Choose.

Remember my grand Lenten plans? Remember how I was going to strip myself of everything I thought I needed and thus position myself to be filled only by God? Remember that? Remember also how I didn’t really do any of it? Because that happened too.

I think I managed to be faithful to my word for a week or so. And one day I stopped. And that day I decided I had taken on too much and I should re-evaluate and start again. I never re-evaluated, though, and I never started again.

God doesn’t think less of me because of it, he’s not disappointed because he can never be disappointed in me. He’s not shaking his head and sighing. I know this. I know it with my head and my voice.

Though, ever since I stopped and didn’t start again, I have not known it. Every time someone likes or reads that post that spelled out my desires for Lent, it acts a reminder that I didn’t do what I said I was going to. I didn’t do any of it. Questions rise and plague: Is this okay? Am I doing something wrong? Am I missing things in my relationship with God? Am I missing places where I am being apathetic? Am I just doing the minimum because I know I can get away with it? Is there a minimum?

They overwhelm. So, I stop thinking altogether. I avoid coffee and sugar and spending money, because they bring the same questions, and I stop thinking. I shut down my brain as best I can and the questions translate to a feeling on angst in my gut. My stomach has been in knots for weeks – and I couldn’t get it to stop.

I’ve been here before – I remember it. I remember asking those same questions and not knowing any answers and seeking refuge in God as much as I knew how.

And I remember what he said – you won’t miss anything. my love for you won’t allow me to stay silent when you’re hurting yourself or others – when you’re not choosing life. 

That was my fear, though – is God speaking and I’m ignoring it? Is that why I’m anxious – because I’m resisting God’s call?

Be still. Just for a second, be still, and listen to me.

I did. I fidgeted a bit, but I listened. And God said, “it’s okay.” He is working in me. He is undoing and recreating, and it rarely looks the same as last time.

Stop worrying about what you didn’t do and move now. Choose now.

This commandment that I’m commanding you today isn’t too much for you, it’s not out of your reach. It’s not on a high mountain – you don’t have to get mountaineers to climb the peak and bring it down to your level and explain it before you can live it. And it’s not across the ocean – you don’t have to send sailors out to get it, bring it back, and then explain it before you can live it. No. The word is right here and now – as near as the tongue in your mouth, as near as the heart in your chest. Just do it! Look at what I’ve done for you today: I’ve placed in front of you Life and Good, Death and Evil. And I command you today: Love God, your God. Walk in his ways. Keep his commandments, regulations, and rules so that you will live, really live, live exuberantly, blessed by God, your God, in the land you are about to enter and possess… and love God, your God, listening obediently to him, firmly embracing him. Oh yes, he is life itself” — Deuteronomy 30:11-16& 20 (the message)

Firmly embracing him, who is life itself.

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Like Flint

“When the days drew near for him to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem.” — Luke 9:51 ESV

“Because the Sovereign LORD helps me, I will not be disgraced. Therefore have I set my face like flint, and I know I will not be put to shame.” — Isaiah 50:7 NIV

Before his ministry began,  Jesus entered the wilderness for 40 days and 40 nights. He left the wilderness leaning into the Father in deep communion. He left the wilderness with the full knowledge of the end – and the pain to be known before it is over.

Here, Satan came and offered an escape:

“Provide for yourself. Bow to me. Prove yourself to me. And if you do, no one will question who you are. I’ll give you your people without a fight. You don’t have to suffer. You don’t have to die.”  — (story from luke 4)

Jesus doesn’t flinch. He turns, instead, and sets his face like flint toward Jerusalem.

He goes out. He teaches to the masses. He unravels the twisted truth his people have believed and rebuilds it as it truly is. He astonishes wise men with his words. He challenges the religious leaders and leaves them speechless. He restores sight to the blind. He raises the dead. He forgives sins. He sees, really sees, the people religious scholars have written off. He lives and breathes the goodness of God.

And the pharisees can’t stand it.

Jesus gets under their skin.
So, they plot his death.
And their plot succeeds.
And Jesus suffers great pain.
And Jesus knows, what no other man has ever known – separation from his Beloved, the Creator of all things, the Giver of Life, the being intertwined with His creation.
And Jesus stops breathing.
And Jesus’ heart stops beating.
And Jesus is bled dry.
And Jesus dies.

And we remember, suddenly, when he “set his face toward Jerusalem” – toward this.

