Thursday, August 13, 2015

Coming to Grips With an Insignificant Life

First, some confessions need to be made:

  • I feel insignificant and meaningless most of the time (for those in the know, that’s a “type 4” on the Enneagram).
  • My feelings of restlessness often overwhelm me, causing me to do anything to distract or numb myself.
  • Sometimes I am triggered by what I perceive to be rejection and betrayal from others, and these triggers easily overwhelm me, causing me to spiral in despair.
  • I often assume, without even thinking about it, that I am a unique failure - that my life is the “exception that proves the rule” of God’s providence, the one life he couldn’t do anything meaningful or beautiful with.
  • If I allow it, feelings and interpretations of meaninglessness can pervade every experience, conversation, activity, thoughts for the future, remembrance of the past and experience of the present. Even the most powerful and meaningful experience can be re-interpreted to fit this lens, this system of assumptions and beliefs. I rarely enjoy holidays, celebrations, vacations or birthdays for this reason.
  • Even in the writing of this blog, I hope that someone might notice and affirm me, all the while knowing that any affirmation I receive won’t even make a dent in the restlessness. This brings sadness.

If you’re still reading to this point, congratulations! You get to hear about my hope.

In the face of this “dark tide,” Jesus is teaching me something that helps, something that turns the tide - something powerful enough to even reverse the flow of the tide.

What I have found, over many years, is that pouring out my insignificance before God - a form of violent, thrashing surrender – is the only thing that leads me into a significant life, a meaningful life with God and with others. The one place I find meaning and purpose is with him, in the midst of my meaninglessness. Using every tool I can get my hands on and my mind around, I pour out the toxic brew of my pain, anger and frustration and more often than not find myself surprised that there is something even deeper, even more fundamental to “me.”

Emptied out and broken, I encounter the good and holy desires underneath it all:

I want to be known and loved for who I am
I want to be noticed, celebrated as unique, special and worthy
I want to love and bless that which is unique in me and in others
I want to feel safe

The experience of “emptying out” and being broken is necessary for me to be able to touch these desires free of the burden of making them happen. I can then leisurely sit with them in the presence of Jesus, open to what he would like to do.

Through this process, amidst the barren, lifeless abyss of meaningless restlessness, the presence of God-with-me births a restful, peaceful hope:

My significance is only found in Him, the insignificant God of the Cross.

Sure I knew that, but it took dozens of years of obscurity, hiddenness and suffering to enter into it, to really experience it and begin to make it my home. I had to taste a thousand dusty sandwiches before I could develop a taste for food and water not of my making. I had to test God’s promises a million times in dark places where dragons roam, before I could imagine myself cared for and loved enough to walk into another land – one where the dragons are transformed into birds, flowers, big skies and mighty rivers and mountains of soul rest and firstborn joy. I had to hear and receive the gentle words of Jesus in a thousand furious emotional hurricanes of rejection, self-hatred and despair before I could realize that His words are far more powerful than any darkness. I had to be held by God through a million free-falls. I had to practice the presence of God through many flights into sin as I tried to silence the pain.

Jesus has never left my side.

For this reason, I enter into every day determined to cling to Him as He clings to me, no matter the cost. Sometimes I have no idea if I’ve succeeded, sometimes I’ve failed altogether. He holds me still. His tenacious hold on me doesn’t ebb or flow with my commitment or my success or failure; it’s fueled by a far better source – the furious love of God, the radical and offensive commitment of a prodigal God to love and make whole the most unholy and broken people he can find.

The past few years have seen some dramatic shifts in my soul, ones that have yielded new dreams sprouting forth out of the rubble of shattered dreams. I am learning to live a way of life with Jesus that has brought much life to my heart and the hearts of those around me. This way of life could, Lord willing, evolve into a pastoral vocation if the people involved were desperate enough. There are so many hurting people (like me) out there, so many sheep in the church without shepherds, I long to help where I can. We’ll see what God does with this insignificant life. He’s won my heart; I’m not going anywhere.

