Summer’s End.

Cedar Campus: Cedarville, MI

The array of pebbles underneath the water’s surface distracts me.  I stand there in the flooded isthmus, juggling my discarded shoes, a backpack and a camera in an attempt to capture just a few of the stones without baptizing my belongings. My perusing is interrupted by the remembrance that I need to move on if I am going to make it to Gnome Rock and back in time for activities that night.

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My trek through the forest proves to be a combination of urgency and moments of still wonder. Except for the trail and the sign I soon happen upon, it feels that I am the only human to have ever wandered here. This is a storybook place.

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I turn at the quirky, hand-painted marker and follow it, wondering exactly what I am going to do now that I am here.

Turning into the path, I have to pause and wonder no more.

In a cascade of sunlight rests a wooden table high upon a rock, with Lake Huron as the surging backdrop.

A table, in the forest! Why it is there does not matter. It seems I have been extended an invitation to come and sit at a spot that has been prepared for me.

I open my Bible on the table, illuminating the familiar verses and raggedy pages. I haven’t managed to stick with the switch to my new Bible even after several attempts, for I have desperately needed the scribbles in the margins of my old one to remind me of His hand in my past.

 

There I remember.

I pour out my regrets, my fears, my thanksgivings. I watch the sunlight pierce through the glassy water turning it to rippling gold as it moves toward the shore.

“Our help is in the name of the LORD who made heaven and earth,” the pages before me declare.

From where I currently sit, I must marvel at this earth and this place so unspoiled that it instills in me a greater longing for heaven.

I cannot not help but feel apprehensive about the future, but if this summer has found me so often lost in wonder at what He has created, then what must He Himself be like, this God who is our shield and refuge?

The sun soon begins to draw near to the lake, and it is time to return to camp.

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1-26, South Carolina

Driving long distances no longer seems such a chore as it once did, for I learned the value of time alone in all my excursions to Sault Ste. Marie for internet or groceries. Those drives were filled with moments to contemplate, pray, sing praises and yell laments as loudly I could desire.

Today I’ve tired of the radio, and return to my summer soundtrack of “Let There Be Light” on CD. Soon my eyes are pooling up just like that day I left camp for the last time. This CD has proven itself a traitor; purchased to be something free of tear-inducing memories, it now has accumulated its own and accomplishes the same results as its predecessor.

As the songs shift from one to another, so do recollections of the particular parts of the drive from Cedar Campus into the tiny town of Hessel. I recall the way my favorite colors were brushed so vividly across the trees, sky and lake. The wildflowers that greeted me from beside the road, and the butterflies that danced around the chives. The charming 1950’s vacation feel of the little places where I’d go for snacks or sorbet. How my mind so often buzzed with thoughts from the stories I was reading that left me so intrigued with God and His universe.  The peace of feeling Him there as my provider.

And the people, of course the people. They are not easy to forget.

We all need little memorials, little reminders of what God has done.

I glance down at the strange, fishlike shape hanging from my keys which serves as one of my memorials. It’s a piece of leather cut into the shape of the “UP,” Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.

When I first had seen it emblazoned upon everything from cars to receipts, it had been nothing but a source of amusement for me because it seemed to be such a strange obsession of the locals.

Now it is a reminder of a summer that is even more special to me because of how my God took me from wanting to leave camp and go home, to being sad when it was time to go.

The lyrics I’ve heard a hundred times this summer sing along with my heart:

“I will boast, in Christ alone / His righteousness /And not my own /I will cling to Christ my hope /His mercy reigns / Now and forever”

Yet I again find myself in need of this Hope, as this transition is proving stranger than anticipated.

But I am back to somewhere else I have loved, where He has worked, and for the moment, this thought gives me comfort.

Columbia International University: Columbia, SC

I’m sitting in my same old spot, yet it does not feel remotely the same. There are many who wander by that I no longer recognize, and some I am accustomed to seeing are no longer present. It’s eerily like living in a dream, where you know where you are supposed to be, but something just doesn’t feel quite right. I thought returning here would be like coming home, yet there is no comfort of familiarity from this place I lived in and loved so dearly for the past three years. Am I losing my mind?

I find it unnerving, and yet I cannot help but wonder if it is supposed to feel like this. Do I want it to feel comfortable? Perhaps it’s like having a comfy sweater that was your favorite when you were younger, that you can still wriggle into, but it just doesn’t fit anymore. You grew.

