog will lift.
Convinced that He’ll reveal it all in time.
Resolved that He is exactly who He says He is.
It’s been years since I panicked. Since I felt the racing thoughts and the shortness of breath and the overwhelm. And it came in like a quick flash here and there, making me second guess my calm and security. Anxiety is violent and strange. It robs you blind and breaks the lock off the door. No matter how much you tell yourself that the door is closed, on this side of eternity it may never be bolted shut.
I felt it coming all afternoon, so I stayed busy. Cleaning the kitchen. Talking to friends. Watching a movie. But every moment, I felt it inching toward me. Finally, alone in my little house, it came. I walked from room to room, feebly reading scripture and trying to focus on peace. I opened the Book of Common Prayer and found a page entitled, “A Collect for Aid Against Perils.”
I began to read aloud in the guest room, alone.
“Lighten our darkness, we beseech thee, O Lord.”
Nothing felt light. Everything was dark and heavy and as I finished that sentence, I put my fingers to my mouth and began to weep.
Advent is an ache. It is waiting in the dark for our Prince of Peace. It is a longing for Him to make things light.
I called a friend. I fell asleep. I woke up. I panicked.
There, on my bed, I lost it. I doubled over, clenched fists and bitter tears. Hopeless in the face of fear. Helpless as adrenaline pulsed through my veins. Slowly, I got up and packed my bags for a trip I had to take that afternoon. Every song was the wrong song on the radio. Every minute behind the wheel felt like forever. I passed cotton fields and was overcome with how something so beautiful can remind us of a history of such brokenness. It seemed that darkness was lurking in plain sight.
I know the cycle of anxiety. You force yourself to eat and drink water and get rest. Your mind gets up to run again and you have to tell it to sit back down. It’s hard to describe to those who haven’t felt the weight of fearing you might go mad.
All of this happened the week before Advent. The week before we’re supposed to sing of a coming King, our Prince of Peace. The Light in the darkness.
The Church calendar wasn’t something I was keenly aware of when I was younger. I knew about Advent and the candles that we would light, but I didn’t know that there were other seasons where candles were lit, or extinguished. I didn’t know there were times of fasting and feasting and that each new season brought traditions and perspective into our ordinary lives.
Some seasons came to me easier than others. Lent, for example. Give something up, think about the sacrifice of Jesus. Got it. Or, consider Eastertide. 50 days of celebration. Jesus is alive. YES. LET’S GO.
But Advent is this sort of mixed-signal season because everything around us says, “Dig In, Dig In, Dig In” but the season itself says, “Wait, Wait, Wait.” And for a long time, I assumed that meant it was basically a Lenten season. One with no fun and little settledness.
The first week of Advent, I found myself recovering, taking longs walks on a trip to Massachusetts, untangling the panic and trying to move into Advent. I felt that maybe it was appropriate to be somber and overcome with grief. Perhaps it was best for me to be buried by the fact that hope felt far off in those fragile days after clenched fists and tears.
But when I returned to Nashville, I walked into my Church and something had shifted. Poems were read about the light of Advent. Songs were sung about comfort. Slowly, I felt myself healing and being woken up to the strange reality that Advent is a both/and. It is a season of wait-for-it and here-we-go. And for a long time, I believed that the waiting had to ache. Had to be uncomfortable. Had to bring me low to a place of almost grief-like sadness. A season of waiting must mean that it was a season of crossing arms and furrowing brows. But what I’m realizing is that God gives us all of life in every season, no matter the way it bends. And as I came out into the light of recovering from anxiety, I felt light, which I wasn’t expecting. It was a glimmer here and there, but like a double-take, it surprised me.
By the second Sunday of Advent, I felt the last bit of the lingering nervous energy in the way my knee bounced while I sat and the way I fiddled with my pen during the sermon. At Eucharist, as we sang about the Child that would lead us all home, I walked forward and knelt at the front. As I did, in the corner of my eye, movement caught my attention as a little girl, not older than 14 months, stepped carefully on the kneeler. A thumb in her mouth and another hand clinging to her mother’s, she looked at me. I thought about the Christ child and how small and weak he must have been, but how full of Hope the world was at His arrival. I stood up, walking back to my seat and a smile broke across my face at the idea of that innocence — I felt the lightness again.
The pastor stood in the back, ready to pray and I was compelled to approach Him.
“There are good things, and there are hard things.” I explained.
He nodded as I continued, “And I just have this low hum of anxiety. Not enough to be afraid, but enough to make my mind bounce around too quickly.”
