Aqualand

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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 RingsHarry 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:

gradbišče_hidroelektrarne_ožbalt_1958,_potapljač

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:

extramural activity
© 2017 Extramural Activity 

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.

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Breathing Gas

deep sea divver
Photo Credit

Strengthen in me contentment,
that fragile, tenuous
umbilical cord
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,
tautening,
and snapping
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.

Dandelion Humility

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I meet the dandelions at their level.

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Feeding Friendship

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These are my friends, Joe and Matthew, on a hike up Cave Hill, N. Ireland.

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 concept is, 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.

We were made to be friends, you and I.

We are made to be friends, you and I, and Jesus.

 

 

Homesick

cotton against cloud

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,
one
after
another,
like…thought-bubbles beyond the tree’s round top.

As though
the tree is thinking into the endless blue
of its imagination.

Or,
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.

Hunger

under the greenwood tree

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
regenerating
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,
every syllable.
Meet me
where the practice of consonants,
curling the tongue to the palate
and the pucker of lips to produce vowels,
ceases
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.

Hunger.
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
are good.

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.
Teach me
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
of hunger.

 

 

 

 

What Trees Tell Me of Secret-Keeping

 

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The best part of spring, particularly after such a long winter, is the sudden opening of buds where you weren’t paying attention.

There’s this time lag, between the snow melting, and the little green nubs appearing on the trees, and the flowering of the blooms, that I swear happens overnight. Literally, in the night, when I’m sleeping and won’t see it happen.

Trees must be good secret-keepers, I think.

You wake up one morning and step outside the door, and there’s a bright pink tree waiting beside the porch. Ta-da! Those crabapple trees are like little girls in pink tutus, showing off for their father.

And every spring, I am surprised. (Just the other day I went for a walk with Mom and Dad, and we had to stop and sniff every crabby bloom, exclaiming and taking pictures, as if they were as foreign as a Japanese cherry blossom.)

I think the surprise lies in the lack of attention. I’m not hanging around, noting the growth of the buds every morning so that I’ll be ready when they flower. And if I were, I wonder if the flowers would be as lovely…

God grows things in me in a similar way. Those things I would consider myself paying attention to. But there’s always a deeper, more subtle thing he is cultivating, which happens during the night (Ps. 16:7) and you discover when you wake up one morning, finding you have bloomed.

I’m anticipating this summer to be a long, slow season of re-fathering.
Of stripping back the honesty of myself to levels of exposure that feel like they could kill me.
A reset of the last twenty years.
A time to lay foundations of faithstone that God will teach me himself and show me myself in him, the only true identity.
A consecrated time to establish our thing. (My pastor, speaking about having secrets with God, said of his daughter, “She and I have a thing, and we both know it. A thing no one else gets. God wants to have a thing with each of his kids.”)

Probably half of those things happen while I sleep. There’s a lag time between God inviting you into a new space, and showing you the fruit of that obedience. A most-admired speaker said, “God waits a long time to move suddenly.”

You walk out the door of your heart one day, and there’s a bright pink tree bowing in the breeze.

God is teaching me to be a good secret-keeper. Trustworthy of his heart’s secrets. He’s teaching me to be his little daughter in a pink tutu, lost in her Papa’s delight, in her own beauty, in the assurance of her place in his heart.

This morning when I woke up, I caught the fragrance of a new bloom. And after such a long lag of winter wandering, it was the most glorious, foreign flower.

Choosing Poverty

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Photo Credit: Elias

Driving home yesterday, I passed a homeless begging man in his wheelchair, just as another man passed him on foot, paused, turned back, and began to pick the pockets on the backpack hanging from the chair’s handles.

“HEY!” I shouted from the inside of my car, and thought wildly, as the swell of traffic carried me forward, of trying to pull over to stop the man.

I seethed at the injustice, doubting whether anyone else on the street and noticed and would intervene.

On Glenwood, beyond Lee’s Liquor Lounge, a little community of homeless people always congregated beneath the building’s awning. I tried to catch glimpses of their faces, wondering what their stories were.

The righteous anger against one poor man stealing from another poor man wrestled with a genuine desire to help and a creeping guilt of my complacency.

I thought, acts of injustice happen all over the city every minute–how could I stop every one?

And then, opportunities for goodness are on every corner of the city–how could I avert my eyes at a red light?

Followed by, but if I see injustice and it is in my power to do something, I should!

Leading to, I cannot give to every homeless person in Minneapolis without becoming a slave myself.

Eventually I gave my head a little shake to dislodge all thoughts and make room for something helpful from the Spirit.

The reality is, he said immediately, many people don’t have enough.

Enough cash, enough clothing. Enough true friends. Enough hope, enough joy. Enough protection, provision, purpose.

Enough love, enough life.

And I, a daughter of God, have everything.

My car sailed down Glenwood, under the 94 bridge, and I grasped in my spirit the reality of what I have in Jesus, the breadth-and-length-and-height-and-depth of wealth, times the Trinity.

I felt his recognition of my heart to do justice, to favor mercy over judgment, to see myself and others as what he speaks over us, nothing more, nothing less.

I felt his assurance that he would tell me when to move and when to stay, when to speak and when to be silent, when to give, when to inquire, when to simply smile.

You can have everything, I found myself telling him. Because I have enough, you can have everything. I want to live from your heart of abundance.

