Tuesday, January 29, 2008

on jeremiah

I have been wanting to write for several days. But sometimes words are tricky, and sometimes they are fleeting. They are hard to capture in the right moments, and even harder to spell out in black and white. And even if you catch them, they might not mean to anyone else what they mean to you.

God is good.

I have lived a lot of different lives, beautiful and heart-wrenching. My eyes have seen places beautiful and foreign. My spirit has been defiant sometimes, rebelling for the sake of being different; trying new things only for the sake of not following everyone else. Crying out when the world is silent, and sometimes being silent when the world is crying out for me to speak. I have fought with all that’s in me to find a path that is for me, a story that I can call my own, and a faith and a spirituality that is unique and personal.

But no matter which road I find myself at the end of, those words ring truer than anything I have ever known. God is good. Whether I find myself on a mountaintop or on my knees at the end of the day, I’m coming to find that He is good. That He has always been good. That my efforts to be self-sufficient are fruitless for a reason. I was made to love, and be loved by Him. I was made to seek after Something bigger than myself… bigger than worldly aspirations, relationships, alcohol or sleepless nights.

Lately I have been trying to follow through with one of my resolutions for this year. To dwell in scripture. To breathe it in, and exhale it. To rest in it. To let it ring true. The last few days I have been in Jeremiah, and it is changing me. When I think of the God of the Old Testament, I usually think of fire and thunder and might; of jealous love and righteous anger. To be honest I get nervous around that image of God; I would rather think of the storyboard characters made of felt that I grew up with in Sunday School, with sheep that were disproportionate to the shephards, and that sort of thing. It’s more comforting to my superficial soul sometimes.

Jeremiah is about a love affair.

In our culture people think that it’s weird being passionately in love with God. It’s a foreign concept for a lot of reasons. What I have read so far, is all about God chasing after the Israelites, in spite of their unfaithfulness. He gives the prophet Jeremiah words to give to the people of Israel, and they are heart-wrenching. At first I read quickly over the paragraphs, not really soaking it in at all. But when I dug deeper into how deep His love runs for His people, my heart broke with His. Not because I have been wronged that intensely, but because it’s the same thing I do to Him in my own life.

I remember the devotion of your youth, your love as a bride,
how you followed me into the wilderness.
(2:5) What wrong did your fathers find in me that they went far from me,
and went after worthlessness, and became worthless?
(2:27) For they have turned their back to me, and not their face.
But in the time of their trouble they say, “Arise and save us!”
but where are your gods that you made for yourself?
Let them arise, if they can save you, in your time of trouble;
for as many as your cities are your gods, O Judah.
(3:1) You have played the whore with many lovers;
and would you return to me?

Those are the words that resonated with me the most. I chase after things that are temporary and worthless so often in life. I give up what is eternal to embrace what is momentary. I make idols out of materialism, and relationships, and money. I juggle priorities around to fit what feels convenient. Yet so often I am faithless like Israel, turning my head back around to ask God why He hasn’t shown up. I ask Him to hold me, and wonder why I get nothing. I have my back turned to him, and wonder why I’m not receiving comfort.

I think the most beautiful part of this story is that I know the ending.

(29:11) For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for wholeness and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope. Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will hear you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you.

I will be found by you… those words are so powerful. It is possible to find peace and joy and relationship with God. Some people spend their whole lives searching for those things, wondering why no other spiritual substance seems to satisfy. Wondering why the human caress or praises of men don’t fill them up inside; seeking fulfillment and uncovering emptiness. But I’m so happy it doesn’t have to be that way.

God is good. And I want to find Him. If nothing else, that is what I am discovering lately.

Monday, January 21, 2008

on falling leaves and the evidence of grace

[something I found from September 21, 2007, that I found strangely true today... only replace 'leaves' with 'snow.']

The sun shone today.

Fall is coming, and it's evident in the cooler air and in the way leaves twirl in the breeze on the sidewalk. There is something beautiful about this season, and everything it represents. The old is being shed to the ground to wither away, never again to weigh down the tired branches. And while evident that a winter will come, the spring will come with life that is new and fresh. Abundant. I am ready for the struggle, and even more ready for the spring.

I have been discovering God in the most abstract and unthinkable ways lately. He is in the air. He is in conversation over gourmet coffee in a dim room. He is in relationships, and the skip in my steps. My relationship with Him is becoming, in every aspect, a sacred romance. For the first time, I realize that my name is not Deserted or Alone. It is Pursued. Sought After. Captivated. Captivating.

I am learning to listen instead of talk. To open my eyes and ears instead of my mouth. To give thanks and seek His feet before seeking the hands that give me so much blessing. To seek relationship and not rules or religion. And I am learning that everything good and true in my life, has not come from me at all. That the goodness of my life and my legacy will never depend on the good that I myself have done.

