Not making light of the shadows

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Over the past few days I’ve been busy binge watching Songland. From where I stand, it feels like a master class on songwriting. Not only do I get to hear constructive criticism from some of the top writer/producers in the music industry, I also get to see how they transform good songs into great songs.

One particular concept hits close to home. One Republic’s Ryan Tedder summed it up in a word – duality. I think of it in terms of Yin Yang philosophy where Yang is present in Yin and Yin is present in Yang. Each has an element of the other within it. In life the brightest light often casts the deepest shadow, and without the contrast we might never recognize it for what it is. This has always been a struggle for me. Not only with music, but in any form of creation. As an Enneagram seven, I prefer to live in bright places and, pun intended, make light of the shadows.

I’m learning. In order to make the beautiful ideas more than pure idealism, I have to expose the pain and hurt that makes it real. It requires honesty and vulnerability. Not only with my readers or listeners, but first with myself. It isn’t easy, but I believe it is necessary. That kind of honesty is where shared experience sets the stage so that great ideals have a chance to become real in the lives of others. It brings the divine into the realm of mortals so that maybe, just maybe, we allow it change our lives.

In the flow

Wednesday night I received an unexpected gift. It began with what I believe to be an act that flowed from who I am. Nothing I would consider profound or special, just thoughts from a lingering conversation given voice. For once, normal doubts had no weight and I spoke these words of encouragement. I never guessed I would get an immediate response, let alone what would follow. What had been set in motion, even before I said a word, left me in awe.

I tried to engage more deeply, to put into words my excitement for what another person would set in motion. And I couldn’t. Try as I might, I had no words. Nothing seemed big enough to encompass what had happened. I had but one thing to share. My heart was full! Even now, I am filled with gratitude and a sense of awe. Thankful to have stepped into God’s stream and excited to see where it flows.

In the end, though I may not ever understand fully, I found these words in my last journal entry that helped me see the power of identity and being to lead us into the dance.

“The truest me seems to erupt most readily from thoughtlessness, from a point of emptiness beyond the doubts of conscious thought. I often only recognize him in hindsight, as an observer who sees the past. A statement, a text, a conversation, a moment recognizable as true self as seen from afar. I long to live in this state of being, this state of ‘me’. Something to think more on and strive for. It is fearless. Courageous. It is bigger than doubts. Because it just is. … This may just be me waxing philosophical for the sake of ego, but I do believe living in my identity brings assurance and strength of character. Enough so to overcome the doubt inherent in my broken humanity and give me hope. Hope for a future, for opportunity, and, probably more importantly, honesty and authenticity when opportunity arises.”

I wonder if these true self moments are the times I am closest to God. They are certainly the times I am closest to who He created me to be. And for just a moment, he let me see the results of His handiwork.

And you know the best part of it all?

Knowing that it has very little to do with me. The most amazing things He set in motion are His glory in another and I can’t wait to see what comes of it!

Come As You Are

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Sunday morning service began in its usual way, a prayer led by one of the elders. She offered thanks as one “bursting with love for” God. It was a sentiment I did not feel in the moment. She continued, and asked God to meet us here. All of us. Those beaming with joy and those lost in deep sorrow. Those who were full to bursting and those who were desolate and empty. The whole. The scarred. The broken. Those at war and those at peace.

All of us.

I remember a time when I would have felt wrong to be empty in the presence of God. I would feel judged. I realize now this is a residue of the works based Christianity I grew up with. A Christianity that told me I needed to clean up before I approached God. My dad wore a suit every Sunday. I still remember him telling me as things became more casual that he struggled with it, because it was bringing less than your best before God. After all, we were coming before a King. I actually agree with the reasoning. We should bring our best before God. He is our King. But sometimes our best is dirty and worn; sometimes our best is threadbare and full of holes. What then?

We’re still welcome! God still looks upon us with love!

So why is it so hard to remember this truth of grace? For me, it’s often the faces we see around us. We, as the church, are meant to be the face of God to the world. So when those faces look out on the world and into their own pews with judgment and disapproval we see a false god, one made in the image of man. It becomes a culture of comparison. A culture that separates and isolates where it should embrace. When I think back, I don’t remember any teaching as clearly as what I saw lived out. It told me I needed to fake it if I didn’t feel it. It demanded I not show myself empty, hurting or broken. If Christ was real in my life I shouldn’t feel those things. Good Christians didn’t feel those things, and I wanted to be a good Christian.

