Monday, August 30, 2010

Communion

‘The Lord is my Shepherd; I shall not want.”

It is the funeral psalm, psalm 23. It is a beautiful portrait of the peace and tranquility of God that represents everything we long for and everything we hope to find when our work on Earth is done. In days of tragic loss and deep grief, these words comfort us as we close our eyes and sense the presence of those streams of still waters and the perfectly green pastures.

But this is not a psalm of death! It is one of life and life abundantly. This is another one of those cases where I believe different translations speak volumes, and I love the beauty of this psalm in the New Living Translation.

“The Lord is my Shepherd; I have everything I need.

He lets me rest in green meadows; he leads me beside peaceful streams. He renews my strength. He guides me along right paths, bringing honor to His name.”

This brings the power of this psalm right into the present, into the here and now. It is easy for us to hear those opening words – “The Lord is my Shepherd; I shall not want” and yearn for the time that is coming when we will not want anything. The time when we will have everything we need. The time defined by streams and pastures and peace.

What keeps us from embracing the promises of this psalm as the present? What keeps us from believing these things can happen before death, before we are lowered into the ground to return to dust? Why do we have so much trouble believing that God has created this tranquility, this calm, and this peace right here for us?

Especially because as we keep reading, we see that the present, the here and now, the life on this earth, is exactly what He had in mind.

“Even when I walk through the dark valley of death” – notice, “even when” not “now that I have” or “now that I have sent my loved one.” No, this is in the present tense, reminding us of the times when trouble comes. It is an active place, not a passive one; it is a present one in the continuum of life, not the final place we will ever go. God never leaves us in the darkest valley as our lasting memory. He walks through it with us and draws us to the other side!

“I will not be afraid, for you are close beside me. Your rod and your staff protect and comfort me.”

This is beautiful because of the subtle, delicate interplay of “shall” and “will.” Shall requires a foregone conclusion, something outside of our control. Something predetermined, that we should have no reason, even in our wildest imaginations, to…whatever. In this case, we have no reason to want. But the use here of will means that we are making the choice and drawing the conclusion. We can turn and see God beside us, walking with us, comforting us. We can feel the power of His rod and His staff, and it is at that point that we choose not to be afraid.

And then, here it is:

“You prepare a feast for me in the presence of my enemies.”

There are no enemies in death, no struggle or strife or forces to fight against. If God were trying to tell us about death and grief through this psalm, if He were trying to build our hope for the afterlife and for the Heavens, why would He declare this feast in the presence of our enemies?

Because He is talking about here. And this…this act of communion that we participate in, the bread of the body and the wine of the blood…is that feast.

This is that place in the midst of our enemies where we feast. It is the place where the outside disappears and we are invited simply to come to the table, to partake, and to fill ourselves with good food. Here, at the table, we are to eat and drink of what God has prepared for us with no fear of the darkness, no concern about the powers coming against us 6 other days of the week.

Think about the tremendous contrast here! There is a battle, a war raging where your enemies are against you, and right here in the midst of it all, you decide to sit down and have a meal. You can be vulnerable and relax, trusting in His protection, and let the fullness of His goodness nourish your body, your mind, your soul.

This is where we are nourished, strengthened, and given great rest…a small vacation from the grind of the world.

This is His invitation! This is our table, prepared for us by a loving God.

Let us come and accept His invitation. Let us be His honored guests here, partaking in this feast He has set for us. Let us tell our enemies to wait, put aside all care and concern, choose to live without fear, embrace His provision, and be taken fully in by this sacred moment, this sacred place.

This table.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Rainbows

Let me put on my blinders for just a moment. Ok; ready.

Why is it so difficult to find a job? Seriously, you would think employers would be jumping all over someone as talented, passionate, and confident as myself, not to mention the kind of heart that dwells in this body. I’m anxious to serve, to find a way to do some good and maybe make a living off of it. (Not that I have anything against volunteer work, either; it just doesn’t pay the bills.) I worked hard all through school, graduated at the top of my class in both high school and college despite significant obstacles and a few major setbacks. I have volunteered my time in doing the things I love and trying to establish my skill so that one day, an employer would talk to me.

