Saturday, March 25, 2017

the things not meant for me



"I am learning to love the sound of my feet walking away
from the things not meant for me." A.G.



Sarah Bessey, in a beautiful post on surrender, recently wrote these words:
In my life, when it comes to the dawning of change, it can feel as if God presses a thumb down on something in my life. As if to say, “here, this spot, this one, let’s stay here for a while. I want to lean on this.”
And so, that is exactly what happened to me, driving in my car in the middle of the day on a street in downtown Birmingham.  I heard the random quote above on the radio during a break and simultaneously, felt the familiar pressure of God's thumb pressing, gently pressing into my heart.  The things not meant for me.  There.  That's the spot.  

I don't know who A.G. is, despite my best efforts to track down the source of this quote, but I'd love to talk to him/her.  I'd love to know how/when they began to learn to love this sound and how/when they began to discern and define those "things not meant" for them.  

Because the truth is, at forty, I still struggle with this.  With all of the things not meant for me.

It is no secret that the concept of letting go is not one that comes naturally for me.  I wrote about it in my last post - about learning to accept that some things - and some people - are meant to be in our lives only for a season.  But the truth is that some things - and some people - aren't meant to be in our lives at all, and sometimes, those are the hardest to walk away from... even though they are the heaviest to carry.

"Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest." - Jesus

I'm weary lately and I realize it's from carrying those heavy things.  The ones not meant for me.  Sometimes, it's the weight of them and other times, it's just the firmness of my grip.  I seemingly hold on until I reach that familiar impasse where holding on and letting go are equally as painful.  

When we hold on too tightly, we find ourselves with bloodied hands - and bruised hearts.  Especially when we are holding on to the things not meant for us.

What then, do we hold onto?  What do we cling to?  What do we walk towards when we're learning to love the sound of our feet walking away from the things not meant for us? 


His word, of course. 
Our hope:  

"Let us hold tightly without wavering to the hope we affirm, for God can be trusted to keep his promise." - Hebrews 10:23


Monday, February 6, 2017

Lessons from La La Land



I promised myself I would write today, but I've done all of the other things instead, while humming and singing City of Stars from La La Land over and over and over... 

... Are you shining just for me? 

I saw the movie for the second time again last night with my daughter and two of my girlfriends.  Together we sat, all weepy-eyed and bewildered at the end.  I already knew how it ended of course.  It was like seeing it for a second time was my attempt at coming to some sort of peace with it.  But, as it turns out, I suck at closure.  

As if I didn't already know this.  

It isn't necessarily an unhappy ending, not for the characters anyway - but it's quite devastating for those of us who fall in love with them in the film.  We, the hopeless romantics with our handfuls of popcorn, falling in love with love, regardless of how unrealistic it may be.  

The characters share a deep,  passionate love for one another - the kind of love that will likely last for a lifetime - but sometimes, love can outlast a relationship.  They don't end up together and for those of us who buy into the whole happily ever after thing - at least in our movies - the ending leaves us feeling all of the things except happy.  

My daughter, almost thirteen and typically impervious, looks at me with tears brimming the corners of her eyes.

"Some people are only meant to be in our lives for a season," I tell her... and myself.

And in life, the lesson of letting go is equal to that of loving.  I had a difficult time learning how to do either, so I'd always felt they were mutually exclusive.    

As King Solomon said, there is a time, a season, for everything..."A time to search and a time to quit searching.  A time to keep and a time to throw away" (Ecclesiastes 3:6).   

When we never really learn how to let go of something or someone we love, we fail to realize that sometimes, loving means letting go.  For them.  For us.  

Sometimes, the act of letting go is the purest form of true, unconditional love. 

I'm still learning.  

Saturday, February 4, 2017

A Chosen Runaway



I will call upon Your name
And keep my eyes above the waves
When oceans rise my soul will rest in Your embrace
For I am Yours and You are mine
- Hillsong, Oceans

Once, when I was a little girl, my mom took me to the doctor for a standard check-up and it required a finger pricking.  Horrified by the thought of it, I promptly began to pitch a fit, breaking loose from her first, then the nurse and then through the door - barreling down the halls of the clinic screaming bloody murder.  I don't know where I thought I was running to.  I was just running away from something which was ultimately for my good.  

And that is a perfect parable for my life...  

