Sunday, March 29, 2015

Grace

For years, I cheapened grace to a coat of paint. I kept my chains, my prison cell, my strongholds. But I painted them gold and called it grace. Cold grace. Harsh grace. One-coat grace.

Grace that I limited. squandered. used.

That’s not grace. That’s not grace at all.

Grace is not a coat of paint. It is not to be used to make things appear better than they really are. No, grace makes things how they were always meant to be. 

Grace doesn’t make chains fashionable. Grace fashions freedom for us that fully and forever breaks our chains. Grace doesn’t make our prison cells livable. Grace opens the doors for us so we can get out and really live. Grace doesn’t say, “Remember where you’ve been. Remember what you’ve done.” Grace says, “Look at what lies ahead. Remember what He’s done.”

Grace says, “Lift your gaze to the God whose eyes are alive with His love for you.”

The one-coat grace I believed in—it says, “He loves you, but…” Do better. Be more. Cry less. Listen harder. Feel better.

Grace says, “He loves you.”

God did not send His Son and allow Him to die for a bunch of worthless people. Enemies, yes. But not worthless. People don’t die for worthless causes. People lay don’t their lives for something or someone they believe in. And God believed that we were more than enemies. That we had worth, value, and deserved something more than a mere exchange of grace for sin, good for bad. God believed us worthy of fellowship, of communion with Himself, and He made that possible for us, out of immense love and delight for “a people not a people”, a people not His own, and out of a wealth of grace—bursting from His heart as that stone rolled away from the tomb that tried to silence its voice, crying out:

“WORTHY!"

"You are worthy of His love.”

Grace makes us worthy.

Grace says, “God’s not getting tired of calling your name. He’s not frustrated or upset with you. He’s not shaking His head at you.”

Grace is not gold paint meant to be slathered onto the worst parts of you. Grace takes the worst of you out of you, and gives you the best of itself. Grace makes you the best. 

Grace makes you the gold: the precious gleam in your Father’s eyes that brings you through the fire not to test your devotion but to refine your dependence.

Grace says, “Depend on Him.” Dependence doesn’t take strength or effort or good vibes. Dependence takes grace. And grace is free. Unlimited. Given.

Grace says, “He is enough.”

Cold, harsh, one-coat grace looks up to a stern face and says, “But God, I’m worthless.”

The grace of Jesus kneels down to us and says, “No, child, you’re mine.” 

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

And now, God, do it again


It seemed like a dream, too good to be true,
when God returned Zion's exiles.
We laughed, we sang,
we couldn't believe our good fortune.
We were the talk of the nations--
"God was wonderful to them!"
God was wonderful to us;
we are one happy people.

And now, God, do it again--
bring rains to our drought-stricken lives
So those who planted their crops in despair
will shout hurrahs at the harvest,
So those who went off with heavy hearts
will come home laughing, with armloads of blessing.

--psalm 126, the message

Three years ago, I got sick. Two years ago, I went back to school. One year ago, I began my application for journeyman. Today, I struggle to write and to process through this whole journey. I have an overseas assignment, a fabulous teammate, and a very, very long to-do list. I have the most supportive family, an amazing group of friends who rally together more quickly than I could ever ask them to, and a season of rest keeping me here for a few more months.

And, honestly, it's hard to be here. It doesn't make sense. Another waiting season? Is it always going to be about waiting? Not that I'm twiddling my thumbs over here, believe me. Rest is work. Waiting is working.

You know what makes waiting especially uncomfortable? Relationships. Unless they are in the waiting room with you, unless they know all the details leading up to walking through to that next step, it's hard to relate. To talk about it. I have twenty acronyms on the tip of my tongue that no one (save a few) gets. 

I don't know how to say goodbye. Because there's still seven months or so before I step onto a plane. But I live hundreds of miles from most of these relationships, and technology isn't the greatest thing (though we act like it is, and it is great...but, it's not. it's really not), and goodbyes are in the form of a major road trip to see many faces all at once. 

And my body aches. It feels a whole heck of a lot like it did three years ago, which is a scary thought for someone about to move overseas for two solid years.

But this calling, this desire, this fulfillment awaiting each moment's obedience, it doesn't shift. It's a foundation under my shaky feet, my feet just wanting to be beautiful, my feet just stretching for that next step. Because, we're not the ones called to be rock solid. He's rock solid. We're just here with boots on the ground. 



So, tonight, amid prayers concerning all of the above, came the plea of the psalmist: "and now, God, do it again."

Two years ago, I went off with a heavy heart. I went back to MC weighed down and wondering if I would make it. God healed me and did some amazing, amazing work in those last few semesters. 

