Tag Archives: Christianity

I Was Writing About Fortune Cookies, But Got Distracted By Jesus

One time I had this idea that I should start a fortune cookie company. All the fortunes would preach the gospel. I can’t tell you how much it would make me smile to crack open a cookie and find

You are a child of God.

Believe that he died for you, and you will grow in your ability to authentically care for the people you love.

You are more sinful than you know, but he’s already died for it.

The king of kings has called you his own.

In Christ you are more than a conqueror.

Listen, the Holy Spirit is speaking to you.

 

I am a gospel fiend. I can’t get enough.

When my boyfriend tells me about something that he’s struggling with, I often ask, Why is the gospel good news in that situation? By now he knows I am not just quizzing him. Well, I do want to offer as much practice as possible for him and everyone in articulating why the gospel is always good news in every corner of our lives, but more than anything else, I just want to hear it again.

Tell me, again, again, again, and again, what did Jesus do? Really? Wow. My heart changes a little every time I hear it. It’s like the love that I always knew was surrounding me, just feels a little thicker, tastes a little sweeter, looks more glorious, and I sink in a little deeper every time someone tells me the truth.


The Light Came

As an update to my last post, you should know that upon sitting down, seeking to be filled with light, overwhelming joy descended on me immediately, so that when Emilie walked in just a few minutes later, I greeted her with a full and silly smile which stood in contrast to my assertion that it had been a rough day.

 

Last week I experienced major hesitations about even being in a relationship. Talking to Jamie made me rethink things even more. It was a good talk, though. She wanted to make sure that I could feel free to enjoy the situation that I am in, or change it, if need be. I know from past conversations with her that her marriage to Steve is as strong as it is because of their years of friendship that preceded it. God’s grace to them was that they could know and love one another without the complication of relationship stuff. Unfortunately, that is not a situation that I can manufacture. It is often confusing to start a relationship that doesn’t have years behind it, but maybe God’s grace to me looks different. I need to trust in it and stop being so concerned with my ability or inability to control how that relationship develops.

The better I get to know my boyfriend, the more feel like my mind is completely blown by how good of a match he is. We got to spend a long weekend in Portland and seeing him all day every day for a few days made me feel like I’d known him for a long time. We’re so much closer.

They say that absence makes the heart grow fonder, but I really don’t buy it. Absence helps when you like the version of a person that you keep in your head better than their presence. (That isn’t completely true, I know. There are valid uses of the phrase, but for me it doesn’t really work now.) I prefer the reality of him to the idea of him.

God’s grace to me in this moment is a new best friend (yes I still mean the boyfriend), a new brother in Christ, whom I constantly lift up in my heart through prayer, and for whom I delight in being a stepping stone toward godliness.


A Special Place

IN ANY PLACE I LIVE long enough, I must find at least one nature-spot where I can retreat for prayer. It becomes my place, where I stain the earth with devastated prayers and paint the air with memories of healing.

At the house I grew up in, where my parents still live, this place is Skyline Memorial Gardens, about a fifteen-minute drive from my parents’ house. From there I can see the suburbs of the West side of Portland, and some of Beaverton and Hillsboro. As I sit on the green hill and talk to God, I look straight out and see the sky in front of me.

I go there to escape life. Sometimes it’s cabin fever, sometimes it’s relatives in town, sometimes it’s after work and I have a build-up of the brokenness of the world, which I have helplessly overheard working at Target.

Oftentimes I retreat with my Bible and prayer journal and write my thoughts to God. It is in those times that I remember how Jesus’ disciples always followed him up to the mountain where he would teach them. As I write, he teaches me about my heart, about the places where it needs breaking and healing, death, and resurrection. Sometimes I sit on the ground with my journal on a marble bench bearing the name someone who used to be alive.

SKYLINE MEMORIAL GARDENS is a cemetery. I never knew anyone who is buried there. When I explain it to people as one of my favorite peaceful places, I am hesitant to use the word cemetery for fear of sounding morbid.

In reality, Skyline is a gorgeous and uplifting place. I am not one to stalk about in grim places, but this isn’t one of them. Unlike spooky-story depictions of creepy cemeteries, Skyline does not have large headstones with heavy, archaic crosses upon them, it has small, usually metal grave markers, flush with the ground, sometimes with a little holder for fresh flowers, so that, if you were look out across one of the rolling green hills, you would think it was just like any other well-manicured field with only a few memorial vases peeking out from the trimmed blades of grass, erected in a salute to the textured sky.