There are two quotes that can easily define my relationship with Christ:

"I am quite certain that, if God had not chosen me, I should never had chosen him; 
and I am sure he chose me before I was born, or else he would never had chosen me afterwards..."  
Charles H. Spurgeon

This one from Spurgeon is one of them and the other is this:
"The Prodigal Son at least walked home on his own feet. But who can duly adore that Love which will open the high gates to a prodigal who is brought in kicking, struggling, resentful, and darting his eyes in every direction for a chance of escape?" ~ C.S. LewisSurprised by Joy: The Shape of My Early Life
Same, Lewis. Same

I've long since stopped trying to figure it out.  But what I can't get over is that He just keeps on choosing me - and chasing me.  I, too, felt what Lewis referred to as the "unrelenting approach" on the night I surrendered my life to Christ - and in all of these years since, even - if not especially - when I am on the run.  After all, the subtitle here has always been "reflections of a runaway", because that is what I am, in my own will.  

As the hymnist wrote: Redeeming love has been my theme, and shall be till I die.

I would've chosen a different theme for myself, if I could've.  Sometimes I read the words that others are led to write and find myself wishing my niche - or my narrative - were different.  Tidier.  More consistent. You know, something.

David Platt once said that the only thing consistent about his faith was his inconsistency.  I remember breathing a sigh of relief and then immediately wondering what hope there was for the rest of us.

 But, it's Christ, of course.  He is our only hope.  Even in the midst of our inconsistency, He still chooses us and chases us.

Because that is what the gospel is.  That is what covenant is.

Sometimes, I get caught up in still trying to figure out who I am that I forget altogether whose I am.

And I lose sight of who He says that I am - a chosen runaway.  

"You did not choose me, but I chose you 
and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit 
and that your fruit should abide..." 
John 15:16


Friday, February 3, 2017

Remember the days


"Let all that I am praise the Lord;
    may I never forget the good things he does for me..."
Psalm 103:2

There's a meme floating around the interwebs with several variations that constantly appears and reappears in my news feed.  It simply says: remember the days when you prayed for what you have now.

What, as if we would forget?

Yes.  That.  Exactly as if.

We are apparently just as prone to forget as we are to wander - or rather, perhaps it is the forgetfulness is what leads to our wandering in the first place.

After all, isn't that what happened to the Israelites?  Their forgetfulness led to wandering... until their deaths.


By way of miracle after miracle, they had been delivered out of Egypt and out of four hundred years of slavery.  They were free people, on their way to the promised land.  God had fulfilled promise after promise to them.  They had witnessed miracles are unfathomable to us: the sea had parted to form a path for their feet, they were fed with provision that literally fell from the sky and were given water to drink from dry rocks - and yet, "they grumbled in their tents and refused to obey the Lord" (Psalm 106:25).   

They couldn't remember the days in which they had prayed for what they now had. 

And sometimes, in our own deserts in this life, neither can we. 

They were ready to throw it all away, to return to Egypt, to return to slavery.  They had forgotten what the Lord had done, how He had rescued them.  But, they had also forgotten what the Lord was still doing.  

They lost their way - and ultimately, they lost their promise.  

The same can happen to us, right here in this life, where the landscape along our path can change more often than the seasons.  There are mountains and still waters and green meadows, but we will walk through valleys, too - through deserts and wildernesses.  There, we will be tempted, not only to sin - but to forget.

Even  especially me.  Which is why probably why I have always felt God whisper to me: "write this down".  And so, I sift through boxes to find them, these journals, these prayers.  It was years ago now, but I need it to feel like yesterday all over again.  I need to remember the rescuing, the restoring, the redemption.  I need to remember and never forget.  




"I remember my affliction and my wandering, 
the bitterness and the gall... 
Yet this I call to mind 
and therefore I have hope:  
Because of the Lord's great love we are not consumed, 
for his compassions never fail.  
Lamentations 3:19-22

 I wrote it all down, you know.  For years.  On the pages of this blog, on the pages of those journals.  The prayers that one day I would have everything that I have today: this marriage, this family, this home, this life.

And yet, here I am, just as prone to forget and consequently, wander - just like the Israelites.  

Yet I call this to mind.   

There, in the middle of remembering the affliction and the wandering, the author of Lamentations calls to mind the goodness of God, which yields hope.

And hope - isn't that the thing we're all after when we're in the dark moments of life, those black hole vertigos, spiraling out of control, the valleys and the deserts, the wildernesses.  It's in those places, these moments, we need to remember most - not only what he's done, but what he is still doing... fixing our eyes "not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal" (2 Cor 4:18).



"Let all that I am praise the Lord;    with my whole heart, I will praise his holy name. 
Let all that I am praise the Lord;
    may I never forget the good things he does for me. He forgives all my sins
    and heals all my diseases.
 