Four months ago, I came back home laughing (even if I was crying about it), with armloads of blessings, and pictures to prove it. 

Right now, my heart again finds itself heavy. Yes, even with excitement building and anticipation growing. Even an overflowing heart gets heavy. 

But He keeps me praying. "Do it again, Lord." 

Thursday, February 19, 2015

nearness

"How confident are you of God's presence in your daily life?"

I read that question this morning in a few moments of quiet time. I read it lightly, glancingly, because the answer in my mind was bold. Quick.

"100%."

 The first wave. A true enough answer. I know He's present. I'm confident in that knowledge.

The second wave came just as quickly. But its force was much heavier than I expected.

"So confident," I wrote, "it scares me."

Wait, what?

"So confident that I forget His nearness."

Then, after a moment where the words I wrote became the words I felt, I understood. I know that He is present. I mean, His name is "I AM." Present tense. Presence is knowledge. It's the acknowledgement of other people being in the waiting room at the doctor's office. But presence often doesn't make eye-contact. It doesn't strike up conversation. It puts space between you and them. It picks up a magazine, gazes blankly at the TV, and waits for its own name to be called, not theirs.

But nearness, that's more than proximity. That's being with someone in the waiting room, holding their hand, afraid of the bad news beyond their name called, excited for the good news beyond the sitting and the waiting and the hoping. That's looking at them as they look at the door.

"His nearness is our good." His presence is sure, steadfast, but His nearness must be remembered. He is among us. with us. near to us. His nearness is not merely to be acknowledged, it's something to be experienced.

I've been reading through Lamentations with a group of girls for a few weeks. And we're listening to a city sing. It's a mourning song, about agony and affliction. But she's not singing to old lovers who left her or enemies who destroyed her, or even to herself who she doesn't understand. She's singing to a God whose presence is like an enemy to her, whose presence's dwelling place has been burnt to the ground. She's singing to the God who let all of this pain befall her.

Why? She didn't care about His presence when He pleaded for her to return. Even when He drew near, to gather her under His wings, she shirked Him for others whose nearness promised so much more, immediately. But their presence wasn't steadfast. And their nearness was not her good. Their arms were empty.

And yet she sings. She gropes around in the dark and in the rubble for His hands. And even as she finds them as the cause of her affliction, she grasps them tightly and keeps on singing, "Look at me. Behold my affliction."

She sings for His nearness. She sings for Him.

"His nearness is our good."
 

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

weighty intimacy

We can only really begin to feel the weight of our circumstances when we let others in on them. 

Three years ago, I wasn't letting people in. On the details, yes. On the big picture, definitely. On my heart, no. On my emotions, not even close. On my depths, never. 

Or so I thought. 

I have become this person I never thought I would be: wearing the depths of my heart on my sleeve. And I will gladly bring them with me on our next coffee date, yes, if. Big if here. If you are willing to meet my depths with yours. Not so that our miseries can have company and refuse to lift and lighten in the sun's warm rays, which rise every morning no matter the weather. But so we can watch His transformative work together. 

He lifts up the valleys. He lays low the mountains. And He wants to do that in our communities, not in our isolation. 

Two weekends ago, I was privileged to see my depths laid bare. All my silent what ifs--even just for a moment and chance of human error--came to reality. I received a rejection. A "no". A year's worth of promises, seemingly dashed. 

And my texts and phone calls and tearful Skype dates were not met with surface-level pity by a single person in this community called the Church that the Lord has so graciously planted me in, even if most of them live hundreds of miles away. 

Oh no, not even close. My depths were met with their depths. Because when we've laid our depths on the table between our hearts, over coffee and tea and rocking chairs and cupcakes and movies and other divine appointments, when we've laid bare the depths we all share, something amazing happens.  

Our depths cry out together. 

You see, there's this myth we've mistaken for a promise for far too long: that when we get into community with others, our troubles and burdens will slacken because they are being shared. That is no truth at all. The truth is, we hurt more, not less, when we join our depths with another's. Our depths deepen. Our hearts widen. And our pain fills these bigger spaces. Our heartache has more room for its heavy, labored breathing. We've let others in. Which means we've let their pain in too. 

And the key to community is not letting any of this scare you away. 

Because the other side of this truth is this: when our depths join with others' depths, our depths become stronger. Able to stand. Not given to despair. Not handed over to the enemy without a fight. And they become widened for another shade of pain and heartache and loss: joy. Yes, joy is but a shade of pain. An overflow left in its wake. If its wake is washed in the redemption of Jesus. If its settled in a place of refinement, of vulnerability seeking transformation, not fear. 

