Yesterday I got caught up in all my failures and short comings. This happens more frequently than I'd like to admit to.
It's like I get dropped into one of those corn mazes, only it's made of brambles, and I can't find my way out. Everywhere I turn I see thorns. I think I find a way out and it's only another dead end. I horrify myself with my unlovable traits and shortcomings and failures. I see myself being unloving, impatient, ego driven and self-centered.
For a while, I get fooled into wrestling around with this- trying to fix it myself, trying to find the way out of the corn maze on my own. Of course, that only makes it worse. But I'm only fooled for a little while, now.
Pretty quickly now I remember that I have a tendency toward self-condemnation and that such a thing doesn’t help me grow spiritually. I'm able to remember that the only way out is to look up. In one look, I confess where I am and ask for help, like a child lifting their arms. Sometimes when I look up, Jesus meets me with a spoken word, or with affirmation of His loving presence. Sometimes He does not.
Last night, He did not. But this time, I remembered the other times. I remembered that He is the most faithful when I am the most confused.
I remembered one of my favorite scenes in the Bible- that of Jesus asleep in the stern of the boat, His head on a leather cushion. I love that scene, I see it so vividly. There's something very moving about the fact that Jesus was physically worn out- exhausted enough that even the rising storm could not wake Him.
I thought of my turmoil like a storm raging all around me, a storm I was powerless to quiet. I could panic and wake Jesus and ask Him to quiet the storm for me.
Or I could curl up with Him and rest in the knowledge that the storm had no power- my true identity doesn't lie in my imperfections, it lies in Him. My life is hidden with Him.
I could remember and affirm that my imperfections are nothing more than opportunities for growth, for compassion, for insight and mercy. As Jesus continues His loving and good work in my life, those things will pass away and all that will be left of them will be the lessons they taught me.
All night long, I put myself in the boat with Jesus while the storm of my shame rose and fell all around us. But it didn't matter. It was nothing but noise, signifying nothing.
In the morning, I woke feeling exhausted and bruised, and remembered my storm. It was as though I really had slept in the bottom of a wooden fishing boat.
I heard the echoes of the storm, which had died away, and it was then that I felt the presence of Jesus close to me. He wrapped His loving arms around me and I leaned against Him.
I have you, He whispered into my ear.
You always have me, I affirmed, in relief and with a sudden insight into His faithfulness.
I knew in that moment that all my faith in Jesus was justified. He had been with me the entire time. We never ride out our storms alone.
March 7, 2012 Published
Last night, again, I got caught up in the storm of my self-condemnation. I was talking with Jesus about it, about how bewildering it was.
"...and I don't know what it true!" I told Him, wearily.
I am true, He said simply, and the quiet words sank into my spirit and spread out into peace.
I remembered that Jesus is called that; that is one of His names. He is called Faithful and True.
There is a verse from one of the psalms that has been dancing in my head for days now; this morning, when I flipped over my calendar, guess what verse I saw there?
"The steps of the godly are directly by the Lord.
He delights in every detail of their lives.
Though they stumble, they will not fall,
for the Lord holds them by the hand."
-Psalm 37:23-24 NLT
I woke this morning full of energy. I did loads of laundry and went for a grocery trip and paid the bills. I am thinking about shampooing the rugs.
Almost I didn't go for a walk, having so many other things to do, but Jesus called me out, so I went. As I walked, I thought about that verse.
"You must delight in every detail of our lives because, in the end, they will all be to the praise of Your glory," I told Jesus.
And I love you, He pointed out, with His loving humor. As if to say, don't forget the main point!
I actually let myself dwell on the possibility that God might delight Himself in every detail of our lives simply because He loves us. It was awesome, in the original sense of the word. It is a difficult thing to wrap one's mind around.
For one moment, I saw it and laughter rose up out of me, from the joy of it. I was aware of myself and for that one moment, I saw myself without any judgment, just as myself, as the woman that I am, as Jesus created me. The perspective was striking in its simplicity.
