Archives For peace

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For the last five springtimes I have lived in a place where it actually did spring into spring. One day it was cold and brown and the next there was green everywhere, leaves growing full-size seemingly overnight. It went from a chilly 45 to a blistering 85 within days and spring had sprung. Texas has her charms, four full seasons are not one. Colorado is her bipolar cousin—albeit less blistering and rarely actually cold, her season changes are like light mirages from the hand of God: now you see it, now you don’t.

It wasn’t the plan to be living back on the east coast so soon. We still feel so whiplashed and exhausted we lose track of things, times, and memories. I lost a whole day two weeks ago. I saw some charges in our bank account and could not remember ever being at either of those two places. Nate coached me into remembrance, but the memories are still slight, barely there. We are at this point of mental exhaustion. I want this season to be over. I want it to be like a Texas winter: frigid and short. Or a Colorado snowstorm: six inches in the morning and gone by mid afternoon.

I have been keeping an eye on all the bushes, shrubs, and trees around our home here. We moved in less than two weeks ago and they are all coming to life these days. I don’t recognize a lot of them so it’s a grand mystery for some of them. What color? What shape? When? It’s as spring should be I think. Brown and stark for so long you’ve forgotten how beautiful it can all be—and how slowly it all comes back to life.

Last night we talked on the phone to a spiritual father of ours. He married us, counsels us, and loves us so deep and well I can’t imagine ever losing him (or her). Thousands of miles between us makes conversation less often, but more sweet in some ways. It seems every time we’ve talked in the past six or seven months he spends most of the time reminding us of what we know theologically and have forgotten spiritually.

He tells us sometimes hard things happen because the world is broken and full of sin—and not because we’re being punished for what we did or didn’t do. He reminds us this is a season—and we are not promised a better one on earth, but we can be assured God is on His throne and knows intimately the length of all seasons. He reminds us to be grateful—for all the swirling difficultly around us, our marriage is solid rock and easy, and that is rare. He papas us. That’s the only way I know to describe it. He reminds me of who God is by reminding me what God looks and acts like. It’s felt brown and stark for so long, I’ve forgotten how good God is.

My writing desk is beside a window in our new house and every day the outside changes in small, incremental ways. So small you wouldn’t notice unless you were paying attention.

A northeast spring is slow and takes three whole months, the way a season should be. The promise of summer is coming and the reality of autumn is certain to follow, ebbing into winter, and then, again, spring.

III
Oh, come O Rod of Jesse’s stem,
From ev’ry foe deliver them
That trust your mighty pow’r to save;
Bring them in vict’ry through the grave.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to you, O Israel!

Yesterday was my birthday and in a meeting a little after 11am we heard a rapid succession of gunshots outside our office windows. By the time we looked the shooter was reloading and beginning on his second round of gunfire toward a single officer.

We ducked and looked again. The idiom, “Like a train wreck, you can’t look away,” comes to mind. I asked myself later a thousand times—every time the image replays in my head: “Why didn’t you look away, Lore? Why didn’t you close your eyes?” Right now I fear that image will be in my head forever, but I have lived through trauma and I know it all fades eventually.

I ask Nate why this morning, “Why does he think God has let us be so near to the stink of death and the snuffing of life recently? What is He teaching us? For what does this prepare us?” This all just seems senseless and this morning I message a friend back east: “Sometimes I just want to come home to small town living, to cloister myself away in an old farmhouse, to let this season be about the growing light instead of the looming dark.”

Sin is so dark.

I think, in this second week of Advent, of the Christ-child grown. Grown for one purpose: to look on sin and take it for us all. I think of him in the garden: Father, take this cup from me? Begging to not have to look on sin, to not face the grave so we wouldn’t have to.

But He didn’t look away. And through the grave he brought victory.

. . .

Live a quiet life.
I Thessalonians 4:11

He must increase, I must decrease.
John 3:30

If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.
Luke 9:23

Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.
John 12:23

They loved not their lives even unto death.
Revelation 12:11

To me to live is Christ, to die is gain.
Philippians 1:21

The way up is the way down, I know this and yet the sliver of light above is so tempting to fixate upon. The promise of a little life here on earth seems to be more lasting than eternal life with the Father above.

