a glimpse.

in October, i helped with a church launch in Fletcher Place, the neighborhood just a few blocks from our house.  we meet in the same space as the gallery.

it was agreed that i would eventually be on a rotation of teachers, and in December i was asked if i could do the month of January.  my direction was simply the teachings of Christ, but i began to feel that we really needed to study the lifestyle of Christ, to know what was important to him, that we may begin to orient ourselves in the same way.

this morning, our topic was “prayer.”  i divided the room into groups, allowing them to dive into the assigned scriptures and answer, through dialogue and discussion answers to simple questions about the content of Christ’s prayer, what seemed to purpose, and where he tended to pray.  i roamed from group to group, casually observing their responses, making sure all felt comfortable enough to participate.

in one group, a mom had chosen to include her 10 and 7-yr olds in the activity.  an older gentlemen articulately and with a subtle authority read through the passage and began to facilitate the discussion; he had done this many times before and could do it well.  he asked why Jesus chose to retreat to the wilderness to pray, and the young 7-yr-old piped in.

“because Molly just told us,” she said, referring to the children’s lesson they had just received, “that sometimes you have to be alone to hear God.”

the table sat there stunned, but no one more so than the older gentleman.  his face revealed how completely impressed, and yet still humbled, he was by her clear and direct response.

the scene sticks with me as such a beautiful glimpse into the operation of the Kingdom, how the “last shall be first” and “let the little children come to me” and “if you do not approach the Kingdom like a little child, you can not be my disciple” (all roughly paraphrased).  in the Kingdom, we not only learn about life from the seasoned veterans, but also from the purity of children, who’s ears and eyes seem to be tucked right up against that of the Father.  in the Kingdom, we will teach one another, with humility and love.  we will be equals.

just being.

i’ve taken the steps set before me.  moved through endings and new beginnings.  worked through endless 6-day weeks, trying to balance two different work situations.  busted myself trying to wrap up loose ends, training a new employee on my job, making sure she had anything she could ever need.  and all that led me…here.

wherever “here” is.  i find i have a hard time indentifying the season i’m in until it’s nearly over, and this one is no exception.  suddenly, i have only a very part-time commitment in terms of scheduled hours to a job.  i do have hours and hours of independent work to do, but all this is on my own time and schedule.  i went from having to rise at 6 am sharp to get a run/shower/food in before my 30-minute commute; now i can wake whenever i want.  run whenver i want.  make an elaborate breakfast and read an article while i sip my coffee.  i can bike to the pool in the middle of the day and have afternoon tea. 

this all sounds like i dream, i know, but i honestly don’t know what to do with myself.  i just don’t know what to do.  all this free time, i am quite aware, leads to no income of any sort.  the next season, though, will demand large amounts of my time, and during strange times, so i am hesitant to commit to even another part-time job, in fear that i will just end up quitting or it will take away from the Gallery, etc.  i keep seeking out God but mum’s the word.

something deep down whispers, just be.

just be.  such a foreign concept in our society of productivity.  to be honest, i don’t even know what that means.  for so long, my value has depended on what/how much i could produce. 

i’ve been babysitting this eve, spending time with a beautiful 9-mo-old, and if there’s one thing babies know how to do, it’s BE.  after dinner, i pulled the stroller outside and plopped him down in it, ready to take a walk.  he smiled as i strapped him in and stuck a finger in his mouth to relieve his gums of the pain of incoming teeth.  all through the walk, he sat still, never making a noise.  he had no clue where we were going, what he would see, if we’d be back in time for his beloved bottle , if i would accidentally run us both over a cliff.  none of that concerned him.  he trusted me and so felt content to be.

perhaps that is the key to this practice of  being.  if i believe i have a good God who wouldn’t lead down a path only to abandon me at the end, then i can trust the ride i’m on.  i don’t know where we’re going, what i’ll see, what will be needed from me or if i’ll have money to move into that little two-bedroom apartment i’ve been salivating over.  He does, though…i don’t claim to understand it or Him or even this process, but i am learning to trust.  i am learning to be….

so be content with who you are, and don’t put on airs.  God’s strong hand is on you; he’ll promote you at the right time.  live carefree before God, he is most careful with you.
-1 peter 5:6-7

the space between.

the space between is where
we hope to keep safe from the pain…

one of my recent discoveries has been the huge disconnect between the stories we tell, and the reality of our lives.  we read in the old testament about these “spiritual giants” who were willing to sacrifice their first born, leave their homes for foreign lands, follow God through the desert and beyond.  we read their stories and find it romantic and beautiful.  we applaud them for their faithfulness, lifting them onto our shoulders above the crowd.

