In the Snow, Beneath the Pines

Gentle Reader,

You will notice that the variety of bodies is stunning. Just as there are different kinds of seeds, there are different kinds of bodies—humans, animals, birds, fish—each unprecedented in its form. You get a hint at the diversity of resurrection glory by looking at the diversity of bodies not only on earth but in the skies—sun, moon, stars—all these varieties of beauty and brightness. And we’re only looking at pre-resurrection “seeds”—who can imagine what the resurrection “plants” will be like!

– 1 Corinthians 13:39-41 (MSG)

I stood shivering in the cold, despite layers of clothing, my eyes, never of too much use in the darkness, scanning the yards ahead of me anyway, watching for any sign of trouble. My warm breath mingled with the frigid air, swirling clouds ascending to the treetops above. Weak lamps cast a pale yellow glow, unable to compete with the beauty of the stars above, but useful in their own way. Laughter and screaming filled my ears, never mind that they had all been instructed to be quiet. Panting and full of good cheer, a couple of teenagers fell at my feet, soaked to the skin but not seeming to mind.

I hadn’t planned to be there, in the snow, beneath the pines. Hadn’t anticipated earning a new nickname that I shall not reveal here because reasons. Hadn’t dreamed of climbing on a stage and lip syncing to “The Schuyler Sisters” with someone with whom I apparently share a brain. Hadn’t longed for sleepless nights. Hadn’t pictured myself in suddenly deep conversations. And certainly hadn’t, in any way, thought that I would be so thoroughly and completely embraced.

Drenched in love of the most wonderful variety.

All following hard on a year filled with harshness, with brokenness and rejection. I hardly know how to handle such acceptance. I’ve come to expect glares, frowns and tight-lipped whispers when I enter a room. Grown accustomed to the fear associated with knowing you’re being talked about – because you dared to disagree, because you went outside the accepted boundaries, because you aren’t perfect and wonderful and exactly what everyone wants you to be at all times. Believed that every bit of gossip and petty meanness was exactly what I deserved. Wondered if I really was that unwanted, undesirable and unloved.

So to have a group of people actually want you around… Encountering nothing but smiles and laughter…

Frightens and delights in equal measure.

Helping at a youth retreat is work, no doubt. My whole body feels it today. Neck aches from headbanging. Side of my hand throbs from pounding it on a table while shouting, “One two three four, JFK, FDR!” I’m not sure I will ever be warm again after giving my coat, scarf, gloves, snowpants and boots to people who claimed to have “packed everything!” Definitely had a moment when I thought duct-taping them all to the side of the lodge was a good idea.

But I’d do it again.

The things they said:

“You’re so fun and young, like one of us. But then we can talk to you about real stuff and that’s cool.”

“Would you pray with me for a second? There’s this thing going on…”

“You brought M&Ms? Hand ’em over!”

“Can I sit by you?”

“Ugh. Why don’t the boys shower? Their hallway smells like butt.”

“I frickin’ love you.”

“You are the prettiest!”

Makes a lady feel all bright and snuggly inside. The gooey, chewy center that she tries to hide all exposed but, for the first time in a long time, she’s okay with her tender heart beating loudly for all the world to hear. She is not trying to defend herself or be anyone other than the woman God so carefully designed and placed into this context. She wants to wrap her arms around all of them, teen attendee and adult leader alike, because she loves them so. She’s full of life, overflowing with it, and wants nothing more than to be a gracious, healing presence, soft and gentle and kind and warm. She hopes to be, empowered by the Spirit, a safe, comforting port in the storms, to provide the shelter of a listening ear and a shoulder to lean on for any and all.

For every compliment they gave, I had the joy of showering them with words of affirmation in return. I got to watch their eyes light up with wonder that someone saw good things in them, told them that they are smart and capable and a powerful force for good in the world. I got to watch them take steps, some microscopic but real, of belief. Belief in God, belief in themselves.

What a privilege that is.

Who am I, that this should be something I get to do?

I forget sometimes that this body of mine is fragiler than most. That’s the thing about walking around with an organ that’s doing it’s level best to kill you; when you get a reprieve from the pain, you feel energized and free and so you forget all the caution and warnings and go all in. I was blessed with a few hours’ release from the sharp stabs in my side. So I took all the hugs and knocking about that I could get. Then it came screaming back, a tangible reminder of my desire for resurrection wholeness, and I had to steal away for a moment to let the tears fall.

Then I kept taking the hugs and the knocking about.

It was worth gritting my teeth for them. It will always be worth gritting my teeth for them. Because they need a person, who isn’t a parent because what do parents know, to be present. To be willing to handle the discomfort in the service of true life and love.

