Friday, August 29, 2014

Unoriginal Shame

I really needed God to speak to shame in Genesis 3. (See yesterday.) I needed Him to tell Adam and Eve that it was okay to be naked, that this was the way He created them, that until a few minutes ago, even they thought this was "good." Because it was. It was good. Until they realized it was lesser.

Shame today is a little more complicated. 

Because shame today seems to come from the things that were never good. It's the things that were never meant to be, the things God did not create. ...Or is it?

That's how it feels. It feels like we're wrapped in shame from a broken world and so it's not enough any more for God to say simply, "It's okay." It's not okay. It's not okay even when it's forgiven. It's not okay even when it's redeemed. You can still hear God's heart breaking, but it's not any more because we have turned against His Creation - that we have failed to see it anymore as "good." Now, His heart breaks because we have perverted His Creation - it was never supposed to be this way.

And yet, without the intentionality of it being this way, there would be no shame at all. Here's where it gets kind of complicated.

Think about the things that shame you. Maybe you're ashamed to be a man or to be a woman. That's because something in this world has exposed what you are - man or woman - as lesser, in some way, shape or form. But that doesn't change that you were made to be man or woman. Man or woman, as you are, is still "good," even when it feels lesser by some cultural expectation. The key to shame, then, is to come back to understanding that it is good. Man or woman is an essential part of you, a beautiful detail of your very being created by God.

That seems simple enough. Not everything is so simple.

Let's say you're ashamed by something that's happened to you. Let's say someone used you in a way you'd never hoped to be used. Regardless of what that is - physically, sexually, professionally, socially - you feel shame. Now, what is the core of that shame? It is a perversion of your purpose or perhaps, a perversion of your love. (Depending on what example you're thinking of right now.) On the one hand, it was never supposed to be this way. Purpose and love are beautiful things, part of the very fabric of your being, and they were not meant to be broken and used by this world. That's one side of the coin. On the other side, the very fact that these things were broken means you are still tender to them, which is precisely the way they were meant to be. You were made to feel your purpose. You were made to be sensitive to your love. That they could be wounded at all...means they have a fair sense of themselves. It means they understand who they are. It means you understand them, and that you've refused to let them change their form. So on the one hand, God's heart is breaking because it was never supposed to be this way, and on the other hand, He is deeply saddened precisely because love is supposed to be so fragile, purpose so tender. They have to be in order to be anything at all. And He tells you, I'm wasn't supposed to be like this. But that very fragile love, that very tender purpose, is exactly as I created it to be. still good.

Maybe you're ashamed of something you've done. Maybe you've made a bad choice or two along the way, and you're reaping the consequences. Maybe it's by your own hand that you're left feeling exposed. On the one hand, again, it wasn't supposed to be this way. You were created with a certain something that God wanted to manifest in you, and maybe you've chosen against it right now. But whatever you are - the very gift of it is in that you have a choice about it at all. Some things, as we saw yesterday in the form of pure love, must be chosen if they are to be real at all. Yet choice is open to perversion as much as anything. God says, I created you to be loving, but if I hope for love for you, you must choose it. Love must always be chosen. It doesn't have to be love, of course; it could be any number of things. Whatever it is that you were thinking of when I brought this up.

Shame today is a complicated matter. It's not so simple as original sin. It's not just a change in perspective of what was once good is now lesser in the blink of an eye. It can't so easily be traced back to a piece of fruit. Because it's this constant mess of the way things are in the fallen world, and that's usually what we see first of it. But underneath every shame is still this truth: there is something there that is still good. There is something there that is still just as it was created to be. The answer to shame today is to come back to that understanding, to come to that place where you recognize what that "good" thing is and can start to see the beauty in its fragility. 

It's when you realize what love was created to be, and now, you're not so much ashamed as you are heartbroken over its perversion. It's when you know what purpose is, but you can't get rid of the ache that it was meant to be more beautiful. It's when you go back to God's very intended design for you and see its very tenderness in the shadow of the Fall and you can't make room for shame any more; there is only grief. 

It's weird to say that. I wish there were better answers. I wish things wrapped up nicely in a neat little package, but they don't. The answer to shame in this present world is grief. It's grief. It's mourning over what was meant to be, grieving over everything that was "good" and now feels lesser. It's letting your heart break and letting the life that was meant to be pour out of you the best it can. It's...tearing your clothes, exposing yourself, returning to nakedness not in defiance but in sadness. Because you can't bear to be ashamed any more. Because the only way out of it is to grieve.

It's not pretty. It's not easy. It doesn't sound promising. But there's still a promise. It's the same promise God gave to Adam and Eve as He placed His angels at the entrance to Eden, swords burning. It's the promise that God is already working on it. That He's already bringing it back. That He's got a way to make sense of it, to redeem these things, to set this world right. It's the Promise that there's still something good and that one day, it will all be good again. 

I wish God had spoken to shame on that very first day. I wish He had said something powerful, something healing. But He didn't. There was nothing that could be said to shame. There still isn't. There's only a promise. One day, God will speak. Until that day, we grieve. 

Thursday, August 28, 2014


One of the things that bothers me about the Fall is that God offers no answer for shame.

Adam, Eve, and God are living in blissful wholeness in the Garden. Eve is seduced by the serpent, eats a piece of fruit, shares with her Adam, and all of a sudden, they both realize they are naked. It's interesting in and of itself. They have just eaten the fruit of the Knowledge of Good and Evil and the only thing they seem to have gained knowledge their shame. Is it true, then, that the only true evil in the world is one's own exposure?

That's kind of neat to think about, isn't it? Man eats a piece of fruit that's supposed to give him the eyes to see the broken things, and the only broken thing he sees is himself. He understands, for the first time, that while God is love, man is not pure love. Man has the capacity for so much less than love. And as he comes to understand his brokenness, the knowledge of Good reveals God's wholeness. Man suddenly realizes all that God is, and all that he (man) is not, and he is ashamed of his lesser nature. 

Anyway, that might be something fun to dive into at another time, but that's enough to chew on for now. Let's get back to the story. 

Adam and Eve have eaten the fruit and realize, for the first time, that they are naked. Aside from all of the levels of meaning inherent in that, they do what seems rational - they hide. They stitched a few fig leaves together to cover themselves, then hid in the bushes anyway, hoping God would not see them...or their new wardrobe.

It's always amazed me that they knew just which parts to cover with their crude cloths, or maybe it's just our interpretation of this passage that makes us think they got it "right." Maybe in another culture, the story goes that they sewed cloths for their feet. Or their heads. Or...whatever. But for most of us, we envision the traditional coverings. Fig leaves of the most intimate variety.

It's not so much of a stretch, really. If shame is their trouble, and if they've just discovered their lesser nature, it makes sense that the parts of themselves they wish to cover are the very parts responsible for life. The man covers the mechanism of his seed; the woman, the access to her egg. If she covered her breasts, it was because these, too, are a source of life - nourishment for a newborn - but I don't think there is any reason to believe (other than our own comfort) that Eve was nearly as concerned about her breasts as she was her egg. Man discovers he is not pure love, and therefore, he is not pure good, and instinctively shields his capacity for life. 

God finds him in the bushes, and man dares speak those haunting words: I heard you coming and I was ashamed because I was naked, so I hid.

This is where God starts to bother me. Because I really needed Him to speak to shame.

I needed God to pull Adam and Eve out of the bushes, rip the crude cloths off their most intimate places and remind them that just a few minutes ago, this was still "good." That God created them this way, and it was okay until they for some reason came to understand that it wasn't okay. I needed God to tell them that they couldn't be pure love if they hoped to be love at all because love cannot be the nature of anything; it must be a choice. I needed God to tell them that even in their most intimate places, where the grossest stuff of life happens (am I right?), life could still spring forth and that life could be okay. I needed God to say shame in this critical moment. 

