Thursday, December 31, 2015

Loneliness Amidst Enveloping Goodness: Some Reflections on 2015

For a child has been born for us,
a son given to us;
authority rests upon his shoulders;
and he is named
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

His authority shall grow continually,
and there shall be endless peace
for the throne of David and his kingdom.
He will establish and uphold it
with justice and with righteousness
from this time onward and forevermore.
The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this.
(Isaiah 9:6-7 NRSV)

This text has been gripping me for several weeks now as Advent has come to a close and ushered in the season of Christmas. As I have learned about and experienced more of the Kingdom of God I have different eyes for texts like these, eyes that are on the lookout for evidence of God's loving rule from the heavens.

I am reminded of the gospel Jesus came to preach. To Him, the gospel was all about the Kingdom of God. Jesus came to bring the Kingdom of God into our neighborhood, to make it immediately accessible and readily available to everyone who wants it.
After John was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God. “The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!” (Mark 1:14-15 NIV)
His death removes every obstacle, and his life and teachings show us how it looks to live, through all the seasons of life, in that Kingdom with a God of infinite goodness as our Father.The amazing thing to me is that Jesus brings God’s good rule, with all the presence and activity of Trinitarian sufficiency, right down to the ground where I live and work, sleep and wake, despair and hope.

One of the things that has struck me in this Isaiah passage is talk of the “government” (NIV) and “authority” (NRSV) that will be on this Child’s (v.6) shoulders and will go forth in ever widening circles of design, power and peace.
Of the greatness of his government and peace there will be no end. (Isaiah 9:7 NIV)
As 2015 winds down, I wanted to connect this Isaiah passage to what Jesus is doing right here, right now and throughout the year. Simply put, he will take charge of whatever we let him take charge of. This is what it means to call Jesus “Lord” as well as “Savior.” He shows us how it works and why it’s the best thing we have ever imagined; indeed, it’s what we were created for.

Speaking for myself, I desperately need this reminder as 2015 ends. It has been for us a year of risk and trust; trusting God enough to put myself out there with resumes and cover letters for a job that doesn't yet exist. Deepening exposure to the Kingdom that Jesus brings has yielded experiences of deep healing. It also has been one of the most lonely years I can remember. Our longing for a church to call “home” has remained unfulfilled and throbbing. Further, my attempts to “dream” again and seek to respond to a pastoral call (see here and here) has met with silence, opposition, skepticism and increasing marginalization and obscurity. As the year winds down I feel weary, with little hope that anything good is coming. I don't know if I can handle another year like 2015.

Thankfully, my story doesn’t end there! I remember that I don’t need to make my story turn out “right” or force resolution on stubborn plotlines that resist closure and peace. I can simply be present to the people and range of choices before me and not worry about where it’s all headed or what’s in store for me and my family. Either the outcomes of my life are on my shoulders or they are on his, and my body stress, levels of shame, fear and anxiety will always tell whose shoulders are bearing the load. If I let the Christ-child bear the arranging of my affairs (my "government"), the promise is that I will experience his peace. His peace – the peace he had and still has and that he still gives to those who are disciples of his, those learning from him how to live.

"Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts" (Col 3:15 NIV)

"Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid." (John 14:27 NIV)

One of the biggest shame triggers at this time of year is having to tell your story to someone who doesn’t get it. Social gatherings and family get-togethers can be especially painful as we seek to answer questions about “what’s going on” in the best possible way so that we don't end up looking like fools. We feel ashamed about what remains unfinished in our lives, so we either hide our stories or embellish them to make them sound better than they are. Plotlines that remain unresolved and messy cause us deep shame in the presence of many (seemingly) strong successful personalities that have it all together. Everybody seems richer and more successful than I am! I wish I had his clarity, her purpose, their network of relationships, their opportunities!

