Broken Jars

“I have one desire now – to live a life of reckless abandon for the Lord, putting all my energy and strength into it … If there’s nothing to this business of eternal life we might as well lose everything in one crack and throw our present life away with our life hereafter. But if there is something to it, then everything else the Lord says must hold true likewise.” {Ed McCully in a letter to Jim Elliot}

Calling. It’s like the cool Christian catchphrase. We don’t ask high school students what they want to do with their lives; we ask them what they feel they’re called to, and we get warm and fuzzy spiritual answers like: “I am called to reach inner city kids with the Father love of God;” “I am called to chip away at the foundations of humanism in our nation’s Ivy League universities;” “I am called to…” But what if we’ve missed something important? What if it’s not about being called to somewhere, but simply that we are called?

That may seem like a petty distinction. What difference does it make whether I am called or called to? Personally, I think it makes all the difference in the world. If I am called to something, then it is when I do that one thing that I am worshiping God with my life. But if I am called, then my whole entire life from opening my eyes in the morning to closing them at night can be an answer and a praise to the One who gives me breath.

Oddly enough, that’s not what I meant to write about, but it’s a decent segue. During my time at dts this past year, we had the opportunity to participate in several 12-hour long burns at the Life Center (it’s an extended community worship time, not a political hate meeting or a book censoring party). Lucas and Sam had taken one of the night watch sets, and I happened to come in halfway through. They weren’t really singing about the magnificence of God or giving Him praise for something He had done. It was more like a love song. I wish I could give you the poignancy of that moment, but words are insufficient. And in the midst of it, Lucas sang, “Let it be said when I am 82, ‘he wasted his life on Jesus…’ because it’s not a waste at all.”

It almost sounds silly when I type it out. And yet, there is something too powerful in this word “waste” to ignore the lovesickness of the heart behind it. What do we do for those whom we love? We lavish what we have on them. The classic prayer room example is Mary breaking her alabaster jar to bathe Jesus’s feet with costly perfume. So much is given because there is no other way to express the depths of love that would give more than “much,” would give “all.”

The Ed McCully quote that I began with is taken from Through Gates of Splendor by Elisabeth Elliot. A few pages later, she says, “On December 10, 1952, with eight-month old Stevie, Ed and Marilou sailed for Ecuador, the country where God had indicated He wanted them to spend their lives.” In my copy, I underlined the word spend. Each breath that we take is a withdrawal from our life’s bank account. We don’t have a whole lot, and the temptation is to use it all for personal pleasures. “I’m tired, so I will use this time to sleep.” “I have to finish writing a paper, so I don’t have time to help you edit yours.”

The heart of the lover, the wastrel, does not hoard those breaths and use them for selfish ends. It sees all that it has as resources for the delight and joy of the beloved. When Elisabeth Elliot says that it was in Ecuador that “He wanted them to spend their lives,” she quite literally means in Ed’s case that he was to spend all of the life that he possessed for the souls of the Aucas. True, Marilou and Stevie lived on, but they also gave something precious and powerful. And yet, even as they may have felt deep grief, theirs was the consolation of 1 Thessalonians 4, the solace of hope, because Ed “wasted” his life on the One whom he loved.

“Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men… God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen the week things of the world to shame the things which are strong.” (1 Corinthians 1:25,27)

Better to be foolish in love than wise in selfishness. Better to be prodigal and profligate with the hours that I have, giving them all in the service of the much-mocked “lost cause,” than to while them away on what does not endure. I think I should like that to be written on my tombstone: “The Prodigal Daughter.” She who wasted everything she had and gained Someone far better.


Of Pearls, Plato, and Other Worlds

I’ve always loved pearls. It’s not just that they are beautiful – because they are that – but they have a story. I guess I just never realized that sometimes the irritant that starts the process could be something beautiful too.

Why is pain? Nicholas Wolterstorff wrestles with the problem of pain in his book, Lament for a Son, a father’s outcry over the loss of a child. Ultimately, his conclusion is not a deeply theological one. There are no elaborate theodicies or brilliant countering coup de grace’s. He simply realizes that God also suffers, and if a God who is love suffers, then suffering is down at the heart of things where love is. It will radically affect each and every one of us, unless we, like those hardened few Lewis spoke of, choose to remove ourselves to the only possible haven where love will not hurt us, i.e. Hell.

