The Testimony of Spring

4/28/16

A few years ago I was rifling through my grandmother's kitchen cabinets and came upon one - the highest one, far out of reach for her barely 5 foot frame, possibly even with her trusty step stool - that was packed tight with old glass bottles.

Upon my inquiry, Maw Maw rolled her eyes and chuckled. "Those are your Paw Paw's collection. He just loves glass bottles, though the Lord knows he dudn't do nothin' with them. They just sit up there collecting dust!"

"Can I have some?"

"You can when he's dead and gone! He won't part with 'em before then!"

When Paw Paw came home from checking on the cows later in the afternoon, Maw Maw told him about my interest in the discovery.  He just smiled, pleased with himself, the way he does when he gets to tell someone new that Archie Manning is his cousin.  His eyes kinda twinkled in delight to find that someone like me would find beauty in the same thing as someone like him.




I've obtained my own bottles since that day, gleefully picking them up here and there at thrift stores or on the side of the road.  Each time it makes me think of him. I wish we lived closer. I wish I could pull the new ones out when he stopped by on a Tuesday afternoon, and we could assess together which ones were the best of the lot.  





This sweet baby boy of ours will be arriving soon, ready to usurp Moses' position and steal Alyosha's heart, ready to throw our lives into a 6 week whirlwind as we rub bleary eyes and slurp coffee and search for the floor with the soles of our feet.

Our world will shrink, as it should, and our hearts will expand, as they do.  And some days we'll hibernate and eat frozen food and watch too much TV, and some days we'll go on long walks and soak up the summer sun and watch little boys wrestle with training wheels on bikes.  And as the body of our youngest fattens, life will become ordinary once more.


Last week I finally took the sticks and the pine cones down from the mantel.  I struggled to maneuver my awkward body up and down the attic steps, arms brimming with color that had been in hiding those long winter months.  The jars I haphazardly juggled reminded me of my grandfather and they reminded me of my unborn son.  I balanced the two in my heart as I gingerly placed Life into each watered hole.


Being a Southern girl, I've never had the experience of particularly feeling as though I had earned spring.  That changed this year, and I fill my vases like I'm pinning a medal of honor.  It wasn't the sub-zero temperatures or the ice and snow that felt so unyielding; it was the way those things reflected what lay under our skin.  Never in my life have the seasons so closely mimicked the state of my heart as they did this year.  Spring is a sight for sore eyes.



I'm writing all over the map today.  My grandpa and my baby and green grass and the seasons of the year and the seasons of our hearts: maybe it seems to you like none of it is connected.

But my infant's life testifies to the life of my grandfather.  The life of my grandfather testifies to the life of his third great-grandson.  Spring testifies to winter, summer will testify to spring, and the changing world around me testifies to the spirit within me.  It is all so very connected.  WE are all so very connected.  And on the days when we don't feel it, we believe it anyway.

You are part of me, and I am part of you. Draw back the curtain and let someone else bear witness to your life today.  For you are a part of us.





{You can catch more of my seasonal musings and see autumn decor here and winter decor here.)

The Life-Changing Power of the Love of Christ (Part 4)

4/25/16

(This is the 4th and final post in the series. Be sure you've read Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3 first!)

I've struggled with knowing how to wrap this series up.  Do I go on, detailing every twist and turn I've taken over the decade that has passed since I fell in love with Jesus Christ?  Do I attempt to describe the incredible redemption I experienced through a friendship, engagement, and marriage to a man filled with God's love and possessed of the purest of hearts?  Do I share anew how being an adoptive parent has dramatically formed the way I see and relate to God and other people?  Do I give an account of my journey from a nondenominational church into Catholicism?

Certainly there is still much to tell.  But I think there will be time to tell it.