But what does it mean to be a good or a bad Christian? Personally, I’ve come to believe there is no such thing. At least, if there is, I have no way to judge. It’s beyond me. That’s a God sized task.

All of this leaves me with two important takeaways. One, we’re all welcome just as we are. Yes, we are to bring our best. But it’s okay when our best is our worst. If I don’t come to God and my family when I’m hurting, how am I to be healed? And two, as a Christian, I need to work hard to reflect His same attitude of hospitality, tenderness and love. None of us have it all together. None of us will have it all together. Life isn’t so pretty that we have it all together all the time. And that’s okay. We need one another to get through this mess.

So come. Come as you are. You’re still welcome!

Seeing Through the Veil of Expectation

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But Naaman was angry and went away, saying, ‘Behold, I thought that he would surely come out to me and stand and call on the name of the Lord his God, and wave his hand over the place and cure the leper.‘”

2 Kings 5:11, English Standard Version

It’s been many years since I encountered the story of Naaman. As a celebrated commander of the Syrian army, he enjoyed riches, fame and the favor of his king. However these things could not protect him from leprosy. A diagnosis that would be akin to being told you have a terminal disease.

I don’t know how many options he had, or how many he’d exhausted before an Israelite servant girl offered a ray of hope. There is a prophet in Samaria. “He would cure him of  his leprosy.” So Naaman approached his king, and with the king’s blessing made his way to Israel. To shorten the story a bit, he ended up standing outside the prophet Elisha’s home where he received a message telling him to dip himself seven times in the River Jordan.

It’s here that we pick up. Until yesterday, I’ve always noted Naaman’s pride in this passage. He is a man offended by the blatant disregard for his greatness. The prophet sends a messenger to him instead of meeting him directly. He then directs him to wash in a dirty river. All things Naaman thinks himself too good for. However, I now see something more.

Elisha had violated Naaman’s expectations.

Expectations can be dangerous. Unmet expectations are downright destructive. We fail to live up to our expectations, and it wounds our soul. We fail to meet other’s expectations, and we hurt relationships. We sit under the weight of expectation and anxiety threatens to overwhelm us. And when reality doesn’t match our expectations we get angry and walk away, just as Naaman did.

Naaman walked away from healing because it did not match his expectations.

Let that sink in.

Has it hit you in the gut yet? Does this ring with familiarity? I know it does for me. I wonder how many times I’ve missed out because I could not let go of my expectations to embrace good counsel, training or what might seem a little crazy in the moment. Sadly, even knowing this truth, I am often blinded. Knowing doesn’t make me immune.

It takes humility. We have to accept our limitations. It takes courage. We have to dive into new waters, and they might be different than the ones we’re used to. It takes a community of care. We need people with us who will, like Naaman’s servants, challenge us and help us take the blinders off.

And when humility, courage and community uncover our eyes, I wonder what healing awaits us beyond the veil of our expectations.

Just show up

I’m tired. It’s been a long, taxing week and I’ve been wracking my brain all day for words to share. The well is empty.

But I’m here.

Why?

Because sometimes you just have to show up. You don’t feel like it. You don’t know what you’ll be able to do. You know it’s not going to be your best. But you do it anyway.

I’m here as much for me as I am for those who join me here, and I’ve learned that the discipline of showing up preserves and protects me. It keeps me on the right road. It maintains my flow. And sometimes it surprises me. Even when it doesn’t, I still feel better. I feel accomplished. I feel like I’m still on the path, and that feels good.

So I’m here.

And as I close this post, I know there is more waiting out there for next time. So I’ll rest. I’ll rejuvenate. I’ll let the well fill again so that when the next time comes I’m ready. And even if I’m not.

I’ll show up.

“All you have is all you need.”

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A couple weeks ago, an artist friend told me of her plans for October. As she changes the pieces she has on display, she wants to use that space for “an encouraging word to the people who feel stuck or stagnant in life”.

