For a persuasive moment, I see the evening unfold before my eyes:
Me in sweats, an old beanie.
A movie on Netflix, likely a rom-com,
a glass of wine,
and a microwaved Lean Cuisine, still in its plastic tray.
The vision jams in my mind’s eye and begins skipping on replay, mocking my Friday night, Saturday night, every night for the rest of my life;
and, really, it’s the sequence from every rom-com ever made, showing the same scene over a time lapse, only with a different sweater, a different lounging position, and a mound of take-out cartons piling up.
I suppose it’s all those rom-coms that’ve stuck the scene in my head in the first place.
Still, there’s an appeal in it.
Netflix has got some great originals…and French wine is available at Top Valu for under ten bucks.
As I move toward it in my heart, with victimized resignation, my spirit does a backwards somersault, as if trying to create reverse momentum. Why would you choose that?
Obviously I have no comeback that would satisfy my honest places. Excuses are for the parts of us that have already departed from the truth, and the Spirit only deals in truth.
It’s aggravating in this moment, but truth is the most satisfying channel of life right now, aggravating because it’s also quite narrow in its permission. I’d give anything to be working an evening shift, or unpacking boxes in a new apartment, or even to have a book I’m excited to read (taking suggestions, by the way.)
Truth, by its nature, is sufficient, however. Even however limiting it may feel. You can spend many an evening with nothing to do, no one to do it with, and apparent little to look forward to, and still be satisfied with only the truth.
The truth of who Jesus is for you, and who you are to him.
The truth is that a lifelong addiction to romantic comedy is not my destiny–pardon my French. (Are we confessing the truth? Because I’m drinking French wine as I write this. Don’t worry, I’m not under its influence. I ate the Lean Cuisine earlier, and it was full of rice.)
Why am I taking up a victimized heart posture as if that’s all I amount to? Even for a single evening, I don’t have to resign myself to less than who I am created to be.
Truth is like your friend, the pizza-delivery guy, who always arrives in the last fainting moments of craving, with permission to be honest like an extra side of cheesy bread.
(Tip that guy, because no one delivers like the Holy Spirit.)
Honesty ushers in grace, and grace is the channel to receive love–a need of which you buffered a rom-com in the first place.
Take whatever it is you do on an aimless evening and ask yourself: why do I do this?
And then ask yourself, is it consistent with the truth in me?
The truth is, I’m supposed to be on the wrestling mat of my soul, where Holy Spirit wants to pin me.
Instead I’m bobbing-and-weaving around him, avoiding some painful truth–’cause let’s be honest, truth is also the scalding cheese on top of the pizza that blisters the roof of your mouth for a week.
…I’m boxing the air, feigning a warmup, because I know I’m supposed to be wrestling him, I’ve just left the honest place for Excusez-moi, there’s just one thing I need to do first…
My spirit knows it, it’s telling me so. It’s practically doing gymnastics in my stomach, and I think drinking wine is the solution to decompress??
It’s called a holy unrest, people.
It’s meant to agitate, to get you to pay attention to the fact that your soul is not free. Your freedom is the best tip you could give Holy Spirit.
During these aimless evenings, whether it’s momentary or a movie-marathon, slow down enough to confess the truth: you are made for more than what you’d choose for yourself.
Then ask Jesus, what exchange would you make?
I bet you every evening of the rest of my life he’ll tell you this truth: I’ll give you my life for yours.
in the depths
of the winepress,
skin-split and oozing,
the best of the season’s fruit.
Pour me out
as a free-will offering,
a sacrifice of faith.
a wild olive vine,
sprung from flinty soil,
grafted into growth
I had nothing to do with.
the mill is a stone rolled,
both to crush
and to resurrect.
This oil press,
Pour me out
like the jar of the widow.
your covenant of peace poured
poured back on you.
Broken seal, beheaded spout,
of a husband,
of all the loves I have kept
in my Samaria.
Pour me out
of your desire,
of your broken-rib-
a free-will offering of love.
Maybe it all started when I chose underwater-breathing as my superpower.
You see, throughout my childhood, I loved the idea of magic. The Chronicles of Narnia, The Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter.
I reenacted the stories, and wrote my own, full of magical weapons, secret lands, and girl-heroes.
When I reached adolescence, romance was the magic. I loved chick-flicks like Serendipity and You’ve Got Mail, stories of chance meetings and stars aligning, and belief making impossibilities normal.
