Homelessness: A Conflicted Stream of Consciousness

There’s a man just to my right.

He’s not in line.

Just awkwardly standing there, out of place.

His head is in his hands.

He is invisible to those around him.

They don’t see him.

Or they pretend not to.

Is he…crying?

I steal an awkward glance, hoping we don’t make eye contact.

If he saw me looking at him, he might try to talk to me.

And I wouldn’t know what to say.

He doesn’t look normal.

He might not know how to talk.

He raises his head briefly and makes a sort of sobbing sound.

He’s obviously mentally ill.

No one else is transparent enough to display their emotions in public.

Tears mingle with thick yellow strings of snot.

Like a crying child.

I am repulsed.

At the snot.

At the awkwardness.

At the circumstances that so cruelly deposited this man here on the sidewalk.

If a normal person were crying, wouldn’t someone do something?

Yet no one does anything.

Is he even a person?

I wonder if he played with friends on the playground in elementary school and if he remembers it.

Did he graduate high school?

He limps away.

There’s a pizza box that someone has set on the top of a trash can.

He opens it hopefully.

It’s empty.

I watch as he disappears down the sidewalk.

And I…I’m buying a movie ticket.

Dear God, isn’t there anything anyone can do?

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Falling into the Reach of Glorious Grace

What a wordy title.

Well, I’ve always had trouble with the concept of falling of love, maybe because I’m such a perfectionist.  There’s a part of me that can’t take that deliberate step off the cliff to trust someone with my heart and let them love me, because then I have no control over what they love about me.  There’s a fear that they might love an imperfect part of me that I’m uncomfortable with anyone seeing.  A part of me that I myself do not love.  If someone loves me for something other than my accomplishments — my proof of value — the ways I have tried to make myself lovable — I’m not really sure why they love me at all.  And it’s uncomfortable not to be able to calculate my value or define what I’m worth to them.  If I don’t know why they love me, I have no control over it.  They could stop tomorrow, and I wouldn’t know why.  My whole life, I’ve tried to prove myself to people who already love me unconditionally, and it robs me of the joy and fulfillment that comes with being loved and loving them in return.

A while back, I let someone hold my hand for the first time in nearly two years.  It alarmed me at first.  There was some subconscious horror rising up in me that desperately wanted to voice the anxiety in my heart: “Why are you holding my hand?! I’ve never done anything for you, you know none of the things about me that I consider even mildly impressive, and you can’t hold my hand because I can’t handle you caring about me more than my accomplishments.”  It was such a ridiculous thought, and fortunately I didn’t voice it.  Instead, I made the deliberate effort to relinquish a little bit of control…and held his hand a bit tighter because I could either hold onto the unknown and hope it would catch me, or I could run away from it.

I think grace is the same way.  The risk of grace is not something we can carefully calculate.  Like love, grace is something we have to fall for.

And for us perfectionists, that can get a bit dicey.  We hold onto our accomplishments like a security blanket.  We like the thought of grace, so long as it supplements our works rather than replaces them.

Except…it doesn’t work that way.

Grace and self-sufficiency cannot coexist in ANY amount.  If you base 1% of your salvation on works, it’s 100% based on works.  If you haven’t taken that step of faith off the edge of the cliff, grace hasn’t caught you at all.  Grace is a gift that only the surrendered can experience in all its beauty.

There are at least two super uncomfortable parables about grace in the Bible.  The first is that really obnoxious story of the man who pays the same wage to the workers who worked 12 hours and the ones who worked 1 hour.  It’s uncomfortable because most of us identify with the offended characters.  Everything in us balks at the seeming injustice because it doesn’t fit into our worldview. Yeah — welcome to Jesus’ parables.  Perhaps this is one of the few that actually retains its rhetorical impact for modern readers.  Kingdom values are upside down and offensive to the proud.  The reason this parable irritates us is because a lot of us think we’re the 12-hour workers.  We’ve gone to church our whole lives, know the books of the Bible by heart, go on mission trips, and pray every day.  And we don’t get any more grace than the hopeless sinner who disgusts us? It’s not fair.

The other parable is that of the prodigal son.  It’s all too easy to see things from the older brother’s point of view: “I worked for you all these years, and you never even gave me a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends! But when this son of yours who has squandered your wealth with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!”  And we’re like, “Yeah, where’s the justice in that?”  Because we’ve been working all this time, but it seems an awful lot like drudgery when we see the rescued sinner rejoicing, and we wonder what he has to be so happy about.  If he gets off the hook, what have we been working for all this time?  That question, of course, leads to an uncomfortable conclusion: perhaps, all this time, we have been working for the wrong things.

