You will lead me by the right road…

I spent most of today outside enjoying the sunshine while it’s still here. Unfortunately, though I struggle to admit it aloud, I know that the “s-word” of the winter season is coming and will stay for 6 or 7 months. I want to soak up as much sunshine as I can while I can…

During the afternoon, I took a walk in the woods and laughed at the wonder of the leaves changing color and danced around beneath tall evergreens. My spirit was lifted, there in love with the world and so grateful for today.

I’m learning about the importance of this moment that is right now because afterall, now is all we know and now is all we have. So, I twirled in the leaves and thanked God for this most amazing day, for the true blue sky, the sweet scented air, the sound of the river rushing over rocks and the sweetness of peace rushing over me. I even thanked Him for the this journey He’s leading me on, though it is still unknown and sometimes scary. All I know is now.

As I prepare to rest for the night, I find comfort in Thomas Merton’s prayer.

Though I do not know the way, I believe the God who created me and loves me is deeply committed to seeing His good and perfect will be made complete in my life. My job is only to TRUST & surrender.
Let that enough tonight. Be still, oh my soul.

My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going.
I do not see the road ahead of me.
I cannot know for certain where it will end. 
Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think I am
following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so.
But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you
and I hope that I have that desire in all that I am doing.
And I know that if I do this, you will lead me by the right road
although I may know nothing about it. Therefore will I trust you
always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death,
I will not fear, for you are ever with me and you will never leave
me to face my perils alone

   

lights will guide you home.

Just a few days ago, I gathered with a small group of college students beneath a gray autumn sky on a cold Saturday morning to talk about, wrestle with, and to experience breakthrough about our ideas related to  light, darkness, wholeness, and freedom. Together, we sang songs about our hearts’ cry for renewal and cried while sitting in a circle as we learned of each others’ difficult stories of brokenness and long journeys away from and then back towards God.

In the afternoon, just after lunch, I led the group to the edge of a tree-lined path as we laughed and joked about the day. I waited for the conversation to die down and in the quiet, I selected a student leader from the group and then asked the others to tie tight blindfolds around their eyes. You can imagine the look of surprise of the faces of the students as they obeyed silently, the questions surfacing only as expressions on their mouths.

Whaaattttttt?” one of the girls finally shouted, “You’ve got to be kidding me.

Still, I said nothing and explained only that we were going to do an experiment.
The student leader whom I had selected would remain un-blindfolded and serve as a guide to the group. Together, we would join hands and communicate only via the sound of hand claps and the rise and fall of arms to signal a direction shift, a stop, or a start, etc. I demonstrated quickly, the group joined by holding hands, and we began our walks through the woods.

Following behind the students, my role was to protect the hikers from harm and to silently help the student leader if need be. I walked slowly and watched with wide eyes as the journey began.

At first, the students steps were slow and harsh…many of them stepped forward with big, sloppy, heavy stomps while others walked with tiny steps like tip-toes through a quiet, creaking house. A few of them advanced in a hunched over position, evidently worried about bumping their head into a branch or twig of leaves. Together, they walked like a group of toddlers just learning to take a step. The process was slow and sometimes difficult, but they never let go of each other.

The student leader served as both a guide and a protector. I watched as he looked forward to the path and then back at the group and again, forward to the path and then back at the group. He held onto the hand of the blindfolded student in the front, letting go only to snap a large twig in half or to hold back a thing of thorns as the others marched on. His eyes watched over the path ahead and the path behind, over the student right next to him as well as the group that followed. I could see from his heavy breathing and heightened response to the tiniest sound or movement from the group, that he was deeply concerned with their well-being and deeply committed to making sure they went the right way.

As I watched, I couldn’t help but think about the Lord as my guide and protector, guiding me always and watching over me. My heart quickened inside my chest as I remembered the journey I’ve been through over the last year, the darkness that surrounded me and my overwhelming thoughts of doubt and confusion. I remember feeling so alone, asking God to show up, literally kicking and screaming for Him to hurry up and help me only to be met with a silence that seemed deafening. I felt so utterly abandoned by His unresponsiveness and often laid alone in my bed at night, sobbing and screaming in my soul, the way a child cries out loud in terror for their Dad. I began to believe that He would never rescue me, that I was destined to live alone in the darkness of my scary cave forever.

