Beauty and Ashes

Wednesday morning I woke up with a deep need for a revelation of grace.

I think that we walk around with fear and pain and anger and all sorts of things bound up and hidden in our hearts, even from ourselves.  When the time is right, the waters start churning and those things come to the surface.

So it is with me.  In the past few weeks I have become painfully aware, once again, of my need for a savior.  I do not need to know that I am human and every body makes mistakes.  I need to know, desperately, that I am forgiven…that I am being made new.

I did not remember until later that day that Wednesday was Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent.  Lent is the liturgical season where we set aside 40 days to remember Jesus sacrifice for our sins and to repent in the context of His resurrection and grace.  The season is actually 46 days long, because Sundays are not counted.  They are still a celebration of the resurrection.

I believe God is wanting to spend time with me in stillness…so I am setting aside the first hour of every day, and I would like to invite you to join me.  I will be going through the Litany of Penitence, one line a day, reading from scripture, and ending with a symbolic act of forgiveness to remind myself I am forgiven.

This morning I walked to the park and read from John 13:31-15:11, and then I thought about and journaled about the first line from the Litany: “Most holy and merciful Father.”  I asked forgiveness for the times I have been unmerciful (already at the forefront of my mind), forgave others for not being merciful, and then asked Jesus to make me merciful.  As I walked home, I washed my hands in the dew soaked grass as a sign that I am washed clean by Jesus.

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Valentine’s Day Post

I strongly dislike Valentine’s Day.

I have always viewed it as a day for single people to feel lonely, lonely people to feel more lonely, and people in relationships to feel undue pressure to perform.  Yeah, not my favorite holiday.

But I might be slightly bitter…an issue which I have been wrestling with recently: my bitterness against romance.

It didn’t start that way.  I remember when I first fasted romance movies.  My heart was so pure in intention.  The man I loved had ended our relationship, and I realized I needed God’s view of romance.  So I fasted the movies.  I read a little book called When God Writes Your Love Story and handed the pen over for God to compose.  I remember reading when Leslie Ludy says God is writing a story for each of us and it will happen soon, and thinking to myself, “Soon isn’t a fair word.  This is going to take a long time.”

At first the theory was that it was taking so long because I wasn’t ready.  Then, my contemporaries theorized, perhaps he is not ready (whoever he is).  I was recently running on the beach, lamenting to God how few people understand how pervasive the loneliness can be, when it occurred to me that *I* understand.  I have been given the gift of longsuffering in this area, and so I have an intuitive sense of the loneliness of others, how it dogs your every step.  What if the waiting wasn’t about me, wasn’t about him, but was about learning how to love people in their loneliness.

God cares a lot about the lonely.  The widow, the fatherless, the sojourner, the poor.  These are the four populations He mentions over and over in the Bible as those to whom we should show care.  The lonely, the lonely, the lonely, the poor.  “You shall not wrong a sojourner or oppress him, for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt,”  Exodus 22:21.

Remember the lonely, Beth, because you too have known loneliness.

These days God has been confronting the bitterness that cropped up over the last nine years since I “handed Him the pen,” which includes bringing that book across my path again.  It’s been sitting around the student’s house for weeks now, haunting me.  I finally picked it up and reread Leslie’s introduction.  Soon.  So unfair of her to use that word…but I knew.  Nine years ago, I knew this wasn’t going to be my version of soon.  I’m pretty sure I’ve taken back the pen on more than one occasion.  God has not been silent for the last nine years, either, but working with me through every trial, holding my heart through every loss, teaching me to hope again…and again…and again.  Still I’ve become bitter.

Today God has helped me keep the taste of bile out of my mouth.  I got to play violin with the Santa Maria Mission’s Base Prayer Room.  I got to deliver valentines to women at the strip club.  I got to have friends in my home and got to know them better.  Out of no where, my friend began encouraging me that this part of my life is not on back burner, that God cares and is working on my behalf.

It is good to lead such a full, rich life.  I still have my moments of loneliness, but I am surrounded by community.  Here I am, at the end of another day, with a debt of gratitude to everyone who has walked with me through the lonely days, who has loved me back to life through brokenness and pain, who has fought for me instead of with me, and who has welcomed me home.

Reflection and Repentance (Bible Week…Day 8)

Turning 30 was hard for me this year.

This was not my plan for my life.

Now before you start lecturing me, I knew six years ago that I wasn’t going to be living my plans for my life.   It was then, in my first apartment after college, that God said I had good dreams, but it was time for me to live His dreams instead of mine.  So I’m good with that.

Sort of.

I expected to be married and have kids by 30.  Call me crazy, it was just a thought I had.  I expected to be walking or even running in whatever career or ministry God had for me…not one year in, still trying to find my balance.  I expected to be using this degree that cost me six years of my life, which I have not seen fully utilized yet.

It hurt.

I hurt.

So having spent this last week witnessing God’s faithfulness and impeccable timing in the Bible, I am trying to let the trust in Him soak into my soul.

His faithfulness stands tall against my litany of mistrust and the tears pour slowly down.

This must be what repentance feels like.

