I have a twin. Well, we might have been twins. We could have been twins for sure. But she’s always asking the difficult questions. Her favorite, “What would that look like?”
Erin humors me and basically spoils me rotten with affirmation and comforting words while I whine. But, truthfully, when I’m stuck she pulls out the big guns. “How do you see that working out?” she’ll ask. My friend forces me to put legs on my dreams. “Well, it doesn’t actually mean I’m moving to London. But I want this, Erin.” Or, “I guess I need to meet new people, then.”
In order to break out of a stuck place, we have to drag out the box of stripes and pin them on the zebra … to put our dreams into words. It’s scary, and yet beautiful. If ever we’ve been lost in a city or a heavily wooded area, we focus on where we want to be, compared to where we are now. Strategically, tenaciously we take unknown streets and footpaths, bridges and sprinting breathlessly until we find our way.
“What would that look like?”
Words give direction to ethereal ideas. They point to the student visa, or the flights back and forth. They strike a line of demarcation between a Bud Light and a Malbec. A Stilton and <shudder> Velveeta. Even as I suggest this, I can feel you repelling from me. All the disappointment from your last failure. It pulls you deep inside yourself. You go quiet and the moment of transparency is gone.
Another year passes. Maybe two.
I find you sifting through the grad school pamphlets again. Okay, no more pamphlets. But you’re scouring the school websites for the meaning to your life. You’re trying to justify grad school. You don’t justify a dream. You do it because you can taste the Malbec. But it does require that you engage, Sweet Pea.
Yet the potential for failure has never propelled any dream into motion. Most certainly it has snuffed out the smoldering wick of hope that you’ll one day Become.
Samantha your whole face lights up when you get lost in the meaning of words. Friend, your whole face takes on a glow when you talk about planning your next culinary creation. I believe in you. Why don’t you?
I look around. I find myself in the land of Canaan, this Los Angeles-land that the Lord told me to confidently enter and occupy. So many words and promises led me here. It all looks so different now.
When I first got the word to occupy the land, to dwell in it, and cultivate faithfulness, I did not see all the ways that I would fall flat on my face. I couldn’t perceive the way my nose would drill into the ground like some kind of woodpecker because my hands and arms would not once break my fall. Somehow the promise that I would not be hurled headlong remains true. Yet the reality of having taken more than a few social, emotional and financial face plants is no less true.
The steps of a man are established by the Lord,
And He delights in his way.
When he falls, he will not be hurled headlong,
Because the Lord is the One who holds his hand. — Psalm 37:23-24
From the outer periphery of the vision and His calling me to LA, I peered in saw nothing but fruit. Promises fulfilled. I was called. I believed I would make a difference. Is Los Angeles more beautiful now that I’ve been here? Does her face seem more washed, her edges a bit more soft and loved? Each of us, called to live here and pour out love, takes a hit for our efforts.
We pay a steep price for love … this beautiful City of Angels.
From the yawning city streets that are still lined with trash, I look upward and wonder. The price I’ve paid for this vision cannot be measured. It has cost me everything. I could decorate my walls with the costly parking tickets I’ve paid.
Here I will dwell.
When God chooses Zion as His dwelling place, He selects the choicest of places. We know that He indeed chooses Israel as a nation and a people group, but specifically He chooses Zion… a place within a place. He also chooses to dwell in the hearts of mankind. Our hearts. The choicest place within our hearts. Not the outer edges. Not the crunchy parts of our hearts but the hidden, lush places … here I will dwell.
I have had the privilege of watching specific third world countries change over the course of time; becoming more civilized, cleaner, healthier, all because people choose to invest in the people and in the land. Love beautifies a heart. Love beautifies nations. Love beautifies Los Angeles.
For the Lord has chosen Zion;
He has desired it for His habitation.
