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

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Splintering

St. George Island - July 2016

I walked the long sandy pathway up towards the boardwalk, shuffling and shifting until my feet hit the steady surface of the boards.  A few steps in and I felt an ache in the bottom of my right foot.  I stopped and looked at it, expecting to see a sand spur.  Nothing.  I took a few more steps, the ache intensifying with each step on the firm surface.  I hobbled the rest of the way up to the house, trying not to put pressure on it.   

My whole gait was off because of the pain.  

Once inside, I examined it more closely and there, barely visible to my naked eyes, a tiny splinter.  Nearly impossible to see, and even more improbable, it seemed, to remove - which I did, eventually.  And then marveled at its actual size, or rather, lack thereof...   

How could something so tiny affect my whole ability to move my entire body?

Yea.  Life's like that sometimes.

Just as the splinter had pricked my foot, the thought of it suddenly pricked my heart.

How many splinters were lodged there, in my heart, still?

Invisible, yet immobilizing.  

How long had it been since I'd prayed the words of the Psalmist, asking God to "search me and know my heart, to test me and know my anxious thoughts" and to "see if there is any offensive way in me"; to see if there are any splinters, hidden there, invisible to my eyes, yet affecting my every step.  

Search me, O God, and know my heart!
Try me and know my thoughts!
And see if there is any offensive way in me, 
and lead me in the way everlasting.  
Psalm 139:23-24


How long had it been?

Too long.  I knew.

Because, let's face it, sometimes we'd rather ignore the planks in our own feet - and our eyes - and our hearts.  It's why Jesus asked, "And why worry about a speck in your friend's eye when you have a log in your own?" (Matthew 7:3).  His questions are always rhetorical, you know.  He, of course, knew why.  

He knew it was the nature of things, of us - we flawed human things - to sometimes feel more comfortable with our own hurting than healing, our own handicaps instead of wholeness.  And sometimes, if not always, it's easier for us to see and acknowledge and point out those specks and splinters of others.  And a few days turns into to weeks and then months and we're all covered up, our very faith splintering apart.  Until it's too much and we say, "Search me, O God".  Because he's the ultimate splinter remover, you know.  It's, like, His expertise.  

It's part of what Nadia Bolz-Weber refers to as our jagged edges: "My experience is God grabs ahold of those jagged edges of my humanity and just continually keeps saving me from myself, over and over again."  

And that's my experience, too.  This constant and consistent rescuing, this saving me from myself.

My past is evidence that I'm bent towards destruction, and the Gospel - as I've experienced it - is evidence that Christ is bent towards saving us from it - from ourselves.

Over and over again.  

That is the theme that has never stopped ringing in my ears, or in my soul:  His faithfulness.

Even in the midst of my splinters or when my faith is splintering.

He's always grabbing ahold of these jagged edges and pulling me back in, always rescuing, always redeeming.


Your grace abounds in deepest waters
Your sovereign hand
Will be my guide
Where feet may fail and fear surrounds me
You've never failed and You won't start now

And I will call upon Your name
Keep my eyes above the waves
My soul will rest in Your embrace
I am Yours and You are mine
Hillsong, Oceans 

Friday, April 8, 2016

Blessed Assurance


All around
Hope is springing up from this old ground
Out of chaos, life is being found
in you.
~ Gungor, Beautiful Things lyrics

I don't write as much as I used to anymore.  I'm not sure if it's because I'm a lot less contemplative these days or a lot more impervious.  Maybe a little of both.  And maybe this isn't a bad thing - this not "overthinking" all of the things, or "overfeeling" all of the feelings.  Life is a whole lot more peaceful, that's for sure, than when I started this aptly titled blog - and journey - on the so-called "narrow path home".  

It took a long, long time, but somewhere I learned to walk with a bit of faithful assurance that I didn't have to have this whole thing figured out, that the Lord really is worthy of my trust and that I can take each day as it comes for what it is - a gift.  Perhaps it was with that growing faith, that my peace grew, too.  Of all the fruits of His spirit, perhaps peace was one of the ones I had lacked the most.  I had been an infant in my faith and "tossed back and forth by the waves and blown here and there by the wind" (Ephesians 4:14).

Sometimes I like to think I've just mellowed out as I approach my forties, but I'd be remiss not to acknowledge it as the Lord's continual redemptive work in my life, and in my spirit.  Other times, I worry that I've become insensitive, and then I'll have a day like yesterday, where I'm moved to tears, by nostalgia, and deep sadness. 

Yesterday was beautiful.  It had stormed the night before, but the sunrise lit up a cloudless, almost electric blue sky that needed no filter.  Everything was a shade greener than it had been before the rain, the mountain in the distance bursting with bright shades of celadon and lime.  Every fall, I gush over how it is my very favorite season.  And then Spring comes and nothing quite undoes me the way it does, with Easter and all of the dead things coming to life again.  Fall is glorious in splendor and beauty, but Spring... Spring is redemption on display for all to see.  