I was thinking through all of this as I was watching the students and began to understand more about God’s marvelous ways. As the group moved deeper into the woods, the path became more dangerous and both I and the student leader worked endlessly to keep the group on the designated path. Still, there were limbs to walk under, piles of rocks to mount, and heaps of wet leaves to avoid so the job was not an easy one. I moved quickly, helping the student leader hold back heavy branches and running around the students as I picked up handfuls of sticks and tossed them out of the way. At one point, I saw two students at the tail end of the line make their way towards a pile of prickly bushes. So, I ran in front of them, steeping right into the thorns, rubbing my arm against raw bark on my way so that when the students continued in the path, they ran into me and not the thorns.

Though I remained silent throughout the exercise, I wanted to laugh and cry and sing for joy at the thought of my Lord walking alongside me in my blind understanding of life, guiding me all the way, even through the darkness and protecting me from prickly bushes of destruction.

For those blindfolded during the exercise, the walk was full of silence and confusion and questions of the leader’s trustworthiness. I heard heavy sighs as we walked in the quiet and saw bodies tense at the fear of the path ahead. As they walked, they had no idea of the work we were doing around them, the things we were pulling out of the way, and the moments we clapped once, signifying a “stop” intended simply to let them breathe and rest.

Similarly, as we journey in this life, there are undoubtedly moments and seasons in our story that either past or present, seem like times of bitter silence, burdening questioning, and scary doubt. We wonder where God is in all of this or how much longer we’ll have to walk this certain road or why He doesn’t just reach down and make it all better.

In the Bible book of Job, a man’s faith is tested as he endures battle after hardship after struggle and grief. It seems all odds are against him and as you can imagine, he cries out for God to help but the struggle continues. The man, Job, writes of his long and tiring search for God and unsuccessful pursuit for answers saying:

“God has no right to treat me like this, it isn’t fair.
If only I knew where to find him [God], I’d go straight to him.
I would state my case before him and fill my mouth with arguments.
I would find out exactly what he is thinking,
discover what’s going on in his head.
Would he vigorously oppose me? Or bully me?
No, he wold not press charges against me.
He would take me seriously.
He would deliver me.

But, no, when I go looking to the east, he is not there.
If I go to the west, I do not find him.
If he is working in the north, I do not see him
or if he turns to the south, I catch no glimpse of him.”

Still, in verse 10, immediately following the description of his desperation, he writes the following words of simple surrender and deep trust:

But he knows where I am going…I’ve followed him closely,
my feet in his footprints, not once swerving from his way…
He’ll complete in detail what he’s decided about me
and whatever else he determines to do.
Right now, I’m completely in the dark.
I can’t see the hand in front of my face.”

(Job chapter 23)

For me, the Saturday afternoon walk in the woods was a clear and tangible reminder of this confidence that Job writes of. It served as a real, physical reminder that God is with me always, God is closest at the moments I feel afraid, and God is leading the way.

Though I admit that I still sometimes ask, “God, what the heck are you doing?” or “God, what’s next?” or even, “How much longer, Lord?!”  I trust that HE KNOWS WHERE I AM GOING and He will complete in detail everything that He’s decided for me according to His mighty and perfect plan for my life.

Just as I saw demonstrated in the student leader guiding the group along the path, I believe that God is so concerned about every step we take and is deeply committed to making sure we stay on the path He has chosen. “I know the plans I have for you,” He says and He promises to see it to completion. (Jeremiah 29:11, Psalm 138:8, Phillipians 1:6) Though the road may be difficult or long, the path made of rocks and wet leaves, the promise remains: He will grab hold of us by the right hand and guide us where we need to go. Therefore, we shall not be afraid.

His LIGHT will guide us where we need to be.
We simply must take His hand and go.
without answers.
without understanding.
only with trust.

