Tuesday, March 24, 2015

when sad stories make space for hope of redemption

Today, there seem to be fires and smoke everywhere I turn. Yesterday brought a few sad stories my way. Today I carry in prayer the weight of life's pain, and my mind rests in the hope of redemption. Because, in one way or another, haven't we seen this all happen before?

I grew up in Southern California, in east Orange County, where Santa Ana winds blow sparks into wildfires and mud slides pull houses down hillsides.

me with my brother c1980

I remember seeing my parents on our roof with a hose several times, hoping to extinguish any stray ember that might come our way.

I remember friends whose homes shifted and swayed when a fire was followed by a storm. The burnt ground couldn't hold up to the gushing floodwaters.

In elementary school I can recall walking home from school under a black smoky sky, as ashes fell white and other-worldly all around. I wondered if the Russians had bombed us at last, and if this was the end of the world.

Our home never did catch fire, and the world moved on after arsonists were caught and jailed for ruining land, homes, and life for many.

After a bad fire one year, my parents told me one that some people in the canyons who had lost very old homes were faced with a sad reality. They couldn't rebuild their houses just as they had been originally built.

The old designs were not up to current codes, and it would be illegal to rebuild in the same way.

Sometimes more than wood and brick burn in the fires people set. Life can burn up our dreams and comforts, the evidence of our memories can rise with the smoke, too.

But maybe that's where all of life is heading: up to the heavens as a vapor of glory to the God who holds it all in His hands.

"Oh, how sweet the light of day,
And how wonderful to live in the sunshine!
Even if you live a long time, don’t take a single day for granted.
Take delight in each light-filled hour,
Remembering that there will also be many dark days
And that most of what comes your way is smoke.
You who are young, make the most of your youth.
Relish your youthful vigor.
Follow the impulses of your heart.
If something looks good to you, pursue it.
But know also that not just anything goes;
You have to answer to God for every last bit of it."
-Ecclesiastes 11:7-9 (the message)

A fire set by the hands of a man seems like such a meaningless evil.

That is the way of evil in the world- meaningless and painful. And that is the way of evil in our own hearts; meaningless actions making pain in the lives of those around us.

Evil knows it is losing, though. It tried once to extinguish the light of Love, the Hope of all people.

Love, however, was resurrected from darkness and the God of all hope arose for all of us.

Now the smoke of our lives and the evil of our hearts are turned to perfume poured out at the foot of the cross.

God looks at our ashes and refuses to rebuild the same life we once had. He has a better one for us, and His love won't leave us in a shack of sin any longer.

"Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual act of worship. Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will."
-Romans 12:1-2

The world of sin has come to an end for anyone who has seen the fire of a holy God and bowed low in His presence, accepting and rejoicing in His lordship. A new Kingdom of sacrificial love reigns in the heart of a believer.

That Kingdom has no end, and the King is a loving Father, who sent His Son to save us.

He is our Solid Rock and He will will safely hold us. The smoke will rise to the Him who makes all things new.

May hope rise with it, as the ashes of sin turn into an offering of praise. 

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

an ordinary ocean of glory

The closest I have felt to God happened many years ago. I stood on a cliff in Santa Barbara on a windy June morning, majestic waves crashing below me, the sea and sky expanding out into eternity, and it was simply... awesome.

Not awesome as in "everything is awesome" from the Lego Movie (thank goodness). Awesome like the way an artist's soul seems to live inside her work. Like a bitter heart being opened to hope by the quiet words of a friend. Awesome like the hand of a man caressing his lover's delicate cheek. That ocean moment was awesome the way an eternal God living inside a body of mortal flesh is more than I can comprehend.

When you find yourself in God's presence, even the air you breathe and the earth beneath your feet seem alive and lit with glory.

But today is an ordinary day. Even still, ordinary days burst with endless reminders of all He is to us and for us.

I can count many "reminders" in my life. Blessings I don't deserve and I could never secure on my own. The man who loves me more than I deserve; the four little faces that turn toward me each day a call me "Mama"; friends who know me, love me, and care for me; more than enough to eat every day of my life; my health; our safe and warm home.

When I follow that trail of reminders, I find all my blessings lead me to God. The fountains of this life flow from Him. God is an awesome ocean of glory and goodness, and we are simply playing on His shore.

The tide goes out and the tide comes in. The wind and waves are frightening. The ocean cannot be tamed or controlled. It never leaves or stops or fails. Even so, the ocean of God is our refuge and our strong deliverer. It washes us clean and raises us up above what we are without Him as our Lord.

We have barely glimpsed all the goodness that awaits us in His presence. On this ordinary day, there is nothing more awesome than that thought.

The cowering prisoners will soon be set free;

they will not die in their dungeon,
    nor will they lack bread.
For I am the Lord your God,
    who stirs up the sea so that its waves roar
    the Lord Almighty is his name.
I have put my words in your mouth
    and covered you with the shadow of my hand
I who set the heavens in place,
    who laid the foundations of the earth,
    and who say to Zion, ‘You are my people.

Isaiah 51:14-16

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

the one thing I know for sure about marriage

“He's more myself than I am. Whatever our souls are made of, his and mine are the same.” 

Mr. Fantastic and I celebrate fourteen years of marriage today. These years of working hard and loving big have come and gone in quiet whirlwind.

Some days I can't believe we aren't still twenty-five. Others I feel a strange kindred spirit among the grey-haired women taking the chair exercise classes at the YMCA. We are sandwiched in the middle of youth and true maturity, and while we are wiser than we were fourteen years ago, the greatest thing we know is this:

All that we know for sure can fit in a small book, and all that we don't know could fill the ocean.

A few times over the years, I have attended weddings in which the bride and groom write their own vows. This poetic ritual is always touching, but the longer I am married, the more I value the traditional ones we took. When the bad times came, when sickness fell upon us, when life was less "happily ever after" and more "sorrowfully for a while", those vows came in handy.

We didn't promise each other a perfect life. We promised to faithfully make the most of one we have been given together.

With the passing of years, I find myself giving such different advice than I used to give to newly married people. I used to tell them things they could do to make their lives more fun, their dates more romantic, their love more expressive, or their arguments less damaging.

But now, I give the same advice to myself and everyone else, it seems: Just be and then let it be. Be friends, be lovers, be together. Let it be hard, let it be fun, let him be in a bad mood, let it be easy, let it be good, let him love you, let it be bad, let yourself fail, let hope and love win. It will all go by so fast, and we won't remember all that we did, but we will cherish who we have been for each other.

These days I am learning to sit back and breathe deeply. Life is heavy at times, but we really are heading somewhere wonderful. The two have become one. We have had our souls mixed together, woven into this beautiful thing called marriage. It's impossible to see where my soul ends and his begins.

Fourteen down, fifty or so glorious years to go.

Thank you, Morgan, for being with me, for belonging to me, and for accepting me just as I am. You are my favorite person in the whole world. I love who you are to me and for me. Put simply. I love you.