Monday, February 23, 2015

homelessness and belonging and the ache for more

In between church services yesterday, I strolled through the lobby in search of coffee. Sitting in their usual spot on the sofas near the bookcases was the group of homeless men who come every week.

I waved, then walked over to say good morning.

These kinds of conversations are always a little awkward for me. Despite being married to a pastor, and therefore frequently chatting with people I don't know very well, I am terrible at it and (frankly) terrified of it. But I have learned over the years that saying something is better than saying nothing, and so I do my best and hope it is enough.

One of the men thanked me for something I shared in church a couple of weeks ago, about my ugly soul and the great need we have to love and be loved by flesh and blood people.

"Life is hard," he said.

And I wanted to say the right thing to him. I longed to find words to make his life better, to give him a home and a family. I wished that I could build him a refuge somehow, a place that all his pain could end and heal the broken road that brought him to a life on the streets.

But all I could say was, "Yes. Yes, it is."

My own aching soul song tuned itself with his. Our circumstances are different, but each heart knows its own sorrow, and foolish is the one who ignores the kindred way we all long for more than this world can offer. None of us is home yet, although some of us have a more comfortable wait than others.

I looked out the window behind him at the rain and the cold and wondered where he would go when church was over. Who would he sit with, how would he stay dry, what would he do to find some semblance of comfort on a day like this?

When I asked one of the men those questions, he just looked at me and answered, "I don't know."

Some lives are harder than others.

We talked a bit more and then we said goodbye and I returned to the place I take up every Sunday morning next to Mr. Fantastic. I carried that conversation with me. I hoped that a few hours in our church, the meals we provide, the love we offer, would help them make it through the miserable day.

As worship began, my heart listened for the voice of God in the midst of that man's ache. What is God's answer to the ache we all feel for belonging, for home, for comfort?

He said this to me:

Love covers.

Mercy triumphs.

Grace saves.

We can scarcely fathom these curious ways of the One true God. What do we know apart from Him of a love that covers up our vulnerability and failure? Aside from His divine intervention in our lives, when else have we lost everything precious to us, only to find that mercy won it all back for us? Who else has loved us enough to rescue us from darkness at the cost of His own life?

Who is like this God of ours, who sees how very hard life is, who enters into the war for our souls, and carries us home as tenderly as He can?

I painted a quote from The Last Battle by CS Lewis on a canvas a few weeks ago. It hangs by our front door, and while it welcomes all who enter, it is not a promise that the walls of this house will forever provide a home for us. That is a joy we will cherish many days from now, when the colors of our lives fade and the haziness of heaven comes into sharp focus at last.

All the pain of this life will be washed away in the great homecoming. We will sit beside the One to whom we belong: He who covers and triumphs and saves us. I think we may be surprised to see His great love and mercy and grace welcoming so many who tripped and stumbled along as they followed Him.

None of us deserve Him, and yet He covers and triumphs over and saves so many. 

Until all that happens, there are people He wants us to comfort and love; there is mercy He is waiting for us to pour out; and there is grace he is asking us to give. Because there is a Kingdom being built one life at a time, for the glory of a great and unusual King who calls the least of us His priests and princes, and I am humbled to be counted among His people.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

for lent: still fighting


I am up long before dawn, coffee by my side, heart churning with the day ahead. Then I check Facebook and this meme with Exodus 14:14 pops up on my feed.

It stuns me once again, the way the word of God is sharp and living. I am breathless and broken as it pierces my heart and weighs more within my mind than twelve words should weigh.

Because it's Lent and we Christian are going down.

Lent means going down the path to the cross with Jesus and we are opening our souls up to the reality of the sacrifice He made. It means falling down on our knees remembering that when we love others more than ourselves it costs us something, and that something is often pain, misunderstanding, and even unfair accusation. Lent is accepting the low place, seeing the impossible divide between man and God, and knowing that only a perfect lamb can bridge that gap.

Sometimes we turn our plowshares into swords, and other times we drop everything and lay our hands beneath a hammer and nail with Christ. Some battles require a sacrifice to be won; Lent is that kind of miracle.

Lent is a time for resting and waiting to see what God will do when the day of battle comes.

So, it's okay to lay down and rest.

Rest when the kids argue and stomp their feet. Rest when the person you love rolls their eyes at you. Rest when the lies about your intentions wound and rip at your soul. Rest when you want to quit. Rest when your marriage frays at the ends and you think it may be the end. Rest when your boss is impossible to please. Rest when you can't seem to get anything right and the flames of failure from your past lick you with hot vengeance. Rest when accusations about your actions roll over you like waves that never seem to break.

