The Coffin

The roof above me glistens as the light makes its way through the stained glass. I always notice something new each time I find myself sitting in the hard, wooden pew: the way the lines intersect above me, the way the golden tiles shimmer behind the cross at the altar. Hours earlier she’d asked me what it meant for me to rest. Bowls of steaming soup between us, she’d asked, “What does rest look like to you?

After a moment, I tell her I am afraid. Afraid of the silence that rest often brings.

And as I stare at that ceiling, whispering a few words up above, I ask Him: “It always comes back to a fear of being known, doesn’t it?”

A fear of being seen. It was what Adam and Eve feared that day in the Garden; it is what I fear and yet long for the most. To be seen, remembered, known.

How is it that our greatest fear can also be our greatest longing?

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I am convinced – that the longing for love and to be known – may also be what we fear the most.

Because we tend to build up walls, and push others away, and put on our masks – and yet all the while we are hoping that One will climb the walls,

pull us back,

and peel off the mask.

We fear and yet hope simultaneously. Why do we give so much voice to fear, and yet hold so loosely to hope?

CS Lewis writes in the Four Loves that to love at all is to be vulnerable. To be seen may require heartbreak. And if you want to, you can bury yourself in the coffin of your selfishness –

because that is what living in fear does. 

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When we are convinced that we need to protect ourselves from being seen we actually rob others of experiencing love through us.

(Does that not shake you to the core?) Being seen was never meant to stop at us. It opens our eyes to see others, to hold others, to love others.

And if we protect ourselves from being seen,

from being vulnerable,

from being loved,

in our need to protect (our self) we hurt ourselves and those around us.

I hear the echoing Voice of the One who asked Adam and Eve so long ago where they were. Fearful, perhaps – but I emerge out of the coffin, dusty and withered, and in a shaky voice I answer:

“Here I am.”

 

 

 

 

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. 

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.

Safe

There’s going to be a lot of things that won’t make sense to you.

There will be plans set aside, a heart that feels broken, a bank account that’s mostly empty, and an unmapped future – except for those leftovers in the fridge.

You’ll sit on your bed, the elephant patchwork quilt underneath you, and you’ll sit in silence for awhile because a friend suggests you do it. It’s time to listen, she’ll say.

And your mind will keep wandering, and you’ll try to focus on the beeswax candle that is flickering in the corner. But that doesn’t work. And so you rub the frayed edges of the elephants, and you curl into yourself, and you whisper some words because silence is too heavy. And it’s a half hour of you struggling, of you trying so desperately to listen, until there’s only one word that’s whispered to you in the silence: safe.

Safe.

You realize a lot of the unknown, and the pain, and the unmapped future is all simply, unsafe.

And you keep putting a lot of your hopes, and your plans, and your hands cling to all of the things – feeling as if you figure it all out, you’ll finally feel safe.

Oh girl. That’s not how it works (although, you’re stubborn, and sometimes a little controlling, so I’m sure you’ll keep trying).

Unless you place it all in the hands of the One who is safe – you’ll keep wrestling. You’ll keep coming up empty. You’ll keep feeling frayed, and on edge, and lost. The only place you are ever fully safe is in His hands. In that silence. The only place your plans, and your heart break, and your empty bank account, and your unmapped future –

are truly safe – 

are in the hands of the Only One who is.

Keep wandering into the silence. Keep wandering into the unknown. Keep letting your heart break.

For it is in the unsafe places – 

we find that we are truly, always safe –

in the arms of the One who holds us close.

 

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.

 

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.

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.

Hands Filled

Screen Shot 2017-01-12 at 12.54.27 PMI’ve been staring at this blank space for awhile. Words haven’t come easily lately.

Today it’s raining, and it’s the middle of January. The snow has almost all but melted. I’m drinking chocolate flavoured coffee, breakfast dishes are still on the counter, and I’m still waking up … even though I climbed out of bed a long time ago.

And the blank space is still here. Still waiting … still staring at me.

What do I have to say that has not been said before? What do I have to share that has not been shared before? What words can fill this space that bring Holy Ground closer to our feet?

I say a prayer over this space – this emptiness – knowing that God voices words in my soul that are far greater than my own.

And maybe the one thing I’ve learned these past few days, and one maybe we’re all learning –

is that so often in the mess I just want to seek answers. 

I do not hold uncertainty well. It does not bode well for this soul that clings to things that bring consistency and knowing and firm ground to stand on.

I do not stand in the mess very well. To be quite honest: I’d rather wash the mess off my clothes, and move on as quickly as my feet can move.

I meet God in the mess. I know He’s here. I know He’s in the trenches with me. And I write out my prayers to Him – I lay out the questions I am seeking answers to. I invite Him into the mess. Into my unknown.

And I hold out my hands for the answers. Hopeful for Him to return the requests with a nice little bow on top of the gift I am longing for, and I’ll smile, and thank Him, and move on.

But He places His hands in my own instead. No bow. No answer. But Him.

And I think in the uncertainty, in the seasons (or life?) of not knowing we just want to know. But … “faith is a place of mystery, where we find the courage to believe in what we cannot see and to let go of our fear of uncertainty.”

And I am not sure if I can let go of my fear of uncertainty –

unless my hands are filled with His, instead.

What would you say?

Fingers wrapped around the steaming brew, I’d find my eyes. The big ones that strangers stop and comment on, the ones that I can’t quite decide if they are blue or green or somewhere in between. I’d lean forward – listening for the words spoken and the things left unsaid. Reading between the lines.

I’d reach across the table – grasping the dry hands I can’t seem to bring back to life. And I think that I’d cry, too.

screen-shot-2016-12-21-at-11-34-39-pmI wouldn’t tell you the words you tend to say, the words that are harsh and that tell you to wipe away the tears and stifle the cries. I’d tell you to feel it. I’d tell you to reach into that heart of yours, and grab the sharp pieces, and let them have their way with you.

And then I’d tell you

I’m sorry.

I’m so sorry for the mess you’re sitting in right now.

But I’d also tell you this –

The mess doesn’t make you less beautiful. The confusion doesn’t make you less sure. The unplanned road ahead of you doesn’t make you lost.

It makes you human.

And there’s something so wonderfully human about being in the desert. Of aching for the water. Of searching for the hidden places. I want to be in that place with you.

Let’s search for the water together.

Two are always better than one, anyways. Walk into the dry land just a bit further – 

you don’t know the oasis your heart might find.