Beauty and Awe

There was a mom and a little girl about three years old, standing amidst some wildflowers during my walk today. I watched the mom hold a flower up for her daughter to examine. “Isn’t it pretty?” she asked.

And I thought about how all good moms do that. They raise their children to be in awe of this world. From flowers to airplanes to puppies to sunsets, kids are being taught: “This world is magic.”

My mom told me when that before I could really talk in earnest, I would gasp, point, and say: “Ooooh, look! Preeeetty!” Did I really think the thing I was pointing at was pretty? I don’t know. Maybe. But mostly I was just mimicking my mom. I knew enough to know that there was beauty to be found in this world, and I wanted her to know I, too, was keen enough to spot it.

Why do we do that? Why do we raise our kids, teaching them to see beauty, if beauty doesn’t exist? If life is deadlines and depression and death?

Why do we read them stories about princesses and adventure, where individual people’s hearts and hair colors and dreams and courage MATTER? Why do we read them stories about hope and laughter and love? Do we do that so that they’ll grow up believing all of that is true to life, only to be crushed by “reality” as adults?

Do ADULTS believe that individual people, their individual stories matter? Do they believe life is rich with love and laughter, and that hope is life’s heartbeat? I think few do. And those that do are called idealistic or naive.

And yet, here we are, feeding our kids awe and wonder and magic. And we’re doing it from a place of deep, deep love.

So why?

I think because, on some level, we know that wonder and beauty and awe and the things of children’s books are true.

We grow up and a flower is just a flower. And sunsets aren’t a big deal anymore because they happen every night and there’s dinner to make and kids to get into bed and who has time to watch the sun go down?

We grow up and our hearts get broken, and dreams don’t always come true, and so we abandon hope.

We hold people loosely, not really trusting them again not to hurt us. And protecting ourselves from hurt? That hurts too. It’s lonely and scary. And yet we still call it love. We redefine love in our minds, believing that’s as good as it gets.

We stop pursuing our dreams, deciding instead that they’re silly and that adults don’t dream, they work and pay bills and that’s the responsible way to be an adult.

We go through life dull to the richness of possibility all around us.

And it hurts. But “that’s just life”. So we look forward to moments that don’t hurt. Barbecues and beer with friends and crawling into bed at the end of the night.

We go through life partially dead inside.

But just partially.

Because something inside of us still knows enough to look a three-year-old in the eye, hold up a flower for her to see, and say, “Isn’t it pretty?”

 

Love and Sin

He lifts her up to the telescope so she can see the bald eagles in their nest. He cradles her too-long-to-be-held body and waits for her confirmation that she sees.

And I smile because it’s beautiful, watching him be her dad. And also, my heart aches. Because no one will love me like that again. No one will call me daughter or know and delight in all the details about me, like the way my hair curls after a shower or slant of my nose or how only my right eye squints when it’s sunny outside.

And I remind myself, he’s her father, yes, but he’s still human. He was once a boy and now he’s a man. He grew up. He is an adult. But he was once just a child. He is human. He has flaws and areas where he falls short. And I remind myself, what my heart is screaming for, what I see in him, it’s just a reflection of the One who loves perfectly. And He calls me daughter.

But He isn’t here. He isn’t here to kiss the top of my head or cover me with a blanket when I fall asleep on the couch. He isn’t here.

*

I read about people who met Jesus in their lowest moments. People high or drunk or contemplating death, who were ambushed by the very real, living God. “I wouldn’t be alive still if He hadn’t met me in a really, really real way,” they say.

And I want that. I need that.

But I have to surrender even that to the One who has a plan. I can’t pray or fall to my knees or worship with an ulterior motive. I can’t do it to get something in return. I have to do it just because He is deserving and He promises to hear.

I have to knock… and keep knocking.

*

I watch them talk and laugh and play a game in the fading sun. I’m swaddled in a blanket, legs draped over the arm of a lawn chair.

