Thoughts on safe spaces and how to survive the world.

I wake up early, turning my alarm off and scrolling to see that #HowToSurviveTwitter is trending. The irony of this isn't lost on me: these social networks designed to bring us closer together are actually enabling seeds of bitterness and division to flourish. My heart feels so heavy lately that I wonder if any words will wander in at all, for fear that this weight in my chest will suck the life right out of them. And I don't know if I can handle any more death. Some days, it feels like nothing is safe or sacred or beautiful anymore, and I know when I get these spirally feelings, the only sure solution is to unplug -- to immerse myself in scripture and an extra hot bath.

The truth is, I've spent most of my life trying to save myself. Trying to measure up. Trying to prove to you that I am worthy of love and that I'm not too much trouble. I've been trying to preserve my own way of thinking and acting and I hold onto my own comfort so tightly that my hands burn and blister raw. I've looked for safety in all the wrong places.

Isn't that all we want at the end of the day? Isn't safety the driving force behind everything we do, from buying organic eggs to dropping bombs?

Our craving for safety leads us to lock our doors, and fear bullies us into locking our hearts. What we don't realize when we throw away the key, though, is that we haven't only insulated ourselves from brokenness -- we've also actively refused the remedy for our anxieties.

He who wishes to save his life must lose it.

If there's one thing I know for sure now, it is that the answers are rarely as simple as we want them to be. An old friend told me recently that we are all being thrown into shades of gray, and I tend to believe that's true. So I'm trying not to be too prescriptive these days -- except when it comes to love. I believe that we can choose to love because God loved us first, and he so loved our world.

Love begins with the willingness to see. And when we open our eyes, we will see the brokenness of the world -- the differences that seem to refuse reconciliation. That same friend asked me the other day how we can choose to love each other in spite of these differences, and my only thought was that we simply hold onto each other, leaning into the tension together until all is reconciled. Because we know that the story ends at the table, with a family. We know that in the end, all will be made well. Fear has an expiration date. When we open up our eyes, we will see the beautiful parts of the world -- the evidence of redemption. And sometimes, we will see that the line between ugly and beautiful gets blurry -- like how the scorch of the forest fire makes the soil more fertile, or how a seed must be buried and break open in order for what's inside to reach the surface.

And we can choose to be kind, because there isn't one of us who isn't feeling more than a little buried and broken, and sometimes it is hard to know which way is up.

We can go out on a limb and tell the truth when someone asks us how we're doing. Sure, it might be shocking at first, but I'm learning that it is only when we lay down our own fig leaves of fine that other people will feel freed up to do the same. Instead of shouting our opinions from the rooftops of Facebook and Twitter, we can choose to boldly whisper our stories in the presence of friends. We can put down our devices long enough to learn the names of our neighbors and listen to the worries of our kids.

When we open our eyes and our ears and our hands, we begin to see that the issues we go on and on about affect real people on our own streets, and I’m convinced there’s something about looking into someone else’s eyes that shocks our own hearts into rhythm. When we crack open the doors to our own truths in the presence of others, we crack open the doors to healing. This is how we move from being spectators to the redemption story to being participants with Christ.

He looked us in the eyes wasn't afraid of us sticking our hands in his wounds.

I know that living this way, broken wide open, will hurt, and I can't tell you with any certainty that it will ever hurt less. That is the ugly-beautiful tension of it all: the surgeon's cut is always the first step towards surviving and healing.

This isn't meant to be a political statement. I just mean to say that I'm tired of being afraid. The days of injustice are numbered, but love lasts. And don't we all want to be part of something that lasts? I'm learning how to be a safe space for the people I love. And I'm learning how to find safe spaces in them as well. The world needs safe spaces. Because I know that if we are going to survive, it will be together.

With each other and for each other. And that will be enough.

A love letter to the weary watchers this Advent.

Dear you, dear me, dear weary world, dear us standing together—

When I was growing up, I didn't know anything about the Liturgical Year. We attended a small Pentecostal church with rusty red carpet and green pews and a hefty pastor and my parents were not well versed in the church calendar. I knew about Daniel and the lion's den, Esther becoming queen, the prodigal son, and how one time Jesus made a cocktail of spit and dirt and rubbed it in the eyes of a blind man to give him back his sight.

I knew about the highlights. Christmas and Good Friday and Easter and that one Sunday every year when people got really wild and waved palm branches around (that especially embarrassed me). Lent was a time when some people decided to give up chocolate for 40 days, but in the end they just felt like losers, because who could really make it 40 days without chocolate? I knew nothing of Epiphany or Advent or the strings of ordinary time that held them together.