And as I watched this play out in my own heart two weekends ago, I haven't been able to let it go. That's the funny thing about honesty; it tends to stick. The weight of that rejection literally took me to my knees. I needed to feel that. I needed to be weighed down. 

But more than that, I needed to share that weight with others. So that they, too, can begin to feel their own circumstances. So that we can all--together, connected, unified--begin to seek out that same weighty intimacy with God. 

Weighty intimacy. Maybe that's what we need more than anything. An intimacy with our Father and with one another. An intimacy that rises to meet the circumstances that might crush us. An intimacy that protects us from the burden of our own insecurities. An intimacy that is not rooted in my strength, but His. An intimacy that says, "Though He slays me, yet I will trust Him." An intimacy that refuses to sing that alone. An intimacy that insists on echoes, on voices that will sing along.



**PS. I started reading through Lamentations today. A book that weeps for intimacy to be rekindled in the ashes of a city burnt to the ground. A book that is honest about the weight that this intimacy requires. I don't want to walk through this book alone. I'm thinking of starting an email-based study. Or, I could start a new, password-required blog page that would host our hearts via comments, multiple authors' words (not just me writing), introductions to one another, etc. I want feedback FROM YOU. Comment, email (passion4hisglory@gmail.com), Facebook message/comment on the link, text, etc. Let's not walk through the Word alone anymore. Let's commit to weighty intimacy. Love you all. 

Monday, December 22, 2014

widen your hearts

Three nights before graduation, my heart burst open. The tears took me straight to my knees as five years worth of emotions caught up with me in one rush. I cupped my face in my hands, I rocked back and forth, and I felt each moment wash over me. Solely because I had asked a few friends to pray for me, I fell asleep, only to wake up, brew  some Frosty's Favorite coffee, sit down with my full, favorite mug in my usual spot...and breakdown again, thinking, "this routine. it's about to be over."

This is how I debriefed it in my prayer journal:

"I began not just to know, not just to feel, but to see the image that You [God] gave me several weeks ago/maybe even a few months ago: the image of my roots being uprooted. of the fruit and good branches being skimmed over as at harvest. 

And it is harvest. for others. for those you've used me among here over the past five years. But for me, it is pruning. it is pain. For me, it is loss and heartache and doubt and fear. 

Your hand is on the vine, tearing it free from the ground it has so loved and longed for and lingered in, is a noose today. Your hands don't feel gentle, the whispered words of truth are being twisted into lies by unseen enemies, and I'm believing them like a naive child who has never known otherwise.

But, Jesus, I know otherwise. Your love is gentle and sweet and has greater plans than I could ever know. I've retreated into my roots, burrowing, avoiding the light. Avoiding the shift. But you are calling me. "New stages, new steps, new calling," Izzy reminded me this morning. And so I will follow. 

Tearfully. Tentatively. Eyes clamped shut in fear--not wanting to look back on what feels lost (it is not lost to you), nor to look ahead to the amazing things you have for me to find...

Help me to believe these truths, Father. To trust that you have good plans even when they don't feel good. Jesus, I love you. And I need you. So incredibly much. So, today, I will pull your presence near, as I lift You--my anchor--from the depths of the sea around me. It will set me drifting, carried by the waves of your sovereignty. But I can trust their tossings and direction. I open wide my heart to catch your wind, to set the sail."

Now, three days after graduation, my heart remains open. Laid bare. Grieving. Spent as I try to hold this sail to catch His sovereign wind. Sick to my stomach (literally) as I feel tossed by these circumstances. But also hopeful. Very, very hopeful, as I catch murmurs of His voice upon the wind: "Do not fear. It is I. Be not afraid."

The love of God slays us. It opens us to His better path for us. It opens us to a deeper intimacy with Him. And it opens us to deeper community with one another. 

That is where I land tonight: with you. With those who are walking with me in this. Know that your texts/calls/letters/etc are priceless to me as I transition into this new season. I echo Paul's words (2 Cor. 6.11-13):

"We have spoken freely to you, Corinthians; our heart is wide open. You are not restricted by us, but you are restricted by your own affections. In return (I speak as to children) widen your hearts  also." 

Join me here, friends. Write/call/text/etc. Let me know how I can pray for you. Let me know how the Lord is leading you to pray for me. Widen your hearts also. 

Saturday, November 1, 2014

crowns.