Waiting

After two of the busiest weeks of the year, followed by another week that did not slow down, I feel like I should update you on the 12 girls who descended upon our base for Discipleship Training School (they’re amazing), about the vision strategy meeting where God placed the same issues on each of our hearts (Community begins at home.  With relationship.  Who knew?), about the teams that will be going to Israel, Ethiopia, and Asia this year…but in the middle of rehashing all the details of an update, I realize that if I am bored writing it, my readers will be bored reading it.  And I do not want to bore anyone.  So…that’s your update (for now)…

12 girls for the DTS = amazing

Community begins at home, and we’re working on that this year.  Again.  😉

Israel, Ethiopia, Asia, and who knows where else.

As for me and my heart…

…I have come to the conclusion that I am learning to wait on the Lord.  A week and a half ago I got to teach a little girl to dance in the Spirit…which was basically teaching her how to wait and let Him take the lead.

Yesterday I got to play my violin in worship.  Twice.  Both times I got feedback on how incredible it was…actually, people have been saying that a lot recently…how my skills are really improving and what not.  I’m thinking to myself, “What I am doing right now is waaaaaay less technical than what I was doing when I picked it back up months ago.”

What I am doing differently…is waiting.  Sometimes on a single note.  F#.  F# again.  Still playing F#.  Suddenly a run comes out of nowhere (that’s like a lick, for those of you who specialize in more fretted stringed instruments.)  Sometimes I wait without playing…or without the violin in my hands at all.  I don’t “hear” the part, so I don’t play…and I realize that it works best with what everyone else is doing.

Not that learning to listen in ensemble is anything new to me.  Not that learning to wait is anything new, either.  Just seems to be where I am right now.  And I am feeling incredibly impatient…like standing there with my violin in my hands, thinking, “Why don’t I have anything to play? [pause pause pause] Ooooooooooh…because I’m not supposed to play right now.”  Then I set down the violin and a moment later realize it’s almost my cue.  I haven’t played some of these songs in months, and last time I played it differently.  How, then, do I know it’s almost my cue?  Must be Jesus.  I pick up the violin and play a scale and the whole room erupts into movement and color and life.

I remember when I started learning to dance with God.  I would wait, with my hands open, and breathe.  Just breathe.  And wait.  Pretty soon my arms would know which way to move and my feet would follow the gentle motion.  Learning to wait while playing in a band with a bunch of rock-n-roll worshipers is a bit more…raucous…to say the least.  Not all worshipers are rock-n-roll, but these guys are!  Learning ensemble with them may just be a miracle for this often soft spoken ballerina, and I’m loving it.

The Beauty of Questions

It all began with a rather raw and vulnerable question for God:

Do you want me bad enough to put me back together? Am I worth the time this takes?

Early last year this question, scrawled in my journal, sent me to explore an exercise my friend Tara (of Anam Cara Ministries) had sent to me.  It is fairly simple…

I come up with three questions: one for God, one for my heart, one for God and my heart.   I take three index cards and write one question per card, then turn the cards over and shuffle them.   Without looking at the questions, I tape them down to a scrap of paper or board.  Now comes the fun part: color!  I paint each card with whatever color or texture I feel like.  While the paint is drying I get to go through magazines and tear out pictures…whatever pictures I have a strong emotional reaction to, consonance or dissonance.  Then I arrange the pictures on the cards and glue my little collages together.

I try to forget about the question and focus on only the color and images while I am working.  The idea is to stay in the question instead of looking for answers.  When I finally get to turn the cards over and see which question goes with which picture, I find that I am learning more about myself and God, about my unspoken hopes and desires, and about faith.  Not every picture is an answer per se, but they do correspond.

The above question which started the whole process resulted in another question:

“Well, what if stuff happens again?”

God: Do you want me bad enough to put me back together?

Extracted from an insurance ad, the words positioned over clouds and beach-grass with a running shoe gave me the uneasy sense that this road would get harder before it got better.  I honestly did not know what to make of it.

Here I am, almost a year later, and I can tell you two things:  stuff happened again, and God wanted me enough to put me back together.

I have 20 little sets of these cards.  Questions from raw, hungry, almost desperate, sometimes timid, fearful, playful, hopeful, raw places in my soul…

…did I make the right choice?

…what if I never get this?  Will you still love me?

…did I let you down?

…what am I missing?

…what do you want to bring out in me this week?

…what  am I hoping for?

…am I worthy of you?

…what do I want?

…what do you want for me, God?

…how do I live well?

The questions are deeply personal, and although I have shared some very general ones, I can look at them and remember the ache,  sometimes confusion, and longing.  This evening I spent assembling the 20 sets of cards from 2010 into a book, and as I look at each collection of cards, the thing that stands out to me most is hope.

The exercise is a discipline of faith, being willing to trust God enough to let the question sit unanswered while I make pretty pictures.  Even asking the questions has taken a good measure of faith.  I have poured out all my doubt, fear, and misgivings into these questions, and without meaning to I have discovered what it means to live in hopeful expectancy.  I wonder if we realize just how interconnected fear and faith truly are.

Perfection(ist)

I woke up too late to go for a run on the beach (my first since the car wreck) and decided that a 20 minute walk would do me some good.  As I keep telling my roommate Paula (from Finland), “Baby steps.”

17 minutes into my walk, as I am nearing my own house, my rambling thoughts and prayers return to a request that God would change something I don’t like about myself.

“No.”  His simple answer.

“What?  Why?”

“You don’t get to be perfect.”

The words settled quickly in my soul with a sense of peace I like to call relief.