Cut

I said no to a lot of things this year and in every direction branches have fallen. Good, seemingly healthy branches and dead ones too. Their absence has left me feeling naked and exposed, broken and wondering: what did I do to deserve the axe to my soul? I learned long ago to not make plans, partially because nothing in my life goes according to one, but also because they become a breeding ground for resentment when I am disappointed in their failure. There were seeds of doubt in me this year that grew into fear and developed into anger. Not anger at others, but anger at myself, mostly, and anger at God. Maybe others knew I was being pruned, but I felt unjustly ruined.

It has been a strange dichotomy for me. Before 2010 I lived most of my life perpetually mistrustful of God, with a brooding anger at him. Since 2010, though, his goodness and prevailing trustworthiness has been steadfast and immovable. I have never known anything like it and still am in awe of what a constant God he is when not encumbered by the caricatures and Sunday School stories we make him out to be like. 2014, though, has been a year where I have seen my glaring disappointments and failures front and center. If there were places of pride in my life and heart, places I thought on the brink of full sanctification, this year has wrecked every one of them.

Jill Andrews has a song called Cut and Run where she says, "And it's just like me // to walk away so early." All my life that is my propensity. I walk away early instead of digging in deep. But this year He wouldn't let me. He made me wait, long past the time when everyone else said to walk away. He stayed me, and then still cut me. It felt unfair, the antithesis of his goodness.

Nothing has gone unscathed.

Making the decision to stay in Texas was an act of faith for me three months ago. I felt physically nauseous when I signed our lease; it felt like a death warrant for me in some ways, and I am not prone to exaggeration. It was in part an act of submission to leaders in my life who are wiser than I, and in part submission to the Lord who presses deep on my propensity to run when the going gets tough. I began to submit a thousand small things to others too, in a way I balk against naturally. There have been times in my life when I felt suffocated by submission, no part unscrutinized by others. And there have been times when I have soared in submission, being set free under good leadership who wanted good for me. But this season of submission has felt both restraining and freeing.

The other night my closest Texas friends and I sat around a fire for half a night. The moon rose behind us and the coyotes howled. I didn’t say much, which is not unusual, but I listened a lot. I listened to laughter and sorrow, stories and life. All the things God uses to bring us to today.

He has been healing some things in me in the past few months. Not growing new branches yet, but healing the cuts from the old ones. Signing that lease, living with the four souls in our home, going to my hometown in Pennsylvania, good conversations, intentionally digging in at my church, working on projects that bring me joy, putting aside projects that steal my joy, choosing home more than choosing traveling, saying no to so many things, so I can say yes to what is most important: sitting at the feet of my good and faithful and kind Savior—the true vine, the true root, the true tree.

Unchangeableness

When the sands beneath my feet shift and I fumble for nonexistent footing, when in every direction there is another soul to disappoint, another person to fail, another fear to face, this is when I need the unchangeableness of God. I am no stranger to failure and no one sets the bar higher for me than I. My name means victor, or crowned with laurel, but I know the wreath will never set on my head. I've kicked it out of the way, refused to beat my body and bring it to submission, to run the race with endurance. I am a loser because I lost before I began.

This is my great sin. I give up. Give over. Give in.

I read in A Long Obedience in the Same Direction a few days ago,

The lies are impeccably factual. They contain no errors. There are no distortions or falsified data. But they are lies all the same, because they claim to tell us who we are and omit everything about our origin in God and our destiny in God. They talk about the world without telling us that God made it. They us about our bodies without telling us that they are temples of the Holy Spirit. They instruct us in love without telling us about the God who loves us and gave himself for us.

And in Somewhere More Holy this,

It's a subtle poison that seeped into her skin, as it does many children. It's acidic, etching into your mind: these good things are not yours to have. If anyone tells you what a fine job you've done, think instead on your failings. When someone gets angry at you, instinctively assume he is right to do so. If someone offers you love, remember that he doesn't really know you. Maybe that's what keeps so many of us running from God--His awful claim to know us, as he peers out from beneath his blood-stained brow, whisper with thirst-swollen tongue that he loves us even now, even as He hangs on his man-fashioned cross. We run away shaking our heads and bitterly chuckling, thinking nobody in his right mind can look into the black hearts we secretly carry in our chests and still love us that way, that we can be lovable only so long as nobody really knows us.