“This is My resting place forever;
Here I will dwell, for I have desired it.” — Psalm 132.13-14
He has called me here to shout Love! to Los Angeles. And I have. Her streets have received His love, as I’ve poured it out. There have been days and stretches when I have forgotten to tell her that Father loves her. But simply because I am fully and completely loved, I carry love. I carry transformation and reconciliation on my shoulders just as the priests of old carried the ark of the Covenant on their shoulders.
It is our privilege to partner with God to love specific people, cities, nations, knowing full-well that we are not alone. Others walk beside us pouring out their love, investing their talents and and letting their laughter ring in the streets. We don’t always get to see the full transformation of a land. With the new year I open myself quietly to hear His voice, reiterating the words He has spoken or to hear a new direction. Each of us has long since released our control over the how, why, and where of His calling. We have already paid the price … love always costs us everything.
And so it is with the the Zion of our hearts we listen. Where to dwell? Whom shall we love?
The results are not up to us and I’m not measured by my results.
I’m measured by the intentions of my heart.
Not long ago I was talking with a friend about new experiences. We pondered that awkward business where you are on altogether foreign turf and you just have to smile like mean it; then press on until you catch your breath. A swimmer in deep water, with the waves crashing overhead, learns to bob between the waves, catch his breath and wait for the next wave to crash overhead. There are moments when the timing is off and the water is unbounded, leaving the swimmer spluttering and flailing. Maintaining hope is not unlike the swimmer’s rhythm … bob and weave. Bob and weave.
Hope extracts more from us than despair. To carry hope within oneself demands that we run with blistered feet, our heart in our shoe. It requires that we laugh at the future instead of mourning.
Despair doesn’t know any better than to cause a person to curl up and whimper quietly. Hope has little room for self-pity and says, “Get dressed. Get moving. Go make something of yourself today.” Hope requires strength from within, the likes of which often goes missing at eventide. We receive grace just for one day at a time, and I forget that. Perhaps hope is the fruit of a thankful heart. Those who focus on the blessings of the day always seem to be chock full of hope for tomorrow. I think I’ll give that a whirl….to cultivate a thankful heart. Perhaps Ms. Dickinson’s feathered, perching thing will find me there.
You’ve heard the expression, to be at loose ends. I’m probably making this up but let’s suppose the true origin of the expression is from weavers as they reached the end of the warp yarns. They would find themselves at loose ends. Weaving creates a powerful word picture for that idiom because it is makes sense that there’s a call for action on the part of the weaver. He will need to bind the end of the fabric to finish it off, so that the loose ends are not able to fray.
When I look at the tapestry of my life, it feels like there are many loose ends. I’m casting about trying to understand the relationship of one yarn to another. Some strands are coming to an end while others are vibrant and powerfully influencing the direction of my life. Yet a tapestry is not created around a single thread or yarn by itself. It requires the presence and purpose of all of the other yarns with it.
I keep staring at the short yarns that seem to have ended too soon, and others that seem unwieldy and never-ending. Some threads I need and others I’m ready to toss out like a bad date. Through it all there is the conundrum of the now and the not yet.
Have you ever felt the tension between letting go of one thing and trying so hard to be into the next thing, and it remains elusive to you? I know I’ve quoted this bit before, but Elizabeth Elliot speaks of the need to “… carry within one’s self the unanswered question.” That is so apt for this present season of my life. To carry within seems to denote a yieldedness to be burdened. There is also a letting go of expectation. No more insistence, “It has to go my way, or I won’t play.” As elementary as that sounds, it is most often where I find myself. Thankfully yielding doesn’t entail blindly thrusting ourselves into a black hole. We entrust ourselves to the King.
Remember earlier I mentioned that the weaver needs to bind the loose ends of a tapestry? In a way I picture myself binding myself, my loose ends and my life to my King. Somehow I’m going to choose to let Him lead, and yield myself to that vulnerable and soul-searching process.
I don’t often write from the position of vulnerability. It’s much easier to offer you answers and not questions. Today I’m struck with a question, though, and I want to think it through.