He put his hand on my shoulder and as he did, the pastor laughed.
“Um. Pax is right behind you.”
A boy named Pax (the latin word that signifies peace) was standing, waist-height, directly behind me, waiting for prayer himself. I wouldn’t have seen him if he hadn’t been brought to my attention. The Pastor prayed for joy and lightness. I carefully stepped around the little boy and returned to my seat, perplexed.
Perhaps this too is the Kingdom. Peace right behind us, as we stand unaware of its nearness. Peace that has to be pointed out by friends when our eyes don’t see it. Peace that comes in the form of laughter over FaceTime and new relationships and long walks on cold nights and dinner shared with dear ones. Peace found in trusting the unknown and placing our identity back in the hands of Jesus. Peace that is almost startling against the low hum of our anxiety.
Peace is a grace that makes us light. Even when we thought it was far off, it’s right behind us. Right in the middle of the ache and the longing and the unknown. A beautiful reminder that Advent is a season of waiting and struggle, but there is joy and healing and peace mixed in there, too.
This season may be dark and overwhelming. Or maybe, it’s tender and sweet and dear. Each of us is walking along, different tensions held, different weights carried.
But oh, may we lean into whatever place we find ourselves as we welcome the coming King. May we grieve and celebrate and ache and laugh hard. For Christ comes to us no matter where we are, Hope in our chaos. Peace just around the corner. Light in our darkness.
I’m not the first to say it, and I won’t be the last, but man, I feel sad. I feel angry and I feel a little disoriented as the social media trends spike with every new allegation of sexual misconduct and every “me too” and every scandal. They break across our headlines like blood splatter, sparking that fear that we’re afraid of admitting: this is really messy. This isn’t a one-and-done conversation. There is no way to put this genie back in the bottle. We have to sit down and have a talk.
In the Kingdom of God, people are subjects–not objects.
My therapist likes to say that when I feel tired or burned out or used. It gently nudges me in the direction I need to go. The direction that reminds me that this isn’t the way things are supposed to be. For months, I’ve been aching over this reality. Every shooting, every political mishap, every heartbreak, every abuse points to the cancer that seems to be rotting our world. Things feel shaky and uncertain and we would rather keep our heads down and pretend everything is fine, even if only for a few minutes.
But it’s not fine. We’re so very un-fine.
In Genesis, after Creation and the Fall, we find two brothers in the familiar tale of competition. They both offer what they have to God, and He cheers for one. He commends Abel for a job well done. And it says, simply but powerfully, “Cain’s face fell.”
In his mind, he has lost. And suddenly, his brother, Abel, is competition. He is someone to beat. He is no longer a fellow man, but an enemy.
The Lord pulls Cain aside and tries to steady his shaking first and labored breathing.
“Why are you angry? Why has your face fallen? … sin is crouching at the door if you sit in your anger. It wants to destroy you, but you can’t let that happen.”
Cain doesn’t respond. But his heart is set on darkness because he has lost vision of the big picture of who he is and who God is and the fact that Abel bears the image of God.
So he takes a walk with Abel. And the two of them enter a field, but only one of them leaves. The Hebrew text says that Cain violently and intentionally kills his brother. His younger brother. The one he was supposed to protect and hold dear.
This was the fruit of the seed of objectification. It was grown and blossomed under the care of hatred and a refusal to see another person as a human with dignity.
And now, here we sit. People killing people. People assaulting people. People abusing people. People objectifying people.
The kind face of my counselor pops into my head.
“In the Kingdom of God, people are subjects–not objects.”
So what does it mean to be a subject and not an object? It means that we see one another as human. As image-bearers. As marked by the inherent value of breathing in and out. Regardless of race or gender or class. Regardless of if we’ve “earned it” or “deserve it.” Regardless of age or education or political party.
Let me say it one more time for the people in the back: Regardless of political party.
I’m going to get really honest here for a second. If you walk into Church on a Sunday and sit down in front of a computer on Monday and post about the idiots making laws you disagree with or the imbeciles who need to be slapped or the losers who can’t get their lives in order, you need to walk back into Church and try again. If you think it’s okay to shout at strangers in traffic or call the waiter who messes up your order ‘incompetent’ or assume that the maid at the hotel you’re staying at isn’t worth making eye contact and thanking, walk back into Church and try again.