"For ever since the world was created, people have seen the earth and sky. Through everything God made, they can clearly see his invisible qualities--his eternal power and divine nature. So they have no excuse for not knowing God." ~  Romans 1:20
So yesterday, I had to drive out to what we called "the country" when I was a kid.  It's now an actual suburb, but thirty years ago, it was just a stretch of highway through forests and farmlands with one tiny gas station.  My great-grandparents bought a little house by a pond, the on pictured above.  It's the last tangible piece of my childhood:  that little piece of land, that pond, that tree.  It's for sale now and even though I wouldn't want to live there at this season of life, it doesn't stop me from wishing I could by it, from wishing I could just hold onto it.  Forever.  I take pictures of this same swing, this same tree, this same angle, almost every time I'm there.  Desperate to capture it one more time, desperate to hold on.  

Perhaps desperate to try to capture an image of what I see when I'm there; and of what I feel.  It's the one place where time has seemed to stand still for all of these decades.  I can sit in that old swing and close my eyes and I'm seven again.  Poppa is fishing out on the bank with one of his old bamboo sticks and his can of worms and Granny's inside making dumplings...  

And I open my eyes to the reality - that was so, so many seasons ago.  

On the way home, I pass the church where the funeral is taking place.  The steel gray hearse juxtaposed against the bright blue sky - and the bright white cross. 


My friend's wife passed away on Friday.  I didn't know until yesterday.  I hadn't spoken to him in several years, but we had become friends in the wake of our divorces.  We had long conversations about life and love and faith, about how we were navigating the whole post-divorce single/dating life and reconciling reality with how we thought our lives would turn out.  Most of us rely on social media to tell our stories and ours are both there, too.  All these years later, our photos show us both remarried and with families, having made it through that difficult season and enjoying life in this one.  Until last Friday.  I never met her, but I'm heartbroken for my friend, for their families, for their children.

 And death ushers in that sting of perspective, as it always does.  The fragility and brevity of this life.  The awareness that as I'm typing this on Friday, my own funeral could be next Thursday.  That this season, this day, this moment, is all there really is.  

Just yesterday morning, the TimeHop app showed me what I'd posted 7 years before: I was preparing for Chloe's pre-k graduation, registering her for Kindergarten, taking her to ballet.  We're in a new season now, she's in middle school and getting braces and has traded ballet for lacrosse.  

But I'm learning, still - always - not to lament the time gone by, the seasons past and not to worry about the ones ahead (the one with cars and college tuition) and just focus on the one we're in.  Today.  
To see today for what it is: a gift.  And to cherish it as such.  So that when I pass from this season into the next, or from this reality into the next, it will be without regret.  I want a life lived without regret.  
A life that wasn't missed from lamenting the past or fearing the future, but a life that was lived in the moment, that loved every moment...  And for those last steps of mine on the narrow path home to be taken with this same faithful, blessed assurance that He's given us to make it through this life and home to Him.  

This is my story.  This is my song.

  1. Blessed assurance, Jesus is mine!
    Oh, what a foretaste of glory divine!
    Heir of salvation, purchase of God,
    Born of His Spirit, washed in His blood.
    • Refrain:
      This is my story, this is my song,
      Praising my Savior all the day long;
      This is my story, this is my song,
      Praising my Savior all the day long.
  2. Perfect submission, perfect delight,
    Visions of rapture now burst on my sight;
    Angels, descending, bring from above
    Echoes of mercy, whispers of love.
  3. Perfect submission, all is at rest,
    I in my Savior am happy and blest,
    Watching and waiting, looking above,
    Filled with His goodness, lost in His love.

~Frances J. Crosby, 1873




Monday, March 28, 2016

The Hope of Easter

Easter - 1981

This is one of my favorite photos from my childhood, not that I have that many to choose from.  There is so much going on here: my Princess Lea braids, Wonder Woman under roos, pink housecoat, my favorite Mary Janes... and that classic 80's Easter basket, still wrapped up in cellophane.  I'm standing on the front porch of my great-grandparent's house.  I don't remember much else about Easter as a child, only these inflatable bunnies that the stores used to carry and the way we'd always pose for pictures near the lilies in my granny's garden.  Looking back, I suppose I knew what Easter was - what it really was.  I assume they told me, but it did't have any real relevance to me.  Maybe I could've told you that it was the day that Jesus rose from the dead, but I didn't really know what that meant or why it mattered.  And I wouldn't know for a long time.  

