Saturday, September 28, 2013

Things My Heart Remembers

"I'm so glad we live in a world where there are Octobers."  

So says one of my literary dopplegangers, Anne, in L.M. Montgomery's Anne of Green Gables.  And as the winds cool, the leaves gather in drifts of gold, and the last of the dandelion-wishes are breathed away, I couldn't agree more.  Easily, do I drift on the tide of memory that draws back the years, and I wander, wonderfully lost in time.

I've always held a special love for autumn, and it is likely my favorite season of all.  Perhaps spending my formative years in the beautiful oak and maple forests of Illinois has influenced me unfairly, or maybe it is because I possess such an obsession for giant sweaters to burrow into, or it might even be my childhood love of hot chocolate, apple cider, and tea.  But whatever the reason, the beginning of Autumn has long cast a special spell over my heart, and perhaps over my soul as well.

Arrow of farwell-geese on a fall evening, crying in chorus
Dad's old warm sweaters, sleeves far hanging over little fingertips
Delicious smell of oak leaves burning in crisp Autumn air

For as each season ends in its turn and another begins, my memories crowd, my heart swells, and I remember all the little reasons why I love (insert season here).  These are my forget-me-nots, the good things, the treasured snapshots, the familiar voices, the magic of home smells, and the bottles of laughter carefully stored to bless the keeper.

Kaleidescope of shifting sunlight and red maple leaves, a cathedral window of color
Crunch of the oak blanket underfoot, and flying into piles of acorn and crackling and giggles
Sharp taste of pumpkin and cinammon spice in a warm kitchen
Rosy cheeked children with straw in their hair, and red faced apples in an orchard basket

I've often struggled and wrestled with living too much in the past.  Sometimes I allow my gaze to stay too far behind me, missing the here of the moment.  But a memory, as it was intended, creates in us, a spirit of thankfulness and gratitude.  Jean Baptiste Massieu writes, "Gratitude is the memory of the heart."  These little gifts that form some of our best memories, should be recalled with thanks.  Ann Voskamp writes, "Remembering is an act of thanksgiving, a way of thanksgiving, this turn of the heart over time's shoulder to see all the long way His arms have carried."

Drip of honey and stickiness of melted caramel
Playing at Robing Hood, and picking cattails at Wagner's Pond
Blazing stars, treading the dance of the upper skies, sharp and clear on cold Autumn nights

But what, you ask, about the other half of this great memory sea chest?  What about the things that seem best to be forgotten, the nasty things, painful things, the wounds, the scars, the fear, the emptiness, and the jars and jars of mournful tears?  What of the moments in life when great was the darkness, and all in the world seemed thoroughly and completely busted?  These are the difficult things, the hard things, the ones we can't bear to be thankful for.

And yet, if we trust in in the one who leads us on.  If we believe what the Word says, and that God, who did not even withhold His own son from us, will not cease to give us what we need.  The beauty of the fair times, when we dance with El Roi, the God who sees and loves us, is grace.  And the pain of the shadow lands, where we wander clinging to the promise He gave, to never leave us alone; this too is grace.  Christ before He went to death and unspeakable pain on the cross, broke bread and gave thanks (Luke 22: 7-23).  He told them to do so in "remembrance of me."  Remembrance and thankfulness.

We become like Moses, questing to seek after the face of the Holy One.  "In the dark, the bridge and my world shakes, cracking dreams.  But maybe this is true reality:  it is in the dark that God is passing by.  The bridge and our lives shake not because God has abandoned, but the exact opposite:  God is passing by.  God is in the tremors.  Dark is the holiest ground, the glory passing by.  In the blackest, God is closest, at work, forging his perfect and right will...and then we look back and see His back...God reveals himself in rearview mirrors" (Voskamp 2010).

With open palms, we accept the gift of days, of moments dark and light, and we may tell how both were grace.  With thanks we eat of our daily bread, remembering the aching joy of the good times and the scars that became tools in the hands of the Master, who loves us fiercely and tenderly.  We remember with gratitude, and it is in that recounting that we are blessed anew; the liquid gold of a rising Autumn sun is oil upon the head.  And after we have traveled some distance, though the way was dark and pouring bitter rain, behold, we glance over our shoulder and we see His back, the glory of God passing by.