We can have discourse and discussion and conversation, but we don’t get to take our grievances and throw them violently and intentionally at another human as if they represent everything we standing against. Because when we do that, we’re treating them less like a subject and more like an object. We see the person in front of us–or worse, on the other side of a screen–as the law we hate or the legislation we can’t get behind or the sports team we dislike. And somehow we’ve convinced ourselves that it’s okay to drag them through the mud because when people become objects, it’s a lot easier to say things to them or do things to them that strip them of worth.
We write things on Instagram or Facebook or Twitter that we would never say to someone’s face. We would never say it to them on their deathbed or at their birthday party. We would never treat them that way in their living room in front of their kids or on the front porch in front of our parents.
God says, “If you don’t get un-angry really quick, sin is crouching.”
So we invite one another to take a walk in a field, as it were.
And then, we are shocked when another woman confesses that she has been abused. We cover up the scandal and justify the abuse. We get on soapboxes. And in the name of “defending” someone, we start to abuse one another over whatever issue the abuse is circling and the cycle continues. It started in the garden and entered the field and hasn’t stopped ever since.
I don’t know the quick answer to how we fix a world that abuses. I don’t know who should be in office or who should step down. But I can tell you this: it isn’t happening overnight. And it sure as heck isn’t happening as long as we keep objectifying one another by gossiping and feeding porn addictions and making cutting remarks to our spouses and slamming bedroom doors and saying to ourselves, “they are the problem.” It’s not going to happen by debating on Twitter or arguing on Facebook or sending angry emails.
Jesus was always there, offering hope in midst of the darkness. As Adam and Eve are cursed, God says, “but sin isn’t going to win in the end.” And as Cain’s face falls, God says, “Sin is crouching–don’t let it win.” And I imagine that He’s there when we’re about to hit ‘send’ on a text or a comment or a reply. Beckoning us to see what He sees. Aching for us to not be blinded by our sin and longing to redeem our brokenness. It always boils down to Jesus, doesn’t it?
I’m not saying “don’t disagree” (because of course we’re going to disagree) but I am saying that you don’t have to call someone an idiot in the public square just because you think differently. You don’t get the right to belittle them just to make yourself look better. This isn’t about being better than other people–it’s about realizing we’re all broken.
We can openly stand against a policy or a law or an argument–and we should when the moment calls for it, but that’s different than assigning our rage to an individual to the point where we forget what started the argument in the first place. We can disagree and still dignify. We can be on a different page about political or social issues and still pray for one another. We can be in two different camps and still share a meal.
Is it the easiest route? No. But Christ is still in it, moving all things together so that we might feel our way toward Him. We are blind and lost (hence the ‘feeling our way’) but still, He has mercy. Interceding on our behalf that we might choose holiness over haughtiness. Speaking words of truth to the lies we tend to listen to. He is near to the abused and the maligned and the broken, eager to bring us back to health.
May we see the casualties of war strewn across the headlines and run to their aid. May we believe women who have been objectified, rather than asking for proof of their pain. May we defend those who cannot speak for themselves. May we cheer one another on as we take this crazy world one step at a time.
Sometimes, when we take that tone, making things better starts with “I was wrong.” It continues with “I’m sorry.” It pushes toward, “Let’s try that again.”
Today, we can choose to point fingers at the higher-ups who fall and sin while ignoring the condition of our own hearts, or we can ask to see with new eyes. To see the value of each person we meet. To see them as subjects. To honor them as image-bearers. To feel, a little stronger, the heartbeat of God.
I’ve been quiet over here for a few months. And it’s not that I haven’t been writing at all, it’s just that I haven’t been sure of what to say. Sometimes, you’re so tired from climbing to the top of the mountain to proclaim something that you don’t have the breath to get it out and you need a moment to recover.
My grandfather died. I lost my job. I moved into a new house. I got a little lost.
To make things a little crazier, I travelled for six weeks.
St. Andrews, Scotland.
Lost Valley Ranch, Colorado.
The last one was a dream. I had wanted to go to Camp Well from the moment I heard about it from my dear friend Jenn but I determined that it just wasn’t happening. Too much was in the air and I wasn’t sure when I’d land. And I didn’t think I had a place to land.
I travel a lot and I photograph women’s events a lot and while it’s one of the highlights of my young life, it can also get a little lonely. To stand so close to something and not be part of it is a tricky balance. It’s not that I could never join in, it’s just that I’m there to work. So when I got the call that Jenn and her co-founder Kelly wanted me to come shoot Camp Well, I knew that it was an amazing opportunity so I had to say yes, but my expectations were business as usual.
I once believed a lie that if you’re working somewhere, you don’t participate. This isn’t for you. Keep your head down. Don’t tell your story. Call it humility. Call it servanthood.
