Time won’t leave me as I am

Original post: March 4, 2008; update: January 26, 2010.

I like hanging out with God. Just me and him. Like old times. Like when I used to have lots of time to just be. For the last few years, life has become busier and responsibilities have piled up, and I’ve had to learn a new way of relating to God—amidst the busyness and craziness of life, when everything tries to distract me from spending time from the one Necessary in life, the only one I actually need to survive. So it’s been a different stage—a more laborious way of life. But perhaps that’s just what happens when one grows up.

And God’s been good. In the last few years, he’s brought people around me to be community: families to provide stability, guys to be accountable to and pray with, friends to laugh with and to challenge me. He’s been focusing my vision, and leading me where he wants me, gradually revealing piece by piece of the puzzle (though I may never see the whole picture). I love being in the now, being in the excitement of seeing where God leads and what he’s going to do.

In many ways, it’s still hard—as I like to quote from my songwriter friend James, “Life is hard; life is beautiful.” There are still things to contend with: time will always be at a premium; friends will move away, and it’s improbable that I’ll ever live in the same place as my best friends or family again. And I’m still not quite sure where my home is. I was praying the other night and came to the conclusion that “I just want to go home.” And then I realized that, actually, “I just want to know where home is.”

This morning, sitting in the sun, chilling out with God, the words of a song sounded: He is my home. My family will always be an international family, my friends will never all be in the same place, and I often wonder if my restless soul will ever let me stay in one place for a long stretch. But God will be my home.

I wrote a song almost three years ago; my brother and sister-in-law were about to have their first kid, and I wrote it from the perspective of a new parent. This morning, God spoke to me through it:

When all the world can’t seem to get you right,
and all the words you scream won’t bring you light,
when tears fill up your eyes and cover up your sight,
I will be your home.

***

Related to this, the realization that what goes around comes around.

Time and again, I’m astounded by how the songs I write for other people, or th are inspired by other people, come back and speak to me in another time and another circumstance, whether it’s a life challenge—“Are we going to put up a fight or let the world turn to rust?”, or a love challenge—“I can’t break free unless you find me; I am undone by you”, or something else—“What happens now? Will I fall down flat on my face or will I find the strength to get back to my knees?”

What happens is that when I write songs, I empathize with people and their situations, and then somehow, somewhere down the line, I end up in a similar scenario and need the same ministry. Maybe it’s God’s way of ingeniously incorporating all of our foibles and talents into his greater scheme. Or it’s just his unique sense of humor: God using my own words to challenge me and spur me on.

Thanks, God. I’m glad I know you love me.

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Believe it or not, Jesus loves you

Original post: March 28, 2008; update: January 28, 2010. Always a good reminder.

The late, great Rich Mullins told a story of when he was struggling in his faith, and someone said to him, “Jesus loves you.” His response: “Big deal. Jesus loves everyone.”

Sometimes, I feel like that; sometimes I feel like God’s love is so indiscriminate that it isn’t worth anything. Sometimes, it doesn’t matter how much I’ve heard that Jesus loves me, or that the Bible says so, it just doesn’t help with life’s difficulties and tensions, with the struggles I’m facing or the emotional turmoil I’m going through. Sometimes, I feel, love just ain’t enough.

But on most days, I’m able to live in the knowledge and understanding that God’s love is so expansive—so high and wide and deep and true—that somehow, even though he loves everyone, it’s as full as it can be for everyone.

Human love is limited; it’s finite. We only have so much time and energy to spend with people; we are only able to spread ourselves so thin, and even our greatest commitment is often not enough. God’s love doesn’t have such limitations: his love is wide and deep. He can and does love everyone, and he does so fully. Which can be hard for our human minds to comprehend.

Years ago, when I was first discovering faith for myself—becoming a follower of Christ rather merely a believer in Christ—the words I used to hear God saying to me the most often were “I love you.” And I used to wonder why he’d say it so often. I knew that Jesus loves me, I’d think; the Bible tells me so. Why does he need to keep repeating himself?

Over time, I came to realize, first, that it’s one of the hardest things to do—to see ourselves as loved by and precious to God; and second, that an understanding of how much God loves us is the source of everything else: for how we’re able to see ourselves in proper perspective, for how we’re able to respond to his love by loving him back, and for how we’re able to love others with the love that he has shown us.

God’s shown me that these three simple words speak of a truth that’s pretty important and foundational to how we look at life and how we live life. It’s a message that I still need to hear every day.

Jesus loves you.

Jesus loves you.

Jesus loves you.

Jesus loves you.

Think about it.

