Tasting Freedom

Sunday as we left, the pastor spoke conviction into my heart.
Do you think you are free? He asked.
There are often subtle gods that attempt to steal our freedom; gods of image, security, affirmation, and control. These idols keep us from truly having an intimate relationship with God.

I’ve known it to be true for years – that while I grasp full well that God is ultimately in control, I do my best to control as much as I can for myself.
I know such efforts are futile.
I know such efforts are as foolish as trying to phantom-steer a car from the backseat.

But what my mind knows, my heart tries to forget.

Because yes, I grasp that God is in control. But I fear His choices for me.

We left for Chicago after service and soul amnesia set in. Our two-year anniversary celebration was one I had arranged and planned months in advance and I was about to have four days with Seth all to myself.

The next day, we arrived at Navy Pier.
Our plan was to bike along Lakefront trail, to enjoy staring out at the iridescent blues of the lake as we talked back and forth about everything and nothing.

After two miles of pedaling, we stopped to take a rest and it was then that I noticed they were gone.

A familiar tide of panic rolled in.
I began to search the ground, my pockets, the seat of the quadricycle. Nothing.

“What’s wrong?” Seth asked, watching me as I muttered to myself.
“I’ve lost them,” was all I could say as my mind raced to every possible negative outcome.
“Lost what?” he pressed patiently, standing beside me with a hand on my back.
“My credit card and my driver’s license.”

I expected him to panic with me. I expected him to get frustrated with me for my foolishness.
I expected that he would start verbally chastising me for not putting them in a safer place.

But he merely stepped back calmly and said, “Well, let’s pedal back and see if we can find them.”

I stared at him hard a moment, looking for judgment. I found none.
We started to pedal back and I found myself falling back into old habits, reciting phrases of comfort to myself under my breath in a repetitive cycle, trying to stifle fear. It’s going to be ok… Stop panicking…You’re going to be fine… Jesus, please… It’s going to be ok…

He sat beside me and periodically, he would reach out and rub my back, my waist.
“You’re the best,” he stated with a smile. “You’re my favorite.”
I half-choked, half-laughed as I looked over at him.

“No, I’m not. I just lost my driver’s license.”

“So?” he said with that half-grin of his. “It was a mistake. We all make mistakes.”
“Yeah, but this is serious,” I chided, torn between wanting to believe him and being irritated he didn’t seem to grasp the significance of my error.

His calm optimism never wavered. He just kept smiling, pedaling in an unhurried fashion.

We didn’t find them.

After returning the quadricycle, we retraced our path for a while on foot but found nothing.

“I think we need to let it go,” he said after about half a mile. Holding my hand, he called to cancel the credit card and then reassured me that there was no record that anyone had tried to use the card.

I stared out at the water and realized with a sudden flicker of remembrance: There are often subtle gods that attempt to steal our freedom; gods of image, security, affirmation, and control.

Pulling strength from the grace being freely offered from Him and from Seth, I felt my soul let the fear and panic go.  I smiled for the first time in over an hour.
Hand in hand, we left the pier and continued on with our day.

Two days later, Facebook alerted me that I had messages from strangers. I opened the first one and read: Hi, you don’t know me, but I was biking along Lakefront trail on Monday and I found your driver’s license. Would you like it back?

I quickly read the next one: Hi, you don’t know me, but I found a credit card with your name on it the other day as I was walking along Lakefront trail. Would you like me to send it back?

Seth nudged me when I showed them to him, that half-grin making his eyes dance.

“See?” he said. “God took care of it for you.”

I half-choked, half-laughed as I looked back at him.

Because yes, I knew that God was in control.
His loving grace had driven out my fear even before I knew that the cards had been found.
So this, I thought, is what it is like to taste freedom. 

Jesus Lives Here

“I’ve only seen you this excited one other time,” he said, eyes softening with second-hand joy.

My already oversized smile widened still more.

“That was a good day,” I replied as I leaned into his shoulder.

It was then that we spotted her. I told myself walk, don’t run as we drew closer and suddenly we were laughing and holding each other like reunited family.

There is something about a hug that is so tight it almost hurts. Something about a person willing to pull you right up close and hold you there – something that feels like being loved. Belonging. Home.

Over a weekend of time, she pulled me in tight using every love language:
Time – hours of conversation
Physical touch – hugs every day
Gifts – a nightstand overflowing with chocolate and a dinner date as couples
Acts of service – she insisted I could not help her with anything and kept me out of the kitchen
Words of affirmation – encouragement without limits and also faithful conviction/spurring me on to good works

I came feeling tired and I left feeling full.
This is what it means to have a living testimony.
I watched my husband find meaningful conversation with her husband, men with humble hearts, strong convictions, and deep joy.
I felt my heart skip a beat as I watched him win over their youngest daughter – both of them sitting on the floor playing, eyes dancing.

