Three

 

 

This Good Friday, I was painfully aware of the lack of good in me. Harsh words. Cynicism instead of hope. Frustration instead of patience. Maybe I’m alone in having these days. But, frustrated, I found myself at the end of my day, with the moon and my God, reaching for the only Good that I know.

The Good that hung on that cross.

I have a feeling we simplify the days in between. We gather to remember the suffering, and the cost, and we slip through the weekend until we gather again to celebrate. We know what will happen: we know that there will be a resurrection, and death will be defeated, and the darkness that hung will now be replaced with light.

But I think of the ones who stood by as He died and did not know.

The lack of good in their hearts –

had no solution.

For three days – darkness remained – and I wonder, what did they do? Did they sink in despair? Did they weep? Were they able to sleep? How did they grapple

with the lack of good in their hearts? How did they understand the loss of the One who hung on the cross?

I think that we do not spend enough time reflecting on those three days – 

just like the three days Abraham spent on the mountain going to sacrifice his beloved son. Or the three days Jesus’ waited to raise Lazarus from the dead.

Because those three days, waiting – 

sums up so much of life. Waiting for God to show up. Waiting for God to answer. Waiting for God to redeem.

Waiting.

And because we know the ending to the story, we skip over the part that talks about waiting. We skip over the darkness that hung in the air, and the lack of breath in His lungs. But when we do, I think we do a disservice to the God who teaches us to wait. Who builds into our lives and our stories seasons of three.

Seasons of waiting.

And so, as the minutes bring us closer to the moment of celebration – I rest in the waiting, too. I savour the minutes – the loneliness, the heaviness –

knowing the celebration will be that much sweeter because of the season that was before it. 

After These Things


I’ve spent a lot of time staring at the stars.

It started years ago, when I was given a small, plastic telescope that I would drag out across our backyard late into the night. I convinced friends to sleep outside without a tent so we could stare at the stars. I was heartbroken when, after doing renovations to our house, I lost my beloved skylight that enabled me to see the glistening lights of the country sky.

We’ve always had a love affair, the sky and I. But I fell in love with him on the other side of the ocean, where I would climb onto the roof and spend my evenings under the African sky. I fell deeper in love with the stars the night I went back to Senegal, showering under a full moon in a tin shanty with a bucket full of rain water.

But I fell truly, madly in love with the full moon and stars when I realized that they were a symbol, a love letter, between the God that I love and the God who loves me. 

The thing is – I forget. I forget, over and over again, of His faithfulness. I push it aside in the dark times, and I am quick to respond in fear when I long to respond with trust.

But the full moon and the stars keep appearing. They are the thin place, the sacred ground, where He and I meet, and I whisper to Him heart cries and He whispers to me faithfulness.

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The very first words in the story of Abraham and Isaac are three words. After these things. Up until these past few months I had skipped over them, barely noticing their place in the story. Abraham and I, though, we keep meeting. We meet in conversations. We meet in words. We meet in names. And I have spent these past months sitting with those nineteen verses, and they have come alive to me. Some day, maybe, I’ll write the story, but for now, this is what needs to be said:

those three words –

after these things

are so important

They aren’t meant to be stepped over – prodded over – pushed aside.

They tell you what has happened and what is to come.

We can’t fully understand the story of Abraham and Isaac until we know the story that was before. And those words – that idea – is as important to us as readers of Scripture as it is for us as doers of Scripture.

Don’t disdain your story. 

Do not disregard the journey it has been to get you to the place you are. The broken pieces, the heartbreak, the loneliest and darkest of nights. All of those things, summed up in three words – after these things.

Before,

during,

and after –

He is there. It’s the only way we can understand who we are:

when we understand who we have been.

And so I keep going back to the stars, and the full moon, to remind me of His faithfulness. The tears I have let fall before Him. The whispers of faithfulness in return.

And I am ever thankful –

that after these things – 

the moon still rises, the stars still glisten,

and He is in the midst of it all.

 

 

 

Dear Heartache

Dear Heartache,

When you visited me that night, I was hoping your visit would be short. I figured you’d move in, settle in for a bit, but once we visited you’d be on your way to the next home.

For awhile I pretended you hadn’t taken up residence in my heart. But one day I came home, and you’d unpacked your bags, changed the curtains, and settled on the sofa. I sighed with reluctance.

