Mountain to Mountain

mountain to mountain

Leave Sinai for Zion.
Drop the law at the foot of the mountain
And burst into My banquet hall set with a feast.

No longer cover your face,
No longer glimpse the back of Me –
But instead find My eyes with yours
And let Me hold your hands once more.
Let Me wash you of your ashes,
Let Me exchange your fig leaves for a body free of shame again.

Walk with Me.

Tell Me again of your heart’s deepest desire
And let Me fulfill it.
For I will again be your Mother Hen –
in My wings you are safe.
I will again be your Shepherd –
I have never stopped searching for you.
I will again be your God,
Always Yahweh, always Emmanuel.

And you with your new name –
The name I gave you long ago,
The name you’ve been searching for,
The name that seals your wholeness.

You are complete again.

You have found Me waiting in Eden’s gardens
And I have closed the pits within you
And I have emptied your soul of demons
And I have done what I promised.

Sit next to Me and tell your Abba again all the stories of your life.
You have My ear forevermore.

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Our dusty selves

 

dusty selves

 

Today is Ash Wednesday.

And I have no idea what is going on in my life.

And I wonder, sometimes, if maybe that is the point. I read a lenten devotional today, since today marks the first day of Lent. The author said that Lent was about stopping where we are. It’s about stopping, in the middle of where we were and where we think we need to be and being here. It’s about stopping and remembering our dusty selves – from dust, and to dust we shall return – remembering the two things we so desperately try to forget at every other buzzing, busy time: our sin and our humanity.

I read those words and they stopped me; they made me pause and stare and think – and I didn’t like it. Because it is exactly where I’m at right now. I might be here, but in my head, I am in a thousand different places. I have this personality that sometimes seems allergic to the present, forever lingering in what was and, lately, setting up camp in all the places I think I need to be running toward.

Believe me when I say it – there are so many places that I think I need to be right now. And if I am being honest with you, dear reader (which I am), then you must know this: I am so weary of all the places I think I need to be going to.

I am in this weird paradox: so intimately aware of my humanity and all the ways I fall short because of it, but so insistent on ignoring my humanity and just plowing through like I can do everything. It’s like I’m in an action film, and I’m the stubborn heroine who just got shot in the leg but insists it’s just a graze as I fling myself into battle once more. There. That makes it sound heroic. That makes it sound epic. Special. Like I care more about the people I’m battling for than my own single, solitary, bloody leg.

But I don’t think that’s how it goes. I’m not convinced that when Jesus stops us, when he slides in before us, as we run into the fray or shuffle into work or open up a new job application – that he only does it to cheer us on, to egg us forward, to commend our heroic and courageous deed.

I think maybe he’s trying to get us to stop.

Stop. Enough charging into this battle of your life. Enough seeing this life as your battle. You are dust, and to dust you will return. But in the meantime, you may rest.

And there, in the midst of it, his ashy thumb caresses my forehead and there is the cross.

Oh, it is so hard to stop. It is so hard even to pause, for the moments of daily communion, for the knowledge of the truth to sink into my bones: I do not have to win today. I don’t have to make a thousand decisions about my life, I don’t have to know what is happening and where I’m headed.

I’m weary of going places. I’m tired of battling. I’m tired of anxiety. I am tired of heroics.

Stop. Enough going places. Enough believing that you must always be going places and doing things and justifying your life for everyone around you. You are dust, and to dust you will return. But in the meantime, you may rest.

And there, in the midst of it, another ashy thumbprint swipes across my forehead and I am staring at my humanity and my failings and my fear and my worry and my spinning head and unknowable life.

It is here that I remember those Garden promises – the goodness of it all. The Way Things are Supposed to Be. I see the humanity – all the guilt and shame and baggage that comes along with it – and I remember that it was once Good. And this ashy cross, this paused Wednesday, everything it signifies is the way it’s all becoming Good Again.