I remember and return to the humble king of obscurity born in a cave with a feeding trough for a throne. No need to impress here, only experience his presence and pour out my heart. I say I'm sorry for how little I accomplished for him this year, how I was unable to better my family's situation or find much clarity in calling or purpose. As I pour out my heart, I sense his heart lean into mine and remind me that he doesn't measure the years the way I do, in terms of how much I got done or who I came to know or what resources I have gained. The way he measures my year is by how many shared experiences we have had, how we have grown in conversation and participation as I have learned to trust him with more and more of my actual day to day life. Intimacy is shared experience, and all he cares about is growing deeper with me in increasing levels of trust and shared experience, year by year. I felt his joy over me, with the enveloping promise that any year spent growing in shared experience with Jesus is a fruitful year and one to be celebrated!

May you, dear readers, find him to be more than you ever dared hope. May 2016 be for us and all ragamuffins out there a year that we find satisfaction in Emmanuel - such satisfaction that we can lay down our costumes and masks and grow into a little bit more of who we were made to be - the person God had in mind when he spoke us into existence and weaved us into substance. That person, living life with-God, is our truest and best self, our freest and happiest self. May God grant us renewed vision to venture out on his word and Kingdom, trusting him in and for everything.

Hope of all hopes, dream of our dreams,
a child is born, sweet-breathed; a son is given to us: a living gift.
And even now, with tiny features and dewy hair, He is great.
The power of leadership, and the weight of authority, will rest on His shoulders.
His name? His name we’ll know in many ways—
He will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Dear Father everlasting, ever-present never-failing,
Master of Wholeness, Prince of Peace.
His leadership will bring such prosperity as you’ve never seen before—
sustainable peace for all time.
This child: God’s promise to David—a throne forever, among us,
to restore sound leadership that cannot be perverted or shaken.
He will ensure justice without fail and absolute equity. Always.
The intense passion of the Eternal, Commander of heavenly armies,
will carry this to completion.
(Isaiah 9:6-7, The Voice)

Friday, November 27, 2015

Food Triggers and the Holidays

Although I have been around my “goal weight” for almost 3 years, I still deeply struggle sometimes with food and body issues getting triggered in me. A “trigger” occurs when a body experience or food experience translates into a negative emotional state for me, like loneliness, shame or self-hatred. For example, if I feel full, I automatically feel ashamed. I never have to think about it, it’s just waiting for me, like an unseen ingredient in whatever I’m eating. In my “former life” of overeating and especially going to sweets for comfort, my experience of shame became ingrained and predictable: eat too much, feel ashamed and alone, repeat. The layers of fat I saw in the mirror only reinforced this shame story.

Holidays like Thanksgiving which revolve around food are still a huge struggle for me. I desperately want to be free to enjoy these occasional celebrations, to enjoy good foods that I normally don’t eat anymore. Though I have seen some deep signs of progress, I rarely if ever experience any food celebration without some hint of shame. Further, I must make intentional efforts to expose myself to these situations at times. I know that if I never allowed myself to experience “indulgences” then I would never have opportunity to work on these issues (though I have to be careful here!), to try and address these emotional echoes and residual shame issues.

Sometimes it’s like I come to a holiday dinner and say, “Ms. Loneliness, meet Mr. Feast; Mr. Feast, meet Ms. Loneliness.” Then they have a bunch of rowdy shame children who ransack my soul. How can I break free?

The past 2-3 years I have been growing in much more intentional work re-interpreting these events, with the result of finding the underlying causes slowly being healed. Reinterpretation is key here; my experiences of food and shame have been interpreted a certain way for so long that it feels like reality. It has become my “mind-map.” For example, my habit of buying a few candy bars after work (1-2x a week for many years) as a means to deal with the stress of work and my rampant feelings of worthlessness was quite literally transformed by bringing God into that habit in a different way. I didn’t try to change it at first, (tried that a million times before) although I was making healthier commitments and choices in other areas of my life (e.g., calorie counting, exercise) which helped me gain a vision for my life in which indulging in sweets might not be good or necessary.

