Easter won’t let me go…

It’s hard for me to go to church anymore. It’s hard for me to follow the church calendar, to find meaning in days like Palm Sunday or contemplate seasons like Lent. It just doesn’t reach me anymore, not now. Some of it never reached me… I never could quite accept a calendar when I wanted to celebrate all holidays all the time…I wasn’t good at following the guidelines, though I tried.

I’m currently reading Faith Shift by Kathy Escobar, and it’s been helpful to me as I process this unraveling period… she is helping me to understand that there is still something left after the house of cards comes tumbling down. (Though I know my shifting is intricately tied to the sudden loss I experienced two years ago and the abrupt upheaval of my life to the point where I didn’t really have a church community to “lose” anymore, the book and her stories are still helpful.)

Anyway, what I’m saying is… a lot of “religious” things have fallen away recently, but Easter keeps tugging at my heart strings. Easter won’t let me go. I’m going to go to church on Easter Sunday, or at least I’m going to attempt to do so. It’s still going to be difficult for me. But it’s a sunrise service, and there’s just something about sunrise church services that I can’t let go of.

I was trying to describe it to my friend, who graciously said he would go with me: “Well, the service doesn’t start at sunrise, it starts before. We start in darkness and we end in light.”

And that very concept is what I can’t shake from my mind. That, the whole darkness turning into light thing, is what won’t let go of me.

I wrote about Easter last year, about how I don’t know how to sing, “He is risen,” when death still feels so close and so painful, and yet I still want to hear that Christ is, in fact, risen. I still need to hear that death is not the final end, even as it feels so final and so consuming.

I wrote of eucatastrophe, a word I think of often but still can’t quite describe adequately. I don’t know fully what it is, but I find hope in its meaning, a meaning I can’t articulate. The good catastrophe, the sudden joyous turn. Like Easter, a eucatastrophe involves light reversing the darkness, but as Tolkien wrote, we can’t see it yet. It doesn’t always seem like a happy ending, “…at least, not what folk inside a story and not outside it call a good end,” says Sam. We can’t see the glory on the other side yet.

I don’t know why I’m drawn to the sunrise and the symbol of a resurrection that I don’t understand, but I am… And I think it is only a light like this that will bring me back to a building that I don’t know how to or even want to be in anymore… just for one day. For one day, I can join in the singing. For one day, I can awaken the dawn. I can believe.

Light is coming. Let it reflect backwards through time, through space, through the “chinks of the universe.” Let it pierce this shadow, and let it kiss my face. Let me sing.

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Substance.

It has been almost a year now since my dad died.

It sucks. It is painful. I miss him, and I am trying not to think about it too much. Strangely enough, though, I feel similar now to how I felt last year, just before it happened: hopeful. This tragedy has led me to a place I never thought I’d be, and I think I am finally starting to settle into that place, to find the hope in it. God has blessed me with a joy I never thought I’d find. …And I am terrified of losing it all again (just as I had lost my hope last year).

One day, one breath at a time. Manna today, what is it? I cannot comprehend it, but I can choose to accept it, this mystery, and I can trust that God will provide this inexplicably satisfying mystery daily. Today the manna brings delight to my soul. Tomorrow it may not be so joyful, but it will still fill me, as my God promises never to leave me nor forsake me.

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when He is risen, but death still hurts.

Last year on Easter, I went to a sunrise service, had breakfast with friends, and then went to pick up my dad from the airport. We shared Easter dinner together with my aunt’s side of the family, and then I got to spend about a week with my dad before he flew back to Colorado. That was the last time I got to see him.

Last year, I had Easter dinner with my dad. This year, he is not here. How do I celebrate that death has no power, no sting, when its power overwhelms me and its sting still hurts?

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Christ’s tomb is empty, but my dad’s urn is still full. What does it mean?
“Today you will be with me in paradise,” Christ said to the thief who hung dying beside him. Not, “In the last days,” but “Today.” What does it mean?

“What you sow does not come to life unless it dies.” 1 Corinthians 15:36. NIV. Or, “Every time you plant seed, you sow something that does not come to life [germinating, springing up, growing] unless it dies first.” -AMP.

On the night before He hung on the cross, Jesus told His disciples, “Now is your time of grief, but I will see you again and you will rejoice, and no one will take away your joy.”

Where is that joy? Why does it feel like death has swallowed it up — when in reality, death is the one that is swallowed up, destroyed, rendered powerless?

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The very day before my dad died, before I even knew it was coming, I went to church and listened to a sermon on Nehemiah 8. I wrote verse 10 in my journal: “Do not grieve, for the joy of the LORD is your strength.” I continued writing, “What does that mean, God? Teach us, lead us. The joy of the LORD is your strength.”