Rest because the Lord will fight for you. He will move mountains and dig trenches and lift foundations that seem too old to bear any more weight. He will breathe life into the dead places of your soul and cause dry bones to walk once more. God will push back the enemies of your soul, shine light into your darkness, and lead you beside quiet waters of peace.

Do not be afraid. Rest in the greatness of His love for you. Rest in the miracle of His sacrifice for you.

He will fight for you. He will save you. He will carry you home. Every time.

Friday, February 13, 2015

we are the children of victory

I pushed back our start time for homeschooling on Thursday morning so I could tackle some boxes and piles in the guest room.

I have relegated the book boxes there, and there are a lot of them. I unpacked half a dozen or so last week, and the books were still strewn and stacked in organized chaos on the bed.

I found a framed snapshot of our first dance at our wedding in the mix of the madness, and I decided to swap it for a cute postcard that had also emerged from the ruins. When I pulled the photo out, though, I found an older photo of me and Mr. Fantastic behind it.

I am 24. He is 25. We are practically still babies.

Since I was the one who framed the wedding shot (I remember it sitting in our first apartment), I have presumably seen this other picture before. But my memory has begun failing me recently, and I have no recollection of it at all. I don't know who took it, where it was taken, or how I got a copy of it.

It was manna, a "what is this stuff" soul moment, and I couldn't stop staring at it.

We look so... peaceful.

It isn't that we aren't "peaceful" now. We are more in love than we were the day this photo was taken. We are more whole than we were that day, too. We have seen mountains move. We have slain dragons together. We have climbed to summits and seen the glory and the transfiguration and lived the praise of the One True God with our hands held high and our voices triumphant.

But we have come to a new mountain this year. It hasn't been named yet, and we aren't sure what's up there. We are a little weary at this point in the climb. So much of our focus is funneled into fighting off the enemies of our souls these days: discouragement, fear, depression, challenging children, and nameless whispers that only the word of God can drive back.

We are up long after the day is done, holding hands, praying and loving the God who is our everything. We are awake before the children, before the sun, calling out to Him and declaring His goodness reigns.

Those two lovebirds in the photo had weaker arms and more shackles on their hearts, and they didn't know what we know.

Peaceful seasons are nice, but true love is unearthed on the battlegrounds of life. It spills out of our humble tears and flows from the sweat of hard work. The scarlet glory of the fight covers us through holy blood that flows from the worthiest sacrifice ever made on this spinning planet.

I won't lie. I'd like to live in that photo, with my arms wrapped around the only man I have ever loved. I would like to whisper lovely things in his ear and hear him laugh with joy. We shared a shiny, happy moment when that camera clicked.

But if I froze out souls there, we would lose the battles we have fought since then, and the victorious ground we have won. We would lose the birthing of souls too numerous to count, the lessons from mourning friends who left too soon, the joy gleaned from raising so many children so close together, the freedom we have both found in Christ, the healing of our bodies and souls, the church we serve and love, and the many years of trust that have strengthened and widened the flimsy foundation of the friendship and love we shared then.

Compared with all we know now, we knew nothing then. Imagine what another decade and a half of lifting our swords and roaring into the darkness will teach us.

I should hide another photo behind this one. A snapshot of the two of us in love and glorious, eyes bedecked by crow's feet and darkish circles, the mark of time resting securely on our appearance. When I pull it out in ten years, I will open up my mouth and roar over the waters of my life on that day, whatever they may be.

Because if there's one thing the last fourteen years have taught me it's this:

We are born to be victorious. 

The Spirit of the Mighty God lives in us. He is the God who spoke light into existence, who parted the Red Sea, who lifted lonely Hagar from desolate places, who closed lions' mouths, demolished walls, sang over the souls of His people, and took on a body of flesh and was fully God and fully man. He healed the broken, opened His arms to the children, raised the dead, and He is coming back for all who worship Him in spirit and in truth.

Time and tragedy, problems and plights, they refine us so that the glory He has within us can shine forth in greater measure. The mountain we climb today is small compared with the God we serve. And the mountains of tomorrow don't stand a chance.

We are the children of victory. Nothing can stop His plans for us. Today, we roar.

Monday, February 9, 2015

soul botox, ninja husbands, and how to save your soul

"What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul?" -Jesus (Matthew 16:26)

“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” -Jesus (John 13:34-35)

We sat in the living room late at night after he had been gone for four days on a work trip.

The weeks before that had been consumed by the flu running rampant through our house, a very challenging church calendar, and the arrival of a new puppy in our family. (Her name is Penny, Boy 2 bought her with his own money, and she's our baaaayyy-beeeee.)

But right then it was 9:00, the kids were all passed out, and it was time to catch up. He tried to ask me about my week.