I was given a beautiful image and picture in my mind this week, and it is this: I don't have to perfect myself before moving towards God. I don't have to make sure I am 'right' or 'clean' in His presence. I don't have to take care of things, and then move In... instead, I move In, and those things that weigh me down, and the things that have become my struggles will be stripped away. Wiped clean.

Praise God it doesn't depend on me.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

on being a nomad

Sometimes I wonder why it is that God let me have this life.

Out of any lifetime, or ethnicity, or country, or heritage, I am meant to lead this one. Some entire countries are starving, while other people are drowning in their own wealth. I am far from complaining, I am so thankful. But why me? Why do I get the ability to write, and sing, and move and create things? Why was I blessed with a supportive family while others struggle to be understood? Why am I reaping blessings I could never deserve, while other honorable people are fighting for their lives?

Don Miller says "We have one story, you and I, and that is it."

Today I was struck with the fact that I need to be more efficient with my time here on earth. That I need to be more attentive to God, and to the plans He has for my life. Sometimes I box myself in, and say that since the world says I need a degree, and the world says I can't succeed without one, that I need to spend four years of my life earning one. I'm not saying I don't want a degree, and I think a lot of people that follow that plan live amazing, adventure-filled lives. But what if I'm wrong?

I had dinner with my Popo tonight, my grandpa. Over decaf coffee and fettucini, we had a great conversation.

"Popo, sometimes I think I would be a great nomad... Jesus was a nomad. He travelled by foot and ministered to people. Sometimes I think I could do that. There are a lot of times I want to embrace the mystery of leaving it all behind. Of living for more than the accumulation of worldy possessions that the Bible says we aren't supposed to value anyway."

He paused for a moment, and I talked about wanting to live with a family in Europe for awhile, learn a new language, a new way of life, appreciate a culture different from my own. Maybe backpack across South America, meet my sponsored children, see the Andes and the way the sun sets over the South Pacific. He smiled.

"You have so many gifts, with your writing and singing, and your ability with languages... if you wanted to be a nomad, then I think you would make a great nomad. In fact, the more you talk about it, the more I think you would fit that perfectly."

I smiled back at him.

"Not only that, but you are blessed with a personality that is content anywhere, that can adapt anywhere... and very few people have or even want that gift. Maybe God has a purpose for it all."

"If not permanently, then maybe for a season of my life. Temporarily," I responded.

When I travelled to Italy, one of the most defining moments of that trip for me was in Venice. Not in seeing the Grand Canal, or in feeling like I was walking inside of a postcard. It was at the top of the Rialto Bridge, when I heard an acoustic guitar coming from one of the stairwells. I met a man who was not homeless, but was a self-inflicted nomad. Indian-style, he sat with a faded guitar in his lap and a case open on the ground in front of him. He was from Hungary, but spoke perfect English; he played Spanish, Latin and some classical Italian songs. He was a seeker; a wanderer. The thing that struck me, was that he seemed more well-grounded, and seemed to know his purpose more than a lot of college graduates or long-time business partners.

It's not that I am trying to escape getting a degree, or that I am trying to talk myself out of one; I actually really want one. Contrary to popular belief, I enjoy school, and learning in whatever way I can.

But if there is more than that - if I am really here to live one life, then I want to live one with adventure, and outreach, and purpose. If I only get one story, I want to live one that is filled with the capturing new experiences, of reaching out, of being socially active. Of helping others and volunteering my time and effort. If the gifts I have been given are ones of language, and adaptation, and other cultures... then I should embrace them as often as I can, and at every opportunity.

Jesus said He came to give me life, that I could live it more abundantly. Even if that goes no further than the town I live in, or the people I interact with daily, I want to know that I did my best with the things I was given.

God, let it be so.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

on open roads and steam in candlelight

Last night I was driving home under a cloudless sky. The highway was almost deserted; a melody drifting through the speakers of my radio. It was an empty road, with the clock winding closer to midnight.

I let the stars out the window to my left catch my eye. My jaw dropped. And it was amazing. I mean, one of the clearest nights, with the most defined constellations, and there I was in the middle of this universe that suddenly seemed larger than life. I almost pulled over, just to get outside my car and look up. The crescent of the moon looked enormous, hung right above the horizon. The illuminated half was so bright and brilliant that you could almost define the edges of the rest. It looked so close.

Larger than life. And I am so small.

On those days when the world seems so all about me, or my issues or problems; on the nights when I feel so comforted or so alone... all of this beauty exists outside of me. It's nights like those that I wonder how someone could think it all happened by accident. How someone could think up the formulas, theories or equations, or believe that by a million chemical accidents, I am here contemplating my own existence. How light exists outside of time, and how when I look up at the stars I am looking back in time.

How could it ever be by chance?