He redeems my life from the pit
    and crowns me with love and tender mercies. 
He fills my life with good things.

Psalm 103:1-5


Thursday, February 2, 2017

Freedom, falling and the fowler's snare...


"We escaped like a bird from the fowler's snare. 
The trap is broken, and we are free!"
Psalm 127:4

A little over two years ago, I participated in a trust fall exercise with my mission trip team.  Each of us, one by one, stood at the top of the ledge and confessed our biggest fear.  Then, we turned around and holding our bodies stiff as boards, one by one, fell backwards and downwards into the arms of our team below.  It was meant to be an exercise in both trust - and letting go.    

My biggest fear, in that moment, was that they wouldn't catch me - that they would try, but that the sheer force of my fall would cause me to crash right through their arms and onto the ground below, broken.

Because sin is like this.

We find ourselves free falling, fast and hard.  Grace breaks our fall, but sometimes, the force of the collision leaves us with broken bones - and bruised hearts.

I intended to write about the tattoo on my wrist soon after I made the decision to get it.  It was the week of my fortieth birthday and I had thought about it long and hard, this marking that meant so much to me - while simultaneously facing two of my biggest fears in life: regret and permanency.  

I wish I would've taken the time to write more about it then, in that moment, because I would need more than a one word reminder etched on my wrist to remind me of the truth that God had long-since etched in my heart.

"So Christ has truly set us free. 
Now make sure that you stay free, 
and don't get tied up again in slavery..." 
Galatians 5:1 NLT 

Because the truth is, at any given time, I am either walking in freedom or free-falling.  There doesn't seem to be much in between.  After all, the concepts of balance and moderation have never really been my thing.  I'm either all in or I'm all out - many times to my detriment, in all of the things.  

Someone asked me if the tattoo was a Lynyrd Skynyrd reference.  I laughed, and then was immediately horrified that I hadn't even thought of the song "Free Bird" even though that could be the literal translation for what was now a permanent part of my body.  I didn't have an answer at the time for why I'd chosen the bird, I just liked the way it looked.  I liked what it symbolized to me.  There were a half dozen verses on freedom that I'd thought about when choosing the word "free", so when asked, I couldn't give a definitive verse, but several: 

Galatians 5:13: For you have been called to live in freedom, my brothers and sisters. But don't use your freedom to satisfy your sinful nature. Instead, use your freedom to serve one another in love. 

John 8:32: Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.

John 8:36: So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed. 

2 Corinthians 3:17: Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.
All I really knew is that I'd finally felt free - not to be myself - but from myself, from my past and from my who I'd been.  As David Platt once said, regarding the verse in Galatians, "We are not free to sin, we are free from sin."

But what about when we're free falling?  It was as though getting the word free etched on my arm was more of an invitation for the enemy than a declaration.  Because even when we are free, "there is not a place beneath which a believer walks that is free from snares" (Spurgeon).  
God delivers his people, even when they get into the snare. Alas! my hearer, you and I know something about the net; we have been inside it, we have; we have not only seen it spread, we have been in its folds. We know something about the cage, for we have, unfortunately, been in the cage ourselves, even since we have known the Lord. The fowler's hand has been upon our neck; it has only been the sovereign grace of God that has prevented him from utterly destroying us.  ~ Spurgeon, 1857

I, too, know something about the net - the smooth steel bars of the cage, the fowler's hands gripping my neck - and my heart.  But I also know the whisper of my Savior, the one who sets me free over and over and over again, through His word.  

And I knew why I'd chosen the word free.  I knew why I'd chosen the bird. I've escaped like a bird from the fowler's snare.  The trap is broken, and I am free.  Psalm 127:4.

Over and over again.  

"For he will deliver you from the snare of the fowler" (Psalm 91:3). 


I love you, Lord.  
You rescued me. 

You are all that I want
You're all that I need
In your freedom I will live. 
~Hillsong

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Life, love and black hole vertigo...