O God, you are my God; earnestly I seek you;
    my soul thirsts for you;
my flesh faints for you,
    as in a dry and weary land where there is no water.
So I have looked upon you in the sanctuary,
    beholding your power and glory.
Because your steadfast love is better than life,
    my lips will praise you.
So I will bless you as long as I live;
    in your name I will lift up my hands.
My soul will be satisfied as with fat and rich food,
    and my mouth will praise you with joyful lips,
when I remember you upon my bed,
    and meditate on you in the watches of the night;
for you have been my help,
    and in the shadow of your wings I will sing for joy.
My soul clings to you;
    your right hand upholds me.
(Psalm 63:1-8 NIV)

Sunday, August 09, 2015

Gethsemani Journal–August 1, 2015

I recently spent a weekend at the Abbey of Gethsemani for a silence and solitude retreat. The Lord spoke in many beautiful and gentle ways, often through sunrise and sunset. The beauty of God seemed so all-pervasive and constant! I was reminded that all my journeys take place under the rule of this kind and powerful Father.

I wrote the following short reflection after being blessed by a magnificent sunset the night before.

Gethsemani Aug 2015

The Love of God and Joy of God floods the created universe, each moment a pulsating firestorm of goodness.

It permeates everything, crashing gently into this moment.

It surrounds and floods my family tree whispering:

“Courage, dear heart;

everything can be redeemed.

Everything sad is coming untrue.”

Tuesday, August 04, 2015

Making Peace With Humidity

Lord, one of the things I’ve always hated about living in Louisville is the humidity during the summers. We sometimes call it “soup” to swim through, a trial to endure as it sucks the strength from our bodies and souls. I swear it’s like an atmospheric vampire, sucking the life force from me as I walk to my car! It hits me like a brick wall sometimes as I step out the door.

When the humidity descends, the A/C goes on everywhere and longing for my home state of Oregon increases exponentially. I long to be back “home,” where the only A/C we usually needed was found by opening windows. For most of us in Louisville, our windows shut sometime in May and usually don’t open again until September or October. Some people never open their windows, and that seems profoundly sad to me.

Jesus, my Master, you’ve been teaching this disciple the value and profound importance of embracing my life - all the messy mundane details of it - as a gift from you. You’re teaching me, Lord, slowly (so slowly!) that in order for me to see and interpret my life as you do I must learn to see and receive it in the context of Your heart-wrenching goodness.

Lord, as I walked with You one humid morning recently, my clothes getting drenched, I realized that humidity itself is a gift - one of the ways You tenderly care for this climate. I was gently rebuked as my clothes were getting soaked in sweat, that I had despised for so long this particular work of God that was now covering me with sweaty symbolism.

I still struggle making “peace” with it, but I realize it’s part of making peace with Jesus as He rules the world around me. I may have to limit my exposure due to my weakness, but I give thanks for humidity as one more expression of Your care for me, my family and this part of Your world. What would Kentucky be without summer humidity? Not God’s Kentucky, to be sure.

Also, Lord, this sets my imagination on fire - How could I miss for so long, your relational provision of a heavily weighted atmosphere? What a beautiful image - God fills the atmosphere around my body and my lungs; the air is freighted with water ready to drench the earth in “Yahweh’s affectionate satisfaction.”

Forgive me, Lord. 
Help me to see clearly and give thanks for my life.

For God’s Word is solid to the core;
   everything he makes is sound inside and out.
He loves it when everything fits,
   when his world is in plumb-line true.
Earth is drenched
   in God’s affectionate satisfaction. 
(Ps 33:4-5 MSG)

Sunday, July 12, 2015

So Sad and Serious

So sad and serious,
forced to grow up
and look after myself.

I tried to be brave
I tried to be smart
Tried so hard
so very tired.
So tired of being sad and serious.

I don't know what joy is sometimes
or lightness of heart.
Like a little boy playing dress up in a mean, fast, grown-up world,
I pretend to mean and fast too.

Learned it by watching those with power;
Trained in the ways of those who can manipulate people and circumstances
for the love and security they want.

Only to find fools gold;
restless wandering
empty whirlwind
toxic water.

