Sunday, March 29, 2009

Spring-cleaning of the Soul

The rains have come. Green is creeping into the blanket covering the ground. Growth has come out of hiding. With the arrival of spring, hands everywhere are reaching for the accumulated dust of winter to shake it out into the sunlight. I too find myself in a season of cleaning, shaking out the dust within my soul.

For weeks I have felt the persistent creep of Sonlight into my heart. The presence of God has swept through my house, brushing against the surfaces of my home, disturbing what is stagnant. With his finger he left his name, Holiness, written in the dust collecting on my heart. With his passing, the coffee tables, bookcases, and picture frames hanging on my walls are not as clean as I supposed them to be. The dust is no longer subtle next to the contrasting streak, a window of what my soul needs to be. My heart screams, wash me.

When it comes to forgiving, I find the small things can be harder to let go than the big. The big is obvious, violent, something I cannot dismiss. It leaves painfully visible residue, garbage that reeks and causes me to stumble where it lies in the middle of the room. I have to carry it out just to regain function. But the dust and the cobwebs are easier to leave unchecked where they gather in the corners of my heart. They are undemanding, translucent, hardly visible, but over time they cover the vivid hues of my faith, subtly clouding the clarity God instilled.

I tend to put off dusting. It is tedious and easy to make excuses for. When I cut corners, I avoid dusting. It can wait, I reason. It is not dirt, just dust. I hide my sin behind another name. I choose soft, rose-colored words to describe what I feel. Frustration. Annoyance. Aggravation. I layer the excuses with the dust, a new one for every week I leave the grime unchecked. I protect my rights, justify my actions, my thoughts, my feelings. I protect the cobwebs hanging from my ceiling as if I could disguise them as works of art rather than signs of neglect. But dust is a form of dirt, and I am not frustrated. I am angry. I have chosen not to forgive.

Friday afternoon I sat down to clean the first corner on my list. I took out a piece of paper and began writing, listing offenses. As I wrote the tears and pain that surfaced surprised me. The dust was growing in size. I sobbed with the anguish of what I felt, the truth of what I saw. My little cobweb had grown into an ugly sticky web, and I was a helpless bug entangled within its grasp. It was controlling me.

Armed with the truth of my hate, I laid it all before God one sentence at a time. I read them all, and He acknowledged my pain, my injustice. Together we swept them out into the light with the hands of forgiveness and blessing. I felt the web dissolve. I ripped the paper into shreds and flushed it away, amazed that something so small could hold me so strongly.

This year spring has brought a renewed determination to be attentive to my heart, to find the unholy dust mites hiding in the cracks and crevices of the floorboards, behind the dressers, and in the high ceiling corners. Nothing is too small to be left unnoticed. It takes so little an offense to wield power of alarming strength over my heart. It is time for spring-cleaning. It is time to make sure Holiness is welcome in my home.

Thursday, March 26, 2009


Lately I have been overwhelmed with big picture life decisions. I feel like I just got finished making college decisions and now I have to make them all over again. I was walking home from class in the rain yesterday with too many ideas for words rolling around in my head. In that moment I felt that I could keep writing forever and never succeed in capturing them all on paper. It leaves me with a question that is haunting me:

If all I ever do with my life is write, will that be enough?

I’ve been plagued by this question for weeks, sometimes in a different form. How much of my identity is meant to be intertwined with writing? Who am I? I want God to tell me. What does He want from my life? When I dream, when I plan, am I building a box for myself that is too big or too small? Am I building a box for God, or am I allowing Him to break into a world I never could have imagined just a few months ago?

What if I did write forever? What if my life never encompassed anything else? Would that be meaningful enough? Enough for who?

I know my writing is spiritual, that God is leading me with words, through words, towards words. But sometimes I feel that it is not spiritual enough, like there are secular and sacred boxes and my writing is stuck in between, like it adds to the kingdom but I need to contribute something else to lead a fully purposeful life. I feel like it is not enough.

Enough for who?
Enough for me?
Enough for others?
Enough for the church?
Enough for God?

In the rain I found the truth. I feel like I owe God something more.