One day when I escaped my life to meet the Lord on the hill, I could see the rainstorm coming from Hillsboro. I watched it approach, until the rain finally arrived; then I put down my pen and danced.

Sometimes I drive up there at night, even though the gate is closed, and I park alongside the road and walk through.  As I enter I become aware of the small house on the edge of the property where the dog barks until I am long past. I imagine a few of the possibly sinister outcomes should I encounter any shady characters, then, uttering a short prayer against the possibility, I leave those cares floating in the air behind me, to settle and sink into their graves.

Sometimes I’ll just take off, out-running my anxiety before kneeling in the grass and pressing what’s left of my worries into the ground with my forehead. Burying them, so that Christ can rise in my heart.

These are the moments when I understand why they do child’s pose in yoga; supposedly the pressure of one’s forehead against the ground has a very calming effect. I think God designed it that way, so the prostrate would have peace.

No matter what kind of environment I need, I can find it at Skyline. Some trees are gentle looking, others are wild and windblown. Sometimes I just need an open place in the grass, other times I just need to look at the various grave markers and contemplate my own mortality.

Sometimes I go around to the back where they keep the maintenance equipment. There are two sheds, a rusty trashcan, and an old, rusted pickup truck with a wooden bed. That is one of my favorite backdrops for taking pictures, which I often do there.  While I am there, I almost always head toward one of the buildings. The roof has gravel on it and the top back edge meets the ground due to the steep slope. I walk out to the edge of the roof, sometimes hanging my feet off the edge. If I don’t look down, I can completely forget about the land beneath me and imagine that this is the edge of the earth. Most often, I come to walk around and look at the statues of Jesus, representing various moments during his ministry.

I am not usually one to connect well with religious iconography, but coming up on the mountain to meet with him, the statues serve as a reminder of his human presence. One of my favorite things to do there is to go up to a given statue and read that part of the gospels. To think about it in light of the physical presence of the figure before me. Since my favorite part used to be Jesus’ time with the Samaritan woman at the well, I would go there often to read and work on memorizing that story. While I could paraphrase it pretty well, I definitely don’t have it memorized anymore.

I FIRST DISCOVERED Skyline with my best friends one night when I was in High School. We had just finished with some adventure or another—maybe it was the day that Becca and I went hiking instead of to the prom and then to Rimsky’s for dessert. But I know I went there before that. Okay, so I don’t know when I discovered it: sometime in high school—probably junior year. It’s been a short relationship, but it has shaped my life in more ways than I can count, because each time I return is a time in which my soul is emptied out, all of it buried, dead, like those whose names surface to make their mark on the meadow.

Although it is a spot for spiritual rest and renewal, it is also the first place I think of when I am in need for a good backdrop for a portrait. Like I mentioned before, there is the rustic maintenance and storage area, and there is the huge green hill. First Becca took her own senior pictures there, letting me into a few frames, then I followed suit a couple years later, photographing my sister for her senior photos in the same spot.

I remember one frame in particular with Becca: we had set up the camera down the hill and hit the self-timer button. We didn’t walk fast enough to sit down on the grass. It clicked right as we sat down. The frame captured showed us looking at each other, hair still falling back from our abrupt movement, and I am looking and smiling right at her. “You look like you’re in love with me!” she says playfully. It’s still my favorite picture of the two of us.

ONE SUMMER I BROUGHT my boyfriend there with me. We ran down the steep grassy hill to sit at the feet of Jesus as he preached the gospel to the Samaritan woman. For a long time we stared off in every direction, him thinking, I think, and me thinking about what he must be thinking about, looking for a long time at a given tree where a goofy and repetitive birdsong stood in stark contrast to our contemplative silence. After a long time I asked what he was thinking. He said he was thinking about his confused theology. I don’t remember how he explained it, but this time he didn’t go into much detail. He was questioning a lot. “Where in the Bible does it say God is good?”  Scott Starbuck had asked in Old Testament Prophets that past semester. Freshman year at Whitworth had taken its toll on his worldview.