But when I met God a number of years ago, it became a problem.
Here was an all-powerful being, who, I finally started to believe, loved me unconditionally, with all the magical possibilities of my romantically-saturated heart at his disposal. Because I didn’t yet know him, I innocently assigned portents for the way he worked. He’s a God of signs and wonders, after all.
You (might) know, stuff like seeing “signs” in the letters on a license plate or searching for meaning in nature. The eagle became a sign of fulfilled promise, the color fuschia a representation of spiritual condition, my extra heartbeat a harbinger of holding people’s stories…
I never could prove for certain that it was God, though, so eventually I gave it up. Along the line, I realized I had to believe God at his word, not at the demonstration of his powerful arm.
I had to trust that he loved me when he said, “I love you,” instead of inserting him into the ways I wanted to feel loved.
Nevertheless…I still maintain that belief in signs is evidence of our intrinsic desire to be intimately known.
Fast-forward three or four years to summer 2017.
While I was soaking in prayer and worship one day, I saw in my spirit an image of an aquaman suit. Not the superhero, the diving suit, the shoulders and helmet-head, mostly. Something like this:
I had no idea what it meant, but I filed it away.
Six months later, in Ireland, I saw this colorful mural painted on a wall in Belfast:
I still didn’t know what it meant, but I laughed.
Six months after that, I saw (belatedly) DC’s Justice League, in which the superhero Aquaman appears as a side-character.
I laughed a second time.
Another six months, bumping into last week, when I saw the Aquaman movie in theaters, thoroughly appreciating the underwater fantasy world and story of Atlantis.
It wasn’t the ethereal setting or snarky script or Aquaman’s body that captivated me, however. The magic happened for me at the three-quarter mark, when the protagonists pursue Neptune’s Trident to the Sahara Desert, of all places.
An aerial camera provides a sweeping view of the ocean rolling onto the shore of the Sahara Desert, where I had been myself not two weeks before.
My shout of laughter from the front of the theater turned to silent tears.
In an instant I was transported to the pink-orange sand of the dunes, the scorch of the sun, the trickle of sweat down my back. I smelled fish, and felt the rush of icy water and broken shells, and heard the flap of tent sides.
I remembered standing in the swell of foamy green sea on the edge of the African continent, with the dunes at my back, and hearing the voice of God promising to carry me out of the longest, darkest season of my life.
Now here I was, sitting in an American theater, watching the last two years roll before my eyes like an old movie reel, the faithful love of God at my back, bookmarked by the image of an aquasuit.
Tell me he isn’t a God of his word, and a God of signs and wonders.
Strengthen in me contentment,
that fragile, tenuous
connecting my stomach to your womb.
Three strands of heart, spirit, soul
wrapped ’round each other
like a double helix of DNA,
the double of your make-up,
Father, Son, and Spirit.
Helium, oxygen, nitrogen,
a breathing gas to dive
into the depths of my gestation,
to inhale through the tube
of your endless breath,
the secret to being content in all situations.
My confinement in you
is a smallamountofspace
for a l o n g a m o u n t o f t i m e,
and mankind has not begun
to understand what lies in the depths
of the ocean.
Does an infant know anything but need?
Anything except skin against skin
and the instinct to feed?
Even my desire to be content in you
is given by you,
like the nutrients of a mother’s body
is fed through the cord to whet
the appetite for a life outside the womb.
Is there an ache inside your stomach
like the stretching,
of a heartstring
after the cord is cut
and my wean is complete
and the infant can toddle off
to find contentment elsewhere?
What risk you take in Fathering
this double of your double helixes!
All those late nights knitting
the skin and freckles of my frame,
knowing what I need
and knowing I will forget,
but choosing to release me
so I can choose to come back.
In a way, contentment
is your tether to me.
Your contentment in this agitated,
kick-in-the-ribs, squalling child draws me into
contentment of you,
’til I’m subdued by the strength
of a fathomless threefold cord.
On my stomach in the backyard, I notice the grass needs to be mowed–it’s getting on four or five inches tall. The bright yellow weeds poke their heads out, leaning toward the sun like she’s their mother, like that’s where they get the family resemblance.