I wanted to watch Friends on Netflix instead. He clearly didn't.

I made a conscious effort to stick to topic as we chatted. My soul was ugly right then- it needed Soul Botox and some nourishment and maybe a hundred years of rest. (Don't you wish they really made Botox for our souls? That would make life on earth a bazillion times easier.)

My lips were sealed for the good of our evening and our marriage. I would let the ugly out tomorrow, when I had more energy to clean up the mess it would make.

But twenty years of friendship and almost fourteen years of marriage have made Mr. Fantastic into a Navy Seal Special Agent Ninja Husband.

"So how are you doing in your soul?" he asked. He would not avert his gaze from my eyes.

Silly Ninja Husband, you don't want to know. Because if I open that closet we will have a fight and you'll win because I'm too tired to fight fair and that means unnecessary bloodshed and then I will be the one who is a total jerk and I will feel even worse about myself. 

Healthy marriages are too much work. I'm the captain of my soul and I was going down with the ship right then.

Or not, because I knew what I risked by shrugging off the love and care of my husband to avoid the pain of transparency and vulnerability. We can lose our souls a little at a time, by exchanging honesty and truth for the ease of dysfunction. My soul was more than I cared to pay for a night of reruns and quiet, unemotional bliss.

So I got brave, laid myself low, and spilled my guts all over our new fancy sofa. Actually, I sort of leaked the ugliness out a little at a time, so he could slowly take it in. No need to drown the man. I focused the whole time on avoiding the land mines of my usual weirdness: blame, despair, and martyrdom.

We made it through somehow. We didn't argue at all. I suppose our marriage skills are improving, we are actually growing up, and Jesus is the miracle worker the Bible claims.

The longer we love each other the more amazed I am at the importance of the quiet moments when storms rage from within our own hearts. They help me become comfortable with living in the middle of the unanswerable questions about faith, the mourning over broken ways of life, my failed efforts, and the eternal balancing act of hope and fear.

Vulnerability is the lesson of Job over and over again: There are answers I may never get from God. What I need most of all is for someone to see my pain, know my heart, and love me.

If Mr. Fantastic didn't stand by me there, on the battlefield of my soul, who would? If I didn't let him in to the hideous truth that I am a human with scars and brokenness, how can we truly say that the two have become one?

Yes, of course, from a theological standpoint, Jesus always stands with us, and we can stay married without hashing out the ugly soul stuff. But there's a reason Jesus commanded us to love one another more than ourselves, and it is the grand key to a good life:

We need each other desperately.

Kindness. Vulnerability. Sacrificial love. Mercy. Believing the best. There is no substitute for these traits in our relationships. They make it safe to own the ugliness, love bravely, and turn off Netflix reruns in order to be the closest thing to Jesus someone has seen today.

A life lived like that will save our souls and change our families and communities. I hope we can be brave enough to live it.

Monday, February 2, 2015

raising brave and vulnerable children

The Super Bowl was on in the living room and I was folding laundry in my bedroom. One sheepish child tiptoed in and slid into my bed.

He was hiding undercover. No words were spoken.

I asked what was going on. I smiled and chatted and it was like talking to a brick wall.

Something was wrong, but he was too embarrassed to say it out loud.

Little souls have troubles of their own, and they want to run to mama, but even then they may hide the truth.

Gently, I told him I wouldn't say another word until he was ready to tell me all about it.

Silent minutes passed and eventually he didn't just tell me, he showed me. He sat up, opened his heart, and let his mistake speak for itself.

I looked his error in the eye and I covered his wound with grace and love.

We've all been there. We all mess up. We have all felt the sting of embarrassment. We are all human and what we need most is to know we are not alone.

He made me promise not to tell anyone. I sealed my lips forever. But I did encourage his daddy to go check on him.

These boys need a mama and a daddy who understand. They need parents who mess up and tell the truth and hold their hands and make space for mercy to triumph.

If we pay attention and listen closely; if we are kind when they err; if we admit our own failure and forgive others and ourselves well; if we love with tender truth; our homes will become safe places and our children will be truth tellers who are not afraid to be vulnerable.

We all sat together and watched the last quarter of the football game. The laundry was folded, the forgiveness was fresh, and there was peace in our house.

In the end, I scooped up my giant boy-man and carried him to his room. These days I can barely heave him up the stairs on my back, even though once-upon-a-time he fit in the crook of my arm or sat securely on my hip. Last night might have been the last time I am able to bear the weight of his whole self.

But I will always carry him in one way or another, even when he is strong enough to carry me. Because I am the one he ran to, the one he needed, the one he trusted with his fears and failures.

Vulnerable love is a gift that is not lost on my soul, and this morning all I feel is gratitude for the One who has given it.