Friday, May 29, 2015


'Thread by thread I come apart, 
If brokenness is a work of art
Then surely this must be my masterpiece. 

I'm only honest when it rains,
an open book with a torn out page 
and my ink's run out. 
I wanna love you, but I don't know how...

—"Neptune" by Sleeping at Last

I get hung up on these lines, because they make sense of me, of life in this season. I often feel like an open book, but one missing pages—or the ink for the empty pages. I need that ink to explain myself chronologically—or just logically—to folks sometimes, and it has run out, run dry.

Yet it was the last line that stabbed my heart, because I've been feeling like that with God in this season of life. I want to love Him, but I don't seem to know how. I just know I keep failing. And if I don't love God well, how will I love people well? Doesn't loving—for the creature—begin with being loved? And doesn't that mean being humbled by Love enough to receive that precious gift from the Giver of all good things? 

Really, when all is known, isn't He the only One Who can prepare us to receive the love He gives? Do we ever do anything? He makes us vessels to be filled. He fills us. He runs out through our cracks—over the lip of us earthen jars—onto others. It isn't us. It never is us. It's all Him. Always

But He chooses us to be those ready vessels. He chooses us to be conduits of His love and creativity. Even though the echo of love, creativity, and Beauty is dim—poorly reflected through us—somehow He seems to delight in that reflection, no matter how grubby it is. 

Does that ever amaze you? It amazes me. It humbles me. Because I know myself... How could He be pleased with the flicker of an echo of Himself that shivers through me? But He is. 

Woe is me!

I am undone...I am flying shrapnel shards. O God, hold me together! I come back to Him. Because He is the Love that creates us to hold love—and to be held together by Love. 

Such a mystery and a joy, this. He is our Great Lover, meeting us in mystical union—the weaving of our body, soul, and spirit into Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. I want to throw my hands over my head, over my face, over my sacred places to shield myself from this invited invasion of the realest One splintering my shadow-self. Finity cannot contain Infinity. Time has no hold on the Timeless. Flesh as frail as mine cannot contain a particle of the Spirit of God. 

How can His Spirit dwell in me? I must cramp, confine, and frustrate Him. I must necessarily shatter as He enters, my ink spilling out, dripping all over. And then He re-forms me; makes me new. He doesn't rebuild me as I was, all fragile and wispy—He begins to make me a solid home. He makes His dwelling, finity expanded to hold the Infinite. Not contain, but hold. 

I cannot contain another person, but I can hold their soul. A soul can be knit between two distinct persons. I cannot contain another person, but I can hold their hand. O God, make me strong enough to be empty hands, cupped to receive the outpouring of Your Spirit! It is the Spirit of God who empties me; shatters and re-makes me; heals and makes me whole. It is the Spirit of God Who is the fluidity of Love pouring Himself into me, over me, through me, onto others. 

'Thread by thread I come apart...' And He makes my brokenness a work of art—makes me His masterpiece, though I don't know how to love Him. Though I try and fail. Love takes me apart, stops my striving, hushes me... He unwinds my threads and weaves me into His tapestry, His story, His art—into Himself. 

I am undone.  

                            I am remade

I am still me, but woven so tightly into Him as to be both found and lost; a piece, yet so intertwined that I am inextricably linked to the whole. 

                                                                    I am made whole.

O Love Who will not let me go—though I let You go so often—I want to love You. I just don't know how. O help... I don't know how. But I want to.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Stars in the Pools

Ridges of foothills rise and swell, then swirl away in the fog filling the valley. Streams of melting hail run off the eaves with the sound of endless rain—and the look of thick snow. My neighbour's flower box is one puddle of icy water. The gravel parking lot is more like a muddy-red pond than solid ground. All at once, a wave of thunder shatters the air, makes the ground shudder. Lightning flares pink and the ground trembles again—and again. 

It is Spring in the mountains—cool, wet, glorious. Yes, glorious, because pools of water seem incongruent with this arid place. This comes from having transplanted into the mountains amidst a lingering drought some years back. I am learning that even dry climes have Spring rains and puddles, once the spectre of drought moves his dwelling elsewhere. 

