In Between dusk and dawn

Earth’s crammed with heaven, And every common bush afire with God: But only he who sees takes off his shoes. ~Elizabeth Barrett Browning

On the cusp of dawn, leaving the night behind, but not quite daybreak.
The in-between.
Mysterious. Dark and light mingled and entwined and, for a few brief moments, inseparable.
Wide awake during the in between, praying…thinking, I strangely had a flashback to college.
Religion 101. Junior year–yes I realize that is late in a college career to take a general course and the registrar and prof were not happy with me, but I was and still am of the opinion that the point of a liberal arts education is to have a diverse, balanced course of study all the way through school…ok, sorry about that…stepping off my soap box now and back to the blog… Religion 101…junior…oh yeah…
Willis P. De Boer. Close to retirement, lanky with what I thought at the time were unusually long appendages (now I know that it’s just part of being Dutch) and a slight brogue, he gestured with those far reaching fingers and said we were the in “the already but the not yet”.
The already but the not yet.
The in between.
Like seeing a mountain range far off we recognize the majesty and vastness, but don’t really begin to understand their scope until we travel into them. The view is different from the foothills to the passes to the mountain tops to the high plateaus. Discovery is around every corner and rarely looks the way we expected it to.
When Jesus came to earth, He ushered in God’s Eternal Kingdom. It’s already here. But as is painfully obvious, the fulfillment of that Kingdom seems forever in the future with, at times, little evidence of its existence. For the past 2000 years we, the human race, have been journeying through the mountains of the already but the not yet.

Oh, we’re in awe of the beauty and rugged delicacy. But we’re fickle people and even the majesty of the mountains becomes mundane and all we see are the rocks and foot falls. Sometimes we’re fearful that any misstep could lead to disaster. Not always aware that what we’re in is so much bigger than us, we continue on.
I know I’ve felt lost in the mountains…in the in between. Caught in the middle…wanting desperately to get through or at least to a peak so I can get a bigger view and maybe see how much farther there is to go. Caught. Between night and day.
But then there are those moments, when beauty or art or music or communion with loved ones, or acts of kindness and generosity, or the realization of sacrifice transcends what we can grasp and is something felt not thought, and we get a glimpse of the already but the not yet. Signs of the coming dawn.
Life in the in between.

***forgive mixing metaphors and being a bit melodramatic…remember I wrote it in the wee hours and after reading Bronte.***

*reposting from the archives today. I originally published this back in 2010
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Mercy

“A beggar poor at Mercy’s door, lies such a wretch as I;
Thou knowest my need is great indeed, Lord, hear me when I cry.”~Samuel Medley

Throughout my life of faith, grace (or rather Grace), has meant everything to me. The knowledge, belief ,and experience that Grace is real, has been my bedrock. Grace: being given something I didn’t ask for and don’t deserve that’s more than I could imagine. I’ve been given saving Grace, sustaining Grace, guiding Grace, and forgiving Grace. It’s all a gift.

Lately, another reality of God ignites my soul: Mercy.
Grace is all about Love…free, unconditional, pure, saving love.
Mercy possesses a different quality. Mercy suggests being spared from something. There’s an element of judgement in Mercy that makes it even more wonderful. I deserve “A” but am shown Mercy and get “B” instead. Beautiful.

The words above by Samuel Medley**, grip my heart each time I hear them. I show up, beggar poor–nothing to offer, nothing to give–at Mercy’s door. He opens the door and instead of sending me away empty-handed or throwing me some scraps and then slamming the door in my face, He invites me in. Essentially, because of sin, we’re all strangers to Him. And yet, even as a stranger, because of His Mercy, He opens the doors wide open. He asks me to live there, in this place of Mercy.

But here’s the thing, if I leave Mercy’s door, I leave beggar-poor again. I can’t go there, fill up, and expect to distribute the wealth I’ve been given as if I were Father Christmas. No, I come a beggar, and if I leave, I leave a beggar. So often, we, as Christians, talk about being “filled” in such a superficial way. It’s as if you can tank up on God like you would gas and run for a while until you’re empty and then go back for more filling. He’s not a cosmic gas station. I come to God with nothing and I leave Him with nothing.