That was until I crossed the cattle guard into Lost Valley Ranch.
The first night, we had a meal and we could sit just about anywhere, so I did at the corner table. I made conversation with a woman who had just recently returned from living overseas and another who has a dream to write a cookbook. We ate and I got up every few minutes to capture a few photos or a few seconds of film. As the meal ended and we started to head toward the hayride (because of course a hayride is taking us back to the ranch) I stood there, hands frozen, capturing images.
That night, the speakers talked about lies and the truth and things like how we all have assignments from God–things like caring for our neighbors or our children or our friends. Things like how we have wounds and how Jesus heals us. Things like how we all have a story to tell and a place at the table.
I sat in the wings, half listening, editing photos of dinner.
The second night, we gathered in the barn. Because it’s a ranch and of course we did. The temperature had dropped into the 20’s and we were bundled. My hands were still frozen, but I’d gotten used to it and women passed me by saying things like, “Don’t forget to grab some food!” and “Get in line; this looks amazing.”
I smiled and said, “I will; don’t worry!” but in my head I knew that I wasn’t there to eat–I was there to work. To capture what was a life-changing week for these women. I was there to document what they couldn’t. I snapped away and finally as the line at the buffet vanished someone called out, “Melissa, you’re over by us!”
I stopped, half in shock. There must be an empty place-setting or someone finished and left. Surely, there isn’t a place designated for the photographer. That’s not how this works. We get the leftovers or a quick bite on a bench nearby.
As I approached the end of the table, I looked down and saw that there was a table setting with my name written across a little scrap of paper. Part of me came undone. I hid it with humor.
“Oh, I guess I have a place at the table–and that’s what we’re all about!” I joked. I still wouldn’t let myself sit down for several minutes. Finally, I grabbed a bite to eat and sat down sheepishly, talking freely with these incredible dreamers and do-ers, secretly feeling like I shouldn’t be there.
These women were game-changers. They were driven and established and I was so eager to cheer them on in their endeavors, but had no idea that I was carrying a weight of isolation from the last months of heartache and uncertainty. After the session that night, I sat and talked to a woman who had sort of been there in all of these moments of faith and fear and she said to me, “You use humor to mask pain, don’t you?”
I thought back to the moment the night before when I saw my name on the table. I knew that I was trapped and all I could get out was a, “sometimes.”
This is the thing about being lonely: you stop advocating for yourself. You start to believe that it’s okay for you to be alone. And you can be thisclose to people who are connecting with each other and not let yourself be known. You can be thisclose to people being set free and find yourself in tremendous bondage.
When we went inside for the evening session, my name was on the table again. What even. It was an envelope we weren’t allowed to read. I never even took my seat out of wanting to “get the job done” but after the session, as we dismissed for the night, I picked mine up quickly and went back to my cabin.
I was stunned to find that it wasn’t a general card of well-wishing, but rather was a letter from a close friend that the staff had tracked down weeks prior. It was a note of encouragement with a list of everything she was cheering for in my life. For my friendships and my writing and my work. I felt myself on the edge of being loved and it was tender and dear and I went back to my cabin and lit a fire in the fireplace and wrote down honest words and suddenly, a weight shifted.
Something in me felt seen. Even now, when I close my eyes, I can see the images of my name across a scrap of paper, on an envelope, on a tile and a card. This seemingly simple practice of inviting me–the photographer–to the table was starting to sink in.
The final night, I felt shaky. I felt like eye contact would mean tears and I wasn’t entirely sure why. I listened to more stories of courage and bravery and what it meant to surround yourself with a team of dream-defenders. I thought of my own dreams and wondered who would defend them. And like an answer straight out of the sky, Jenn and one of the “camp counselors” Tova stood up for a quick announcement. I grabbed my camera, ever-ready for a moment.
“We want to take a moment and honor someone who isn’t always seen. They don’t always get noticed.”
I stood there, camera in hand, waiting for them to honor the Ranch staff. And then, in what felt like slow motion that even now brings tears to my eyes, Jenn threw out her hands in my direction. The women of Camp Well started to clap and I sank down into my chair, taking off my glasses. Jenn took my camera. A dam broke and I covered my face as I started to weep. I wept for every moment in the past year that I felt lost. For every instance of being not enough. For every ache of being not included.
I’ve been trying to put my finger on what makes people like Jenn and Kelly so special. I think it’s because they founded Camp Well to bring every woman to the table. To connect us to a bigger network of women who are just as scared and isolated and uncertain as the next gal. To bring every last one of us to the foot of the cross. This wasn’t a cheerleading camp to pump ourselves up, but a place to re-focus our eyes to see the work of God in one another.