Why women withdraw

Original post: August 1, 2008; update: January 30, 2010. Still holds true. 🙂

A while ago, Yeti posted a blog on “Why Men Withdraw.” Apparently, it’s one of the most-read entries on her site. Apparently, women would like to know why men withdraw or become distant or whatever. Well … I’m almost certain that it works the other way as well. Whether it’s because of the gradually-diminishing distance between perceived gender roles in Western society, or maybe just because we’re all human beings and we’re sometimes more similar than we think, women withdraw, too.

It’s a reality that can bemuse and bewilder, frustrate and foil. I know because I’ve spoken to friends who’ve had similar experiences to me: one moment, life couldn’t be more perfect and she couldn’t be more interested; the next moment (or the next week), you’re the last person in the world that she wants to see or hear or be around or know.

Maybe she has her own issues to work through. Maybe she likes you, but not quite that much (yet); (and maybe you need to give her time and space to work that out, or maybe you need to just give her time and space … for ever). Maybe she’s just coming out of a relationship and she’s not ready for another one. Maybe she just got really burned and is scared of getting hurt again. Maybe you’re not her type. Maybe she doesn’t know what her type is. Maybe she thinks she knows what her type is, and it isn’t you, but you think her type is really stupid. Maybe she’s just not that into you.

Or, on the flipside, maybe she has a history of doing this kind of thing and you need to steer clear of her. Maybe you’d be better off without someone who withdraws and doesn’t communicate why. Generally speaking, I’d agree that women are better communicators than men. But there are always exceptions. (I tend to meet all the exceptions. Which is awesome.)

In the end, my answer comes down to not knowing. It could be nothing. It could be something. It could be her. It could be you. It could be a disastrous development (and it often feels like it). It might be the best thing in the world to happen to you (even though it might take you the longest time to be able to understand that).

And then the question is “What do we do about it?” Or … “What can we do about it?” Again, I’m afraid I’m going to be as helpful as … well, something not very helpful. [On a side note, if you can come up with an analogy for something that’s helpful, maybe you’ll get a mention in my next blog. Yay.] It depends on the circumstance. It depends on you and where you’re at in life. It depends on her. It depends on how you interact with each other. And a hundred other things. I can’t give a blanket statement of advice; because with relationships, we’re dealing with people, and people are unpredictable.

So … sorry.

Talking to God about tomorrow

Original post: March 31, 2008; update: January 31, 2010.

I had a conversation with God the other day about my future. It went a little something like this:

Me: I want to know what’s on your heart so that I can have these things on mine as well.

God: My heart’s pretty big. If I put all the things that are on my heart on yours, yours would most definitely be crushed.

Me: Okay, then. Would you at least show me what to do now?

God: Be faithful with what you know and what you see; act on where you’re at now. It may not be much, but it’s enough for now.

Me: *sigh* Typical.

God: You’re welcome.

Update, 2010: It’s certainly interesting to see how things have progressed in the last two years. Some things have changed. Some other things never change.

[Photo: “You talkin’ to me?” taken by Heather Wilson.]

Your silken skin

Original post: June 20, 2008; update: January 29, 2010. A work of fiction.

Coldplay are singing in the background: It’s such a perfect day. Warm sunlight caresses my face. I close my eyes, and the sounds, the smells, the sensations of today transport me back to yesterday.

I turned my head and there you were; within arm’s reach yet so much closer. Your back to me; you’d been reading while I slept. The Time Traveler’s Wife. There was a tear in your eye. It was that kind of book.

I remember … and I wouldn’t want to change a thing.

Your blue-green eyes. Your lips trembling to hold a laugh in check. Your fingers that locked into mine like the final piece of the puzzle. Your silken skin.

Don’t you want to curve away when it’s such a perfect day?

Your honey-colored silken skin, the fine hairs on your arms, the freckles on your shoulders, the curve of your neck that I called home.

Now the sky could be blue. I don’t mind; without you it’s a waste of time.

When I was with you, I was at peace.

Without you I’m just miles away.

When I’m with you, I’m at peace. And sometimes, on days when I sit alone here with God, I wonder where you are …

The day God broke my heart and changed my life (again)

Original post: March 19, 2008; update: January 26, 2010. March 19 was the day I think God really spoke to me about the direction of my life; this was the day that God really broke my heart for justice; this was the day I found my calling.

Part of the fun (I use that term ironically) of letting God do what he wants is that he may (read: often, at least in my experience) do some breaking, so that we don’t carry all of our preconceptions and pride and baggage with us. So in tandem with the excitement of the last week, God’s also been breaking me. Seriously.

Shattering.