Harvest moon rising over a corn field
Tire swing hanging from the old oak tree
Bike races through the forest, noble knights on mighty chargers
Scrambling over fences, climbing maples, and racing the sun with a child-strong heart, running and laughing with friends until dinnertime

What beautiful memories do you treasure and give thanks for?  If it is shadow and flame that you are passing through, do you trust that He is near, that His glory is passing by.        

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Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Child of Mud

I crouch in the mud and mire of the horse stall.  Eyes are red-swollen with pain, but my soul bears a burden greater still, the swelling and the overflow of sadness near to bursting.

I take shelter from the rain and listen to the drip drip drip of the cloud-fall on a barn roof.  My heart clings to the delicate and familiar sound of the crystal drops splashing against the sheet metal, and I fight to keep the  sobs from heaving up once more, deep and heavy.

 Heaven cries the rain-tears, and one by one they fall from a gray sky. I cry the sad-tears, the angry-tears, and the tears that spring up from the soul itself, that soul so filled to the brim with frustration and confusion too long shut inside.

Heaven rains, and I rain.  The downpour pools on the life-thirsty ground, as horses churn up muck and mire with flying hooves.  Mud mud everywhere.  I am surrounded by it from without and within.  I dwell in a world of mud.   As I sit on the rail of the stall, I feel a familiar damning voice, and I feel too weak, too drained of all life to resist.

"You are at home, oh child of mud.  From it you were formed, and to if you have returned.  You have fallen, failed.  How dare you call yourself a child anything less than the mud."  I picture myself slogging through the boot-sucking mire, slopping through the wet.  It feels fitting somehow.  For to a wounded heart so aching and so raw-wracked with pain, it is easy to see no further than where I sit, heart and chest heaving in the horse stall.

Wordlessly, I cry out.  I pray.  I dare to prostrate myself before the Holy One, filthy and empty as I am.  On my soul I have allowed the shadow, the void, the absence of light that poisons and eats away at all good things.

 I cry for my Father, my Savior, Jehovah Rapha.  The one who takes my dirt smudged face and my bleeding heart in two nail-scarred hands.  The eyes of the one whose love is perfect and whose suffering was the greatest holds me gently and simply says, "I know.  Sorrow too, have I known.  And I am with you."

I fight to overcome my confusion, my frustration, my sorrow.  The days of darkness and the dead hours of the night when all seems terrifyingly quiet--and cold.  I wage war against my own understanding, my sin and the sin of others.  The weight of a fallen world that threatens to crush me with it's heaviness.  I do battle against the numbness, the days within which one can simply endure.

As another author writes, "I endlessly wage war with Satan in this ferocious thrash for joy.  He sneers at all the things that seem to have gone hideously mad in this sin-drunk world, and I gasp to say God is good.  The liar defiantly scrawls his graffiti across God's glory, and I heave to enjoy God...and Satan struggles, and I whiten knuckles to grasp real Truth and fix that beast to the floor" (Voskamp, 2010).

Slowly, a paint horse joins me in the stall, faithful feet plodding carefully through the rain-muck to stand beside me.  He sniffs my hair with lowered head, and I feel the warm sweet horse-breath bathe my neck.  Gratitude, I remind myself.  Thankfulness is a gaze that pierces the darkness of the moment; it is eyes that see the Truth, and in return they are filled with light, as Matthew 6:22-23 describes.

It's often in the gaze, the looking, the earnestly reaching for something, anything other than a fistful of mud and a heart filled with an insatiable emptiness.

"I awaken to the strange truth that all new life comes out of the dark places, and hasn't it always been?" (Voskamp, 2010).  When we follow our Lord, we are tempered by the cross of suffering.  But we have one who has felt it all, and who whispers love into our hearts.  This is the God-Man, the one whose authority calls us not by our accused name, we children of mud.  But instead calls us his own children.  Children of light.  Children of love.  Children of Grace.

"Mourning and dancing are but movements in His unfinished symphony of beauty" (Voskamp, 2010).  As a physician often cuts and pares away in order than he might bring healing to a body, so too is grief a tool in the hands of a God, who desires to make our hearts whole and who wants us to know Him.  He is close to the brokenhearted.  He binds up their wounds.  And behold, all things are being made new.    