But He doesn't. He asks a simple question - Who told you that you were naked? - and you can almost hear His holy heart breaking. He knows shame is going to be the death of us, and it breaks His heart. Man, who has known truly the best that Creation has to offer him, now knows the one thing Creation cannot heal - his own nakedness. His depravity. His lesser nature. With clear eyes, he gets it. He will never, in his own eyes, be "good" again. God can never convince him of this. Shame is all-consuming. And in this one moment when man so desperately needs God to say something to shame, God is painfully silent. With tender care, He makes more elaborate garments and gives them to man. Then, he pushes man out of the place where all things are "good," which can now only ever be a haunting reminder to a man that somehow, he doesn't believe he is any more.

It's not really that anything has changed. Man's design is not any different than when God first laid eyes on him and declared that he was "good." Man is still the same man. Only now, he knows that he is not a god. He knows his lesser places. He knows his lesser place. And it doesn't feel good any more. It feels...less. 

That's what shame does to us. It makes everything feel...less. And it's pervasive. In this very first moment when God should have spoken to shame, should have put it in its place, should have given man back a sense of himself, He didn't. He couldn't. There's not an answer that the heart will accept for shame. There's not a way of unknowing. There's no going back to "good."

So God did the only thing He could. With tender care, He made a new garment to help man feel more comfortable with himself, to hide the shame a little. Then He turned His face and, I believe, He wept. For a man who could not simply be restored. And finally, He promised that one day, somehow, He would do it anyway. He would make it okay. He would make things good again.

It doesn't always feel like enough.... But at least it's something. It's something we can hold onto in our moment of shame. It's a promise from God, from the God of promises, that it's going to be okay. It's going to be okay.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014


Yesterday, I dared say it - it's not encouraging to hear someone quote Scripture at you. It's just not. But there is a way to use the Word well. Consider this:

When we quote Scripture at each other, we're making a lot of assumptions. We're making boxes and trying to make things fit neatly together when they really don't. Things...are really sometimes just a mess. (More often than you might think.) The trouble, really, is this: we think we're supposed to have the answers for one another.

But that's not what I (the universal I, as a person) need from you. I haven't asked you to speak into my problem. I haven't asked you to work toward a possible solution. Most of the time, when I share my heart with you - when anyone shares their heart - it is not for you to confront the problem; it is for you to comfort the trouble. You do that by responding as a fellow human being.

You do that by grieving when I grieve. By questioning when I question. By hoping when I hope. You do that by bringing your heart, and not your head, to the conversation. You do that by being present with me and by not feeling obligated to be anything more. Because truth? There's not a man in this world that can solve another man's problems. He might, occasionally, lessen another man's circumstances, but he cannot solve a man's problems. Man's trouble is, at its essence, a trouble of the heart and sorry, but man just can't fix that.

What man can do is acknowledge that. What man can do is make it okay for one another to feel the way we feel. What man can do is offer himself as a measure of presence. Now, there are two bodies in the dark. That's all we're really asking from each other.

And yet, it is also true that if you only ever join people where they are, neither one of you will ever go anywhere different. It's not helpful for both of you to sit in the dark if neither of you is looking for the light. And it's not fair of me to ask you to join me in the pit if indeed it's just a trap. There must be some kind of hope. There must be some kind of something better. Or else, all the best friends in the world will fail us.

That's where the Word comes in, or more broadly, God. That's what I'm really looking for. In any trouble, I am really looking for God again. I'm looking for a new measure of Him or a new way to see Him or a new hope in Him. Something. I'm seeking after God. But that still doesn't mean I find Him when you tell Him to me. I don't need a head knowledge. I already have that much, or I wouldn't be seeking Him at all. What I need now is a heart knowledge, and all the best Scripture in the world coming out of your mouth toward me is not going to give me that.

So what do we do? We stop speaking Scripture at each other and start giving the gift of His Word to each other. Semantics? Sure. But most good things are.

Let's put skin on this. Say I'm going through a troubled time and I share my heart with you. You respond, like any good Christian, with Psalm 23. I already explained yesterday why that doesn't work for me - because I do want and because those green pastures are full of fertilizer. Not only that, but now I feel like I have to respond not the the Word but to what the Word means to you. You've just complicated my situation by adding an additional human element whereby now, I'm not thinking just about me, but I have what feels like an expectation from you. It's you speaking into me, and not actually the Word you've tried to give.

Now, suppose that instead, you tell me, "Gosh. That sucks. I'm really sorry" and you grieve when I grieve, hope when I hope, question when I question. And then suppose the next time I see you, you drop a little card into my hand. Or one shows up in the mail. Nothing extravagant. Maybe it just says, "Psalm 23." This does two things.

First, it reminds me of your human presence. It reminds me of another body in the dark. You're still thinking about me. You remember what I'm going through. This is a tremendous comfort and an incredible gift. Second, you are pointing me back to God but in a way that allows Him to speak. I may look up Psalm 23 and read it; I may not. But if I do, it will be His voice that speaks to me. I'll get out of it what He needs me to get out of it. I feel no obligation any more to meeting your expectations; the gift of Scripture given freely allows God to speak to me. an awesome moment. In the same breath, I am reminded of a friend and a Father. I am given presence and Promise. I am gifted with comfort and confidence. You have introduced God, but in a meaningful way that allows me to actually hear Him. To actually connect with Him. All the while connecting with you on a real level, too.

Scripture is powerful. There are incredibly beautiful words in there. There is hope. There is healing. There is power. There is promise. There is presence. There is everything the human heart could ever desire and so much more. And I get why it's easy to start throwing Scripture at each other. I get why it's easy to quote and think we're helping - because that word means so much to us. To both of us. But it only means what it does because God speaks it, not because we do. That's why we have to be so careful. We have to remember the Word of God is a gift...and give it to each other in such a way that it can be truly received. Give it to each other in a way that God speaks, not man.

So can we stop quoting Scripture at one another already?


Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Quoth the Father

Can we just stop quoting Scripture at each other already?


Because here's the thing: it doesn't mean anything to me when you say it. And it rarely means to anyone what you think it does. 

We throw Scripture around, certain ones especially, as the times seem to dictate, but it's meaningless the way we do it. Someone's having trouble believing in this or that or even themselves, and a well-meaning Christian comes along and says, "Philippians 4:13." (I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength.) Which sounds nice except right now, I don't have strength and I don't have Christ and it doesn't feel like I can do anything, let alone all things. And now, not only am I feeling bad about my life, but I'm feeling bad about my faith. Clearly, I don't have enough of it or I could truly do all things.

Or maybe times are just really tough. Days are hard. No fear! There is always Psalm 23. "The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want...." Except that right now, I do want. I desperately want. I desperately want things not to be like this. I desperately want things to be different. The Lord may be my shepherd, but it's shearing season and we're not friends right now. So now, I'm not only thinking about my hard times but I'm now even more aware of the distance between me and God.

And those green pastures and still waters? You know what makes a pasture green? It's the...fertilizer. It's all the...manure...that's been poured there over the years, and right now, I'm making my own green pasture. Thanks.

Quoting Scripture at each other implies a few things. It implies that I know exactly what you're going through and what your particular struggle is. That I know all of the factors at play and am confident to make an assessment of the level of your trial. Enough of an assessment, anyway, to meet it with a Word God once upon a time spoke to someone else going through something completely different. Because we're all human; we bring our personal human element with us and everything we go through is different.

It also implies that I know what God is doing. That He is strengthening you for all things. That He is shepherding you toward something good. That He has green pastures and still waters for you. Maybe He doesn't. Maybe He's breaking you down in this season, and not strengthening you. Maybe He's not guiding you right now; maybe He's letting you be, letting you figure things out and find your way back to Him. Maybe He's just hoeing the fertilizer and the pasture isn't even green for Him yet. 

I have never, in my life, been uplifted by a Scripture anyone has quoted at me in a time of trouble or trial. Or even in the good times. Never. Not once. I have always been burdened by them. On many levels. I feel like it makes me not the expert on my life; you are. I feel like it increases the tension I feel. I feel like I'm not struggling "right" or maybe like I have no right to struggle at "all." For all the "Christian" things we say, it ends up being not very Christian-like at all. 