Like me, you may be living in a personal season of advent. It’s true that Christians acknowledge the Advent season, the four Sundays prior to Christmas where the coming of the Christ Child is anticipated and celebrated. There is dual meaning here because we also anticipate the return of the resurrected Christ. In either case, the Advent season is for the celebration of the coming fulfillment of a promise, and that’s what I’m driving at here.
Real people. With real questions. And real, unfulfilled promises. And waiting. My question is this:
When it comes to celebrating the advent of the Christ Child or anticipating the return of the resurrected Christ, my decision to enter into the celebration is not based on something subjective. The Christ Child has already come, and so in that sense I join the Jewish people as they waited for the Messiah … the Expected One. I don’t look within, or at my external circumstances to decide whether or not He’s really coming again. Just as the Jews knew then and they know now, that He.Is.Coming, I also know. And in spite of the hustle and bustle of the season I engage my heart in the celebration. And the waiting.
But here’s the kicker…
When I ponder my personal dreams and hopes I base the reality of their fulfillment on external evidence. I keep looking around me. I don’t see people lining up to make an offer on my house, for example. And my heart fails. I become incredibly discouraged because it doesn’t look like it’s happening at all! There’s no evidence, I moan to myself. Everything in me starts to believe I’ve made a mistake, that I’ve got the wrong idea. And, like a Border Collie on espresso I start the spin, chasing my tail round and round. Frustration! Agh! Questions! Grr! Doubts! Self-incrimination! With this I cease to celebrate the coming time when my home will be sold and I will be free to pursue other dreams.
The short answer is that it’s my old enemy, Unbelief, that keeps me from entering into the celebration. The longer, more complex answer is to choose a right response to the mess. I poke at my heart to take the first step, and I whisper softly, “Lord, You see this complexity in my heart. You see all things. How would You have me respond right now? How can I connect with You, right now?” And somehow, the process starts with my taking a bit of His unconditional acceptance. Then even though my heart is “two sizes two small” and a bit wrapped up in myself, I am able to look at the Father. And just let it be. Unfulfilled for now. A mess right now. But it had to be that way in Bethlehem too, that night.
“But as for you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, too little to be among the clans of Judah,
from you One will go forth for Me to be ruler in Israel.
His goings forth are from long ago, from the days of eternity. …
Because at that time He will great to the ends of the earth.
This One will be our peace.” Micah 5:2, 4b-5
Certainly no one in Bethlehem was expecting the birth of a King that cold night. Why there, exactly? And why Mary? God is funny sometimes in who He chooses for what tasks. But we can trust Him. Enter into Advent season this year … the celebration of Promise fulfilled. Waiting. Believing.
It’s been a few years since I’ve worked with men and women to help them find emotional freedom, but it’s during this time of year when I would see the telltale signs of things unraveling for friends and loved ones. I so wish they could see themselves as a very lovely, intricate package of physical, emotional, intellectual and spiritual aspects which requires a safe and healthy climate in which to thrive. It’s sometimes challenging for me to observe a loved one reaching out for help when they cannot yet understand the mystery of their own heart.
Friend you don’t realize that you carry unresolved anger but you are frequently ill or on edge. You don’t perceive that you are grieving a loss but you can’t seem to get past the mid-80’s when that happened. You build walls of excuses around yourself until that wall closes you off from everyone in your life. Hopelessness consumes you, but you do not stop the process, and set things right for yourself.
Life is swirly. All the experiences that we have in a day or a year affect our lives in multiple ways: circumstances out of our control, feeling invisible, feeling rejected by a friend, ongoing disagreement with a loved-one, never fitting in. If we don’t learn how to express how we feel we eventually become a walking timebomb of toxic thoughts and feelings; these result in ended relationships, chronic illness, depression, college drop-out, broken marriages, unemployment, and homelessness.
As the Christmas holiday rolls in, make a commitment to know yourself. Find a friend that you can trust, with whom you can explore the beautiful mystery of you. It might take from now until next Christmas before you laugh again but you will not regret it. Allow your Heavenly Father to unveil the mysteries of Himself in this process as well. You might be surprised to find that He was there all the time…through the good, the bad, and the ugly. But most of all you will be able to embrace each holiday with laughter and thanksgiving. What a gift to give to yourself! Hope, Laughter, Joy, and Love!