There’s a part of me that wonders if it would have been better if I hadn’t come back at all, and just let the memory live on, unspoiled in my mind. This place is haunted with memories of moments that will never be again. I sigh and look at the time on my phone. Mercifully, it’s time for prayer group.

I pull myself up from the porch floor and walk to the prayer towers, thankful at least that I no longer have to drag my rolling bag behind me. Well there’s a welcome change.

As I descend the steps toward the towers, I notice in a moment that something is different. It’s not the fact that flowers and bushes have been planted around the building, rather what is different is that this . . .  this feels the same.  This realization draws me to a halt. Am I mistaken?

No. This is the first time on campus I actually feel like I’m coming back to that dear familiar place. This feels right.

Stepping inside I see a friend, and more soon arrive.  As we pray for the requests of the professors, I am overwhelmed with thanksgiving and filled with peace. This room is full of memories of God’s faithfulness, and they come rushing back now. Everything has felt so incredibly different since my return, and at times I have felt lost. For this moment, my heart has stumbled upon a bit of home.

Blythewood, SC

ahhh

It’s been two months since my return.

The moon is saying its soft farewells as it fades into the emerging dawn. I find a strange delight in being awake to see this brief juxtaposition of night and day, though I never have time to revel in it long. There’s work to do and coffee to brew. As I place the open signs out by the street, I am quickly drawn back in my mind to the Coventry Bus Station, a place from another summer past. This cool morning mingled with smells of exhaust and coffee are what have managed to transport me so far across the Atlantic. I equate these scents and this feeling with the anticipation of adventure, for boarding the bus usually meant I was London bound.

Not today. I find it ironic that not only am I not taking off to somewhere exciting, I am working in a vintage camper; something that was meant for such excursions, but now remains stationary. I may be bound to this spot for the time being, but it doesn’t stop my mind from wandering, and the options are plentiful. For the rest of my life, no matter where I might be, there will always be a place with its people that I will long to see again. The downside to travelling is that it always adds to the list.

I run through this list, inevitably contemplating where I have been, and as I watch the cars passing by, the question suddenly grips me- where am I going?

These days the temptation is to view my life as immobile as this camper, but then I am reminded of the truth. I am currently living in obedience to the last step the Lord directed me to take, and like Abraham I will pitch my tent here until I receive orders to move out.

While I wait, I’ll enjoy making espresso drinks, chatting with regulars and caffeinating sleepy-eyed customers who stop by on their way to work or school.

The early rush soon passes, and I find that the morning has faded. The day, the days rather, stretch ahead, seemingly without any markers other than recycling days and Christmas. For the first time in years there is nothing significant ahead to concretely mark off another chapter. Fear offers to keep me company while I ponder the fact that I do not know what is ahead of me. Yet today I declared the steadfast love of the Lord as the sun rose, and I trust that wherever I am when the evening falls, I will indeed be able to declare His faithfulness.

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Seagulls.

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[Written for the most part in the autumn of 2016 and finished just now]

Today, a young boy asked me if I liked seagulls.

What an odd, yet timely question.

I paused, and smiled, knowing that the answer had already begun to be put to paper as you see it below, and that he certainly was not interested in a dissertation on the subject.

So to give my answer here, I had never really given seagulls more than a few moments of thought until the summer I lived in Scotland. Prior to this I had always viewed them as a tad mischievous at worse; a pleasant sight to behold on the beach at best, albeit one that required the hiding of any food I might desire to consume. Yet this summer in Aberdeen I had an experience with the city seagulls that has caused me to look upon the creatures with more than a bit of scorn.

They were generally obnoxious. Not only did their shrill cries barrage my ears during the day, but they would masquerade as sirens or infants at night, their voices joining with those who walked past my window in the wee hours of the morning. Eerie enough, but if that had been the extent of my interactions with them, I might not feel such disdain toward their kind.

One evening I was plodding along toward my flat after work at the bookshop, when I came upon a gang of them outside my church, pecking at bits of rubbish that had scattered from several punctured garbage bags.