Here is one day. And more than two years after graduating, I’m not getting the interviews I want. When I do interview, a few have seemed promising only to collapse in front of me for one reason or another. And nobody has contacted any of my references, so far as I know (and my primary references have told me – nobody’s been talking to them.) So what does it take for a girl to get something around here? Or around anywhere?

Now take the blinders off…because this is not the whole picture. I am happy. Very happy. And if you’ve read my most recent note, you know why. This place I’m in – this middle of nowhere – is absolutely incredible and doing great things in me. The work I am doing, the books I am writing or the secret projects I am working on or the conversations I am having, are going so well. I pick up my pen or my pencil or sit down at the keyboard and open up the latest chapter or whatever it is, and I am content. I know something awesome is happening through this gift that God has given me – both the gifts of my talents and the gifts of His peace. This contentment, really, and fulfillment.

And then another job falls through, and I can be quick to forget everything He is working on in me. Because it is terribly easy to worry about tomorrow when it seems nothing good is around the corner. Yet, I have absolutely unshakable confidence that something good IS around the corner. He’s got plans for me, and a purpose, and with as clearly as He has put that in my heart and in my hands and in my mind and in my dreams, both sleeping and awake, I am ashamed to say that I am at times getting impatient and narrow-minded, forgetting His gift and His blessing in the many places to focus on the one place He has yet to come through for me.

The skies clouded over this afternoon, not long after another rejection letter showed up in the mail (rejection after what I felt was a good interview and a strong opportunity). Rain started falling, and I was thankful for the moment of cleansing. When I went outside to run a few errands, I saw the clouds forming and splitting – the sun here in the west; the clouds in the east. And I started looking around for a rainbow.

Rainbows seem so rare to me, and I can probably count on one hand the number of times I have seen them in my life. Yet, here I was on a cloudy day with disappointment in my heart…looking for a rainbow. Some sign of His covenant and His promise, something tangible and outside of my heart that I can hold on to for at least a short while.

I am very blessed. I am very gifted. My heart is full, and I rest in absolute assurance. God whispers wonderful love into my ear, and I hear Him. I talk back, and He answers me again. Beautiful things are happening. So I need to take my blinders off more often and see the big picture instead of waiting just here on this one thing.

There’s got to be a job out there, and I pray it comes quickly. Not for money, necessarily, because God’s math is greater than mine and He has seen fit to take care of me so far. But mostly, I am anxious to move on to whatever the next stage of my life is. I’m anxious to keep moving forward and pushing myself and growing, and I am confident I can take my new heart with me. Fully and without compromise. More than disappointed with this rejection, I think I could easily say that as each day passes, my anticipation of a promise fulfilled and my anxiousness to pursue His calling only increases.

Confident and blessed and gifted and assured as I am, and as full of faith and overflowing with goodness and completely content as I am, and with so much peace in my heart, it surprises me how simple it is to worry about tomorrow. Tomorrow is then, and this is now and today, surprisingly, is beautiful, too.

Just as I am sure tomorrow will be.

Just as I am sure every day will be when I walk with God.

Because someone somewhere is seeing my rainbow, even today.

Monday, August 9, 2010

This Beautiful Place

Sometimes, God meets us in the weirdest places. With the wonderful change that has been happening in my life, particularly the transformation in my heart, I’ve begun to wonder just what is this place where I have encountered so powerfully my Lord.

The more I thought about it, the more I struggled to define this place at all. It is an in-between, a bland and dull desert bordering on wilderness that has often left me feeling lost or forgotten or just completely out of place. I’ve been looking around here for some time, trying to find the signs to point me in the right direction, but there just aren’t any. It is…barren.

Not a student, but not a working professional yet. Not married, not dating, not content to be single…but not desperately single, either. No kids. Not even a place of my own. No misadventures that make for good stories. No wild parties or world travels or anything really of note. No wonder this place is so hard to grasp! And even harder to define.

But some very beautiful things are happening here nonetheless. I am encountering, in new and powerful ways each day, the Lord of my life. He is sometimes Comforter, sometimes Encourager; sometimes Friend, sometimes Antagonist; sometimes Listener, sometimes Speaker; but always, He is Lord.