As I tried practicing the presence of God in these times when I felt so, so alone, I would often pathetically cry out, “Jesus, I know you’re here; I don’t want to turn to these sweets, but I thank you that you will love me regardless. Help me find rest in you. I thank you that these candy bars remind me of your sweet grace and mercy always available to me.” I would then eat them, trying to receive his love (instead of shame) through the food. After a while, I felt less and less tempted to turn to sweets for comfort, until now it’s rarely even on the horizon.

Today, as I deal with the aftereffects of “the shame of feeling full,” two new interpretive categories have been bouncing around my mind and I want to tease them out a bit.

First, I thought of my body as a quite literal boundary for my sense of self. I have borders where my skin stops; this is me. It used to be much bigger. Now it’s slimmer but full of lots of unattractive loose skin (that looks a lot like fat, sad to say!). I thought, “This body is my address; this is where I live with God and he with me.” The underlying issue for me (and many others, I imagine) is acceptance of myself as I am, not as I should be. Whether fat, thin, weak, disabled, or physically strong, God’s loving presence in and with does not change.

Second, and related, I saw Jesus’ words in John 15 in a new way. I saw once again how I need, as Brennan Manning put it in one of my favorite books (Lion and Lamb), the healing of the image of God and of myself. They stand or fall together.

Live in me. Make your home in me just as I do in you. In the same way that a branch can’t bear grapes by itself but only by being joined to the vine, you can’t bear fruit unless you are joined with me. . . . “I’ve loved you the way my Father has loved me. Make yourselves at home in my love. If you keep my commands, you’ll remain intimately at home in my love. That’s what I’ve done—kept my Father’s commands and made myself at home in his love. (John 15:4, 9-10 MSG, emphasis mine)

As the adage goes, “being at home in my own skin” has as much to do with loving this vessel, this body of mine with a particular history (much of it heartbreaking, sinful and silly) as it does with my trust in Jesus who is with and in me.

Brennan Manning writes,

“Christianity happens when men and women experience the unwavering trust and reckless confidence that come from knowing the God of Jesus.” (Lion and Lamb, 18).

and again,

“Tenderness is what happens to you when you know you are deeply and sincerely liked by someone. If you communicate to me that you like me, not just love me as a brother in Christ, you open up to me the possibility of self-respect, self-esteem, and wholesome self-love. Your acceptance of me banishes my fears. My defense mechanisms – sarcasm, aloofness, name-dropping, self-righteousness, giving the appearance of having it all together – start to fall. I drop my mask and stop disguising my voice. You instill self-confidence in me and allow me to smile at my weaknesses and absurdities. The look in your eyes gives me permission to make the journey into the interior of myself and make peace with that part of myself where I could never find peace before. I become more open, sincere, vulnerable, and affectionate. I too grow tender.” (ibid., 23).

Centuries earlier Paul had written a letter to a bunch of rowdy disciples who regularly used their bodies for things other than God:

Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price.Therefore honor God with your bodies. (1 Corinthians 6:19 NIV)

I used to read this verse as a veiled threat coming from a gloriously annoyed God who tolerated my presence. I’m beginning to see it through a different lens, as an invitation from Jesus to a place of shared habitation where we can grow together in union and communion in every moment and circumstance of life.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Thanksgiving Pre-Work (a repost from 2013)

I don’t usually repost my blogs, but this one seemed important enough to share again – at least I needed it! It’s from November 2013.


As we head into Advent next week (11/29/15) may our hearts be made ready through these kinds of meditations.





I’m realizing more than ever how necessary and appropriate the act and discipline of thanksgiving is to preparing us for the Advent season (which begins this Sunday, December 1, 2013)  

Preparing to receive Jesus as he gives himself to us and not how we expect him;


Preparing to receive Jesus in the company of other hungry disciples, shipwrecked at the stable;


Preparing to receive Jesus with humility, being brave enough to admit that we have no idea what is going on, even after all these years;


Preparing to receive Jesus as the way, the truth and the life of God.


Preparing to receive Jesus in wonder, adoration and in joy.