I'm not saying we don't use Scripture at all. That would be an error in the other direction. But there is a way to use the Word wisely and gently. I'll share that with you tomorrow. 

Monday, August 25, 2014

I Once Was Blind

One of the more fascinating aspects of Jesus' healing ministry is the sheer number of the afflicted who lined the roads for the chance to cry out His name. And we often applaud these men and women for their faith - how they dared to believe that Jesus could heal them!

What we often fail to understand is that this was always more than faith. It was also about hope. And not the hope for sight for the blind man, noise for the deaf man, legs for the lame. This was hope from the very heart of the afflicted man. How do we know? Well, we have to put a few things together to get there.

Start with what the men so often cried out, particularly the blind men. Son of David, have mercy on me. Mercy. Mercy, you'll remember (if you've been reading along), is when a man does not get what he deserves. When these men lined the roads and cried out their affliction, they weren't just putting their sight on the line; they were putting their hearts on it.

Because under the old law, these men lived with the understanding that they were blind because they deserved it. They had sinned or their parents had sinned or they had known someone who sinned, and their punishment was blindness. At the same time they were praying for their eyes to be opened, they were praying, too, that it couldn't be true. That they couldn't be bound by sin forever. That they wouldn't have to live every day with the consequences of what they'd done. Culture, covenant, law told them their blindness was the natural consequence of their life, and when they beg, Son of David, they are in the same breath saying, I messed up.

Some of the religious among them even go so far as to ask the question in front of the blind man, heaping shame onto his present condition. Who sinned? they asked. This man or his parents? (John 9:2) There was, inherent in the broken condition, the understanding that brokenness was self-made. It was your own fault. 

The blind men that lined the roads (and the other afflicted with them) begged for mercy because they were burdened with the understanding they had brought this on themselves. Only mercy - not getting what they deserve - could heal them.

That's a heavy load to carry. And one that most of us are still toting around.

Every afflicted man, every burdened heart at some level has this nagging feeling that it's his own fault. Most of us know how hard it must have been for the blind man, daring to stand on the side of the road and cry out. We think about healing, too. We think about the passing Jesus and how badly we want nothing more than to see again. How we want a chance to see with new eyes. How we don't want to live every day in the darkness of some decision we made too long ago. How we don't want to live forever trapped in our brokenness.

And yet, we can't get away from knowing that at some level, it was our decision. It is our brokenness. We brought this on ourselves. Whether that's true or not, we feel like it is. We feel like it's our fault. This brokenness, this blindness...we fully deserve it. Crying out on the side of the road, longing for a passing Jesus, yearning for sort of feels like cheap grace. We know we're asking for something we don't deserve.  It feels unholy. It feels like a cop out. 

And it kind of is. Grace, in a moment like this, is unholy. Mercy, on the other hand, is quite divine.

That's the difference between today's burdened man and the blind man. The blind man knew what to ask for. We seemingly don't. Too many of us are wasting our time asking for grace and knowing it would be empty; the blind man knew he had one chance and asked for mercy out of a keen understanding of the reality of his predicament, at least as it was understood in Old Testament Law. He owned it, just long enough to hand it off. Just long enough to cry out. And he was rewarded for it.

Most of us won't own it. We won't take our story in our own hands. We won't admit to our shortcomings, our misunderstandings, our failures, our sins. We won't ask for mercy because mercy is hard. Mercy, inherently, is a confession, and we'd rather not see ourselves as sinners. But the blind man...he may or may not have been a sinner, but he cried out as one. He was willing to admit it might be him. He was willing to say this was his problem, and he was willing to own his part in it. He may have been tempted for grace, but what he longed for - the only thing that would reconcile his story to himself - was mercy. So he cried out for mercy.

Only to find that mercy is grace.

I once was blind, but now I'm free.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Scary Story

I'm looking forward to getting back to more traditional theology next week, but there's one more important question in all this monster talk:

What happens to the monsters when they win?

And the answer is: they get names.

They've always had forms. They've always had structures. But they've always been known by the trouble they cause, the trauma they inflict. We spend the night knowing our monsters by our sense of their presence but rarely, if ever, by name. Most of the time, we're afraid to name them. We're afraid to humanize them in any way.

When they win, when they pull us beyond ourselves, when they create the space in which we grow, we can't help but humanize them. We can't help but humanize them because it's very clear who the human is at the heart of this story. It's us. And when our monsters have taught us what we need to know, when they have broken us enough to heart truth, they become a part of our story, too.

That's why we name them. They are no longer terrors but characters. They are pieces of the growing narrative of our lives. No longer are they known simply by the pain and the fear; now, they are known by name. Anger. Depression. Abuse. Addiction. Arrogance. Grief. Shame. Fear. And so on. When we call them by name, we can start weaving them in.

Because by name, we remember our interactions with them like we do an old friend. I met Bill the other day for coffee. I stopped by Lisa's house for a quick chat. Fear came to me in the night. Grief once ripped my heart straight out of my chest. They aren't monsters any more; they're just characters. And they are helping to tell the story of us.

It's the difference between being hurt and being broken. Between being scarred and being wounded. It's coming to have this dynamic relationship with the very things that used to torment you because, in the light of day and knowing it seems you've lost the battle, you've also found so many better things. You've found a truer measure of yourself. You know where you end, and you know that somehow, you don't end even there. You know where God begins, and yet, He began long before even that. You understand how God is already redeeming your story, how the light shines on the monsters. When you see them for what they are, you see you for what you are and God for what He is. All of a sudden, what seemed so scary is just a good friend. A necessary acquaintance in the darkest night that led you back to God.

That's the rosy picture of it. In reality, it's a lot messier. It's messy because on most days, you don't really feel that grateful for monsters. You don't. You might, in a particularly poignant moment, have some appreciation of all they have done for you, but in general, you still think there was probably a better (read: easier) way to get to where you are. To have learned the things you have learned. (There probably isn't, by the way.) 

It's messy because for awhile, and I can't speak to how this looks further down the road because I'm not there yet, but for awhile, the monsters are still more real than the rest of the story. They have names, but they feel like the primary characters in your story instead of occasional friends. It can feel for awhile like your life is telling their story. That does get better. I promise. It takes a very long time, and it's not easy. It's a whole new fight with them, but it's nothing like the fight you just got through. But I'm just being honest. Coming out of the dark, you know your monsters but it feels like you've more lost yourself. For awhile.

It's messy because they are still grotesque. (See Monday's post for the difference between gruesome and grotesque.) They still have seven eyes and sharp fangs and prickly green fur all over their bodies. They still have haunting voices and creepy smiles. They still feel incongruous with the life you were meant to live. And maybe they are, even though in a fallen world, I don't think we can get away from such a thing. 

It's messy but in those rare and finest moments, you understand enough of the scary story to let that mess be a little okay. 

And then something cool happens. Someday, somewhere, God is going to call your monsters by name. And He's going to introduce them to the monsters in someone else's life. New monsters that don't yet have a name. New monsters that are just starting to come out in the night. He's going to put you in a place where your scary story speaks light into a story that's just taken a dark turn. It is really, really cool when that starts to happen.

One caveat, and I say this because it's also true. Please don't misread me. God does not give you monsters for the sake of someone else. Your story is not preparation for what God wants to do with you. Sometimes, it is. Most of the time, it's not. You weren't abused because God needed you to be abused. You weren't depressed because God needed you to be depressed. You didn't grieve because God needed you to grieve. He wasn't setting you up for this. You did not fight your battles so that you could help someone else. That would be a bit sadistic, don't you think? God's not like that. 

