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

Autumn.

I don’t have many words today, but I have this:

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I’m starting to love aspen trees. The bark, ash grey with scars of black, leading up to flimsy branches with beautiful crisp leaves bright and yellow in the autumn sun… Magnificent.

There’s just something that speaks to me about the aspens. It speaks of hope, wonder, beauty amid turmoil.

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It speaks of autumn too: that even death can be beautiful, that what seems like loss can be a renewal.

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I wrote a lot about spring this year, when the world felt full of promise and excitement.
I did not know the gloom and pain that summer would bring.
I did not know that fall would lead me to contemplate this “season of dying” in more than just metaphorical terms. I did not know I would get to see the aspens.

And yet the hope I saw in spring, I see still in fall. Maybe it’s a fool’s hope, but it’s hope nonetheless. That hope says He has made everything beautiful in its time, and that death is just a part of this thing we call life– and He has redeemed it. The aspen tree is strong and beautiful, and it thrives even amidst its scarred and seemingly burned bark. The fire that kills it makes it grow stronger the next time. Its leaves are tough yet smooth, invoking wonder in both the spring and the fall.

Autumn is golden.

What I’m taking in these days…

IMG_9999“No one ever told me that grief felt so like fear. I am not afraid, but the sensation is like being afraid. The same fluttering in the stomach, the same restlessness, the yawning. I keep on swallowing. — At other times it feels like being mildly drunk, or concussed.

There is a sort of invisible blanket between the world and me. I find it hard to take in what anyone says. Or perhaps, hard to want to take it in. It is so uninteresting. Yet I want the others to be about me. I dread the moments when the house is empty. If only they would talk to one another an not to me.” –C.S. Lewis, A Grief Observed

I read C.S. Lewis’ journal of his thoughts after the death of his wife after my own mother died. It helped me in my own grief, and also gave me insight into what my father might be feeling. I feel the weight of my dad’s grief even more so now, and find solace in the fact that he is in a place where he no longer has to mourn the loss of my mother. And I find Lewis still putting into words the exact same emotions I drown in these days:

“Her absence is like the sky, spread over everything.”

*     *     *
I’m also taking in moments of hope from The Lord of the Rings stories and films. They spoke to me in my grief ten years ago, they are still speaking to me today.

“My dear Sam, you cannot always be torn in two; you will have to be one and whole for many years. You have so much to enjoy, and to be, and to do. Your part in this story will go on.” –Frodo

Frodo: “I can’t do this, Sam.”
Sam: “I know, it’s all wrong. By rights we shouldn’t even be here, but we are. It’s like in the great stories, Mr. Frodo, the ones that really mattered. Full of darkness and danger they were, and sometimes you didn’t even want to know the end, because how could the end be happy? How could the world go back to the way it was when so much bad had happened? But in the end, it’s only a passing thing, this shadow. A new day will come. And when the sun shines, it’ll shine out the clearer. Those were the stories that stayed with you, that meant something, even if you were too small to understand why. But I think, Mr. Frodo, I do understand, I know now. The folk in those stories had lots of chances of turning back only they didn’t. They kept going, because they were holding on to something.”
Frodo: “What are we holding on to, Sam?”
Sam: “That there’s some good in this world, Mr. Frodo, and it’s worth fighting for.”

Eowyn: “What other duty would you have me do, milord?”
Theoden: “Duty? No. But I would have you smile again, not grieve for those whose time has come. You shall live to see these days renewed. No more despair.”

*     *     *
“And grief still feels like fear. Perhaps, more strictly, like suspense. Or like waiting; just hanging about waiting for something to happen. It gives life a permanently provisional feeling. It doesn’t seem worth starting anything. I can’t settle down. I yawn, I fidget, I smoke too much. Up till this I always had too little time. Now there is nothing but time. Almost pure time, empty successiveness.” –more from A Grief Observed

*     *     *
A couple months ago, I wrote a tiny bit about Lamentations and how I found the poetry beautiful and heart-breaking, but I wasn’t sure of its Biblical purpose yet. I wasn’t questioning it, I was just marveling in God’s ways that I didn’t understand. I still don’t understand, but I am grateful to have the book of Lamentations in the Bible so that I can read it now and friends can share it with me and I can say:
Yet this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope: because of the LORD’s great love we are not consumed, for His compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness. (Lamentations 3:21-23)

Cherished and Enough.

IMG_7624“But if the gospel of Jesus is relational; that is, if our brokenness will be fixed, not by our understanding of theology, but by God telling us who we are, then this would require a kind of intimacy of which only heaven knows. Imagine, a Being with a mind as great as God’s, with feet like trees and a voice like rushing wind, telling you that you are His cherished creation.”

–Donald Miller, Searching for God Knows What (emphasis mine)

“To find your identity within the will of Tze-Yo-Tzuh [He who is] …that is the highest of all freedoms.”

–Gene Luen Yang, American Born Chinese

“If man was wired so that something outside himself told him who he was, and if God’s presence [in the Garden] was giving him a feeling of fulfillment, then when that relationship was broken [the Fall], man would be pining for other people to tell him he was good, right, okay with with world, and eternally secure.”

–Donald Miller, Searching for God Knows What

Oh dear one, listen to that voice like rushing wind that thunders like the mighty waters, yet is also quiet, and still, and whispering…

“You are My beloved child. That is enough.”