Sorting through conflict is my least favorite activity. Yet as a corrosively analytical-type I spend significant quantities of time revisiting conversations and interactions that didn’t go the way I thought they should. I don’t believe its a waste of time to analyze. I think it can be a source of wisdom if we are willing to take a dispassionate view of ourselves and the person with whom we were conversing. The problem lies in the fact that I’m usually powerless to turn a situation around to the point where I feel jubilant about things. Spoken words have that effect. And some conversations are so botched – yes, I’m capable in that way – that its pointless to revisit with the person at all.
How does this relate to art, beauty, hope and the pursuit of God?
Relationships can be beautiful, sometimes. Most of the time they are just a tangly mess of funky, dissatisfying conversations. They mirror our imperfections and unless I believe that there is beauty in the process, moreso than in the end result, I am without hope.
One of the most beautiful things that can happen in a relationship is that business of humility and deciding mid-conversation that I don’t have a horse in this race. The conversation won’t be about changing this person’s perspective so that it matches mine. At the risk of sounding rather competitive, it’s a conscious effort on my part to state my perspective and then ever so gently back off so that the other person is free to think or conclude whatever they wish…even to the extent that they might become arrogant and want to teach me a thing or two. No matter. Humility in relationships means engaging in the dance of dialogue without running away or demanding that I’m right. Close enough to get hurt but offering enough space so that they are free to adopt my perspective or maintain their own … that’s art. I wish I engaged in it more often.
I remember when I was growing up, my Dad would show us stuff. He was intent on teaching us to identify trees and plants, like Morrel mushrooms, Bittersweet and Sumac. Of course he taught us useful stuff too, how to back up a truck with a trailer; how to drive a boat; how to collect sap and make Maple Syrup and, best of all, how to fish. Although my growing up years are mostly wrapped in nostalgia and I have few opportunities to exercise those skills, what I actually learned was this: I am limitless in my ability to learn a skill and do it. Dad taught us to be learners, and to not be afraid to try new things.
One year Dad decided to build a cabin on the back edge of our property. Dad was neither a builder nor an architect but he and my lovely, artist-in-residence Mom put their skills together. With the help of generous builder-type friends, the tiny, humble building came together. At the time the cabin served as the best fort and doll house a girl could ask for! We loved it! With it’s steeply-sloped corrugated roof, woodstove and dry sink, the cabin stood on stilts and overlooked the trout stream that ran through our property. My friends and I would traipse around in the woods and slosh in the creek for hours at a time.
It wasn’t until I was well into my adult years that I learned the strain that building the cabin placed on our family. Apparently it wasn’t the most fiscally responsible undertaking, nor was the building designed to withstand 25 years of rugged weather. My Dad has been gone for some time now, and yet the cabin stands perhaps as a tribute to his tremendous influence on our lives.
Talk is cheap and we spout ideas of who we are and what we’ll one day become. The fact is, we are not who we say we are. We are what we do.
Dad didn’t leave behind a cabin. He left behind a legacy of attempts to show us how important we were to him, how deeply he cared and how much he wanted us to love the things he loved.
Plain and simple, Dad wasn’t great at communicating. I still wonder about who he really was, and why he called me Scout.
But I know he loved me.
And I’m not afraid to try stuff.
There are women and men who stand like sentries around the periphery of my life, with whom I share an uncommon depth of relationship. Some have been there from the beginning of time, and some have only recently taken their place on the wall of my life. This is not an exclusive club with costly membership dues. Days turn into weeks, and they tirelessly listen to my dreams and breathe hope on them. They believe in me and remind me of who I want to be. The visceral strength they infuse is not something I can extract from them and, as a result, I cannot control who stands on the wall. You see we make the choice to love another unconditionally. We make the choice to shout down the mountains in their life, to stand with them in the floodwaters, shoulder locked with shoulder.