No matter how hard we work, we will never be worthy of grace.  Paul says that our salvation is by grace, not by works, so that no one can boast.  Dear ones, God is not impressed by your talents; He’s the One that created them.  I can just see Him shaking His head and laughing as we eagerly say, “See what I’ve done!” and hold up empty hands.  For us 12-hour workers and older brothers, it’s time to face the painful reality that we have done nothing to earn His love.

It’s a frightening thing to take a step off the cliff and fall for grace.  But when you do, you’ll find a heavy weight lifted from your shoulders.  If nothing you do can earn you grace, nothing you do can take you beyond its reach.

As inconceivable as it may seem to us, God wants to hold our hand.  He wants us to grasp His tightly and trust Him when we have nothing else to hold onto.  He’s waiting there to catch us…if we’ll only fall.

waiting

Wait for the Lord, my anxious heart.

The future, so close and yet so distant, seems to slip from my grasp the moment I reach out for it.  I cannot search its unfathomable depths.  God alone knows.

I cannot control anything by worrying.  But the thought of waiting — for what, I do not know — some intangible sense of peace and purpose? — makes my heart beat faster in helpless panic.  Surely I must do something.  Make a decision.  RIGHT NOW.  Or at least figure out these conflicting feelings that consume my mind and wrap themselves as a chain around my heart.  I’m holding so tightly that my knuckles turn white.  I can barely breathe.  But there is nothing in my clenched fists.  Nothing but the crescent-shaped nail marks in my palms.

I look at my empty hands and tears fill my eyes.  Where can I turn for peace?  It cannot be found in the looming shadows of an undetermined future.  I feel only dread and apprehension at this sense of confusion.

The answers will come.  He has always guided me in the past.  What reason have I to doubt His faithfulness?

Stay close to His heart, little one, I chide myself.  Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.  And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.  Wait for the Lord; be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord.

Published in: on April 1, 2013 at 12:18 am  Leave a Comment  
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those three little words

How can I show you what I mean to convey?

Can I make you understand the words I can’t say?

Those three little words are too common, too trite

Far too often they don’t last through the night

But this will last a lifetime

This will last a lifetime

So I have to find a way to make you see

That you’re everything, everything to me

If my actions don’t say it, how can it be true?

But I care enough to give my life for you.

1st John 3:18 — Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue, but with actions and in truth.

lord-supper

Published in: on February 16, 2013 at 10:47 pm  Leave a Comment  
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And the World Turned

Disclaimer: Listen to the song before you read the post, or you’ll be totally lost.

I love this song and its beautiful blend of simplicity and depth.  I love how it tells a story, how it relates the pain of loss, the struggle with self-worth, the difficulty of letting go, and the bittersweet closure that comes.  My favorite lyric is the simple line, “But instead she tossed the locket in the cool blue water.”  It’s the point in the song where everything turns around, where she makes the decision to let go of the past and pursue the future.

I was thinking about that line a few days ago, and I just now realized how beautifully applicable it is to the New Year.  What memories do we have hiding away in lockets because we can’t muster up the strength to get rid of them?  Instead of controlling our emotions, we let them control us.  We let them consume us.  We let them dictate our lives.

The girl was at a crossroads; her grief had consumed her to the point that she couldn’t continue to live this way.  So she had two choices: she could throw her life away, or she could throw away what was keeping her from living her life.  The water below was equally ready to take either.  At first, she considered falling to her death and taking the locket with her, letting that faded picture control her even to her grave.  “But instead…” She let the locket fall, saving what was of infinitely greater worth — the potential of the rest of her life.

And the world turned, and the world turned, and the world turned.

What’s in that dusty locket of yours?

It’s a new year, and the world is turning again.  You’ve got a choice to make.  Are you going to hold onto the past and let it keep you from better things?  Or are you going to drop the locket and start living the rest of your life?

broken and bleeding

Broken.

Fractured.

Divided.

This is our world.

This is US.

This is everything we touch…

…including the Church.

Shreds of her once-white wedding gown litter the earth and mix with the dirt until one can hardly tell the difference between cloth and mud. Between politics and peace. Between culture and Christianity.