I am looking for the joy of the LORD today. I found Him in the stillness of the early morning hours, in the dark sky, in the foggy mists, in the creeping dawn. I found joy at first light, as the world turned golden orange and the water sang.

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Then the day came on, the sun rose rapidly in the sky, the stillness turned to busyness, and the cool mists burned away in the stifling heat… And now it is dusk. The sun has gone down again, and I am still not any closer to understanding Christ, His death, His sacrifice; His resurrection, His victory. I am drawn to Him, to the dawn. I need His hope, but I don’t understand it.

What does Resurrection mean today? For me? For the orphan? For the widow?

It is easy to sing of Christ’s victory, “He rose and conquered the grave, He conquered the grave.” It’s easy, when death seems far away, when you haven’t yet felt its sting, or when that sting has faded to a dull memory. Today, though, it hurts. Today, I sing, “He conquered the grave” not with a shout of triumph, but with a cry of desperation. It has to be true. He has to be risen. Death is defeated, it has to be, or what else can I do?

This sorrow will not pass, but perhaps joy can mingle with it… perhaps “pain and delight flow together and tears are the very wine of blessedness.” I am looking for the eucastastrophe.

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Jumbled thoughts on the new year

So what I wrote in my last post about choosing to take joy is very much easier to write about than to do. It seems that every time I proclaim that I will take joy, darkness rushes in to try to steal that joy away. I have decided that I have to change the notion to: “I will take joy — and I will not let it be stolen from me. No one can take away my joy because my joy does not come from within me, it comes from the Father who holds me, and no one can snatch me out of my Father’s hand.”

Still, easier said than done, but I have to start by saying it or I will never do it.

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I’ve been thinking a lot about church recently, mostly because it seems impossible for me to find one. For the past few months, I’ve been working most Sunday mornings, and even when I do rarely get the morning off, it’s still difficult to get to a church because of sudden illness or necessary babysitting. When I do get the chance to go, community is hard to find, and it doesn’t come about as instantly as I’d want it to. (And why, oh why, is it so hard to find people my own age in church in middle America?) I miss my old communities. I miss how easy it was to form friendships at Crossroads in Scotland. I miss how quickly the people of Metanoia in Maryland embraced me.

You’d think that if I needed church and Christian community at any particular time in my life, it’d be now…right? Now that I’m in a new place, orphaned, directionless… But God doesn’t seem to be bringing me that community as quickly as He has in the past.  And I don’t understand it.

I am grateful, however, that I still feel Him so close, that I still worship Him and learn from Him, even if it’s not in the midst of a congregation. I am lonely, and sometimes I ache for a community like this, but I can still sing with the earth. I don’t know exactly what He’s up to right now, but He hasn’t left me, and that is good.

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On the first day of 2014, I glanced back through my journal and found a verse I had written down back in July. The verse was Isaiah 51:3, and I wrote about it on my Facebook status that day:

“The LORD will surely comfort Zion and will look with compassion on all her ruins; He will make her deserts like Eden, her wastelands like the garden of the LORD. Joy and gladness will be found in her, thanksgiving and the sound of singing.” -Reading Isaiah 51:3 at the start of this new year, when the passage of time seems depressing and daunting rather than “happy,” but my God is in the business of turning wastelands into gardens.

Yes, amen. Wastelands into gardens. But wasn’t that the same tune I was singing a year ago? Two, three years ago? A way in the desert and streams in the wasteland. Is this the tune I am to sing all my life? Am I to move from one wasteland to the next, following the Way, sipping from the streams that miraculously burst through the ground at just the moment when I feel I can’t go on any longer without a drink? If that is to be my journey, at least I will not be making it alone.

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The LORD will comfort His people, He will look with compassion on His daughter, and He has comforted me. He has made streams appear in the desert before, and He has made a way in the chaos and the wasteland, so I will trust Him to do so again. And again, and again, for all my days.

But I am like an olive tree
flourishing in the house of the God;
I trust in God’s unfailing love
for ever and ever.
-Psalm 52:8

“In Transition…” One Year Later

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Last year, I wrote this blog post on Christmas Eve called “In Transition.” It’s odd how I feel pretty much the same way now, though rather than hitting a speedbump, I’ve faced an earth-shaking crash that seems to have turned my world upside-down and render me senseless.

In that post last year, I wrote this:

One day from now marks the traditional anniversary of the moment my God left the throne of Heaven, took on flesh, and became a baby, a baby that would grow up to die for my wrongdoings and then conquer death to bring freedom and victory to the whole world.
So maybe that’s all that matters. I don’t know what I’m doing, but I know the Gospel. …
May this be a time of sweet communion with the LORD, then. I want to know my Father’s heart so deeply, to bind mine with His so closely, that the way is obvious. And even if it isn’t, even if I still don’t get an answer, at least I will be drawing closer to the Lover of my soul.