And I wonder, what fuels them? How do they want to be here- talking, laughing, doing life? Their happiness both inspires and confuses me.

And I know they have moments where they’re desperately unhappy, moments of pain and fear and tears. But I also know that each day they wake up and they live this life. And they don’t have to consciously choose to stay alive. They’re grateful for this gift of a new day, even with its highs and lows. And when they get together with each other, their laughter and conversation comes easy and is life-affirming.

And I can’t imagine that. I can’t imagine, even in my happiest moments, being grateful for this life. Or rather, being excited about it. Because in my head I know that it’s a gift. And I AM grateful. One by one, throughout the day, I am listing off things that make life worth living. But it’s a practice, a desperate dialogue in my brain in hopes of retraining my heart to want to be here.

I’m grateful.

But more than that, I want the Jesus who can make my pain go away. And I don’t want Him as something conjured up within me. I want Him as real- as being in me and a part of me, but bigger than me and more real than anything I can see or feel- the fulfillment of every desire.

*

I hovered behind their circle, listening to the conversation, trying to look like I was a part of it. But I wasn’t. There’s a difference between being welcomed and being a part of something. And I’m grateful for being welcomed, and I don’t fault them for the rest. Because you can’t make yourself feel something. You can’t make something be what it’s just not. They can’t make me be a part of it. They can welcome me in, they can choose to let me be a part of it, but in their hearts? In their hearts I am separate. And they can’t control that.

I can’t make myself be safely held in their love. I can’t make us have a shared past. I can’t make my future be dreamed of and protected by them.

They welcome me. And I’m not alone. And I smile because there truly is nowhere on this planet I’d rather be.

But I am alone too. And I’d rather be in heaven.

*

She said my name. I didn’t even know she knew it. We’ve worked in the same office for years without ever talking. But we were passing in the hallway and I smiled at her and she said my name. And she said it right. “This matters,” my brain reflexively said.

And my heart asked: “What if she only knows how to say your name because she’s heard so much gossip about you?”

And my heart responded: “So what?”

Let’s be honest, this version of me does provide for lots of interesting gossip. I’ll let them have their gossip. I’ll let them debate among themselves what is true and what is false and what is true but exaggerated. Because it doesn’t matter. Their gossip is no more going to fuel my desire to live than it is going to be the straw that breaks the camel’s back. It is just a thing, like the weather or what’s coming on TV tonight. Or the fact that she knows my name.

*

“Don’t be mad at me,” I pray. Because I know my thoughts, my heart, I know they aren’t always obedient to the will of God. Wanting to give up on this life? That’s a sin. I know it. But I think it grieves Him more than it angers Him. Does He hold up a hand and keep me from coming closer when my being is flooded by a pain that I don’t understand? Does any good parent do that? Who, even when their children are wrong, tells them no, they will not hug them? When I beg God to hold me, all the while holding sin in my head as an option, does He not draw nearer? He does. The God I know, the Jesus I love, He will never turn me away.

And I don’t want to exalt my pain above Him. But even that, even that is beyond my ability to promise Him. And so I beg for help. I come to Him honest about my sin and my failings and my desire to do right and my desire to be with Him in a way that is tangible. And I pray He’ll sort it all out.

And in the sorting, I don’t think there’s anger. He remembers I am but dust. He remembers.

And when I tell Him I love Him, even when I don’t always live out my love for Him the way I should, I think He believes me.

And maybe right now what I’m bringing Him is more need than love, but I think that’s just as heartwarming to Him. “I need You,” is just as much worship as, “I love You.”

That’s what I think.

And nowhere in that, in my sin and desire to do right and pain and love and faith and despair, do I think He is going to punish me with hell.

Because I believe. Oh, how I believe. But I’m tired. And weak.

And so I come to Him, and I pray prayers that cannot be articulated because they’re too deep and too full of emotion. But they sound a little bit like: “Forgive me.” And, like a small child crying for her daddy, they sound a bit like: “Abba.”

The Deconstructing

I had a dream last night that my childhood home was being remodeled.