Yet they were not simply having dinner. Rather they would stop eating to fly at each other, beaks agape, bellowing horrible noises, while the victims recoiled momentarily before launching their own attacks. There was enough garbage available for all of them to stand and eat like civilized birds, and maybe swap a story or two before continuing on their way. Instead they took every opportunity to take a go at one another, even though in reality the offending birds weren’t actually even interested in what the other was eating!

The first thing that came to mind when I saw this flurry of seagull selfishness was this: 

But if you bite and devour one another, watch out that you are not consumed by one another” (Galatians 5:15, ESV).

I’m not certain a verse had ever been so vividly illustrated before my eyes.

I wanted to scream at them to stop, but knew I’d then become the thing people stopped to look at. I was left more rattled by this scene that seemed reasonable, for I suppose some might have even found their antics amusing. I walked away deeply disturbed, but clearly aware that this bunch of ruffian birds should have no such bearing on the state of my emotions.

Yet I couldn’t shake it. There was something so wrong about seeing a creature so recklessly attempt to attack its own kind, not for protection, or even a real gain but rather out of fear and greed.

It was ugly.

I’ve pondered this since, and it has served to remind me just how ugly sin can be. It has given me an idea of what ungodly spats in the church can look like to those “passing by.” It has reminded me that sin destroys rather than builds up.

Of course I’m not certain that I needed seagulls to remind me of that, for 2016 reminded me of this all over the place. From all over the world came news of shootings, persecutions, and sickening injustices that make my heart utter “maranatha!” In my own world there were reminders as I saw pain in the eyes of people I love because someone dear to them chose to follow their own destructive desires instead of what was right, and caused sorrow to multiply needlessly. Over and over again I saw that sin led to destruction, and would find myself angrily declaring “I hate sin!”

But do I really?

This past year has also given me reminders that sin starts small. Those seeds can seem harmless, but when planted will eventually reap their ill effects.  I found that I believed myself further along in the sanctification process than I actually was. I thought I didn’t misuse anger, get frustrated or speak poorly of others. The truth was I simply hadn’t been in a situation recently that warranted such feelings, while also giving me an “excuse” for them. As it turns out, I can justify more than I should when I feel (or know!) that someone else is acting unjustly.  I hate to even type this out, but not only did I justify my response, I actually enjoyed it at times.

But then I began looking at Jesus in the gospels, and this toleration of my wrong responses suddenly seemed so dreadfully out of place.

I love looking at Jesus because He is always doing the unexpected. Saying things that make Him lose popularity. Welcoming children when people think He should be concerned with more lofty matters. Welcoming every sort of outcast that comes His way and publicly demonstrating their value. He brings a dead man back to life and the response from religious crowd is to want to put him, and Lazarus to death (you’d think they would have at least reconsidered the latter after what happened and all). Yet He keeps shaking things up until that day when He allows them to kill Him, as they jeer at Him that He saved others, but cannot save Himself.

That’s the thing; He could have saved Himself, but in that moment He was submitting to the Father and was working even then to save others through His atoning death.

When you look at the way Jesus lived and died, your hidden sins suddenly become more apparent, and He bids you come near, repent and receive His love anew.

When I look at the world, I grieve. I want to fix it.

We should be motivated to pray and give and love and work to make this world that much more like the kingdom of God. We should hate the sin that destroys the world.

But we should also learn to hate the sin in our own hearts, no matter how insignificant it may seem, for the sins that are tearing apart lives all began somewhere. People were hurt by other people, and then turn to hurt more people. It multiplies.

The Lord calls us to be holy. We rarely appreciate the beauty of that calling, instead viewing holiness as a legalistic adherence to a set of rules.

Dear friends, that is that is a trap. That is a lie that keeps us from pursuing that which would so greater mold us more into the image of our beautiful Christ, working toward the restoration of the Imago Dei in man as it was meant to be from the beginning.

Yes, the idea of holiness can, and has been abused, but this does not mean it should be disregarded, for 1 Peter 1:15-16 says we are called to it.

It is a beautiful calling, one that beckons us to come away from that which we see the world using to destroy itself, toward the radical actions of a Christ who was set apart. A Christ Who cared more about the will of the Father and loving those He had been given than what people thought, or what was most comfortable for Him. To be holy is to be set apart, to love the things God loves, and flee those things He hates. For those things that God hates are those things that grow from tiny twinges of rebellion and end up causing pain and robbing Him of the glory He deserves.