I am grateful to have kept a log of my journey and be able to look back on these words to find comfort, comfort in the encouragement to simply commune with the LORD.

Manna today, or I starve. And that’s for today, not tomorrow, not a week from now, not a year from now, but today. There’s a reason God specifically commanded the Israelites to only gather enough manna in the morning for that day alone. (And when they disobeyed and tried to save some for leftovers, it rotted. See Exodus 16:16-20) Manna today. I must see His goodness today, or I won’t make it to tomorrow. And if I see His goodness today, then that is enough. He provides today, and therefore He will provide tomorrow, and two weeks from now, and decades from now.

Remember earlier this year when I blogged about my trek through the Hebrew prophets post-exile? I wish I had started blogging even earlier, when I was reading about the prophets in conjunction with the accounts of their various kings, because then I could’ve blogged about Habakkuk. I remember writing about Habakkuk for my college course on “The Problem of Evil,” because Habakkuk cries out to God about the evil he sees in his world and God’s plan to let the Babylonians carry the Israelites into exile, but in the end the prophet chooses wisdom over knowledge and joy over despair and lives by faith in a sovereign God.

I am grateful that such a sovereign God led me to read through the Old Testament prophets last year so that this year, when I am so in need of their stories, He can bring them to mind again.

Habakkuk 3:17-19 says in shigionoth (wild, emotional, enthusiastic song):

Though the fig tree should not blossom,
nor fruit be on the vines,
the produce of the olive fail
and the fields yield no food,
the flock be cut off from the fold
and there be no herd in the stalls,
yet I will rejoice in the LORD;
I will take joy in the God of my salvation.
God, the Lord, is my strength;
He makes my feet like the deer’s;
He makes me tread on my high places.

Yet. I. will. take. joy.

That’s not a very easy thing to say or do right now. Grief still troubles me in the middle of the night, it still suddenly stabs the heart in the course of a normal day. Confusion and worry and fear tend to cloud my future. Joy sometimes seems too simple. Or worse, joy seems like forgetting, forgetting the father I lost, forgetting the need for a future.

But joy is not forgetting, joy is remembering. Habakkuk didn’t forget the evil surrounding him, but rather he chose to remember the goodness of the Lord and to trust in that goodness to carry him through the hardship, to allow him to tread on the high places, to give him hope and a future.

To quote Voskamp again: “Instead of filling with expectations, the joy-filled expect nothing– and are filled. This breath! This oak tree! This daisy! This work! This sky! This day! Surprise!”

I will take joy.
“LORD, I have heard of your fame: I stand in awe of your deeds, O LORD. Renew them in our day, in our time make them known…” –Habakkuk 3:2

Stretches to the Skies

When I think about it (which doesn’t happen nearly enough), I am so amazed by the faithfulness of our God. He is always faithful, always, even when I am nowhere near being faithful to Him. I just wanted to take a moment to meditate on that fact: God is faithful.

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His faithfulness stretches to the skies.
To the skies.

I’ve read this verse (Psalm 36:5) hundreds of times, I sing the song in my head, and I just skip over the power of this line. I acknowledge it for the pretty metaphor that it is, and I keep on singing. But God’s faithfulness stretches to the sky, His love reaches to the heavens. The psalmist didn’t know how else to describe it, so he picked the infinite gap between earth and sky as a starting point: “Yeah, my God’s faithfulness is larger than that.” I think sometimes I just don’t pay enough attention to the word faithfulness. I don’t let myself truly chew on its meaning. Why should God be faithful? We are certainly not beings worthy of His faithful love. He calls us His beloved, but we are adulterous, selfish, and foolish.

And yet, my God is faithful. He is faithful to me, but even more so He is faithful to who He is and the promises He has made. And He is faithful to remind me time and time again of those promises when I forget. God has provided for me a hundred times over and has carried me through time and time again. Why should now be any different?

I feel like a little child, asking Daddy over and over again to tell me that He loves me, to whisper to me that everything’s going to be alright, to assure me that I’ve made the right decision. I ask Him to tell me the same story over and over again, the story of where He’s been, and what He’s doing. And He is faithful. He always answers, He always listens, He is always close. Abba, I love you. I do believe, help my unbelief. Help me to be faithful to You, never wavering in my trust in You, never seeking lesser loves, never turning my back on you… Help me to be faithful like you.