Thanksgiving is necessary “pre-work” for this work of receiving Jesus. Not just the holiday of Thanksgiving, of course, but the actual act of giving thanks, being thankful, offering thanksgiving for what is good, holy and true. When I say necessary pre-work, I don’t mean it merits us anything, but that thanksgiving carves out and prepares a place for Jesus to be born in us, just as room was made in a stable in Bethlehem. We give thanks for what is good in and around us, for what does not come from us. This requires a certain childlike humility, and as it happens, humility is the basic requirement for recognizing Jesus in the way he reveals himself to the world. Otherwise, we will miss him, leaving us to fend for ourselves in Black Friday lines and shiny packages, in overeating and lopsided football games. We remember that most people, throughout history, have missed him.


Two writers have become travelling companions with me as I do this preparatory work, so I wanted to quote their wisdom here and reflect on it a bit. Their words are unique in that we don’t usually hear things like this at this time of year. I hope you will see what I mean.


First, from the poet John D. Blase:


“Here’s a thought. I share it on Monday because it might take a coupla days to seep deep and if that’s the case then come Thursday you could be ready. I believe this Thanksgiving Day that God has a message for you and me, for all of us really. I don’t know whose voice you imagine God’s voice to sound like (maybe Morgan Freeman or Maya Angelou) but in whosoever's voice you think God sounds like, God says directly to you:


‘I AM so thankful for you.’


If we say that God loves us, and there’s at least a fair number of us who claim to believe that, then why would it be a stretch for God to be thankful for us? Just imagine this huge Camelot-style roundtable and everybody’s seated there and instead of the usual okay-now-tell-one-thing-you’re-thankful-to-God-for exercise, we all sit stunned while God goes around that mythic table and says ‘I AM so thankful for’ and names us, every one, by name, or nickname depending on how God feels in that moment?


That the voice of Love in the universe, and I believe there to be such a voice, were to pause on Thursday and say ‘I AM so thankful for Meredith and Winn and Mark and Ann and Leah and James and Jan and Holly and Michael and Anne and Kent and Pam and Boots (nickname) and Richard and Abbey and Sarah and Will and Don and Ingrid and Mary and Amy and Scout (real name) and…’” (Facebook post by John D. Blase on 11/25/13)


This idea blows my mind! Of course, the idea of God giving thanks leads us to ask, “But, who does God give thanks to??”


We forget that God is a Trinitarian fellowship made up of indescribably rich persons of power, love and goodness. It makes perfect sense that the members of the Trinity give thanks to each other. Jesus gave thanks to God the Father while on earth in an overflowing demonstration of the life and goodness of God caught up in Himself (Matt 11:25-30; 26:26; Mk 14:22; Jn 6:11).


What if, as part of this Trinitarian thanksgiving, you and I were included in God’s giving of thanks?? I am undone with the thought. This is where I want to live! If we are dwelling in this kind of reality, then we can safely navigate all the pitfalls that usually come with the holidays: toxic relatives, shopping lines, traffic jams, painful longings, deep disappointments and elusive joy. Amidst it all we can be grounded in God’s Trinitarian fullness, overflowing from eternity into time in the form of a baby in a dirty feed trough. This is peace and goodness to be thankful for!


The second quote comes from the late Dallas Willard.


“The emotional life of these children of light is deeply characterized by love.They love lots of good things and they love people. They love their life and who they are. They are thankful for their life—even though it may contain many difficulties, even persecution and martyrdom (Matthew 5:10-12). They receive all of it as God's gift, or at least as his allowance, where they will know his goodness and greatness and go on to live with him forever. And so joy and peace are with them even in the hardest of times—even when suffering unjustly. Because of what they have learned about God, they are confident and hopeful and do not indulge thoughts of rejection, failure, and hopelessness, because they know better.” (Facebook post from Dallas Willard Center for Spiritual Formation on 11/25/13, emphasis mine)


The reason this quote is so meaningful to me is that the idea of “being thankful for my life” is profoundly foreign and even offensive. Offensive, at least, to my habitual self-hatred which I have cultivated and held dear, especially during the holiday season when there is so much ammunition for self-hatred! We gain weight, say something stupid, make stupid purchases, get our hopes up and feel utterly foolish when those hopes are dashed, we blow up at store clerks and “idiot” drivers, we get back with our families and feel age 9 again, responding to everything with the immaturity of that 9 year old, we traffic in shame and guilt and then wrap it all up and expect something different than self-hatred to come out on December 25. Lord, have mercy.