I checked every door twice last night and rushed into my car in the garage this morning, suspicious of every car parked along our street. I looked both ways twice before getting out of my car at work today and had to take a deep breath before leaving. Fear has never been my nemesis. At least not fear of wicked men and hearts. I fear my own heart more than I fear others. But these weeks have made me fearful. I think again, “I shouldn’t have looked. Why did I look?”

This passage from Ephesians plays through my mind this afternoon, full of the knowledge of the someday coming. All the things we see and think we see and shouldn’t have seen and cannot forget we’ve seen: from these we will someday arise and stand, in the full light of Christ and he will look and shine on us.

For anything that becomes visible is light. Therefore it says, “Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.”
Ephesians 5:14

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In the middle of the coverage from San Bernardino yesterday I got a text from my husband:

“SWAT just showed up two doors down!”

A few minutes later: “Shots fired!”

Expected during that moment if we lived in San Bernardino perhaps, but we live in Denver. In a nice little up and coming neighborhood in the northwest part of the city. If you mention our neighborhood to those who’ve been here all their life, they recall stories of being warned to stay away from The Highland because of its high crime rates. In the past five years, though, crime is at an all-time low, housing prices keep rising, and it’s becoming one of the coveted neighborhoods in Denver.

Police surrounded our block yesterday until late into the night. At the end of it all, there was a dead fugitive and a wounded SWAT officer. When we knew it was safe, hours into the ordeal, my husband brought a mug of coffee and a bottled drink out to the policeman standing in the middle of the street outside our house. He’d been brandishing a rifle while diverting traffic and answering questions for hours. We should have offered him a bathroom break too, but I doubt he would have taken it.

. . .

The first real conversation I ever had with my husband was about pacificsm, a few days later he shared his testimony (a story wrought with theological fervor and marital failure) with a group of our friends, and the next day he and I got coffee and talked more about the pacifist way. He wasn’t my first friend who had walked through these questions, but he was the first person I’d met in Texas who had. It wasn’t love at first sight for either of us, but it was curiosity for sure. You know the rest of the story.

Scattered throughout our home, in pieces so varied and complex I don’t know what we’d do if it ever came to it, are the components to a firearm. I spend most of my time trying to forget it’s in our home and when I remember I remind myself 1. It would take thirty minutes to gather all the pieces. 2. I don’t know how to put them together. 3. I don’t know the first thing about shooting a gun. And 4. I can’t imagine ever pointing a gun at someone.

But it doesn’t change the fact that the gun is present, in our home.

. . .

A few weeks ago my car was vandalized. I thought it was the work of hoodlums in the neighborhood south of us, and maybe it was, but the more we thought about it and asked others about it, it became clear: vandalizing was not their sole purpose, car thievery was. The only conclusion we’ve come to is they saw it was a stick shift or they got caught in the middle. Either way, we’re grateful to still have a car. Locked safely now (or so we think) in our garage.

Does all this matter? And how?

. . .

This morning Nate and I talked about a trip he’s taking in a few weeks and how, in all my life, I’ve never been afraid to be alone before. But here, in these days, in this place, I fear. The other day a salesman knocked on our door and I had to self-talk the entire time that he wasn’t going to push open the cracked door, rape me, and pillage our home. Fear is present, where it never has been before.

Things weren’t like this 25 years ago, I told Nate this morning. He told me studies were done once on soldiers from WWII: something around 50% of soldiers purposely didn’t aim guns at their enemies because the taking of a human life was not something they could do.

. . .

I stayed up late praying last night. I wanted to pray for the soul of the man who was killed but my beliefs tell me it’s too late for that, and a repentant man doesn’t do the atrocities he did. I pray for the SWAT officer instead, not the one who was wounded, but the one who killed the fugitive. What a heavy weight to bear it must be to have taken the life of a man—however worthless you can convince yourself that life was.

. . .

The ink is barely dry on the page of the Colorado Springs shooting a few days ago, the media is alight with San Bernardino, and in a playground in New Orleans a young man shot at 17 individuals last week. The world is too much with us, the poet said, and I think he was speaking of evil, evil, everywhere.

The refrain from O, Holy Night repeats in my head again:

His law is love and his gospel is peace.

