No hero can ever hope to succeed in the final object of his quest without first overcoming the arduous journey.


Kisses and Smoke

Delight is rejoicing in the glory of someone or something that is perfectly who or what it is meant to be.

I love the quiet surprises. A person you know who suddenly reveals a hidden or different side that you never caught because you don't ordinarily draw that out of them. A sweet breath from the heart of one of my grandmother's roses, their seemingly shabbier beauty bestowed hence with an aching grandeur. A customer who catches a joke and tries to play along, someone you've known for years but never connected with until now. A word of grace where none was expected. A ray of light in an otherwise grey sky.

May the Lord lift up His countenance upon you... 

"Who are you?"

This is a question that has meandered in and out of my head, because who we identify ourselves as is so telling. If you ask that question, the average person will say his name. But what if you tell that person that he cannot say his name, what will he identify himself as then? Some might say "the son of _______ " or name their professions. Among my first identifiers, I would probably note my sisters, but it would take a while before I would mention my parents, a quick tell of where I place myself in my family. Sometimes you discover as much by exclusions as by inclusions. 

But what I have always wished is for my first and immediate response, sans any hesitation, to be that I am beloved of God. Recently, I got the Hebrew word "yediyd" tattooed on my left wrist. It means "beloved." As Much-Afraid took on a new name when she reached the King's Land and sacrificed all for the Great Shepherd, I feel as if I have taken on a new identity in the hands of my Father. And though I stumble and though I fear and though I walk through the valley of the shadow, I need only be reminded that His love is sufficient, my more than enough.

To be delighted in and to take delight in... Father, be the light of my eyes.


A Cosmic Joke

This morning in church we sang the Cory Asbury song, "My Beloved." The first lines I've quoted in the post below this one, but to refresh: "One thing have I desired of the Lord / That one thing I seek / To know You, (I just want) to know You..." I was struck as I sang that that in reality, that is not the one thing I desire of Him. Many other things, yes, to the degree that I often treat Him like some kind of a vending machine deity; "insert prayer, press button for sought after result." I am ashamed of the extent to which that is true of my relationship with Him, if you can call that a relationship.

But whether I actively seek to know Him or not, He does have a way of revealing Himself to me. Like, for instance, His sense of humor. I've been reminded of that quite a bit recently, mostly because I've come to the conclusion that most of my responses to life's situations are a toss-up between laughing hysterically and bawling my eyes out. Maria would say it's the hormones, but I'm too stubborn to say that my body can affect me that much. Why, you may ask, has God's sense of humor been a particular revelation for me recently?

Pastor Jeff's theme of late has been the modern unfolding of what he calls the prophetic journey of the Israelites. I've referenced one of his sermons before with the whole idea of "There is always a wilderness between the promise and the Promised Land." But something he mentioned today stuck with me because I've been wrestling so much with a sense of powerlessness, and it was this: the Israelites were in the most humbling position possible because they could do absolutely nothing for themselves. They were a million and some strong, and they could not provide food, water, or even direction for themselves. Their clothing didn't wear out. Without their one leader, they descended swiftly into idolatry and its attendant sins. They had lived in slavery their entire lives and they had no fighting skills with which to defend themselves against hostile nations. The point is: they were powerless. God had to do everything for them.

Lately, I've been driven to the point of tears at how completely incapable I am. I can do nothing, it seems, without tripping over my own feet. I do one thing and regret it moments later, then regret my regret. One moment, I think I've caught something of what God is trying to tell me and I am at peace, the next I'm crashing into a wall full speed and head on with no idea how I got there. Sometimes I'm dying to tell somebody that I'm going insane and ask them to help me make sense of the insanity, other times, I wish I didn't blab so much about the train wreck that is my life. This afternoon, I think I managed to figure out my life story in a sensible, clicking fashion, this evening, I'm stuck with the fact that explaining my life doesn't mean that I get to stop living it. Even my body apparently hates me. At least, that's what Maria says, and suddenly, when I felt like a rational, clear-headed individual who made sound decisions, I was hit with the doubt of  the possibility that my house of cards was not stacked by the power of physics but rather levitating in a delusion of mind power.

This is the personal application, the bit that I always hated because it meant I had to bs about how I suck and this passage will make it better because... But I guess this isn't bs. I just think God is laughing at me a little bit as He leads me over the same course over and over until I get the bloody point. He's in control, I'm not, and no matter how much I want to be and no matter how much I try to be, it's not going to work. 

Disclaimer: the fact that I've written this does not mean that I've figured it out. And yes, as soon as I hit 'publish post' I'm going to wish that I hadn't.

