Lightning flashes

Tonight I was driving on the highway into storms and lightening and thunder, talking to a friend on the phone.  The rain poured in sheets, and as the lightning crashed and we talked, epiphanies crashed with similar force in my head…  Yet truth known is no better than truth unknown if it is not lived out.  So now, in light of said epiphany, the challenge is to live in the light of that knowledge. 

“You shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free…”

Thankful for this reminder tonight…

 

Roiling and boiling

It’s one of those nights.  Insomnia.  Sleeplessness.  Mind roiling and boiling, flipping through ideas and plans, dreams and hopes, possibilities and pitfalls…  I guess this is what happens when graduation is in one week.  I guess this is what happens when the thing you’ve been working towards the past three (3!) years is almost in sight.  

What next?  

Jobs.  School.  Moving.  All possibilities.  

All exciting.  All with the potentialities of chaos that is just waiting to be formed into order and structure.  All with the annoying habit of surfacing at 4am.  

Nothing that six weeks walking across northern Spain can’t fix…  

One foot in front of the other.  One step at a time.  It applies there.  And it applies here.

Keep walking friends…

Sueños

Dreams are building…


Suenos

Feeling the call:

for adventure.

for challenge.

for movement.

for space.

for simplicity.

for mountains.

for big skies.

for peace.

for community.

for growth.

for consolation.

for Sabbath.

Soon.

(Picture stolen from Renée.  Thanks Renée.  See you in España?)

Oh the places we'll go…

It’s funny how someone can capture your heart even though you’ve never met that person before…

That happened to me today:

 

Caleb

 

Welcome to the world Caleb William Derentz.

So excited to meet you, and for the adventures we’ll have…

Love you already…

Without condition

Three years ago I was vacillating between engaged participant and shell-shocked bystander in the final acts of a long-term (for me) relationship.  I had thought I would spend the rest of my life with this woman.  I was wrong.  Its implosion was spectacular, and devastating.  In some ways, it was like watching the Hindenburg disaster – a horrifying mix of tragedy with flickers of beauty and hope that kept one glued to the scene, hoping against hope that a survivor or two would escape the wreckage, and having each hope dashed time and time again until there was nothing left but ashes.

Two years ago I was tentatively jumping off the cliff into deep relational waters with a different lovely young woman whom I enjoyed, respected, and thought there was potential.  But fear and insecurity and uncertainty and listening to my heart – what I actually wanted, and not just what I thought I should want – led us to the end.

Last year I started communicating regularly with a passionate, creative, hilarious acquaintance, knowing that with the distance in place it was probably not a good idea…  But we kept talking.  Until fear or cowardice or good sense or simple honesty or a little bit of everything compelled me to end our communication.

The common thread in all three of these relationships (and, if I’m being completely honest, in most – maybe all? – of my other relationships) is the inability to do what Thomas Merton suggests:

“The beginning of love is the will to let those we love be perfectly themselves, the resolution not to twist them to fit our own image. If in loving them we do not love what they are, but only their potential likeness to ourselves, then we do not love them: we only love the reflection of ourselves we find in them…”  ~ Thomas Merton

This is my stumbling block.

This is the lesson that I have learned from others, even if they did not mean to teach it to me:

“You are loveable, and it is possible that someone could love you…
– as long as you are improving.
– as long as you don’t stay the same.
– as long as you stop making the same stupid mistakes over again.
– as long as you change, and become someone different, someone better.
– as long as you produce something grand for others.
– as long as you are living up to your full potential.
– as long as you are doing amazing things in the world.
– as long as you are not normal, or ordinary, or boring.
– as long as you hide your deepest weaknesses and insecurities, your shattered brokenness and your shameful darkness.
– as long as you are at all times the person you pretend to be.”

And this is the way I loved others all too often.

I internalized those lessons.  I applied them to others in my life.  I judged.  I evaluated.  I withheld.  I wounded others.  I told myself that I loved the potential that I saw in them – and while that potential was very great, it blinded me to the actual loving of the person that I was in relationship with.  It blinded me to the needs and brokenness and beauty of the person in front of me.  And the love that I had to give was only a pale shadow of the love that I wanted to give, of the love I wanted to receive.