Fast forward thirty-five years.  My own children are now well past the age that I was in this photo.  It's a gray and rainy Sunday morning and my whole family is still asleep.  Easter falls early this year, the same week as our Spring Break and to be honest, I haven't given it much thought.  I have no idea what any of us are wearing, I have no idea what we're having for lunch, we haven't even packed for the trip we are leaving on tomorrow and I woke up overwhelmed.  Only not by any of those things.  It caught me off guard, this awe.  I turned off the alarm and let the dog and cat out into the back yard, suddenly aware of my own life, my own ... aliveness.  

Because He lives, I live.  

And the passage from John 14 wells up in my heart.  Jesus, comforting His disciples before His death, tells them:  "Before long, the world will not see me anymore, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live" (John 14:19).  


I don't know if they got it right then.  You know, they regularly did not.  Kind of how I really did not for the first thirty-some-odd years of my life.  I knew the story.  I knew the scripture.  I could tell you what Easter was - and is.  Likely, I told my children the same as I'd been told, of the cross and the resurrection, but it didn't have any relevance in my life.  Not really.  

Because it wasn't that long ago that this life, my life, was dead in sin and darkness.  You know, the kind that you don't see on the surface or in the pictures we post on social media.  It was a life ravaged by divorce and darkness and despair.  It seems like a lifetime ago most days, but this morning - the mercy and redemption feel brand new.  All over again.  "He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire; he set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand" (Psalm 40).

This life, my life, even this Easter morning - is far from perfect.  I am just as human - and sometimes, just asut it is filled with more joy and peace and hope and abundance than I ever knew possible. "I came that they may have life and have it abundantly" (John 10:10). 

If you're like I was or where I was, if you've spent your life only knowing OF Him and never really knowing Him, approach His throne of grace and find mercy. 

His word tells us that we do not have a "high priest who is unable to empathize" but a Savior - "So let us come boldly to the throne of our gracious God. There we will receive his mercy, and we will find grace to help us when we need it most" (Hebrews 4:15).

It was true for that little girl in the Wonder Woman underoos.  Whether you know it or not, whether you know Him or not - it is true for you, too.  

That is the hope of the empty tomb, the hope of Easter.   

Because He lives, I now live. 
Because He lives, you can live, too.

Oh, Praise the One who paid my debt and raised this life up from the dead.  Jesus.  


Friday, January 15, 2016

Persevering


"Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses,
let us throw off everything that hinders
and the sin that so easily entangles,
and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.
Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith..."
Hebrews 12:1-2


It was Sunday in March of 2013.  One of those mornings where I had wakened in the painful awareness that my life was turning out nothing - and. I. mean. no-thing - like I'd imagined or planned... or dreamed.   I was thirty-six.  Divorced.  Twice, now - but who was counting.  Alone.  Ashamed.  Dreams that God had long-before planted in my heart often felt like just that: distant. Faraway. Dreams that needed to be let go of, allowed to die or given up on - yet, even when I'd come to those conclusions in my own mind, my heart refused.

It is usually there, lost in midst of my own self-inflicted confusion and doubt that He speaks, and reconfirms all over again what I know is true:  That He is who He says He is, He can do what He says He can do and He never changes. ever.

Yea, so it was one of those Sundays when I was desperately needing a word. Most days, as soon as I get the message guide in my hand I sneak a peek, but this particular Sunday I had not. I waited until it was time to open it. After worship. After prayer. I took a deep breathe in as I sat and unfolded the page, hoping. For hope itself.  And I read the scripture above and this point below:  

"When life isn't turning out the way you'd planned, ______________________."

The blank was looming on the page and in my heart, flooding my soul with expectation. It was my predicament spelled out word for word before me and I knew that the Lord Himself was about to fill in the words to the blank space not only with encouragement for other weary souls, but with instruction. For me and for the path in which he had placed my feet...


"Don't give up on your dreams."


The service could've ended right then and there. I almost wished it had so I could've left and returned home and sobbed the tears of relief I was fighting back in the privacy of my small apartment. Oh, how I'd wanted to give up. And quite frankly, had already given up, so many times before. I'd ran myself ragged from running in circles rather than running the the race in which He had clearly marked out for me.

There is a path set before us. Each and every one of us. It is our life story that He desires to weave through His story of redemption. The landscapes of each of our paths are as varied as each of us, but all of it He desires to use for His glory and I found myself no longer asking why or how long, but simply how - how he desires to use me, to use my story, for His purpose.

I'm humbly reminded - and thankful - that our God is far more interested in our character than our comfort; our holiness more than our happiness. I realized that morning in March that maybe, just maybe, the jagged and rocky path that I felt beneath my feet was more than the consequences of my past mistakes, but His divine design to teach me the things my heart longed to learn: patience. Perseverance. Obedience. Faith. The kind of faith that "is the confidence that what we hope for will actually happen; it gives us assurance about things we cannot see" (Hebrews 11:1).

It is the faith that gave so many in scripture the ability to persevere in the wait, the years and years (and sometimes decades) in the "in between" God speaking a promise and the fulfillment of that promise.