For most these days, the law feels ignored and his gospel divides. There is not one of us who can say we feel safe but for the grace of God. And even with the grace of God, hundreds of thousands find themselves fleeing persecution and no one is safe from the bullet of a madman bent on destruction.

Where is the love and peace we were promised?

. . .

I have no end to this piece, no pretty packaged completion.Tomorrow or next week more news of another shooting will rise and we will fight for gun reform or offer our thoughts and prayers, but none of it is enough. None of it is.

His law is love and his gospel is peace.

The law of this land will never bring it and peace rallies will never exhibit it. Soldiers will still miss shots on purpose. Good men will sacrifice their lives in the face of certain danger—but even a hero’s death still stings. Nothing in this world will bring the peace we need. Nothing in this world.

His law is love.

And His gospel is peace.

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It’s a joke now, lovingly called the “Non-coffee-date,” which syntactically makes no sense but we know what it means. Whenever we tell people our story (three months from first date to wedding date) their incredulity is visible: “But did you even know each other before?”

Yes, of course we did. But we knew each other in contexts in which dating one another for various reasons wasn’t happening. We had overlapping friend groups that eventually morphed into one. He was well known by men I trusted, I was well known by men he trusted. I cheered for him when he’d taken a friend out on a few dates. We had no reason to do anything but cheer one another on in our individual pursuits.

But then: the non-coffee-date in which we did drink coffee and it was not a date.

We spent two hours in our community’s coffee shop, in full view of any frequent church staff customer and no fewer than 30 of our closest friends walking in and out the door. The purpose of the meeting was to continue a conversation we’d been having about pacifism (Sexy, I know.). I’d fought with one of my friends the night before because she wanted me to clarify with him whether this was a date, but I felt this deep confidence in me that God was my Father and he cared for me. I knew Nate was a good man and I had confidence that if it was a date, or he wanted a date, he would ask me, using his mouth, and words straight from the English language. It was just coffee.

At the end of it, he cleared his coffee cup and I cleared mine and he left. “Did he ask you out at the end?” a friend asked. Nope, I said. And then I went home.

Several weeks went by without communication and then a big decision was made by me to move to Denver. The night I came home from my interview trip to Denver, Nate called (on the phone, using words he said with his mouth) and said, “I’d like to take you to dinner. I’d like it to be a date.”

And you know the rest of the story.

I’m telling you this, not just my single girl friends, but my married girl friends too, because so often we grasp for control, clarification, communication. We want to know all the moving parts, all the possibilities. We want to plan for every contingency and every system failure. We want faith that is not blind, we want to see every crack and crevice of the future.

But that’s not, as a friend of mine said once, real faith. Faith isn’t faith if it can see where it’s going. Even that statement fails a bit because if you’re a child of God you do know where this is all going, even if you can’t see it.

Single girls, don’t manipulate and scheme the single guys in your lives. Trust God that when a man sees and knows and trusts God with you, he will do the right thing. It might mean a non-coffee-date or two (if he makes it seven or ten, it’s not bad to ask for clarification, just don’t demand he call it something it’s not—that’s bad for you and bad for him.), but trust God with the outcome. Be faithful, obedient, gospel yourself, and then trust God.

Married girls, trusting your husband isn’t the goal. It’s a means for some things, but not the goal. The goal is to trust God and the overflow of trusting God is trusting your husband. If you feel he has broken your trust, look to God. If you feel he has never given you reason to trust him, look to God. If you just want him to do something, trust God.

All my readers, if you are a child of God, don’t play chess with today. Don’t wake up and scheme how you’ll defeat the enemies of your life. Christ already has. He has defeated depression. Discouragement. Confusion. Fear. Worry. Discontent. Sadness. Loneliness. Christ declared His intentions for you before the foundation of the earth. He called you His. Therefore you are secure, chosen, holy, set-apart, a royal priesthood, saints, sons, and daughters. There is no question. Walk today as if there was no question.

He has also made a plan for work that doesn’t fulfill you, a husband or wife who doesn’t complete you, a local church that doesn’t seem to see you, friends who don’t seem to care enough about you, and every other disappointment you feel. His plan is Himself.  If He gives you nothing you desire today, it is not because He wants you to lack, but because He wants to give you Himself. Trust Him.