Dandelions are an emblem of humility, I decide. They don’t think more of themselves than they truly are (spoiler alert: they’re a weed) but neither do they think less of themselves than they rightfully deserve. Look at the way they populate without apology, like the lawn is their Eden and the sun has just commanded them be-fruitful-and-multiply.
As a result, they’re the most unpretentious floret around, sprinkling the landscape with a quiet happiness, bowing left and right to the source of their life.
My proverbial hat to you, Dandelion the Humble. Out of curiosity, I look up the definition of “bow.” Merriam and Webster say it is “to cease from competition or resistance” and “to incline [the head] especially in respect or submission.”
The dandelions make me think of competing gladiators, those stubborn, resilient weeds of the Roman Empire. One bested warrior sinks to his knees before his opponent, bowing his head to expose the back of his neck, the fragile vertebrae and fibrous nerves that will shatter and split under the incising of a steel blade.
Or civilians, taken into captivity by an invading army, bowing to the General, entrusting their lives to him–their faith that, in ceasing resistance and submitting to vulnerability, they will be shown mercy.
∴ ∴ ∴
I think about mowing the backyard, to earn my keep, but then I would decapitate the dandelions. Besides, Mom and Dad aren’t making me earn my keep. I won’t have any dues until August, because I’m still paying rent at a house in the city.
I moved back home with three months to go because I need something from my dad that I can get nowhere else–a voice. A voice telling me who I am, what I’m worth. It’s also a season of refathering with God, the ultimate voice, which actually looks like silence, stillness, and afternoons in the sunshine watching dandelions grow.
It’s a season to observe humility. Learning the cadence of brokenness, openness, and receptivity like seeds of a dandelion that loosen with the slightest breeze, catching in the sunbaked earth, sprouting offspring. Learning who you are and where you come from, so your life will carryover the impact of one who is loved.
I bow to the dandelion, student of humility.
∴ ∴ ∴
One of the things God did voice to me was his promise to take care of me. Among the major transitions of the spring was my decision to write full-time. I stopped job-hunting, come what may, and started writing. And waiting.
And waiting some more.
And now I am stressing about how to pay rent at a house I’m living in. Bow to the inevitable penury of the life of a struggling writer!
Until I come out here, to these fields of green and gold, and hear the long-standing promise of a Teacher of humility: Look at the flowers, how they grow…they do not toil or spin, yet I promise you, not even King Solomon dressed as gloriously. If your Father so clothes the grass, alive today and fading tomorrow, how much more will he clothe you, you of little faith!*
Faith. The act of bowing before your lord, exposing the vulnerable places of your life, and trusting that you will receive mercy.
Humility. To see yourself as you truly are, nothing more and nothing less, as he dictates. And he says I am at least a higher priority than the dandelions…
Voice. To confess who you are, to speak it aloud. To know your worth and declare it. (Isn’t it the first thing they teach you in a writing class? “Find your voice. No one else can write like you.”) And how do you learn his voice–the ultimate authority on words–except to be silent and listen, to hear from the time you are a seedling that. you. matter.?
And how do you cultivate your inner voice except to bow to his, stopping your silly resistance to needing validation, submitting to the humility of receiving help, and demonstrating faith that people will hold your vulnerability with mercy.
Oh, to meet the Lord on his level! To be lifted out of the gravitational pull of worry and striving and self-sufficiency, to be like a dandelion of the field, casting her crowns.
Here today, gone tomorrow, I am a seedling on the wind.
But this fragile, soon-forgotten life is re-sowing seed of a simple, bowing promise: that love will take care of you, and never let you go.
Last autumn, Jesus told me to open up my heart, that he wanted to teach me friendship.
Nine months later, I’ve barely begun to understand what the conceptis, nevermind the actually being of a friend.
All I know is, I have to learn his friendship toward me before I can be a friend to anyone.
“Do you love me?” Jesus asked his friend for the third time.
“You know I love you,” Peter answered, injured that his master kept pressing the question.
“Then feed my sheep.”
What was Peter internalizing after that exchange, after Jesus promises him a painful remainder of his life, and commands him to follow anyway?
I wonder if Peter internalized the same things I’m realizing about friendship.
Jesus isn’t being manipulative–if you love me, then you will…x, y, and z. He isn’t like men, with muddled motive and masked insecurity. He isn’t bossy.
Didn’t he say to his disciples before his crucifixion, “No longer do I call you servants, for the servant doesn’t know what his master is doing, but I call you friends”?