I guess having grown up going to church, I was exposed to Creationism early on. And it's not that I haven't had those doubting periods, or days when evolution and the big bang seem to make sense, or moments that I have wanted to leave the deity of God behind. But more often than not, I am just struck with beauty. With perfection in details. With the Someone Greater that I know had a hand in it.

Tonight it was snowing, and at the same time lightning was making the sky glow (which was a crazy combination I have never witnessed). I took a bath by candlelight, and watched the steam rise into the air. And even that seemed glorious all of a sudden, because I realized that in front of my eyes, steam is rising. And catching the light flickering from my candles.

And people will likely think I'm crazy for thinking it was so amazing. But the deeper people, I hope, will appreciate the magic that is creation. Even if you don't think God did it, it's still so amazing. Mind-boggling. Huge. The fact that leaves crack and wither and fall in the autumn, and that winter holds the ground in silence to be melted by the spring. The fact that the earth is tilted so we can experience seasons. The fact that I can see steam in candlelight. The fact that we will never be able to wrap our minds around exactly how small we are in comparison with everything else.

But we still matter.

I think above all the other magical things, that one is the most beautiful.
That I matter. That my heart and my passions and my goals in life matter. That I am unique and different, and that I am worth dying for. That a bigger hand holds my world in place, and it is steadfast.

And to think I am this amazed by looking up or seeing steam. Life is so great.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

on finding my place

I feel like me being here is finally falling into place.

That being in my town and my church is good,and makes sense. That my faith and spirituality are mine, and not hand-me-down religion. That even if I feel alone, I'm usually not. That even if I have acted like someone I'm not at times, I can still change, and there is Hope. That even if finances are tough, and my job is tough, and getting into school is tough, and getting readjusted to living here is tough... that it is all going to be okay.

It all sounds simple enough, and even looks simple in black and white.

But you have no idea how great it feels to say that and mean it.

Thank God. Really and truly.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

on defining moments

11 p.m. Snowed in.

There were a lot of things I wanted to do. Go down to Cafe Morro, drink a caramel latte, maybe wander to Rico's and get a Guiness. Read a book. Write some. Listen some. Spark a conversation with someone I don't know.

But there I was, watching the sky fall to the ground in snowflakes, building up out the window on my patio. There are a lot of things I miss about living in Seattle, or L.A., but I forgot about this. I forgot the way the whiteness covers everything. The way it washes everything. The way you can watch it fall in the glow of a streetlight. The way you can forget yourself in the magic of it all.

I had to go.

Five minutes later, a determined 21 year old opened the front door. Red, plaid pajama pants. A jacket too big. Two hoods tied around my chin like a child. Pants tucked into my shoes. The snow made it hard to push the screen open, but I slipped out, not quite as effortlessly as I would have hoped. I probably looked really awkward, but mentally, I was beyond that.

All I could do was stand in wonder.

I walked a little, feeling the snow under my feet, and in my shoes, watching the way it fell around me. I stretched out on my back and let the snowflakes fall on my face, eventually creating a haphazard snow angel. Honestly, I wasn't quite sure what to do with myself.

So, I went inside and got my sled.

The first attempt made me hope no one was watching. I slid down the middle of our snow-packed road about ten feet before I stopped, disappointed, wondering if my childhood sled-magic was gone. I tried again. Twenty feet. "Progress," I mumbled. A neighbors light went on in the front room.

Time to relocate.

It was a bit of a walk with the snow, but I dragged my sled behind me until I reached a spot that looked out over the city of Pullman, the lights glowing like coals in a fire, put under a haze by the blanket of falling snow. I found a very dignified looking evergreen tree to plop myself down beside. It sounds crazy, but I felt comforted it was there. Together we watched the snow fall in the orange glow of the streetlight, watched the sky fall to rest in a million pieces.

It was so silent that it was beautiful, the only sound being my exhaling, the snowflakes hitting the hood of my jacket. It was like this whole world was created as a gift for just me to enjoy.

There are few defining moments in my life. When I feel safest. When I feel close to God; closer to somehow understanding this mystery of life and beauty and pain. This was one of them.

"Thank you," I whispered to God for giving me the snow, and this moment.
Then, I was off. I smiled in delight, shoved off the top of the hill, and flew. It was not the most magnificent of sledding runs, but I felt the wind in my hair, the snow in my face, and when I wiped out, it was legendary. I sat where I fell for awhile, watched the cars pass by, watched the snow build up on my coat.

Cotton pants are not the best choice of sledding garb, if you want to know the half of it. I made a few more runs, laughed to break the silence, then treaded my way home.

I fell asleep counting my blessings. It was a great day.

Friday, January 4, 2008

on resolution

Be more socially active instead of asleep. Read articles. Learn geography. Challenge yourself to be involved in the world any way you can, even if it's uncomfortable.