Snapshots and Snippets

"One thing have I desired of the Lord,
That one thing I seek:
To know You, to know You..."

What does it mean to look on the beauty of a God that we cannot see?

"Though weeping endures for the night
Your joy comes in the morning
Though sorrow may last for a time
Your joy comes in the morning

Faithful, You're always faithful
True, You're always true
You'll never leave me, You're always with me
You're good..."

"Hope is a strange thing [.] Something must be close enough to reach for, yet far enough away to chance doubt. Such is the stuff of adventure."

//Cory Asbury, Cory Asbury, and Charles, respectively//



On our magnetic board, my roommate chelsea kept a magnet that said, "A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step." Often as I was walking into or out of our room, it would catch my eye and though I rarely paused to give the fairly simple idea much thought, those successive glances have piled one atop the other to cement the phrase into my memory.

Think of every story that has ever inspired you. I bet it didn't go like this one.

Once upon a time there was a very good boy who never did anything that would shame his mother or cause his father to sigh. He woke up with the dawn, industriously completed his chores, excelled in school, followed his parents' life plan for him, married his pre-school sweetheart, and settled down to have 2.4 children and 1.3 cars with a job that provided a satisfactory degree of personal accomplishment and a steady income. One day, he died.

We are not inspired by the ordinary, unless we are acting in revolution against it. Who wants to be that boy, sweet-tempered, docile, and entirely satisfied with life? It is in a healthy form of dissatisfaction that we are inspired to attain to the better story. Beowulf's story, for instance, is not a pretty one. He must travel far, fight monsters that no man of normal means should ever have to face, and survive to fight still others. But we find inspiration in his epic quest because he dared.

There are two armies waging a conflict within us. On the one side, there is the desire for safety, comfort, and pleasure. We want to curl up in bed, pull the blankets over our heads, and stay far from hunger, dirt, or despair. On the other side, there is a fierce need to be a part of the adventure that life could be if we but dared to take risks, go out into the cold and the blazing heat, occasionally suffer want, all with the enduring knowledge that the rewards of a life lived on the cliff's edge will always yield more than the life lived in the armchair.

A friend mentioned that among school children, creativity and imagination are on the decline in a correlation with a decline in time spent out of doors. After all, if they don't have to invent situations for their deeds of derring-do, why should they bother?

As we live a life surrendered to God, we are taking the radical path. Sometimes it feels like we are walking by a precipice in a thick fog and all we have is a quiet voice directing us out of the mist. But in trials we are refined, our creativity, trust, and courage becoming formidable tools as we submit them to Another's purposes. The epic quest a thing of mere fantasy? Perhaps not so much.


Kingdom Sell Out

"The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure hidden in the field, which a man found and hid again; and from joy over it, he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field."
//Matthew 13:44//

During the drive to Norristown today, I had the opportunity of bouncing off of Dan a thought that has been developing in my head. It all began on Friday evening when I asked each of my coworkers what it is that makes them feel alive. I was surprised by none of their answers: for Abi, writing; for Ben, music and his wife, Amber; for Lia, being in the midst of God's creation; for Crystal, one-on-one conversations. I've heard it said that the flaws we believe we are hiding so well are actually visible for all the world to see, but I think we are also naked in where our passions lie. We are not merely talented in those areas, but we are brought to life by them.

For me, my passion is for powerful writing and the beautiful paradoxes of God's world. I can literally feel myself light up when I share with someone about Orthodoxy or revel in the delicious irony of Blackwood's death in "Sherlock Holmes." It makes me think of the last lines from the lullaby in Like Water For Chocolate that I shared before: "You are the light of my eyes, my eyes / I'm brought to life by you."

There are two kinds of people in this world. The first group is that variety of people who have sold themselves completely because they know that it is far better to live inside the passion that God has given them, indeed to live, than it is to pursue the things of this world. You know them because they are flourishing, radiant with the rightness of walking in God's perfect will for their lives. One example that comes to mind is one of my church's pastors, Corey. He is genuinely and radically surrendered to God's work, and you will not find anyone more open and honest in his failures or more ebullient and outspoken in his joy. He is the ultimate sell out, and I rather think he'd thank you if you called him that.

The second group are those people who have chosen to cut off the desires God has placed within them because they have bought in to the lie that wealth, health, and the ever-fleeting siren of happiness are the best things in life. They try to fill the empty spaces with flash and glamor, but like a child who digs holes by the seashore to capture the waves, their wants will never be satisfied. They are zombies: the breathing dead.