Jesus was giving Peter another chance, based on what he knew about his friend. Peter’s heart had changed since the resurrection. His faith was ripe, his fear of men eradicated.
For the three times he had denied knowing Jesus before men, Jesus gave him three times to declare his love in a newly-resurrected heart.
I feel Peter’s heartbreak. I know what it is like to look Jesus in the face and wish I had never denied him, to try to convey the depth of a new commitment because of the grace he showed.
The funny thing is, Jesus knows even better than I do. No one has explored the depth of my loyalty more than he, and no one is excited for me to discover it myself more than he. He knows how compelling and far-reaching his grace is.
He knew the life Peter would live and the death Peter would die, an upside-down crucifixion. He lets Peter–the man who once, rather, three times, denied him–in on the secrets things is doing. He calls him friend.
And tells him to feed his sheep.
Why? Why doesn’t he respond to Peter’s emphatic I-love-yous with “I love you, too”?That’s what friends usually do, isn’t it?
Nope. Feed my sheep. Not as in, Take-care-of-my-pets-while-I’m-on-vacation-in-heaven, but as in, Give-yourself, broken-body-poured-out-blood-for-the-life-of-the-world.
The bread I give for the life of the world is my flesh, Jesus preaches in his most offensive sermon ever (John 21).
Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. Bread of heaven, broken and given for us on the cross. You are my friends, if you do what I command. Feed his sheep. Give the broken, redeemed bits of my flesh for the life of a friend, because he did the same for me.
And because I love him now.
For each time I have disowned and rejected him, I have experienced an equal grace to instead love him with the love he gives.
Only from that place can I learn to offer his broken-body friendship to those who are starving.
And only from that place can I receive the friendship I so desperately crave. I just wanna eat you up, so to speak…. Because you will nourish me, help me grow, mature, and change into the glorious woman of Christ’s making.
Because we are made for fellowship, the breaking and partaking of bread. We are meant to partake of one another’s brokenness in order to taste the sweetness of Jesus’ perfect wholeness.
Lying under a tree’s canopy,
evening sunlight winking through its collage of leaves,
I see summer cotton f l o a t i n
to the ground.
Three clouds drift away,
like…thought-bubbles beyond the tree’s round top.
the tree is thinking into the endless blue
of its imagination.
as if the boughs forgot to cover their mouths
before they coughed a cloud of cotton tufts into the atmosphere,
reversing the osmosis
of the crud of my allergic reaction to this broken earth
with its promise of transcendence.
I am homesick
for higher places, beyond these blue spaces,
where thought-bubbles are transportation
to my beloved,
and every white seed is a hot air-balloon ride
into his throne room.
Teach me your language.
The child in me, wide-eyed Wonder,
is your mimicry.
My spirit is in early development
but in its prime for teachability.
How do I speak the language of heaven?
Start with taste.
I know all ten-thousand hairs
on your tongue.
Every nerve ending
every ten days
so you can renew your taste
and see that I am good.
Your spirit has a tongue–or didn’t you know?
When you stitched this skin together
in the womb,
you used words, not thread.
The language of heaven is encoded
in my DNA.
Teach me your tongue.
Every lilt and swell,
where the practice of consonants,
curling the tongue to the palate
and the pucker of lips to produce vowels,
and fluency begins.
There is a time to sew
and a time to rip out the seams
and start over.
Start with breath.
Wind that stirred life from death.
There is a time coming
when all dust will return to the earth
and the spirit of man to God who gave it.
You cannot breathe apart from me,
so you cannot speak apart from me.
The language you teach me?
There is a pang in my belly
eating out all other desire,
a hunger that grows
like the fanning of flames.
I am empty,
my soul cries,
Daddy, feed me!
Fill me with your Spirit-wind
and I will taste and see that you
Why do you work for that
which does not satisfy?
I am the bread of life.
Come to me,
eat and live forever.
The bread that I give for your life
is my body,
and whoever feeds on me, abides in me.
Apart from me, you can do nothing,
not even hunger.
I am depending on you.
Every breath, every pang.
the language of heaven:
the splatter of blood poured out,
the crack of breaking bone,
you were emptied.
The gush of water overflowing,
the whoosh of wind descending,
I am filled
only to find
my taste buds have reflowered,
and I am learning the fluency