Strive to be more organized.

Begin to collect ideas for a book. Compile them in a notebook labeled 'Memoirs of a Life Deliberately Lived.' Then try to promote consistency by living deliberately.

Intentionally befriend people who defy social norms.

Frequent pawn shops and garage sales, and start collecting records. Organize them by artist, color, genre, or date released. This will perhaps help with the enjoyment of the organization.

Begin to read more foreign authors. Search for perspectives you may not have experienced before. Soak in the themes and even if they seem too complicated, try to get what you can from them.

Play guitar with a homeless person.

Dwell in scripture; not in the amount read or the pages you turn in a day, but in the content of the message, and the weight of the words. Do not underline what is read, in case someone else might notice. Try to let it rest in your heart.

Everything is going to be fine. Work on realizing this when in a bind or having a rough day.

Attempt to understand the subtle nuances between coffee blends. Also, and probably more socially helpful, wine. It would be nice to learn more about wine; goes nicely with cheese.

Learn how to photograph professionally. Not just take pictures, but to capture the essence of someone's heart in a frame. I would especially like more pictures of inanimate objects, sunsets, and facial expressions.

Give more. Whether that means around the house I live in, my family, financially, or the giving of my time to organizations that need it.

Listen more. Talk less.

Write as often as inspiration strikes; a sunrise, an open door, a brightly painted windowpane... create, be moved, help to move others, be inspired and open.

Get at least another semester of school done. If financially possible, finish your AA.

Reach the intermediete level of the Italian language. Spanish is great, and when you begin to struggle with the nuances of a different tongue, try to realize the benefits you will reap when you can carry on a meaningful conversation with millions more people than you could have before.

Think of something more creative than stickers and pictures to send to my 3 sponsored kids. They are in need, and they deserve the best.

Write a song of thanks and gratitude for someone else and the impact they have had on your life.

Host a Compassion Day at church.

Make amends with people you have wronged in your past. Whether that is asking forgiveness or letting them know you care.

Live with purpose and stand for things that need defending: children with empty bellies, families with no roof over their heads, stories that need to be told, and hearts that need friends.

Live intentionally. Love more and more unconditionally.

Welcome 2008. I think we will get along just fine.

on crying out

Do not turn a deaf ear to me
or ignore the pleadings of my heart.
For all in all, I only want to be near to You.
To soak you in
to breathe you in like the something beautiful that You are.
But my actions they speak of some other wantings
the wantings of the humanity in me
that I've come to know so well.
How can I lay the world aside
in exchange for something greater?
How can I push aside the worthless wine and sleepless nights
in exchange for the childlike faith I once knew?
The days of my youth, while still somewhat here
are fleeing me faster
than ever before
and chasing after them is beginning to feel
more and more fruitless and
Bring me back to the days when I knew Your Words
and chased Your thoughts.
When all I wanted was to feel
my heart beating in sync with Your own.
Some people say that
knowing You is only in my head - a psychological deity
to sooth the depths of my lonliness...... the humanness I feel.
But something in me knows that it's all a lie.
Something screams within me that I need You
that You are the blood in my veins
the pathway to my heart
the Creator of my soul
the only spiritual substance that can satisfy.
All the things in this world I have tasted
have only left me wanting -the human caress
another emptied bottle
praises of men
academic achievement
or musical success.
It's all worthless you see.
Proclaim off the rooftops that my Jesus
is a manmade deity, a figment of my imagination
or a storybook hero.
Claim all you want that the Bible
is interpreted and innaccurate
is flawed and fallible
is inapplicable and imagined by man.
People can claim whatever and whichever they choose
but un-erased is the way I felt alive
the way that I moved and breathed
when You and when I were one and the same.
Explain that away, you who doubt.
His love is the greatest thing there is.
It's greater than your one night stands
it's bigger than your ocean of need
it blows away all preconceived notions of life and love
in all of their mystery.
Yes, I am a hypocrite.
a human, a liar, a worthless rag
-as we all seem to have become -
yes I will claim the Word but I will fall
and I will fail.
But the fault you find in me will not be found
in the One who is without fault.
And regardless of who and what you turn your life over to
He will love you the same.
If you are looking for perfection and a lack of hypocrisy
stop looking behind church doors
it is, after all, made up by people who are flawed and fallible.
I won't lie and say that I'm never far
from where I need to be
because lately it seems like that's the only place I am from Him.
God, when You feel far away from me
who moved? who relocated?
It was me.
I gave you up and my walls broke down
and the world of alcohol
and lonely sleepless nights crept into my routine.
Save me from my own ambition.
Save me from my aspirations.
Save me from thinking I'm immune to failure.
and take me back to the place when You were all I needed.

Because it's true
and You are all that I need.