The Lord has been doing a new work in me in the past year and a half, and a deep part of that work is learning to be thankful for my life as it is and not as it should be. I am able, in Jesus name and in the power of his Kingdom, to look at all the painful areas of my life (past, present and future) and bring them out of darkness and into the “kingdom of the son he loves” (Col 1:13-14). I can learn to be thankful for parents who failed me, for authority figures who abused and manipulated me; I can learn to see the good that God has brought into my life through loneliness, suffering and physical pain. In Willard’s words I hear the whisper of the Bethlehem Jesus, who loves to dwell with the lowly and broken, saying, “My grace is sufficient in all these points of weakness, sin and excruciating pain. Trust me with them, because I am all you need and I am aboundingly good. You are a gift, from me, to the world.”


This aspect of “giving thanks” prepares me for Advent in bringing all of my life to Jesus as he reveals himself, not the strong, choice, good-looking parts, but the real parts: broken and sagging and empty and dysfunctional. This is the “neighborhood” that Jesus moves into, day after day after day (Jn 1:14).


To wrap this up, remember friends, as you feast with friends and family, to make sure you feast on God’s goodness expressed through Jesus. Take time out to receive the thanksgiving of God that he sings over you (Zeph 3:17)  and allow this to translate into thanksgiving for yourself and your life! That’s a meal worth waiting for and a meal worth sharing!! Bless yourself, bless others, bless God.


3 Because your love is better than life,

   my lips will glorify you.

4 I will praise you as long as I live,

   and in your name I will lift up my hands.

5 I will be fully satisfied as with the richest of foods;

   with singing lips my mouth will praise you. (Ps 63:3-5 NIV)


Here are some more Scriptures that have been on my mind recently regarding these things:


13 For you created my inmost being;

   you knit me together in my mother’s womb.

14 I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;

   your works are wonderful,

   I know that full well.

15 My frame was not hidden from you

   when I was made in the secret place,

   when I was woven together in the depths of the earth.

16 Your eyes saw my unformed body;

   all the days ordained for me were written in your book

   before one of them came to be.

17 How precious to me are your thoughts, God!

   How vast is the sum of them!

18 Were I to count them,

   they would outnumber the grains of sand—

   when I awake, I am still with you. (Ps 139:13-18 NIV)


Col 1:9-13

9 For this reason, since the day we heard about you, we have not stopped praying for you. We continually ask God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all the wisdom and understanding that the Spirit gives,10 so that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God, 11 being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience, 12 and giving joyful thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of his holy people in the kingdom of light. 13 For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, 14 in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.


Col 3:15-17

15 Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. 16 Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts. 17 And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

The Dire Need for Beauty

Like much of the world, I am shocked, silenced and saddened by the Paris terrorist attacks last night (Friday, Nov 13). My family and I are having conversations about it, praying for what little we know to pray for, and longing together for a better world when attacks like this no longer happen because the people inhabiting that world are healed in the depths of their souls by the love of God.

This kind of evil and suffering is mysteriously difficult to make sense of, and this “unknown factor” tends to unravel our souls a bit and make us a bit more skeptical toward the goodness of God. Whatever sense of “safety” we felt before we heard of the attacks has taken a significant hit, if we still allow ourselves to feel such things as safety and wonder.