As an adult, I grow more appreciative of the intricacy of the Liturgical calendar with each passing year. This year, Advent, in particular, has opened me up to a kind of awe and wonder that I've scarcely ever felt. And it has broken me wide open to an unbridled longing.

 

Aleppo.

Orlando.

Bombs, bullets, all the bullets.

"The gunman was..."

Riots.

Planes falling out of the clear blue sky.

Attacks.

"I moved on her like a bitch..."

Townville, South Carolina—all of fifteen minutes away.

Haunted.

#BlackLivesMatter

Hurricanes, tornadoes, earthquakes.

 

The earth is quaking and we can't stand by any longer and pretend like the storms are happening somewhere out there. They're inside of us.

Job loss.

Financial crisis.

Crumbling marriages.

Addiction.

Loneliness.

Disease.

Numb the pain.

Gossip.

Betrayal.

All this loss.

 

And buried somewhere underneath the rubble—the realization that this world is not our home. I knock unrelenting on heaven's door, pleading.

Where are you? 

Have you left us? 

 

My soul yearns.

And then.

A thrill of hope. 

At just the right time.

Our King has come. 

Emmanuel, God with us.

 

The greatest gift of all time in the most unexpected package.

At some point, I remember learning that the people with the palm branches in The Bible had the wrong idea about Jesus. They thought he would save them from Caesar, when really, he came to save them from their sin.

Chains shall he break, for the slave is our brother—and in his name, all oppression shall cease. 

He weeps for them. 

Perhaps there are a handful who know, somehow, somewhere in their souls that nothing would ever be the same again.

He didn't come to make us comfortable. Rather, that in our brokenness, we could be comforted. A holy God saw brokenness as being such an integral part of the human experience that he could not go another moment without putting skin in the game. Jesus didn’t come so that we could climb some corporate ladder or hit it big or simply make ends meet or just do okay or feel high and mighty about our stance on gun control and who can use what bathroom. He didn't come for us to experience the same old stuff on a different day. He didn’t give his life so that we could walk around with the prerecorded response of busy or fine. 

He came to become a casualty, to be cast aside, to be spit upon and mocked and denied and sold out and it didn't have to be this way. He took upon himself the punishment that we had coming to us—rescuing us from what we surely deserved.

He came to make Love great again.

We know. We know. 

And then he asked us to give our lives as evidence.

"Whoever loses his life for my sake will find it."

Whoever is willing to live in this holy, painful tension—whoever is willing to take up his own cross, to let go of dreams and plans and security and bucket lists in order to be poured out alongside me. 

We are broken, and we are broken for each other. We are poured out, and we are poured out for each other. This is the way of the beloved, the way of being transformed to the image of Christ, whose body was broken and poured out for us.

We can be the Aaron's and Hur's, holding one another up. We can be a generation of Esther's who are willing to risk it all to tear down the wall so that all might come in. We can be the peacemakers, the prayer warriors, the 2:00 AM answer on the other end of the phone, the lasagna bringers, the roof rippers, the second mile journeyers, the quiet revolutionaries going about the Father's business.

We can be poured out, because we know that he always gives more

We are the hearts preparing him room, the hearts who know that he doesn't come in alone, but rather with a host of broken hearts. He touched the sick, broke bread with whores, and called cheats and liars and back stabbers his best friends. He says they're with me. And when I begin to catch glimpses of my own heart in the folks he chose to spend his time with, it changes everything.

We're with him when we stand up for the least and loneliest and the left out—we're the ones who know that when we give the shirts off our backs, we're giving to him.

We keep both eyes fixed, not in idle wait, but active watching for what we know is on the horizon.  And we must not grow weary. For at the proper time—at just the right time, harvest season will come. The weary world will rejoice and all will be made well. 

Jesus, keep us until that day comes.

So be it.

The new normal.

Processed with VSCO with f2 preset I haven't really written in a couple months. I've told the story to a few close friends, but I haven't really known how to tell it here. I wish I could say that coming back felt like meeting an old and dear friend -- the kind that you can just pick back up where you last left off and feel like no time has passed at all. But really, this doesn't feel much like that. I'm not the same person I was before October happened. Truthfully, I'm still trying to process the fact that October happened. 

"I feel like I've gone through some strange metamorphosis." I say it out loud to someone, almost without meaning to.

 

Most days, I want life with God to be more like a sprint and less like a marathon. I want to be holy now, want this whole purification thing to take no more time than instant macaroni or a Poptart. But being made well doesn't happen overnight -- at least not in my experience thus far. Love moves slow, because love understands worth.