When I respond out of anger to someone who is wronging me, I am not making His kingdom come. When I nurse bitterness over being mistreated, I am not cultivating either love or holiness, for it has no place in these.

It just so happens that the boy who asked me today if I liked seagulls did not like them either, for apparently they had ganged up against his father to steal his ice cream. He had therefore formulated a plan to kill one, though I feel it was all the bluster of a young boy, rather than a trap he actually intended to employ. Still, I told him that unless he really needed something to eat, he shouldn’t just kill a seagull, or he himself would become mean . . .  just like the seagulls.

The section in Galatians surrounding the verse that those seagulls made me think of speaks of how we are to use our freedom in Christ not to serve our flesh, but one another; to love our neighbor as ourselves!

I’ve learned that this is not easy, and the level of “injustice” I have experienced is, in reality, nothing compared to what those around the world experience daily. So how do we respond to the things that are wrong in this world, and the people in it who have no qualms about taking advantage of us, in a way that does not add to it?

I think that sometimes, it’s just humanly impossible. But that does not mean we are off the hook. Instead we should be relieved that we are told, “walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh” (Galatians 5:16).

So when things become difficult, and I feel as if I want to behave as rashly as one seagull flying in the face of another, I need to stop and seek the supernatural help of the Spirit, and look to my Jesus whose surprising life of obedience to the Father becomes my motivation.

Sin is ugly, but He is oh so beautiful.

My life is going to reflect something, and I want it to be Him.

Trying harder.

[Written Summer 2014]

I have shuffled through the last few weeks at the fastest pace I could muster. I spackled. I edited videos. I worked. I had conversations. I spent time in the word. I prayed. I even went jogging.

But I didn’t do any of these things well.  And every time I worried about the fact that I was barely scraping by in everything I did, I simply purposed that I must try harder.

Seems simple, but it didn’t work. I woke one morning, realizing that cleaning my room seemed an insurmountable task and it was then I had a startling revelation.

I was sick.

I went to the doctor, and the nurse asked what was wrong. Well, hmm.

I had to think about it and take a second to reflect back on the last few weeks. Exhaustion. Nausea. And several other unpleasant things I will spare you.

I was shocked when I heard all of these symptoms coming out of my own mouth. How in the world had I not realized I was sick?

The nurse confirmed it. I had strep throat.

I felt rather vindicated of my patheticness. Of course I could not function effectively!

But why had I “tried harder” instead of assessing the situation, accepting my weakness and realizing that in this situation “my best” wasn’t good enough to make it better?

I was sick and weak and needed help from outside myself. No amount of effort on my part to function better was going to resolve this.

Yikes.

And I realized that I do the same thing in my pursuit of Christ. When I feel like I’m failing, instead of stopping to see what might be causing this feeling I simply push on, trying harder to be who Christ wants me to be. Working to please Him. Until I am so “sick” that I am forced to collapse and realize that something is wrong. It’s amazing how when you go to the LORD He can take the weak heart that is striving by its own power and give it rest. The peace He gives when you admit to your “sickness” and lay it all down before Him, asking for His help is indeed something unearthly.

The solution is so simple, and the road to being strengthened anew to live life is so much more accessible than even visiting the doctor and receiving medicine was for me when I was sick.

In John 15 Jesus says that apart from Him we can do nothing, and so we are to abide with Him. This means we are to make our home with Him. Live by the power of His Holy Spirit and be quick to admit our failings, knowing that the God who chose us before the foundations of the world to be holy and blameless before Him is more than willing to forgive us and strengthen us to become so.

Yes, give it your best, for He deserves it! But know that sometimes your best is not enough, and in those moments the Jesus that the book of Hebrews declares to be “better” literally has you covered.

 

 

Fog.

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[Written during the end of May, 2017]

I’ve been told camp is like Narnia. You step into it, and all recollection of time as you have known it ceases. It’s quite common to ask the date and find that no one else knows it either, unless they consult their watch.

It seems that I have slipped into an alternate reality, and live on an island in time.

Tonight the camp was eclipsed by fog. We looked out the window to first realize that we could no longer see across the bay, and later on another glimpse gave the illusion that the lake had disappeared entirely, and we were floating in a cloud. The sight delighted me, and when someone asked “why?” in an incredulous tone, I told them I’m not navigating or going anywhere, so why should it concern me?