As I was thinking about restoring a sense of safety and wonder, I found myself returning to some of Wendell Berry’s poetry that I had been meditating on earlier in the day. I realized once again, that Simone Weil was right when she wrote about the “Love of God and Affliction,” that the two things that pierce our souls are beauty and affliction. This piercing is also called penthos or “compunction.” Alan Jones writes,

“One of the ways in which the shock of Christ is kept alive is by means of what the desert tradition of the East called penthos. In the West it is called compunction, and has to do with a kind of ‘puncturing’ of the heart. Penthos (compunction) is the word for that which pierces us to the heart, cuts us to the quick, raises us from the ‘dead.’ Penthos administers the shock that is necessary for us to be who we really are. . . .  [it] frees the soul from the lying and the pretense that tend to dominate us when we are frightened, anxious or insecure. It is also known as the gift of tears.” (Soul Making, 84-5).

The assault on Paris had affected my soul significantly, causing me to wonder if I could ever feel safe in this world again. I realized that the best thing I could do would be to return to Berry’s poetry and let it play once again in my imagination. I need to expose myself to beauty in openness and wonder in order to find healing from the assault of affliction and confusing chaos. We cannot control being “pierced,” either through beauty or affliction, and though the piercing of suffering feels like assault forced on us, we can try and choose to place ourselves in contexts of beauty, goodness and truth. We can open our hearts again, ever so slowly, to the things that are worth living for – relationships, creational beauty, good books and music, etc. I offer Wendell Berry’s poem, “The Peace of Wild Things” for myself and my readers, to help us recover a vision of safety, goodness and rest in a world sometimes gone mad with violence and hatred. Please pause with it as you read it, making room for it in your souls.

When despair for the world grows in me

and I wake in the night at the least sound

in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,

I go and lie down where the wood drake

rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.

I come into the peace of wild things

who do not tax their lives with forethought

of grief. I come into the presence of still water.

And I feel above me the day-blind stars

waiting with their light. For a time

I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.

Source: Collected Poems 1957-1982 (Counterpoint Press, 1985)

It’s interesting to note that Berry later objected to his use of “wild things” here, thinking it misplaced. In a 2013 Interview, he commented,

“I would now object to that phrase ‘wild things.’ I’m getting really uneasy about that term ‘wild,’ because after so many years of watching the original creatures of my place what I see is that they’re not wild. They’re conducting domestic life. They’re much better at it than we are. They are carrying on their domestic life — getting food, making shelters, raising their young — just like we’re supposed to be doing in our domestic life. Moreover, they see us as wild. And they’re right. Because we’re the ones who have shaken off our limits, and are out of control, and have given up our manners and courtesies and our compassion. We’re the ‘wild things.’ They’re scared of us and they are right.”

Sunday, November 01, 2015

Christ is Seated (A Meditation)

Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. (Colossians 3:1 NIV)

He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high . . . (Hebrews 1:3 ESV; cf. Heb 8:1; 10:12; 12:2)

The one who conquers, I will grant him to sit with me on my throne, as I also conquered and sat down with my Father on his throne. (Revelation 3:21 ESV)

There Christ presently sits, ruling and reigning in ways that are relaxed, unhurried and irresistibly hopeful, along with all those he has purchased and made his own. His relaxed, hopeful presence permeates all who sit with him there, those redeemed souls bought with his love, the adopted and dearly loved sons and daughters of God.

As his peace rules their hearts, they are trained in his relaxed, hopeful ways of reigning. Participation with him in the living of their lives results in the fruits of his Kingdom presence and activity being made manifest in their day to day world – righteousness, peace and joy.

Those seated with him become like him in ways deeper than position or forensic declaration; they become united in intimate communion with him, becoming so deeply and pervasively identified with him that they end up discovering their true selves, hidden in him.

Monday, October 26, 2015

Let Go Little Leaf

Fall 1Fall2


I wrote this little poem over the weekend as I sat watching trees gently shedding their leaves in a beautiful retreat setting (some of the above pictures try to capture it). Some of the lines are a bit cheesy, but I like that because it has to do with the offense of wonder to the complicated adult mind (of mine) concerned with people’s opinions. I left the lines as they came to me, cheese and all, for those who have enough simplicity and wonder still left in their bones to hear them as knowing.

To hear leaves fall

is to hear their last call

Beautiful Death.