The precepts of the message were this: don't give up.

Even if.
  • Even if it didn't start well (Can i get an amen?)
  • Even if those closest don't support you (can i get an even louder amen?): 
  • Even if your journey is full of surprises (much louder);
  • Even if it takes a LONG TIME (loudest amen of all).

That day became a new marker on the path marked out for me. Having long since made my decision to follow Christ, that day I made a decision to persevere in the path that He had marked out just for me, knowing that faith leads to obedience that leads to our reward in Him.

What the prophet Habakkuk wrote in reference to the promise of revelation applies to the promise that God has for my life and for yours, too: "And then God answered: "Write this. Write what you see. Write it out in big block letters so that it can be read on the run. This vision-message is a witness pointing to what's coming. It aches for the coming—it can hardly wait! And it doesn't lie. If it seems slow in coming, wait. It's on its way. It will come right on time." (Habakkuk 2:3)

What's coming is your story. You know, the one God desires to use for His glory. It's coming moment by moment. Day by day. If only you persevere in faith.

persevere. per·se·vere: /ˌpɜrsəˈvɪər/ [pur-suh-veer] Show verb, -vered, -ver·ing. verb (used without object) 1. to persist in anything undertaken; maintain a purpose in spite of difficulty, obstacles, or discouragement; continue steadfastly. #persevere

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Walking, and staggering.



"My coming to faith did not start with a leap, but rather a series of staggers." 
~ Anne Lamott  

Since taking a break from social media, I've been doing crazy things.  You know, like taking afternoon walks without telling anyone about it.  I don't use an app to log my distance or pace.  Some days, I don't even listen to music.  Instead, I listen to the sound of my own steps, the sound of the dog's collar jingling, the rustling of the wind through the leaves, a bird whistling in the distance, the far off hum of a leaf blower.  

In the quiet of my life, all of these sounds have become magnified.

I used to write a lot about hearing from God in these ordinary, quiet, empty moments in life (even though - back then - the opportunity for such was much farther and fewer between).  Not audibly, of course, but in my spirit, a verse hidden in the depths of my heart rising up.  But things shifted - technology shifted - and I held in my hand the ability to look at anything, everything, and everyone else.

I wrote less and less.  Eventually, not at all.  There were times, many times, I wondered why I had ever written at all.  Distraction will do that to us, you know.  We lose our focus.  We lose our way.  We find ourselves sleepwalking through our lives, becoming numb to our callings. Occasionally, I'd think about this faith journey and this quote above from Anne Lamott and think, "Oh yes, me too - only I haven't exactly stopped staggering.  Not yet, anyway."

Staggering, limping along, and then I'd stumble across a quote like this:
"I've blogged for over a decade, piling up stories like the rock piles Joshua built on the other side of the Jordan - so we do not forget his faithfulness" ~  Lora Lynn Fanning
And I'd remember.

Oh yes.  That. 

These words, these stories, they are my stones.  So that I never forget His faithfulness.

So I learn how to look for it, all over again, there in the quiet, there in the seemingly mundane.  To listen for the whisper, to look for that which that calls His word to mind.  And I'm thinking over all of these things as I'm passing by these trees again, standing big and tall in one of the roundabouts in our neighborhood.  The ones I've passed every day since we moved here in early September.  The ones with the big, beautiful leaves that turned the perfectly picturesque golden hue in the fall.  Except for a few other evergreens scattered here and there, they stand in contrast to the barren branches all around them.

It's January and they're still stubbornly clutching their dead leaves, brittle and shriveled.

We're just like that sometimes, aren't we? 

Stubborn.  Unyielding.  Unwilling to let go of the dead or insignificant or useless things in our lives  - and in our hands - to make way for the new things, the new seasons that are to come, the things that matter most.

It isn't every day that I find myself asking God what He'd have me let go of or to show me what it is I'm clinging tightly to.  It certainly isn't every day that I can be prompted to such a question simply by looking at a couple of trees.  But there it is.  These questions, these prayers, these otherwise mundane moments that I've somehow missed in my daily life.  And isn't it the essence of these 21 days of corporate prayer and fasting - that we give up the things in which we'd filled ourselves - our very lives - up with, to empty ourselves out and invite Him in all over again; to let go of things we've clung to and so that we may cling to Him and His word.

"Let us hold tightly to the hope we affirm, for God can be trusted to keep His promise." Hebrews 10:23

The psalmist said, "My soul clings to you; your right hand upholds me" (Psalm 63:8).  I want to cling to Him, I'm desperate for His right hand to hold me - because, well, I have a tendency to stagger.  Prone to wander, Lord I feel it, prone to leave the God I love.  Take my heart, Lord, take and seal it.  Seal it for thy courts above.  