The idea got me excited. I asked if she had works already picked out, or if she was feeling inspired herself. In point of fact, it was both. And one point of inspiration was a saying.

All you have is all you need.”

I’ll say again now what I said then. Those words state a truth I wish I lived more readily. For the rest of the day, and off and on over the past two weeks they have returned to me. At first, my thoughts fixated on the idea of contentment. There is something to be said for trusting that what is in my hands right now really is all I need for right now. I believe that. At least I believe it some of the time. And sometimes I don’t believe it. There are plenty of times I wished I had more money, or more talent, or more time. Times when all of it seems insufficient. I’ve come to recognize this stems from trying to live ahead of myself. I’m living physically in the present, but mentally in the future. As I should expect by now, it goes back to learning how to be present in the right now. And for those who, like me, sometimes feel stuck or stagnant that sense of presence is life giving freedom. Dare to dream. Dare to do what you can with what you have, right now.

All you have is all you need.”

But there has been another facet to these words I’ve held close since the first day. In fact, as I wrestled with how true these words were in the sense of contentment, I found a sudden refuge in two words. “But God”. Suddenly, face to face with God’s promise to call us, keep us and sanctify us, I felt assurance that “All you have is all you need.” How many of us are feeling stuck or stagnant in our relationship with God? There is a life giving freedom available in a different presence, God’s presence. I may be hurt and broken. I may feel lost or overwhelmed by insurmountable odds. I may be caught in a struggle I don’t know how to win. In my faith, I might feel stuck or stagnant.

But God.

God is big enough.

God’s love and power is limitless.

To borrow the words echoing in my ears right now.

There is no chain this love can’t break.”*

To borrow more words from the conversation that started all of this.

Every chain is broken.”

There is freedom to be found right now. There is hope. There is joy. There is life. Remember, “All you have is all you need.”

*Housefires, lyrics from This Love

 

Coffee with Jesus

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Sunday morning our pastor shared a new development in his daughter’s understanding of Jesus. For those of us who were new to the story, he brought us up to date. At first, she wanted to kill Jesus. She had a nightmare. She faced a figure clad in grey robe with a long white beard and a sword. Our pastor was thinking Gandalf, but she said he was Jesus. It scared her and she proclaimed before going to sleep that she would kill him in her dreams. Recently, she saw a cartoon in which it took her to the cross and the death of Christ. The resurrection, however, wasn’t included. So, as far as she’s concerned, he is now dead and nothing her dad says will persuade her to the contrary. It’s an ongoing journey of discovery in their household.

But there was something more. As she was getting ready to go to bed, she told her dad something like this. “I love Jesus. I wish he could be here. I wish I could spend time with him.”

For her, he is as real a person as me, or you, or her mom and dad. He truly is someone who lived and breathed that she could interact with if he weren’t dead. I wish he were that to me. To be honest, I’m not sure if he ever has been. Maybe it is simply something I’ve lost with the innocence of childhood. It’s been on my mind of late. How different would I feel about God and Jesus if I saw them, heard them, talked to them and felt them in the flesh?

I found these feelings manifest in worship moments before he shared this story. I felt disconnected and disengaged. The lyrics were uninteresting and resolved themselves to noise in the background as my mind began to wander. I tried to find something to interest me in the music by drumming the beat along the back of the pew or finding an interesting harmony. I drifted into thoughts about worship, or what it will be like when I take my place on the stage with them. Somewhere in all the distraction, these thoughts of God in the flesh returned and I saw myself sitting across from Jesus for coffee. I sat distracted, listening in on another conversation or drifting into my inner thoughts. Point is, I wasn’t present. Just as in that moment, I wasn’t present.

I believe this awareness is part of the answer to a prayer I began a few years ago. I prayed to know God. Not know about Him, but to truly know Him as one person knows another. If I want to know him in that way, it means I need to be present with Him as surely as I strive to when I meet a friend for coffee. It’s refreshing. And as I delve deeper, I am excited. I’m also hopeful for that little girl. She’s already taught me a little more about the presence of Jesus. I can’t wait until she finds out He’s not dead.