As the final morning came, I found myself a little (read: a lot) lighter. Not because I finally got some credit or managed to have my whole life fulfilled by applause (because that’s never going to last forever, y’all.) Rather, I knew deep down that I had moved from the outskirts to participation in a profound way simply because I was seen.
A woman who had only known me a few days grabbed me by the shoulders, looked into my eyes and said, “Melissa, I will show up for you every time.”
Suddenly, what these women were carrying, I was carrying. When they succeed at their dreams, we all succeed. When they need encouragement, we all get to cheer. When I’m falling apart, they show up.
In short, I had a seat at the table and it made all the difference.
No one was every fully satisfied by standing in the wings and watching everyone else get free. May we have eyes to see, arms to welcome and an extra place setting for those who are easily missed. For He has set a banquet table for every last one of us because that’s who He is and it’s what He desires for us to do.
What kindness. Thanks be to God.
“Thanks for being the best best friend an 8-year-old could wish for.”
It was a Facebook message from my childhood best friend Lindsey. We haven’t seen each other in nearly a decade, but she had found an old collection of postcards she’d written and never sent to me. We caught up quickly and reminisced over how bad our handwriting was. Maybe it still is a little rough around the edges.
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about growing up.
The time I crashed my tricycle down the stairs of the porch in my parents’ backyard.
Learning to shoot free-throws just a few feet from there after school on the hoop I begged my parents for.
Exploring the neighborhood with my friends, trying not to get thorns from the blackberry bushes in our ankles.
And it makes me pause because every one of those memories happened with specific people. They were my ride-or-dies, my confidants and fellow adventurers. And it hits me that we’ve lost touch and barely talk anymore and a part of me mourns a little bit.
It’s not like we ever had a talk like, “Well. This is goodbye.” and agreed things were over between us. No, we just grew apart the way that most of our relationships grow apart. Time and interests and moves and jobs and college all got between us and now I’m left with all these memories.
It feels like running ahead a bit and then turning around to see that you’ve lost them. Or when you talk on your cell phone and they lose signal and suddenly you pause and say, “…hello?”
So this one’s for the people who meant a great deal to me. This is my way of honoring them. And of course this isn’t everyone, but as I reflect on what it means to be (almost) 28, it feels wildly unfair to not take the time to write this post. These are a few of the random memories that seem to surface more than others.
Here’s to Greg, Eric, Tommy and Sebastian (whom we called ‘Sebi’.) They were the boys of the neighborhood and we spent a lot of evenings together on bikes or running through our yards. They were the first people that made it feel okay to be a little tom-boyish and daring. We made up stories and fought dragons and played a LOT of video games and I owe a lot of my love for Nintendo to those goons.
Here’s to Blake, the first boy I really liked. We would Instant Message through MSN Messenger and made up codes for when parents were in the room, even though we really didn’t talk about anything but the Anaheim Angels. He taught me that sometimes feelings are scary, but sometimes you’re met with someone crushing on you, too and it’s exciting and special.
Here’s to Nicole who would run the dreaded mile with me. We spent the whole time complaining about how much we hated the mile. It was junior high and some kids got special colored shorts for being more athletic but we never did and we DID NOT CARE BECAUSE RUNNING A MILE WAS THE ABSOLUTE WORST.
Here’s to Andrea who wanted to start a band with me and Mira and Erica and how we played on the swingset and you were brave enough to jump off and I wasn’t. I bought a Hit Clip of an N*SYNC song and brought it to your house and we saw Tarzan together which made us run around your room because we were basically now Tarzan.
Here’s to Kelsey and Bryce and Colleen who wouldn’t judge me when I was always late to neighborhood carpool. I always was showing up at the last second and I’m sure, looking back, that I was a terrible person for it, but there were some things going on at home that I never talked about and they were really kind to me when I didn’t deserve it. I’m sure we all laugh now at me running down the driveway, but I also believe it was a gift to be welcomed with very little condemnation.
Here’s to Katherine and her old Buick–or maybe it was an Oldsmobile. We would find the toughest dirt roads in our small town and go ‘potholing.’ We’d hit our heads on the ceiling of the car as we basically were off-roading in a car that was certainly not designed for it. One time, we were almost sideways and had to climb to the other side of the car to distribute the weight so we wouldn’t flip. It’s fine.