Still, I was sure that quick visits here and there would be enough. Every once in awhile we’d have a chat, some days ending a few hours after it had begun. Always, though, your presence was there. When I woke up, when I went to bed. You were always nestled away somewhere, as if I could feel you even when we weren’t talking.

I began to resent your presence in my life. I wondered how I could pack your bags when you weren’t looking. I wondered if I could somehow leave the door open, the place too draft-y, so you’d go find residence elsewhere. Hadn’t you had enough of me?

But until those long days, when I finally curled up on the couch with you, I hadn’t realized that you had something to say. You’d been whispering it when I was around, but I was too busy to notice. I was so focussed on figuring out how to get you to leave that I hadn’t even asked you if you’d had something to say.

But you did.

“Don’t rush me,” you’d said. “I have something to say to you.

If you let me, I won’t just remind you of the memories you feel have slipped away. I’ll remind you of what’s ahead, too. I’ll whisper to you your worth when you’re curled up beside me. I’ll remind you that hearts hurt because that’s what happens when love bounces back from the place you sent it off to.”

And finally, with a deep breath, you whispered,

“For so long you’ve been asking me to leave. But you’ve missed it: there’s room on this couch for one more. Heart pain,” you’d said slowly, as if for me to catch the words and hold them close, “always needs a healer. I can’t heal you. Visiting with me won’t heal you. But I can point you to the One who does.

And with a deep breath that I feel all the way to my bones, I see Who’d been sitting behind you on the couch. The only One who had the power to rush in, to turn a heart of stone into something soft. To heal the bruises where love had bounced back. The only One who could hold these broken pieces and make them into something beautiful.

Oh heartache – I am so sorry. If I’d rushed through our visit, I could have missed this.

Broken pieces

being healed

by the Broken. 

Lovingly,

A.

One

‘I always thought I’d just have one,’ I tell her that night. She’s sitting beside me outside her house, the car running idle, and I’m staring at the lights down at the intersection as we talk. Until I look at her. And I see her meet me in the pain and sorrow, and she responds quietly, ‘I know. I did too.’

One great love story. The one you spend so many of your years waiting for.

And instead of one great love story, you have chapters ending. Beginnings becoming bittersweet memories.

‘I think the hard part,’ I say, ‘is realizing that God uses broken things.’

Broken things. Endings.

She nods beside me.

When you spend your days waiting for the one to end the search, some days you get so caught up in the story you forget God’s goodness isn’t tied to just one.

You realize that they’re all just vessels for His goodness to enter your life,

even if it’s just a season.

When you realize God’s goodness isn’t tied to just that Person, maybe that’s when you realize how to fully love. How you fully risk. How you take the leaps of faith when there is no security on the other end.

And maybe, in the end, we’re all just broken vessels, broken so that His love seeps through the cracks.

Waiting in the Cistern

She says to me that when she hears the word waiting, she thinks of me. Psalm 40, I’d shared it in class the other day – the images of David crying out from the cistern – waiting.

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The Hebrew word translated is that David had waited 

and waited.

And waited.

I laugh a little when she tells me that. And yet, this season of Lent – a season of waiting – I am indeed, waiting. But aren’t we all?

Aren’t we all waiting on an answer? A dream? A rope, finally, let down into the cistern?

And I’ve been thinking this season – can we wait well? Can we see these seasons, these ever present months, and years, of waiting – can we wait well?

Can I fix my eyes on the One who promises to build a garden in the dry and weary land? The One who breaths life into dry bones?

Can I find life in the cistern? The thing about cisterns, is that the more you try to climb out of them, the more that you sink deeper. Waiting … life in the cistern … requires stillness. Requires emptying yourself. Requires recognizing your utter helplessness, and weakness, that you cannot be rescued on your own.

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I cling to the words these days – the ones that breath life into waiting. I pour tears out, knowing they are captured in a bottle. I sit in joy and excitement – knowing that God is doing a good thing. That if we didn’t have seasons of waiting –

we wouldn’t know seasons of answers.

‘There are years that ask questions,

And years that answer.

As lent continues – I draw close to the Answer, reminding myself that it is in the darkness when He passes by. These seasons of waiting – He is ever present.

 

happy.

On a table in the corner we both sit. Words are sparse, and we both know that we aren’t the same as the last time we stood in front of each other. You’re quiet; I’m quiet. Deep breaths – we sit in the weariness together.

