The Pizza Guy’s Here

marie-antoinette
© Columbia Pictures 2006

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.

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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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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.

What Trees Tell Me of Secret-Keeping

 

crabapple

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.