“There is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry, Mine!”
— Abraham Kuyper

We have been talking of Sabbath at our dinner table and before, while I chop spinach and basil and saute the garlic. He is reading The Sabbath by Heschel and at church the sermon this week was on Psalm 50: The God who doesn’t need anything from us.

The rhythms of our home have yet to be established—let alone the rhythms of our marriage or our work or our lives. What does resting look like and can it look different for both of us and can we enter into one another’s rest—even if it is not our natural home? He runs to rest. I write to rest. How then can we both be at ease with one another?

Heschel says, “If you work with your mind, sabbath with your hands, and if you work with your hands, sabbath with your mind.” I adopt this phrase and wear it as a mantra. I chop the basil and the spinach, press my thumb and index finger testing a ripe tomato, check on the chicken twice. I rest with these rhythms, these constants.

The prophet said, “In repentance and rest is your salvation, and in quietness and trust is your strength.” I turn that verse over in my mouth and heart, build my life upon it.

“Remember, remember, remember your maker.”

“Remember, remember, remember you are dust.”

It is work to remember and work to rest, this I know and you do too. No one can live in this world as we’ve made it and not have to work to rest. Remove notifications, turn off the phone, walk away from the planner, light candles at dinner and hold the hand of your husband and marvel at the gift of simply living. Rest.

“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.” Matthew 11:28-30 The Message

We are little worshippers, you and me, worshipping at the altar of work and likes and performance and success and numbers and more of whatever it is that keeps us awake at night. Whatever it is, if it isn’t Him, it isn’t Him.

He and I haven’t learned our sabbath rhythm yet, we don’t know how to rest in the midst of all the new and all that seems forced and sporadic, but we walk with Him and work with Him and watch how He does it, remembering, remembering, remembering we are dust and He is rest.

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We are settling into a quiet rhythm, he and I. Early to bed, early to rise, it matters not whether we are healthy, wealthy, or wise, I suppose. We have one another and we have a Savior who is good and does good.

Yesterday in our exegesis meeting at work, in preparation for the sermon on Psalm 51, we talked about a God who in His goodness does good—and I cannot leave that alone this morning. I wake next to a husband, we make coffee, he reads and journals on the back porch while I make frittata in a cast iron pan, the dishes are unwashed and we have eaten, he starts his workday six feet from me while I write in my sunny morning nook. No one needs to remind me of the abundant blessings of a good God these days. It is everywhere and I am its best detective.

It has not always been so but I wouldn’t trade a single one of those days if I was asked.

This morning my husband takes my hand over breakfast and prays we would be “More gentle,” and my heart catches, sure I have somehow wounded him in the past fifteen hours to warrant the adverb. “Have I hurt you?” I ask, when he releases my hand and picks up his fork. “No, not at all,” he says, “I just want to pray for an increase of the Holy Spirit.”

It is easy to forget the goodness of God in the land of the dead and it is just as easy to forget the goodness of God in the land of the living. I am a goodness detective, but for too many years I have been a darkness detective, certain every comment, every deed, and every action was the swift hand of an angry God.

Oh, He is fierce, don’t get me wrong. His anger lasts for a moment, but it is anger just the same. He is not safe, as Lewis said, but He is good. And this is the truth that has hinged every weak and wounded year of my life. This does not feel good but He is good.

I remember this morning that it is not the void of goodness (or of gentleness) that makes us beg for more, but the present indwelling of the Holy Spirit, the good God, who beckons us more and more into His bountiful abundant life.

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I stare blankly, my eyes registering her eyes and her story but I can’t remember her name. This happens more often than not right now. I’m shrouded in a gray fog only I can see and sometimes it’s all I can see. The questions are all the same: how is marriage? how is living in Colorado? how is your new job? how is your new house? I’m grateful to be asked at all, but how many times can I reply with ambiguous gratefulness, “God is so good and generous to us!” just so I can avoid thinking through the whole ramifications of the question?

How is marriage?

How is Colorado?

How is my new job?

How is our new home?