Blessed is the one who does not walk in step with the wicked
or stand in the way that sinners take
or sit in the company of mockers, 
but whose delight is in the law of the Lord, 
and who meditates on it day and night. 

That person is like a tree planted by streams of water, 
which yields its fruit in season
and whose leaf does not wither- 
whatever they do prospers. 

Psalm 1:1-3



Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Rejection, rebellion and redemption.


"There is nothing to writing.  
All you do is sit down at a typewriter 
and bleed."
~ Ernest Hemingway

When we moved into our new home late last summer, in the midst of cleaning out boxes in our off-site storage, I came across this paisley gem: la journal that documented some of my life between the ages of fourteen and twenty. 

Yea, so I've always had this thing for documenting all of the things. 

This unrelenting urge to write all of the things throughout all of the years has proved to be both a blessing and a curse.  While there is so much I want to remember, there is seemingly so much more that I wish I could forget, that I wish I could rewrite altogether, that I wish wasn't a part of my story; or that wasn't my story at all.  

This particular journal recounts a painful narrative of both heartache and heartbreak, rejection and rebellion.  It is a foreshadowing of sorts, stepping stones to what would become the tumultuous path through the next decade of my life.  

Those were the most critical formative of years, pivotal years precariously positioned between the rejection I'd felt in childhood and the rebellion that would manifest itself later in my adulthood. 

I read through to the very last page that late summer morning. I closed the cover.  

And I wept. 

Before I even knew what was happening, tears were pouring hot and steady. 

I don't even know why.  I'm not even a crier.  Not really.  Unless I'm crying because I'm laughing.  Part of it could have been the season of change we were in.  Change, even good change, has never been easy for me and all of the feels about moving into a new home and leaving the old one behind was compounded by another shifting season as our daughter was beginning middle school... 

I felt so much empathy for the young girl that wrote all of those words all of those years ago.  The chaos and confusion that clouded my soul was so evident then.  I was so lost, so broken, so empty - and so very desperate.

It's hard to imagine now, that life in contrast to this one.  How long I dragged on in rebellion and yet, how long it's been since experiencing such redemption.  It never gets old.  Not in my heart, not in any of our hearts, I suppose, for those of us that were lost and then found, pulled from darkness into marvelous light.  Oh, we might grow to take it for granted, to become used to it all, but when we're reminded, we feel it all over again. And it takes our breathe away.

Earlier this week, I sat at my desk and sent out the invitations for my daughter's twelfth birthday, scheduled a consultation with her orthodontist and texted her a reminder about lacrosse practice...

If I weren't fasting from social media, I'd have probably posted something lamenting "#tweenlife", but then again, she's asked me to stop using that hash tag.

I feel the time.  It's tick-tocking loudly here inside, with each step I take alongside her on this coming of age journey she's on.  I don't feel that I'm losing time.  Not always.  Some days, it feels like it's gaining, building momentum, snowballing down hill.

Gaining speed and gaining distance, bridging this gap between what was, what is, what will be. Ushering the anxious anticipation of the silent shifting that is to come, that has already begun - changing everything. 

Like all mothers, I want her to learn from my mistakes; but more - to somehow guide her into truth and wisdom and understanding.  

With this ground shaky and shifting beneath our feet, I cling to the words - not my own - but the Word.  And I encourage her to journal, not just her own words - but the Word.  

And she does.  


I journal alongside her, you know, with words instead of doodles because her artistic genes clearly did not come from me.   

And I tell her what I know to be true:  that sometimes, you will have all these words inside of you that you might need to just get out of you somehow.  All these thoughts and feelings and utterances that flow from within and pour out.  Write them down.  Anywhere, somewhere.  

But more important than the words we create us and those we pour out, is the Word we put in us.  

Fill yourself up on it.  Hide it in your heart.  Not just so that you won't sin, but so that you will see.    

"I have hidden your word in my heart so that I might not sin against you" (Psalm 119:11). 

I cannot protect her from the world, I know that.  I cannot protect her from middle school.  But piece by piece, I'm giving her armor to face it, this battle that will be waged for her heart.  The helmet of salvation, the breastplate of righteousness, the shield of faith, the belt of truth, the shoes of peace - "and the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God" (Ephesians 6:17).

Someday she may read my words, those that I wrote in that ugly, worn paisley journal.  I pray that when and if she does, she'll she it through the same lens I see it through now.  The lens of His word.  The lens of grace.  The lens of truth.  

Armed with the truth of His word, rejection is a lie; rebellion is not an option.

Skip straight to redemption, my child.

"Guide me in your truth and teach me, 
for you are my God my Savior, 
and my hope is in you all day long." 
~ Psalm 25:6

Monday, January 11, 2016

Abandoned Jars


Jesus answered, "Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again.
But anyone who drinks the water I give them will never be thirsty. 
In fact, the water I give them will become a spring of water in them. 
It will flow up into eternal life.”
John 4:13


I was asked recently about my favorite woman in the bible.  Not something I think about often.  Not something I can answer easily.  I could choose among many and for many different reasons, but the question was not related to virtue, but rather - to relation; how I identified with her.  What aspect of my testimony caused me to identify with her.