But I don’t. Because of His grace I don’t owe Him anything apart from my love. And that is the one thing that has been harder to give Him of late. I’m so caught up in trying to plan a life that matters that I can’t rest in His love, the one thing that is sure to make my life count the most.

I can love Him and write. Then it won’t matter if all I ever do is write. It won’t matter if I never impress another soul, never leave a name people will remember etched on a tombstone when I breathe my last. I’m starting to believe, but I haven’t found the end of this truth yet. It is telling me I don’t have to figure out the future. I don’t have to write the end before the beginning. I just have to love. Love and write. Write my way into the middle of a story. I thought my story was about tomorrow, but the title is slowly revealing itself: A story called Today.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Oceans of Mercy

The sea today is disturbed. Not angry, but agitated. The waves are rolling in forcefully, attaining greater heights. Less sand remains visible, the ocean seeking to hide as much of the beach as possible. Every few seconds the ocean surges with new strength towards my feet. It is cloaked in foam and froth as if a child dumped a lifetime supply of bubble bath into the waters. The ocean is more gray and white today than blue. Clarity is missing, shrouded in a veil of mystery. God what is stirring your waters with such passion? The waters are yearning. God is yearning. The waves seem to crash with frustrated longing as if they have waited a long time for the desire of their heart. Today they must voice their desire with added volume. This is not an intimate invitation like the estuaries of the Gulf; it is a passionate plea. Come, my Love, let me sweep you away. The ocean is desperate. It surges and retreats ten, fifteen feet at a time. It seems to be gathering strength and resolve, inching closer and closer with each passing moment to where I am. Soon I will no longer be allowed to stay neutral. I must move further beyond the reach of the waves or allow them to overtake me. I find myself not wanting to move.

I cherish the days when God brings the waves to me, when His sovereignty overcomes my weakness, my inability to move, and He brings His heart to my own. It is in those days that I have the choice: pull back on the beach and reject His washings out of guilt, or allow them to come, drowning me in an ocean of love, though undeserving I will always remain. His mercy is as breathless as the ocean view before my eyes.

Then there are the days when the water is calmer, gently lapping upon the shore, calling, inviting. The ocean of love awaits, always present, never straying more than a few feet away. It is waiting for me to get up out of my chair and walk towards the water. It meets me as I come.

Some days are easier to come than others. I don’t know why. Some days it only takes a gentle prod and my feet go racing down to the water’s edge and beyond. Other days I remain glued to my chair, the stretch of sand beneath my feet as vast as an ocean to cross. I hold back. I don’t know why. I want to go. The sand is scorching hot. It is misery to stay away. The water holds what I need, refreshment and rest. Yet I fear its depths of love, judge myself deserving of the shore. So I stay put, until the water finds me in my stubbornness or I can no longer bear to stay away. There comes a point where I will go even if the water obliterates me. I would rather die within its clutch than live a thousand days scorched upon the shore.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Wet Feet

I love the water. If I can touch it, feel it, submerse myself in it, I enter a realm of heaven. But even just the sound of it has the power to calm my soul, to infuse a sense of wonder into my earthbound form.

Sometimes when I find the water it is trickling or rushing, pouring over rocks and riverbeds, dripping, falling, traveling. It carries the divine in its droplets. I stand on the bank and watch a bit of heaven pass before my eyes. I am happiest when I get to ride along.

Other times the water finds me, falling from the sky. The droplets fall, sometimes gently, sometimes torrentially. They grace my head, soak my hair, gather and run down my face. In moments like this I tilt my head back, throw my arms wide and welcome the invasion of heaven. I feel one with the rain, and yet not quite. I find myself wishing that my skin held the ability to absorb the rain into my body, divinity into my being.

Today I have found the water and the water has found me. I sit on the shore of a vast ocean, an unsearchable immensity of God, and it is lapping at my ankles. The first few feet are shallow and clear. They uphold the ruse that maybe I could understand. But just beyond my feet the sandy footing drops away. The water is deep, dark and cool. I cannot comprehend it. Yet I want to dive long and deep and hard. The water calls to me. It comforts and soothes. When I can be near, my heart is at peace. When I dip into it, I am refreshed.