And one day, we will sit together at Jesus’ side and learn of the amazing ways in which He was already rescuing us, even as we walked through the darkest seasons and hid out in deep, cold caves. We will see the ways in which we were held in His hand and sheltered from destruction, even as we suffered pain. God is a good, good Papa and He knows the way home. In His infinite tenderness, God is orchestrating a symphony of our stories and struggle so that we can rejoice in the light of His redemption.

 

Lord, help me to follow you wholeheartedly, with glad anticipation at what’s to come. Though I don’t know what lies ahead, I know that you know where I am going. Let that be enough for me. I trust that you are a good God who has blessings prepared for those who will follow you. Help me to continue to walk by faith, not by sight, for I know that herein, freedom lives and allows me to experience the joyous reality of your Presence. I love you, Lord. Amen.

WHOLEness is in the embrace

An excerpt from “When The Heart Waits” by Sue Monk Kidd

I ask myself, when I glimpse a hummingbird in my tulips, can I call up my gladness and spend some time with it?

And a stern voice in me says,
How wasteful–what if you don’t get everything done?
I ask, Can I allow myself to feel the pain of a relationship that needs rekindling?

No, the voice says. Stifle it and pretend. Rocked boats tip over.
So I ask, What about the anger inside? Can I feel it?

And the voice says, It’s not nice to be angry.
Then I ask, When I’m scared and hurting, can I open my soul and let someone peer down inside? And it says, Keep a stiff upper lip. Bury it.

——————————————————————————————————————-

When I live with those answers long enough, I can no longer connect to my real feelings. I lose my ability to relate to myself and others from a genuine place.
I lose myself.

Such a split of the head from the heart is common in our culture.
Along with this goes another painful splitting: the severing of our body from our soul. As we separate from our feelings, we tend to separate from our bodies as well. Gradually, they are cut away. When this happens, we become alienated from our earthiness, our sexuality, and the connecting relation that knits our soul to our body in a wholesome way.

Part of being whole in the spiritual life means acknowledging the feelings trickling, pouring, and sometimes raging through my heart, as well as integrating the music and instincts of my body.

I’m discovering that a spiritual journey is a lot like a poem.
You don’t merely recite a poem or analyze it intellectually. You dance it, sing it, cry it, feel it on your skin and in your bones. You move with it and feel its caress. It falls on you like a teardrop or wraps around you like a smile. It lives in the heart and the body as well as the spirit and the body.

Our task then, is to welcome back the feelings, embrace our bodies,
and discover God in all of ourselves.

 

“But you can’t get to any of these truths by sitting in a field smiling beatifically, avoiding your anger and damage and grief. Your anger and damage and grief are the way to the truth. We don’t have much truth to express unless we have gone into those rooms and closets and woods and abysses that we were told not go in to. When we have gone in and looked around for a long while, just breathing and finally taking it in – then we will be able to speak in our own voice and to stay in the present moment. And that moment is home.”
_Anne Lamott

shame was never meant to be your portion…

A few nights ago, in a moment of sheer emotional strength, I said no to tears and decided I would be strong and not cry and instead go on as if I were fine. Though my heart was heavy, I didn’t know whether to cry or to be angry and so decided to be numb, to not feel a thing. Besides, these games we play say I’m supposed to show no sign of heartbreak and just ‘get over it’, to pretend that what’s happened doesn’t still hurt, to keep going on as if we’re strangers and live unaffected by others the way the sun still shines and the moon still lights the night even as the world groans for redemption.

I fought back tears as I drove home, rolled the windows down, turned up the radio louder and screamed the song at the top of my lungs. Genius bravery, I thought. So I parked the car, shut the door tight and as I walked away, I was met, almost instantly, with that wild sickening feeling that something is terribly wrong.

Arms full, I reached deep into the bag hanging on my shoulder hoping that I what I was thinking wouldn’t be true. “I don’t need this now,” I thought. But it was too late. As I looked back, I could see my keys hanging happily from the ignition inside the locked car as if to taunt me for my mistake.

Truth be told: I was not ok.