Rather, God uses you because you have fought your battles. God uses you because you can name your monsters. Because you've been there. He never intended for you to be there. Once upon a time, this world was "good." But you have been there and God is busy working "good" back into that because one tiny bit of good that could ever be is better than living a broken life in vain just because the world is fallen. He's working it out so that the story isn't limited to the corruption of this world; it is also infused with the promise of God. A promise for redemption. A promise for purpose. A promise for meaning in what so often feels like a meaningless place.

God doesn't make the monsters. He doesn't. But He does start writing them in. When you start calling them by name, they become characters in your narrative. Good friends (okay, contentious but sometimes appreciated friends) who are helping you tell your story. His story.

Seven eyes, sharp fangs, prickly green fur, and all.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

When Monsters Win

So what really happens when monsters win? And sometimes, yes, they do.

When monsters win, it doesn't kill you. It destroys you. What's the difference? You get to keep living.

See, monsters take you to the edge of yourself and just a little bit beyond. They get at that thing that you can't handle any more, that place where you've run out of strength. You've even run out of ideas and now, you're just subject to whatever's going on.

It's weird how this happens because most people think when they run out of themselves, it's over. It's done. They cannot go on. Anyone who has dared to wrestle with monsters knows that there comes a point where it is very clear you have run out of yourself. It is so painfully obvious you could mark it on a map. Right here. This is the point where I've got nothing. And that very moment, that very moment of complete emptiness and exhaustion, is also the place where curiosity begins.

This curiosity begins in the self because when you realize you've run out of yourself, often, you realize you went further than you could have imagined. Your edges aren't what your edges used to be. You have discovered that the words of Pooh are true: You are braver than you believe, stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think. You had more to bring to the fight than you thought you did, and as a result, you have learned something about yourself. You have learned where you end, at least for now.

And yet, you have not ended there. Have you? You have come to the end of yourself and now, you are beyond you and yet, you are still breathing. Maybe you're not fighting any more; maybe you don't know how. But you're standing there and taking it.

That's rough. Your monsters will tear into you. They will rip you open and expose every vulnerable thing you've ever been, every broken thing you ever were, every broken thing you still are. It's messy. It's painful. It hurts beyond what words could ever describe. I'm sorry. At some point, you'll black out. You'll disconnect. The battle rages on, but it doesn't even feel like you any more. And you start to ask the question, How much more?

This is the second curiosity. You start to wonder just how much more there could possibly be, what exists outside of you that you never knew about, that you never made space for. Because we all know that monsters begin in our imaginations. They're a product of us. You're literally fighting against your own darknesses. Which means you're coming to understand more of yourself just after you've run out of yourself, and it's very healing.

This, however, is the critical time for most people. Particularly as relates to suicide. This is that moment. This is when you understand that you've run out of you and yet there is more, and you decide whether you live or die. It's tricky. It's hard because at precisely this moment, when the pain gets to be too much and you black out, when you give in and the monsters overtake you (and it happens. Don't think it doesn't), it feels like everything has run out. It doesn't feel like you any more. It feels like...nothingness, which is so different than feeling like nothing at all. It's pure emptiness. It's pure otherness. It's pure nothingness. It feels like there isn't anything so what's to stick around for?

But there is something: (You're not gonna like this.) There are monsters.

There are things you'd never face head-on if you were in your right mind. It's too hard. It's too painful. Thankfully, once you've reach this point of disconnection, you're firmly out of your right mind. Ironically, the pain has driven you there. (Didn't you fear that it would?) But the very thing you feared the most has happened, and it has brought you to a place where now, you can actually deal with it. Not in your tools and your mechanisms and your mechanics, but in the depth of your heart, where the monsters themselves live. It's beautiful.

And it won't kill you.

It destroys you for the sake of inviting you back into your life. It takes away all that you are and exposes beyond your borders so you understand, at the same time, both a bigger and smaller view of yourself. It does not, as the saying goes, make you stronger. It makes you weaker. It makes you weak enough to see your strength. It makes you vulnerable enough to see your courage. It makes you open enough to see your closedness.

If you're a person of faith, it is these things that drive you back to God. It is these things that drive you to prayer. It is these things that start to give a meaning and a structure and a form, even a hope, to the fear. To the pain. To the agony.

I don't pretend any of this is easy. It's not. It hurts. But it has to hurt that bad if you ever hope to heal.

Your monsters destroy you not because they win, but because you do. 

So what happens? What happens to the monsters when all is said and done? I'll tell you tomorrow.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Is Faith Enough?

I began this week by talking about monsters. Monsters are real. They are real under the bed; they are real under my bed. But I also said that they dwell in the places that monsters most often do, in the imagination, because in the presence of God, things aren't nearly as bad as they seem.

The question, then, is whether faith is enough for the monsters. In the dark of night when monsters strike, is it enough to believe in God?

We ask this question when tragedy strikes, when we see someone succumbing to their monsters. When we see someone defeated by their darkness. Didn't they believe? Maybe we even know they believed, which makes it harder to reconcile faith and monsters. That a man believes in God, we say, should necessarily mean he cannot be eaten by his monsters.

Which is really nice in theory, but irresponsibly blind to the realities of this world. There are monsters in this world that are bigger than God.

We're people of faith. We don't say such things out loud! If your monsters are bigger than your God, you say, then your God is clearly not big enough. And if your God is not big enough, then maybe you don't believe in God at all. Maybe you have no faith. 

That's crap. 

There's no other word for it. That's complete and utter crap. I am very happy for you if you have found that believing in God enough is the answer to your monsters. I do not discount your experience. But for so many of us, we wrestle with the monsters so long in the night that they do not simply go away when dawn breaks. The light cannot chase them away. Stop telling us that it can.

Because here's the truth: if I'm up against my biggest monsters, I may clearly see that they are monsters. I may see their very form. I may not necessarily be afraid of them any more, but I may still see them every moment. I may choose, by faith in God, that now is the time for monster-slaying. I may decide that today is the day I stand. God may give me the strength to do just that. 

And in the very same moment, I may find that though I have seen my monsters, and though I know my God, I have severely underestimated the power of both. My monster may have within it the power of a full-force gale, strong enough to knock me down and keep me there. Even in its fully-exposed, known form, it may still take me by surprise. And my God? My God may not be enough to keep me from going down.

Sorry, but that's how it is. That's how it is in the pages of the Bible; that's how it is in the words of my heart. I suspect I'm not alone. I can know exactly what I'm up against, know exactly, in complete fullness, who God is, and still find myself in a position to say, "I can't do this."

You know? That's okay. It's okay if you can't do this. It's okay if, with God right by your side, you still can't do this. It's okay if you look at Him and admit it's time to back down. I have run from a few fights in my life, pulling God along with me by the hand as I'm screaming, "Let's get out of here before this kills us both!" Because my monsters cannot destroy God, but they can destroy my God. They can destroy my image of Him and disconnect me from whatever faith I still have, and I'd rather have my God than fight my monsters. And sometimes, God will let you run.

There are times, though, when He won't. There are times when He knows, and you do, too, that you're in too deep. That the only way out now is to win or die. We grieve when those we love decide they cannot win and take their own death. We wonder how such a thing could happen. Didn't they believe? 

Maybe. But faith is so rarely enough. Even an active faith - a faith that both believes and trusts - is not enough. It takes something more. It takes...I wish I could tell you what it takes. I wish I could tell you what that missing piece is. It's not hope, I don't think; in the middle of the battle, hope seems empty. It's not love; this is a moment when it feels almost impossible to love. If you've ever fought monsters and won, you know what I'm talking about. If you're fighting monsters right now and losing, you really want me to be right about this. 

I'm right about this. There is something else. I'm just not sure what it is for you. And I'm not one of those people who is going to tell you some bogus magic formula for winning; it's not helpful to seek after this or that thing, this or that seeming advantage. 

So what I tell you today if you're fighting monsters is this: keep fighting. Have faith, even when that faith is not enough. Keep fighting. If you can't fight any more, pull away. If you have full sight of your monsters and full glimpse of your God and you're still saying, "I can't do this," pull away. Step back. If you can't step back, if this is win or die, keep fighting. Your monsters will never kill you. They can't. And they know they can't.