For many people, I imagine, Skyline is a place to bring flowers and remember people that were special to them. I define the space as a place to remember and discover what it is to be human and to ask questions like: Who is God? How can we ask anything of him? He has a will of his own, which I can do nothing to manipulate. He will ruthlessly do whatever it is he does for whatever reason it is that he does it, so what can I do? Where in the Bible does it even say God is good? And it is here that he answers the faithful.

I like to imagine that each grave marker represents one more face that will open wide its mouth to declare at the time of resurrection with that glorious sound of a great multitude, like peals of thunder and the roar of many waters.

I HOPE THAT PEOPLE I never knew meet with Jesus over my grave. Maybe my children will bury me there. And I hope that when I am buried there I have left behind an earth littered with marks of divine encounter. I hope I will have readied spaces for the prayer warriors of tomorrow.


They All Curled Up Like Lil Fetuses

So, I found this thing that I wrote. It is a monologue. And it’s pretty strange. I kind of can’t believe I’m sharing it. The character, let’s call her Maw the Artist. She’s ranting about the relationship between love, art, and faith. Sometimes her language is a little offensive.

I been singin songs. Losta songs. Daydreamin and daydreamin and takin down notes. Takin notes on the songs. I wanna write them down but I can’t. They stay in my brain all crumpled up. Them and the pictures I wanna paint. They all curled up in the back a my brain. Curled up like lil feuses. Bitty babies. When a baby comes out it starts lookin like a good idea. It smell you, you smell it, but from that moment it aint never going to be the same. No never. You gotta take care of that child even when it starts to feel like a bad idea and you just wanna leave it there in the bathtub til she drown.

Can’t let em come out. Gotta keep them in there til yous bout to splode. Yeah splode. It might kill you, but there’s never been a splosion that made bad art. Nope. The art always kills the artist. Always. If it don’t they ain’t no real artist.

Careful what you give birth to, better be somethin worth dyin for. Cause you ought to know that once it comes out, somebody gonna try to kill you for it.

Like that Becky Black. Yeah all she did was sing someone else’s song and now she gotta stand by it. Billions of people none of them knowin little Becky, but now they know her song. They hate her for it. Can’t never go back. No, she sung it.

Gotta love what you do. It’s gotta be your lovechild. No bastard is worth dying for. It’s gonna be hard. Always hard. Better, safer, bein alone.

The lover and the artist aint different. Nope. Child kills the mother, takes over her. Art kills the artist. Jesus aint no different neither. Nope that Jesus, don’t you dare let him grab your heart. Lock it away safe and sound. He got the key, but he don’t always use it, so you gotta lock it and hope to the devil that he don’t come knockin. You let him in and there aint gonna be no you left. He gonna squeeze the you right outa you. That’s what he done to me.

He’s done a lot, but I’m still too much alive. But I am gonna be the most dead person you ever knew some day. That Jesus is gonna knock down my damn door and make me all him.

Then some man, a real man, he gonna do it too. I’ll be all his and we’ll both be dead with that Jesus takin over us. Then we gonna love and sing and and run hard through life. And our lovin and singin gonna bring about a damn love child and a song. And theys all that’s gonna be. They gonna outlive us. My baby out there singin Maw’s song. That’ll be it and we’ll be done. Done and dead. That’s how it’s gonna be. But thas the right kinda dyin. Dreamin till it kill you.

Choose your murderer. Choose what you give birth to. Don’t give birth to no Friday. Them Weekend parties aint worth dyin for. Don’t go dyin for no parties. Choose your murderer. He’s gonna out live you. Member that. Before you, through you, after you. Shit.


Ask and I’ll Give the Nations to You

UPDATE (Yes, this whole post needed a whopping revision. My bad. I was running late for work and just hit publish):

As you know, the Spirit is reminding me of his ways. I have so far to go. There is so much I don’t know.

Lately all the Spirit is really saying to me is, Hey, I exist! And my response has been, Oh my gosh, you do! as joyful tears well up in my eyes. His response is, you haven’t seen anything yet. Come and wait, come and listen. And then I think, How much listening are we talking here? I’ve got blog posts to write, a test to study for, friends to hang out with, another friend to talk to on the phone, work to go to, meals to eat…

This is sad. No matter how aware of his presence I am, I am still going to miss out on the full depth of intimacy with my God!