In this specific series, my desire was to share the "life changing" part of my story.  And the absolute core of what changed my life was the bomb-drop realization that Jesus enjoys me.  Marriage, parenting (both adoption and childbirth), and becoming Catholic have each been extraordinary graces in my life: things that have shown me a fuller picture of the character of God and His heart towards human beings, me included.  But if none of those things had ever happened, I have an unwavering confidence that I would still be typing this story out for you.  I would still be telling you how very, very good He is.  I would still be telling you with flushed cheeks and a twinkle in my eye how much He loves me.  Because in doing so, really, I am preaching about how much He loves you.

So I think I've decided there is only one way to wrap this series up: I bring it back to Love.

We live in a religious climate that can be skeptical about emotionalism, myself included.  We don't want to be duped, or self-deluded, or seen as fanatical.  Approaching spirituality from a purely intellectual or tradition-focused lens can feel safer; if we don't make it too personal then we don't risk going off the deep end.  It feels awfully safe to keep God right where we want Him- usually about an arm's length away.  It's the easiest way to maintain order, or at least the allusion of order.


But we were made in the image of a God with deep emotions, and it would seem He likes us that way.  We were created with a holy longing to let the depth of our need and desire touch the depth of the Divine Experience.  I believe this is true for every human being, regardless of personality or religious affiliation.

Saint Augustine wrote, "Thou hast formed us for Thyself and our hearts are restless till they rest in Thee".  But what does is it mean to rest in Him?  That's the million dollar question, isn't it?  Often we act like it means settling on a certain religious expression or submitting to Him as a benevolent dictator.

I'm still on the road (obviously) but in my experience as a restless heart the answer is, unsurprisingly, this:

we let Him love us.


Every day, every day, every day.  Until we believe we are loved.

We sit and we listen for His voice to speak tenderly to us.
We bring Him our wounds and our fears and we let Him comfort us.
We bring Him our offenses and we let Him replace them with forgiveness and love.
We ask Him what He really thinks about us and we believe what He says.

He, the God of unsearchable emotion, longs to connect with ours.
He is waiting to give rest to our restless hearts.
He is whispering the words that we've always wanted to hear.
        You are loved.
        You are wanted.
        You are precious to me.

We need only sit and listen.

//

As the hymn goes, "this is my story, this is my song". Thank you for being here to listen, friends.



The Life-Changing Power of the Love of Christ (Part 3)

4/21/16

(catch up on Part 1 and Part 2 first!)

Halfway through my sophomore year of college, I was broken.  I knew I wanted a different life, and I knew that supposedly Jesus was The Way.  Turning over a Jesus leaf sounded awfully boring but at that point I had had my fill of excitement for awhile.  I had just been disciplined by the Dean of Students for desecrating my suitemate's dorm room one night after she inadvertently caused a fight between my unstable boyfriend and my unstable self.  (I was a real peach.)  My parents decided it was time for me to move home and finish school at the local university, more out of concern than real anger.

I returned home over Christmas break, flattened.  No longer cutting, no longer partying, no romantic relationships to speak of.  All of the energy I once had for slapping bandaids over bullet holes was suddenly gone. I wanted something real.

And I would search desperately for it for over a year, more lonely than I had ever been in my life.

Unsurprisingly, I didn't get very far on my own.  But the funny thing about God is, if you give Him an inch, He’ll take a mile.  He put someone in my path who would relentlessly coax me into going first to her small group, and then on a mission trip to Mexico.  I didn’t want to do either one, but having no life makes you hard pressed to come up with scheduling conflicts.  I had no excuses, so I showed up.

And Christ Himself came alive to me within that community.

He came alive in the words and prayers and the love of my sisters and brothers.  He came so alive that I began to crave His presence.  I wanted to know Him the way that they did.  They would talk about His love as though it were something life-changing, and I was the best kind of jealous.  Because just like all the other kids I grew up around, I knew that Jesus loved me. But then, He loved everyone.  It never really meant that much to me.

But it meant everything to them.  And I needed to know why.


I moved into a huge house with 8 other girls.  They called it a "discipleship" house, which was weird but which I figured would probably keep me from getting drunk and hooking up with exes.  Sign me up.