These last few months, I have been asking myself what it means to love without condition.

What does it look like to love with no strings attached?

What does love look like when it is not only concerned with what the future holds or the great things the beloved can accomplish, but is content to simply delight in being in the presence of the beloved?

What does it feel like to know and understand the depths of grace – to feel in your bones that you are accepted just as you are, and you are deeply, fiercely, richly loved?

It is bigger.  Fuller.  Richer.  Deeper.  Brighter.  Heavier.  Tastier.

To accept that I am loved.  Shockingly.  Unexpectedly.  Undeservedly.  Beautifully.  Entirely.

It is how I want to be loved, and how I want to learn to love others:
– co-workers.
– clients.
– friends.
– parents.
– brothers and sisters.
– habibi.
– Abba.

“Our job is to love others without stopping to inquire whether or not they are worthy. That is not our business and, in fact, it is nobody’s business. What we are asked to do is to love, and this love itself will render both ourselves and our neighbors worthy.”  ~ Thomas Merton


Thomas Merton
via Father Bill

Only Love

The last time I was at the Music Box theater was over a year ago, with Ryan.  It’s a fun theater which shows quirky fare.  Tonight they were screening several of this year’s Oscar-nominated documentaries.  The second one we watched was titled “Prison Terminal: The Last Days of Private Jack Hall.”

Over the forty-minute long film, we come to know Jack Hall, an 83-year-old World War 2 veteran who is serving a life sentence for murder. He has congestive heart failure, has been in the hospital wing for the past 10 years after multiple heart attacks, and is not doing well. We follow him around as he is wheeled out into the yard to visit with his friends, we follow him to worship services and doctor’s visits and eventually follow him into one of the two hospice rooms of the Iowa State Penitentiary.

It is a startling, intimate, humanizing look into the lives of several men who are incarcerated – and what it means to die with dignity in prison.

The most arresting moments we were invited into were the moments that Jack shared with his hospice care-givers – volunteers who spent 10-12 hours a day with him 5 days a week, in shifts so that he was never alone: bathing him, holding his hand, praying with him and for him, rubbing his back, shaving him, laughing and joking and simply being with him so that he would not die alone.

One of the volunteers was named Love – serving a life sentence for kidnapping. Love was with Jack as he faded into a coma, and became unresponsive. Love was with Jack as he stopped breathing.

And for someone who all too often tears up while listening to “This American Life,” I was gone.

Such a beautiful picture of what reconciliation can look like – life transformed and made new…  Even the murderers and kidnappers and the embezzlers and the gossips and the liars and the racists and the selfish and the greedy and the prideful – Jack, and Love, and you, and me…

—–

(for more on “Prison Terminal,” check out this piece on “Fresh Air.”)

The little things are the big things…

I hunger for big things: the grand romantic gesture, the one time blazing act of martyrdom, the finished marathon, the diploma in hand, the wedding vows stated in front of all.  I wanted to save the world.  (And if I’m being honest, I still do.)

I read of the violence in the Central African Republic, the discplaced in refugee camps all around Syria, the trafficked, the poor, the outcast, the vulnerable.  I hear the stories of the immigrants who have come to this country in search of a better life, and the children of those immigrants who have braved deserts and rivers and violence and death in search of their families.

I see the brokenness, and I want to fix it – to be the hero – to solve the problem – to make it better, in one grand gesture – in one quick fix.

But I know my smallness – and also have come to know that, if I’m honest, I’m not that special.  I’m not the smartest, or the hardest working, or the most creative.  I’m not the most loving, or the most disciplined, or the most faithful.  I’m above average in some ways, below average in others – mediocre in more ways than I care to admit.

And that is OK.  (At least they say it is…  sometimes I believe it.  But more often than not, I don’t.)

—–

I’ve heard this before.  I’ve known this at times.  But I forget.  I learn, and forget.  I remember, then forget.  I see the stories, feel the need, taste the darkness, and all too easily become overwhelmed.  It hurts too much to care about this beautiful, broken, frozen frozen world.  It disappoints you.  People let you down.  They are broken, but it can feel like a betrayal.  I let myself down.  I am broken too, but it can feel like a betrayal.

