To Choose to Love

Nearly 10 years ago, I had forgotten how to be loved well. I have heard it said that we accept the love we think we deserve. It may, to an extent, be true. But I hadn’t always believed that I deserved to be where I was. It was a slow degradation; the result of many bad choices and unkind people, some of whom I allowed into my life and some who forced their way in. However, those led me to enter a span of time where I came to believe that everyone leaves: they leave marks, brokenness… and me.

But then came Moose, this shelter puppy who seemed as broken as I was.  And he chose to love me a LOT. He would panic when he couldn’t see me. Break cages to get to me. Try to dig through doors and bust through fences to be where I was. I’m not saying he was 100% stable; his need was sometimes exhausting. But it also revealed to me that to this little (now giant) guy, I was beloved. I was valuable. I was preferred. I’d never felt loved like that before.

Tonight I realized that Moose represents the first time I really believed any creature in Creation could choose to love me. Every day, in every moment, for his whole life. Even when he was destroying things, killing creatures, digging through doors, breaking cages. Even when I lost my patience or got frustrated at our inability to understand one another. Usually, his purpose in those moments was solely to find a way to get to me and get my attention, my comfort or my care.

This reckless love forced my hand… I made a choice to love this neurotic and somewhat uncontrollable dog right back. I decided to love him as relentlessly as he loves me, without restraint and against the sound advice of my veterinarian and friends who said this young pup was just too much. Somehow, his love slowly moved me and mine him. Moose taught me how to love again, and just as important, how to receive love. He taught me to give and receive affection and comfort. He revealed to me that love didn’t always have to hurt. At least, that’s what I thought.

But as Moose has entered the geriatric phase of his life, I find myself bargaining with God. Because I know sometime, Moose is going to leave. Not because he wants to but because such is the nature of this world. And I find myself in a tug-of-war within my heart to love him well and harder. I fight to resist the instinct built over decades of practice that tells me to distance myself, to harden my heart.

I really don’t know how I can bear the loss of him, and that moment seems to be drawing closer. I recently experienced the loss of my dear Grandma, and that loss has triggered some things I’ve managed to ignore for a really long time. I prayerfully ask God to bless Moose and I with a little more time together; that one devastating blow would not follow right behind the other. It’s freaking hard to just be right now. To allow myself to grieve and mourn in a world that thinks pain and sadness are things to avoid and medicate. It’s even harder to love fully when Death hovers right at the edge with the promise of heartbreak. I wish we knew how to deal with “hard” as a community…

So in this raw and vulnerable state, I’m going to call my heartbreak good because it meant there was tremendous love there. I’m going to continue to love Moose well, even if it is tearfully. I will give thanks to God that I can love so deeply and completely as I do, and that I have received that same love in return. I praise God for giving me the strength to bear the weight of loss. The fatal misstep I see so many make in this time is to believe Loss when she tries to convince us that Love makes us weak, vulnerable and guarantees suffering. Some of the best lies are the ones that are mostly true. Love is all those things; but in these very things I am reminded of Christ, and my desire to grow in Christ-likeness. He LOVES us. He loves us in a way that our ability to love only hints at. He reminds me that those who love do not flee from suffering, but bear it in the most intimate and vulnerable of ways. He reminds me that His greatest victory and manifestation of the strength and might of God was only revealed through His humility and weakness, to the very point of death. But most critically of all, and the one we often fail to see when the veil of Death hangs over those we love, is that Death is not the end. Nor is Death the victor. We are all more than conquerors through Him who loved us… (Romans 8:36-39)

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A Sinking Heart

There is no despair

when my heart sinks

into hopeless waters.

I do not fear the depths

nor the breadths

of the pain that swells

and crashes against me.

Hope, I carry with me.

When I sink

into darkness.

I am not the Light.

But the Light dwells within me.

The Light transforms me.

More. More of it.

Not lessening me.

But less of the Dark

who said “You’re me.”

Drawing me into a fullness

A wholeness

Into the me God intended

Before I gave myself to the world.

Expelling the rot.

The lies that would say

broken can’t become whole

but Truth calls the me made new

Beautiful.

 

 

 

Sometimes, I Forget

From December 6th, 2016

 

Sometimes I forget, God.

I forget that You come close when we find ourselves sinking.

I forget You loved me when I was darkest.

I forget that You love us so much, you sent your Son and the Advocate to help us.

I forget You are the God who humbled Egypt for your people.

I forget You are a God who gives children to the barren.

I forget You spilt your blood for us.

I forget You gave us rulers because WE insisted.

I forget all the ways You have been faithful to a faithless people.

I would rather be anywhere with You than in paradise without you. You are my paradise.

Two Questions

“Who is this guy?”