To this day, I think living there was one of the best decisions I have ever made.  So much more than friends, those girls were my teachers, my confessors, my cheerleaders.  They were the church to me.

(and sometimes we dressed alike and took professional pictures together in the park... because in college this makes perfect sense.  at least it did in 2004.)


I fell in love with Jesus that year, and I fell hard.  I gobbled up music, books, anything that would speak to me of the perfect love of this God-Man.  It's hard to explain the kind of intoxication that I felt, the addictive nature of the presence of God in a room or in a heart.  He was so near to me; loneliness, fear, emptiness, they would all flee at the sound of His name.  He was showering me with His affection, bucket after bucket splashing over my head.  On Friday nights you could find me holed up in my bedroom, scrawling notes in my journal while listening to sermons on the love of Christ.  One of those sermons led me to the book of Hosea.

There's not a lot of emphasis in our Western church culture on the little Old Testament prophet Hosea, and it's only our loss that it is so.  I personally haven't found a more beautiful picture of God outside of the Gospels themselves.  Hosea was a prophet whom God told to marry a prostitute.  (Let that sink in and obliterate the boxes we stuff Him into.)  Hosea gave his life to represent to all of humanity the committed love of God for an unfaithful people.  A people like me.  Maybe a people like you?

In chapters 1&2, he talks about hedging her in with thorns; creating pressure in her life that all but forces her to return to her first love.  I felt like I was reading my own story.  No doubt I still had my own free will but in His kindness He had hedged me in with thorns, He had made it so very easy to choose the path that led back to Him.

Hosea 2:14-16
Therefore, behold, I will allure her,
Bring her into the wilderness
And speak kindly to her there.
Then I will give her her vineyards
And the valley of Achor as a door of hope.
And she will sing there as in the days of her youth,
As in the day when she came up from the land of Egypt.
It will come about in that day
That you will call me “Husband”
And no longer “Master”

Hear me out: this is NOT a romantic thing.  It is not a sexual thing and it is not a gender thing. It is about a relationship of unconditional love, rather than a relationship of rules.

It’s about a God who “speaks kindly”. It’s about a God who wants us to know that He is so much more than a Master.  He is Love Itself.

What saved me was not necessarily community.  But the community introduced me to a Jesus who liked me.  A Jesus who was not sitting around, passively feeling disappointed in me, but a Jesus who was actively trying to commune with me every single day, and who was using my circumstances to draw me towards His open arms.  Once I met THAT Jesus – the real Jesus – well, I was undone.  Because that love was something real.  I knew it to the core of my being: that love would change my life.  

And I’m here to tell you, it did.  And it continues to.

Sheer grit is necessary at times, but it only gets us so far, and it was never meant to be all we have.  We cannot make ourselves be changed, not truly.  But if we can catch just a glimpse of the reality that God loves us and what’s more, He likes us, He enjoys us… well we can’t help but be changed by that.



In chapter 3, God tells Hosea to "go again! Go again and love a woman who is loved by another lover."  This is the image of a relentlessly loving God.  Jesus doesn’t save you once and say that’s it.  Love compels Him to save you again. And again. And again.  He never stops saying, "I will go again for you."

For most of my life, I saw Jesus as a Master.  And what’s more a Master who someone like me could never, ever satisfy.  I ran from this Master because I couldn’t bear to live as a disappointment.  But by the grace of God, He hedged me in with thorns so that He could speak kindly to me.  So that I would have ears to hear His tender words towards me.  

Turns out, Jesus wasn’t mostly sad over me. 
And He wasn’t mostly mad at me.
He was in love with me, and however long it took, He would have my heart.
My life changed when I realized Jesus didn’t just love me because He’s Jesus and He has to.
Jesus liked me.
He likes me.
And I'll never get over that.

//

(Be sure to check in next week for the 4th and final installment of the series!)



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Someday, the light will shine like a sun through my skin & they will say, 'what have you done with your life?' & though there are many moments I think I'll remember, in the end, I will be proud to say, I was one of us.

(Brian Andreas, Storypeople)

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