But what is suffering? I think of the word “longsuffering” here, thanks to a discussion with Kevin Puckett, who could probably say a lot more and better on the topic. To suffer something is to allow it. Not quite what we ordinary mortals think of when we talk of suffering, but there it is. Save that definition for a moment as I move (inevitably!) to a more personal note.

For the past several months, I have been adjusting to life outside of the prefabricated community that is a discipleship training school or an IMPACT 360. Not only that, but in the space of a few short months, I ditched some serious life plans, packed up my entire life, and moved in with my sister (who is amazing and probably the only person reading this) to go to community college. Okay, nothing new there, I’ve probably whined about all of that enough to make my point. But I think I’ve finally found words to explain what the experience of that transition and its reverse were like, and in a rather unlikely place.

Two excerpts from Benjamin Jowett’s translation of Plato’s “Allegory of the Cave:”
#1. Upon exiting the cave at last: “And suppose once more, that he is reluctantly dragged up a steep and rugged ascent, and held fast until he is forced into the presence of the sun himself, is he not likely to be pained and irritated? When he approaches the light his eyes will be dazzled, and he will not be able to see anything at all of what are now called realities … He will required to grow accustomed to the sight of the upper world. And first he will see the shadows best, next the reflections of men and other objects in the water, and then the objects themselves; then he will gaze upon the light of the moon and the stars and the spangled heaven; and he will see the sky and the stars by night better than the sun or the light of the sun by day … Last of all, he will be able to see the sun, and not mere reflections of him in the water, but he will see him in his own proper place, and not in another; and he will contemplate him as he is.”

#2: Upon being forced to return as one enlightened: “Imagine once more … such as one coming suddenly out of the sun to be replaced in his old situation; would he not be certain to have his eyes full of darkness? … And if there were a contest, and he had to compete in measuring the shadows with the prisoners who had never moved out of the den, while his sight was still weak, and before his eyes had become steady … would he not be ridiculous? Men would say of him that up he went and down he came without his eyes; and that it was better not even to think of ascending; and if any one tried to loose another and lead him up to the light, let them only catch the offender, and they would put him to death.”
(as written in Philosophy Through Film by Mary Litch -- if these are difficult to understand, think of Neo when he is removed from the Matrix and then imagine how it would feel if he were to somehow re-enter it or even if he had taken the blue pill)

I feel like the man who was led forth from the cave and saw all that truly is (or some of all of the One who truly is, anyway). I have, as Whitman put it, habited myself “to the dazzle of the light and of every moment of [my] life” (Song of Myself, part 46). But to be thus taken out of this world had its own purpose: to bring something of that light back with me when, bodily prisoner that I am, I had at last to return to the cave.

Suffice it to say, I did not bring back anything. I chose to ingratiate myself by acting as one who is blind to the shadows of the cave because my eyes were adjusted to a better light. I couldn’t forget all that I had seen and done, not quite, so instead, I systematically began to wrap it up as if it were a grain of sand. Instead of “suffering” the pain of separation and allowing it to spur me on to other things, I preferred to mute it by drowning it in a cushion of numbness.

I don’t think that this was a necessarily bad thing. It would be easy to look back on the past few months and wonder how I could do something like that: forgetting the joys, the trials, the intimacy. Easy, yes, but still a trap. (To reference Katrina’s favorite part of The Phantom Tollbooth, you get to the Island of Conclusions by jumping there, but you have to swim if you want to get back.) I haven’t gotten very far in C. S. Lewis’s Out of the Silent Planet, but I love the way that Hyoi talks of the hrossa’s experience of sex (and much of life) and the role of memory: “A pleasure is only fully grown when it is remembered. You are speaking, Hman, as if the pleasure were one thing and the memory another. It is all one thing. “

In other words, I get a second chance or maybe my first chance hasn’t really ended yet. I don’t know what happens when I make myself vulnerable once more to the sting of all of those sweet memories, but this is part of their story and part of my story as it unfolds through my life.