I have no explanation for why the water holds such a great influence over my heart except for the fact that I find God in the water. The water is not God. But it is like God. God invades the water. I drink water, I wash in water, and I stay alive. I play in the water and I find life. I listen to the water and I ponder its whispered mysteries.

The waves are lapping up on the shore. Today they are not crashing with force. They approach gently but consistently. They speak not of urgency but of gently offered intimacy. Another day may bring another message. God is speaking. I wish I knew what He was saying, the interpretation for the language of the waves. But somehow I also don’t mind not knowing. I don’t mind listening to what I cannot understand. I don’t mind being able to hear the rhythms, the musical inflections, the unique sounds that cannot be heard when I am focused on comprehension. Some days it is important to comprehend. But today is not one of these days. Today is a day for me to get up off the sand and go dip my toes in the ocean. It is a good day just to be, a good day just to let divinity wet my toes.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Accepting Anger

I was angry. Friday night I finally admitted it. I don’t like to be angry. It takes me a long time to realize when I am angry, and then even longer to admit it. But Friday night I was. The soul numbing weeks of distance from God were taking their toll. My head was aching from the effort to keep it all inside. So I took a walk in the dark and voiced all the thoughts I was loath to think. I told Him how much it hurt to have Barbara gone, how much it hurt to be given an apartment that was a home and a friend who was a sister and then to watch it disappear. I told Him how much I wanted community, questioned Him on why I wanted it so badly. And I told Him how much it hurt that I felt I was still crying the same tears that I cried two and a half years ago on the Sharp-Davis roof. I said it all and then I cried, not great wrenching sobs but simple gentle tears. It was beautiful relief. I had wanted to cry for two weeks. I knew there was something stuffed down inside of my soul, but I couldn’t get it to come out. As the tears fell from my cheeks a weight fell from my soul. There was freedom in honesty.

As I cried I discovered something. I wasn’t angry with God. I was angry with myself for being angry. As a result I had cut myself off from His love. I thought I had been doubting his love, but I hadn’t. I knew He was loving me all along, but I didn’t want Him to. I was suffering under a load of guilt that I wanted God to agree with. I was ashamed of my anger, of my ingratitude, of the way I was clinging to my rights when I knew I didn’t have any. Who was I to be upset with what God allowed? I only lost a roommate (hopefully only temporarily); other people lose their families, their freedom, their means of survival. What was my complaint? It was nothing, yet I was clinging to it like it was something. I was angry at myself for not being able to move beyond this point. I perceived my anger to be sin. But God didn’t. I think He wanted me to get angry. He was waiting for it. He was waiting for my pride to break, for me to realize that I am not above getting angry. My guilt wasn’t holiness, it was faulty righteousness sculpted by my own hands.

It astounds me how well pride can hide itself within my soul, masquerading as righteousness and submission. I didn’t have a clue. I was deceived into believing that my response was what God wanted. I meant well. That first night I didn’t want to be angry. I wanted to accept whatever God was doing and move on. But somewhere that acceptance turned into an act. I kept stuffing my true feelings to feign submission. But God wanted my honesty, not my charade.

I’m still mulling over the issue of anger. My heart has always assumed that anger was wrong. But that’s not true. Ephesians tells me to be angry. It is not the anger that is wrong, it’s the actions that follow the anger that can be so dangerous. But so is denying its existence. Putting the verse in context brought something to light:

“Therefore, laying aside falsehood, speak truth to each one of you with his neighbor, for we are members of one another. Be angry, and yet do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and do not give the devil an opportunity.” – Ephesians 4:25-27

In these verses God asks for honesty. And if I doubted, He even specifies that honesty includes anger. He wanted me to be angry, to admit my pain and carry it to Him so He can take it from me. In my pride, I was so determined to not let the sun go down upon my anger that I hid it. I deceived myself and the sun went down on my anger while it was buried within my heart. It took weeks to pry it out and the devil got his opportunity in the interim.

I was so concerned with not claiming my right to be angry. I didn’t think I should have a right. But maybe it’s not about rights. Maybe it’s about God wanting to acknowledge the pain of my heart, about Him wanting to love me in my pain. He can’t love me in that place of pain if I won’t acknowledge its existence. Maybe it’s not about me having rights. Maybe it’s about God dying for the right to love me. Who am I to stand in the way?