 

"I try to remember," I say to a friend as we sip our holiday coffee, "that I have an enemy -- and it isn't the people who hurt me." Sure, it may seem that way in the heat of the moment, when feelings are fresh and the sting of grief leaves me stunned -- when I watch as the trauma brings any semblance of normalcy to a screeching, burning halt. Lashing out and spewing every last ugly thought is what feels good and right, and I am tempted. Except I cannot escape this thought: when Jesus died, I died. Now, every hurt or triumph I encounter in this life must be viewed through a new lens: the lens of the cross.

"Not that that makes this any less painful," I continue. "I'm not naive enough to think that any of what happened is okay."

The pain demands to be felt.

"I'm just learning to trust that he is making me okay."

When our hard won community withered, when I reached the end of my rope and the bottom fell out like a hidden trap door underneath me -- grace caught me. He allowed the air to remain in me.

 

I look at the new chapter that is 2017, and my heart is deeply ready. 

Not that we know where we're going or how we're going to get there, because we don't. But we trust that he goes before us.

"I go knowing that I am cherished and cared for and deeply beloved."

I believe that now in a way that I hadn't dared to believe it before. And believing it has changed me -- rescued and ransomed pieces of my soul that I had rather let lay in the grave.

 

Nouwen writes that as Christ's living body on earth, we are taken, blessed, broken, and given to the world -- just as he was taken, blessed, broken, and given for us.

The past two months have broken me.

What offers me the most comfort these days is how Jesus looked at brokenness as being such an integral part of living that he was willing to forsake glory to experience it with us. He chose it for my sake. I'm grateful for the grace upon grace of it all. In awe of the abundance. 

 

But he gives more. 

 

I find myself wanting to live out of that more, to live as though Christ in me, the hope of glory, can never run out. To live like he is close, that he wants to be close, and that his love for me goes on and on.

To shut the door to a life of scarcity and being scared.

Because I don’t want to get to the end of my life and realize that I was a grace and glory hoarder. When you catch a glimpse of the way of the beloved, you want everyone you know to come with you. Therein lies the secret of the givenness.

 

I’m not the same person I was a few months ago, I tell her. She is patient and kind and offers the kind of soul deep hospitality that my heart has been longing for.

I walk with a limp now, a soul war torn from these battles in the wilderness. But you don’t get to the abundance any other way. There are no shortcuts to holiness, no formula that makes sanctification more palatable or predictable.

But he makes the scars beautiful. He makes beautiful things from us.

A Sending Prayer

falls

{For K+K, who have been the very hands and feet of Jesus to C and I since day one. We love you more than these words could express.}

I knew in the pit of my stomach when you told us you wanted to have dinner that you had something you needed to say, and I tried to shake off the feeling that the news was going to be bad. And when you announced you were leaving five minutes into pizza, my heart plummeted.

The truth is, I have never been good at sending, as it has always felt like more of a goodbye and less of a see you later. But then, I've always been a worst case scenario thinker, so that shouldn't come as much of a surprise to anyone. And believe me when I say that I am something of a champion at grieving in these situations. As soon as your car pulled away, I was reduced to a puddle, repeating that I knew it, I just knew it, and I don't want you to go.

There is nothing I love more than what God has created here, among our friends -- our brothers and sisters who have grown to feel like just that. And all at once, last night around our dinner table, there was a moment where everything seemed to just stop. And I thought back to the hilarious first meeting, the Tuesday night when we were all seated in a circle in the foyer talking about perseverance, the car ride across town when we invited people to come to church, the time you filled up our gas tank, finally getting baptized, the softball games, the worship. Your friendship has changed me, grown me, made me so much better.

And now, you've been called away, called to take Christ into uncharted hearts in a new place. While it hurts to see you leave, I know (what feels like) our loss is great gain for the people God has placed in your path. And in the midst of grief and tears, a promise was recalled to my mind: He who begins the work will be faithful to complete it. He knows the plans he has for us.

As you go, there will be a deluge of emotion -- an overflow of the tears and excitement that we are already beginning to feel as we anticipate your absence. Know this: even though my heart hurts to see you go, it beats for the vision God has given you, and I could not be more excited to see how your future unfolds. So I offer this prayer, the simplest and yet the most effective means I have to bless you as we prepare to send you on your next leg of the race.

When there is uncertainty, may you be rooted in and reminded of the promises of a faithful God.

When you feel as though you lack direction, may you remember that He goes before you.

When there is need, may you not grow anxious, but trust that the Lord will provide.

When you feel inadequate, may you be strengthened by the knowledge that you are fully equipped.

When you feel restless, may your soul find rest in the Lord.

May you continue to let your light shine brightly, as an example for all believers and as ambassadors for Christ.

May joy and peace and hope be ever overflowing as you trust Him with all of your heart,

and may you always find His grace to be sufficient.

In the name of Jesus, so be it.