One day, all these shifting layers of perspective will fall away. All our scars, all our pain and brokenness, our confusion and questions, our fear and doubt will drop off of us like heavy burdens and we won't carry them ever again. We will see ourselves as we truly are, as He sees us.
What freedom there will be in that moment! Even now, it is possible by faith simply to rest in it. Now the storm rages and we see the surging waves, but if we like, we can curl up with Jesus and rest in Him. We can rest in His perfect work, knowing that even the winds and the waves obey Him and sooner or later, we are going to reach the peaceful shore.
March 9, 2012 Two Kingdom Dream
(I've posted this elsewhere on my blog, but I am including it here, because it was at this point in time that I had this dream.)
Last night I had this fascinating dream.
In the dream, there were two kingdoms, arranged like a ring around a circle, so that the inner kingdom was surrounded by the outer kingdom. The outer kingdom was hidden behind barricades and was ruled by absolute authority and little was known about it. The inner kingdom was run like a democracy and was chaotic, violent and immature.
The citizens of the disordered kingdom tended to pity the citizens of the outer kingdom, because it was thought that they suffered horribly under their despotic and absolute ruler. In the democracy, they were proud of their ability to do whatever they wished. They felt this was so much better and far more advanced.
I lived on the border, inside the messy kingdom, on a hill, and I could see down into both, though I could only catch a glimpse of the border lands of the surrounding, shuttered kingdom of absolute authority.
In the dream, I was watching a woman get ready for her marriage. I watched someone do her makeup. They were standing outside the house, standing in muddy ground, amid clumps of other wedding gear, gaudy and incongruous against the dull back ground of overgrown bushes and weeds and the grey skies.
There was a mirror placed on a dead tree at eye level, so she could see herself. There were shelves extending out from the trunk, on which were places bottles and pots and other make-up tools, smeared and used.
The ugliness of the woman's face struck me- everything in her face was out of proportion, bulging and protruding, but she couldn't help it, because it was her very bone structure and she was completely oblivious to this.
I saw how the make-up made some small, surface improvements, but could not change the bone structure that was the root of her homeliness, and so it seemed to me only to make her more grotesque. I felt pity and compassion for her, but she was quite satisfied with the final result of her makeover and excited for her day to begin.
Then I saw another couple get married. They were young, careless, immature and silly. It was like they were playing dress up, having no idea about the sacred and lasting implications of what they were doing and not caring.
Caught up in a fit of heedless physical attraction, they started making out in my living room. When I realized they were going to make love right then and there, I was horrified for them. I started running out of the house, deeply embarrassed. I was running down a grassy pathway that ran alongside the barricades. I realized that I was wearing a wedding gown, and that it was going to get dirty and torn on the path.
I felt grieved and in great distress over this. I didn't want to be like the silly brides, who took no thought about the implications of their decisions regarding sacred things. But what could I do? I had to get away. I couldn't stop running.
As I ran down the path, I saw torn off pieces of my gown along the path. Horrified, I scooped them up in my arms and carried them with me. My heart sunk like a stone into bewildered shame and dismay. I couldn't think when I had torn my gown, but the evidence was right there, in my arms. I couldn't deny it. I had been just as heedless and thoughtless as any of the other brides. I had managed no better.
The gown was of so many delicate layers and of such intricate, fine workmanship that I despaired of ever mending it myself- I could not even begin to figure out how it was constructed. I didn't know where each layer should be sewn back.
Seeing this, I was filled with a kind of quiet desperation- the kind of clarity that comes when you are facing a dead end and there are no more distractions and one must come to terms with what is. I knew the man that I hoped to marry was one who held a very high position of authority and honor, and that he was a man of integrity and dignity. If I tried to fix the dress myself, my deception would be obvious in the clumsy reconstruction.
The only possible thing to do was to face him, confess everything and throw myself on his mercy. Surely he would know that I hadn't meant to destroy my dress and would have mercy on me. It was the only hope I had.