Immediately, I felt angry at myself for my carelessness and imagined my Dad’s million reminders to have my keys in hand before I shut the door. Though I knew I had not intended to make such a mistake, I felt the old familiar monster inside creeping up and mocking not only my responsibility as a driver but as a friend, as a lover, and as a woman in this world. I heard whispered reminders of the many ways in which I’ve let people down in the past months, or how I’ve deeply hurt those I love the most, how I’ve disappointed friends and family. Suddenly a moment of human error became a moment of heavy failure.

Over the past two weeks, I’ve felt especially attacked with this guilt, this fear of completion destruction. Though I’ve continued with unrelenting fervor in my prayers and in my songs, and though most days I dwell in hopeful peace, there is a lingering heavy sadness that just stays and along with it, the temptation to believe that I can’t do anything right, that I haven’t actually been changed, that I don’t know how to love well despite all my desire to, and that all this striving and waiting and brooding is in vain.

Deep down, I absolutely know these are lies, but I find myself wrestling with these thoughts and fighting off the scary monster inside almost daily. I know the monster is really just rooted in shame and fear and so, as a declaration of freedom as well as a prayer for help, I say,”I do not want to carry this” and then I tell the monster to go away.

I’ve learned that the less we talk about shame, the more control is has over our lives. Once shame enters our inner abyss, unless we recognize it and name it, it remains locked up and it festers and grows. Shame zooms in until all we see is our flawed selves, alone and struggling. I know myself enough to know that usually when I feel shamed, I move away from it by withdrawing, hiding, and silencing myself to others. The monster gets bigger, the feeling grows deeper, and before long, a tidal wave of guilt washes away my peace and my strength.

So, in a moment of sheer emotional strength, I went inside where two friends were waiting, sat down, let my shoulders hang, and let the words run out as honestly and as painfully as the tears that followed. I said, “I am sad.” I said, “I am confused.” I said, “I am feeling like I don’t even know if I’m doing anything right anymore.”
And though the pain didn’t go away, I felt stronger and really brave.
Connected. Supported. Encouraged. and even a little surprised when the words I heard in response were not “Gosh, you’re such a terrible human,” but instead, “Gosh, I know how you feel. Me too.”

And later that night, as I lay beneath blankets and watched the shadows sway across the ceiling, I let my body relax and let the breaths I breathed in move in and around me. I wondered what it is inside me that has me thinking I’m no good when all along the lover of my soul has been inviting me to look in His eyes and see how He sees me–beloved, beautiful, pure. and worthy. I wondered what it is inside me that waits in fear and terror for stones of anger and punishment to be thrown at this guilty girl when instead there are friends who wait to wrap their arms around me and remind me that I am not alone. I wonder if maybe we are all in this mess together not to just get through, but to pick up each others pieces and help glue them back to something more beautiful.

I woke the next morning to a bright sunrise begging me to get out of bed, to get back out there and try again. I called a local towing company to help me with the keys and two old guys with white ponytails and bright orange vests arrived with nothing but a wedged piece of wood, two large screws and a piece of long scrap metal. They forced the wood into the door, shoved the metal inside and fished around for awhile until we finally turned the key and rolled down the window. It took a lot of fumbling and just missing the button, but we laughed along the way and I prayed a lot. I thought about how all life is learning anyway and love is never perfect and shame was never meant to be my portion. I am made for these sunrises and these sunsets, for changes and seasons and difficult growth. I am learning to love well–not only others, but myself, struggling to find myself already loved and embracing the struggle, for in it and with it comes victory and power. There is nothing perfect. There is only life.

And life is waiting…

“We begin to find and become ourselves when we notice how we are already found,  already truly, entirely, wildly, messily, marvelously who we were born to be.”

_Anne Lamott

Lament, the mOst hopeful of things!


I’ve been wrestling over words that the apostle Paul wrote commanding us to “Do everything without complaining or arguing” and “Rejoice in the Lord always.” How easy it is to pull out these verses as evidence that the day of lament is over and the day of rejoicing has begun. How easy it is to mask grief and sorrow beneath strong Christian words like “Be thankful in everything.”