It wouldn’t be enough to say this place has changed me, that my encounters with Him here have done something incredible. It’s more than that. It has been an entire lifestyle change.

It has been (and continues to be) a place of great healing and redemption, such a powerful transformation that it still takes my breath away when I notice it, even in the subtlest of ways. My heart is free – not aloof or in denial or staunchly protesting any circumstance – but truly free. There is no longer any hate or bitterness, no grudges or unforgiveness left. No worries or fear. No obsession or mindless compulsion. Even no concern as to time or money. Life is completely without burden by the simple submission of letting go. Without burden or hurry or worry or fear, but also without foolishness. My vision is clear; my perspective increases by the day. And hope and anticipation of the future to come keeps my heart buzzing.

I am simply…full. Full in freedom and in grace, in mercy and restoration. Unafraid of my past, which no longer seems painful nor foreign but it part of the intricate tapestry of beauty. I’m not drawn to dwell on anything, nor am I quick to respond any more. My tongue is more controlled, and there are many times I am content to say nothing at all. I do not begrudgingly do anything, but am able to tap into a new heart of service and humility that allows me to get more done than I ever imagined.

And I am so busy, accomplishing much. Serving well. Loving well.

Oh, yes! Loving so well. My relationships are changing, and I’m not sure if that is the condition of my heart or the way I am able to tame and control my responses to things. There are still some slips here and there, and some times when I realize I have not responded as I probably should have, but this is something I have prayed for for such a long time, and it is just wonderful to see this finally developing.

I’m not really driven to list my accomplishments; that is of little consequence, though “taught the vacuum not to catch fire” makes for an excellent status update and conversation starter. Before Facebook, did you know there were entire generations of people who worked hard every day and had no one to tell about it? Because it wasn’t some grand accomplishment; labor is life. That’s kind of how I’m coming to view it, because it satisfies me to work well, to work hard, and to simply let this be. And no matter how much I have to do on a particular day, there is always more than enough time when I let my heart do the planning. I’m not stuck in timetables and to-do lists, but just letting things happen naturally and then being shocked at how much time is left over.

God definitely provides.

That said, I am still pretty psyched about my third book, which I am now halfway through, and this year’s special top-secret Christmas project for the kids, which I am not at liberty to share until December 26th since my sister-in-law is now a Facebook friend.

Actually, I am gaining a lot of new FB friends lately, and it is another answer to a long-time call of my heart. It’s called…“family.” Those of you who know me well and know my story, or even hints of it, can understand that I’ve never really considered myself part of any network of relatives. One side of the family is unnecessarily cruel and standoffish, among other things, and particularly since dad’s death, I never really felt like I belonged there. And during his life, I was not privileged enough to know much of mom’s side. Well, I am coming to know more of mom’s side each day, and I have to tell you – that is where many of my questions have been answered. I see so much of these indescribable wonders of my heart reflected in the beauty of what can only be described as “good folk,” even if they do have some crazies around (hey, who doesn’t?). Hanging around with them, especially in this past month when it seems I haven’t been able to get AWAY from any of them, has just been so wonderful, and I can’t wait to experience more of that and see how this develops. I am honored to call them my friends, of course, but I am more awed by…well…family.

What maybe surprises me most around all of this, these deep changes in my heart and the way life is so different, is that it seems so automatic so quickly. It is easier now to let go than to obsess; it is often my gut instinct. I’m not quick to anger, nor quick to speak. I’m still a little na├»ve and probably a little innocent, but I’m not so sure that is a bad thing. I’m not rushed, and I notice even my footsteps changing. This is the life I have so longed for, and here it is unfolding before me! Gentleness, graciousness, humility, service, and so many other wonderful things. It would be endless to name them all, but I am seeing them. I am feeling them in my heart. And I am just stunned at how simple it all is.

And how beautiful.

And how counter-cultural. Can people really live like this in 21st Century America? Apparently so, because God is the same today as in the Garden. Now, that’s incredible!