Now you know it, too. If you don't believe me just yet, hold on and trust one more day. Tomorrow, to the best of my ability, I will try to tell you what it actually looks like when the monsters "win."

Tuesday, August 19, 2014


I am one of those people who has lived her life in riddles, hints, and anonymous notes. I have said many smart things over the years. I have said many interesting things. I have often been complimented on the way that my mind works, the way I can see things and put them into words that make you think.

And there's a place for that, but it's not as big a place as you might think.

The mind can do wonderful things. It can take a word, twist it, and utter it out of the mouth. It can speak fact, even beautifully. But it cannot speak truth.

The words of the mind can impress, but they cannot impress upon. They can make a man think, but they can never make him believe. He can hear them without listening; agree without trusting. a product of more than the mind. It takes everything you've got, and often more, to speak truth. It takes telling a story not out of the mind but out of the heart, infusing it with meaning, matching it with a physical presence that both gives and receives that story at the same time. Truth speaks as if it is new every moment, and perhaps it is. You can never speak truth like a fact, like you know it; you always speak truth like you're just discovering it. Like you hadn't thought about it before. Like it's just now hitting you. 

If you do it right, it is.

The truth is that I could go through my life talking out of my mind, and one day, I would find myself there - out of my mind. Because words spoken from the intellect have no meaning. They're empty. They don't impact my life. They don't touch what I'm trying to do here. The truth is that I have spent most of my life talking, and it doesn't take away the monsters under my bed (see yesterday's post). 

But God has been calling me lately to do more than talk; He has asked me to speak. It's the hardest thing I ever do, and by far, the most rewarding.

I have had, recently, to speak words never spoken, not even in the safety of the mind. I have had to embrace stories that too often feel like they are embracing me. I have had to cast off the properness of language in exchange for the crude. I have had to be both brave and strong in moments when clearly, I was neither on my own. 

But it's more than that. I have had to find the strength to stand and not crumble. I have had to look into the mirror and see my own haunted eyes. I have had to feel the trembling in my voice in my own throat, the shaking in my hands. And they have physically been shaking. And they aren't the only thing. 

Some moments of truth are bigger than others. Sometimes, you can feel the facts sneaking back in. You can feel your mind wanting to take control and you have to make the conscious decision to engage your spirit again, and I'm just going to be honest - it hurts. It hurts in the depth of the spirit and the body responds to the pain and begins to ache itself. You literally engage your whole self in speaking this one thing because all of a sudden, this is not just words.

This is you. 

And on the better days, it's not just you; it's God. It's daring to tell His story with everything you've got. Not just with your words, but with your everything. It's daring to trust, to believe, to hope out loud while simultaneously actually trusting, believing, or hoping. So often we use such words and find ourselves later thinking about them. I said that I trust; do I really trust? What does trust even mean? It makes them just words. 

But if you trust in the very moment you say you trust, if you become present to your life in a truthful way...these aren't just words any more; they are a story. They are your story. And you're right there in it. You break your heart wide open to what's really going on.

It's not easy. I'm not proclaiming that it is. If I could tell you the violence I feel within my person as I reconcile a life with a story, a word with a truth, I would. There are simply no words. There are more moments I'd rather not take another breath than to even think about speaking at all. There are days I really, really miss talking and sounding smart. Then I find it somewhere that I must speak truth again, and I do, and what I discover is this:

I would rather have the painful brokenness of truth than the impressive beauty of words. Because it is always truth that matters to a person's life. It is always truth that matters to my life.

Most of you, right now, are lying to yourselves. You're lying to your world. And, by extension, you're lying to your God. You're not giving Him all of you. You're not even giving you all of you. And that's a shame. It's all emptiness. It can only ever bring you to agree, never to trust. It can bring you to hear, but never listen. It can make you to think, but never believe.

Don't you want to believe? Then speak truth. And watch how God shows up when you make room for Him in your story.

Monday, August 18, 2014


I can't help but laugh a little when adults so casually dismiss the idea of monsters.

Over the weekend, I was tuned into a certain radio station late at night (and they played this same clip two nights in a row, so perhaps you heard it, too). The DJs were talking about a recent study that says you'll sleep better if you leave one foot slipped out of the covers, and the male host admitted he'd always naturally done that but couldn't explain why. The female host was astonished that he would do this and asked, "Aren't you afraid like, I don't know, a monster will eat your foot?"

There was a quiet laughter, and the male asked incredulously, "Am I afraid a monster will eat my foot?" And the female responded, "I don't know..."

It was amusing to hear these two grown persons talk about monsters. More, I think, it was refreshing that at least one may still believe in them.

Monsters are real.

They are that ever-present threat from under the bed - the places so near to your vulnerability and yet, you never look at them. I know because every so often, I will move my bed only to discover that 1) I have shoes I have long-forgotten that I owned and 2) there's enough dog hair under there to make a new dog. Yet every night, I lay my head on my pillow and go to bed like I know everything that's going on. On one level, I do; on another, I have forgotten completely. There are monsters under my bed.

They lurk in closets, too. In all that stuff you have but never look at. In boxes with old baby shoes and high school yearbooks. In the containers that hold your life and yet, it's a life you haven't thought about in ages. They live with the relics of your past, growing unlovelier as time passes by and they remain untouched, undisturbed. Earlier this year, I went through an old statuette collection I had boxed up from my childhood years and discovered what was once a beautiful snow globe. I can't tell you what I found floating in that thing, but I promise you this - it wasn't snow. It was congealed, discolored, disgusting. Unshaken, the snow had settled and formed something new. Untouched, what once was fragile became repulsive. 

The answer, maybe, is to let things sit in the darkness, in the closet, until it seems they have died. Then you have skeletons in your closet, but at least you don't have monsters. Skeletons present their own problems.... They give off an unmistakable odor. They start to break down. And when someone finds bones in your closet, it usually leads to some kind of indictment. Let your monsters become skeletons, and they will not terrify you; but they will speak against you.

All that to say this: monsters are real. They are all around us, in our darkest and yet our most vulnerable places. They are right next to the things that would draw us close to God if we would let them. For some of us, they are more real than for others. Some of us spend our lives fearing them. Some of us spend our lives searching for them. Some of us spend our lives trying to forget them. But however you interact with the monsters, they are there. 

And like all good monsters, they are born in the imagination.

By the grace of God, our monsters are never so bad as we make them seem. By His incredible mercy, they are not so scary. We're afraid of the monsters because we fear what they will take from us. We fear that they will harm us. We already feel our secrets slipping away. But when you give God your broken facts, He makes them beautiful truth. The very things your monsters are guarding, the appetite on which they feast, is the very thing that will often set you free in God. We're afraid we'd be disqualified from righteousness by our monsters.

God says nothing can separate us from the love of God.

I have some monsters under my bed; there are a few in my closet. Some may even be rotting into skeletons by now. It's the nature of the fallen man. But the more I think about monsters, the more I come to understand my aversion to them. It's not that they are gruesome - that they inspire fear or horror, or that they are particularly repulsing. It's more that they are grotesque. They are incongruous with the life I am called to live in God. They are...bizarre and crude. They're hard to look at because they don't fit in. It is not that my monsters scare me; it is that they shame me.

The best way to deal with monsters is to speak truth. Name them. Name them not Mike and Sully and Randall, but name them fear and shame and doubt. Name them hurt and grief and pain. Name them arrogance and pride. Name them for what they are, and speak honestly about them. And then, bring them to light. Expose them to God. Not for their hideousness, but for their horrendousness. Not because they are gruesome, but because they are grotesque.

I'm not afraid of monsters any more, but I know that they are real. 

Which is why you won't find me sleeping with my foot outside of the covers any time soon.

Friday, August 15, 2014


When it comes to being the men and women God has created us to be, I think we're all a little afraid that our story is bigger than ourselves. I know there are some days that I am. Afraid, that is.

