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.

Lakeside Evening

sailboat1

The newly paved road with its dark black top and bright yellow lines blazed an orderly trail through the sea of green grass and the encroaching line of trees.

We followed the road to the crest of a hill and spotted the lake.  Twilight is kind to most all it touches and in its glow, the water reflected all shades of blue.

We unfurled our blanket on a gentle slope and angled ourselves to catch the breeze and to watch the sailboats glide back and forth, silently carving out trails of their own and leaving behind burgeoning ripples.

Children played along the edge of the water, gathering stones and throwing them in again and again, joyously pleased at the sound of each splash.

There is an invisible and yet tangibly felt connection between people and nature.
An inner quieting and reorientation can be found beside a lake or in the mountains or driving through the country in a way that cannot be found in an office or even in one’s own house.

Creation possesses a voice that calls, beckons, and teaches inaudibly. It etches thoughts, questions, and clarity on the hearts of those who listen.

We linger long and the sunset fades as the night takes command of the sky. His arms are wrapped around my shoulders; my head is propped against the crook of his neck.

Someone you can talk to and share silence with comfortably is a rare breed. {Sonya Teclai}

Anyone who would read my journal of daily gratitudes would discover that I respect the rarity that is the man I married. His name, his daily acts of kindness – they are recounted again and again because I am continually startled awake to joy because of who he is.

Only a faint glow of light on the distant horizon remains as we pack up our things.

“We should come back again soon,” he tells me.

I nod.

“We will,” I say.