The only way I can share His love –the only way to be “filled”– is by staying at His Mercy Door. Jesus put it this way in the book of John:

“I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. If anyone does not remain in me, he is like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be given you. This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.
As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father’s commands and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command.” 

When we stay in His presence, we become a channel or instrument of His grace, love, forgiveness and mercy and not a distributor of it. God, may we show up beggar poor at your door and feast on your welcoming Mercy so others may experience it as well.

**The words are lyrics from “Love me to the End”; a hymn by Medley and covered by Red Mountain Music. Take a listen…

***Posting from the archives today

 

 

Forecast

The weather’s been sketchy the last few days. Today’s forecast boasts “Showers with scattered storms and patchy fog mingled with sunshine.”  Brad looked at the radar and started discussing the instability of the atmosphere. Little showers pop up and fall apart. The sun peaks out, heats everything up, then hides. The air, saturated with moisture, smells damp and springy. It’s difficult to plan any outdoor activities. Weather in Iowa is notoriously unpredictable, but this is different. This is shifty, changeable weather from minute to minute.

I’ve often compared chronic and major depression to a fog, skewing and distorting reality and making the journey slow and arduous. But the last several weeks, it’s felt more like today’s weather: changeable and unpredictable. One minute I’m walking in sunshine and the next, I’m caught in a downpour of painful memories, self-loathing, and isolation. It’s been exhausting, living in this low-pressure system. I’ve dealt with depression now for 30 years so I have the coping skills down and employ my full arsenal regularly. But sometimes, when the tears blind side and the inner accusations mount, my weapons seem useless and my attempts at alleviating the pain, futile.

John records for us in his book in the Bible that Jesus said: “The thief comes to steal and kill and destroy but I come that you may have life and have it to the full.” As I grow and walk through life, I continue to realize that the “full” life doesn’t mean a pain-free life or a happily-ever-after life. It doesn’t mean living in a sunny and 75º degree life all the time. It means living in a redemptive life. It means that nothing is wasted; no joy or pain that we experience is trivial or useless. Full life means growing and loving not in spite of the pain, but because of it. Full life means we’re never alone even when it feels like it. Full life means there’s always Someone going to bat for us. The writer of the book of Hebrews talks about the Great High Priest who constantly intercedes or advocates on our behalf. Even when it doesn’t feel like it and we can’t see the effects, things are happening behind the scenes. We have the best possible Person making sure we’ll be ok in the end. I know it’s true. It’s just, some days it’s hard to believe the Truth because the atmosphere is so unstable.

I’m glad it’s Easter tomorrow. Jesus coming, living, dying and rising again doesn’t mean the pain is gone on earth. It doesn’t mean there’s no struggle. It doesn’t mean life is happy and perfect all the time. It means there’s redemption in the pain. It means I don’t walk this road alone. And neither do you, my friend. I have no idea what your skies look like today. Maybe your marriage is failing. Maybe your kid walks a dangerous, self-destructive path. Maybe you’re staring retirement in the face without a penny to your name and it scares you to death. Maybe the brokenness and pain of the past cripples you to live in the present. I have no idea. But Jesus came to offer hope, stability, and redemption.

 

 

 

Finding Freedom

**make sure to watch both videos in sequence.

We struggle under the weight.
The failed relationships.
The strained marriages.
The wayward children.
The painful life not quite left behind.
The job we hate.
The words we can’t take back.
The words we can’t forget.
The sorrow of letting go either through death or circumstances.
The forever tight finances.
The hounding health issues.
Sometimes, we shove all of it, all the burdens, into our briefcases or purses or backpacks and lug them around.
We become accustomed to their mass and bulk.
Even comfortable under the load.
We don’t see that after a while, they don’t just burden us, but everyone around us.
Failure.
Disappointment.
Unmet expectations.
Unfulfilled dreams.
Past mistakes haunt.
Past abuses cling.
Careless, painful words echo.
Fear hangs.
We weave our tortuous way along life’s path with burdens strapped to us like extra appendages.
Or tumors.
We hide.
We fight.
We run.
We labor.
Eventually, we will buckle under the weight.

Is there hope?
As Easter approaches, I’m reminded that yes, Hope exists and my belief is renewed.