The haze thickened and the sea intensified the humidity. Within an hour, the lights of Martha's Vineyard were only 15 minutes away, but invisible. 
Then Kennedy's mind started playing tricks; the instrument panel and his head were telling him different things. It was like one of Barlow's better psychedelic efforts for the Grateful Dead, only this nightmare was for real. 
Kennedy lost his bearings, then lost control of the plane. 
In the dry parlance of the investigation, this is being called a 'disorientation accident'. Kennedy seems to have had a sudden attack of what pilots call 'black hole vertigo': a three-way disconnection between reason, instinct and reality - even an inability to tell the difference between up and down. 
In the night haze, Kennedy's instincts began to lie to him; his mind's eye was blind. Only with experience, which Kennedy lacked, can a pilot trust the needles on the dials more than what his brain is telling him. 
Black hole vertigo causes a pilot to think he is flying where he is not, and to overcompensate. The plane might feel as if it's veering to the right, said Byron Byrnes, an official of the Air Traffic Controllers' Association, but the double-pointed needle on the artificial-horizon dial tells you different. The pilot, in error, eases the 'yoke' control to the right.  
To save yourself, you have to ignore the voices inside your head. Otherwise, you pass the point of no return, at which your brain and the dials really are in harmony - only the needles on the altimeter are now spinning towards zero, and you are heading for the point at which black night meets black sea.
-  Ed Vulliamy, The Guardian, 1999


This retracing of tragedy is also an allegory of my life - a retracing of every time I've gotten lost along this path.


I got a little lost towards the end of last year.  I turned forty and lost my baby brother soon after.  A heavy fog rolled in and I lost my way, and myself, there for a while.  

Questions kept circling in my head, and then seemingly moved in my heart... and isn't that the essence of sin itself.  The thoughts we fail to take captive, that give birth to desire, that gives birth to sin, that gives birth to death..."and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death" (James 1:15). 


We demolish arguments and every pretension 
that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, 
and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ. 
2 Cor 10:5  


In the garden, the serpent didn't begin his conversation with Eve with a statement, but a question. And in the midst of the darkness, I begin to feel around blindly for the answers within myself.  


Who am I

What is life  

What is love  

I felt like I didn't know anymore, when just months before I'd been so sure of it all.  In hindsight, I wonder if I'd become prideful or overly confident in my ability to do this life thing without daily reliance on the only thing that truly saves us from ourselves.  I'd felt, for years, that I'd turned such a sharp corner on my past.  I'd walked in such freedom from it for so long that I'd gotten it tattooed it on my wrist.  


And then, in those dark months that followed, I struggled to explain what the word "free" even meant to me anymore, even though it was there, permanently marked on my body.  

Ann Voskamp says that without the lens of His word, the world warps.  And I say so do we, bending and twisting away from truth - grasping at illusions and counterfeit pleasures.  We find ourselves veering off the course and into the darkness; a spiritual black hole vertigo that separates us from the truth.  The only truth that can set us free (John 8:32).  

"Kennedy lost his bearings, then lost control of his plane."  

When we lose our bearings, we lose control of our lives - and sometimes, we don't even realize it until we're hurling aimlessly into the darkness, into "the point in which the black night meets black sea".  


I could feel it, the spiral, the crashing downward - the haunting but familiar feeling that I'd passed the point of no return.  

But God.  

He reached down from heaven and rescued me; 
He drew me out of deep waters. 

Psalm 18:16

And isn't that my story?  Over and over and over again.  The story of repeated rescue; of His faithfulness in saving me from myself.  

And the questions, all of the ones I began looking for outside of the truth, He answers:

He reminds me of who He is so that I can remember not who I am, but whose I am; that He is not the author of confusion, but of peace (1 Cor 14:33). I am the daughter of the King, even when I'm a prodigal.  "I will be a Father to you, and you will be my sons and daughters" (2 Cor 6:18).

He alone is life, and His word is life and our life is in Him.  "For you died to this life, and your real life is hidden with Christ" (Colossians 3:3).  "The Spirit alone gives eternal life. Human effort accomplishes nothing. And the very words I have spoken to you are spirit and life" (JN 6:63).  "Whoever follows me will never walk in the darkness, but will have the light of life" (JN 8:12).  The peace He gives cannot be found in this world: "My peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives" (JN 14:27).

He alone is love.  The world and the enemy and even our own hearts will try to sell is counterfeit versions, but "We have come to know and believe the love God has for us. God is love; whoever abides in God, and God in him" (1 JN 4:16).  

When the fog began to recede and glimpses of light pierced the darkness, I found comfort in the strangest of places.  Here.  In these pages that I've written over the course of these last nine years. Each entry like stone markers on this path that's paved by my inconsistency intertwined with His faithfulness and by His word.  

Because that's what's here, interwoven in the story of my life, His words:  
"And you who are fallen and broken and scraped– you need your messy, real, ugly stories. Because in the hands of the Spirit, story becomes a salve to the skinned souls. 
The first person that any words ever heal — is the writer of those words.

Because our words aren’t wholly our words. 
They are from the Word God Himself."
Ann Voskamp 

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Eulogy




Yesterday afternoon we were standing next to a car underneath the shade of one of the giant oaks lining the street.  The sunlight was shifting through its branches as the breeze blew in such a way that made me want photograph it, but I didn't.  Instead, it was as though time stood still for a moment and I captured it with a still frame in my mind rather than a camera lens.  