Going back to the Matthew verse for a moment: what is the kingdom of heaven? I would suggest that it is a potentiality that will one day be actualized in the return and eternal reign of Jesus Christ. However, we are able to recognize some elements of that potentiality in the present. I firmly believe that part of establishing the kingdom on earth is the desperate, sold out pursuit of the purpose God has given each one of us and all of the passions and desires associated with that purpose. Hence, Ben can go into a studio to record a demo, and all of heaven rejoices. Lia is brought to worshipful silence at a perfect ocean vista, and the foundations of hell tremble. Like a pine forest caught up in a drought, all it takes is a small flame to create a roaring fire. We are powerful people when God brings us to life.

The Lord's Spirit calls
He's singing,
"Follow my road to sorrow and joy
Be intertwined
And find
All things are under my wings
And rise
Given time.
//from "Desert Father" by Josh Garrels//



"...I asked him how his wife felt about all of this, thinking she must be excited to have her husband back. My friend looked at me as though he were realizing he hadn't actually said anything to his wife.

'You haven't said anything?' I questioned.

'I guess I figured she knew,' my friend suggested.

And that's the first time I realized that the idea a character is what he does makes as much sense in life as it does in the movies. I thought about my friend's story from his wife's perspective. She only knows what he says and what he does, not what he thinks and what he feels."
//from A Million Miles in a Thousand Years by Donald Miller//

One of the things Stonestreet talked about was the fragmentation of man. We were separated in the Fall from God, from the earth, from one another, and within ourselves. What remains of the once intimate connections is a vast chasm over which we shout to each other, our words confused and garbled by distance, volume, and the echoes of the past that bounce back up to muddle the present.

I'm tired. And right now I feel like my heart got kicked repeatedly by a Clydesdale. For whatever reason, I write more when I'm in this variety of mood, so allow me to reiterate that most of the time, I am a fairly balanced, happy, healthy person who works a bit too much and reads far too little.

I hate that I am dependent on words to know, even as I love words. But in the separation, we all suddenly acquired a burden. Unless you are a hermit or so socially ostracized that you have perfected the art of life without communication, you know how hard it can be to say even the simplest thing. I live in a tenuous state of "to say or not to say," afraid that I'm being too needy or that I'm not expressing my need well enough, afraid that I will alienate or accidentally lean toward the unmeant flirtatious, afraid that this of the thousand chasms will suddenly find itself without even the fragile bridge of our conversations to bear me over it.

Who are you and what is making you tick? When you snap, I don't know why. When you are silent, I don't know why. Even when you are joyful, I don't know it because I know nothing. All I have is what you tell me, translation made all the more difficult by the missing 90% of facial expressions, twitches, stance, and whatever else make up body language.

I beg for grace because I am vulnerable in my ignorance. I am not a perfect person, nor do I ever hope to be one. Know that even as I hear you incorrectly, your tympanum also fails to perfectly interpret the heart and soul of the vibrations that tickle it. We are two people who are a world apart, who leapt that world for a moment and then found ourselves slipping down the lines of longitude once more. Have you the energy for a second try?


Float Away

We sailed away on a winter's day
With fate as malleable as clay
But ships are fallible, I say
And the nautical, like all things, fades

And I can recall our caravel
Little wicker beetle shell
With four fine masts and lateen sails
Its bearings on Cair Paravel

Oh, my love,
Oh, it was a funny little thing
To be the ones to've seen
//from "Bridges and Balloons" by Joanna Newsom//


One Red Balloon

Alumni reunion. It's a strange place to be, the campus where you lived, learned, and developed into a fuller representation of Christ on earth. Who are these strangers who call themselves fellow IMPACT students? And yet, I don't really find myself stuck in the past. Something about the bare walls and empty spaces reminds me that this is not home, or rather, not my home. Soon to be someone else's blessing and bursting ground, but not mine.

We've all had a lot of processing and mixed emotions. But in between conversations about the symbolism of the progression of conception, gestation, labor, and birth that so well illustrates IMPACT and beyond for me, what Leah's wedding is going to be like, and whether it's appropriate to sing that prayer changes so my D went to an A+ in chemistry... It's been great. Leah and I have been having a blast, all the way from the hippie side of Chattanooga to a midnight Walmart run that resulted in a tray of cinnamon rolls with the words "Hapy Ema" spelled out in M&Ms on top. There wasn't much space, and her birthday was almost over, so we had to cut a few corners, leave out a few words... Nothing much, y'know.

Of course, there are still two and a half days left, which is plenty of time for me to curl up in a fetal position and try to shut out the world, but that's not as much fun as it sounds. I do plan on sleeping a lot this weekend (sorry, dearly outgoing class of 2009!), so maybe it won't be too brutal.

Speaking of sleep... The sugar rush is wearing off and it's crashing time.