We remember, and the Spirit in us uncovers the inner workings of the plot – Jesus knew. With every word that he said, with every miracle he performed, with every life-giving, God-revealing step he took, he knew that it was leading to his death. He knew it was enraging the enemy. He knew the anger it was creating in the pharisees, he knew that anger would result in his death. He knew. Still, his face was set like flint. He. would. not. be. stopped. He chose to speak anyway. He chose to love anyway. He chose to walk steadfastly to excruciating pain. He chose to walk steadfastly to death.

Because he knew after death came life to the fullest. For us.

The beauty is striking.

It is the ultimate love story. The kind of story we see in the books and movies we come back to time and again. Jesus is the hero that risks everything for his bride.  He’s the hero that sees the bitter end long before it happens and could choose to avoid it, but instead takes deliberate steps toward it, to save his lover.

And now, now that he had readied the path to life – he calls us, his bride, to follow him. He calls us to walk the road with faces set, like flint, to Jerusalem – to die. So that life can come.

I’m answering.

I’m running – with abandon – to the path marked “suffering” – I’m setting my face, like flint to follow it to its end. I. will. not. be. stopped. It’s the path my Beloved walked, it’s where his feet have touched the earth, and what I wouldn’t give to walk where he does – my gaze on him, his hand in mine. I have his promise of life – a garden of richest beauty and life, forever. And forever begins now.

Out of the Shire

I sat. Waiting for revelation. My journal laid open to the first page – crisp and eager. New journals are hopeful things. They are the promise of the life to come. They are the anticipation of what  stories will fill their pages; what twists will occur in the plot. They are the confidence of learning more, discovering more, fulfilling more.

My old journal has enough blank pages left to last at least a few more days, but they will remain blank. I gave my Momma a new journal for Mother’s Day. I had bought it because it had Audrey Hepburn on the front and quotes from Breakfast at Tiffany’s plastered all over the inside – very iconically Momma. It turns out her old one was nearly empty, which worked out nicely and made me appear to be more thoughtful and attentive than I actually was. I came into the kitchen the next morning to find her doing a Bible study and writing in the new journal. I asked her if she’d filled the old one already.

“No,” she looked at me, “sometimes you just know it’s time to start a new journal.”

I opened my old journal this morning – used it even, I wrote two half-hearted sentences of hungry reflection on Psalm 52 – then I closed it, still hungry, and went through my morning. The hunger gnawed, and I ignored it as I muddled through my algebra.I ignored it as I made meticulous plans for the rest of the week. I ignored it as I gave up on looking presentable. I ignored it until my parents called. We had a good conversation – a loving conversation – a godly conversation – a guiding conversation – but a conversation that left me to make decisions.

I finished highschoool (mostly) a few weeks ago. My diploma acted as a forced ticket to being adult. I suddenly have to budget time and money and other resources. I suddenly have to make daily decisions that have implications beyond myself. I still live at home and my parents still feed me and whatnot. It’s not like I’ve been thrown into the world with nothing, but the clothes on my back. This really isn’t such a dramatic change. But, it is. Life is not what it was. It’s not worse. It’s just different. So very different.

And my phone conversation with my parents finalized in my being what I had known in some distant part of me for weeks – this is not the same and will never again be the same.

That is life though – “not the same.” Today and yesterday are completely different situations, different relationships, different processing, different knowledge. That’s a good thing. “Not the same” is a concept worthy of praise. It is a manifestation of being continually formed – continually brought closer to who I was created to be, continually becoming more free. This is merely a new season – a good thing.

The hungry me, however, was fearful. New things require me to trust in God, who knows. New things mean I can no longer depend on my own strength because it is insufficient. New things mean I can no longer depend on my old maps because this land is uncharted. I hung up the phone, wiped a single tear from my eye, and said out loud, “I do not want to trust you.”

My conversation with Momma and Daddy was that step- the farthest I’ve ever been. And yet, each step is just that – the farthest I’ve ever been. It scraped the bottom of my empty self and echoed through all of me and I had to trust and I was afraid. And in my fear, I ran.

I took a nap. I wasted as much time as I could. And when I couldn’t stand that still resounding echo any longer, I searched to be filled. I tried coffee and chocolate first because they don’t require trust. And when they didn’t fix the echo, and, in fact, magnified its cry, I simply slumped down and plugged my ears. And when plugging my ears merely muffled the sound, I accepted the sound and became Eeyore, joining the echo with a refrain of “woe is me.”