And it hasn’t been comfortable, even though I know it’s good for me.

The following is a mosaic of words from songs and books (Shane Claiborne’s The Irresistible Revolution, U2’s When I Look at the World, Broken by Lifehouse, and Jars of Clay’s God Will Lift Up Your Head; oh, and the Bible) that I’ve been reading and listening to lately. God is messing me up.

I’m falling apart, I’m barely breathing; with a broken heart that’s still beating. In the pain, there is healing; in your name, I find meaning. So I’m holding on, I’m barely holding on to you …

Thus says the Lord: maintain justice, and do what is right, for soon my salvation will come, and my deliverance will be revealed.

We are called not to be successful but to be faithful.

Is not this the fast I choose: to loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke?

When you look at the world, what is it that you see?

Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see them naked, to cover them?

When there’s all kinds of chaos and everyone is walking lame.

Love your neighbor as yourself. We are the body of Christ, the hands and feet of Jesus to the world. Christ is living inside of you and me, walking the earth.

So I try to be like you, try to feel it like you do. But without you it’s no use; I can’t see what you see when I look at the world.

Then your light shall break forth like the dawn, and your healing shall spring up quickly. … Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer; you shall cry for help, and he will say, “Here I am.”

We can admire and worship Jesus without doing what he did. … We can adore his cross without taking up ours.

And I am here still waiting, though I still have my doubts; I’m hanging on another day just to see what you will throw my way. And I’m hanging on to the words you say; you said that I will be okay.

I can’t wait any longer, I can’t wait till I’m stronger. I can’t wait any longer to see what you see when I look at the world …

Give to the wind your fear; hope and be undismayed. God hears your sighs and counts your tears; God will lift up your head!

Leave to His sovereign sway to choose and to command …

Through waves and clouds and storms, He gently clears the way. Wait coz in His time, so shall this night soon end in joy. Soon end in joy.

God loves the poor; do we?

Original post: March 7, 2008; update: January 27, 2010. It’s certainly interesting to look back on the journey that I’ve been on over the last couple years.

It so happens that I’ve been reading Jim Wallis’s The Great Awakening at the same time as I’ve started going through Isaiah, and at the same time, God continues to nudge me towards what I may well end up doing. Both texts are challenging, especially with regard to the crisis of poverty, something which I’m learning more about and something I’m learning to care more about.

Reading through the Scriptures over the years, I’ve come to know one thing that I wasn’t taught in Sunday School: God is with the poor. God cares about the oppressed, the downtrodden, those who have no one to speak out for them, those who are suffering under the weight of injustice and an unjust system. And when about half the population of the world live on less than two dollars a day (including more than a billion people living on less than one dollar per day), you’ve got to think that God is doing an awful lot of caring.

At the National Prayer Breakfast in 2006, Bono said:

The one thing we can all agree, all faiths and ideologies, is that God is with the vulnerable and poor. God is in the slums, in the cardboard boxes where the poor play house. God is in the silence of a mother who has infected her child with a virus that will end both their lives. God is in the cries heard under the rubble of war. God is in the debris of wasted opportunity and lives, and God is with us if we are with them.

From charity to justice, the good news is yet to come. There is much more to do. There’s a gigantic chasm between the scale of the emergency and the scale of the response. And finally, it’s not about charity after all, is it? It’s about justice. Let me repeat that: It’s not about charity, it’s about justice.

And that’s too bad. Because you’re good at charity. Americans, like the Irish, are good at it. We like to give, and we give a lot, even those who can’t afford it. But justice is a higher standard.

Africa makes a fool of our idea of justice; it makes a farce of our idea of equality. It mocks our pieties, it doubts our concern, it questions our commitment. Sixty-five hundred Africans are still dying every day of a preventable, treatable disease, for lack of drugs we can buy at any drug store. This is not about charity, this is about justice and equality.

Jim notes, “low-income people have the lowest voter turnout of any group in society (and don’t make many political donations either!)” (107) so it’s no wonder that advocates on their behalf are hard to find on Capitol Hill.

Broken systems need fixing, unjust institutions need correction, change needs to happen at an institutional level—it all seems rather daunting. But God is bigger than broken systems and unjust institutions. And he is on the side of the poor: “Those who oppress the poor insult their Maker. Whoever is kind to the poor lends to the Lord.” (Proverbs 14:31; 19:17).

It’s as much a challenge to me: what am I doing to get involved in God’s story? What am I doing as I learn more and more of God’s heart? When we love someone, we come to love the things that they love. God loves the poor. Do we?

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor.” (Luke 4:18, cf. Isaiah 61).