Here’s to Amy and Jon and Josh and Joelle who were Jr. High Leaders with me, even though I was young. They let me hang out with them sometimes outside of Youth Group and they really didn’t have to, but it makes me want to invite others in and invest in the person a bit behind me in the journey.
Here’s to my teachers who taught me to write (Ms. Duncan-Rice and Mr. West and Professor Hecht and Dr. DeRosset) and told me that I would one day write a book. Who knows if that’s true, but you always believed it was.
Here’s to road trip memories with Emily and Kylie and Lizi and Matt and Simone and Jim and Anna and David and all the places we went. The redwoods and San Fransisco and Portland and Seattle and the Midwest and Indiana and Niagara Falls and Canada and Pennsylvania (which lasts forever.) We ate a lot of junk food and our metabolism was so much better then and I’d also like to say HERE’S TO THAT QUICK METABOLISM OF MY EARLY 20’S. RIP.
Here’s to college study sessions with Isabel and Carissa and Sarah and April and Tiffany and Alysha and Jamie and Kelsey and Audrey and all those girls on the tenth floor. The ones I sang with on the roof over downtown Chicago. The ones who dressed up for dessert and went to the beach to play volleyball (even though none of us were good at that) and snuck onto the roof of the Drake Hotel where Obama stayed when he came though the Windy City.
Here’s to Ashton who took me home with her for Christmas in Virginia. And Rachel who let me hang with her family in the days before that. To the Lothrop house and the places I fell in love with my seminary boyfriend and the people who rebuilt me when it didn’t work out.
Here’s to late night dance parties and shouting the lyrics to every song on the 1989 album by Taylor Swift while we looked for an open McDonalds. To running around in a Casino in Connecticut after we went to a random Salt N Pepa concert. To sleepy eyes at the gas station, grabbing snacks to keep us awake on the car ride back to Massachusetts.
This is the part where I cry.
Where things in my heart and my head are loud and exciting and young and wild and free and I’m smiling so big as I remember all these random moments. And suddenly, I pause and turn around and none of you are here.
And they say that people grow apart. Sometimes it feels like you were all the best thing to happen to me for those moments I needed you. I needed a companion to complain with walking around that dirt track. I needed an older crew to show me the ropes. I needed a family to be with when mine was on the other coast. I needed to sing lyrics about being young and single. I needed a ride back to Boston after wedding a thousand miles away.
Every one of you answered the call. You walked, you drove, you wrote notes, you sent texts, you listened and you introduced me to music.
And it sounds funny because I’m a grown adult living in Nashville (can you believe that?) and on a Monday night all I can think about is you. And how you slipped between the cracks. And how I never got the chance to thank you properly.
So, if you’re reading this, I want to take a moment to tell you this:
I remember. I remember how it felt to be with you and I was carrying some dark, heavy stuff, but you were there for me without knowing I needed it. I moved away to Chicago and then Boston and then Austin and now Nashville and it feels like we’re a million miles from those days. I got a job writing, which feels insane and like someone put a toddler in control who approved that idea, but I love it.
I hope that you’re doing really well. I hope that you know what you meant to me and you may never actually know, but this is better than nothing, I suppose.
I hope you fell in love and took some risks and I hope you got to see some snow and lightning bugs and the Atlantic Ocean and your favorite band. I hope that you have felt a bit lost and then found again. I hope that you are reading this from a home that is good and safe and honest.
I’m sorry for the times you felt alone and afraid. I’m sorry I wasn’t there when you got terrible news or found yourself heartbroken. I hope that you were put back together by people who loved you into a stronger place.
A lot of the time, it seems you fell between the cracks, but then I realize you never did. Because you’re still in my mind when I run a mile or drive over a pothole precariously or play Zelda or sing to Taylor Swift.
We might not all be on the same page and we probably would disagree about a few things if we had to fill out a questionnaire of our political and societal beliefs. But those things never stopped you from loving me well and letting me in. It was a gift, it was never forgotten and it has made all the difference.
God has been kind to me a number of times in my life and on dark days when things feel unsteady and uncertain, sometimes you pop into my head and I am undone. God was so thoughtful to give me you.
I could never Him enough, even if I had another hundred years to write it all down.
I told y’all from the start that this was a messy place for when we haven’t quite figured out this tension of living on this side of Eternity. That I would come here to mention things occasionally. It’s not really a soap-box and I’m obviously not in it for the followers (especially since I work in Marketing and literally haven’t written a blog in two months, so I should know better.)