My brother David opened the rear car door, retrieving a small cardboard box from a larger box on the floorboard.  He handed it to me, the top open, I glanced down at lid of the small white urn inside.  Although it was small, it felt heavy in my hands, and in my heart.

And so it was there, standing in the street in front of the house in Mobile where our baby brother died last Sunday, my brother handed me my portion of his remains. 

For we are all dust and to dust we shall return. - Genesis 3:19


My dad, my brothers & me 
San Francisco, 2013

Tonight I sat next to a sweet friend at church who is also facing a difficult time in her life.  She told me that she's been running, that she feels as though she must.  "It's the only way to get the pain out," she said.  I nodded.  "I get it," I whispered. 

 That's why I write. 

Just four days ago David & I sat next to one another at the memorial held at our family's cabin high on a ridge in Alta, California, overlooking Tahoe National Forest.  We had each planned to share a few words with the family that was to gather, but we could both barely speak about having to do so without our hearts moving upwards into our throats.  We'd arrived early that day and shared a bottle of wine and stories and laughter, which eased some of our uneasiness, but didn't keep our hearts from creeping up into our throats as we stood to speak.  



Alta, CA - 2016

These are the words I read on that lovely afternoon in honor of our brother, Joe: 

Sometimes I am paid to write words and sometimes I am paid to speak words - but that still does not make writing or speaking these words today any easier.  

You know some may think that because we never actually lived together as siblings that we may have missed out on some of the stereotypical roles of my being the big sister with the annoying little brothers – and while we may have missed out on certain things, I can assure you that Dave & Joe were always working double time on annoying me during my visits with them.  For those childhood years, it seemed it was them against me during our times together; but as we grew up, we formed an alliance of sorts and it became us against dad.  


Some of my best memories of time spent with Joe will always be us making fun of dad together – and Dad laughing with us, even though he knew we were laughing at him.



And that is how I will always remember Joe.
Laughing. 


I don’t know that I ever told him, or whether or not he ever sensed it, but I always felt that we were somewhat kindred spirits in many ways.  Like me, he was easygoing (sometimes to a fault), he was fun loving, and adventure seeking.  Both a free spirit and late bloomer of sorts, it seemed for a time that we were both meandering through this journey of life rather than taking a more direct or strategic approach to it.
Eventually, I found my way as best I could and somewhere through the years, it seems he lost his.


And that is where I am at a loss for words of my own and where I want to share these words, from one of my favorite books, “Accidental Saints”: 
“Often, when someone dies, we feel a combination of love and something else, and this, too, is holy.  And entirely human.  And they don’t cancel each other out.  Love and and anger.  Love and disappointment.  Love and emptiness.  We always love imperfectly.  It is the nature of human love.  And it is okay.”
As his sister, I want to thank you for loving him so perfectly imperfectly and without condition.  I am so grateful to be a part of a family who loves so well, and I am so grateful that so many of you demonstrated love to him and cared for him in ways I never had the opportunity to. 

Even though we were always separated by geography, in my mind, there was always more time.  More time to know him better, more time to love him more, more time to laugh with him, more time to make fun of Dad with him...


But that’s the thing about time – and death.  It awakens us to the reality that time, both the past and the future, are merely illusions.  



Here and now, this moment is the only reality.
One of my favorite verses in the bible says this:  “Teach me to number my days, so that I may gain a heart of wisdom” (Psalm 90:12). 


As we face the reality of the brevity of life, and of the end of Joe’s life – the loss of our brother, your nephew, your cousin, your son – we can choose to walk wiser through our own numbered days, to choose to remember the best parts of who he was at heart, to remember his laugh, his smile, his kindness, his sense of humor – to choose to relive only the best memories and allow the darker ones to be laid to rest.  We can choose to forgive one another, to laugh hard and to love even harder, to live our lives to the fullest and to do it in the honor of our Joseph.  


Because in the end, all that will matter is how well we loved, no matter how imperfectly that may be.


Only God has perfected love.  


And in closing, I only know and can only say about God what I’ve experienced to be true in my own life and what I know for sure is, as Nadia Bolz-Weber once said, "that God is always present in love and in suffering".  I believe, with all of my heart, that God was present at the moment Joseph entered this world and I believe with all of my heart He was present at the moment he left it, loving him back into His arms.


In loving memory of my brother,
 Joseph Morris Sharifie
11/21/1985 - 08/28/2016