To open ones heart to the world is to let it thaw – to open oneself to pain.  And all too often this past semester I have chosen the easy way – the lazy way – of sitting, of withdrawing, of sleeping.  Of shutting out, of building walls, of numbing.

I noticed, but waited for something to change – for some epiphany to strike, for something to happen that would result in change and redemption and newness and hope.

These last weeks, I’ve been thinking though…

I’ve been thinking about decisions, and hope.

I’ve been thinking about faithfulness, and about small steps.

I’ve been pondering what it would look like to be living a life that is abundant.

I’ve been pondering what it looks like to live fully, richly, in ways that open myself up to the present – to possibility – to the risk of rejection – the risk of failure…

To remind myself that living courageously is sometimes not a matter of standing in front of the tanks or lying to the SS, but sometimes it is to step into possibility knowing it may not work out.  Sometimes, it is to risk that rejection one again, even if you don’t think you could survive.  Sometimes, it is to risk failure, even if you have failed time and time again, and you think that one more failure will destroy you.

Sometimes, that is courage.  Sometimes, that is what living faithfully looks like.

And sometimes, it is putting on layers and going down to the lake and running through the ice and snow.  Sometimes, it is building a fire and connecting with your roommate and picking up the guitar that you haven’t touched in months and playing until your fingers ache.  Sometimes, it is making that phone call, writing that email, praying the examen and really listening to your heart.  Sometimes, it is a posture of gratitude, and doing what needs to be done today, even if you did it yesterday, and even if you’ll have to do it again tomorrow.

And sometimes, that one small act really is the grand gesture – the simple act of beauty that will save the world.

 

Come and see…

come and see

“The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shined…”

There is a beauty in Isaiah’s words – but it is also dangerous. For when your eyes are used to darkness, the light can burn. And when darkness is what you have known, the light can be frightening, burning, scalding…

“The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shined…”

I read Frederick Buechner’s words – an essay he wrote called “Come and See” – and there is a terrifying, challenging beauty to the truth that he proclaims.

Listen.

“The prophecy of Isaiah is that into this darkness a great light will shine, and of course the proclamation of the gospel, especially the wild and joy-drunk proclamation of Christmas, is that into this darkness there has already shone a light to dazzle the world with its glory and its terror, for if there is a terror about the darkness because we cannot see, there is also a terror about light because we can see. There is a terror about light because much of what we see in the light about ourselves and our world we would rather not see, would rather not have be seen. The first thing that the angel said to the shepherds was, “Be not afraid,” and he said it with the glory of the Lord shining round about them there in the fields, because there was terror as well as splendor in the light of the glory of the Lord.”

This is the promise of Christmas – that no matter how dark the days, no matter how dark our hearts, the light has come – and when the light has come, we see things as they are. We see ourselves for who we really are – in our beauty and our ugliness, in our joys and our sorrows. All is revealed. And if I’m honest, I am the first to run and hide… I am the one that hides from the light that burns, because it will burn… the light clarifies, and shines, it purifies and it warms, and it lets us see this new thing that is breaking loose. What is it?

“As the Gospels picture it, all heaven broke loose.

The darkness was shattered like glass, and the glory flooded through with the light of a thousand suns. A new star blazed forth where there had never been a star before,  and the air was filled with the bright wings of angels, the night sky came alive with the glittering armies of God, and a great hymn of victory rose up from them – “Glory to God in the highest” – and strange kings arrived out of the East to lay kingly gifts at the feet of this even stranger and more kingly child. This is how, after all the weary centuries of waiting, the light is said finally to have come into the world…”

A scintillating light shines in the darkness – a new light that was not there before – and somehow, the darkness is not strong enough to overcome this light – the beauty and fragility and promise that is one moment a glimmering flicker, and the next super-nova searing itself into the soul.