Then I was standing outside a building and looking down at the gate into the outer kingdom of absolute authority. This gate was heavily barricaded and guarded by implacable, heavily armored guards that belonged to the outer kingdom, but they stood just inside the messy kingdom, on either side of the gate. They were like those guards at Buckingham Palace, whose expression never changes and who are trained to keep at attention while on duty.
It was night, and the sky above was full of stars. From the high place where I stood on the border, I could see both kingdoms.
In the center of the messy kingdom was a large mechanized city with tall jagged buildings placed close together. It looked a little like the workings of a watch, with interlocking gears and sharp edges, but dark and rusted. Around it was barren land.
Around the land and surrounding it there rose the high, metal barricades of the outer kingdom, and beyond those high walls, I could see the dusky blue rooftops and a few golden lights from the windows of the houses in the outer kingdom.
I could see the huge gate in the barricade. Young revelers from the city at the center of the messy kingdom had ended up at the gate, after one of their aimless excursions. They were kind of like those drunken fans that pour out of the stadium after the game, looking for action, any action, simply because they have gotten worked up.
On a whim, they engaged the guards. It had begun harmlessly, but once the revelers got started, they got more and more violent and out of control. Their playfulness turned to rage. They stormed the gate, killing the guards and broke into the outer kingdom.
I felt as though I were watching the end of the world, or someone light a fuse that was attached to dynamite. It was irrevocable. I knew that those revelers had roused the Absolute Authority and there must be a response.
Then there was a woman standing next to me, and we were feeling in sympathy as we watched. She had a lovely, calm face, with long straight brown hair and blue eyes and a somber expression.
"Are you from the other kingdom?" I asked her.
She nodded, her face grave. "There will be no stopping the dire consequences of this action; the Absolute Authority will respond with all his power to this trespass. He will move now with all His strength," she told me.
It was a terrifying thought. I thought of the Absolute Authority as terrifying, merciless, irrevocable. Somewhere out there, at the edge of my vision, on the dark horizon, I knew all that great power was gathering to respond, inexorable. I knew we had only hours, or at the most days, before everything would be washed away in a flood of retributive power.
I went down to the gate to look closer at the scene. There was a kind of ski lift contraption that carried the young, careless kids across the border and back again, and as I got there, two of them were climbing out, after having come back from the outer kingdom. They had been carried back to their own kingdom flat on their backs, unable even to walk after what they had seen.
On their faces was a look of dumb rapture. They didn't even have the vocabulary to describe what they had seen. They had no way of even understanding the things in the outer kingdom. They gabbled on and on, not making any sense, but filled with excitement.
Seeing them, I realize that the outer kingdom, because it was ruled by absolute authority, had the peace to evolve into better and better forms of life. It was leagues away from the medieval way of living in the messy kingdom, where there was too much anarchy and violence to pursue those improvements.
All along, those that lived under the absolute authority had been living life in ways so much better than ours that we didn't even have words to describe how they lived. To be under authority to that degree was actually experienced as perfect freedom and peace.
People in the democracy thought their civilization was so much more advanced, because they thought of themselves as free- free to do whatever they wished. In reality, they were trapped by their own lawlessness, stunted, wounded and living in squalor compared to the outer kingdom.
Now they planned to take those things they had seen and create them for themselves, in their own kingdom. I thought to myself, this is the worst possible outcome. It could get no worse than that.
Those beautiful and far advanced technologies and systems would become perverse and broken if they were reconstructed by the citizens of the democratic kingdom- not because they intended it that way, but because they themselves were in a state of disorder. No matter how good their intentions, their disordered state would be expressed in any of their endeavors.
Then the dream changed and blurred. There was a part that I don't remember any more, but running through those unremembered parts was this knowledge that someone I knew and loved had died. They died on purpose.
I saw the night sky above me, I saw the stars moving slowly as though the sky was tilting, changing the constellations, and then four bright stars were touching the earth. I saw the bare earth of the grave wall, the earth freshly dug and packed, rising vertical in front of my face and I knew He had died and was buried.