I was standing in the living room, watching people empty it out. Everything that makes a living room a place of comfort was being taken elsewhere. No more couch or TV or coffee table. No more lamp or bookshelf. It was just a room, empty.

And I didn’t understand the remodel. I didn’t understand why it was necessary or how it would benefit me. “Will the house be bigger when it’s done?” I asked. “Nicer? Fancier?” No. Not really. Essentially, the floors and walls were going to be replaced, updated. And it wasn’t going to look any different when all was finished, but it would be more efficient. Not nicer, but better. Not fancier, but stronger.

And I listened to what process was going to be taken to make this happen, and I felt angry. Displaced. No longer at home in my own house. I was told that one by one, the walls would come down. One would come down and a new, “better” wall would be built in its place, and then the next wall would come down and the process would repeat itself.

And I said, “How long are we going to have to live without a wall!? It’s going to be so cold in here!”

And I don’t remember getting an answer. I just remember standing there, in the empty living room, not okay with the process my home was undergoing, and trying to understand how I would ever feel okay in a house that was cold, exposed to the elements, emptied of comfort.

*

I wonder how much of that is a metaphor for what is happening inside of me right now.

*

I watched a client’s child fall asleep in her arms this morning, his too-big body still finding rest and comfort on her lap. One thumb was in his mouth, and with his other hand he was absentmindedly playing with her hand- rubbing her fingernails, grabbing her fingers, finding comfort in touch. And slowly, his eyelids grew heavier and heavier, his blinks growing longer and longer.

And she watched him sleep while she talked with me. She smoothed his forehead, making sure he wasn’t getting too hot, and brushed his hair back with her hand, and wiped a fallen eyelash from his face.

*

I can’t fix it, this scream inside of me. This tightening of my chest. This desire to run from something that can’t be escaped.

I can’t fix it.

But I can let myself be His.

Because if we humans, flawed and sinful, care about even our child’s stray eyelash, how much more does He care about us?

Needing Jesus and Being Jesus

At therapy a couple weeks ago, I was in the waiting room when a kid, probably about seven years old, came running out of his therapy appointment and excitedly scanned the room for his mom. He started to run towards a woman he thought was his mom for a second, but then he realized it wasn’t and I watched his face fall.

For a while, he stood against the wall and watched the door for his mom to arrive. I tried to smile reassuringly at him a couple of times, but I felt like I was triggering his Stranger Danger alarm, so I mostly just read my book. When I looked up again, he had disappeared around the corner.

And then I heard something.

It sounded like crying.

So I got up to investigate, and sure enough, the little boy had waited bravely for his mom for a solid five minutes or so before collapsing into a chair and crying.

I was kneeling to talk to him, reassuring him that his mom would be there any minute and offering for him to come sit with me until she arrived, when she came through the door.

My initial reaction? Anger. Who leaves their small child alone at a therapy session? And what kind of therapist dismisses a child after his therapy appointment without first checking to see if his parent is there?!

Immediately, before she had even walked through the doorway, her son jumped up and, still sobbing, ran to her, wrapping his arms around her.

That kid? He’s me. Maybe he’s all of us.

Maybe we’re all just scanning the room for a familiar, loving face. Someone to wrap our arms around. And when no kind eyes and loving embrace can be found, maybe we all struggle to maintain a brave face. Maybe we’re all tempted to slink down into a chair and cry hopeless, scared tears into our hands.

I suspect that is, indeed, all of us.

And the reason I suspect that is because we’re all wired to need Jesus in that way. We’re fragile, us humans. We need Someone strong and loving to hold on to.

I think we get taller and older, but that we’re all still our child selves deep down.

We all still need love and belonging. We all crave feeling safe and wanted. We all want to know someone is waiting for us- sitting in the waiting room after our therapy session or awaiting our arrival at home at the end of the day.