When the man dances, the piper pays him

I watched Fiddler on the Roof for the first time this evening (thank you, Sam!), and since this is Christmas break and I'm already feeling intensely reflective in a writing sort of way, I couldn't resist the urge to blog about it. Sorry. You can expect a lot from me in the coming weeks... I can't really restrain the impulse.

Reason to Love #1: The way that the music - not even the lyrics but the notes themselves - tell the story is just fantastic. From the moments when the fiddler plays the sprightly warning notes of his "tradition" tune to the last notes of his serenade that lift a weary man's shoulders for the road that still stretches ahead of him, it is both the storyteller and the storyteller's tool.

Reason to Love #2: Tevye grows up. This is not a story about three girls breaking from traditions and yentas and finding husbands for themselves, at least, not really. It is almost like a collection of short stories about minor yet significant characters that tell one bigger story about someone else entirely, not unlike the Bible. The real change is wrought in Tevye, who learns over the course of a heartwrenching season that certain things are more important than others. He finds out after 25 years of (arranged) marriage that he and Golda love each other. He realizes that love actually is important, that happiness is not dependent on wealth ("They are so happy they don't even know they're miserable!"), and that sometimes your opponents are your friends and your friends are your enemies but family is always family no matter what. It isa  hard and humbling journey, but one that is filled with grace.

I was reading a Belloc essay about rest from his collection, "At the Sign of the Lion," and he speaks thus of the ending of things: "...One may say that in proportion to the largeness of [man's] action is this largeness and security of vision at the end." He is referring to a rest that is not death, but is rather the steadfast, sturdy peace of a life put through the fire of turmoil and made all the stronger for its pains. I think perhaps those last moments that we are with Tevye as he pulls his cart down the muddy track show a man who has tasted something of that rest. He has weathered far greater crises than this: it is not the end, but another beginning.

Reason to Love #3: Apparently, dancing is not the only activity that leads to illicit unions. I have it on good authority that reading books will gain you a very cute, very Russian, very unfortunately Eastern Orthodox and not at all Jewish husband. I'm not Jewish, therefore, I have no qualms in the matter. Bring on the books!

Reason to Love #4: I recognize that this is a fairly idealized portrayal of Jewish culture. However, I can't help but love the way that they wear black clothes and sober faces, but their age lines are laugh lines and their life is so extravagant as to make up for the color absent in their dress. From the dancing to the jesting to the drinking and good cheer, it is as if their everyday face nods sagely at the trials and torments of living while one eye winks puckishly and one foot taps slyly because they have realized that there is a far greater truth to be found, and that is joy beyond circumstance which tastes all the sweeter for the contrast.

Reason to Love #5: The dancing. It makes me want to watch "Riverdance: The Show" on repeat for a couple of days. Not the one with Michael Flatley though - the other guy, Colin whatsisface. Seriously, though, there had better be people dancing like that at my engagement party. Wedding. Whatever.

Suffice it so say, I was extremely impressed and rather loved it.


A VW Bus Full of Grace

...Whatever things were gain to me, those things I have counted as loss for the sake of Christ. More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish in order that I may gain Christ.
{Philippians 3:7-8}

God has a funny way of reminding me of His presence and who He is. Like I said before, I have had a lot on my plate recently and time with God was not high on the priority list. But one of the ways that His grace pointed me back to Him was through this verse. I'm beginning at the end though.

There is a well-demarcated distinction between life with a job and life without a job. For one thing, the definition of a "necessity" broadens considerably when you have a steady cashflow and the hope of its continuation. Out of the past 28 months, I've worked maybe 9 of them, with a few extra fragments of weeks and shifts thrown in for good measure. That sense of enforced frugality combined with the intention to go west to college and fit all of my possessions into my car led me to whittle down my possessions considerably. When I moved in with Katrina, my closet looked pathetic (I owned basically one pair of jeans) and the only substantial anything was my bookcase which had also been reduced from some 8 shelves to a mere four and a half. Thanks to a change in expectations and monetary circumstances, I have expanded on books, clothing, and a few others areas, to the degree that I feel like for the first time since high school, I actually have a lot of stuff.

It's only when we have something to lose that giving everything sounds scary.