Stop. Enough remembering the cross as the end. Enough wondering if this night will last forever. You are Good. You are becoming Good again. You are running toward the Garden – not a job or a marriage or a new city or an apartment or the fulfillment of some ideal life you’ve created. You are running through the ash and through the palms and through the open tomb and

You are running toward the Garden.

So breathe.

And there, in the midst of it, because that is where Jesus finds us, because that is where he is, because that is where our lives take us, because that is where it hurts, because that is where we’ve been shot, because that is where the battle rages, because that is where the sea is rising, because that is where your resume gets forgotten, because that is where your breath becomes erratic, because that is where you sink to the ground, because that is where we need him – one more ashy thumbprint cross to smooth out our furrowed brow.

Today is Ash Wednesday.

 

What I learned while waiting.

grandpa blog post

It was a year ago today that my Grandpa passed away.  I haven’t seen him whole and real since last August, so though it was only a year ago that he was here and then not, it feels like longer. He wasn’t himself for all those months that he was sick. And what I miss is his Self.  His laughing, smiling, slow-driving, made-up-language-speaking Self.

My dad drives Grandpa’s truck now, which is strange and practical and disorienting.  Since I don’t live at home anymore, every time I come home on break, I see the truck in the driveway, the truck that picked me up from band camp and brought me to middle-of-day doctor’s appointments. For a second, I think I’ll see him behind the wheel. It’s funny; my sister says sometimes she sees Dad driving it and he looks vaguely like Grandpa, hunched up behind the wheel.  My dad has been doing Grandpa-y things lately.  I like it.

We had my Grandpa’s memorial in July this year.  I read the piece I wrote last year after he died – it was so much fun to tell that story of him again.  I’m glad I got to do it, but to be honest, I wasn’t entirely excited about waiting until July to have his memorial.  I remember being upset about the waiting, upset that we weren’t going to end what felt like months of stress and grief and busy-ness at the time when they should end.

(Something I’ve noticed about myself is that I often feel like the shoulds of my life need to be the same as the shoulds in everyone else’s.  If something should happen a certain way for me, it should happen that way for everyone else.

I’m usually kind of short-sighted when it comes to my shoulds.)

In the end, it was good to wait to have the memorial, for practical reasons and for symbolic ones.  Practically, considering last winter, it was easier for everyone to get up the hill to the cemetery where we buried his ashes when there wasn’t three feet of snow on the ground.  Symbolically, it was beautiful, because summer personified my grandpa.  He was all sunshine and darkened skin and tattered summer tank tops.  He was more lawn mower than snow plow, more light breeze than stinging chill.

And the wait itself was good for us.  It gave people time to patch up a bit. For months, life had been hospitals and doctor’s visits and stark white walls and trips to Cleveland and where is the joy I thought this was Christmas?  It had taken three months for my grandparents to go from being well to one of them being sick enough for Hospice.  There needed to be time before putting a definitive end to all that.

I learned a lot about waiting last year, but I’ve only just begun to really think about it this year, during this Advent. Advent is about waiting – it is about joyful, patient, hope-filled waiting for the King, for the Immanuel.  Last year, I didn’t care much for Advent waiting.  The defiant optimism of Christmas, while in many ways welcome, comforting, peaceful, was also full of hurt and stress.  I don’t know how others in my family felt about it, but for me, it was like putting Neosporin on a fresh cut: It was meant to help. It was meant to heal. But all it did then was sting.

This year, I have been stoked for Christmas.  I have loved Advent, loved re-learning how to wait with joy.  Last year, I was waiting for death. And while I tried desperately last year to focus my attentions on the hope that Jesus brought, the sheer wonder and brilliance of God-with-us – I couldn’t unstick my mind from the waiting for something I dreaded happening.  It was hard for me to really understand what God had begun to try to teach me, ever so gently, so lovingly, as He does. This year, I’m beginning to see it.