Writing about Jesus, the prophet Isaiah brings Hope:
Yet it was our weaknesses he carried;
it was our sorrows that weighed him down.
And we thought his troubles were a punishment from God, a punishment for his own sins! But he was pierced for our rebellion, crushed for our sins.
He was beaten so we could be whole.
He was whipped so we could be healed.
All of us, like sheep, have strayed away.
We have left God’s paths to follow our own.
Yet the Lord laid on him the sins of us all.

Then a few chapters later, he wrote more about Jesus:

He has sent me to tell those who mourn    
that the time of the Lord’s favor has come,
and with it, the day of God’s anger against their enemies.
To all who mourn in Israel,  
he will give a crown of beauty for ashes, a joyous blessing instead of mourning,    
festive praise instead of despair. In their righteousness, they will be like great oaks    
that the Lord has planted for his own glory.

They will rebuild the ancient ruins,    
repairing cities destroyed long ago. They will revive them,    
though they have been deserted for many generations.

We do not have to live, breathe and move with our burdens defining us and disfiguring us. 
There is Hope.

Loving Well

My dad left a lot when he passed away. He left a house, a car, clothes, and his beloved books.   He left co-workers and friends who loved him. He left children and grandchildren who adored him. He left a loving wife who deeply misses him. He left a legacy of life-long learning. He left a legacy of faith. He left a legacy of curiosity and adventure. But I believe one of the best things my dad left, was a legacy of blessing.

My dad was known for his bright, easy smile and quick wit. People liked him and liked to be around him. But beyond the winning smile, keen intellect and great personality, people were drawn to dad because he loved them. I saw my dad love and bless each person he met–literally every person no matter how minor or brief their encounter. His life exuded encouragement and mercy and grace and blessing. I remember one time he and my mom were traveling to Iowa and stopped at a Hardee’s for ice cream. While in the line, dad struck up a conversation with a younger guy. Within minutes, the man told mom and dad of his rough past and new-found faith and his desire to change. There, amid the rushed customers, mom and dad prayed with him, gave him words of encouragement and blessed him. This is one example among many; his life was a life of giving. He took time to listen and bless.

So, my dad’s love for others wasn’t just philanthropic or born out of a general love for humanity. His love and passion to bless people grew from his love and passion for his Savior, Jesus, and out of a deep gratitude. His love and blessing were intentional. Dad struggled with depression. Dad struggled with his past. Dad struggled with self-image and worth. Dad struggled with an addictive personality. Dad struggled with pride. He would readily, easily and quickly share with you that Jesus was his only hope and without Him, he was nothing. The introverted scholar, who could easily have holed up in his man-cave forever, chose to leave the safety and quiet and comfort to bless and love others because of the Love he’d been shown. He loved others well because of the great Love he’d been given.

I’m confident that his legacy of blessing reaches far beyond what we know because of this Love.

Would you do something for me today, in honor of his birthday?

Would you love people wholly and intentionally today?

When an interaction devolves into gossip, will you be the one to bring the grace and love and turn the conversation around?
Will you be the one to show kindness and grace to the person who bugs you (and perhaps everyone else) the most?
Will you greet each person you meet with kindness and openness, expecting the best instead of the worst?
Will you step out of your comfort zone, putting your own fears, busyness, and agenda aside, to bring encouragement to someone else?
Will you pray with someone who needs it today?
Will you put your needs on the back-burner and live self-sacrificially today?
Will you refrain from the snarky comment at someone else’s expense?
Will you show restraint and grace when you don’t agree with someone else’s political or religious beliefs?
If you work in a school, will you look for the kid who tries to hide and try to make a connection?
If you’re a student, will you bless your classmates with kindness, respect, and actual attention–yes, even the weird kid who picks his nose–in fact–especially the weird kid who picks his nose?
Will you be the one at the water cooler who brings words of life instead of criticism?

Will you plant seeds of kindness instead of selfishness?
Will you make today about blessing instead of cursing? Loving instead of ignoring? Boldly sharing grace instead of standing in judgment?

Will you intentionally share a legacy of blessing today?

Imagine the beauty of this day if we choose to live like this!

**reposting from 2015

Diffused Light repost

I wrote this last January, but after reading the following quote by Stasi Eldredge this morning, and praying for some deeply wounded, suffering souls, I thought it was worth reposting. May you find peace and beauty even in the pain.