I found it so easy to say, "God, You can have it all," while I was at dts, because honestly all was not a whole lot and I wasn't very attached to it. It's a whole heck of a lot harder when I take stock of all that I have now and realize that if He takes everything, there is a lot in there that I rather like, thank you very much. I am humbled by the realization that in spite of all of my smug mental condemnations of the spending habits of classmates, I am not immune to the cravings of the insatiable beast of want.

So I'm not sure if that brings us back to the end properly or not, but I guess that question that I was forced to ask myself was this: would I be willing to count all that I have as loss? And I'm not just talking about stuff here, because I'm not that attached to my skinny jeans and Toms. I also mean, could I leave Pennsylvania after finally connecting with my dad and given how quickly his diabetes will bring about degeneration? Could I give up my hopes of moving to England one day if that were no more than a selfish desire? Could I choose to live a quiet, outwardly unremarkable life when so much in me itches at the thought of something bigger?

I don't necessarily think that I will be asked to give up things that are near and dear to my heart like that in the near future, but the fact that I had to pause so long in processing reminded me of how thankful I am for God's...  allness? He is fully capable of being all that I need. Whether my boxes are full or empty, that is one constant in my life, and my desire is that I will rise to it and be able to offer myself with that same degree of constancy. Nothing barred from Him, nothing held back, all His, all a loss to me if it comes at the cost of the one thing I have desired and sought.

All roads lead home, and home is where the heart is, safe in His hands.


Some say the world will end in fire, some say in ice...

There's this commercial for some energy buzz where the guy talks about how he used to not be a morning person. This is supposed to be in contrast to his wife, the cute blonde with her 5AM game face and running shorts. She's the one who actually LIKES seeing the dark end of the sunrise, while he can only drag himself out of bed with an all natural boost.

What am I motivated by?

And isn't that just the hundred dollar question? When someone wants to pretend that they're deep, it is so easy to say something like, "I'm motivated by compassion for people who have suffered a lot of grief," or "I'm motivated by a desire to see a better future." But honestly, right now, I am not motivated by anything even remotely altruistic. Oh, my answer would probably be pretty cute and pat too, something to do with the life of the mind and new ways of teaching or communicating. But take a second to look at the way I've actually been living, and you could probably figure out pretty quickly that there was a serious gap between what I was saying with my lips and what I was saying with my life.

When I get done with my 4:45 AM to 8:00 PM Monday, nothing in me wants to do homework. And you'd better believe that I am not waking up fifteen or twenty minutes earlier to meditate on Scripture. I can meditate (on the marvels of sleep) with my eyes closed just fine, thank you very much. It's harder to make excuses when Wednesday afternoon finally sneaks up, and all I want to do is zone out to Season 3, Episode 4 of Doctor Who, even as my to-do list remains pointedly ignored on my phone. I know there's so much I should be doing... But my time is MY time, right?

So my present motivation is generally instant impulse gratification (which is hell on the bank account - believe me). The sooner I can relieve that itch to do, eat, buy something, the better. Always fun to plunk a fast down in the middle of that sort of mindset. It's a nasty reminder of how completely undisciplined I've become, but probably a good check when we're in the middle of a season when overdoing it can be easily disguised as holiday spirit.

Thank the Lord for Christmas break. Sometimes the best cure for the tangles in an unrelenting schedule is... a relent. So here's to cutting back on the lattes, hitting the treadmill, and regular budgeting. What a novel concept :)



I hate that when I open my eyes at the end of this song, I am still a cumulative million miles from so many of the people I love. Nobody's fault, not a true tragedy, just... life. Maybe that's the appeal of marriage - for a time, anyway, there's someone who is going the same direction you are, come hell or high water, and you're stuck together. Sure, divorce rates suggest that many people actually find that annoying in the end... But they lose perspective, they forget that the more beautiful thing is finding "home wherever I'm with you." I suppose I've divided myself too much to find home in any one place, but who knows. Maybe there could be one person. Doesn't seem likely though... Most things end, like the Doctor and Rose, like missions trips, like semesters, like good songs, like long days. Some of them, we're glad they end. Others, well, we love them all the more jealously for that.