There are two ways to wait for anything. We can wait with hope or with dread.  And maybe sometimes it’s both, because life is full of bad things – but life is more full of good things, of beautiful and awesome and magnificent things.  Jesus came here. He didn’t come as a pig for slaughter; he came to show us a life well-lived. A Full Human Life – that’s what we were waiting for. And that Human Life led to death, but not forever-death. There is no greater love than the love that lowers it’s head to the guillotine, that jumps in front of the gun, that crawls up on the altar itself, that gives up his life for his friends. That life was one spent loving the poor and the forgotten, raising up the oppressed, lifting the beggars and adulterers and lepers up from the dusty path and calling them blessed, wanted, chosen, remembered, precious. When we wait in Advent, we are waiting again for that Full Human Life, that life that saved us by dying and returning, that life that promised us that we would wait with dread no longer.

Wait with dread no longer.

Even for the bad things. Even when we are waiting for death, what we are really awaiting is new life, Full Human Life. We are awaiting a day when the people we love, and someday we ourselves, can step out of these shadows and figure out what it’s really like to live in the Light.

So, yes, today I am sad. Today, I miss my Grandpa a lot. But what I want, what I desperately want, is to remember how to wait with hope. To be sunshine and darkened skin and tattered summer tank tops in the midst of winter. To give myself and others time to heal. To anticipate the beautiful, the King, the Immanuel.

May my Advents be ones of hope.

For Elaine

Dear Elaine,

My darling, the world is so big for you.  I am so excited for you, and you are not even twenty-four hours old.  But, my love – my dear cousin, you are already destined for mighty things.  The God who knit you together did so with such care.  He spent millennia fashioning your precious soul.  Your toes and your lungs and your elbows consumed His thoughts for longer than we could imagine.  He has never and will never grow tired of you.  He longs for you to come to Him with all the musings, desires, and thoughts buried deep within you.  He will always hear you, no matter whether you sing or cry or scream or whisper or laugh or talk so quickly that no one else understands.  He will never grow weary of you.

My darling, our Papa is gentle and perfect.  He is on your side.  You can never go too far out of His arms that you can’t turn back.  He will always welcome you back.

This life you’ve tumbled into is not always simple.  Your path will be twisty at times.  You will scrape your knees and get headaches from too many tears.  Sometimes nights will feel endless here.  You will get scared, and probably sometimes you won’t understand even your own heart.  People will be mean to you, and you will be mean to people – even people you really, really love.  You will lose people who you don’t want to lose: this journey has many paths, and we do not all travel the same one at all times.  Those you love sometimes go one direction, and you will go someplace else.

But listen to me, my dear: this life is so, so glorious, too.  You will learn to run someday.  You will taste freedom and know joy.  You will laugh at goofy jokes and ridiculous movies and even yourself.  You will discover that which makes your heart beat a little faster – those passions created inside you may be many, and they may not make sense, but it is your job to notice what you love and decide to do something about it.  It might take lots of time.  That’s okay.  You have time.  You will find your people – the ones who get you, who anchor you.  And you will see the Father, even before you know Him by name.

Oh, dear heart, you will learn so much.  You will learn of forgiveness, that mysterious and holy gift.  You will learn of grace, an infinite wellspring in a dry-desert life.  And you will learn of love – so many loves, but each one an ultimate and divine expression of the very Essence of our Rescuer.

My love, you will be taken care of.  You have found your way into a good home in this world.  This is a family full of strange and beautiful love, and oh my goodness we can be an odd bunch.  But we fling our arms wide here.  So run into the house – make a mess, in any sense of the term, and allow your soul to be a little wild and unpredictable.

Do not forget that you are loved, supported, believed in, and valued.  I pray the great worth you have rings true within you every day of your time on this earth.  And I pray you live in the spirit of that worth.

I have run this race for only a short distance, but I have noticed this: this life is a grand adventure.  And I have not always lived it as such.  But you, my lovely cousin, were born at a time in my life when I came to yet another agreement with God.  I want more adventure, I told Him.  And in a tempest, in His infinite grace, He answered me: Yes, My child.  Your heart is ready now.