Let go, little leaf

the ground needs you;


not to hold on

but to let go


The only way forward is down.

You have to let to

to be come good soil

to feed Spring’s Feast


The wind blows

makes it so hard to hold on


Let go, dear one

your Maker will catch you

You are part of a bigger story being told


Glorious little leaf!

you are the hands that clap

when God passes by!

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Burning Edge of Dawn

As a family we had the blessed privilege of seeing Andrew Peterson in concert last night in Lexington, KY. It’s hard to believe that it’s been almost three years since my last one! (see posts here and here).

andrew peterson

Peterson has just released his new album, Burning Edge of Dawn, which is quickly becoming one of my favorites. I found it no surprise that it was born out of a new season of wrestling with darkness and depression.

Like his “ragamuffin predecessor,” Rich Mullins, Andrew Peterson shares snippets of his story in between songs. A few of the things he said were so good I had to remember to write them down for further reflection. I will paraphrase a few thoughts here and then comment on them.

First, Peterson commented about the fact that many of his songs revolve around living through a sense of loss, trying to make sense of darkness and depression in light of what he knows about God.

Admitting sadness and brokenness in the Christian life does not mean that Christianity is only about sadness. Sadness is part of being human. What Christianity provides is the opportunity to redeem sadness, to find hope in it with the One who lives with us.

Any form of spirituality that cannot acknowledge and incorporate sadness and darkness into the working of normal everyday life is simply out of touch. As Christians, we have the unique calling upon us to model and live how God indwells and redeems every ounce of human experience, including joy, hope, trauma, sin, sorrow and sadness. Since we live in a culture that has no category for “evil,” often the stories being told are of a “dystopian” nature – a kind of wallowing in darkness with no redemptive meaning (e.g., The Road and The Hunger Games in my opinion).

My favorite moment of the night was when Peterson shared some insight on his authoring the Wingfeather Saga series of novels.

As an author, I had a picture of where I wanted to take my main character, Janner, a picture of where he would end up by the end of the series in book 4. But I realized that in order to do that, I had to ruin his life; I had to take everything away that he loved, everything familiar; I had to take him to the point where he could not see how his story could end well. But then, as an author, I was also able to lift the veil and show him what it was all for, that it was worth it.

I was in tears when I heard this. I long to see my life through the Author’s eyes, one that would help me make sense of why things are so hard, why things go as they do in my story.

This morning as I reflected on Isaiah 53:7-12 in my morning readings, I wondered about the vision that Jesus had in mind that enabled him to live and die as he did.

And in the face of such oppression and suffering—silence.
Not a word of protest, not a finger raised to stop it.
Like a sheep to a shearing, like a lamb to be slaughtered,
he went—oh so quietly, oh so willingly. (Isa 53:7, The Voice)

Then I thought about Hebrews 12:1-4:

So since we stand surrounded by all those who have gone before, an enormous cloud of witnesses, let us drop every extra weight, every sin that clings to us and slackens our pace, and let us run with endurance the long race set before us.

Now stay focused on Jesus, who designed and perfected our faith. He endured the cross and ignored the shame of that death because He focused on the joy that was set before Him; and now He is seated beside God on the throne, a place of honor.

Consider the life of the One who endured such personal attacks and hostility from sinners so that you will not grow weary or lose heart. Among you, in your striving against sin, none has resisted the pressure to the point of death, as He did. (The Voice)

A significant part of Jesus’ vision (the joy set before him) was enduring suffering, even embracing it, while rejecting the shame of it. Shame causes us to interpret our suffering as “further confirmation of our worthlessness.” What would it look like to interpret it differently? The author of Hebrews goes on to suggest (12:5ff) that we can learn to see it as God’s loving discipline, his shaping us for his holiness. Suffering can uniquely shape us for living the eternal life that Jesus gives, now. It can empty us of all the obstacles to this life.

Obviously we need help from others to interpret things this way – safe people to sit with us and hold us when we’re falling apart. As we do that for each other, be that for each other, our lives intertwine and become a tiny beacon we can hold on to when life hurts.