Year of Two Griefs

2013

2013

2 years ago I tutored a girl named Aaliyah.
1 summer ago I met a woman with 3 daughters trailing behind her.
That summer I realized that I had to have real faith or no faith at all.
I knew that it was not enough to serve people I did not know.
I knew I was cheating God to emotionally clock in and out of “ministry”.
I knew I had to care.

Then I said, ‘behold, I have come to do your will, O God, as it is written of me in the scroll of the book.’~Hebrews 10:7

Back to the girl named Aaliyah.
I started showing up at her apartment, chatting with her mom.
I started bringing strawberries after school.
I felt awkward and unsure of everything except for one thing: God’s plan.

But as for me, I will look to the Lord; I will wait for the God of my salvation; my God will hear me.~Micah 7:7

He was leading me, Little Old Me, and I was doing my best to walk in the shoes He had for me.
I searched and searched and kept coming back to apartment 119 in the projects.
Then I took three girls to the park.
Then I took three girls to the library.
Suddenly–I can’t remember when exactly–a relationship was born.

Rumor has it that other languages have words for what English speakers call “adopted family” or “fictive kin”. I wish English had a word for it. The three girls are not my sisters, they are not my kids. “Entourage” doesn’t cut it either. They are something more miraculous and unusual. We became blood-kin not by our parents but by our Savior. His love compelled me to their door. His love made sure there was a place for me in their life. God’s whimsy, His creativity, His mission brought us together and made one great year.
There were apologies and snacks by the pool. We ran spontaneously into the sprinklers at Peabody Park and we went to church together on Sunday afternoons. We danced in the talent show and we played tips with the Church’s Chicken basketball. We read books together and we watched Beatles videos until we got bored. We wrestled, we danced, we swam, we clapped, we sang, we prayed. We were humans–little girls–together. Jesus’ loving ability to meet our needs bridged the gaps between us.
There were times when I felt I was banging my head against a wall of sin and rebellion. There were times when dancing in the kitchen with them was therapy for me.
Our love for each other turned heads. I like to think that people felt an inkling of divine involvement when they saw me and three chocolate swirled girls happily packed into my truck.1452329_763019423714930_46172494_n

Now they have relocated and left a gaping hole in my life.
The anvil is on my heart again,
Like wounding a wound.

The English language falls short once more.
Suffice it to say, God’s dreams are the dreams that overwhelm and delight.

As I read Isaiah 30 I can feel God whisper to my tore up soul:

This is the way. Walk you in it.

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Transitions

It is ironic that I like driving alone in my truck. Even a short jaunt from place to place on a sunny afternoon brings me immense happiness. The irony is in the fact that while I adore these physical transitions I struggle with the emotions of life’s most basic transitions. Changes weigh heavily on my heart. Season leaves behind season, years peel away to reveal new decades. I often feel stuck in remembrance, unwilling to let the precious past go.

Those who sow in tears shall reap with shouts of joy! He who goes out weeping, bearing the seed for sowing shall come home with shouts of joy, bringing his sheaves with him.~Psalm 126:5&6

I’ll never sit at Grandma’s side, chatting about nothing and about life in pain while we watch the brass pendulum tick the hours by. It hurts that I can’t call her on Fridays anymore and that my phone is slowly erasing all the saved voicemails she left. I treasure these glimpses into a time before her final transition.
My composition instructor who so challenged, bored, inspired, and fascinated me (depending on the day) will not teach me anymore. My heart is tender as I walk amongst classmates down the gray hall. I hear him enthusiastically yelling even now, “Do something worth writing about!” and I am thankful.
I won’t see Tori again. A friend as constant as the sunrise won’t stand next to me in the pool again. She won’t cut the cake at my wedding. She is gone. We won’t talk about our lives or cry over movies together because that time has reached its end. Suddenly, her color in my rainbow is gone, and the childish era when our lives overlapped has passed. A painful wound is left.
Such great, somber hope fills the void.
Spending time on behalf of the outcasts, and using my voice to speak for those without voices, yields less of a paycheck than one might think. How to cling less tightly to earthly security, its a dear lesson to learn. With God’s help, I will rely on Him more fully in time.
Growing into my personal beliefs instead of foolishly adopting those of my culture, another lesson. I am holding more loosely to ideals with which I have been indoctrinated and suspending life long biases in pursuit of personal faith in the better Way, the real Truth, and the abundant Life. There is a Guide who knows the best way. Jesus is my Rabbi, also my Friend. To Him I owe a loyalty greater than I owe to family, country, or friends.
Learning to joyfully count the cost and give it all up for the sake of my King.
Aching as time continually changes the landscape of my life.
Rejoicing in new lives, new days, and memories that speak: I am not home yet.