They are good, but all so tender and new, hardly recognizable in their current form. When does a seed begin to bear fruit? When it drops into the dark earth? When it breaks apart? When it presses through to light? When it blossoms and blooms? Or does it happen back, far back before that, when it is still part of fruit itself? I don’t know.

A friend tells me this morning she feels like she’s walking in a fog and I hear it but it isn’t until I pray for her at the end of our time that I remember God made fog too.

Maybe he made fog so we would slow down, stay home, remember we are dust. Maybe he made it because the earth needed only a mist and not a heavy rain. Maybe he made it because we can’t see through it and we need mystery because we need faith. I don’t know why he made fog or why we spend seasons walking through it, our hands outstretched for some semblance of normalcy, something hard and certain and firm and known.

I think about Elihu, Job’s friend who got it mostly right,

Behold, God is great, and we know him not;
the number of his years is unsearchable.
For he draws up the drops of water;
they distill his mist in rain,
which the skies pour down
and drop on mankind abundantly.
Can anyone understand the spreading of the clouds,
the thunderings of his pavilion?
Job 36:26-29

Father, I confess this season is abundant in its blessings and rich in your visible goodness, but I also confess the fog feels suffocating sometimes. I know not why or how you make rain or mist or spread the clouds or cause thunder—and I know even less how to walk with faithfulness when so much of my day feels like groping in the dark for a familiar place. But I also remember with the psalmist, to “Praise you from the earth, fire and hail, snow and mist, stormy wind fulfilling your word!” I think of Christ on the stormy Galilee and Noah on the boat and Moses on the cusp of the sea and even Jonah in the hot desert and I remember you hold the weather on earth and the weather in my heart and you decree it all and you are great. When the fog clears and I see you face to face, let it be all of you I see and not the faces in the crowd or my identity or calling, but you.

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The muse used to keep me awake at night, pestering me with sentences too lovely to ignore, ideas too undeveloped to leave alone. Every conversation was his food, every challenge his dessert. He was relentless in my ear and eye, every “common bush was aflame” with possibility, every pedestrian thought was flint for his fire. I couldn’t not write. To not write was to not breathe.

The muse bedded himself a year or more ago. He comes out sometimes, when the moon is too lovely to ignore or my breath catches at the end of a poem, but mostly he hides. He is petulant and I want to drag him out, but a muse cannot be dragged.

Anne Lamott says the main work of writing is “butt in chair,” and that is the truest thing I know about writing, but I wonder sometimes if it is not so much the discipline of being still as much as it is the muse can find me better when I am still.

I am so easily distracted, like the Lewis quote everyone always mentions, “playing with mud pies,” ignorant of the offered holiday at sea. The mudpies feel more my style, the distractions, the things I know I can fill my time and energy with, but they mostly steal my time and suck my energy. They are not givers, not like my muse was once a giver. He was generous with his giving.

The muse comes most often when I listen for him and then give him permission to speak and then obey his words, no matter the cost. I have fit myself into a mold of writing because I listen more to the reader than the muse, and everyone says this is what we must do: to be writers we must write to the readers. I love my readers—I love you—but I loved my muse more, selfish as that sounds. I trusted him because I knew him and he knew me and we knew how to make beauty together. I have missed the beauty he knew how to knit and spin and bring, the poetry he made of everything.

“I have this against you,” Jesus said, “that you have forgotten your first love.” He was speaking to the church at Ephesus and speaking of the things they had loved once more than they loved themselves, namely the Holy Spirit. I have not forgotten my first love but I have forgotten how he roams in quiet places and times and is a giver and lover and comforter and helper. And how he helps with even the small things like writing and keeping my butt in my chair and seeing beauty in every thread of this steady, monotonous, straight line of a life.

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We’re an ambitious lot, you and me. Armed with our five and ten year plans, our budgets, our ideas, our visions. We stockpile shortcuts and wisdom and switchbacks, the fastest and easiest routes to success. We set high goals and adhere to rigorous demands and diets and designs in the pursuit of domination over some thing in our lives. We determine to win.

Yesterday a friend and I talked for a few minutes about the plague of ambition in Christianity. He talked in military analogies and I think I disagreed until we came to an agreement. We agreed, at least, that some of us need to learn to slow down and some of us need to move forward.