Technically, our time with them was nothing out of the ordinary. We didn’t do anything bucket-list worthy.
But it was an extraordinary time because we found soul-connection with people in love in love with Jesus.
Their joy was infectious. Their words built up. Their hospitality said: you belong here.

I am home now, working on finding ways to take this renewed joy and make it into my own living testimony.
I want those who stumble into my life tired to come away knowing there is joy for you wherever life takes you. 
I want those who enter my home to know you belong here.
And most of all, I want those I come into contact with to know Jesus lives here 

Permanent Holes

I’ve been waiting to feel whole for years now.

Life has a way of throwing unanticipated punches and for every moment of joyous epiphany, there are manifold moments of intense shadow. I have witnessed this truth: the best of us are usually the most broken of us – ones who have lost much, given much, learned much, and have therefore grown much.

But the breaking of us is soul agony.

Our growth often means holes cut deep and those holes never do mend.

The holes in your life are permanent. You have to grow around them, like tree roots around concrete; you mold yourself through the gaps. {P. Hawkins}

This is a truth no one tells you: time does not heal hurt – it just makes it hurt less.

For years, I waited to overcome the holes left in me, thinking that moving forwards, loving fiercely, and growing stronger would be the balm that would cover my wounds and make me forget.

But I have seen that forgetting often leads to complacency. With no reminder of pains felt, compassion does not flow as freely.
And so, in an unlikely mercy: our holes never do mend.

Instead, we grow around them, through them. By way of our gaps and scars, we are molded into the image of The Broken One whose scars, borne for us and because of us, will never heal.

In an unlikely paradox, it is our brokenness that helps us lead the fullest life – one of surrender and strength, one in which we learn how to give from places of profound emptiness.

And so, I no longer wait to feel whole.
I am learning not to cringe at the sight of my scars.

Instead, as I wait for the day in which I will be made fully new, I am slowly embracing the broken way and hoping that my shadows might prove to be the means for helping others find the Light.

The Unexpected

Nothing went as expected.

Nothing.

He called me at four – right when he was supposed to be approaching home. He’d been in an accident, he said. He accidentally rear-ended someone, he said. The police were there. The poor couple he had rear-ended were Hispanic and it was a struggle to do the necessary exchange of information as a result.

The tow truck wasn’t going to get there for two hours. Our plans for the night in shambles, we both tried to pretend we weren’t concerned for the sake of the person on the other side of the phone.
An attempt at normalcy.

But then! A divine kindness – a tow truck was able to come within the space of twenty minutes. Arriving at the mechanic’s shop to pick him up, I stepped out and clutched him tight, making sure that the first words to cross my lips were: I love you.

You don’t always get another chance to say those words, to hold people close.

He smiled faintly.
As he called insurance and filed a claim, we drove to our polling place.

It’s cold out.
I hadn’t noticed at the mechanic’s shop, but the temperature is bleak.

There’s a line. A long line. And no one is smiling.
I hadn’t known there would be such a line. I would have brought a coat. I hadn’t known everyone would look so grim. The man in front of me never spoke a word in the forty minutes we stood there. I tried not to notice.

We voted.
We went to see a movie while we waited for the election results.
Dr. Strange.
The plot wasn’t what I was expecting.  The story left me unsettled.
For a Marvel movie, that was, indeed, strange.

Trump was winning. I hadn’t expected that.  That wasn’t supposed to happen.
I felt anxious in spite of myself.
And then he won. He really did.
I hadn’t expected that.

I hadn’t expected to ever be afraid of my own president.
To disagree, yes. To be afraid, no.
But this man talks about sexual assault as if it was funny and then excuses it as locker room talk.
He mocks women. He mocks the disabled. He mocks minorities. He mocks hurting people.

In the midst of the disquiet in my soul, a new feeling emerges – a calming Presence.
No words are spoken to my heart, there is just the Presence which reminds me silently that though men plot their ways, Someone Else directs their steps.

That is not to say that this is all going to “be ok” like everyone online is trying to convince themselves is true.

It’s not true. This isn’t ok.

But it’s not the end. We have work to do. More fights to fight.

I have courage, suddenly.

And that is most gloriously unexpected.

The Stifled Heart

img_20160926_133627552I use that mug every morning, at the start of every day, trying to drink it in: love.

Everywhere one turns now, there’s a scarcity of love.

Hatred consumes our culture like a ravenous beast; regardless of whether the issue under discussion is politics or racism or sexuality or religion, spite saturates the air we breathe.

How can a heart not be stifled in the midst of this?

Parents are shamed and blamed on the internet for “negligence” in the midst of their crushing loss.
Victims of rape are shamed for “not keeping their knees together”.
Men are shamed for not being “man enough” and women are shamed for what they do or don’t wear and where/how they breastfeed their children.

People can’t seemingly do or say anything without a response of hatred and shame.

What have we become?

When did we exchange the knowledge of our broken, bleeding humanity for rags of self-righteousness? When did we forget that we need each other and begin to take cruel delight in ripping one another to shreds? When did we exchange compassion for shame and empathy for anger?