Tonight I realized that I have been attempting to navigate through a fog of my own since graduation. In the days since arriving at this timeless camp, where my connections with the outside world were severed by the temporary death of my phone, the fog has closed in. With it a feeling of amnesia has descended upon me, and I feel that I am only able to see for a foot in any direction. The past is barely visible, and the future seems impossible to imagine beyond the mist that hangs in my face.

This is the sort of fog that terrifies me, for it robs me of the memorials of God’s goodness, and shrouds my mind in those cobwebs that I believed I had already swept away.

Now, I do in fact realize that this is one of the least dire situations I have experienced in my lifetime, not worth the anguish it seems to be producing.  Yet this transition from my beloved college to a camp in the middle of nowhere, with an unknown future stretching before me has left me shaken.

I can’t look forward, because I cannot seem to remember where I have just been.

Every time I remember; the friends, the experiences, the praise songs, the Bible passages, the tears begin to make their triumphant march down my face and I have cowered in defeat.

“I don’t have time to cry,” I have told myself, much to my detriment.

It turns out that in forgetting these things, I am forgetting God’s provision, and God’s faithfulness. I am forgetting how He has cared for me and showed me love in ways I do not deserve. I am forgetting that He has proven my source of strength and joy through hard days, and how He has so often been the lifter of my head. I am forgetting the Hope that I have in Him, and without it, I cannot move forward; I am paralyzed.

The tears have thus shortened my time with the LORD, and the songs in my heart dried up until I felt I was no longer myself.

I cannot live that way.

So I’ve been learning to let myself cry; I don’t wear mascara often anymore.

I’ve been learning that I must make myself remember, for to do so clears up the fog just a little bit more. It helps me remember who I am.

I’ve been struggling, and I don’t think it’s quite over, but today I have felt some things ease.

This morning, I was alone in a prayer room, begging the Lord to let some of the truths out of Ephesians chapter one make their way to my distant heart. Ephesians is my New Testament version of the Psalms; it is where I turn to gather truth and hope when not much else will seem to encourage me. Today however, nothing seemed to be sinking in. Then the strangest thing happened.  I heard a woman’s voice from the other room reciting, “Paul, an apostle of Christ…” And as she continued reading, with a few other voices chiming in, I looked down expectantly at my open Bible to see if the words that followed would indeed match the page. I just knew they would, and they did, for she was reading aloud the very same words that had been bouncing off my hard heart. The voices, practicing for the upcoming worship service, recited Paul’s burst of praise in 1:1-14 twice. Long enough for the truth to break through to my soul and the tears to run down my face.

During the following worship service, during the second week in a row, as I sang I was bombarded with the thought, “who are you to raise your hands? You are not worthy. Others will remember your imperfections and scoff at the idea of you acting like you have it together.”

Today I was able to respond to this, “I am not worthy, not of myself! But I am HIS! I am not perfect, but I have been adopted by He Who is. I WILL praise!”

And tonight as I again stood in a worship service to sing praise songs that were reminders of the past, I was hit with the question, as if phrased by the LORD, “do you really think I will abandon you now?”

I realized I had been acting like it, for I had apparently also forgotten Who He truly is. I realized that I had been giving God less credit than my parents who want to help guide me, my friends who surprise me with bits of encouragement, or the crew in the kitchen who have so graciously gone to extra work to make me food that I am not allergic to so that I can have something to eat. Has He not proven Himself kinder than all of these?

No, I do not believe He will abandon me.

I do believe this summer will continue to be difficult, and that I will need reminders from friends and pictures, and music, and scripture to serve as memorials of what has come before so that I can continue to move ahead.

Yet I trust the fog will either clear, or He will help me navigate through it. Meanwhile these memorials of His faithfulness will remain the markers that will keep me from wandering in the fog, and help me stay close until it’s time to follow Him in stepping forth again.

Impractical Things

c86e2723-a49d-41e7-90a4-4366c45f1d15 Sometimes your now curmudgeonly heart needs to encounter something that will make it soft again, and remind you of those things that formerly made your heart sing. This night, it was music that did it for me, though I might have missed it had I given into the “logical” side of my mind that likes to weigh the usefulness and practicality of most things. I think I had somehow begun to forget that which I thought was essential to my being: that art and music and beauty are so vital to life, because they point us to the reality of a God who is beautiful in ways beyond what we can imagine. Well-crafted music is so mystifying and “impractical” in some senses, but it’s something that gives so much satisfaction to the soul and reminds you of the reality of a life that goes beyond whatever moment in which you might currently feel stuck.