The pooling rain water recalled to mind these words:

Blessed are those whose strength is in you,
in whose heart are the highways to Zion.1 
When they walk through the Valley of Weeping, 
it will become a place of refreshing springs. 
The [early] rains will clothe it with blessings.2

Long have I loved this Psalm. Long have I gained hope that tears will come to fruition in blessings. Then, I met this Psalm in lectio divina and my perspective was expanded. My attention caught in those pools, as my world is dotted with puddles—puddles colossal, puddles micro. Rarely do they last very long—the ever-thirsty earth slurps them into deep aqueducts, unseen, insatiable. Oft I have thought of the Valley of Baca (translated, weeping) as a cracked desert, bare and ugly, sometimes covered with stagnant, muddy meres. This vision has now been replaced by one of red soil, juniper trees, and depressions lined with rocks of many hues, filled with clear water. 

Pilgrims on their way to the house of God—where even the birds of the air vie to raise their broods—walk through this valley. It is the proverbial (or Psalm-ish, in this case) 'vale of tears' to which many individuals refer. Long have I thought that the tears shed in this dry land were simply for the refreshing of the valley, for the watering of any living scrubby bush in the desert. Wrong. Again. That is just the surface tension—these pools run deeper.

Think for a moment how many tears it must take to fill even a small pool. So many. A large puddle would take myriads more. I began to picture all of us sojourning toward home, where God is, traversing through Baca to reach our desire. The tears of our whole lives are collected in those pools encrusted with rocks of so many shades and shapes. My long-standing mental photograph of the Valley of Weeping withered. Our tears are not collected in turbid puddles, watering needle-nosed cactus or gnarled brush. The pools are refreshing springs, says the Psalmist. He must know from experience. 

There they are: dusty, foot-sore, the travellers trekking on toward a home they have never yet seen. In the dark of night they reach this Weeping Valley. Swish! Their feet splash into an unseen, unanticipated, unthought of pool. The night air has cooled the hot salt-tear puddles. These unexpected springs cleanse wounds, refreshing the hot and filthy feet. They are a resting place for the weary. Water weaves, wavers, settles. The travellers are arrested by the night sky above them, but no! Below them, all around them—the stars gently throb and quiver. What mythical valley have they entered? Wobbly circles of star-light spread out as far as the horizon, kissing the starry ceiling. How can this be? It is all of the sorrow-pools, echoing back the beauty of the night canopy. Long the pilgrims gaze, their bloodshot, dry eyes drinking in argent rivers of liquid light. Hearts and feet and eyes refreshed, rest comes to the weather-beaten bodies and parched imaginations. Though these wayfarers will weep enough to fill puddles of their own, for now they are given strength to journey on.

Our tears, our sorrows, can somehow heal and refresh others. We might not see them come through the vale behind us, but our tears are not wasted. Always and ever do we go onward, toward Zion. Suddenly, my view of the Psalm dilates again—I see that we are dropping tears into varying pools of all sizes as we press on toward the lights of home. Our tears are not one deep tarn itself—no! Our tears are co-mingled with the saints who have gone on before us to refresh those who follow. Whether to wash and heal them, to inspire them, or to water the fruit trees to feed them. Indeed, the Valley of Weeping is clothed in blessings—the blessings of Beauty, of healing, of satisfying. Our weeping is not in vain, it is a blessing.

Saturday, May 9, 2015

Life is Deeper than Fiction

What shapes our ideals about what life ought to be like? Frighteningly, I think many persons are shaped by various forms of banal media more than by their families and mentors, or by historical figures and enriching arts. One's ideas of high school and college are formed by teen fiction a la Twilight and a host of other semi-pornographic novels marketed towards pre-teens and high schoolers.

One's ideas of dating and marriage are formed even earlier, through Disney films or grown ups asking toddlers if so-and-so is their girlfriend or boyfriend. A steady diet of 'young adult' fiction, films, and various genres of music are shaping the minds of children and teens, perhaps more than any other influence. No wonder girls struggle with self-image—not being willowy and graceful, or worse, sassy and sexy—like the ‘heroines’ they admire. No wonder boys and young men are apathetic or aggressive—they have no one in the public square to set an example of good character and hard work for them. They think they have to prove themselves by their wit, sarcasm, or skills. For many, it is much easier not to try and not to care.