then we look at our journey and wonder at our stumbles and broken places.  we don’t see the places where God has asked us to lay our own promises on the altar as anything similar to Abraham, because he was faithful and we have trouble giving it up.

i recently finished an amazing book (The Game of Thrones by George R. R. McDonald) where they dealt with this very same issue.  the characters continually reference the old stories of princes and kings and valiant knights and the pretty lives they lead.  in real time, however, life is gritty, raw, hard, and full of loss.  one character, Sansa, in particular, struggles with this.  as a young girl, she longs for the romance of the old stories, of a young prince sweeping her off her feet, of living the rest of her days a graceful queen.  she quickly learns, however, that her prince is hateful and conceited, and being queen means nothing more than that you were willing to sacrifice anything for the title.

on the flip side, there’s young Bran and his brother, Jon, who find that stories still have truth for today.  several stories center around the wild creatures who dwell deep in the woods.  because they have not been seen by most for thousands of years, the stories get filed away as simply children’s tales to be told by nannies and old ladies.  there is danger in this for our characters, and for ourselves, for their denial keeps them from plainly acknowledging the truth before them, from seeing the bigger picture.

the space between…
is where i’ll be hiding, waiting for you.

our house has been full of grief this week, from dealing with the harshness of disappointed hopes, to the emptiness of changing relationships, to the death of a community member.  there have been prolonged moments of tears, unanswerable questions, hard silent moments with nothing but the sound of sobs.

it is easy in these moments to be swallowed up in the present-time reality of things.  to allow the deep darkness of confusion take over.  i find myself upset with God, telling myself i could never be like Abraham because he was so faithful and i’m so…not.  or that Abraham could never know what it feels like to be me, how painful and wretched the actual giving up is, because he was so perfect, and i’m so…not.  like Sansa, i stand alone with empty hands, bewildered and disillusioned.

a second look at the stories, though, reveals the truth of our common humanity.  that even though we may move forward in faith, our grief can still extends to the very tips of our fingers and toes.  Abraham may have had to realize that his love for God had to grow bigger than even his love for his only son, but the decision still ripped at his heart.

the stories point toward a bigger picture than the details we’re stuck in.  they tell us of a God who’s not actually hateful, of a God who reaches out and keeps Abraham from sacrificing his beloved.  the grief does not last a lifetime, the stories whisper to us.  tomorrow or the next day or 100 days from now will reveal a sun rising again.  do not despair, they say, because this is not the end after all.  God will redeem everything that has been lost.

the space between the story and the reality is where we broken-hearted, weary, dusty pilgrims must dwell.  our hope grows in the space between. . . .

living sacrifice.

and so it came, the morning the old man had been dreading for weeks.  he wiped his eyes clear of the tears that now, he realized, came so easily, and put away the breakfast dishes.

at the door appeared a young man who served in their stables.  he was there to let the old man know that the preparations had been but before he said a word, the old man nodded his acknowledgment.  the boy bowed slightly and was back out the door.

“papa!” he heard yelled loudly as a boisterous young boy came running through the house, a distraught woman chasing after him.

“isaac!” she called, breathing heavily.  she was no longer young herself, her greying hair and aging skin reflecting a life long-lived.  she was waving a shirt in the air and it was then the old man noticed that his young son was topless.  despite himself, he managed to chuckle.

he told no one of what his God had asked of him, could not bring himself to even utter the words.  it seemed just yesterday they were promised of the coming of this young son, his only son,  and today it would all be over.

their travel into the wilderness went smoothly.  his young son bounced with youthfulness and excitement.  he knew only that they were going to make a sacrifice to their God, a usual practice, but the day also savored of potential adventure, and the young boy could not help but shreak and giggle on the slightest provocation.  the old man rode at the front of the party where the tears could flow freely and out of view.

when they came to the base of the mountain, he stopped them and dismounted his donkey.  the young stable boy prepared to as well, but the old man waved him off.  he picked his young son up and tossed him over his shoulder, as they had done many times before.  young isaac giggled and squirmed until, just a few steps into the path, his father put him down and let him run ahead.

the old man reflected on the years with his little son, the promises he was sure he had been given, but that now felt questionable at best.  the promise of a future, of the joy of sharing life with isaac and his children, of seeing his family grow and live beyond him.

deep down something broke and he had to stop and wait for the rush of emotion to recede.  at that moment, his young son came running back and wrapped his arms around his legs, squeezing them hard in an embrace.  the old man bent down slowly and touched the young boy’s face.  in his eyes the old man saw his wife, the nose mirroring his father’s, the soft round mouth that resembled his own.  Dear God, he screamed out inside, what have you asked me to do?