Where has she gone, this beautiful bride of Christ? She has torn herself apart. She has decided that, indeed, the eye does not need the hand nor does the head need the feet. She has dismembered herself.

The fingers try to heal themselves without the hand. The hand seeks wholeness without the arm. But there is no unity to be found, for we have severed ourselves from the lifeblood of the heart. It pumps alone, calling, calling the body back to itself.

At this point, is it about the presence of Christ in communion? Instrumental music? Baptism? Different cultures? Different races?

No, it’s about none of that.

It’s brokenness that no band-aid can fix.

Christ alone can heal the divide.

But there is only One heart for one body, and we must come together to find it.

Published in: on November 19, 2012 at 12:19 am  Leave a Comment  
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The Alluring

I awake in the night and he is gone. The sheets are still warm from where he lay beside me, and his scent lingers in the air. But he is gone. Love is a mist, only an illusion that hangs in the air, fading with the morning light. I must have been kidding myself to think he would stay this time. As if in a dream, I swing my legs out of bed and shudder as my toes touch the cold floor. I wrap myself in the red satin robe he gave me and slip outside.

It is a foggy night, the moon obscured by the silvery clouds. I stand on tiptoe and strain to see. Distant, shadowed, but there he stands at the end of the path. My lover.

He sees me standing there, the breeze toying with my loosened hair, self-consciously fingering the front of my robe as if I suddenly feel  immodest. He turns and begins to walk away. His back is disappearing into the mist, but I can still catch him and somehow convince him to stay. It’s not too late. I begin to run, but in the darkness the trees suddenly seem to hem me in. The path narrows as the hedges thicken, creating a wall on either side of me. Am I still dreaming? I can barely see him now. Which direction has he gone? I look desperately around me at what now seems to be a threatening forest. I have lost my way, but I continue to push through the undergrowth. The thorns begin to tear at my robe, at my hair, at my skin. I feel like I am fighting, but what for? My lover has gone.

I stop, panting for breath, choking on the tears that have begun to surface. I hear footsteps behind me. Is that him? I spin around quickly…and there He is. Not my lover. The one I had left. The one had forgotten. The whole time I had been chasing my lover without a backward glance…He had been chasing me.

I walk towards Him slowly, apprehensively,  not sure what to expect. His face is difficult to read. I can’t quite place the emotion I find there, but somehow it tears me apart inside. He extends His hand to me. As I place mine in His, He pulls the gaudy ring from my finger and examines it. Then He tosses it away and pulls me to Him, roughly. I brace myself; this wouldn’t be the first time I had been hit by a man. With a jealous fury He snatches the adornment from my neck, throwing it to the ground with an anger that frightens me. He tears off the scarlet robe. It cascades to the ground, leaving me standing before Him naked and exposed. I cry out and try to cover myself with my arms, but it is no use. There is no hiding from Him. He is looking not even at me, but straight through me. I duck my head, guarding myself against the shouting and the beating that is sure to come. Surely His patience is worn through by now. Aren’t all men the same in the end?

But nothing happens. I open my eyes. He reaches out and tilts my chin upward to meet his gaze with a touch so gentle it gives me chills, and the look of intense longing in His eyes makes me catch my breath. Can He really still love me? The harsh voice I was expecting never comes. Instead, He begins to speak in a low, tender voice. “Stop cowering, beloved. Why are you so afraid? You will no longer call Me ‘master’; you will call Me ‘husband.’ For I will betroth you to Me forever; I will betroth you in righteousness and justice, in love and compassion and faithfulness.”

The words wash over me like a cleansing rain as I fall into His arms, their purity healing my heart of all the lies and the broken promises. Because this time I know…I know. This is the last time He will ever have to come after me, because nothing else will ever satisfy the way this love does.  I will look for love no further than here, where it has found me. This time I will stay.

~Hosea 2:6-20~

Published in: on August 31, 2012 at 9:29 pm  Leave a Comment  
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so I had this dream…

Sometimes, God sends you those dreams, you know? Where He really needed to show you something that you could only understand by feeling it and experiencing it… experiencing Him. And what He showed me last night was probably the most powerful dream I’ve ever had, and I just wanted to share it with you.

So I had just stepped out of the shower, wrapped in a towel, with wet stringy hair. True to real life, I immediately began to critique and criticize my appearance. Looking down at my feet, I thought, “I really need to paint my toenails.” I tip-toed across the floor to the sink and looked closely in the mirror. “I need to pluck my eyebrows, too…and why am I breaking out? Ugh.” I reached for my makeup bag, scattering dozens of little brushes and containers across the sink.