If we look at the context surrounding these verses, we see that St. Paul wrote these words in a letter to the Philippian church, the same letter that includes a lament over his long and continuing earthly pilgrimage, and in which he calls “suffering” a gift from God along with faith and the same letter in which he invites the Christian to follow the downward path of Christ to humility, suffering and even death. The reality is, St. Paul is not at all afraid of suffering. His hope came in the embrace of it.

Over the past month, my weeks have been busy, my days filled with everything from work and friends to laughter and sunshine, empty time and sacred space, book reading, soul searching, hours of praying and lots of tears & tears & tears. I feel alive again in many ways, new, and awake. & yet still, my heart hurts with a deep heavy sorrow. a sort of confusion. regret. and pain. i miss him. i miss “us.” & i cry a lot.

For so long, I’ve felt stupid for my tears. weak. and not strong. I often got angry at myself for my sobbing cries and told myself I was silly to be so sad. I thought maybe the mark of someone who had experienced transformation was happiness and the ability to be in control. Healing, i thought, looked like smiles, not tears.

What I have come to learn, though, is that brave honesty is the beginning of transformation and real emotions are worth expressing. Tears that flow from a heart overwhelmed with love are not something to be ashamed of. Cries that pour out of a heart filled with sadness in the absence of a best friend are tears that need to be released. By ignoring the pain and pushing back the tears, I only distanced myself from the parts of my life I felt didn’t fit and distracted my hearts to think I wasn’t worthy. True healing, then, comes when we embrace our story and our pain and our tears because we find God there. As Mirabi says, “the heat of midnight tears will bring you to God.”


“What is it about tears that should be so terrifying? the touch of God is marked by tears…deep, soul-shaking tears, weeping…it comes when that last barrier is down and you surrender yourself to health and wholeness” _David R. Wilkerson

Truth be told, honesty is not inconsistent with worship. Throughout the Bible, whether in the Psalms, Lamentaitions, Job, Jesus, Paul or even the saints in heaven, we find rugged hearts, deep cries, long periods of mounring, and lots of tears. The cry is one of lament, of thick grief and pain birthed out of a broken world with fallen men.

We have then, this incredible invitation to join the chorus of ancient voices in their universal cry, to speak honest words to a God who does not fear a complaint born it desire, a God who actually responds to it. See, God’s desire is not to bypass the misery, but to transform it.

In this sense, lament is ultimately hopeful. There is, of course, a fine line between complaining and lamenting, but the biblical lament I speak of is one of healing and power. Lament contains in itself the possibility of extraordinary hope, restored desire, a changed heart. Lament is, at its core, a search for GOd. It is not a search for answers nor an invitation to bandage the wound and fix the problem. Rather, lament enters the agony with the recognition that it might not go away for days, months, even years. & yet, the lament carries with it the hope that God WILL eventually show.

Of course, we will never know the hope of lament if we do not risk walking through the valley, if we do not risk embracing the shit, surrendering the pain, and allowing the transformation to come. hope is faith is risk is trust.

& this wild trust, this openness to surrender is precisely how God brings about radical transformation into the heart of sinners. its a transformation that often takes TIME. time that most in our day would wish away, for God’s time is different than our time & it often feels slow. and un-productive. however, the courage to be patient and engage suffering, to simply experience it before the face of God is a gift that stirs the deepest hope, the hope of the saints, the hope of better days to come.

I am learning to embrace this mess, though it may see to go on and on without relief, without answers and resting finally in the Sovereign hand of God. I am learning to lean into lament, to be honest in all I do and hold onto hope. I do believe that this wintry valley of suffering will eventually lead to green pastures, tall-snow capped mountains, and a sunrise that will break through the darkness. He will return to us songs of rejoicing.

There will be a light.


Paradoxically, we achieve true wholeness only by embracing our fragility and sometimes, our brokenness. Wholeness is a natural radiance of Love, and Love demands that we allow the destruction of our old self for the sake of the new.