Still, there were so many and for so many different reasons.  I think of those who were in the lineage of Christ, some of whose lives were scandalous and yet, became a part of scandalous grace.  I'm rummaging through the list of names in my mind, but there's this one, nameless woman that keeps coming to my heart: the Samaritan woman at the well in John 4.  


When I think about my testimony, I think about encountering Jesus.  I think about what I was like, there in that moment - and how my life was altered by that encounter.   How I'd been surprised, caught off-guard even, that He would even speak to me after all I'd done, all that I'd become.      

"Come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters" (Isaiah 55:1).


I had found myself in a season of life I never thought I'd be in.  I was alone, divorced, desperate and looking to everything and everyone around me to quench the parched condition of my soul.  I'd wanted to be invisible, hidden from others, hidden from God.  But He saw me, just as He saw the woman at the well.  He didn't just see her physically, but he saw her.  Her past.  Her present.  Her future.  Her thirst.  

He tells her, "Everyone who drinks this [well] water will be thirsty again. But anyone who drinks the water I give them will never be thirsty."

And she wants it, this living water, this Spirit of grace - which is the Spirit of God.  

She runs back to her village, leaving her water jar beside the well (v. 28).  

Leaving her water jar beside the well.  

Because, she'd learned, in that brief, but life-altering encounter with Jesus that nothing else would ever satisfy her soul.  

And I think about that night, the one in which I laid down my own water jar, whispering, "Yes, I want that kind of water, Jesus, the kind that flows from within."  

As Matthew Henry said, "Of whatever waters of comfort we drink, we shall thirst again. But whoever partakes of the Spirit of grace, and the comforts of the gospel, shall never want that which will abundantly satisfy his soul."    

The other part of the question was what I felt that modern women could learn from this particular woman.  And oh, the answer is as obvious as it seems.  That we may become women who thirst for righteousness; women who abandon our jars, right there at edge of the well - the well of 'whatever waters of comfort' we are currently standing; that we may encounter Jesus and return, as she did, to our villages, our inner circles, those within our reach proclaiming, "Come and see!"; that we may offer a sip, a taste of His living water, this spirit of grace that is within us.  

"Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them." - John 7:37-38 


Friday, January 8, 2016

Unquiet Disposition

The Inn at Half Mile Farm ~ Highlands, NC

"We have in our hearts what disposes us to be unquiet; 
therefore let us study to be quiet." 
- Matthew Henry


You know (or perhaps, vaguely remember) how the morning after a loud concert you'd wake up with your ears ringing loudly?  Filled wit so much residual noise that you could almost feel it, still?  The bass thumping, guitars buzzing...

Yea.  Leaving social media has been somewhat like that

Only the ringing is not in my ears, it's in my mind.  

Growing up, my parents kept the television on in our home every day from about six in the evening to ten o'clock sharp.  It was, for them, habitual I suppose.  We didn't watch it during dinner, but it was left on, a steady stream of noise coming from across the living room.  At ten o'clock, they clicked it off, locked the doors and went to bed.  This was there routine.  Every night for as long as I can remember.   I imagine even long after I'd moved out.  

One of my best friends in high school didn't have a television in their home at all.  By choice, or rather, by virtue - and I loved going to their house.  In fact, it was my favorite.  A peaceful stillness enveloped you when you walked through the door.  It was so very quiet and cozy in a way that made you want to grab a book, a blanket and a cup of tea and curl up in the window seat and read or just stare out the window into their backyard.  

I can't remember the last time I wanted to sit and stare at anything.  The ocean maybe, but how many times have I even done that lately without posting a photograph of it on Instagram?  I've been living an interrupted life; interrupted by all of the wrong things.  And I've become so accustomed to the interruptions, disruptions and distractions that I'm finding it difficult to adapt to these long periods of silence, without hearing from and engaging with others; without the incessant need to share and document my every moment, regardless of how trite or insignificant.   

There is just so much noise.  This is what I told my husband when I'd told him about my decision to take an extended break from social media.  Like the television constantly streaming in my childhood, I think I had somehow adapted and grown accustomed to the noise of social media in my life, not realizing how loud, or how constant, it had become.

Until I stopped.

I've found myself a little dizzy and disoriented, not completely unlike when you'd spin around and around and around as child and suddenly stop.  You were still, but everything around you was still moving.  Spinning.  Blurry.  