I got on Facebook, because Facebook is splendid for wasting time and splendid fodder for self-pity. And God laughed that I thought I could escape from his love by becoming Eeyore and drowning myself in Facebook. My friend Brittany had posted a note about being still and knowing God is God. About listening and reveling in the bittersweet that flows out of you as the silence sets in. Author, Ann Voskamp posted a link to her blog post for the day, which said this

“Standing out there in the garden,
all the spinach leaves offered up like bunches of bouquets
there at her feet, she listened for the quiet.
The corn grew in straight rows.
The apple blossoms made promises.
The irises unfolded bold hope.
Roots would wait for rain.
Seeds would be faithful to soil.
The weary would wait on God.
The waiting would be unwaveringly faithful to the Word.”

And the words of that post found their way inside of me and woke up the life-filled person that I am. And I became excited. The new became apple-blossom promises. I saw the need for trust as deepening relationship. I saw the need for trust as God’s love calling out for me to join him. I scoffed at my depressed self and scrambled out of the pit I had dug for myself. I ran as fast as I could into the arms of my Father and smiled at him and said, “I trust you. I trust your unfailing love.” And he smiled back. And the clanging echo turned to melody and the ravenous hunger turned to passionate longing and I was captivated and I was captivating and I was myself again.

I picked up my old journal and opened it – then closed it.
“No,” I thought, “sometimes you just know it’s time to start a new journal.” And new journals are hopeful things.

“With pen and ink the passages to pass between our souls”

I had planned, when I left, to explain upon my return my reason for leaving. I may still. I’m finding it hard to place into words what my heart is only learning. It reminds me of lyrics from a Ben Shive song,

“I was trying to find with pen and ink the passages to pass between our souls, panning ordinary rivers on rumors of gold.”

That is how I spend my days – trying to place 4 dimensional learnings, emotions, and questions into my 3 dimensional vocabulary. It is no easy task and leaves me more often discouraged and confused than anything else, but success is sweeter than the chocolate, rum, espresso cheesecake eaten and richer than the abundance of coffee I intake in the process of translations. The frustration remains at being unable to put something that you know in the depths of your being onto paper. Sometimes poetry and songs help – sometimes their sweet language can bridge the gap – that’s why I write poems. Sometimes, like this time, things merely have to be part of me for a while longer, engrave themselves into my heart for a while longer, before words can be found for them.

I know that this is a time that this, the new knowledge and freedom and depth I have stumbled upon, must sit before they allow themselves to be contained by words because I’ve tried to put it into words. I tried in the letter I wrote last night and failed in a heap of disjointed language. I tried to explain it to a friend over coffee and found myself lost in my own translation and trying to untangle the winding trail I’d woven as I spoke. I tried writing in my journal and actually brought about some sort of understandable language, but it only scratched the surface. I find that it is being manifested in my life – that my waking, sleeping, dreaming, skipping off into that other world I so often visit, I am living more freely, more joyfully, more fully, more lovingly – and that’s the point: freedom, joy, fullness, and love, selfless love.

For now, I’ll let those words be enough and perhaps take time to understand them in the English language as well as that heavenly tongue of the soul in which they now reside. … See, even that hardly made sense.

~~~

Also, it was such an extravagantly beautiful day. So much so that my heart is soaring and my eyes smiling only at the thought. My heart has been captivated so many times – by the Fantastic Mr. Fox soundtrack I found on Spotify and devoured and delighted in, by the clouds that were like whistling in visual form, by my brother lip-syncing to Kenny Loggin’s “This is it” and making us laugh until we cried, by the wind, always by the wind, by the sun, by the birds that sing an incredibly distinct song – the same birds that always sang as dad and I left for school on early spring mornings, by yet another run-on sentence that I don’t even care about. I hate how corny that sounds, because it’s not. Neither is how lovely I feel when “birthday” comes. Neither is the fact that my brother just came in dressed to the nines and said “not too snazzy for your birthday dinner, am I?” Because every good and perfect gift if from above; coming down from the Father of heavenly lights who does not change like shifting shadows. That Father who loves selflessly, gives extravagantly, knows our hearts, calls us blessed, and highly favored, smiles that we are alive.