I drive my truck and I love it, from place to place.

Be to me a rock of refuge to which I may continually come~Psalm 71:31

Hearing, I forget; seeing, I remember; writing, I understand.~Chinese Proverb

Unforced Grace

You, Lord, are enthroned forever.

In my little life, You have already done so much.
You raised me up in Your word via loving parents.
You ignited that knowledge of the Scriptures by Your Holy Spirit.
You took me to Jamaica to break my heart for the nations.
You led me to a Native American Reservation in Washington state to set me face to face with the choice of who I will worship. In a fierce competition between me and You, You won.
Blessed be Your name.
You broke my body and wholly took control, though I fought it tooth and nail.
You shattered my pride and claimed my heart for Your own.
You led me to Mexico to discover grace and peace.
You drew me to North Little Rock to glimpse Your heart for the marginalized.
You allowed tragedy to strike as close to my heart as possible outside of my nuclear family.
I don’t know Your plan but I can see Your hand
Moving, shaping, preparing, making.

Few delights can equal the mere presence of one whom we trust utterly~George MacDonald

When I take a moment to reflect on the road I am walking,
I quickly become overwhelmed by what an eloquently written story my life is.
This God–His way is perfect. (Psalm 18:30)

Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me–watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythm of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.~Matthew 11:28-30 MSG

What the Tornado Took

He bolstered me for a trial of which there was no foreshadowing.
God was so near. In the blue lights, His Spirit took hold and spoke through me, when my shock was great.
Those are moments that I ask for the strength and memory to hold in my head and heart as pillars of faith in a living God.
Selfishness, frustration, and lack of faith bares its ugly teeth,
All while I seek to enter the pain again and again, to be rid of it.
It hurts now to laugh as family and friends seek to cheer me up;
Their support is invaluable.
May Jesus’ people be mobilized to support those with no (loving or living) family.
I had forgotten how physical the pain of a broken heart is.
There is a a heavy rawness in my chest
That wells to the forefront of my emotions when I see the wreckage, see the swathe of destruction.
My mind takes me to the place where the curtain was torn in two;
How much worse was Christ’s pain?
I could have washed my friend’s feet many times over with the tears that I have shed for her.
Let me live in such a way as to be washing the feet of those I love
(everyone)
Daily by my actions and sincerity of heart.

He takes our transgressions away, as far as the East is to the West.
He loves us to the sky and back.
(Psalm 103)

If you, O Lord, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand? But with you there is forgiveness, that you may be feared. I wait for the Lord, my soul waits, and in his word I hope; my soul waits for the Lord
more than the watchmen for the morning
more than the watchmen for the morning.~Psalm 130:3-6

Hot Cheetos

Upon entering the supermarket in North Little Rock, you will see shiny bags of chips. These salty snacks boast vibrant colors and grab-able cellophane packaging. They rustle loudly as shoppers rush by, turning the heads of men, women, and children. All alike are motivated by the color, and by their bellies.

Rumor has said that these chips are made out of potatoes, sometimes corn. But emphasis is not put on the content of these products. Focus is on the instant gratification that comes to the eye when shoppers see that bag and on the tongue when it tastes those savory treats.That temptation is strong and giving into it…tasty.