And I keep thinking about the scripture I read yesterday:  
"Make it your ambition to lead a quiet life: You should mind your own business and work with your hands, just as we told you, so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders and so that you will not be dependent on anybody." 1 Thessalonians 4:11-12
Matthew Henry, in his commentary on this verse, said we must study to be quiet.  And he said this at the beginning of the eighteenth century.  How much more has our unquiet disposition grown over the last three hundred or so years.  How much more then, must we study and learn and make it our ambition to quiet our lives?   He went on to say:  
"Those who are busy-bodies, meddling in others' matters, have little quiet in their own minds...They seldom mind the other exhortation, to be diligent in their own calling, to work with their own hands. Christianity does not take us from the work and duty of our particular callings, but teaches us to be diligent therein." 
These words were published in 1706, but how much more timely are they today?  And of course, how timeless and timely are Paul's words to the Thessalonians - and to us - this beckoning to quiet ourselves for the sake of pursuing our calling.  

Admittedly, I've had little quiet in my own mind - and I long for the quiet there, I long to be diligent in my own calling and to work with these hands.

Our diligence becomes lost in distraction.

The pursuit of our calling becomes lost in the noise - and we don't even realize it.  It becomes soft hum, a white noise of sorts, one that so often lulls us to sleep, and to complacency...

We don't stop to stare, to take it all in;
we don't look out of our windows, or up, or within.


"Be still and know that I am God."
Psalm 46:10

Thursday, January 7, 2016

On the Precipice

Mt. Cheaha, Fall 2014

"Let's say I felt suspended, waiting.  
Between all these parts of the world and none of them.  
We feel this way sometimes in adolescence, too, surely most of us can call it up.  
But then there's the burning impatience for the next thing to take shape, 
for whatever it is we are about to become and be to announce itself.  
This was different: there was, I suppose, no next thing."  
~ Sue Miller, While I Was Gone


I'm turning forty this year.  I feel the weight of it looming, and have for some time, as if it's ushering forth some ambiguous significance.  Or sometimes, perhaps even scarier, as if its not ushering anything at all.  I wouldn't have been able to identify this sensation, not with words, anyway - until I read the excerpt above in a book recently (you know, because I've been reading actual books since I'm not on social media around the clock anymore).

Those words, they could've been my own.  If only I'd had the ability to label what I felt was undefinable.

As I creep closer and closer to midlife [formally defined as the period of life between 45-55], I'm becoming more and more aware of how little forethought is given to this particular season in life.  How, in the culture in which I was raised anyway, we give much thought to everything up until this point.  We play house as children, concocting dreams about: growing up, going to college, having a career, falling in love, getting married, buying a house, having a family.  Not necessarily in that order, but we - many of us - we do those things.

And then we're still.  Settled.

And yet, longing for any unsettledness.  Praying to God to simply, "unsettle me".

Asking God, "what now".  What next.

It's not enough.  It's never enough.  This insatiable craving for more, even when we have it all, we want more, bigger, better, nicer - homes, furniture, clothes, cars ... Everything.  More.  Always.  

We see it all of the time in our culture. We even have a name for it, we call it a "midlife crisis".  Men leave their wives, women leave their lives, all for this pseudo pursuit of something more, some undefinable, unattainable more.   

Could it be that we are not content with material comfort because God never intended for us to live in contented spiritual complacency?

That its this longing for unsettling that keeps us moving forward; the diving in to the serious questions of our lives and of our faith that keeps us growing.  We're contented to splash around in the kiddie pool when we're invited to swim in ocean's deep of His grace. "We are far too easily pleased", as C.S. Lewis once said, "like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea.
"They say, ‘Peace.’ But there isn’t any peace. They are like people who build a weak wall. They try to cover up the weakness by painting the wall white.  Tell those who do this that their wall is going to fall. Heavy rains will come. I will send hailstones crashing down. Powerful winds will blow.  The wall will fall down. Then people will ask them, ‘Now where is the paint you covered it with?’" - Ezekiel 13:10
In the context of this scripture "they" are the false prophets of Ezekiel's day, but in the context of our current contemporary Christian culture, aren't they also the world?  Isn't it the world, in general, that beckons to us as false prophets do, with empty promises of prosperity, of chasing after these things, these worldly ambitions.  On our screens and devices, we're marketed and sold lie after lie after lie to woo us onto the path of pursuing.  Pursuing what?  Security.  Happiness.  Contentment.  Peace.

They say to us, "Peace".  But there isn't any peace.

And why?

Because there is only one source of peace.


Jesus told His disciples, and us and the world in the gospel of John, “Peace I leave with you.  My peace I give you to you.  I do not give to you as the world gives.”

And how, then, does the world give?  With whitewashed walls we construct all around our whitewashed lives.

That verse in Ezekiel was my life.  I lived it.  It's how I spent most of my twenties, chasing the world, throwing up weak walls here and there.  It was a lovely facade until the heavy rains fell, and those hailstones came crashing down and onlookers could've only wondered what had become of that whitewash.
  