”Do I trust him?”

These two questions sat at the heart of our service today. They were talking about God and Scripture. Discovering who “this guy” is through the Word and asking us where we have stepped out in faith. Where we have trusted Him. To illustrate this, the woman speaking shared a story from her own life when she found herself trusting in a group of strangers.

And as she spoke I felt conviction about this lie that I’ve treated as truth for so long, I didn’t notice how it had entangled me. This lie that said I can’t be trusted.

It is rather unfortunate that I’ve been through some pretty dark seasons. Seasons that most often involved me looking at a boy or man and believing I knew him and I could trust him. And then being proven very wrong. Although I have forgiven them and found healing around those things, today I realized I hadn’t forgiven myself. After discovering over and over how wrong I was about so many people, I started to believe I could not be trusted with my own well-being. That if someone wanted a relationship with me (dating, friendship, etc) it was because they were deeply broken. And if I was attracted to someone, it was a sure sign to run. Literally. All sirens went off internally and I would flee.

Ultimately though, this story isn’t a story about me, but about God and God’s desire to redeem, restore and reconcile. A God of Truth certainly cannot abide this lie I have been somewhat unknowingly agreeing with.

When I began to seek God, one of the first things I discovered (and one of my favorite attributes) about God is how available God is to me. God gives me complete and total freedom to explore who God is, to know God’s past and future. To seek God not because God isn’t already here, but because the breadth and depth of God is so vast that I am able to become totally “lost” with God.

God and I have been through some good times and bad, but the characteristics of god I read in the Bible are present in our relationship today. I am confident I can trust God.

But I couldn’t trust me. I couldn’t trust the people around me. I couldn’t take that risk because I thought my judgment was impaired. It wasn’t. The problem was that I had tried to discern through my own humanness, my brokenness, my wounds rather than through the Spirit that God gives me and the wisdom God blesses me with both through our relationship and the Word.

So I repent. I repent of believing that God could not equip or protect me, of not trusting that God would continue to shepherd me. And I bless this space, that I would move forward confident in that I am covered in the armor of the Lord, who is my stronghold and my rock in difficult times. I pray that the rest of my story would be a testimony to the kind of Love God extends to each of us. I pray that I would be able to step with the confidence of one who is led by the King of Kings. Amen.

My Surrender

Once a heart of stone now flesh

A gift bestowed on one You adore.

My emotions stir afresh

Into my heart Your love does pour.

 

For I know so well this darkness

That I give thanks for that which is Light.

Once trapped in a pit of hopelessness

I now soar to an unfathomed height.

 

It is here I kneel and surrender

where there is no pride or shame

my sin You bore on the cross

and my just punishment you claim.

 

Such love is wonder beyond wonder

such truth I cannot grasp

Your grace I can but ponder

your every mercy makes me gasp.

 

There are no words or songs

Of thanks for the freedom I now know

from the sin and from the wrongs

under whose weight I once bowed.

 

I nearly knelt before my enemy

Who accused and declared blame

But now I choose my own King

Whose sovereignty I proclaim.

 

For my name is written on His hands

and His on the tablet of my heart

and from one another

ne’er shall we part.

Encountering Mystery

I had spent a very, very long time trapped in a space mentally and emotionally which felt like complete hopelessness and loneliness, clinging to a tiny shred of hope. It was like the glow of a single, twinkling Christmas light in what felt like an otherwise black abyss. I had started going to Crossroads about 10 months before, and a series of events had made me curious enough to begin asking, “Is there a God? And if there is, is God good? Who am I to God?” This ended up with me landing in India, going to some of the darkest places I could imagine, and challenging this God to show up.

I experienced a moment there that I will never forget. Crossroads partners with several homes in Mumbai and Kolkata, India, that rescue girls and women from sex trafficking. I was in the first group that went to Kolkata and we spent one of our days there putting on a day camp for the girls. We sang, we danced, we played, we taught each other songs and we also did some crafts. One of the crafts was to make a beaded bracelet or necklace. The different colored beads stood for things that were important to us or things we wanted. Examples would include hope, friendship, love, wisdom, etc. I was making a bracelet with one of the girls when she noticed the beads I had chosen to use. “No, no, no. More love.” I was confused, and asked her what she meant and she smiled and laughed at me. “You!” She pointed. “More love,” she said as she pointed at my bracelet, which barely included that color at all. She then proceeded to dismantle my entire bracelet and fill it with the color of love.