But what really happened? What did Joseph and Mary and the shepherds actually see? Was there something unexplainable, inexplicable, ineffable? Or was it just another night, like any other night – quiet, dark, lonely, cold? What was different about this child? Why was he special? Him alone, out of the billions born before and after? What was it about him?

“The birth of the child into the darkness of the world made possible not just a new way of understanding life but a new way of living life. Ever since the child was born, there have been people who have gotten drunk on him no less than they can get drunk on hard liquor… people who have been grasped by him, caught up into his life, who have found themselves in deep and private ways healed and transformed by their relationships with him… That in this child, in the man he grew up to be, there is the power of God to bring light into our darkness, to make us whole, to give a new kind of life to anybody who turns toward him in faith, even to such as you and me.”

And I see how this life has transformed countless people throughout the centuries: Saul who killed and persecuted in defense of the purity of his faith and people is now Paul, who gives his life for this truth, this person, this light; Oscar Romero who turned from a life of privilege and books and power to defend the common people of El Salvador, and paid with his life, murdered while proclaiming the good news for the poor, and forgiveness for those who were plotting his death; the power to forgive, to redeem, to reconcile, to bring life and wholeness where there should not be any good thing – this is the beauty and the promise that the baby Jesus came to give.

It seems to good to be true. How can it be?

“How do we find out for ourselves whether in this child born so long ago there really is the power to give us a new kind of life in which both suffering and joy are immeasurably deepened, a new kind of life in which little by little we begin to be able to love even our friends, at moments maybe even our enemies, maybe at last even ourselves, even God?”

Buechner answers in beautiful, powerful, poetic language:

Adeste fidelis. That is the only answer I know for people who want to find out whether or not this is true. Come all ye faithful, and all ye who would like to be faithful if only you could, all ye who walk in darkness and hunger for light. Have faith enough, hope enough, despair enough, foolishness enough at least to draw near to see for yourselves…

As far as I know, there is only one way to find out whether that is true, and that is to try it. Pray for him and see if he comes, in ways that only you will recognize. He says to follow him, to walk as he did into the world’s darkness, to throw yourself away as he threw himself away for love of the dark world. And he says that if you follow him, you will end up on some kind of cross, but that beyond your cross and even on your cross you will find your heart’s desire, the peace that passes all understanding… Follow him and see. And if the going gets too tough, you can always back out. Maybe you can always back out.

Adeste fidelis. Come and behold him, born the king of angels. Speak to him or be silent before him. In whatever way seems right to you and at whatever time, come to him with your empty hands. The great promise is that to come to him who was born at Bethlehem is to find coming to birth within ourselves something stronger and braver, gladder and kinder and holier, than ever we knew before or than ever we could have known without him.”

May we come before him, behold him, and remember why it is that we celebrate, what it is that we wait for, and what it means for our lives, our futures, and our loves.

This is why we sing “joy to the world…”

Merry Christmas.

Gratitude

It’s time to watch this again:

It seemed appropriate – not just because it is Thanksgiving – but because the last few weeks of school, papers and projects are piling up for me, work and internship are reminding me both how broken people are and how broken this world is, and I find myself losing sight of the beauty and wonder around me as I am drowning in books and journal articles and case notes and reports. So much in this culture and society is pulling us towards wanting more – desire – consumption. “If you just had this, you’d be happy. If only you weren’t so ____, people would love you more. If you could just own that new toy, that new pretty thing… All you need is just a little bit more – more stuff, more status, more accomplishment, more happiness… And you deserve it.”  And on Black Friday, the high holy days of capitalism, we see this message over and over again.

This is the message we hear every day. And it is a lie. It will never be enough.

I know what is true. I see the things that push me towards life, towards abundance, towards joy: and among those things, three of the primary ones are contentment, gratitude, and wonder. So much in life is outside of our control. You can’t will yourself towards health when you’re sick. You can’t make someone love you. We all have limitations, barriers, and things that hinder us from accomplishing what we desire. And the tension that I wrestle with is how to balance that acceptance of my limitations and finiteness with the reality that there is much that I dream will come true – there are deep desires within me for beauty, for community, for redemption, for companionship, for love, for faithfulness, and those desires are there for a purpose. This battle between contentment and desire wages in my heart, but it is only be holding them in that tension that balance can be lived. Contentment reminds me that my desires are just that – desires. And while they point to something deeper, they should be held loosely. Yet those deep desires of my heart remind me that I was made for more, it keeps me moving God-ward, it guards me from complacency and passivity and laziness. Both are needed, in their appropriate place.