And here I sit, on the precipice of forty, in the midst of a reconstructed life, a reconstructed marriage. Part of me is still trying to adapt to the stillness following so many years of chaos; and part of me is yearning for an un-stillness of a different kind.   We are still settling in to a new home and I'm quietly praying for more of an unsettling in my heart.  

And He's always calling.  If only we will quiet our lives enough to hear Him.  And I don't mean our "quiet time" - no, not some paltry twenty or thirty minute increments of devotion that I'd grown accustomed to having in the mornings or sometimes, in the evenings as I was falling asleep - but a quiet life.  

A quiet life.  Not really something I ever considered my calling.  There isn't much of anything that's quiet about me.  But maybe this is the quiet that Paul was talking about in his letter to the Thessalonians:  
"Brothers and sisters, we are asking you to love one another more and more. And do everything you can to live a quiet life. You should mind your own business. And work with your hands, just as we told you to" (1 Thess 4:10-11). 
I've read this verse before, certainly.  Skimmed it, perhaps.  Ignored it altogether.  But today, it's pressing in, pressing onto me.  Heavy.  This is it, maybe.  The verse for this year.  The prescription for the precipice and that there, just there over the edge of it, is His peace.

And why?  Because it's there here in the quiet places of life, we can sense His calling - out of the shallow end of the pool and into the deep; to go deeper; to have our faith made stronger...  

Take me deeper than my feet could ever wander
And my faith will be made stronger
In the presence of my savior
~ Hillsong, Oceans Deep lyrics 

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

those who hope

"O Lord, you alone are my hope. 
I've trusted you, O Lord, from childhood."
Psalm 71:5

These are the corridors in which our faith must put its proverbial rubber to the road.   

I visited a friend this morning, just prior to her surgery to remove a large mass from her lung.  It would seem trite to write about anything else; and yet, I sometimes cannot shake the sense that it feels trite to write at all.  

I keep thinking about something Anne Lamott once said, "Even if we all sing the same song, there would still be six billion renditions".  These repeated renditions.  But we keep singing our songs, writing our words.  Per King Solomon, there is nothing new under the sun - but we still each have our own experiences, our own stories, our faith intertwined in their midst.  We keep on singing.  We keep on writing.          

I sit at my friend's bedside and we chat about our kids, our husbands, about her "last supper" before the pre-op fasting had began. Exactly as I would've chosen: chips and salsa and queso, steak fajitas from one of our favorite Mexican restaurants.

We talked about our faith some, just this trusting that God's "got this".  We talked about the fear, the unknowing, the lack of control one feels when going under anesthesia.  "I don't like the feeling of not being in control," she confesses. 

None of us do.  

But we all feel it to some degree, don't we?  This ambiguous sense of authoritative, autonomous self-control.  We feel that we are somehow in charge of ourselves, our lives, our families.  We're calling all the shots, rolling along.  Until we're not.  Until we're swiftly humbled and brought to our knees by both the reality and fragility of life.  

I take her hand and we pray.  We pray for the peace that transcends understanding.  We pray for the comfort of the holy spirit to be all-encompassing, palpable there in that room; there in her heart.  And we pray for His perfect love to cast out all fear, according to His word.  

I walk the long, winding corridors back out.  Thinking of my friend and her trusting.  Her surrendering.  Because isn't that what trust is, after all?  This constant surrendering of our lives, of our own control, to Him and to His will?  Where we can say, "Lord, have your way" even when it seems the hardest, scariest thing of all.

I walk along an empty corridor along the way, the doors are opened, revealing the empty rooms and shifting shadows from the windows.  They're there.  If only we'd look for them.  These lessons.  This learning - to trust, to surrender, again and again and again.  


These lessons, hidden behind the half-opened doorways along our path.  Even in the empty places, if we'll only stop and pause and look long enough, He gives us eyes to see them. 

I think about my own faith journey.  The well-lit pathways and the darkened corners, His faithfulness through it all.  Those years I spent as a Pharisee, a whitewashed tomb.  Empty on the inside.  

I'm feel the pangs of empathy stinging my heart for my friend, along with the pangs of conviction stinging my heart for my sin, the lack of surrender in my own life lately.  For putting my hope in other things - even good things - but the things of this world.  

I was reminded today that my hope is in the Lord.  

I have a canvas hanging over my desk at home.  Given to me by the same friend I visited today.  It has a verse on it; the same one I wrote inside of her card today; the same one I've been praying over her today; the same one the Lord reminded me of all over again today... 

"but those who hope in the Lord
    will renew their strength.
They will soar on wings like eagles;
    they will run and not grow weary,
    they will walk and not be faint."
Isaiah 40:31


 I've read this verse many times, but I didn't realize until today that some translations have "trust" in the place of hope...

- and oh, aren't they one in the same.