Then I was on the grassy path, the path where I had been running where I had found the torn pieces of my soiled wedding gown. Only I forgot all about my wedding dress. I forgot my shame and my fear. I forgot everything, because I saw Him on the path, walking down it, alive. I knew He had come out of the grave.
Behind Him was an entire landscape of greens and blues, fresh with morning, the sky blue above. Grass was growing thick around His feet. It was extraordinary. I had thought I would never see Him again, that He was gone out of my life forever, and yet there He was, full of life and vitality and joy, a living Person that I recognized all through me.
I went running down to meet Him and He recognized me. His face lit up at the sight of me. It seemed as though we had known each other a long time. He held out His arms. He was not ashamed of me. He loved me.
"Is this my little one?" He said, laughing. It was almost as though He said, “Is this my little fan?” He was loving, so full of joy.
All the dread and the fear and disorder of the earlier part of the dream was gone, vanished like mist at the sight of His face, as I ran down the path bordered by golden clumps of grass.
The Absolute Authority had in fact moved, but not to destruction. Instead He had laid down His own life in ransom, but even the grave had not been able to hold Him. The Absolute Authority was not an untouchable figure of terrible wrath, but my best and most loving and most faithful friend- the One I loved the most, and He knew me and He loved me.
I ran straight into His arms and the joy of that moment was so great I woke up.
I re-lived, over and over again, that moment of mutual recognition and the joy of going to Him.
I'm right here, Jesus reminded me, with loving humor. I knew He meant, you don't have to try and hold onto the dream in order to come to Me.
I was full of the joy of it all morning long.
March 10, 1012 Unpublished
I keep swinging back and forth between thinking that this entire thing has all been in my head, and being drawn right into the heart of it, which is being with Jesus.
I could be washing dishes or watching TV or getting up to get something or whatever and I remember it and I think, "That's impossible. How could I have possibly assumed that God was talking to me? What kind of crazy thought is that?"
And then Jesus does talk to me and then I'm floored and flooded with all these questions.
Why is life like it is? Why do some people suffer so much? Why are some people so stuck? Why do some people grow up into life and grace and light and others live these cramped, uncomfortable lives?
Why is everything so different? Why is there so much variety of life, of culture, of values, of goals, of character, of personality, of interests, environments, vegetation, habitats, weather? It's mind boggling. Why did Jesus make it that way? What does it mean? Where does it all end up?
It's almost like He's hidden the most valuable things in an overgrown field, waiting to see who will come and look for it.
Why does Jesus persist in being mysterious? Why doesn't He ever just reveal Himself? Why does He hide? He could clear things up for us in a moment, if He chose to.
He's annoyingly tantalizing.
Instead, it’s day by day, moment by moment, yielding into the mystery with faith, living fully, even if it's boring or painful or awkward and serene and quiet.
It's listening for His quiet voice amid besieging doubt, and then He speaks and you know.
It's getting struck by wonder over and over again at the most basic things: Jesus died for me!
Oh. my. goodness.
Why? Why would He do that? Why would the Son of God love me?
Or, something even more basic: God has a Son.
Oh. my. goodness!
What incredible things that says about God. I could ponder that all day long.
It's reading the Scriptures, and remembering suddenly that I can ask to see it more clearly, and asking, and realizing, hours later, that I actually saw it more clearly.
Oh. my. goodness.
And Jesus reminds me of this Himself, and it's as if it was something we went through together. It's as though we remember it together.
Which is crazy. That's craziness.
Does it ever strike you, how perfectly crazy faith is? No wonder people have trouble with it. Of course they do. Who wouldn't?
March 11, 2012 Unpublished
A few nights ago, I went to rest in His presence, but I got snagged by a line of self-condemning thought.
I started to wrestle with this thought, to anxiously follow it through, to try and make myself acceptable to God, so that I could come close to Jesus.
Then I remembered, for the zillionth time, that I could not. I had to simply make that thought His captive, not mine.
In joyful relief, I released all my efforts and settled back into Jesus, as though into His loving arms. Peace and comfort sank into me.
"I almost got lost on the way," I confessed.
I knew where you were, He said tenderly.