Revelation tells the story of a coming glory and of a man chosen to see it before its day. It's a book that most people either avoid or try to hard to nail down each tiny detail to their preferred vision. But the point of the book is just that: it's not our vision. Nor John's, really. It's God's. The bottom line question is, Do we trust His vision above our own?

My vision often fails me; which is why we are called to have faith--belief that goes beyond belief into the realm of being assured for what we hope for, but do not yet have, and being certain of what we cannot see, but know is true (Hebrews 11.1). Faith moves us beyond our own vision to His. Again, the question of trust arises. 

In order to trust His vision, we must look into His eyes. To study their reflection, to see what He sees. The first glance reveals that He sees us

His vision is full of grace. 

Reflected back at us is this ethereal version of what we look at in the mirror every morning. But He delights in what we disapprove; He selects the very parts we scrutinize; He sees splendor in our imperfections.

Then, as our eyes remain fixed on His, we see something of what John saw in Revelation 4.

His vision is full of glory.

Reflected back here is what John was caught up in. A door was opened, and he was suddenly standing at the throne of God, surrounded by creatures and crowned elders on their own thrones, worshipping. singing. thankful. basking in the presence of their God.

I was reminded of this scene several days ago as my tear-filled eyes glanced at His for some hope of healing for a friend. I sat in the car, holding hands with a friend who suggested we pray immediately for her. So we did. I could barely speak through the heaviness in my voice, thickened by tears. So I stopped praying rather abruptly, and my friend took over. She prayed,

"God, I do pray the same things Katie prayed for [our friend]. But I also pray for those exact same things for Katie herself."

*cue me losing it, right there in the darkness.

"She still needs your healing and restoration too."

It's amazing how friends can call out for the very things you've been too afraid or too ignorant to voice.

"I pray that she will bring all these old emotions and hurts and experiences and lay them at your feet."

It's likewise incredible the amount of discernment that was moving in my friend's heart. But that's what happens when we let people in. I had just told her about the heaviness of the week--mirroring the heaviness in that car as we began to pray. My heart was so moved with compassion for my friend: sitting in the hospital with little answers why. Because I've been there. But I've also been moved from there. But the redemption in the in-between is still ongoing. This week has made that clear. This week, I've relived each emotion from that season. But prayer--I'll say it again: prayer (personal and, as with this scene, corporate)--has been the game-changer. Why? Because it has made me look into His eyes. 

"May she cast them down at your feet as crowns."

*cue the scene from Revelation 4, running through my mind like the fresh wave of tears running from my eyes.

"Because they are beautiful, for they are Yours. You did those works."

His vision is full of beauty.

This is what John describes seeing in that chapter: "Encircling that great throne were twenty-four smaller thrones with twenty-four elders clothed in white robes with crowns fashioned of gold on their heads...And when the living creatures declared glory and honor and thanksgiving to the One seated on the throne, the One who lives throughout all the ages, the twenty-four elders fell prostrate before the one seated on the throne, worshipped the One who lives throughout all the ages, cast their golden crowns before the throne, and sang to Him: 'Worthy are You, O Lord; worthy are You, O God, to receive glory and honor and power. You alone created all things, and through Your will and by Your design, they exist and were created."

My heart was simultaneously broken and un-burdened of the heaviness of the week. Broken in light of the reminder that His vision, both then and now, is filled with beauty even in the pain. Un-burdened of the lie that I must work to make the waiting worth it. That I must strive for the further redemption that is coming. When, in reality, I cannot make redemption happen. I can only be redeemed. It's a totally passive stance that I must take. That faith must take, knowing that His vision is actively at work in any and every circumstance. 

"For the vision still awaits its appointed time; 
it hastens to the end--it will not lie. 
If it seems slow, wait for it; 
it will surely come; it will not delay."
Habakkuk 2.3

These elders cast down their crowns, though they were considered worthy to wear, to worship the One truly worthy of even the crowns He gave them. They are worth casting down because He is worth it all.

Casting down the crowns is the first step in refusing to work to make the crowns more beautiful, more worthy. They already are beautiful and full of great worth, because they were fashioned by God's hands, redeemed from the ashes of suffering. My vision here on earth sees only a glimpse of their worth. But in His vision, they are fully worthy, transformed and fashioned in pure gold. They're beautiful, they're glorious crowns, worthy to be worn as reminders, but worthy even still to be cast down at His feet for the far surpassing worth and glory that He Is. Their worth is found in their loss, because their worth is but a shadow of His.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Worth

I'm having trouble beginning this post because this week has been so full. So full. Of relationships, tears, prayers, vulnerable moments. I've sat on my couch just watching the rain and thinking about gold. I've sat at kitchen tables and talked too much. I've sat at a well-worn dinner table and been floored by community. I've sat in rocking chairs and opened up more than I thought I could. I've sat alone and realized how my hand hurts from all the writing that has happened. And now I want to put it all out there for you, whoever you are, to read and be encouraged and challenged as I have. 