There just seem to be days when we feel like tiny, insignificant specks in this grand scheme of whatever's happening and it's hard. Our stories wrap us up in themselves and squeeze so tightly that it doesn't feel like we can breathe any more. This is true on the bad days and on the good days. On the bad days, it's trouble and trial and turmoil that ransack our hearts, making us question our strength. Making us aware of our weakness. Asking more of us than we think we have to give at all. It feels like we're being swept away, and it's all we can do to keep our heads above water. On the good days, it's purpose and passion and calling that wring our hearts. We get a sense of a very big thing going on in all our little things, and we're overwhelmed with our insecurities. This can't be our story because we're not big enough to fill these shoes. The good days sometimes ask more of us than we are comfortable giving because we can't see the depth of God in our own spirits. We might sort of suspect or even hope He's in there, in us, but we're hesitant to hold onto that and do the very big things He's called us to do.

Your story is not bigger than you. No matter how hard it swallows. No matter how thick its darkness. No matter how high its hopes. It's not bigger than you.

Another temptation we often run into is that there are days our story seems smaller than us. I know this is true for some of my days, too.

We can all of a sudden have this overwhelming sense of who we are and suddenly, we can do anything. We want to do everything. We wonder if our story can keep up, if there's any affirmation out there as we step forward in faith. We wonder if we'll be allowed to do the big things or if we're somehow relegated to mediocrity. We cringe to think our modest life is all that we were meant for. We shudder when we consider that God might not want the big things from us. The energy in our hearts tells us we were meant for big things, but we look around and life is all the little things. It's a haunting feeling, to think you should be more than you could ever be. It's that pull between fervor and faithfulness, which can pit us against ourselves.

When we think we're better than this, when we suspect that our story isn't big enough to hold us, we start to live outside of that story. We refuse to humble ourselves. We refuse to submit our spirits. And we miss out on just how big our story could be.

Relax. Your story isn't too small for you. No matter how mundane, how mediocre, how monotonous it can sometimes feel, it's not too small.

Your story is God-sized, and that makes it a perfect fit. It dwells naturally within us, a little tight at times to bring Him bursting through our skin. Our story both calls to us and presses in on us until it seeps out of our pores with every little step. It's big enough to hold all of our hopes but small enough that it answers our insecurities. It is a broad stroke with fine detail. It is eternal and it is intimate. Powerful, yet personal. It's always a little bigger than us, always pushing, always stretching. And it's always a little smaller because once we catch on to what God is doing, we're ready to do the big things. But all in His timing.

God's story within you is always in perfect tension with itself. If you're feeling that tension today, rejoice; it means God's story is alive in you. If you're afraid of that tension, that's ok. We all are. Or maybe I'm just speaking for myself again.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Who You Are

Last night, I was about to say something very Christian-sounding, but I stopped myself. It started with Big Brother. (Sorry.)

One of the "houseguests" on this season of the show pulled off a miraculous competition win minutes after he found out literally everyone else in the house was against him. I have to admit, it was pretty impressive...until he spoke. He said something like, "Now I have to start rebuilding some trust in this house. So it's time that I tell them who I really am." And in his book, who he really is is the brother of a semi-famous sister and an internet personality defined by his number of followers. I immediately screamed at my television, No one cares who you 'are.' It doesn't matter.

And what I wanted to say, and to plaster all over social media, was this: It doesn't matter who you are; it matters Whose you are.

Which sounds all good and Christian, doesn't it? We say things like this all the time. And there's a way to read it that it's not devaluing, but there is a way to read it that is biting. As I half-typed that sentence, it was the biting way that nipped at me. 

The truth is, it matters deeply who you are.

Who you are is woven into the fabric of this universe. You were created for such a time as this. It doesn't matter if who you are seems like a big thing or a little thing or hardly anything at all; you're doing something here. And the world in which you and I live is counting on you to do your thing. The universe is holding its breath, longing for you to be who you are. longing for you to be who you are.

Not everyone has a concept of God, not one they can rely on at least. For those of us who do, we figure out who we are through an allegiance to our Creator. We ask Him; He reveals us. We keep our feet on the right path by walking ever toward Him. We meditate on who He is and He whispers who we are. It's enough to keep us going in the right direction.

For those who don't have a concept of God, to be true to oneself is, at the very least, to develop an allegiance to your truest self. It's to examine your heart and know at your core who you are, what that one thing is that you were created to be.

So what I was really bristling at when this reality show contestant spoke was his lack of self-awareness. It was his unwillingness, in admitting who he was, to admit who he is. I shuddered to think that when this guy looks in the mirror, what he sees is his sister's brother and a "personality" (his word) with more than a million followers. If that's who he thinks he is, he is merely a shadow of himself.

Who you are - it can't be defined by the exterior. It can't be defined by the connections you have, the things that you do, or even the difference you make. We are too quick to define ourselves by this sort of thing. It's deeper than that. You are deeper than that. You are more than your head or your hands could ever accomplish, although it's important to give these gifts to the world. You are, at your core, what your heart is, which is the place out of which you give any gifts at all.

And this world needs you to be that. I...need you to be that. I need you to be everything you are created to be because it gives me the space to be everything I am created to be. Our lives are woven inextricably together, whether we talk every day or we've never met. What you're doing...what I'm doing...who we both's part of this divine moment.

If you don't know who you are, find out. Ask the question. Search your heart. Search your spirit. Don't be afraid of the answer. Most of us are afraid to hear the whisper that we are who we hope we are, or who we think we are. Most of us are afraid that our worst fears might be confirmed, but at least with God, that's never the case. It's your greatest hope that will be affirmed. He would never call you the things you call yourself when no one's listening; He will always call you redeemed, beloved, beautiful. And He will call you His.

It sounds all well and good to say pithy Christian-sounding things, but never at the high cost we often pay for such things. It does matter Whose you are, but it also matters who you are. Be you.

For the love of God, be you. 

Wednesday, August 13, 2014


Another passage from Jeremiah this morning (can you guess where my Bible study currently is?), this time from chapter 31. A simple, but profound statement:

The people who survived the wars have found favor in the desert. Israel went to find its rest.  v.2

It's not the kind of statement I think much of historical Israel would have appreciated. A people who wandered the desert for 40 years with nothing more than a promise to hold onto would not exactly relish the idea of going back to the desert. For anything. Not even for favor.

Favor is a strange word to use here. I haven't taken Hebrew yet, so I'm not sure the original word and how it might translate. Some versions say "grace." Some say "blessings." I think it's more closely related to the second part of this passage, more closely related to "rest." I might use a word like "comfort" or "peace." Not the peace that comes out of the freedom from war, but a peace that comes out of just having space to breathe again.

That's just speaking from personal experience.

Because I understand this passage. I've lived it. Often. Without really understanding that this is what was going on.

Sometimes, we have to fight. We have to fight battles we don't necessarily want to fight. We have to fight battles that, except in a fallen world, we shouldn't have to fight. We spend our days, sometimes days on end, fighting with everything we've got, just to keep our heads above water. Life comes at us from all directions. Trouble comes our way even from within ourselves. Life can get messy; it's a fight.

When all that's done, when one more season of fighting passes, I'm one of those people who just sort of crumbles in exhaustion and prefers to be left alone for awhile. I don't have the energy left to deal with myself, let alone to deal with you. (Sorry. It's true.) There are exceptions to every rule, but after the war, I am a person who yearns for the desert.

I yearn for the open spaces and the barren landscape. I desire to be surrounded by nothingness. Not because it is a stark contrast to the fighting, but because it is only in the open space that I can give myself enough space to get my bearings back. It's the place where the horizon stretches so far in every direction, unhindered, uninterrupted by life as we know it. It's empty, and it lets me touch my emptiness. It is wide, and it invites me to touch my depths.

The desert is the place where I have the space to start breathing again. But it's more than that.