Human devices and inventions echo these well-dressed bags of chips. Both look so appealing. Both leave emptiness behind. Potato chips leave snackers greasy and unsatisfied. Purely human ideals—thoughts with no intentional hints toward God—leave the world threadbare and unfulfilled.

I find myself consistently drawn to the things of the world. It all charms me cruelly: addictions that spring from abused relationships, goals, foods, and lifestyles.

Imagine spending the night with a guy just once, and feeling no guilt over refusing his calls the next day.

Consider how good it would feel to free my mind, just once…

Imagine living all for me, carrying no burden for the poor, and harboring no guilt over the apathy of my heart.

Imagine guiltlessly chasing my own dreams.

 

But a human without guilt has yet to be found.

And I want no part in a dream that isn’t Christ’s. 

A shiny bags of potato chips,

The world rustles as I walk by.

 

People reach out and

I do not know if they are propelled by darkness or drawn to Light within me.

That confusion makes it difficult, this engagement with the people around me.

I love every one (imperfectly),

And it is alright for my grammar to disintegrate,

But it is a grave issue to see my morals weakened by the pressures of this fluid society.

 For, as I have often told you before and now tell you again even with tears, many live as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame. Their mind is set on earthly things. But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ…~Philippians 3:18-20

Tarnished grammar might matter.

Really, communicatively and professionally, it might.

Like that missed payment on my credit account might matter.

Like that broken mirror on my truck might matter.

Like that check list I never get to might matter.

The genuinely important thing to do is to

Start seeing “problems” as opportunities (like Jesus did, when he spontaneously fed 5, 000+ people).

The urgent question is, does what I say coincide with what I do?

 

Mother Teresa, tell me you had doubts while you walked the straight and narrow.

Martin Luthers (both of you), tell me you were not completely certain in the actions you took.

 

I have found happiness and I seek no other way.

My body is weak that I may learn to rely on Him.

His strength is sublime in my shortcomings.

Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God. So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us.~1 John 4:15

Perfect weather

People to love

Prince who saved me

Great God who raised me

Sisters I would die for

Grandmother who I cry for

Children I have hope for

 

Delicious potato chips that (eaten in moderation) probably won’t split my soul.

Mother Told Me I Could

He is my food
It is He who feeds me

I was saved by His blood
For His blood they may bleed me

In His might and triumph, my Father is good
It is enough: for me Jesus stood.

Once and for all, He wailed, “it is finished!”
Come, Holy Ghost, my spirit replenish.

Rinse my scars with Your sacred flood,
From my eyes remove the vile mud

I pray, I pray
You say, You say:

I am Yahweh, ever faithful
Life in Me, it is plentiful

All earthly pleasure from which I am booted
Are not like the hope in which I am rooted.

Stronger than dark, desperate desires
Are internal, blazing, heavenly fires

He with a brush from every race paints
His own, His precious, His train full of saints.

Sunday Lullaby

Another one of God’s surprising paradoxes: one’s hometown becomes more precious and magical after a visit to a foreign place.
Little Rock is my playground.
There are no places that are better, only places that are different.
Humans are naturally jealous and I must be one because I have wasted innumerous moments wishing I was somewhere else.
People talk trash of my city and my state, forcing me to wonder if they have ever been anywhere else. All these places are exquisite in their own way. No need to trash one in appreciation of another.
I will not be here forever and somehow that knowledge serves to endear more acutely to me the present time.
I take eighteen years of built up, worldly security for granted. There are small struggles here that I will not face anywhere else; the difficulties will be foreign and seem insurmountable when I leave.
There is celebration in the up and down of the yo-yo.
God enables me to love both sides of the pendulum and to rest when I swing in between.

We are not to give up the world, nor retreat from it-just the opposite. We are to reclaim and redeem the world for Christ’s kingdom.~Richard Stearns, The Hole in our Gospel

Childhood obesity is as much of a problem as parasites carried by muddy water.
But to not have the Gospel?
This is the greatest problem. It is a difficulty that leaves the rest behind. One can’t surmount it any more than a Gospel-less person can sense his or her need for a Savior.
I love my story and I love your story.
The parts where our dramas overlap enthrall me.
I find it difficult to walk away.
When his arm is around me I see no need to move forward.
Stagnation is a grand waste of time. My life is long but also short.