And I knew, as I said it, that he would require everything of me–already has been stretching me in my resources–in a way that wouldn’t feel pleasant to my fears and dreams and plans, but would be explosive for my faith and sweet in its reward with Jesus.

You cannot take a city by isolated, random acts of kindness, but you can take a city by a lifestyle of exhaling the goodness of God’s heart, for where abundance is, people tend to flock. We are made to receive his abundance with a magnetism that cannot deny his attraction, any more than he can deny his nature to give.

And that, in turn, causes us to give away what we’ve received.

Fulfilled are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of God. 

It’s the only cycle of poverty worth getting caught in.

 

Breaking Limbs and Birdsong

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Photo Credit: Melissa Corvec

Last January, God showed me as a tree:

A towering shade tree, green leaves unfurled, branches hanging low.

I had picked the soil I thought I would flourish in, but he supplanted me to an open pasture and put down immovable roots beside a stream.

Here, birds are beginning to flock to my branches for refuge.

Chickadee. She lowers her core temperature to thrive in cold environments, congregating with those of her kind.

She stores her seeds and berries in a cache and calls, chickadee-dee-dee, to the other birds to feed them.

She is not shy to approach a human and eat out of his hands.

Chickadee, he called me. You eat your portion out of my hands and show the other birds where to get bread.

God showed me to a friend as a tree, but this time, “there is a limb growing out of you sideways.”

The limb is a necessary branch to the structure of the tree. It stems from my beliefs about God’s goodness. Rather, it stems from my unbelief about God’s goodness, because it’s growing out sideways.

It’s growing out sideways in the life I think I want to live–my own methods, my own definitions of what is good. I have to send all my nutrients to keep the limb alive, because the Gardener is not going to cultivate a dying branch.

The rest of my tree is suffering because of it. My leaves are wilting and thinning, my branches no longer strong enough to support the nesting birds.

“He wants to prune back, or break off, the limb,” she says, and I’m imagining him grafting the limb into the structure of the tree where it will receive the nutrients of the earth instead of my own effort.

I feel the breaking-off like the snapping of a bone. I feel the grafting of the limb like the resetting of a bone, followed by the slow, slung process of reforming.

If the tree is the integrity of my heart–that secret place where I join the honesty of myself with God–then I have come home where I was walking out on a limb.

excerpt from a yellow Legal pad
February 15, 2017

Unless a grain falls to the ground and dies, it cannot bear fruit, and your death among the snows of winter buried a seed that has grown into a mighty tree. 

He supplanted you in your crystallized desire, broke you off like a dry branch and grafted you back in, to a tree planted by streams of water, for his namesake, for your joy.

Dance, oh feet, upon the muddy pasture! The ground is plowed and ready for planting. Participate in the sowing, so you may reap a harvest.

This morning I woke to the beckoning of a chickadee in the tree outside my house.

It reminded me of the word God whispered to me, the same January morning he showed me my tree: mercy like birdsong.

The Life I Think I Want to Live

the_bridge_of_aspiration_by_kharashov-d33599b

Photo Credit: Stewart Hardy

There’s a construct in my heart.

It’s a spiral staircase, with pristine hardwood and gleaming banisters.

Nailed into the floor of Reality, it coils through Dreams, beyond Aspirations, into tendrils of Glory like tufts of burnt-edge cloud.

It has a name: The Life I Think I Want to Live.

In my heart, it looks like driving through Wyoming as dawn breaks, the sun an egg yolk broken all over a horizon of tabletops mountains.

This is the glory, God says, this is the Golden Shore, referring to the place of rest and satisfaction he promised me last April.

In my head, it looks like living on the road, blowing with the Spirit to ordained places and people who need rescue. It looks like heroism, like rescue, like broken hearts bound and shackled feet set free.

It looks like living in a house with perpetually-open doors–a haven of rest for young women in transit–an anointed hub in the middle of a city, with a brother house for young men growing into leadership. Between the two, a growing community of Jesus-lovers with faces set toward the four winds.

It looks like writing only the things I love to write, and making enough of an income to stay on mission and fuel my caffeine addiction.

It looks like intimacy with the man I love that is deeper and more fiery than the core of the earth, a rich soil for planting seeds with roots stronger than weeds, a wide open space with recyclable potential for an Eden.

In my head, it looks like perfection.

Which is why it is a construct. Everything in reality is a little more lopsided than that, and there is nothing man-made that isn’t structurally unsound.

Daily, little things occur that trigger frustration because life reveals a smudge on the banister, a crack in the wood, a dissimilarity in the grain.

In reality, I am back to work scraping hardened soup from a pan with a butterknife.

In reality, the dream house has a clogged sink and I don’t know how to use the drain snake.

In reality, freelancing looks like writing what is available at a rate that someone else decides, on a deadline.

In reality, intimacy is the painful process of locating my constructs and yielding to Jesus deconstructing them–generally in a backward, measureless, structureless way–so I can love the man he has given me with the purity of self-sacrifice.

In reality, I am walking the length of the Stone Arch bridge after dark–smoking, because I can’t seem to approach my own father without some kind of guard–and wrestling with his Spirit because I told him what I want when he asked, and now he’s telling me I only want the version in my head.

Which, apparently, is not his reality. And his reality is the only one that offers life.

I am confronted with this reality: I can’t have both the life I think I want to live and the life God offers.

But I don’t know how to abandon my staircase.