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Treasure Hunting

The following is my latest post from Small Still Voices from last Friday. I apologize for the delay in getting it up. I am posting it here in full again because it continues my thoughts from last week on fear and new steps and God’s goodness. Thanks for reading. 

Andreas-photography / Beach Photos / CC BY-NC

I love living with a three-year-old boy. Note: he’s not my three-year-old boy, but his parents have graciously welcomed me into their home for this season and now I have the blessing of getting to do life with them.

If you’ve been around kids for a while, I’m sure you’ll understand what I mean when I say I have pages and pages in my journal about what this child and his family are teaching me about human nature and the love of God. I love learning about my Daddy through the eyes of little children.

Yesterday, my little buddy and I were going on an adventure. We sat on the couch—I mean, in our pirate ship—as the boy steered us through the treacherous ocean to many different desert islands. What was the goal of our adventures? To gain more treasure, of course! Arrrr, we be pirates, matey.

When we got to the first shore, the boy lept from the boat, but I hesitated.
Me: “Can you hold my hand, Captain? I’m a little scared.”
Boy: “It’s not scary, it’s an adventure!”
Me: “Ohhhh.” (Mental note: Write this in your journal.)

So we headed ashore to explore the island. Each time I would try to add fear to the game, the boy would keep reminding me, “It’s not scary, Miss Robyn.” When we had finished exploring, he’d say, “Let’s go to a new place! I wonder what we’ll find on this island. Don’t worry, it’s not scary.”

“We are going to so many places,” the boy said in excitement in the middle of his playroom. The walls of the room, by the way, are plastered fittingly with maps of the world. “And everywhere we go we just get more and more treasure!” (Actually, he said “toys,” because in his three-year-old mind, treasure=toys. But I think the metaphor still stands.)

So if I’m going to extend this metaphor to my life journey and yours, let me say that again: Everywhere we go, we just get more and more treasure. 

What is the only treasure that matters? Christ. Where do I want to rest my heart? In the Kingdom of God. Each new day, each scary leap, each opportunity to grow, each desert island, is a chance to gain more and more of the treasure of Christ–that is, a deeper relationship with our Savior and Maker. Paul the apostle calls this the “surpassing greatness,” sometimes translated as “overwhelming preciousness” of knowing Christ Jesus our Lord. Treasure.

Last week, I wrote about being terrified of a new adventure and trying to lay that fear aside to trust in my God. This week, He reminded me, through the beautiful imagination of a little boy, that this scary adventure is a chance to know Him more, a chance to draw even deeper from the precious well of His presence, and a chance to partake in and spread the treasure of His Kingdom. And remember, Miss Robyn, there’s no need to be scared, anyway.

I feel like I’m in the ocean. In a number of ways, that’s a good feeling as well as a bad feeling. Regardless, I’ve set the sails, and I’m relying on the direction of my Captain. Now I just have to wait for the timing of the wind and pray I’ll have the courage to leap ashore when the water meets the land….

Praying you would find treasure today,
Robyn

This post was orignially published on Small Still Voices. If you would like to comment, please do so over there.

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

Dealing with Fear

I published this post over at Small Still Voices on Friday, but I want to re-post it in its entirety here, because part of why I write this blog is so that I can have a way to look back on my life and be encouraged in the journey (and hopefully encourage you in yours too).
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Community, as you know, I’ve been in a post-graduation transitional state for a few months now… However, I just recently made a big decision. I chose a path that will take me somewhere new and adventurous and unpredictable, at least for a year. Hopefully, by the time you read this post, thinking about this path will bring only exciting and peaceful thoughts to my mind. But right now, community, I want to be real with you: I’m terrified.

As soon as I made the decision, and in the days after it, I’ve been plagued with aching fears and doubts. The decision’s been made, the paper’s been signed, the plan is in motion, and I lie in my bed as the anxious thoughts spin round and round in my head and I cry, What in the world did I just do?

I’m sure this has happened before, when I’ve faced paths like this. I’m sure I’ve felt afraid even as I trusted in God to lead me. The fears just feel so much worse this time. It’s enough to start me questioning if I made the right decision, if God really is leading me here, if I just completely missed something. However, when I think about stopping and giving up the path entirely, I resist. I don’t want to. I don’t want to stop, but I’m afraid to go. Can anybody relate to this?

The other day, a mentor asked me if I thought this new path would be scary or exciting. I said both, since the scary part is what makes it exciting–because if God doesn’t show up, I’m not going to make it. I actually said that, I don’t know where it came from, but I said it aloud, and I started tearing up at the thought of God leading me down this road. I thank the Holy Spirit for that moment. It’s definitely not the first time (or the second time) that the Spirit’s swept in to bring words to my mouth about how the scary part is actually the best part.

God is so good, so good, and He will never leave me nor forsake me. I want to be authentic with you about this journey and about my fears, but I also want to align those thoughts and emotions with the Truth that God is in control. Thank you for sharing this road with me.

What about you? What’s happening in your journey right now? How do you handle the fears and doubts that come your way? I pray that the God of the universe would fill you (and me) with the peace of the Savior that surpasses all understanding.

This post was originally published on Small, Still Voices. If you would like to comment, please follow this link to comment over there. Thanks. <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.