But I also don’t want to write raw. I don’t want to pull a band-aid off of something that needs to be covered up to heal, but sometimes it comes off for a moment to re-dress the wound. In this case, that’s what I’ve been feeling. Still in the process of healing, but also able to re-dress for a moment while y’all are in the room.
The other evening, I was looking out the window of my house at the green-ness of the backyard at twilight. It’s been stormy lately and it has led me to have a very muddy sort of yard. This is maybe some of my favorite weather because I get to throw on layers and a baseball cap and a rain jacket and my New England boots. I get to feel the water in the air and smell the vapor on the leaves. That is, perhaps, how these days have felt: dark and green.
So first, the Dark. I don’t have to describe it much, just like you don’t need to look at my wound too long. I imagine we’re having a chat by the fire and I get to the actual part of pulling off the old bandage and you look away for a second because it’s a little too real. In life, real things happen and there’s no poetry, or maybe there is but I can’t seem to make it rhyme yet. So here goes.
My grandfather got very sick very suddenly. There’s no way around that.
I went down every weekend to be there. To read with him. To ask him what year he joined the Navy. To help him sit up and comb his hair and watch him fade.
There’s no way around that.
I listened to his breathing rattle and we had a very clear last moment together and he woke up one evening in the presence of Jesus, no longer frail.
There’s no way around that.
You can look again–the most terrible parts are covered up.
These days have been dark as I threw myself into work and into the car and through the hills of Tennessee and across the border to Alabama. I stopped having to GoogleMap the town my grandmother lives in; I memorized her breakfast order. And not a day goes by that I don’t just ache over what has happened.
It was so dark.
My lungs have been acting up from asthma and allergies. And when I cough I hate how clear my lungs sound.
A few days after he passed away, I went to a favorite place of mine so sacred I don’t even want to give it a name in case someone reading wants to make it their own. I am selfish about it. Oh, well.
As I drove down a dirt road in the Nameless Town, it led me to a wildlife preserve. I navigated potholes and wandered further into emptiness and alone-ness. I passed an old flag that hung in the woods, marking a civil war cemetery that has been forgotten for decades. I slowly crawled past a field freshly plowed that smelled fresh and true. And then, a side road caught my eye. It was too muddy to navigate, but I was wearing my boots so I quietly got out of the car. I could hear nothing but my own breathing as I stumbled across an grain field, right in the middle of woods. My fingers reached out to touch the field as if it was, itself, magic. After a fresh rain it was almost sparking there in front of me, so fresh and green.
I thought about that scene from Gladiator where he’s walking in fields of grain. And I thought about my grandfather and how a box of his photos were sitting in my car, ready to turn into a video slideshow for the day we would bury him the following week.
It was so green.
God hasn’t spoken anything over me that connects these experiences in seamless poetry– Awe and Grief. Nothing wraps up nicely. Things feel like tracking in mud on a stormy day; inevitable and something we’ll take care of after we take our boots off.
I can still see him sitting in the chair by the window of that hospital room, watching the sunset as he tells me about flying over the midwest all those years ago as a pilot. I see us there, telling stories, watching the evening come. I’m sitting on the floor of the hospital room in front of him. Far enough to give space, close enough to catch him if he wavers.
And I still see that field in the days after he left. Even now, my eyes wander to a distant place and start to well up. I see the sacredness of standing alone in the woods before a field that hardly anyone knows is growing.
I see the dark and the green.
The struggle and the growth.
The death and the new life.
Things keep moving. We keep commuting through Nashville. I’ll drive to Alabama tomorrow afternoon and I’ll probably cry as I pass those fields. I’ll cry for the ways that growing up is so sweet and hard and powerful and quiet.
He rises to meet us in the sunrise and the with the rainfall. He rises to meet us as we stand graveside in the heat of late afternoon and 21 shots are fired and the flag is folded. He rises to meet us in a mysterious field as the Alabama mud sticks to our boots. He rises to meet us as we catch a vision of the Kingdom on earth as it is in heaven.
There’s no way around that.
The season of Lent is nearly upon us. A time to pause, reflect, pick things up and set things down. A moment to pray and see and seek and wonder. A season to be reminded that Christ is the focus.
But if I’m being honest? It’s hard to figure out what needs focusing on these days.
So let’s take it back to the start and outline why it is that our shoulders get tense and our stomachs ache and our lungs constrict when we feel that there’s just too much. When I look at the bills or the deadlines or the long list of places to go, something makes my head spin and all I can think is, “This is too much.”
It’s why books like “Boundaries” exist. We are terrible at doing things in moderation. We figure that if a quiet time is better with the Bible and prayer, it’s probably best with journaling and singing songs and blogging and Instagramming. Our ache for abundance gets a little distorted and what’s meant to pull us toward God starts to push us away from Him.