On this night I was at a worship concert, and I sat with my eyes closed and absorbed the beauty that was filling the place, melting a little bit when the strings joined in. There was no real paint in sight with which to satisfy my sudden intense desire to create, so I began painting scenes in my mind, and imagining just how wonderful Heaven is going to sound if this much wonder can exist on our fallen earth. When my eyes were open, they were looking around at the old theater with all of its intricate decorations. I was especially fixated on the gilded figures above the stage, for in the low lighting they appeared as angels dancing with joy.

Then we came to the next set of songs, and here it was not the music but the lyrics of truth that wedged themselves into my heart and broke away its hard shell from the inside. They were words that first reminded me that no matter what happens, no matter who leaves me, no matter who lets me down, no matter how many times I let myself down, that He is there. He came, and He will not leave. My lips were finally able to utter again in complete sincerity a declaration that He is good; one that spit in the face of all the lies that screamed at me saying that He is anything but. I was led to declare that though I know the depths of my weakness, I am able to remain steadfast in Him, because His Spirit is within me. I walked away feeling more stable than I have in a long time, all because God used “impractical” music and lyric and story and beauty that was grounded in truth to work restoration in a way that the so called “practical” things of life could not presently do for me.

So dear reader, if your heart longs to engage in music or art or storytelling, ground it in truth, give it to God, and see how He might use your “impractical” gift to accomplish very practical purposes.

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[If you want to know what I was listening to, check out Molly Kate Skaggs’ Album “Overtaken” if you also want to melt into a puddle, as well as “Beautiful Surrender” by Jonathan David and Melissa Helser]

Illusions

[From the Archives: I don’t really remember writing this, and it’s not all that I’d like it to be. However, I found it and hoped it might encourage someone who struggles with the same internal battles]

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I usually like artists, but not this one.

This one is destructive.

This one is a liar.

His medium is illusions. He cannot create, he only copies the same old darkness that the world has known for ages.

If you don’t pay attention you’ll wake up one day to find yourself penned in by fences that only exist in your mind, believing that this sham world is as real as those concrete truths which now seem to evaporate as mist.

I might sound like I possess a touch of madness, but we’ve all met this fiend before.

His name is Fear.

We’ve allowed him a seat at the kitchen table of our minds, from whence he skillfully twists the conversations.

Suddenly our days look bleak, friends seem distant, words more cutting and the future more grim.

A life once marked with hope can soon be bowed to the frustrations of the smallest obstacle, and cower at the feet of beasts who do not actually exist. Meanwhile those things that should actually have your prayers and energies focused upon them will be forgotten.

He is an artist in many fields. Once banished, he must be defended against or his return is imminent.

I thought in many ways that I was done with him. I overcame him months ago to make the right decision, but now at the point where I must fight his illusions, I temporarily gave in to them.

I did not ask for the heavenly help I needed, but rather sat back defeated to watch as he gleefully painted in dark hues his favorite images of failure, inadequacy and loneliness.

Had I immediately called for help I would have avoided the embarrassment of the dark blots Fear cast upon my behavior. I complained, and sat glued to the reel of despair that played repeatedly before me.

But then an unlikely hero entered this story: Deuteronomy.

As Moses gave his recap of the days after the Exodus, I saw the grimy fingered artist at work in the people of God so many years ago.

They had the option of choosing to trust God and enter the promised land, and see God’s mighty hand at work in a way many of us dream to see it. Surely they would obey, because they had seen miracles with their own eyes! Surely we all would chose the right path if we had seen such things, we say.

They had seen it.

But Fear painted pictures of giants too large, and cities too strong.

They forgot the reality of the fact that though they had very real obstacles, they had the help of a very real God who told them not to be afraid.

Not to be afraid because He was with them.

Yet Fear won, and that generation died in the desert.

(That’s all Fear really has to offer anyone in the end.)

It was then I realized that Fear wanted me to believe that God’s promises were only the mirage of an oasis in the desert.

This time it is the oasis that is real, and the desert the illusion.