_ Jalaja Bonheim


			

tomOrrow finds the beSt way out is thrOugh…

tonight, while driving to visit a friend, i saw a heavy, dark rain cloud lingering in the distance. it hovered low over fields and trees and from the distance, i could see thin streaks of rain falling. i watched in wonder and terror awe from my sunny side on the road and and decided quite confidently that i would stay dry.
even kept my window down.

 “i’ll be fine,” i thought.

 still, only minutes later, as the road turned and my direction shifted, large lumpy raindrops plopped onto my windshield and i quickly rolled up the window.

almost immediately, the raindrops joined with other raindrops, turned into big hail drops and multiplied until i could hardly see the road in front of me. cars slowed, puddles splashed, and it seemed like everything was white ahead of me, the heavy rain blocking the view. i prayed and kept going, following distantly and slowly behind a large truck while its oversized tires pushed mountainous amounts of water my way.

 i wasn’t sure if the road was flooded or if the water gushing down made it look like waves crashing, but all i know is: I WAS SCARED.
Ironically, the song playing on my CD rang out, “I feel the rains of Your love, Let it rain, Let it rain.” Did I ask for this to come? Did I invite the dark, heavy rains to fall?

I couldn’t help but thinking about the current “storm” I’ve been in.
And wondering how I even got here.
Though there was no immediate rain fall, the storm came quickly, heavy and strong. How many times since have I asked,
Did I ask for this? Did I cause this? What did I do wrong?

“It’s amazing how you can everything just happening and life just moving along, and then one day wake up to discover, like St. John of the Cross, your “house being now all stilled.” It’s not that you have let loose the truth that tethers your soul to Christ, it’s just that everything has gone quiet. And dark. ” (Kim Thomas)

Sometimes we don’t even know we’re in the deep end of despair until we get pain in our neck from having to look up from the bottom all the time. Sometimes we don’t even know we’re on a certain road until miles have made their way to the soles of our feet, until the black clouds have opened up and lumpy raindrops have wet our skin.

As I continued to make my way through the rain tonight, I passed by several cars pulled over to the side, just stopped. I considered pulling over myself, but the thought of being stuck in storm scared me more. I wanted to get out of it. I kept going.

 Some short miles later, with my hands tightly gripped to the wheel, my tires met real road, not water, and blue sky beckoned just ahead. I had made it through the storm and the light was returning and I felt calm. and thankful. and free.

 I remembered the cars stopped along the road and thought,
“If only you could just keep going, keep driving a little more, you would get here and see the beautiful sky waiting, the beautiful world just up ahead…”

It gave me hope.

In the dark night of my soul, which St. John of the Cross refers to as the “dense and burdensome cloud which afflicts the soul and keeps it withdrawn my God,” I can be confident of this: I am not alone. There are good things waiting. It’s just up ahead..

 I must keep going.
I must keep going because I simply can’t stop here.
I don’t want to be stuck.
Also, I know that dark nights eventually yield growth.
Seeds lie dormant until they are in the right condition.
Only after the night comes day, comes light.

 
“If, as I wait in the dark, in the quiet uncertainty, I will feed myself the proper soul nourishment, the hard shell of my heart will be broken and exposed. It is only then that I can begin to grow new roots that will sustain me despite the bruising and withering I will endure.” (Kim Thomas).

And when I falter to believe it’s worth the journey, when I fumble for strength, I am reminded of my great Lord pressing on, preserving for the Father’s will. But for the joy set before Him, He endured the despair of humanity, endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.

You & I are pilgrims on this journey of life, sojourners in a land where inevitably, storms will come, rain will fall, moth and dust will destroy. But we have a hope and we lock our eyes with His, pressing on. & we just keep going. Like all nomads, if we don’t keep walking, we’ll die. There are better days ahead.

Just keep going.

Just keep going.

We will get through this.

"Let him who walks in the dark, who has no light, trust in the name of the Lord." (Isaiah 50:10)

 “Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions
themselves, like locked rooms and like books that are now written in a very foreign
tongue.  Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you
would not be able to  live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the
questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along
some distant day into the answer.”
(Rainer Marie Wilke)