And then in the mirror, I saw Him behind me. I’m not sure what He looked like, but I knew it was Him. He wrapped His arms around me and held me tight. I caught my breath. It had been so long since I had felt a touch like that, so different from just any guy. There was no hint of inappropriate desire to make me feel uncomfortable. I felt only safe, and in that moment I knew I never wanted anyone but Him, never wanted anyone else to touch me because this was real, this was pure, and every other touch was tacky and cheap in comparison.

I wanted to relax in His arms, but common sense told me it was time to get ready for the day. I wiggled away and reached for my foundation to smooth my complexion and my tube of concealer to take care of the random stress breakout. “Don’t look at me yet,” I laughed, half hoping He wouldn’t obey.

He didn’t, of course. We stared into the mirror together. He gently touched the side of my face. “Are you ashamed of this?” He asked in disbelief. I wasn’t sure how to answer.

He stepped back, hands on my shoulders, looking me over, eyes straying to the smear of blood on my knee where I had nicked myself shaving. He bent down on one knee, tenderly wiping away the welling red droplets. He looked up at me, His tender eyes confused. “You make yourself bleed trying to be beautiful? Don’t you know I bled to make you beautiful?”

Again, I was speechless. He didn’t say anything more, just stood and took me in His arms again — and for perhaps the first time in my life, I let myself be held without worrying, without being afraid, without trying to control anything. I knew, somehow, that I was perfectly understood, perfectly accepted, and perfectly loved.

Published in: on May 7, 2012 at 10:45 pm  Comments (3)  
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Pursued by a King

Norman Elrod — “I notice something about myself: the amount of faith I have does not match the amount of faith I should have when I consider the fact that I am in a relationship with the Creator of the Universe, and my name is known by the King of Heaven.”

When I read that, something about the way it was phrased hit me right between the eyes. How would I feel if a celebrity asked me out to dinner? If a billionaire put a ring on my finger and said he wanted to spend forever with me?

I would finally see myself as special. Desirable. Important. I’m pretty sure I would no longer have any fear of what others thought of me.

Well, I’m being pursued by a KING. The One who owns the cattle on a thousand hills looked my way. I mean, the One who invented planet Earth noticed me. He wanted me.

And suddenly, it has so much more meaning when I say:

I am loved by GOD himself!!

And when I see it from that perspective…my life really is a perfect fairytale. There really is nothing else I need.

Published in: on April 4, 2012 at 10:24 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Undone

“Lord, You are taking me apart a piece at a time, until I am completely undone before You. My sinful nature will fight You every step of the way, but I want to know You, Lord. To know Your heart. To be only Yours.” — journal entry from january 24th, 2012

I’ve spent my whole life shaping myself. My personality. My image. My style.

In middle school, I went through that awkward phase where I just tried really hard not to be ugly (it was a losing battle).

In high school, I just wanted to fit in.

And in college, it’s been all about “finding myself” and shaping my identity.

It’s been a long and arduous process. A journey. A road with many ups and downs.

And every time I reach a point where I think, “Okay, this is who I want to be,” God just looks and me and says, “Well, this is who I want you to be.”

And that’s when it all comes undone. Everything that I thought was important is stripped away and I’m left back where I started, empty-handed.

At the core of who I am is the girl that He created. His image. But not everything I have become conforms to that image. So bit by bit, He chips away everything that doesn’t look like Jesus.

Over time, my heart has been hardened by failed friendships and relationships and people who have let me down. It’s difficult to trust. It’s difficult to love.

My eyes have been blinded by the lies of the world and its distorted interpretations of the truth. I can’t see clearly and don’t know how to process what I can see.

And my hands — my hands have been covered in dirt, caked in mud, as I dabble in the things of the world and define myself by its standards.

But little by little as He breaks through my resistance, the layers fall away. I’m being transformed into something beautiful.

And now I’m standing in the presence of the Almighty God. I can see — and now I long to see more. My heart has been opened — but it can’t let in enough of His love. My hands are now clean, raised to the sky, reaching for more, more of Him.

Here I stand, 19 years of effort stripped away.

Here I stand, exposed but covered by grace, broken but beautiful.

Here I stand, undone.

Published in: on March 15, 2012 at 12:59 am  Leave a Comment  
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