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Sunday, September 1, 2013

Towards Love and Good Deeds

It was a pleasantly warm evening in the mountains.  The golden sunlight was just beginning to dip behind the blue-green peaks, and I was astride Rose, my acrobat friend's Belgian horse, who weighs almost one ton.  I felt like a medieval princess, riding a knight's mighty charger.  To put it more succinctly--all was right with the world.
I let my hands fall from the handles of the surcingle in front of me and stretched them out to the side as if I were flying, and believe me, there are times when I ride that I almost believe I could.
"That looks really great," my friend said to me with a smile.  Now...stand up."
I can only imagine what you must be thinking, because some of those very thoughts were most likely racing across my mind. Stand up?  Are you off your rocker?!  I'm on a moving horse the size of a tank!  
Allow me, then, to back track a little.  My friend is a fantastic vaulter, having competed all over the world in the sport of dance and gymnastics on horseback.  I, as a lover of all things four footed and rhyming with "of course," practically jumped at the chance to try my hand, and foot, at vaulting.
With a few hops, and a 1-2-3, my friend helped vault me onto the horse's back, where I went through a series of movements.  I tried the candle, the prince, the lay, and many others, all the while wanting to burst with the sheer enjoyment of trying something new.  Yet with all these, I felt that my background both in dance and in horsemanship had granted me at least a fairly decent foundation for most of these moves, a fighting chance at the very least.  We even did work at the trot, which was thrilling all the more.  

The real moment of truth occurred when my friend gave me a knowing smile, and spoke those three words.  "Now, stand up."  
My friend's teaching style is perhaps one of the best that I  have ever encountered.  Throughout my every fumbled attempt at vaulting, she corrected gently, taught patiently, and above all displayed a confidence in my ability that bolstered my strength and filled me with a bold and fearless courage.  Not leaving me any room to protest or to uneasily wonder IF I could do it, she spoke with utmost calm and simply cheered me on.  
"Now an aerabesque," she said, and as I pointed my toe and lifted my leg slowly, I glanced worriedly to my side only to find her frank, direct, and completely unassuming gaze regarding me with a smile.  In that moment, both with and without words, she spoke encouragement directly into my heart, a thing not easy to do for someone else.  "That's it, relax.  You're doing fine, in fact, you're doing fantastic.  You CAN do this, and boy just wait to see what I've got for you next!  Don't look down, look forward!"    
With a pounding heart, I slowly stood, throwing out my arms to embrace the sky and the sun kissed mountains, to jump into the wild wind I was now dancing on, and to offer praise to the Maker of it all, who winked at me, and laughed along with my leaping heart.  Everything in me screamed to tense up, but I forced my trembling knees to relax, and boy was my friend right.  What a ride!  
I looked down at my friend, grinning not only from ear to ear, but around my entire head, I sure.  She simply grinned back with a look that said, "Of course you did it.  I already knew you could."  
I considered Hebrews the next day or so, and wondered about the phrase "spurring one another on towards love and good deeds."  I have no doubt that the reason I "conquered" vaulting with such excitement and courage, was because someone on the ground believed in me.  The woman walking next to me let strength and encouragement flow into me at such a rate that fear was driven out, there was no room for it to reside in me anymore.  And I often wonder if we do that with one another in our daily lives.  
Often the response of people lies on two spectrums.  These are the I-know-you're-happy-now-but-just-you-wait-people, who crush your joy with a constant "reality check," and the oh-just-count-it-all-joy- people, who make you feel guilty for admitting fear, struggle, or intense pain.  But if more of the time, I encouraged people the way my friend bolstered me, how different would the world be?  
If, when learning of a marriage or birth announcements, we rejoiced and encouraged and strengthened, instead of taking the opportunity to constantly remark on the terrible hardships ahead?  What if, when someone was suffering, we wept with them, prayed over them, and offered love and genuine encouragement? 
 I'm not saying that the road ahead is always easy, for it is not.  Some days you will want to fly away for the joy of riding the moment, and at others you may lie in dirt, wondering why life keeps bucking you off and bruising you terribly.  But let us not give up spurring one another on towards love and good deeds. Perhaps, with the support and encouragement of our brothers and sisters in Christ, we may see less failed marriages, more broken hearts being comforted, and runners of the race who are able to keep on, aided by the people running right beside them.  If the power of life and death lie in the tongue, as Proverbs says, then let us give love and life to one another, lifting each other up.  We were not were not made to go it alone.  
To Rosie and my friend:  Thank you for those wings; I sure loved flying!
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