Gratitude and wonder work together to stop and remind me of how truly blessed I am – everything I have been given, and everything that gives color and laughter to my life. From the sun crawling up off the lake on my morning run, to the lights of the city as I drive home at night – the play of clouds, the sound of the breeze, the crisp cool air that burns and awakens and refreshes – these are gifts. The laughter of a friend’s daughter, the tears that spring from some unknown place when confronted by the beauty of friendship, of love, and of sacrifice – all are gifts. A glass of wine and a loaf of bread to welcome the Sabbath as an old friend, forgiveness growing slowly like a blade of grass in the sand, a heart that is melting, thawing, warming before the light of the son – this is gift and grace. When we truly stop and see, how can we not be grateful? When we truly stop and feel, how can our hearts not threaten to explode with wonder?

“Gratefulness can change our world in immensely important ways. If you’re grateful, you’re not fearful. If you’re not fearful, you’re not violent. The grateful act out of a sense of enough, not scarcity, so they are willing to share.  Being grateful does no less than change the power balance of life.  It’s a nonviolent revolution that even revolutionizes the concept of revolution.  Grateful people are joyful people; the more joyful people are, the more we’ll have a joyful world.” ~ Brother David Steindl-Rast

And in the midst of the tragedy, the brokenness, the unmet desires and unfulfilled dreams, and all that we don’t understand, we see glimmers of hope – catch the faintest whiff of grace – hear the whisper of peace and presence: it’s enough to make anyone thankful, if just for a moment… And sometimes, that moment is all we need to keep on.

“Either life is holy with meaning, or life doesn’t mean a damn thing.  You pay your money and you take your choice.  Only never take your choice too easily, of course.  Never assume that because you have taken it one way today, you may not take it another way tomorrow.  One choice is this.  It is to choose to believe that the truth of our story is contained in Jesus’s story, which is a love story.  Jesus’s story is the truth about who we are and who the God is who Jesus says loves us.  It is the truth about where we are going and how we are going to get there, if we get there at all, and what we are going to find if we finally do.  Only for once let us not betray the richness and depth and mystery of that truth by trying to explain it…” ~ Frederick Buechner

(Reposted, because I needed to be reminded of this today…)

Too much?

 

I grew up thinking that there were some things that should be left unsaid.  The truth could be too painful, or scary, or frightening.  We were supposed to tone it down, be nice, say the right thing.

A few years ago I came across Frederick Buechner, and a slim volume he wrote called “Speak what we feel: Not what we ought to say.”

It’s funny how the straw the breaks the camel’s back can be miniscule – a sunset over the ocean, the laugh of a child, four perfect chords, a few words folded into harmony and truth.  And once that straw drops, the walls come crashing down and captives are freed to speak what they feel, to argue and rage, to complain and debate, for this is relationship.  

Thankful tonight that there are people for whom we are not too much.  Thankful tonight that God is not surprised by us, and that even the act of wrestling with God is a way to relate deeper and more truthfully.  

 

You cannot shock Him with the things you want to say.
Let it go. Erupt into glass-shattered expression.
The hurt, regret, sorrow, frustration, bitterness . . . Rage.
Send the fragments of your broken soul showering down.
To the pavement. To the end of things.
Look how it glistens. Reflects light.
Little pieces.
And when you are done, you will feel better.
Let the silence clothe your nakedness.
Feel the breeze, how it swirls into your newly opened soul.
Tender as it caresses a raw, exposed heart.
Listen to the sounds of the sweeping. Broom and dustpan.
The shards being swept away. Splintered remnants and slivers.
Quietly going about His Father’s business.
You’ll be okay. You are loved.
Fiercely.
In a shocking sort of way.

~Heather Eure
via Burnside Writer’s Collective