My heart broke in the most wonderful way possible in that moment, like walls around it were crumbling. It was as if all the darkness I felt like I was covered in turned into a liquid and puddled at the bottom of me and suddenly, the world seemed to be made of color. Of light. This child who had been through so much could see the very thing I felt I lacked but that I so desperately longed for and she piled it on, unabashedly. She taught me to worship as we sung, “Rejoice in the Lord, always, and again I say, Rejoice!” I was overwhelmed, I was baffled, I was in the process of becoming. If this young girl who had experienced the true darkness of mankind so fully could worship God, could call out for love with a hungry heart, than certainly there was something special happening here. Some kind of extraordinary goodness that could say, “Even in this place I will give you joy. Even in your suffering, you will know love. Loneliness is a lie because there is a God that loves you and is always with you.”

It wasn’t the first time or the last time that I encountered the Mystery of God, but it planted a seed of faith so deep inside of me that it successfully took root. I began a steadfast pursuit of this God that comes close, who moves in our lives today. While I’ll never fully know or understand God, I feel called into this Mystery that is. I get a sense that not only am I welcome to explore the character and nature of my God but that my desire to know God brings joy. When I begin feeling alone or discouraged, I look back on this moment and I remember how God used the ordinary to speak about the extraordinary and I rejoice.

Being Beings and Discovering Mystery

John Shea’s essay, “Exceeding Darkness and Undeserved Light,” outline four different environments that we all share, best understood as “the basic contours of our existence.” (Shea 2) The environments are made up of the self, loved ones, society and institutions, and universe. Our experience as humans may appear to be summed up by our interactions with these four, but there is a fifth environment which encompasses these: Mystery. Our basic experience can be understood in having two points: ourselves and the environment we encounter (for instance, I (1) eat bread (2)).  When this interaction reveals a dimension of Mystery, we experience sacramental awareness (the addition of the third point). In the instance of eating bread, I might understand it to be not only bread but my personal participation in the account of Christ who gave his followers bread and told them it was his body, broken for them.

There are five primary ways Shea outlines as a means of becoming aware of the ultimate dimension of our experience as humans. First is contingency, “what Kazantzakis calls the luminous interval between two darknesses.” (Shea 13) Sometimes it looks like the gift of living fully and joyfully in the moment, amazed by the very experience of it all. At other times, it can be a reminder of how very fragile and finite out lives on this planet are. The second path is dialogue and communion. Through dialogue people discover who they are and in communion they discover a love and acceptance gifted to them by their community. The third path is collapse. “When order crumbles, Mystery rises.” (Shea 16) This is the falling apart of the beliefs or knowledge we clung to and our reaction to that loss. “A fourth path to Mystery leads through a deepened sense of the ambiguity of our moral activity.” (Shea) While we strive for moral ideals, we most often find ourselves falling substantially short.  Last is disenchantment. Well known throughout history, it refers to an awakening which ultimately calls us into a maturing religious consciousness.

When we read Pigeon Feathers, by John Updike, we see a boys journey to sacramental awareness. The main character, David, experiences these environments in such a way that he becomes disenchanted, one of the five paths mentioned by Shea. David has an encounter with Reverend Dobson over heaven when he didn’t answer David satisfactorily.  “His indignation at being betrayed, at seeing Christianity betrayed, had hardened him. The straight dirt road reflected his hardness.” (Updike 36) He searched and searched for truth, but he was lost in the darkness that can fall when one realizes there is a question but no answer. He saw his classmates and their ill-fated path towards imminent death and eventually lost his desire to read altogether. Although concerned, his parents resolved to give him a gun for his fifteenth birthday. We can see the “universe environment” and it’s influence on David as he practiced shooting, which put fear into his dog who he would sometimes comfort. “Giving this comfort to a degree returned comfort to him.” (Updike 43) Ultimately, David is asked to use his new skills to clear out the pigeons in the barn. Although he didn’t have a desire to, he did as he was asked. As he killed more and more pigeons, he enjoyed it more, feeling the power he held with his gun and his ability to predict the pigeons path. Yet it was when he went to bury them that Mystery entered into his world: “He had never seen a bird this close before. The feathers were more wonderful than dog’s hair… a pattern that flowed without error across the bird’s body. He lost himself in the geometrical tides…And across the surface of the infinitely adjusted yet somehow effortless mechanics of the feathers….no two alike… designs executed, it seemed, in a controlled rapture, with a joy that hung level in the air above and behind him.” (Updike 50) He was startled by the intention behind them and the fact that they were treated like pests. In this encounter, he rediscovered his God, “….that the God who had lavished such craft upon these worthless birds would not destroy His whole Creation by refusing to let David live forever.” (Updike 50)

References

Shea, John. “Exceeding Darkness and Undeserved Light.” Stories of God. Liguori, Missouri: Liguori Publications, 2006.

Updike, John. “Pigeon Feathers.” Olinger Stories. New York: Vintage Books, 1964. Short Story.