Form in me a heart of divine beauty.~Rend Collective Experiment

Waves of injustice, oppression, and opportunity carry us whether we know it or not. I follow the rip tide by choice for it I prefer to hopeless wishing and washing from open sea to sandy shore.
Beauty hides in the sky and in the homeless man behind me. He is frost bitten and senile but his rattling cough is a piece of humanness no physical anthropologist can truly digest.
At times it will seem as though I have wasted my life. The cause for which I sell myself is not one with clear accomplishments. Some people will not respect what I have done. I understand that. In those hard moments, far away from sweet, quaint Little Rock, (the place I once knew intimately,) the Light will shine as He always does.

This park is perfect. This sky is immaculate. Those children are unique and dear.
The warmth in my heart which is the presence of the holy, eternal, faithful God is…
Unspeakably sublime.
Everyday I get happier.
Yet everyday the longing for every person of every nation to hear of Your glory grows more poignant within me.
Will these two always walk hand in hand?
Use me to shelter your little (and big) children here until I am ready to go.
Allow me to be a member of the team who takes the Word to unreached brothers and sisters. May my spiritual offspring be extensive, not that I may be glorified, but that Heaven may be filled.
I submit it all to You.
Enable me in spite of my (sinful) disease.

You are the Father of mercies.
You are the God of all comfort.

Precious Lamb, receive the reward of Your suffering, and my gratitude for a perfect day.

Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.~St. Paul, 1 Corinthians 15:58

Normal.

The word normal is defined as conforming with an accepted standard or norm; natural; the usual state. Everyone thinks that they know what normal is (or is not) yet everybody’s normal looks different.
It’s normal for me to drive my own truck. It’s normal for me to walk in the door of my parent’s house, kiss my dad on the cheek, and help my mom set the table for dinner. There is nothing unusual about my dad paying medical bills that I cannot afford. It’s normal for him to be here, in my life.
On a “normal” day I go to yoga classes at a premier athletic club (where I work), I don’t think about money (much), I read books, and I don’t encounter drug abuse of any kind. That’s my normal.
There are lots of normals. I am discovering that mine is rare.
It’s normal for her to miss the bus and have to walk to work. It is normal for her to spend her last $10. It’s normal for her to walk into a house with TVs and radios playing loudly, and to be in charge of making supper. It’s not unusual for her to go for months without hearing from her dad. It is normal for her to see her mom with another man.
On a “normal” day she sits on the couch and watches Maury. She worries about money, she smells marijuana and knows who sells the cheapest drugs. That’s her normal.
Childishly I think that my normal is the normal. It’s absurd, really, to think that most of the 7 billion (or so) people in existence live like my family does. This planet can’t afford that many American Dreams. If you could measure blessings, I think it would be safe to say I have more than most. Because, Y’all, I’ve got so much. People are impressed by the choices I make and the work I do. My answer, “I’ve got everything going for me. What excuse do I have not to be my very best?”
It’s not a great tragedy that many peoples lives are far different from mine. There are lots of ways to live right. I like that people do things differently (often better) than me.
The problem I see is my own assumption that people have all the same help and blessings that I do. I treat them mercilessly and talk about others as though they have no excuse for laziness and poverty (as if it’s my place to make that judgment at all?!). I am wrong to speak generally about unique individuals.
The tragedy is distance from Jesus. Poverty, promiscuity, drugs, my own pride, it’s a result of the way we are wired. Sin has permeated the human heart. It poisons and stains us like smoke in a lung. We need redemption. Today and everyday we need God’s renewal.
I have begun my race on stable ground-financially, logically, nutritionally, socially-thanks to wise parents. Most are not blessed richly in this way. I hope I can learn from the precious souls that surround me. He blesses me that I may bless others. To bless is my highest aspiration.