As long as I stay close to the source of living water, the desert can never truly kill me.

It was this simple lesson I’ve “learned” so many times before that proves Fear’s work to be no more than a mist before the God who created me for His glory, Who loves me as His child.

Yes, the Israelite’s fear might have been based in the very real residents of Canaan, unlike my fears which were almost completely in my own mind.

Yes, in life we can be thrown in truly dangerous situations, and victory might not always appear in the way we expect it. We may, in such cases, have very real foes to fight.

Yet in any case we cannot allow fear to dine with us. We cannot welcome him in.

Instead it is the LORD we should choose to abide with, and when I enlist my Creator’s help to keep fear at bay, I gain the assistance of an artist Who colors my life with warm hues of hope.

Icing.

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[I wrote most of this in May, and finished it . . . in July]

“Tell me something about yourself,” the traveling speaker asked, having gone down the row asking each person the same as they introduced themselves.

I paused. “I like to create things.”

“What sort of things?”

“Paintings, cakes, stories.  But I rarely finish my stories.”

“Do you finish your cakes?”

“Yes!” I laughed in response.

“Why do you finish your cakes and not your stories?”

The answer came sooner than is characteristic of this ponderer. “People eat my cakes. They don’t read my stories.”

In that moment, it somehow seemed like an epiphany, whose meaning was not yet clear. Then I forgot about it, until tonight.

Tonight I combed through my computer files, hoping to find a forgotten piece of writing that could be polished to some semblance of beauty. What I found were bits of fiction, journaling and poetry. They were written so long ago that it was if I was reading them for the first time as I had no recollection of them whatsoever. Some were quite dismal, some dramatic, but some surprised me by giving me hope that maybe it would be worthwhile to continue practicing my craft. There was one tale in particular that drew me in and made me feel as if I were suffering from some sort of author’s amnesia. The first page of this story was intriguing, and I waited with bated breath to see where it was going, scrolling down to page two. I yelped in indignation at my former self, for the scene ended abruptly.  I had left myself hanging in the midst of an unfinished story whose anticipated plot I couldn’t recall. By not finishing that story when the idea was fresh, I lost an opportunity I can’t get back. As I continued to peruse my files, this scenario repeated itself, sometimes with thoughts being left behind in mid-sentence. The only stories that were finished were the ones that had something in common with my cakes: stories I wrote with the anticipation of sharing them with specific people.

I’ve written this post thus far, and I’m tempted to give it up as I feel there is too much here that I can’t seem to convey, but I couldn’t handle the irony. What have I learned from this experience? I suppose learning something isn’t a requirement, but somehow with me everything turns out to be a lesson, and I took two main things from this. *First, I think I should find more merit in writing just to write for the joy of it, to work through thoughts and feelings with no thought of somehow gaining approval from others. Yet simultaneously, the motivation to excel, follow through and actually finish well is so much stronger  when you have the anticipation of sharing it with another. To have someone urging you onward is something we should all have and participate in, regardless of whether it is in reference to making a cake, writing a story, or anything else that is good. God didn’t mean for us to take on life alone, something that I so often find myself attempting to do.

Second, I wonder what “stories” in life I am currently leaving unfinished. What am I not pursuing because I’m too scared, too lazy, or I feel too inadequate? What will I look back on later and see a beautiful beginning, only to watch it vanish into thin air because I gave up? What will I regret later that I could change now, wishing I could talk to my former self into pursuing? Those questions are not easily answered, but are worth pondering. Now, I’m not suggesting that everything started is worth finishing, and we need to be careful in discerning what is. However, I’ve found it to be an uncomfortable truth that the things that are really worthwhile in life and for eternity to come are the things that do not come easily. Forming healthy habits, meaningful relationships, serving others, sharing the gospel and even maturing are beautiful things that only come through a perseverance that throws aside laziness, awkwardness, fears, what-ifs, and a gaze upon one’s self that reveals more weakness than we care to see. Yet if we manage by God’s grace to persevere, to finish in those things He has led us into, we will be left with something ultimately more dear than whatever it was we gave up. So here’s to finishing well with the help of a community and strength from the Lord, whether it be cakes, stories, or things infinitely more important.

 

*Basically what we have from this point on is a loquacious pep talk directed to myself. These things are so easily forgotten, and I need to be reminded often!