Tuesday morning, I sat in the quiet morning light and listened to a lone bird sing his song. 

I read Philippians 2.12-18.

"Accordingly, my beloved ones, just as you have always obeyed not just in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, with fear and trembling, work out the salvation which is yours; for God is the one working within you both to will and to work for the sake of His good pleasure. Do everything without grumbling and argument, so that you all may be blameless and pure, unblemished children in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you shine as stars in the world, holding fast to the word of life, unto my boasting on the day of Christ, because I did not run in vain or labor in vain. But if indeed I am poured out upon the altar in the service of your faith, I will rejoice, indeed I will rejoice together with all of you; and in the same way, indeed you must rejoice and rejoice together with me."

And I wrote:

I think I need to be reminded of what joy is. It's not circumstantial and it's not something I can simply feel, and, most importantly, it's not something I can lose. I may forfeit it. But God will not take it away. Will the hard days come, when serving feels like a slaying of self on the altar for the sake of someone else (as Paul put it)? Yes. Yet Paul rejoiced. And he asked his church at Philippi to rejoice. Why? Because he knows that it is not--ever--in vain.

And that's where joy springs up, then: in the worth. In the "worth-it" moments of obedience. The easiest? no. The earnest? no. The hardest? yes. 

Because it's in the hardest things that worth is found. Gold is worth nothing until it is refined by fire, purified unto perfection. It's worth is only made known in the midst of the fire, as impurities rise and are scraped off the surface. Paul, here, is saying that he has found worth, and even joy, in the hardest obedience he has faced. And he invites the church to rejoice together with him. 

One verse here deserves to be repeated, as it is so often misused to steal joy instead of infuse it into the worth we have:

"With fear and trembling, work out the salvation which is yours. For God is the one working within you, both to will and to work for the sake of His good pleasure."

Monday, the day before this, I didn't do much of anything. That was the day I sat on my couch and just watched it rain. I wrote some letters and I wrote some about gold. And I realized that sanctification--this process of revealing worth as we become more like Jesus--is the process of working out what's already inside of you. 

I'm not trying to attain some next-base salvation; I'm working out the salvation that has already been freely and fully given to me by grace.

And even the command to work it out comes with a promise that it's not all up to me. This is not a one-woman show of good works to earn salvation. This is a joint-commission of me working out what's already there. Because there has already been--for years and years before I ever saw His face--One working within me so that I may have both this will, this desire and intention, to grow into gold, and this active energy alive in me to enable me to work the gold out.

But why the fear & trembling then? What worth is found in scared and shaky hands?

I don't want to be afraid of where this is all going, of the obedience it will take, or the joy that will be birthed out of it. I want to relish & delight in this worth like nothing else. Yes, and that's God's intention in burning out the worth of it all, too. His "good pleasure" is etched into the scars that work often bears. 

Yet there is also a reverence and awe that must be deeply seated in our bones. In the places that need to move and work for this working out to begin. I think fear and trembling are a clearer picture of humility than any other words could draw. Fear and trembling remind us that we cannot do this

We. Cannot. Do. This.

It's not going to seem worth it. It's not going to be easy or perfect. 

So, let those aspirations go with trembling hands and a stammering heartbeat that wonders if the emptiness you feel really makes the cut to become gold (it does, dear). To be worth it (it is, dear)

Because, remember what Jesus did (go back to Philippians 2.5-11): He emptied himself. He made himself nothing. And hear Paul's own words again, rejoicing "even if I am to be poured out as a sacrificial drink offering upon the altar in the service of your faith."

Empty hands are exactly what we called to. A heart that echoes in our chest because it cannot handle the fulness it has been invited to is exactly where this journey of becoming gold begins. 

Because Jesus' hands aren't empty, stretched open wide across a cross for us anymore; their pierced forms hold our own. His heart doesn't echo in a frail human chest with wounds inflicted for us to be made His own today; it resounds with the glorious, jealous, redeeming love of a Father who seeks to fill our hearts with the same fulness of love.

Worth is found is the furnace of loss. When we are taken to the end of ourselves and to the fringes of the Father's love. Reach out your empty hands. Lift up your overwhelmed heart. Find love vast enough to fill them both. Find joy that comes in obedience.

Find worth in the gold He is making you to be.