I curl beneath a heavy blanket, dog on one side and coffee on the other. I know I have yet to truly begin processing all that I witnessed and participated in this weekend. My journal awaits, ready for the deeper notions and feelings, the things that I can’t write here but are safe before God’s eyes. It will soon come spilling out in sentences that make sense only to Him.

For now, this. Utter physical exhaustion. A glowing soul. Spirit full of love given and received. Mind entranced by thoughts of what might be next. Pessimism obliterated by optimism. Miraculous, divine and unexpected loosening of heart-knots.

Without doubt, supremely blessed.

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Only in Him

salvation

Gentle Reader,

Lead me in Your truth and teach me,
For You are the God of my salvation;
On You I wait all the day.

– Psalm 25:5 (NKJV, emphasis mine)

There’s a blizzard brewing, a phenomenon not uncommon to the prairie. Snow falls fast and heavy. Gusts drive that which has accumulated off of the roof, gravity pulling the flakes down onto the bare branches of the trees that stand sentinel in the yard. The call of sirens fills the air, drawing attention to an accident that must have occurred one or two streets over, for, despite the coming of ice and snow each year, people consistently forget how to drive in this weather.

It won’t be long before cabin fever sets in. Too cold and nasty to be outside for long, families search for something, anything, to do.

Searching is part of the human psyche. Whether it’s looking for ways to beat the winter doldrums, seeking a way to lose weight (without actually reducing calories or increasing activity) or questing for the perfect shade of red, we’re always chasing after one thing or another. No matter how often we are told to “be in the moment” and to “count [our] blessings,” discomfort and restlessness in the now, this day, seems to be our default setting. Surely there must be more and better.

Though discontentment can (and does) lead to bad decisions, I’m not sure that every twinge we feel is inherently bad. Perhaps these feelings, at least sometimes, stem from the part of our souls that recognizes truth: This world is not how it should be. The Apostle Paul told his Roman audience centuries ago that people have to actively suppress the truth they recognize in order to do whatever it is they are wanting to do. And oddly, whatever it is that a person is wanting to do often is done in an attempt to soothe the ache that the recognition brings.

Oh, humans. We are so smart, capable of truly great things, and yet so completely foolish.

Thankfully, there is a remedy. We don’t have to remain lost in feelings of anger and longing. As the Advent season just daily preached to us, God has come. Salvation is here. We, who cannot save ourselves, despite all of our best efforts and intentions, have been given the ultimate gift of grace. We can be reconciled to God, to each other and ourselves. Jesus, the Anointed One, took on our humanity. Fully God and fully man, He kept the law we could never hope to keep. He preached the Good News, healed the sick and set the captives free.

Then He died. A brutal, humiliating, unfair death. He paid the penalty for law-breaking that we should have paid. Darkness fell, the tomb was closed, His friends despaired.

Three days later, alive. Comforting Mary in the garden, eating fish with those He loved, taking the time to reach two people walking to another town. Death – defeated. Sin – vanquished.

He is our Priest, the only One who stands in the gap. He is our Prophet, the only One who speaks complete truth at all times. He is our King, the only One who can righteously rule.

Only in Him will our discontent be soothed.

Only in Him is our salvation found.

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Five Minute Friday: Potential

Actual

Gentle Reader,

What a day this was.

Kate says: potential.

Go.

Oh, the just-so-whelming,
Maybe has an ending,
Potential love of God
How it leaves me alone
Fear to the bone
Trapped in works of mine…

Apologies to the actual lyrics of Reckless Love. (I’m not here to debate those. For the record, I do enjoy the song but think that “relentless” would have been a better word choice). As soon as I saw tonight’s prompt, these phrases immediately popped into my mind.

That’s how we often see the love of God.

As potential love. An affection, as according to the Mssrs. Merriam and Webster, that is “existing in possibility, capable of development into actuality.” It’s possible that He will really, truly love us if we get all of our proverbial ducks in a row; if we never mess up; if we never find ourselves in a position of actually needing His grace and forgiveness.

Strange, isn’t it? The entire Christian belief system centers around a God who is whole, complete, not lacking in any good attribute. When we come to the crisis point of crying out for salvation, a moment enabled by His active grace that has gone before and enlightens our dark hearts, we understand that we are staking everything on His mercy. A merciful God cannot be unloving.

Yet we so easily slip into believing that He is.

We develop the lists, the rules and the anxiety.

The Apostle Paul makes it clear that we are not to abuse God’s grace. We aren’t forgiven so that we can sin more (Romans 6:1-2). His commands are good and the longer we walk with Jesus, the more He works to help us understand that goodness. But it’s easy for us to miss or misinterpret. We see “command” and we immediately jump to “dead if I don’t obey.”

Because we see God’s love as existing in a state of potential.

And if His love is simply a potential, then His grace and mercy must have limits.

