In which I leave and come back

So this blogging thing…it didn’t really stick. It’s been almost two months since I posted! Yet here I am, trying again. And maybe it’s appropriate, because so often this following Jesus thing? this living-under-grace thing? it doesn’t stick. Jesus is still here, of course, and grace is still here, but I’m somewhere else, doing my own thing.

It’s not an intentional leaving. It’s not a physical leaving at all, but more a forgetting, which is a whole different sort of leaving… an emotional and spiritual distancing. I hate that I let myself become distant. His grace is precious to me! It’s my life-blood, and it’s my joy. Even so, every now and then I look up and realize some part of me has forgotten that I’m a child of God, that I am loved and accepted unconditionally. At those times, discontent and fear replace gratitude and joy. It ain’t pretty….

And so, time and again I must come back and place myself at his mercy. And–glory be–his endless river of grace pours over me, refreshing and renewing, and (this is the most amazing part) he calls me his own.

Thanks be to God.

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In which I’ll never be ready for Christmas

This past week as I’ve been out doing errands, several people have asked me the same question: Are you ready for Christmas? I know they mean shopping and baking and what-not, but I can’t help thinking, is anyone ever really ready for Christ to arrive in their world?

And yet, ready or not, Christmas comes. Jesus comes. And if I offer the slightest opening — hey Jesus, you can have that stinky corner in the barn — if even that, he comes in and makes himself at home. And if I open the door a little wider…well, he’s likely to turn my life upside down. It’s hard to be ready for that.

I need it, though. Every year. Every day, even. And maybe it’s good that Christmas is a ready-or-not thing, so that despite my unreadiness — despite my hesitations and doubts and fears — if I crack open my heart to receive the Christ child, Christmas happens, and I’m never the same again.

In which I am a speck of light in a dark world

I long for light.

Advent, then, should be the perfect time for me. It’s about waiting and preparing for God’s light to come into the world. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it – but the horrors I see on the evening news make that hard to believe. (You can’t get much darker than children being murdered in their classrooms.) Surely the darkness is winning, isn’t it?

I still believe light is stronger than darkness, and I believe light would conquer darkness, if only it would come. If only I could find it.

Sometimes I forget that the light is within me. I forget that Christmas has already happened and that God’s light is already here. But even when I do remember, how can I possibly shine enough light to make a difference? Why even bother, when my best efforts are so weak?

Then again, it’s when leaves fall dead from the trees and the days grow dark that we dig into the cold earth and plant bulbs. It’s when raging winter storms have taken out the power lines that we strike a match and light candles. In the absence of hope, in the absence of light, we act. Why should it be any different now? Now, in the face of great darkness, to act in hope and faith and love is to bring light.

It’s true that any small kindnesses I am able to offer, any joy or peace I am able to convey, may seem insignificant. The darkness is so great, and my light so small. But even though my light may be a mere pinprick in a vast expanse of black, it is something. And even a pinprick of light is enough to allow me to say with conviction, the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.

In which my life is a long and shabby Christmas letter

I love getting those traditional recap-of-our-family’s-year letters from friends at Christmas. I really do. I want to be clear on that, because I’m now going to totally diss them.

Most of those letters are lies.

Oh, I believe the stuff they say really happened. But I don’t believe it’s the whole story. Maybe people think I don’t want to hear the rest of it, but I do.

I have one relative who sends refreshingly honest letters. She just puts it all out there. Like, kid A really messed things up this time, but man, I love him so much. Or, from someone you wouldn’t really expect to be okay with her kid being gay, my son and his boyfriend found a great new apartment…. There’s no hiding, no only showing what she thinks will impress others.

Ah, there it is…impress others. Is that why so many letters go wrong? Are people trying to impress me with how great their kids are turning out, how great a parent they clearly must be? Probably not. They’re just proud of them, that’s all…I get that. But it’s so much more intimate, so much more relationship-focused, to pour it all out together. (Isn’t that why we send letters? To nurture our long-distance relationships?) When you trust me enough to share the less-than-impressive stuff, it means you know I love you and your kids, no matter what. It means you know I care, you know I want the whole story, and you know I’ll understand and accept that whole story.

Which brings me to this: I think living as a Jesus-follower can be a little like that—like letting our lives tell the whole story, being honest about our faith and our doubts, our good days and our bad, our moments of grace and our moments of judgment. Because how we present ourselves to God is a little like writing a Christmas letter. And since I know he loves me, since I know he wants my whole story, I can be honest. I can trust him with the good, the bad, and the ugly, pouring it all out at Jesus’ feet.

He sees that mess of a story on the ground before him, and despite it – or because of it – he bends down and kisses the top of my head. He says, I love you, too.

In which I am a tree

I attend a mainline church. I fit there, more or less, but it’s not about me and my comfort level anyway. So most Sunday mornings, I escape from beneath a week’s worth of baggage and head to church. The worship service is a blended style, one that suits both the happy-clappy folks among us and the more traditional Holy, Holy, Holy folks. (Whether it suits The Almighty I’ve no idea.)

Personality-wise, I’m one of the happy-clappers, but some of the music aimed at my kind really freaks me out. We dare to sing phrases such as show me your glory and send down your power. I tend to skip over such phrases, and as the people around me lend their voices to these prayers, I’m thinking holy shit, people! do you have any idea what you’re saying?!

Surely if God blasted us with the full wattage of his glory the flesh would melt from our bones and ooze all over our blended-worship hymnals (I’m picturing some Raiders of the Lost Arc gore here). And seriously, send down your power? The whole world would be crushed.

Maybe the song-writers really meant just give us a wee glimpse, God, but even then, I’d be leery. It’s not that I think God’s just sitting up there waiting for an invitation to zap us (if he was going to zap us, he wouldn’t need an invitation). I really believe he’s good and loving. I believe he’s big on grace. So why do these lyrics give me pause?

The thing is, I think they make God too small. They feel a little too comfortable, a little too casual, as if we’ve forgotten that God can not be contained. As if we’ve forgotten who it is we’re worshipping. In her book, Teaching a Stone to Talk, Annie Dillard wrote about how, when we attend church, we ought to wear crash helmets and be lashed to our pews. That makes complete sense to me. And yet, I’m left trying to reconcile my inclination to strap on a helmet with my happy-clappy need to praise Jesus.

There’s a banner at the front of my church with an image of a tree engulfed in flame. The tree is burning, yet it’s beautiful, green, and alive. The words Nec Tamen Consumebatur are written above the tree. I believe this translates to yet not consumed. This morning as I looked at that banner, I thought, I am that tree. All of us here—we’re that tree.

We are the burning bush. We can dare to invoke God’s presence, dare even to call down his glory and his power, and when it comes, somehow, miraculously, we are not consumed. This is only possible because God is big on grace. Big on glory and power, yes – incredibly so – but bigger still on grace.

So, maybe next time I’ll sing those words, or maybe I won’t. Either way, I’ll stand in awe of my dangerous God and his exorbitant grace.