It's the place where I rely on something outside of myself again. It's where I come back to the God of provision, among many other things. It's where I find grace, yes, in a God who has given me what I do not deserve. I reflect on the strength God has given me, whatever measure of victory I have found, the close calls where I nearly escaped - all graces. 

It's where I find blessings, yes, in a God who restores my heart. A God who has given me a space such as the desert for just such a time as this. A place to get away. A place to find my rest - a blessing if there was one.

It's where I find comfort, too. There's no fighting in the desert. There are no wars. There is weariness and fatigue and question, but there is no war, no danger. It's a place of tremendous comfort because in the desert, in the vastness, in the emptiness, I know that for a time, I will not have to fight again. I may struggle - we all struggle - but I do not have to fight.

It is a place where I find favor, although I still don't know that I like that word in this context. In the shadow of war, I do not go seeking favor; like Israel, I go seeking rest. And I am never disappointed in the desert.

So what's the point? The point is this: For those of you fighting wars this morning, it's okay if you want to get away for awhile. When you make it through (and you will make it through), it's okay to seek the desert. To seek refuge. To be alone for awhile. To spend some time in a place of grace, blessing, comfort...and rest. We're made this way.

It's counterintuitive to a people who feel like we spend most of our lives wandering anyway, but there is peace in the desert. In the wake of the war, it is our refuge.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Cleansed and Forgiven

There's a text in Jeremiah that caught my attention the other day. It comes from Jeremiah 33, when God is describing the way in which He will restore and heal Judah.

But I will heal this city and restore it to health. I will heal its people, and I will give them peace and security. I will restore Judah and Israel and rebuild them as they were before. I will cleanse them from all the sins that they have committed against me. I will forgive them for all the sins that they have committed against me....  v. 6-8

It struck me because of the way the verse is ordered, particularly in the last two sentences. I will cleanse...and I will forgive. (emphasis mine)

We place a lot of emphasis on forgiveness. We talk about the God who has forgiven us. We talk about our sins forgiven (not specific sins, mind you, but the general concept of sin as it relates to mankind and not particularly us). When we tell the story of Jesus, we tell about His forgiveness. It's kind of our hook - we tell people about forgiveness.

But grace is cheap.

It's cheap because forgiveness is something but the way we talk about it, and maybe this is just me, it doesn't feel like anything. I can intellectually know my sins are forgiven, but in the depth of me, that doesn't make it okay. It doesn't make me okay. And at my heart, I think God is far more interested in me than He ever was in my sin. Which means that a forgiveness that is a process and not a personal cheap. It is no forgiveness at all.

That's how we end up with a generation that believes they can do whatever they want and God will forgive them. Because forgiveness is a buzzword these days and not a palpable encounter with a tender God.

When I read these words in Jeremiah, I instantly wondered if they should not be reversed. If forgiveness, which we have all come to know and love, should not come before the cleansing. If God should not free us from our sin before He cleans us up. But the Bible is not incidental; the words are this way for a reason.

A beautiful reason.

I thought about a loving parent with a wounded child. If you have children in your life (even if they are not yours), you can understand the comparison I am about to make. If you don't, you can still understand because you were a child once. And I thought about a child who falls and scrapes her knees on the ground. Bleeding, screaming in pain, she runs to her parent for care.

Any parent knows there are two major components to cleaning up this mess: first, to physically clean the wounds. Second, to reassure the child. A parent instinctively begins saying things like, "It's okay, honey. It's okay." But a child does not hear "it's okay" until it starts to actually look okay! 

When blood is gushing from an open wound and dirt and rocks and debris are still hanging off of your broken flesh, it doesn't feel okay. It doesn't look okay. It doesn't seem okay. You sort of hear the words, but the words are no help. The words don't mean anything. This is where we, as a people, have brought forgiveness. Into a place where the words don't mean anything.

But when the blood starts to wipe away, when the debris falls off, when the soothing of the cool washrag starts to sink into the open wound, there's time to calm down. There's time to start to breathe again. Suddenly, you can hear the words that have been said all along - it's okay - and you know what? Maybe it is. It's starting to get there, at least. It's starting to look like it might be okay.

God understands this, which is why when He speaks to the prophet Jeremiah, He says first that He will cleanse His people, and then that He will forgive them. First, He will wash away their rebellion; then, He will reassure them. First, He will tenderly nurse their open wound. Then, He will embrace them with merciful arms. Forgiveness means something again.

Because it's not okay until it's okay. 

Now, the people of Judah and Israel aren't hearing the word of the Lord and looking at their sin. They are hearing the voice of their God and looking at Him. Looking straight at the one who has been softly caring for them. Looking into the eyes of the one who picked them up out of the dirt, scooped them off the side of the road. The more He comes to cleanse us, to mend our wounds, to tend to our broken flesh, the more we're instinctively drawn to look into His eyes in search of the words we really long to hear, now that things are starting to calm down: It's okay.

And you know? It kind of is.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Moment of Silence

Too many of us are afraid of the silence. Particularly in moments like these, when it seems like in the silence, all our grief might overtake us. It doesn't have to be grief, of course - it could be questions, fear, doubt, worry, hurt, could be any number of things.

But for the people I call family in my church right now, it's grief. Late Saturday evening, word spread among us that one of our elders and his wife had been involved in a serious motorcycle accident. Our elder is in the hospital with serious injuries to his lower body; his wife never made it to a place where doctors could even begin to help. She died in the ambulance.

And for most of us, the night grew quiet even as the storms raged within. We were all feeling something, at least, those with whom I was honored to talk, but we had no words for what we were feeling. It was a forced silence. Because nobody knew what to say.

We've all had moments of silence. But as Christians, I tell you - we do silence differently. We're not trapped there the way we would be if we didn't have hope. We're not stuck in the silence the way someone is when they cannot hear God's voice. Somehow, over the turmoil, over the noise that is masked in silence, we hear Him.

That's what silence does for us. It brings us to the end of ourselves. We're silent because we've run out of the capability to process anything. We're silent because we can't speak. We're silent because we don't know. And the more we come to realize our own emptiness, the more we are able to feel God's fullness. The more a whisper breaks into our silence. The more it starts to be okay even when it's not okay. The more we, instinctively, start to heal.

It's not magic. No measure of God, at least not as far as I've found, takes away the very real sting of grief. (Or whatever question your situation might be.) We miss her. We don't stop missing her because God is present. We worry about him. We don't stop worrying because God is near. In a perfect world, maybe, but this is not a perfect world. This is a broken world. And today? We're all a little more broken.

There are some people in this world for whom the silence is the end. It's all there is. It's numbness and emptiness and pain. It's a confrontation of nothingness and the very real ache. It is those things for us, too, but it is hardly the end. For those of us living in the shadow of the Cross, the silence is the beginning. It's the place where God begins to speak.

I don't have any words for what we're going through. I wouldn't even dream of speaking for anyone but myself. I don't have words for myself. But I'm not afraid of the silence.

I'm not afraid of the silence because I can already hear the whisper. I can already hear God stepping in, not with answers, but with peace. Not with conclusions, but with comfort. Not with platitudes, but with grace.

So that is my encouragement this morning, to those in my family of faith who don't know what to say, to those of you with another story this morning, with your own tragedies and your own aches - fear not the silence; it is not the end.

It's the beautiful beginning.


Teresa's Well: In honor of Teresa and the countless hours of ministry she served with the homeless population in Indianapolis, we are going to continue collecting Bibles and blankets to place in the hands of those who need them. We will be partnering with the Community Meals program, Wheeler Mission, and members of the congregation who will help us in getting these items to the right people.

Friday, August 8, 2014

One Drop

Nobody likes falling, even falling with style, but there is something cool about the emptiness. It's the way one drop of holy changes everything.

It's the same way a tiny spark of light changes the darkness. It hits your eyes, and you can't help but see it, and suddenly, you're aware of how dark the darkness has been at the very same moment it isn't any more. That doesn't mean it's not still dark; it depends on where the candle is. But it's no longer purely dark. It's not formless any more. One little bit of light starts to give the darkness shape.