This country, this world, is aching for it, yearning for it: love.

The broken cisterns of this age are proving dry and radically incapable of meeting the needs of broken, thirsty people.

Love is patient, love is kind… love does not seek its own, it is not provoked… love does not rejoice in unrighteousness but rejoices with the truth. {1 Cor. 13:4-6}

The only thing strong enough to free us from hate is the truth in love.
Truth says that all humanity is fallen and broken from sin and that we are no better than anyone else because, “There, but for the grace of God, go I”.

Truth says that your political candidate is fallen and so is mine and thus freedom cannot be found in the state but in submitting the state to the King of Kings.

Truth says that we are not defined by the color of our skin but by the content of our character – that we are not defined by our past, our sexuality, or our ethnicity but by the God who created all of us in His own image.

Truth says that men and women are equal in the eyes of God and yet are beautifully distinct in their physical and emotional abilities, talents, and callings.

This is truth – to live by these standards is to pursue love.
And love is the only thing strong enough to defeat anger, cruelty, and hatred.

The heart latches onto this and breathes deep, drinking it in: love.

Midsummer’s Storm

stormHe rose, startled, off the couch and moved towards the front entryway.

“I thought I heard creaking, someone trying to get in,” he said as he reached the top of the stairs and looked out.

There was silence a moment and then, “It’s not a person trying to get in. It’s the wind.”

I rise and move towards him. We both look out.

Unbeknownst to us, as we were watching a movie, a storm had rolled in and it was strong.

Within minutes, the rain began beating against the windows in sheets, sounding like hail. Lightning forked and twisted, then came down in sheets of light followed by claps of thunder.

He lays the beams of His upper chambers in the waters; He makes the clouds His chariot; He walks upon the wings of the wind. {Psalm 104:3}

The wind.

The wind was what struck us with awe. Trees were bent at their waists, clawing at the air, performing desperate undulations. Leaves and pieces of random garbage lifted a foot above the ground and rotated in erratic semi-circles before falling back to the earth.

The LORD is slow to anger and great in power… in whirlwind and storm is His way, and clouds are the dust beneath His feet. {Nahum 1:3}

“The neighbor’s tree is down,” he says, pointing.

At first it seems as if perhaps only a branch has fallen, but when the lightning returns, it’s clear that the entire tree has broken under the weight of straight-line wind power and is now blocking a portion of the road.

The earth is upheaved by His presence, the world and all the inhabitants in it. Who can stand before His indignation? {Nahum 1:5-6}

“That’s the same size as our tree.”
He says it calmly, but we both hear the unspoken implications.

In quiet, we wait out the storm, marveling.
In the morning, besides some garbage in the lawn, we remain untouched.
The trees are upright and swaying gently, shaking droplets from their rain-soaked limbs.

It is a beautiful day.

The LORD is good, a stronghold in the day of trouble, and He knows those who take refuge in Him. {Nahum 1:7}

Different and Dependent

body_worlds_i_the_cycle_of_life0911_1
I wrap the headband around my forehead and try to undress my mind, pulling it free from the confines of its seemingly never-ending activity.

He is seated across from me, smiling his grin of confidence – he is sure he will win.

We are at the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago and there’s an interactive display where two people sit across the table from one another, place headbands around their foreheads, and try to utterly relax their brains. The person who relaxes most causes a small ball to roll forwards along a path toward their opponent’s side of the table.

We begin.

He closes his eyes and I look at the screen measuring brain activity. His brain waves drop to a slow, gently waving line of relaxation, similar to sleep.

I look at my own. Even in my relaxed state, the lines of brain activity have only dropped a small percentage and look more like a seismograph in the midst of tracking an earthquake than a gently waving line.

I close my eyes, but even still, no luck. The ball rolls to my side of the table in a matter of seconds.

We rise.

He laughs and steps toward me, wrapping his arm around my waist.
“Told you that you think too much,” he teases and I nod ruefully.

But it isn’t just me. I stand and watch others come and play the game. Every time a woman competes against a man, the man always wins. The ability to fully relax and let the mind drift free from the confines of continual thought is not a gift women seem to possess in any great quantity.

We walk.

We are in the section of the museum devoted to the human body and skeletal frames, facial expression diagrams, and variations of the food pyramid line the walls.

Everywhere I look, the differences between male and female bodies are evident.

The internal structure, the chemical make-up, the nutritional needs, the ability to detect variances in facial expressions – these are all different in men vs. women.

Hand in hand, we make our way out to the main foyer.
“What is the plan?” he asks me, the more detailed and organized of the two of us.

I smile.

It is not good for man to be alone, I will make him a helper… {Genesis 2:18}

Our differences make us dependent on one another. In our case, I lean on him for physical and emotional strength and he leans on me to remember details and plan things like vacations, gifts, budgets, and our schedules.

Together, we lean on Christ and find in Him freedom from the confines of our imperfections through grace, a gift which He possesses in great quantity.

We are blessed.