In the translation of I Thessalonians 4:11 I have memorized, Paul says to make it our “ambition to live a quiet life and attend to our own business and to work with our hands,” and I love that. Yet it is one of the few times the word ambition is used in the Bible. And every other time it’s used, the word is tied to negative adjective: selfish.

The ambition to the faithful act of quietness, the faithful plot of my own business, the faithful work of my hands—this is an ambition we are less than hopeful about putting on our faith-resumes.

Let’s be ambitiously quiet today. Ambitiously faithful to our plot. Ambitiously working with our hands. Let’s see what God does with the opposite inclination of our society and culture.

Let’s still.

 

A few nights ago, after spending Christmas Eve in the Emergency Room and then a series of unfortunate events following, I found myself in the pharmacy at midnight. I turned to the man sitting next to me on grimy chairs, both of us bleary-eyed and said, “Merry Christmas.” He grunted in response and I wanted to cry.

I’ve been hesitant to ask many people how their Christmas was, not because I didn’t want to know, but because I didn’t want them to ask back. Mine was memorable, but not in the ways we like Christmas to be memorable.

. . .

There’s a woman whose story I’ve been following a bit over the past few months. Her husband sent me an email months ago asking if I wanted to review her book. Requests like these are many, but his email was different, and I paid attention. Since then I’ve followed her writing and journey with sorrow and joy. Her name is Kara Tippetts and she has cancer. It has ravaged her body so completely there is nothing left to do but call hospice, which her husband did today.

I read her recent post with tears streaming down my face because what a light and momentary affliction my Christmas week was. Even with another roommate in the Emergency Room this morning and with the weight of life falling heavy on another and the business of living on another—what light affliction. What a momentary suffering. This mama is curled next to her babies and they are watching her slip into the longest sleep. This mama has to hand their futures and living over to her pastor-husband and to the Lord in a way most mothers never will, and couldn’t imagine. And yet how gloriously she suffers.

She suffers knowing it is light—even though it is the heaviest thing she will ever bear. She suffers knowing it is momentary—even though she longs to stay here as long as possible, to simply give them one more memory of her smile and her love. She suffers knowing there is a weight of glory beyond all comparison.

I cannot wrap my mind around that—and I am not meant to, not fully. I don’t think any of us can, not really. Not until we are facing sure and certain death on earth, until its cold grip is nearly complete and our soul slips into the warm presence of Christ. But I want to understand it. I’m begging God to help me understand it tonight.

The only way I know to understand, though, is not to set my eyes on my suffering, but to, like Paul said, not look at the things that are seen, but the things that are unseen. I cannot see redemption in this life, no matter how hard I wish for it or look for it. Even my dreams pale in comparison to the glory I know he has prepared for me, so why would I set my hopes on them?

The transient things are seen—and this life, oh this turbulent, tumultuous, tenuous life is so visible, so seen. I see it in every direction of my life and the lives of the people I love. But there is a stayedness in the living dying of Kara Tippets and I am jealous for it. I do not envy her cancer, but I envy the way she has let the cancer eat away at bitterness or fear instead of feeding it.

I let the cancer of fear and insecurity and doubt feed more fears and insecurities and doubt. I stare at my light afflictions, daring them to prove themselves lighter. I trudge through my momentary afflictions, making it a slower and more weighty journey. How much better to set my eyes on the one to whom I run, to run with endurance, and to find myself arrived still astounded at the glory I behold? To spend my life imagining the glory and still find myself surprised at its splendor?

Let that hope of glory be the mark of our suffering, friends.

Pray for the Tippetts family. God, pray for them.

For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.
II Corinthians 4:17-18

(Kara’s blog is currently down, but when it’s back up, here’s the link.)

Kara Tippetts

In the morning, when the sky is still blushed pink and the babes have just scattered to their lives, I sit in the corner chair and read, drink my coffee slowly and breathe. All of this month it has been the book of Isaiah and I can’t stop the tears when they come. The promise is overwhelming and I wonder what it was like to be the people who dwelt in darkness, deep darkness, waiting for their light to come.

You and I know what it is to long for, to wait, but I wonder whether we have ever felt the heaviness, the belly of anticipation, like Jonah who could not know whether he would be there for three days or three years.