Can I be made young again?
Can there be a do-over?
Can this mean, fast heart be healed?
Can I take off the costumes and stop pretending to be someone I'm not?
What will become of me if I do?
Who will look after me?

Lord, have mercy.

I'd rather be fake than feel alone,
I'd rather be mean and fast than feel out of control and abandoned.
I'd rather take than be taken,
I'd rather use than be used.

Lord, have mercy.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Psalm Twentythreed: Being Formed by Psalm 23



For several years I have incorporated Psalm 23 into my morning prayers and throughout the day in an attempt to root my thoughts, feelings and choices in God’s care. It has been indispensable in helping me find healing and hope for deep layers of abandonment, fear, anger and shame.

As I have grown in praying this prayer, I have also grown in appreciation of what I would call the “semantic range” of praying the Scriptures (semantic range = what a word can mean, based on context). I have read, prayed and incorporated a variety of translations of Psalm 23, filling up a well of images and metaphors that no one translation could capture.

This is my loose adaptation for my morning prayer, involving phrases and imagery also from Psalms 16 and 27. I try to pray simpler versions throughout the day, but this more expanded version primes the pump, allowing me to move toward greater prayerfulness. 

I spaced out phrases where I typically pause or emphasize. I hope it blesses you as you seek to anchor your heart and mind in God’s Kingdom, where each of us can be safe and satisfied.

The Lord is good, and his mercy endures forever.
The Lord is my good Shepherd;
Yahweh, the GREAT I AM, is the one who personally cares for me.

I shall not want,
I lack nothing,
I have everything I need,
right here, right now.

He beds me down in lush green meadows,
He leads me beside still quiet waters of rest and provision.

He restores and refreshes my torn and weary soul.
He restores,
He refreshes,
my torn, weary and anxious soul.

He leads me in paths of righteousness, peace and joy
for his name’s sake and for my good;

Although this path often leads through darkness,
I will fear no evil, for you are with me
You are for me.

Nothing can happen to me that is not redeemable by love;
nothing that meets me today can separate me
from your great, tender and pervasive love.

Come, Lord, penetrate and intertwine yourself
within the fibers of my heart, mind, body and soul
so that I would know you, the only true God,
and Jesus my Master whom you sent,
and that I would know myself as one deeply loved and pleasing to you,
never alone,
never alone.

You prepare for me a feasting table, right under the nose of my enemies;
even behind enemy lines, Lord, your abundance surrounds me.

Help me receive it with thanks and to live a thankful life,
an inviting life even toward those who use me and dislike me.
Thank you for my life, and all the relationships and experiences
that have made me who I am right here, right now.

You anoint my head with oil,
you kiss my forehead with grace
until my cup overflows.

You are my portion and my cup,
The Lord is what I have in life and is the one who sustains me,
you hold me safe and sound,
my life and body rest secure;
Gushing fountains of endless LIFE are always within my reach,
because the Lord is my Shepherd

Surely your goodness and faithful love
will never fail to pursue and overtake me,
surround, saturate and satisfy me
all the days of my life, all the moments of my day,
drawing me up into your life and your house
making it my home forever.

May this life, this body, be our shared habitation.

By your gracious invitation,
and my conscious intention as your disciple,
I will dwell with you in your house
my whole life long.

Friday, June 05, 2015

The Heaving Wait

What mysteries visit in the dark
when knowing and loving fail
and joy is forgotten?

I’m tempted to conclude
amidst the heaving wait
that darkness will utter the final word
that doom shall consume
that all I’ve ever feared
will become true

But if I wait
for the heaving to do its work
until my hands hang limp
and my knees give way
fall to a calming quiet

As I wait there
powerless and oddly safe

as pure gift
the dawn breaks

Monday, May 18, 2015

As the Dawn Pierces

Waiting and watching

anticipation ripens


As the dawn pierces the eastern sky

hope pierces my heart


the night can be so long and lonely

few linger to feel it

and taste the dewy darkness;


But when the sun is born anew

and breaks through the horizongate

Those made ready are able

to receive the tardy embrace.


The earth is flooded

engulfed

drenched in golden joy

this is how days start.