I ask great things
Expect great things,
Shall receive great things….May the world this day be happier and better because I live.~Arthur Bennett, The Valley of Vision

Glory Bound and Growing

Right now is the best moment, the blessed moment.
*corny, but I kind of like it*
This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine here, in a place called “Dark Hollow.” In mid-America? Yep.
I swing on a swing-set with my two best friends (both under the age of 11). I love knowing that if not for me, they would not be at the park. And if they did not love me (even when I’m late and my truck is so messy there is barely room for them!), I would not have these sweet relationships. (Who would I read The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe too?!) They show me Jesus every week. The body of Christ is interconnected in a dazzling way. Praise to the Lamb!

Men sit on the park benches, dirty, next to their glitzy new cars. The skin on my legs that is exposed tingles unpleasantly as I walk by, not because of anything they have done or said, but because society has branded the word “rapist” on their foreheads. My preliminary judgment rests not on the content of their character but on their location and the way they wear their clothes. What if we look past their brands, Martin Luther King Jr. style, and invite them in to the Kingdom to worship beside us? What could people do if they were empowered by a friend who has everything (the Gospel) to offer?

I close my eyes. No guilt in life, no fear in death.

I know I’m spending my life in the right place. I am selling myself for the cause of righteousness, investing in a market with eternal dividends. Her smile, set off by the gap between her over-sized front teeth reminds me that darkness cannot hold back the light. Even when it seems we have the time and resources to undo only a fraction of the evil that exists, we know that there is hope. No soul is beyond redemption. Maybe if we take them gently by the hands, if we bid every other broken person come and worship Jesus with us, the lightness can push away the darkness. The church will grow, because we will grow. We’ll dance and sing and eagerly await the happy day when the Jesus who bids us be children comes to redeem this unimaginative world.

Christians should be troublemakers, creators of uncertainty, agents of a dimension incompatible with society,~Jacques Elliot

I ask the good Lord to cure me of my dry skin and my disobedience.

Let my actions speak loud enough to drown out my faulty words.

He will surely be gracious to you at the sound of your cry. As soon as he hears it, he answers you. And though the Lord give you the bread of adversity and the water of affliction, yet your teacher will not hide himself anymore, but your eyes shall see your teacher. And your ears shall hear a word behind you, saying, “This is the way, walk in it,” when you turn to the right or when you turn to the left.~Isaiah 30:19b-21

Ardent Audacity

It’s funny that we tell each other…
And we actually believe…
“I deserve a break,” or
“I’ve earned this vacation.”
I’m entitled to these pancakes soaked in syrup and bananas.
Wrong again;
We give to ourselves the credit due God alone.
We lose track of how merciful He is because we ascribe to ourselves the thanks He alone warrants.

My ingratitude constantly draws a rift between He and I.
I love Him, I do. He knows that I try, and He knows that I often try halfheartedly. He sees me running down rabbit trails of self-pity day following day, yet He blesses me and continues to use me for His purposes.

How big, how great, how perfect He is! I curse Him by ingratitude, and He offers me tangible, over-the-top blessings like a trip to Mexico! (When I said over-the-top, I meant it).
How small, how dependent, how worthless I am in avoidance of Him.
He puts bigness in me.
He makes my dependency feel like freedom.
He opens my eyes to the way things truly are.

All to Him I owe.

I have not earned Him. I have no right to know God. His love is just that: love. There is nothing in this for Him.
He draws me gently, close to Him.
He holds me because He loves me,
Gives me everything and more because that is who He is.
I am angered when He is distant, though I am the one who Has run away.
I ignore His hand even when He is at work directly before me.
My sin overcomes me
And He rushes to my aid.
No longer will darkness capture me,
Even when I foolishly seek it out.
He is my guardian, my flawless companion,
My shalom.
In Him, I am okay.

We are ocean, we are mist
Brilliant fools who ruled and kiss
There’s beauty in the dirt
Wandering in skin and soul
Searching, longing for a whole.~Gungor, I am Mountain