I am gauging out a timeline for something and I can only promise one year, maybe two, but the truth is, I can’t see further ahead than one day, maybe two. Was this how Jonah felt while stomach acids corroded his hope? Making plans and feeling eaten away at all at the same time?

He must increase, I must decrease.

I wonder sometimes whether we who understand the decrease, also understand that God is not against blessing us with every good thing under heaven?

Did his people understand this when Isaiah spoke? This is not it, he says over and over, there is more to come. I would have grumbled and shown him the timeline of my life, of my father’s life, and of his father’s. “What is the more?” I would have asked, and I do, every day.

. . .

Two weeks ago I stand by the synagogue where Jesus read from Isaiah, rolled the scroll, and said, “Today this has been fulfilled in your presence.” I think to myself, “I did not live in that today, but I live in this today and it has still been fulfilled in my presence.”

This Advent I am full of today. The punctual rising and intermittent falling, the motions and the movements. Today is what I have right now, I cannot hold tomorrow, I can barely see into tomorrow, and I cannot gather enough of anything to sustain tomorrow. I have this. Today he has fulfilled his word in my presence—and that miracle itself is enough and does sustain and will fill.

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So much of faith, for me, has been finding it again. Some have been given the gift of simple faith, easy, a natural bow into belief. That is not my story, nor my portion. All my faith has been wrestled for, won, lost, contended for, gained, slipped away, and shattered—again and again. Whenever I think I have found it, I find (most times) what I’ve found is myself and sometimes I am the greatest enemy of my faith.

I am not a fitful sleeper—sleep comes quickly to me and stays deep until morning most nights. But I slept fitfully last night, waking every hour. I was hot. I was cold. I was tense. I was afraid. I was contending.

Perfectionism is my vice and faith is its greatest gain. I set my sights on lesser things, sure, perfect thoughts, perfect writing, perfect design, perfect diet, perfect words, perfect image, perfect clothes, perfect home, perfect friendships. These elusive gains, for me, shadow the ever escaping faith I so desperately desire.

I ache for simple faith. I long for it. In the middle of the night I groan for it. I beg for it, pleading that he would so captivate my mind and heart, that I would be so fat on the feast He has provided in himself, that faith would slip into my heart and hands and stay for life.

But he has almost always withheld the gift of perfect faith.

. . .

For the past few weeks—at church, at small group, at our kitchen table—Hebrews 12:1-2 has been in our mouths.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.

It is nearly 4am and I have been lying there, in my twisted comforter and sheets for an hour, wrestling with the current capture of my mind. II Corinthians 10:5 says to take every thought captive to the obedience of Christ—but what about when the thoughts feel so enemy, you’re sure Christ won’t want them in his fold?

I stop on that thought: the idea that Christ wouldn’t want my rags, that his righteousness wouldn’t cover my wrestlings, that his goodness wouldn’t provide for my sin—and I remember “Jesus, the author and perfecter of my faith.”

Even my faith is not mine to perfect?

Everything in my life feels out of my ability to control, and faith is too?

. . .

Someone called me brave the other morning and I responded I have nothing to lose, but the truth is, I am brave because I am afraid of losing faith. The only way I know to keep it is to contend for it. But if Christ is the perfecter of my faith, then it is his to keep and hold—and contend for on my behalf.

I fall asleep in this truth: my faith belongs to Him, to grant to me in his time, his way, through his purposes, and for his goodness. It is his to perfect, not mine. And it is his to perfect in me—not mine to be wrestled for and won. The command for me in Hebrews 12 is to run with endurance. Faithfully asking for faith, obediently walking in obedience, gracious receiving grace. All his, perfecting in me the gift of faith.

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For as long as I can remember I have wakened to guilt. It is a pulsating thought with root in no particular sin or crime, just a carried burden that I have done the world, and the Lord, an irreparable wrong. It is not a quiet guilt, but a raging one. It consumes me on some days and on the days when it doesn’t, it reminds me it is coming soon for me again. I remember Augustine’s, “For what am I to myself without You, but a guide to my own downfall?”

Guilt is my roadmap to repentance—even when I’m not sure what it is I’m repenting for.

. . .