Thankfully, for me, my parents made sure we had access to good books, along with other forms of media and art. They were generous during my youth, not policing my library stacks or telling me I could only read things by Christian authors. I read as many horse-centric books as I could find, hoping to avoid 'stupid romance novels.' Yet even horse stories had their share of 'boy drama' and vocabulary I knew wasn't acceptable in our family. Enter the availability of good books on the shelves at home. 

My mom would often get us new books when she attended conventions or workshops. Many of those books were missionary biographies that I read for pleasure or for school. My dad read books out loud to the family on an almost nightly basis; from To Kill a Mockingbird and The Prince and the Pauper, to The Chronicles of Narnia, Carry On Mr Bowditch, Hinds' Feet on High Places, and a failed attempt at 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. We also read our share of Tom Swift and Trixie Beldon books, as well as some Louis L'Amor westerns. So it wasn't all classic, well-written literature, but it wasn't anything we couldn't all read together. (Even though Dad read To Kill a Mockingbird to us before I was eight or nine, I think he edited a bit, and many of the words and references went over my head.)

Mysteriously, my family were unaware of Lord of the Rings and its precursor, The Hobbit, but I discovered them my senior year of high school and remedied the deficit. Some of the most influential books in my life I discovered well out of high school: A Wrinkle in Time, A Wind in the Door, A Swiftly Tilting Planet, The Giver, The Phantom Tollbooth, The Princess and the Goblin, The Princess and Curdie, and others. I found depth in these  so-called 'children's books'—depth I never would have discovered had I read the books as a child. My brain was set in motion by these books to engage life on historical, ethical, microscopic, and macrocosmic levels. I was challenged to ask myself what I believed about time and words or family and love—thus expanding my perception of God and man.

Children's books, I have discovered, deal with weighty philosophical questions in ways that help the reader wrap their mind and life around both the questions and the answers. Who am I? Who is God? What is a good death? How do we process loss? Why do we crave life? What is love? These books also show what perseverance, self-sacrifice, loyalty, and love look like in action.

Confessedly, I had a moderately skewed idea of high school and college life, of romance and marriage, and what it meant to be an adult—most of which stemmed from the small amount of television and films (and sadly, from many so-called 'Christian' fiction books) consumed in our household. The elusive 'grown up' world was one that was both scary and intriguing from these portrayals. I was afraid of various things before I attempted them—physics, college classes and papers, driving on the interstate, etc.—thinking that one had to feel grown up in order to accomplish those things.

Feeling grown up and being grown up are two different things. I still don't feel like a grown up, but I am somehow comforted by the fact that many adults share that feeling. I didn't procure a traditional education, get married in my early twenties, have children, or own a house before I turned thirty. In short, I have not lived the American Dream. For many—who think persons are entitled to romance, intelligence, and affluence—my life's path might appear bitterly disappointing. Yet I am not disappointed nor bitter. I have learned that I am not entitled to the American Dream, even if I work hard. I am not entitled to my next breath of oxygen or my next steady heartbeat. Provisions, relationships, and life are all gifts.

Simply living life—for the glory of God, one day at a time, enjoying what I have—is a great gift. I have learned this lesson through various family members, professors, and friends; through opportunities, experiences, and jobs; and, not surprisingly, through art and literature. I have learned that being faithful in the daily matters of life—from rising on time or doing housework, to interacting with people and listening to God—is what prepares one to be entrusted with larger responsibilities and adventures.

I have been given some unbelievable gifts and experiences that I have striven to use well, both to challenge myself and to encourage others. These experiences have been well beyond my ability to earn, leading me to humbly give thanks to God. They have shaped my character and mind—my very living and being.

Let us come back to the question I asked earlier, what shapes our ideals about what life ought to be like? For me, it has been a mixture of the solid truth and the chintzy glamour of the world’s lies. The more truth I learn to live, the more hollow and false the world’s story rings. Living well takes hard work, faithfulness in the mundane, integrity, and the maturity to know when to play and when to be serious. It takes being teachable, learning to forgive and be forgiven, to give love and to receive love, and to be thankful in all things—even when life does not go as planned or as shown in the movies.

Real life might be stranger than fiction—even though it is full of daily responsibilities—but it is also more wonder-filled and satisfying. Real life, the good life, is deeper and richer than fiction. It is ours to pursue—and ours to receive with humility and thanksgiving.