We want to know our names and faces and hearts matter because of who we are, and not because of what we do. We want it to matter that our favorite color is yellow and that we bite our fingernails and that sometimes when the moon is full it makes us think of heaven and Jesus and our eyes tear with the wonder of it all.

When we are children, the hope is that our parents can be that for us. That they can model Jesus for us and point us to Him. Of course, that’s unfortunately not the way it always works out, but that was God’s plan, I believe.

Either way, however, when we get older the Lord is meant to be that for us- the one person who will never walk out, never leave us standing alone in the waiting room, watching the door with a trembling chin.

He can’t wrap His arms around me, not yet, but that doesn’t mean I can’t run to Him.

And sometimes He blesses us with people who can wrap their arms around us- people who can reflect His love for us.

And sometimes He blesses us by allowing us to be that to someone else.

This morning on my way to work, I witnessed a car accident. It was bad enough for one of the cars to be rendered not drive-able, but thankfully no one was injured.

I pulled over to the side of the road. I expected to be dismissed when I walked up to the car nearest to me and asked if there was anything I could do, but instead, she nodded slowly. “You saw the accident happen?” she asked me, teary and trembling. I confirmed that I did. “Would you like me to stay?” I asked her. And she looked down at her hands and nodded.

I reached in through her window and rubbed her shoulder. I asked if she was hurt. She told me her coffee spilled. She said that she saw the car coming up behind her but that there was nothing she could do. She said that it all happened so quickly.

And then she got out of her car. And suddenly she was that little boy in the waiting room, trying to maintain a brave face as she surveyed the wreckage around us and tried to wrap her mind around how quickly her day had been turned upside down.

She started to cry.

“Is it okay if I hug you?” I asked.

Again, a nod.

And so I hugged her and she cried.

I am so glad I stopped this morning. I hadn’t thought it would matter if I was there, that I would just get in the way, and really, what could I do anyway? And so I almost kept driving.

But because I didn’t, because I obeyed the tiny whisper inside of me and pulled over to the side of the road, I got to be Jesus to the people involved in the accident today.

I got to be His arms and kind eyes and gentle smile. I got to be His affirmation that “YOU MATTER! YOUR PAIN, YOUR FEAR, YOUR TEARS- THEY MATTER!”

I stayed there, comforting each driver, for about an hour. Thirty minutes after I left, I got a text message from the woman who had cried on my shoulder. She thanked me for stopping. “Not many people would’ve stopped on their way to work,” she said.

It was an honor to be there for them in that moment, to be there when they needed someone to rub their shoulder and witness their tears and ask if they were okay.

And so I responded and told her that being there this morning was the most important thing I could’ve possibly been doing with my time. And I reassured her that my boss understood.

It’s beautiful, this life.

As I’ve said in my recent posts and am going to echo now, it bring tears to my eyes- both what I don’t have, and what I do.

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Ears To Hear

I’ve been having some really vivid, really bad dreams lately.

But there has been a progression, I’ve noticed.

My dreams this week started out being just bad. Terrifying, really. Dreams in which I was somehow being targeted or victimized. Dreams where I was powerless.

But towards the end of the week, my dreams took a different shape. They were still bad. I was still, on my own, powerless. But the difference was that Jesus loomed larger in my dreams than my victimizer. My dreams were no longer the same intensity of terrifying because my dream self had called on Him. My dream self has stopped trying to do it on her own strength. I called His name and He came. And I knew He was in control. I wasn’t anybody’s victim because I was (am) His child.

During one particularly powerful and vivid dream, I actually felt sympathy for my dream’s “bad guy”. I knew he was blinded. I knew he thought he saw things clearly, thought he saw how they “should” be, but that he was wrong. So wrong. And while he meant me (and many others in my dream) harm, I knew he was confused. And, even though I knew he might retaliate at my boldness, my dream self actually placed her hand over his heart and prayed aloud for him. Not worried I’d offend him, not worried he’d lash out, I prayed that he would be able to see clearly what he was doing. And I prayed God would forgive him.