This morning I woke with my aching friend, I stretched my legs and he stretched himself alongside me, making sure to not leave any part of me untouched. My head first, then my heart, down to my burning belly, and my weary knees. He is not a good friend, his only aim to buckle me before I’ve seen the sun. Some mornings I cannot even fight him, we have grown accustomed to our daily ritual.

That I will disappoint the people in my life often and daily is no surprise to me, I find apologies falling from my mouth more than any other words. But that I have disappointed a God who makes unrecognizable demands—this is what frightens me the most. What is you want? I beg. I’m holding my life to him in trembling hands, leaving no part untouched, no part unsubmitted—and he is disinterested in all my small offerings.

“I want you.”

. . .

The guilt I carry stems from the inability to tell the difference between being wanted for what I can do and being wanted just as I am.

I know what I am just as I am and there is nothing good or desirable or holy or clean enough to stand before a Holy God.

I know what I can do, though; it is a list a mile long and growing—always in an attempt to be found desirable and wanted.

The besetting sins of perfectionism and comparison are, I am learning, the roots of this bedfellow of mine. But it is not just simply perfectionism and comparison in regard to men and women—though it works itself out to be that—it is the deepest, rawest, most fearful part of me that cannot stack itself up to my Father. I fail, miserably, every time.

This morning I am reading Romans 5 and tears spill over on verse six:

For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly.

I stay there for a while. Thinking of the timeline of my salvation, the present help in time of trouble, the future hope of glory—but thinking, mostly, of the before the foundations of the world. When I was at my weakest—my near non-existence, that I was chosen. Not when I was at my strongest, my most helpful and helped, my shining moments, crowned with achievement and success. He stooped, condescended, reached down, and plucked me from the mire that is my mind and my will and my emotions: including my persistent guilt. He loved me like that.

I may go to bed with guilt and wake with him for the rest of my days, and in my less than optimistic days, I am certain I will. Perhaps it is my thorn, but perhaps it is my mercy. My severe mercy, like Vanauken wrote: “A mercy as severe as death, a severity as merciful as love.” Perhaps it is God, who is love, loving me by showing me the weakness of me reveals the strength of Him?

Last week I rounded a corner in a Nashville convention center and came to face to face with three elders from my local church. One hugged me and I nearly cried. I haven’t been home in three weeks, and was only home about two weeks before that, and will only be home a few weeks before I leave again, this time for overseas and then other states.

I don’t know where home is right now.

Tonight I sat on the far left side of the sanctuary, where I always sit when I’m home, and I hardly recognized anyone sitting around me. We are a big church, but a small service, and I still felt the ache of everyone moving forward but me.

I told someone tonight I feel like I’m a kid with a pile of treasures, none of them making sense, all of them seeming valuable, but no idea where they belong or when.

I thought I would grow out of this.

Does everyone feel like this?

Like life is one series of mountains and molehills and ebbs and flows and you’re always waking up wondering where time went and if you’re too far behind to catch up, or too far ahead to stop now?

I don’t want to waste my life. I don’t want to waste it and I’m terrified of wasting it.

Faithfulness seems so mundane in a world ripe with success and achievements. I want to live a minimalist’s life, but I do it loudly, punctuated with images of what I’m doing and quotes of what I’m reading, hoping my simplicity will stick—if to no one else, at least to me.

But I do want to live a quiet life, and sometimes I resent the Lord for not allowing me the wallowing permitted to those who live behind closed doors and high fences. I dream of a house on a mountainside or an ocean inlet surrounded by pines. I dream of poetry and a fire in the fireplace and dinner on the table, a husband-partner, and children too. I have always dreamed of those things, unwaveringly since I knew how to dream. And those things have always been withheld because He knows those treasures are not what is best for me today.

Frederick Buechner said, “The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet,” but the questions I’m always asking are, “Where is my deep gladness? And what are you hungering for, world?”

The world’s hunger, as best as I can see, is to behold His beauty, and this I find is my deep hunger too. And if my gladness is found in his temple, his Holy place, then it turns out the pile of treasures in my pocket are not many, but one. Just one thing: to dwell in His house, to behold His beauty, to meditate in His holy place. This is the one thing I need and the one thing for which the world hungers. This is the unwasted life.