A full life in the empty places.
This space has been quiet for two months now as I have tried to learn what my friend Alia so beautifully calls "the fluency of hope." There are days now and then when 2:30 hits and I realize I have forgotten how to breathe and have to rediscover the rhythm of my lungs inhaling and exhaling. My body has been tired, and my spirit, more so. The inevitable temptation is to numb out. Even as I begin to write, there are so many other places crying out for my attention, and I want to settle in and click "next episode" one more time. I scour through Instagram for decorating tips and pretty penmanship and people whose words seem to fit together better than mine. Oh, how I have searched for words that fit just right -- but the truth is, nothing about this wilderness fits, and it wasn't made to. The wilderness is a birthing process -- the only way out is through, and it's never pretty, but it can be beautiful.
I came here to tell you about what I learned in the wilderness.
At the end of last year, I felt a keen sense that my time in the woods was coming to a close and that I was about to enter what some theologians have called the second half of life. If you've never heard that phrase before (I hadn't until recently), let me clarify: the second half of life has nothing to do with age. Some teenagers are already there, while some in their old age will never get there. The second half of life is simply a shift in how you see yourself and the world from an emphasis on doing to an emphasis on being. It is the space we occupy when we learn to live in the balance of the now and the not yet, the process of the scales being removed from our eyes and the ruining of everything we have clung to in a desperate attempt to cover our nakedness. It is the seeing of oneself and others with new eyes -- with Kingdom eyes.
It snuck up on me the way spring sneaks up on the longest winter. When I thought I would be in the woods forever, all of the sudden, I stumbled onto the edge of myself.
Perhaps the strangest realization is that I don't miss the person I was before I took that first step, before I realized that every moment of this life is strung together with the threads of choosing, blessing, breaking, and giving. I'd been living asleep and unaware, but now I am awake and that person is gone. Ashes to ashes.
"Love," Buddy Wakefield says, "love can see all of it. I am determined to see all of it -- I do not get to go blind again."
It has been about three years, give or take, with the most intense leg of the journey taking place in the past year and a half. These days have been spent opening my eyes and loosening my grip. I've counted the cost, and now I'm letting go, leaning into this gray middle where truth and beauty still find space to grow. And last year, I learned the true purpose of the wilderness.
Upon their exodus from Egypt, God's people spent 40 years wandering in the desert. He had provided for them, displaying his goodness and power in unmistakeable signs and wonders, yet they did not listen to his voice saying "you are my people and I am your God."
The wilderness has always been a space where the realest identity is affirmed.
There is no need to be afraid anymore, because you are free.
There is no fear in love.
Love can see all of it.
Most days I still don't get this right. The news outlets and my Facebook feed tells me to be afraid, be very afraid, because the people who don't look like me or vote like me or have sex like me or worship like me or live on the same side of town as me are out to get me. It isn't safe here, they say. We must always be on our guard, ready to defend ourselves against whatever might be lurking around the next corner. But I have spent too much of my life being afraid -- too many years have been wasted accepting less than the fullness I've been brought to, too much time settling for less than the deepest cravings of my soul.
We've been mercifully, lovingly called out of the grave and into the light, but still, we wear our grave clothes like security blankets because we're terrified of what the light might reveal, but fear will only ever betray us and leave us cold.
And love? Love can see all of it. I don't ever want to be too comfortable in my own fear-induced paralysis that I forget about the healing and abundance that is already mine in Christ.
Perhaps we have forgotten about abundance, about the God who is close enough to number the hairs on our head and bottle our tears and yet even still, his eyes are on the birds and the flowers. He has given us everything we need, revealed to us his very nature and told us not to be afraid. Our God, he is not a God of chaos and scarcity and panic.
He invites us to seek a different kingdom, to leave our grave clothes behind and in our nakedness, step into the communion of the Real and find that all of our needs are met. We are people of plenty.
Our inheritance is a Kingdom that will never pass away, and yet, somehow, we still fear that God's love will run out. We hoard our power, trampling over our neighbors and the least of these -- the living breathing image of God in our communities that we are called to love -- on our way to a perceived top that, in the economy of heaven, is actually the bottom. We live in perpetual anxiety that if our neighbors thrive, there will be less for us.
But there is a different way to live. I've tasted and seen it and now I couldn't go back even if I wanted to. We don't have to buy into the fear that our news networks and Facebook feeds are trying to sell us.
You don't have to buy into the fear that your news networks and Facebook feed is trying to sell you.
There is no fear in love.
Love can see all of it, and love never shies away -- instead, it comes all the way. Love saw weakness as being such an integral part of being alive that it chose to put on this skin, even the skin of those who fundamentally disagreed with it. Most of us can't even stomach seeing the opinions of people who don't vote the way we do on Twitter. We don't dare put ourselves in someone else's shoes. But we can do better. We were made to do better.
This isn't a political statement -- it's a biblical one. There is full life to be had right here and now, and it comes when we get fired up enough about the rampant injustice in our world to actually do something about it. It comes when we share what we have with the poor and the widow and the orphan, and the traveler knowing that giving is the real secret to having more than enough. We can build something better here from the rubble of our past, something stronger, something resembling heaven -- but first, we must be willing to look our own fear in the eye and evict it for good. We must be willing to face our own hearts, our own depravity, our own poorness of spirit.
Love already sees it.
Love sees past all our attempts to be impressive or remain in control -- beyond the mountain of trepidation we've placed between our hearts and vulnerability.
The Israelites loathed the wilderness sustenance, but my soul is hungry for the mystery. I tell God to show up however he wants to. I tell him that I'm so, so hungry. I tell him that I'm ready to fall upwards into love.
I accept the invitation to go in and take the land.
Someday, there will be a garden here.