That's what happens when one drop of holy falls into your pit. That's what happens when the smallest measure of God arrives. God steps in and infuses the tiniest bit of meaning into the darkness and at once, you're aware of the haunting emptiness. One small drop hits rock bottom and it echoes throughout your soul. The depth of the echo reveals the depth of the emptiness; you realize how barren and formless your spirit is. 

It is the paradoxical, beautiful nature of God. That in the very same breath He shows you all that is, He is already working to form it into all that it will be. It's not formless; it's not empty. There's something holy present.

God dwells there.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

From the Pit

This post is for those of you in the hard times. It's for those days when the hardest thing you do all day is breathe. It's for those of you who find yourselves falling. You're not alone. And most of us are more afraid of falling than hitting rock bottom. Here's what I offer, take it for what you will:

1. Be honest. Admit that you're falling. Not necessarily to anyone else, but to yourself. To your God. Acknowledge the place you're in and what's going on. No need to trace it back to its roots, although in some situations, that might come naturally. One of the hardest things about falling is the loss of control. When you admit what's going on, you assert some dominance over it. This is no strange thing - you know what's going on. You're falling. It is what it is. Repeat to yourself over and over until falling is just a thing. It happens. The sun rises and sets. The tides move in and out. Mist rises and rain falls. Things fall. You fall. Recognize it. Acknowledge it. Affirm it. This happens.

2. Don't look down. Our first instinct when we're falling is to look down. We want to see how far we have to go, what we're going to hit, whether there's any landing at all. If you're falling, don't look down. You will see only darkness. You will see no end, no comfort. No landing. The pit looks bottomless in the dark. Overwhelming. You'll start to wonder all sorts of things about yourself, about your God. And now is not the time. There is a very good place for all of that, but right now, if you're falling, you don't need more questions. What you need right now are answers, and if not answers, then hope. 

If you can't look up, hold steady. Fix your eyes on something. And hold out your hand. Either God will send someone to take it or He will take it Himself. Hold out your empty, trembling hand. If that's the least you can do, at least do that much.

3. Don't stop talking. In dark times, it's easy to lose track of your voice. Suddenly, it's the darkness that has the only right to speak and whatever trouble says, goes. Your inner dialogue isn't yours any more, and your outer dialogue is sure to follow. If you can find the strength to speak at all once your voice has been quieted. Keep talking. Think out loud. Even if you don't physically speak, write. Even if no one will ever read your words, keep writing. String together as many honest words as you can until you can't see through the tears any more, and then cry out to God. You're falling. You're not a victim. This is not passively happening to sort of you - you're actively involved in the process. That's what step 2 is all about: engaging the fall so you're present to it. When you're present to it, you have the chance to deal with it from your real self.

4. Don't hurt yourself. These are the easiest times to think, "Oh, what does it matter?" You know you're falling and you want whatever seems to help before you hit bottom and shatter into a million little pieces. You're feeling every bit of the hurt, and it's hard. It sucks. I'm sorry. But when you turn your hurt on yourself, you set yourself up for the break. Fall tender - in honesty, in hope, in voice - and you may find it's not such a hard landing after all. It will still hurt. It will still sting. But bones break; flesh only bruises. Let yourself feel the hurt and don't mask it with pain; you will soften your heart for impact. It's worth it. Trust me.

5. Don't disengage. The fall is real. The battle is real. Most of us, if we're honest, we're falling toward a moment. One moment when something inside of us is going to surface and we'll be standing face-to-face with a part of ourselves we never hoped we'd have to deal with. Our questions, our insecurities, our wounds...something about us is about to come out and it doesn't feel like we're ready. We don't know how to deal with it. We don't want to deal with it. It's easy to think, "I'll deal with this later, when I'm more ready." You're afraid. Admit it, you're scared. But here's the hard truth: you will never be less afraid than you are right now. You won't. There's not a 'better time' to deal with things. There's not a good day for darkness. You can't schedule it in when you're feeling stronger. You are scared now. You will always be scared. The question is - does fear stop you?

I don't know about you, but I've live enough of my life with fear stopping me to decide I don't want to do it any more. Which means, I guess, that I want to do the dark days with style. These are kind of the steps to doing that.

From being honest, I gain confidence. Darkness isn't about me; it happens to everybody. I'm not special. I'm not targeted. I might even be normal. This gives me a chance to be a human among humans, and a man before God. That's pretty cool, even when it feels like it sucks.

From not looking down, I gain hope. And if I'm lucky, maybe I gain a friend, or a community. Darkness isn't all I have to look forward to. I don't have to look at it at all. There are other things going on. More is happening here than my falling. If I don't look at the darkness, I can see that. Clearly. And if I hold out a hand, someone takes it. Now, it's not just me. I'm not alone. That's an incredible blessing.

From talking, I gain a voice. I get to speak into my darkness; it does not speak into me. I get to decide what gets said and what gets quieted. I get to decide what the truth is. That's powerful. The truth is I am falling, but that's not the whole truth. There's always something else at play. When I gain my voice, I get to say what that is.

From staying tender, I invite my brokenness. I think too many of us are afraid of brokenness. We're afraid to be wounded. That's understandable, but there is beauty in brokenness. That's where we start to crack and all the good stuff starts to pour in. Good stuff like mercy. And faith. And trust. And hope. And peace. And redemption. Good stuff like God. If you live your life whole as a man, there's no place for God to come in. Open up a few cracks, and there He is to mend your wounded flesh. It's beautiful, and, although I spent a lot of years fighting this very thing, I wouldn't trade brokenness for all the world. 

From staying engaged, I get to set my time. I decide that the time is now. I decide there's no turning back. I decide I'm doing this thing, whatever this thing happens to be. It's not happening to me; I am doing it. I am not falling; I stepped off the ledge. I took one bold, courageous, fearful step toward beautiful and it is happening.

You're not falling; you've stepped off the ledge. Take one bold, courageous, fearful step toward beautiful.

Oh, and dark days rarely come by the ones. They also cover many dark nights. Give yourself to God every night. Open your hands and let go. You'll sleep better.


Time is a funny thing, but so is eternity. Somewhere, somehow, we've settled on the idea that eternity begins the day we die and stretches on forever before us. We just have to get there.

We're living toward eternity without realizing that eternity is already in us.

Eternity is today; it is now. In a world marked by time, we already have forever. We're already living it. It happens when we get lost in a good story. It happens when we lose ourselves in a moment. In fact, what I suggested yesterday about counting our lives in moments and breaths? That is the essence of eternity. That's what it means to live timeless.

It's dangerous thinking, to forget this eternity. We think today shall pass away, that it's just temporary. That everything we do today or don't do today will be inconsequential tomorrow. Or in some future tomorrow when eternity begins. But when you realize this is already eternal, you understand what today means - today is part of forever. Today is one more mark on the eternal. Today is telling the story we think we're only waiting to get to. 

Kind of changes the way you think about today, doesn't it?

But it's not just that. Perhaps the most dangerous thinking we have in relation to eternity is thinking it begins with us at all. We take eternity as our personal promise, believing it began with our first breath. Believing that we have from our first moment on into forever. But that's not the case.

Eternity gives us everything not from our first moment, but from the first moment. All the way from In the beginning, there was you. Before time began, you were formed in the imagination of God. Before we ever had a concept of such a thing as forever, we had forever within us. From the outset of forever, you were set aside for this measure of time - the one you can mark in hours and days.

That's powerful. Everything that has ever been is woven into the fabric of you. From the very first breath of God, it's all come to bring you to this time, to this place. You were pull from the book of Esther...for such a time as this, with everything that came before wrapped into all that is as you move toward all that will be.

There are so many implications of this; it would take forever to spell them all out for you. But perhaps this gives your heart something to think about, your mind something to ponder. Eternity is given us for such a time as this.

What does that say about your time?