For just a small moment, we are quiet.

Until we speak. Slowly. Surely. Heart pieces laid on the table, brokenness shared. We break bread,

breaking,

and we drink

drinking

all lavished in grace.

We break and we drink, hold open hands, receiving His grace. Some days His grace is like water in a dry desert. Today is one of those days.

When I walked by him earlier that morning, he pulled me in for a hug and tucked me under his arm for what seemed but just a moment. “You look happy,” he said to me, his only words, as I walked away. Happy? Joy?

And I think, hours later — breaking bread,

broken.

Drinking wine,

lavished in grace.

Some days – maybe most days – we are broken to meet the Healer. Parched to drink in His grace.

His words still echo in my ear and I hold them close to hear them again.

Happy?

Yes, I finally whisper to myself. Happy.

Entrust

She sends me the email on a fall day, when the yellow leaves are crunching beneath my boots. The stroller in front of me, I feel the vibration and I open her words.

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Entrust. The word stands out in the middle of her email, a soft but firm reminder: you’ve got to entrust Him with this. 

It’s not what I want to hear because the truth is: I do not know what entrusting even means. What does it mean to hand over to God the things I hold most close? What does it mean to see that all these things – these gifts – are His anyways?

The leaves dance wildly at my feet, and I push the stroller forward and I tuck her words close to mull them over. And I remember her addition at the end of the email:

“But remember to enjoy, sweet girl.

You’ve got this.”

Months later, there’s snow in place of golden leaves. Instead of her words staring up at me, there’s the small voice of His, asking me to entrust. To lay the Isaac down on the altar. To trust the Promiser instead of the promise.

And I wonder again at her words. What it looks like to even entrust what I hold close to Him.

I search for the word in Greek, in Hebrew, in the concordance and lexicons until the notes in my journal are long and in depth. From the Greek word pistis, to entrust means to be persuaded. A gift from God, unable to be produced by people.

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To entrust to Him –

literally means to be persuaded by an act only God can do. 

And because I am a chronic forgetter – I so often forget all that He has shown me, all that He has done, and the ways in which He so persuades me to place my trust in Him. To entrust my plans, my dreams, my love in the only place they are safe – in His hands.

So I pray – for I cannot do this on my own – to entrust what I hold close to Him.

“Persuade me,” I scrawl across my journal, tears brimming.

“Persuade me to entrust you with it.”

And the exchange – of laying it on the altar – is far more painful that imagined. But there is something beautiful in the persuasion, in the exchange, as God reveals love in a way only He can do.

Dear Twenty-Seven-Year Old

Dear you,

 

You’ve been twenty-seven for two days now, and today it’s a snowstorm. The roads are thick with white slush and the sun has long since disappeared behind the grey clouds. It’s quiet except for the sound of the scraping of shovels outside the open door. That’s the thing about snow, it always causes us to pause. Probably why you love it so much. The idea that there are things beyond us, that shape us, and derail our best laid plans, but usually for the better. When it’s anything beyond a snowstorm, your need for control and certainty causes you to clench your fists and your heart for awhile.

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Last year was quite the wild ride. I think we can both agree that so much happened in just 365 short days. But here you are – a year later – and at night, when the world quiets, and it’s just you and your duvet and your God, you’re wondering if you really know how to hear His voice.

You write her the email and you ask it plainly: how do you know? How do you know how to hear Him? How do you know when it’s His voice – speaking louder than my own?

And this is the thing, girl: right now, it’s dark, and it’s grey, and there’s a lot of snow all over the place. It’s shaking things up. The plans you made have slipped away. It’s causing you to stop – and pause. But that doesn’t mean you can forget.

And so in the midst of this snowstorm, this is what you need to remember: that this past year taught you that God is a storyteller, and a lover of words. His ways are not your own, but they are far better. And He is this grand God, a father of the weary, the one who holds the pen and only gives good gifts. And I’m telling you: those good gifts don’t come just in the shape of happy and full days, when the sun hits your face along the beach in just the right way, or the full moon – your favorite – falls on the day you were born. No. They also come in the shape of holy and heartwrenching days, too. They come in the shape of unexpected conversations. Of endings. Of tearful drives along Lakeshore Boulevard. When He takes away the things you think you want the most.

Because God is a God who knows your heart. And He knows what makes you feel alive. Full moons. Words. And the storyteller God know the way to your heart is through a good story.