When I woke up, I felt Jesus smiling at me. Sometimes my awake-self is so fearful, so confused about what really matters, but my dream self isn’t. My dream self has unwavering faith. My dream self has seen the face of God and is changed.

Last night, however, I had a much different dream. I was at my elementary school playground. It was sunny. And I was practicing handstands against the brick wall. Twenty-seven years old, practicing handstands.

Life is so beautiful it makes me cry. Even when it’s excruciating, it is beautiful. There is evil, yes, but this is still the world our God created. These are still the people He knit together in their mothers’ wombs. Every sunrise, every baby, every time someone smiles at you and the smile reaches all the way up to their eyes, every kind gesture, every kind word, every starry night- they are not “just part of life”, they are messages to us about God’s character, His heart for us.

When I watch a mother look at her daughter the way only a mother can do, when I hear someone say their father is their biggest supporter, when I see a husband tenderly kiss the top of his wife’s head, my heart twists with the grief of it all.

But those moments are messages, too. This heart of mine, which feels so grieved and twisted, was created by God. Those things hurt because they weren’t supposed to be that way. He designed us to be loved. We hurt because we were created for more. 

But with every tear, with every moment where I feel paralyzed with the weight of life, God is there. He is so, so present. He says to me, “Come to Me. You are still Someone’s child. look at you the way that mom is looking at her daughter. I am a bigger fan of yours than your earthly father ever could be. If only you knew how often I look at you tenderly and kiss your head. You are so, so beloved. You want so badly to belong, to be treasured, but you don’t realize that you already are. You are MINE.”

In every thing, every laugh, every tear, God whispers to us.

Lord, help us hear You.

When Love Makes You Cry

Last night as I was reading in bed, I burst into tears. Usually Brittany doesn’t lay in bed with me and read in the evening, but last night she did. And while I was a little bit embarrassed at the time, I think my tears were a good thing for her to be privy to.

I was reading the Beth Moore book I’ve been reading, (The Beloved Disciple), and in her closing chapters she began to discuss the end times. Normally, that is a topic I avoid. In fact, I almost skipped the last chapters. But I decided instead to tiptoe through them, testing the waters. I told myself I would just close the book if things got too intense and come back to it at a later time.

But Beth, (who is quickly becoming my new BFF), in typical Beth fashion, spun it in such a way that I found myself sobbing, not in fear, but in awe of how much God loves us.

I have never, ever, not for a single moment, been unloved. I have never not mattered. I have never been invisible. I have never been insignificant. All the times I’ve felt unloved or like I didn’t measure up? They were lies. They were lies from the pit of hell. And I’ve known that in my head, but last night God freshly revealed it to my heart.

And so I sat there in bed last night, sobbing and blubbering like a small child to Brittany about how “His eyes light up when I wake up in the morning”.

Even now, the tears just keep coming. I almost don’t understand the tears myself, as I don’t consider myself much of a crier, but I think that my heart is just overwhelmed with love for Him. He has seen the best and worst of me. He knows how very undeserving I am of His love. And yet He looks me in the eyes and holds my head in his hands and smiles in His tender, Jesus way, and He tells me over and over again, “I LOVE you.”

How I cannot wait for the day when I can throw my arms around Him and tell Him, “I love You, too.”

After my crying began to lessen last night and I regained some composure, Brittany showed me this video. I think she thought it would make me giggle or something, but instead it just made me cry all over again.

Seriously, life. Sometimes you hurt so good.

And then she showed me a second video, which also made me cry and blubber aloud about how “I cannot wait to have children and be able to make them that happy and have a husband who loves our children that much”. And Brittany laughed while I cried, which was okay with me because I was laughing too. And I imagine that Jesus, with tears of joy in His eyes, was laughing as well. The three of us there, sitting on my bed, laughing.

Because life is good. It is so painfully good.

And every aspect of it that is good, is God.

And so, in closing, I cried last night. I cried because God is good. So, so good.

Thank You, Abba, for every instance in which You reveal Your heart to me.