So better not mess up.

Don’t misunderstand me. I agree with Paul. We have no business engaging in presumptuous, willful sin just because we know He will forgive us. At the same time, paranoid living, wondering if He really does love us, fearing that there is a place too far, is a true misery.

His love is not a potential. It is an actual. It is realized, ongoing, unending, deep.

In that, we can rest.

Stop.

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Back to Basics

Back

Gentle Reader,

This morning, I wrote in my journal:

My hope is built on nothing less
Than Jesus’ blood and righteousness
I dare not trust the sweetest frame
But wholly lean on Jesus’ Name

– Edward Mote

This, Father, is to what I humbly and quietly return.

The gales have been high and the seas stormy. I feel tender, like big, purpley-green bruises cover my body. Or perhaps my soul. The hand of God gently rests upon me, eliciting both a wince and a sigh. The pain may get worse before it gets better. Usually does. But if I pull away now, if I stubbornly refuse to allow His work of healing, I’ll only prolong the agony.

Satan is real and he delights in beating up the Children of God. I didn’t need to be convinced of that before this past summer, but any lingering, small, hidden doubts have been fully removed from my mind. I’ve seen his destructive work in the past, in the temptation to suicide (incidentally, it’s been seven years), but he’s not always that blatant. He’ll settle for killing our sense of calling, confidence and identity. He cannot take salvation away from anyone, but he will do (and does do) anything and everything to render us ineffective.

I’ve heard that before. What seems like a million times before. I bet you have, too. It’s as true today as it was the first time – because Satan isn’t original. His entire purpose is to steal, kill and destroy (John 10:10). Further, he knows his time is short (Revelation 12:12). Matthew Henry writes:

The devil, defeated in his designs upon the church, turns his rage against persons and places. Being faithful to God and Christ, in doctrine, worship, and practice, exposes to the rage of Satan; and will do so till the last enemy shall be destroyed.

Contextually, Satan has a short amount of time within the eschaton, the end of all things, a period that all Christians love to debate about. As with all prophecy, Revelation is a cake, with different layers of meaning and application; specific events will occur at a future time, but their types and shadows have come before. Thus it is not out of bounds to understand that Satan has been raging, is raging now and will rage as the clock winds down toward the return of Christ.

He has certainly been raging at me. I won’t repeat the ugliness. You know. You’ve had your own experiences.

So, what to do?

Back to basics.

Back to the Cross.

The author of Hebrews makes it clear that we need to grow (6:1). Our job, once we are justified by Christ, is to do the daily, momently work of submitting to His rule in our lives. This is different for each of us, for our particular sin-struggles are not all the same. And sometimes it’s not even about sin, but rather taking steps away from good things and moving toward the better things that He has designed for us. It’s a messy process. Thank the Lord that He is infinitely more patient that we are.

Growing in faith means developing a taste for the things of God – Scripture, prayer, fellowship with His people (full disclosure: than one is incredibly difficult at times). We learn to love Him better the more time we spend learning from and about the Word of God through the words of God as transmitted through the pens of people just as flawed as we are. When we pray, we discover how to pour out and process our frustrations, praises, longings, joys, sorrows and gratitude in healthy, non-destructive ways. Spending time with His people, with the church – there are days when that’s the last thing any of us wants to do, but the inescapable fact is that we’re family. And you don’t always get along great with family. Bouncing off of each other teaches us compassion, patience and definitely self-control. (Punching people in the face being frowned upon and all that).

In the midst of this growth, it is never wrong to meditate on the elementary teachings, for they are the things that led us to real life. What is true about God? What is true about me? What is true about salvation?

God is the King, and so He makes the rules.

I am the creature, not the Creator, and am unable to remedy my condition.

The only remedy for the condition – sin – is found in the King, the Creator, dying on the Cross. Not because He had to, but because of His great love.

That love is the thing that Satan wants us to forget. Without that love, we look to other, fickle sources for calling, confidence and identity. Inevitably, those other sources fail, leaving us wrecked, even if we seem quite “put together.” Because everyone has to be with themselves in the dark of the night, when nobody else is watching. Everyone knows the truth about themselves.

Back to the Cross. Again and again, back to the Cross.

That’s where I am. I sit at the base, rough-hewn wood just within reach. The ground is stained red, a blotch that the passage of time will never truly remove. He is not there anymore, for He is alive. In fact, He sits beside me, His arm around my shoulders. I look at the Cross and I wonder again at this meeting of righteousness and peace. The big words, the theological terms, are far too small, to pitiful an offering of thanksgiving. Instead, I lean upon His chest, as the Beloved Disciple did so long ago.

This is the basics. And the mysteries. The simple. And the profound.

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Photo Credit: Grant Whitty
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