You might think I’m a relational ogre following this, or if you’ve known me for many years you may try and understand where you fit in to the schema. Nevertheless I must tell you that there have been times when I have tried to decide who would be my closest confidantes. I have intended to trust only those that seemed incapable of hurting me, only to be bitterly betrayed. I tried to care and feed for the few that seemed most advantageous to me with the result that I was left alone. To pour salt in my own vicious wounds, I wrecklessly wounded those who loved me dearly. You know who you are.
Why this confession?
Most of us want to arrive at the end of our lives with the confidence that we have loved deeply and been deeply loved. To be loved implies that we are known, for you cannot love someone without really knowing the ugly parts of them. If our life-goal was happiness we’d be sorely disappointed for happiness is merely a by-product of being fully known, and fully accepted. Some of us misunderstand the objective and clang around the countryside ‘looking for love in all the wrong places’. I know. I’ve done it. It’s as though we’re holding out a beggar’s cup with the words “LOVE ME” taped to the side.
There is only One who perfectly loves. Until we allow Him to know us fully, to see inside the crevices of our lives, even the uglies, we will always wonder if we are truly loved. Not only do we fail as friends and lovers, but our friends and lovers will fail us. It is not in our nature to perfectly love as the Father perfectly loves us. Even our best efforts will fall short. I’m reminded how the Perfect Lover knows when He’s been in intimate relationship with a man or woman and to some, with the deepest regret He says, ‘Depart from me. I never knew you.’
There is simply no mistaking intimacy, whether with the Father or a person. It’s intentional. We choose to maintain a soul connection with someone or we choose not to. But when we choose to make this step, the cost is paid from the heart. I was looking the other day at the story of Jonathon and David. “…the soul of Jonathan was knit to the soul of David, and Jonathan loved him [David] as himself.” The king’s son put himself on the wall of David’s life, with complete disregard for what others might think as to rank or motive, timing or propriety. He stripped himself of his robe and armor, his sword, bow and belt, and placed it on David. Talk about making oneself vulnerable, I’m not sure that he had much else on after that. Jonathan knew that David was to be king one day and acknowledged it long before David’s time.
There is a grand lady who is in the latter seasons of her life. Though her memory is not what it used to be, its evident that her heart is given over to selflessly care for others. I want to be like that. I want to be known for “…loving [one] another deeply from the heart. For love covers a multitude of sins.”
What is it about the rain that it seems to wash my soul, along with the landscape? It rains and I’m suddenly motivated to clean and organize and set things right. The Vibrunum in the front yard received an extensive haircut but I managed to hold off on the Hydrangeas that have refused to bloom in two years. I adore Hydrangeas. Obviously we’re not getting on well, however, and the rain makes me decisive. They need to go.
If I blame the rain for this piercing sense of direction, what is it that keeps hope alive? My experiences and memories as I trip-trop through life fan the flame….and bring desire for tomorrow. This collection of sensations and perceptions are stored far from my loping shears. Imagine if I went foraging through my soul with this same kind of tenacity – snip, snap, snipping away at this precious pile of moments. You see, the courage for the days and weeks to come is fueled by knowing that I am loved, seeing my breakthroughs in the past, believing I am safe….free to fail.
Hope fuels courage.
Hope’s flames are fanned in the smallest furnaces. I’ve been hearing a woodpecker in my yard. I suspect that he was responsible for drilling the substantial hole in the bird feeder. But I was fond of his contribution, nonetheless. He makes me smile as he rat-a-tat-tats. The poppies I’ve recently planted are just beginning to come up. Soon they’ll swish their fancy skirts in the breeze. I caught a glimpse of a robin yanking a worm from the ground …half its bird-weight in worm! What a catch! Seriously now, that’s akin to finding a pair of lovely heels on sale! Or arriving early for a library book sale.
Hope. It’s not joy. It’s hope. It’s the visceral belief, a sub-conscious knowing, that my contribution matters.
Yours does too.