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And He won’t ever fail to write a beautiful story in your life.

But the best stories make you laugh and cry. Make you weep and rejoice. Do not disdain the small. God only breaks you for His purposes. For this chapter. To set the setting for the next page.

Do not forget, girl! Do not forget you are shaped by the One who knows your heart and the way your green-sometimes-blue eyes laugh and the way they cry. Do not forget, in the midst of a snowstorm, the way He delighted you on the mountains of El Salvador. Do not forget the way your plans changed and in slipped His and you were astounded at the way He loves. Do not forget that the full moon, the sweet reminder of His faithfulness to you, appeared again and again when you needed the reminder the most.

There are no accidents. There are no coincidences.

There is only a beautiful story, written by a Grand Author, with a beautiful role written just for you. Always remember that.

Lovingly,

Yours.

The Valley of Baca

He tells me in his little office that I should think about reading the Psalms.

“There’s a lot in there,” he says slowly, “and it seems to me that David has a lot to say. He expresses his wishes, his hurts, his pain.” He pauses. “And God doesn’t strike him down.”

He says all this to me after I tell him I have a hard time asking God for things. Feeling as if it’s a question of His plan. I leave his office and as I drive home in rush hour traffic, tears stream down my face and I do. I let my heart pour out like David’s did.

Days later, I am still devouring the Psalms. I’m paying attention to the patterns, the words. David says some wild things, crazy things. But he says a lot of beautiful things, too.

 

There is a Psalm that talks about a place called the Valley of Baca. A place that as they walk through, turns into a place of springs and pools of rain water. This valley, some say, was part of the journey to get to Jerusalem or to one of the cities of refuge. Dry, treacherous, dangerous – this valley needed to be walked through in order to get to where the Israelites were going. Some translations call the Valley of Baca the Valley of Weeping – and I am struck by these verses – how the Israelites had to literally walk through the valley of weeping to get to a place of safety and refuge.

David talks about how that valley of weeping is redeemed. How those who rest in the refuge of God find the dry valley filled with springs of water.

To be honest there have been times since that night in his office that I tell God I can’t do it. I can’t walk through sadness, and I can’t walk through pain, and I long for it fixed and made right. But He whispers, to my tired, reluctant soul –

“The Valley of Weeping is meant to be walked through.”

I am always so quick to push away pain. To wipe away tears. Feeling as if, the sooner I get to the other side the better.

But yet – it’s meant to be walked through.

And I sigh deeply, tears brimming – knowing He redeems each valley –

filling them with springs

and pools of water –

because even this is not far from His redemptive touch.

The Blanket

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There’s a blanket on our white couch, blue and white, folded haphazardly on the side of the armrest. It’s quite imperfect. There are two strips of colour in the middle that are slightly smaller than the rest. There’s a missed stitch somewhere that you can notice if you’re looking just right. The blanket was started and torn apart about three times, and the pattern evolved almost as much. It wasn’t just a labour of love, this blanket of mine; it was an offering.

It became prayers stitched in while the big blue hook made it’s way under and over, and under again. It was tears mixed in with the remnants of yarn left behind as it moved across the white couch. Questions were murmured amongst the whispers of praise. I asked Him to meet me when the blanket was finished, each stitch done, beautiful in its imperfection. Would He answer the questions I kept laying down at His feet?

He doesn’t. He just gives me more of Himself.

And I am wondering if the times when He is silent – when He makes His peace more palpable, and His presence more visible in the tears and the laughter and the warm breeze that breaks in through blinds in the middle of the night –

I am wondering if, then, you and I don’t really need an answer. We don’t really need the steps ahead of us illuminated in quite the way we think we do.

I am wondering if His silence and presence are really a whisper –

A whisper that you’re on Holy Ground.

I’ve given you all you need to take the steps forward. To make the decision. To choose the path to walk down. I’ve given it all to you because I am all you need, in every moment, in every decision, in every unknown. I’ve given you a mind and a heart and tears and feet and all you need to do is move, sweet girl. Just move. Take it all in, with a deep breath and a shuddering cry, and just move. Knowing I desire more to be the answer, then to give you an answer. 

That’s all you really need to know right now. Take all that I’ve given you – those eyes that see, that mind that thinks, that heart that feels – and go. Do. Decide. Commit.

And go fully –

Knowing I’m right beside you as you do.