Genesis One: God creates. And He creates. And He creates. Go–pick up a Bible and look it up. He creates the heavens, the earth. The light, the dark. The water, the sky. The land, the seas. The plants, the seeds. The seasons, the stars. The sun, the moon. The birds, the animals. The bugs, the livestock. And then? He made man.
It feels exciting and full. It is abundance and it all points back to the Creator, and it is good. So good, in fact, that at the end of every day, God sees that it is good. And in his authority, He creates man and woman and what does He give us? Authority.
“Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” (Gen 1:26, ESV)
All is abundance. All is good. All is whole.
God tells Adam and Eve to cultivate and keep the earth that He has made. (Gen 2:15)
Cultivate: to work, serve (in this case so that it will grow)
Keep: to guard, protect.
And we know how it goes, right?
Now, the serpent was more crafty than any other beast of the field that God had made.
You had one job: serve and protect.
And just like that, we fall. And when that happened? There was no shrapnel that narrowly missed the opportunity to lodge itself into the flesh of man. No bullet missed its target. No one got away unscathed.
It’s too much.
Those ideas, cultivate and keep, come back to us in Genesis 4.
Only now, when man tries to cultivate the land, it produces thorns. And as they are cast from Eden, they see an Angel at the entrance, put there to Keep.
To make sure they don’t come back.
If that feels ironic and heartbreaking, it should.
Everything is touched by the fall. What once was a gift and a delight is now tedious and angering and hard.
They start a new life. Adam sweats and pulls thorns out of his hands. Eve gives (painful) birth to two children. Brothers. And one day, the older–the one meant to protect the younger–starts to nurture some darkness. The Lord pulls him aside and He says, “sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is for you, but you must rule over it.”
Ruling over things–the original charge. But what happens?
Cain spoke to Abel his brother. And when they were in the field, Cain rose up against his brother Abel and killed him.
That word? To kill? Even as I type this my pulse quickens and my stomach knots.
“To kill, slay: implying ruthless violence, especially private violence”
It is ruthless. It is violent. It is private.
Everything is touched by the fall. It’s too much.
Sometimes, I wonder if we don’t quite understand the lengths at which this influences our lives. Brokenness soaks into our lives like the blood of Abel, crying out to the Lord as it seeps into the ground that produces good plants and thorns alike — cursed.
And I go back to Creation. Abundance. Filling. Teeming. Moving. Living. It’s not too much.
It was so free. A far cry from me trying to schedule in a few moments for space and silence before the Creator. We were made to know nothing but that goodness. But now, our abundance seen through the lens of sin turns dark. It shifts to mindless and needless excess.
It looks a lot like scrolling through the internet, making claims that we don’t know are true about topics we know very little about because we just want to be heard. It looks like stating everything as red-letter because it makes us feel more in control. It shows up as meaningless busyness that we wear as a badge, trying to prove that we are worth something. It reveals itself as perfectionism and one more lap, one more mile, one less meal, one less dress-size.
Here’s the deal: we were made to ache for abundance, but in the Fall, we try to fill ourselves with excess in the hopes that empty things will satisfy us. Every ache we feel is pointing us toward Jesus: companionship, hunger, thirst, nearness, wonder.
This is where the glimmer of hope reveals itself. Not all is lost, for the ache we feel is drawing us nearer to the Holy Horizon of abundance and fulfillment, even if it’s only echo right in this moment. We hear it reverberate when things fall to silence and we have the space to sense how vast He is. When we de-clutter for long enough to stop tripping over all the things.
We often make mention of “all the things.” And it’s meant to be a joke, but what’s causing our tension and our stress and our inability to breathe is, at its core very simple: it’s all the things. It’s the excess. It’s the distraction. It’s the filling of the void with things that will never make a dent.
Sometimes we say “yes.” over and over and over because we think it makes us holier. We commit to too much or we stay up one more hour to write one more draft. We lose vision because we forget to focus. We walk into the living room and stop and ask: what did I come in here for?
May we take the time as we head into Lent to consider the actual state of things: The legacy of brokenness, the violent nature of the sin that seeks to rip us from our Saviour by offering counterfeit fulfillment, but also the tenacity of a God who is abundant and never wears us out. May we recall the long history of our kleptomaniac hearts that hoard for the hope of fulfillment.
And may we steep in the good, hard Word of God and say, “Ah, yes. I remember now. I remember why I came in here.”