As I was falling asleep last night, this image came to my mind. It was me, on the floor, face down, pressing my fist into the hardwood floor, as I begged for him to move, in me, through me, out of me. It felt like such a natural image to have. That’s how I like to think of myself, an exasperated visionary full of the passion he feels for his people. Sometimes I have that feeling, sometimes I don’t. Most of the time, that is not the posture of my heart. Every now and then, though, it comes with the force of a tidal wave and forces me prostrate. That’s what I want all the time, but it is exhausting to stay in that place. Am I ready? Well, ready or not, I am asking.

I’ve been thinking about some song lyrics by Shane and Shane. Ask and I’ll give the nations to you. Oh, Lord, that’s the cry of my heart.

There was this story that used to drive me forward as I prayed for his life to dwell in my school, taking root in new hearts. It was a story of a man (in Switzerland? I really can’t remember any details, just the image it left with me.) who went up to the top of a hill overlooking his city and he said to the Lord, Give me this nation or I die! I know the story ended with revival. I don’t remember any specifics (there were some). I think I only remembered the man asking for his country because that’s the part I’m responsible for. I am responsible for throwing myself down before God and man, and asking for him to come claim his people.

The language, give them to me, sounds strange, but Jesus uses that language in John 17: I have manifested your name to the people whom you gave me out of the world. Yours they were, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word. Now they know that everything that you have given me is from you. For I have given them the words that you gave me , and they have received them and have come to know in truth that I came from you; and they have believed that you sent me. I am praying for them. I am not praying for the world but for those whom you have given me, for they are yours. All mine are yours, and yours are mine, and I am glorified in them. And I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world , and I am coming to you. Holy Father, keep them in your name, which you have given me, that they may be one, even as we are one. While I was with them, I kept them in your name, which you have given me. I have guarded them, and not one of them has been lost except the son of destruction, that the Scripture might be fulfilled. But now I am coming to you, and these things I speak in the world, that they may have my joy fulfilled in themselves. I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. And for their sake I consecrate myself,that they also may be sanctified in truth.

I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me. Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory that you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world. O righteous Father, even though the world does not know you, I know you, and these know that you have sent me. I made known to them your name, and I will continue to make it known, that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.

It was all too good. I couldn’t pick just a few verses. Jesus asked for people. He asked for the people God would give to us. Let us ask for a people through which the Spirit of God will ripple. Lord, first give us your church that it might be fully yours once more. Make it an irresistible force, sweeping up souls in its powerful current.

Thank you, Spirit, for reminding me to dream big dreams for the kingdom.

I am not having an eloquent day (bummer), but I feel like this point is important. So here it goes again: Dream big. Desire above all that the Kingdom to be made manifest on earth as the Lord claims people for himself. Ask for it to be on earth as it is in heaven.


Getting to Know the Spirit

I am learning about the Holy Spirit. Recently, I posted about my friend who I felt was just using me. The thing is, I realized that me helping her was also me using her. I certainly had moments in which God infected my heart with his love for her, but the reality is, it is hard for me to see her as a person that I want to know outside of the fact that she wants me to help her.

I think I started to give up. I wanted to know all about her, to really know what would give her hope in life, to listen. The thing is, some people are pretty closed off. She would talk about guys or dumb girls, but not really about her heart. But there are a lot of people who don’t really let new people in deeply. How do I love someone who I don’t really even know?

The answer is the Holy Spirit! How did I not think of that? I’ve been so busy trying to figure out how to act in a way that both cares for her and pushes her to make the most of life that I’ve sort of forgotten about the heart behind it.

I learned that I don’t have to figure out how to treat her; I am connected to the one who knows precisely. I have access to that knowledge. God wants me to know how to reach out to the ones he’s pursuing. He told me to stop thinking and start listening.

I also learned that to love someone you have to know him or her deeply, otherwise you’ll never know what they need. So how can I cultivate a heart of love toward someone whom I have trouble getting to know? Here it is: I have within me the Spirit of the one who knows her, and loves her, more deeply than anyone else ever could. I have within me the Spirit of the one who created her (and everyone else I struggle to love but end up using instead).

This struggle (and many others that the Lord has brought to my attention and convicted me of this weekend) is pointing me back toward the instruction and life-giving power of the Holy Spirit. My focus for this next stage of life will be reconnecting with this part of God: his real power, knowledge, and intimate presence in me.