Through it all, as well, and for the past several years, I have spent many nights praying for purpose, for that thing that will make me feel like I belong or am valued or whatever words you want to put to purpose. I thought it would come through this or that thing that I would eventually do, but it completely took me by surprise. Sometime last week or so, I suddenly felt it in this fullness – purpose. And it has nothing to do with finding a career, moving out on my own, making a statement in the world, or anything I ever thought it would center around. It simply is. It is in fullness and in God. I just can’t help it, but I feel fully purposed.

Even though it seems I’m not doing anything.

I am getting kind of a little crazy, too, if I’m being honest. There are some things I would like to try, things I might have been too afraid to pursue just a few months ago. I’m doing more things by myself, which is very cool, but I am also exploring the new self through all of that and pushing my boundaries a bit because I know I have boxed myself in for too long. On a serious note, I keep coming back to my yearning for a graduate degree, for pursuing a track in counseling that will enable me to serve others who have suffered immense trauma. I want to open a trauma center one day, and I strongly believe God is placing this calling on my life. But I am bound by a sense of stewardship, so I have to figure out financing before I do anything crazy like return to school. On the lighter side, I was thinking the other day that it might be fun to go boating. I was on the Maid of the Mist once, but that’s different than just encountering nature on the water, if you know what I mean. And I thought maybe karaoke would be fun. Something out of my box, something that requires me to fully shut off and let go and just enjoy myself. I am preoccupied a bit, maybe, by the idea of exploring this new freedom – where life is just life and a blessed gift from God instead of the way I’ve been living it for too long.

It all comes back to attachment. I’m going to get psychological for a moment, but I think this will make sense. One of the things we study about children in particular is attachment style, which is formed rather early in life. It’s why you can’t leave a baby screaming in a crib for hours, and we all understand that. Children with secure attachments, with parents who love them unconditionally and relate to them with appropriate nurture and firmness, tend to be more successful and less fearful in life. They are willing to explore a bit, to strike out on their own, to make friends, and more because they know that when they come back and if they ever need to, home will be there. Children with insecure attachments – the abused, the neglected, those with too permissive parents or too corporal parents, etc. – are fearful and tend to cling to what they know because they fear change, they fear letting anything be different because nothing is ever the same. They are less likely to risk because they don’t know if they can ever go home again, if home will ever be there.

I have found my secure attachment later in life, now here in my mid-20s, as I understand the safe love of my Father. I feel completely safe, completely secure, and that gives me the wings to fly and the heart to take risks. That is making a HUGE difference, beyond my wildest imagination.

I just can’t say enough what it’s like to not carry the heavy weights that have defined my first quarter-century. It is…indescribable. Wordless. And I am always speechless because of this great thing God has done, and is doing, in me.

I have compared some of this lately to a bad cold or a sinus infection, a universal experience that I think everyone understands. In the throes of sickness, we often sleep fitfully. We can’t breathe too well, or sometimes at all, and that keeps waking us up and preventing our bodies from finding rest. Then, when the fever breaks and our airways start to clear, we seem to do nothing but sleep…after the illness is over! Well, I finally feel like I can breathe after 25 years, and I am EXHAUSTED. I have been sleeping better in the past few weeks than ever before, but I’m still exhausted. (And great dreams, most of the time. A couple of nights ago, I woke up singing the most beautiful worship song that has never been written and of course, by the time I had enough consciousness to compose it, it was gone.) Not really worn out or overspent or anything like that; just exhausted and understanding my desperate need for rest. It kind of makes me emotional, too, which is actually part of the beauty here, too – things are really touching my heart in powerful ways. But yeah, I am absolutely loving the Sabbath and the rest. It is part of God’s beautiful gift here.

Which leads me back to the original question, one I finally found the answer to late last night and honestly busted out laughing in the dark. Where is here? Where is this place where I have so wonderfully and powerfully encountered the Living God? This place that I’m not sure I want to let go of, but that I am equally as anxious to see radically transformed? This place that is calling me out, through my heart, to do more good in the world and to serve in ways I haven’t imagined yet and am not even sure where to start? This place of wilderness and desert and barrenness with no visible signs pointing in any direction, no map to take me out of here, and nothing really of note going on?

This is the honest-to-God proverbial middle of nowhere.

God has met me even here. And it is beautiful.