they continued on to the spot he had reserved, and the young boy eagerly gathered sticks and branches to compile into an altar.  the old man moved slower.  he began to wrestle with the idea of backing out, of not completing this task asked of him.  fear rushed through him, and doubt.  while he knew in his head that his God could easily bring the dead back to life and that he would not ask something without good reason, he wondered at his heart truly grasping that concept.  he wondered at losing the only thing he had on earth he had ever desired, and loved most intensely.   he wondered if the grief would ever subside.

soon enough, the altar was ready.  the boy began to question what they would be sacrificing, as there were no animals present.  the old man squatted to the ground and pulled his son close, breathing in the sweet smells of sweat and soap.  he closed his eyes and kissed the boy gently on the forehead.  his mind was made up.

our God will provide,” he said with a forced half-smile, and lifted the boy to the altar.

sharing our stories….

i was invited tonight by a fairly new friend to an event titled, “pie, piano & poetry.”  the premise is simple: bring a pie and whatever you create to share with the group.  it sounds largely intimidating, and felt that way as well.  especially as the numbers grew to nearly 20.

i was the second chosen, which threw me off-guard.  but as i tend to enjoy the spotlight, and had much encouragement, i quickly came to enjoy sharing.  the theme was “throw-back”–share anything from the past–and i brought out a book i wrote and illustrated when i was 10, titled “Janna becomes a princess.”  (my best friend back then was Janna Whiteley, and i used her name for many a main character)  as i read my story outloud, laughing at my own shallow-10-year-old understanding of the world and human dynamics, i began to feel very free.

at the end, everyone clapped and i realized how importantly foundational writing also has been for me.

later on in our sharing, a woman spoke who is in the midst of a messy divorce.  without divulging many of the specifics, she shared her pain and the load she is baring simply in the tears that fell to her cheeks, the silence that portrayed the absence of words in such a time as this.

next to her sat a relatively young woman, vibrant with the life of youth, beautiful and bright and bubbly.  she had many words to offer in conversation, great stories written in her own childhood.  she was not lacking in anything, except in this moment.  she offered what she had to the grieving woman, simple, easy answers that could not even begin to scale the depths of the previous woman’s grief.

i watched this scene play out…the one woman openly grieving, the other offering a sympathy she seemed satisfied to believe was enough.

the younger woman, by all measurable standards, was “beautiful.”  vibrancy, youthfulness, liveliness are all to her credit, and i in no means fault her for where she is.

but as i studied the grieving woman…the lines on her face betraying the hard terrain she’s been traveling.  the worry behind her eyes, the way she looked away when she sensed she was about to cry,  i saw something of another kind of beauty.  a deeper beauty that extended far below the surface of hair and skin.  a strange immeasurable beauty that draws people to a place of admiration.

gold is always beautiful, or so i’ve heard.  even in it’s rawest forms.  but it is the beauty that is refined by the fire that is truly something to behold.  the beauty i saw in this grieving woman is not just given out to anyone, it is a beauty that is earned.

when Christ was alive, i’m sure those who walked with him felt much like the first girl, excited about life.  filled to the brim with joy at feeling such a rich and fulfilling love for the first time ever.  bubbling over with a joy they had never known.

but then the crucifixion came, and the dream died.  all of life and hope and love seemed to be crucified on that cross.  then buried in a tomb.  anything they had ever believed would be in their future suddenly wasn’t.

neither place in this walk is superior to the other, but both are part of the same journey.

and it’s nearly 1:30 am so i don’t care if these thoughts are incoherent….

promises, promises…

there’s a story in the Bible about an old man, and an old woman. they had lived many, many years together as husband and wife, but had no children.

one day, the God of their people told the man he would someday be the father of many peoples. the woman could not believe her ears, and she laughed at the idea. clearly, their present circumstances could not produce such an outcome. she had known for many years she could not have children and besides, they were too old for such a thing.

so, the woman decided a young maiden who served in their house would be the one to fulfill the promise. she pushed the maiden on her husband, convinced this was the only way.

the young maiden got pregnant easily but this still did not satisfy the woman. overwhelmed with jealousy, she drove the maiden and the newborn from her house. the maiden was distrought and the young man grew up filled to the brim with the bitterness of rejection.

soon after, the old woman got pregnant and the couple rejoiced, though not as much as they could have, at the fulfillment of the promise.

~~~~~~~~~~

(an excerpt from an earlier journal entry)
this all-too-familiar tension is sometimes overwhelming.  it’s all i can do not to run away, to hold Jesus steady in my vision.  these are the times in our walk together that i just wish i could jump on a golf cart or something and skip a few holes.

i can understand why Sarah did it, forced her husband on her maid servant.  i can understand why she tried to force God’s hand.  it’s not the best feeling in the world, not as satisfying or fulfilling as it could be.  but there seems to be a sense that maybe this is good enough.  and worse yet, all there is…