May you ask for the adventures sooner than I did.  And may you trust Him to make your heart ready, again and again and again.

With love always,

Courtney

September 12, 2014

twenty-second summer

22nd summer

I was talking a mile a minute about myself, about my passions and my beliefs and that girl who lives deep in my heart, when the words spilled from my mouth before I even realized that I had thought them:

Big life to be had.

And for a few hours, I was really proud of those words.  My conversation partner had noticed them too, writing them down to remember, looking at me with wide eyes and a slight smile.  She asked where I’d read that, and I said I didn’t think I’d read the particular phrase anywhere; I just said the words because they made sense, because I felt them, because it was in my heart.

It sounds very beautiful: I said the words that were in my heart.  That’s what makes me special, isn’t it?  That I have this way with language.  I spin letters like the fairy tales spoke of spinning straw into gold. 

But on my short drive home tonight, I mulled the words over in my head, and my pride slipped away a bit.  I believe those words – big life to be had – but maybe I don’t always live like it.  I have an anxious heart – a big, open, hopeful, loving, joyful, trembling, giggling heart, but an anxious one, too.  I know this about myself.  Last semester’s moments of panic and sleeplessness confirmed it.  The fact that it is difficult for me to get into cars with drivers who aren’t myself.  The fact that sometimes, I hurt the people I love most because I think I need to be in control.  It is indeed a big life to be had, but often my fear gets in the way, and I hate that.  Because I know in the deepest chamber of my heart that I was not created to be afraid. 

This summer has been one of rediscovery.  Finding again that girl in that heart chamber who runs barefoot through forests and cities and deserts.  I didn’t venture far: I stayed in my college town, lived with a lovely professor, and worked on campus.  I scaled no mountains, but I did road trip to the Pennsylvanian Appalachians.  I went to four weddings, visited my boyfriend’s family, went home a few times, watched my sister graduate high school, buried my grandfather’s ashes, saw the destruction of a tornado, ate dinners on the deck, read many books, watched many movies, took a yoga class, babysat tinies, went to Florida, flew alone for the first time, wore more dresses than I did shorts, stayed up very late, held hands, saw three shooting stars, went on countless nighttime walks, and felt like it all meant something.  My best friend lived minutes away and so we could celebrate our 8- and 9- and 10- and 11-month anniversaries together.  The depth of the fear I had felt the previous semester began to dry up, and though I slipped many times back into the leftover muck, I started to find myself again. 

And my goodness – my self is complicated.  All selves are, I am convinced.  I shift so easily from joy to self-pity.  My temper flares suddenly and dies out slowly.  Sometimes I can’t stop speaking.  Other times, I can barely stutter my way through a thought. 

And yet.

This summer, I remembered time and again the love that abounds for me.  Love from the Maker, yes, He who molded and bought me, He who wins me over no matter how often I drift.  This love drenches and soothes, and I have felt it so clearly at so many moments these past few months.  But love from others, as well.  From the family that does not try to hold me back or call me home, but instead lets me grow elsewhere, and always answers the phone.  From the friends with the front door that I do not have to knock on before entering.  From the yoga teacher who looked me in the eye and told me that my strength had nothing to do with my size, but instead everything to do with the love I poured into the earth and the people around me.  From the young man who keeps walking beside me.  From the children with eyes that light up when they see me.  From the small, noisy little dog who cries and licks and runs to me when I come home for a visit.  

Love.  It is all love.  Find it, again and again and again.  

So maybe the words I spoke were truer than even I realized.  Big life – big life full of love and road trips and going to the office.  Life with the people who make it big.  Stay in the small town when all the kids go home, and find again the community that surrounds those who remain. The secret, it seems, is not to find arrogant pride in the big life, nor is it to believe the lie that the fear defines you and steals the big life away. 

The secret, if it was ever a secret at all, is to find the life you have, over and over again, and see how big it must be to hold all the love poured in. 

It is a big life to be had, dear heart.