“Suffering is real and it is a part of every person’s life. We aren’t to be surprised by it or thrown by it but to seek God in it; not blame him for it but reach to him in it. We can let pain be a doorway to deeper intimacy with Christ. May each of us let God use suffering to transform us. This God of ours promises that he works all things together for our GOOD. ALL things. Even the hardest things. Honestly, because of that, there is much hope to be had there.” ~Stasi Eldredge

In 12 hours I’ll be back home again…not the ideal thoughts on the Monday morning after a break, but it gave me the motivation I needed to get up and get going. I like my job. I really do. But each morning I wake up dreading the day for whatever reason. No, it’s not “whatever reason” it’s that when you struggle with chronic depression, mornings are particularly hard. The day ahead feels daunting. I’ve found over the years that once I’m going, it’s fine; it’s the initial thoughts that need to be overcome. Anyway, this morning I got up, got dressed, read my devotions, and chose to put on a smile. I don’t mean a poser-fake sort of smile, I mean the this-is-your-life-you-are-truly-blessed-even-if-you-don’t-feel-it sort of smile. Every morning I have to remind myself that how I live this life and view this day is a choice–depression or not.

Anyway, I walked out my door and I found a stunning white fur-covered world. Fog caused frost to settle all over the trees, decks, power lines, the antenna on the car and each leaf and twig and blade of grass. Anything and everything that the fog touched, frosted. I was beautiful. Stunningly beautiful. An otherwise dismal, cloudy day transformed into a magical world. Once again, I thought of the beauty in the midst of the dismal. Beauty in pain. Beauty in suffering. Beauty in confusion. Beauty in the fog.

The roads were fine, but the fog hung thick and allowed only limited vision. As I drove through the cloud tunnel, the monochromatic world around me, I saw a small break of diffused light. It wasn’t bright yellow. No round orb was visible. But a brighter light glowed and for that moment, it allowed me to see a little further down the road. Instead of the 100 feet in front of me, I could see a bit more asphalt.

Once again, I was reminded how much depression is like fog. The sun isn’t blocked out completely, but vision is impaired. I often deride myself for struggling to get out of bed in the morning, but driving through the ground-level clouds, I thought how natural it is in the diminished vision to slow down, be careful, and just concentrate on what’s immediately in front of you. As soon as I look beyond the day (or sometimes the hour) I’m overwhelmed because all I see is hazy white. My vision is impaired. But if I simply look at the road in front of me, trusting that the pavement will lead me, I’m ok. Alert. Possibly on edge, but ok.

I have no idea what your fog or struggle is today. It may be finances, a crappy marriage, hurting kids or chronic illness. I have no idea. But I pray that, whatever your situation, you will look to God and take heart. The Light of Christ will never leave you even if His light and presence are diffused by struggle. And believe it or not, there is intense and immense beauty right in the middle of (and sometimes because of) the fog.

A Quieter Grief

Subtle, nagging, tugging, I felt the grief pulling at my heart all day. Through worship, memories, sights, and sounds, I felt his absence.  Tears threatened and spilled over and I cried for the missing and the longing.

It’s been a big year in the life of my family–engagements, graduations, jobs, marriages, moves– and we didn’t get to share it with him. It’s not like he feels like he’s missing anything–he’s in Glory experiencing ultimate joy and complete rest. For the last three years, he’s understood an eternal perspective that I can only grasp at like a child chasing a bubble.

So I didn’t cry for him today. I cried for me. I cried for the missing and the longing.

Quiet grief blanketed me today as I remembered.  And that’s ok. Quiet, private, intimate memories trickled into my consciousness. The beautiful legacy of love and grace that he left behind gently washed over my soul. I reveled in the exclusiveness and privacy of my grief. That may sound strange, but God brought His healing balm as I walked this quiet grief-road primarily alone.

I don’t know what loss you’ve experienced. I have no idea how far along you are in your journey of grief. Maybe it’s fresh and new and your pain is public. Maybe people are starting to forget even as your own longing ache intensifies. I pray, no matter your surroundings and circumstances along the way, you’ll take comfort in the One who always walks beside you.

Lasting Legacy“Blessed are those who mourn for they will be comforted.” -Jesus