Praise the LORD all you nations;
extol Him, all you peoples.
For great is His love toward us,
and the faithfulness of the LORD endures forever.
Praise the LORD.
(Psalm 117)
<3

May

It’s been a dark winter.
It was a long and lonely fall.

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Yesterday, the only sunny morning of the week, I took a walk outside.
I breathed in the beauty of the Creator,
And I felt refreshed.
There was a sense of something bursting forth…
Something I know not what, yet.

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This is the season of the poets:
Something within our bones swells with joy
When we experience this renewal of the land
When the flowers bloom and the harsh ground turns green again.
Its a rush to see the luscious forrest once more, no longer the barren wasteland.

We say, ‘Yes, all can be well again–
After winter must come spring, it must.’
We need this grace, we cherish it.
As much as we need the sun to come up each day
and the rain to fall on the sinners and the saints.

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Rain, what beauty, what grace!
What transformation!
The showers, the storms, the drenching,
The power that causes the blossoms–
We need that grace too.

Drink deep, little earth, little heart,
And bloom, bloom, blossom little daughter.

How Precious to Me

I’m blogging at Small, Still Voices today. Here’s an excerpt:

How precious to me
Are your thoughts, O God.
So high, so wide, so deep,
How precious to me.
So if I were to count them,
I would live and die in perfect bliss
The counting, it is never over
And the beauty, it never ends.

If I were to spend my entire life doing absolutely nothing except counting the thoughts and dreams of God and praising Him for them, my life would be bliss. That’s what this song says…. Click here to read the rest at Small, Still Voices!

The issue of remembrance…

First order of business, I have a correction to make: I had spoken incorrectly in my other post. The Jews had returned to their land, and they had settled, but not in Jerusalem. They left Jerusalem empty and ruined, until Nehemiah arrived on the scene and led the rebuilding of the wall. The wall was important. The wall brought boundaries. The wall kept them set apart, the wall upheld their Jewish identity. [Interestingly enough, even after they’d finished rebuilding the city’s wall, he had to resort to a lottery to repopulate the city because everyone had already settled in towns outside of it and they knew that living in a city was dangerous because the city could an easy target.]

Now on to the rest of the post!

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I’ve been thinking a lot about the idea of remembering as I’ve been going through these Old Testament stories. A lot of them I’ve never really studied in depth before, and I never really had a clear idea of the timeline between Exodus and Malachi. So as I’m finishing up the last of the history-text in Nehemiah, I’ve been thinking, “Okay, great. I know what’s going on now. I got it, check. Moving on…”

But that’s not the point of this. If the point of these books were just so I can read them once, understand them, and move on, then they wouldn’t be here in my Bible. God put them here because He intended for them to be read over and over again. It’s hard for me to get that, and it’s hard to understand why we would need to reread something like Lamentations, poetry of grief about a moment that happened centuries and centuries before Christ. It’s beautiful poetry, and it’s a great literary and historical study, but it’s included in the Bible for more than those reasons alone. I’m not sure what the real reason is yet, but I know that God intended for us to remember these ancient moments immortalized in laments.

In Nehemiah 9 and 10, the people rededicate themselves and their nation to God in a lengthy prayer. The prayer begins with Abram and ends with the return to Jerusalem, recording the people’s continuous rebellion and God’s continuous goodness. This happens a lot in the story of the Israelites: the people have to constantly remind themselves (and God has to remind them too) that their God is the One who brought them out of Egypt and led them into the promised land of their inheritance, the God who sustained them in the desert and gave them all good things. They read and reread the Law of Moses, they retell the stories through the ages.

I am so far removed from those stories. They happened thousands of years ago in a place thousands of miles away, for a people I have no ancestral connection to. But I am connected, through the blood-relation of the Savior. I have been grafted in and become a part of this chosen people. These stories are important to remember. These sins are important to remember, just as it is important to tell and retell how God had mercy upon a fallen and stiff-necked people. Thankfully, though, God also likes to remind His people that He brought them out of slavery, and He questions why they would continue to return to it. These stories are important.

And the stories of my Savior are important to remember too. I’ve noticed that I tend to shy away from rereading the Gospels, and I don’t know why. So my next journey will begin in Luke, to explore and remember how God responded to His people after four-hundred-odd years of Scriptural silence. Here is where the promises of Isaiah, Zechariah, Malachi, and the other prophets are being fulfilled. On the side, I’ll also try to read through 1 and 2 Chronicles, the same history and the same stories I’ve finished reading retold for the returning remnant of exiles.

Because it is important to remember, and these stories are in here to be read more than once. I want to meditate and absorb the Word of God, and I can’t do that without returning to the same stories again and again. Thanks for joining me in the journey. <3