My pastor says it this way:

The enemy is telling you the truth about your sin, but you tell him the truth about your God.

Tonight I read in the book of Hebrews, a truth not about me—because all the things I believe about me fail me time and time again. Tonight I read of his unchangeableness:

In the same way God, desiring even more to show to the heirs of the promise the unchangeableness of His purpose, interposed with an oath, so that by two unchangeable things in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have taken refuge would have strong encouragement to take hold of the hope set before us. This hope we have as an anchor of the soul, a hope both sure and steadfast and one which enters within the veil, where Jesus has entered as a forerunner for us. Hebrews 6:17-20

This is a race I gladly lose, a forerunner I gladly fall behind, and an anchor amidst the shifting sand.

Held Fast: for the ones who cannot hold fast themselves

design (1) It isn't so much that I feel he will let go of me, but that I will let go of him. That I will grow so discouraged with repetitive mistakes and ambles into sin, that I will lose sight of the Most Glorious and fix my eyes on the lesser things. It creeps in inopportune ways and places, times and moments. It snags itself on my heart and won't let go, a constricting weakness—an oxymoron if there ever was one. I know I am certain and sure in him, but only because I know HE is certain and sure in himself.

It is comfort, then, that it was Jesus himself who prayed for Simon Peter, that his faith would not fail. Jesus knew what waited for Peter on the other side of things and it was not a life without sacrifice. Jesus warred for Peter on his behalf that his faith would not fail.

I am of little faith. From the outside looking in, you see strength and consistency, but the inside of this heart is rotted with the stink of faithlessness and fear, doubt and condemnation, discouragement and self-pity. But Christ wars for me? He holds me fast? He cannot deny himself? This singular note is my only praise:

You will hold me fast. 

We have this as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, a hope that enters into the inner place behind the curtain Hebrews 6:19

. . . . . . . . . . . . . .

A few weeks ago someone tweeted a link to a song called He Will Hold Me Fast and I have been listening to it on repeat. Listen here.

When I fear my faith will fail, Christ will hold me fast; When the tempter would prevail, He will hold me fast. I could never keep my hold Through life’s fearful path; For my love is often cold; He must hold me fast.

He will hold me fast, He will hold me fast; For my Saviour loves me so, He will hold me fast.

Those He saves are His delight, Christ will hold me fast; Precious in his holy sight, He will hold me fast. He’ll not let my soul be lost; His promises shall last; Bought by Him at such a cost, He will hold me fast.

For my life He bled and died, Christ will hold me fast; Justice has been satisfied; He will hold me fast. Raised with Him to endless life, He will hold me fast ‘Till our faith is turned to sight, When He comes at last!

The Questions God Asks

I can't shake the heaviness. It's been there for weeks, months, a year. A funeral shroud. "Where, oh death, is your sting?" Oh, it's here. All here. I've been thinking of Mary in the garden these days, weeping by the tomb, the empty tomb. Standing by the evidence that her Lord had risen and she didn't even recognize the man who asked, "Why are you crying? And whom do you seek?"

But he knew.

And that's what I'm stumbling around all these days. He knew and he still asked. She sought him dead in a tomb and found him raised in newness of life, and still mourned. Couldn't help but mourn because what she wanted most in the world was gone.

Foresight is the luxury of the hopeful.

Tonight one of my pastors said the same word for steadfastness in Titus 2 is the word for hope. How often is my steadfastness directed toward lesser hopes though? I set my face like steel, my heart like stone, and will accept nothing less (or more) than my savior exactly where I saw Him last.

Why are you crying and whom do you seek?

And then:

Why do you seek the living among the dead?

When I look at the sprawl of this past year, the death of hopes and dreams and plans, every thwarted hope, I'm trying to sort through all the loss and find one living thing. One shred of life among the dead. Like Lot's wife, I take one more longing look at the loss. Hoping for what? Steadfastly searching tombs for a savior who will always be seven steps ahead of me?

Where are you and why aren't you where I saw you last?

Today I read, "In the new age of the resurrection, the Lord's first words to an individual person were to ask, 'Why are you crying?'" And then I wept. Because all I have felt like is faithless Mary at the empty tomb for weeks, months, a year. Begging my eyes to be playing tricks on me. But never have I noticed the first words Christ spoke were words of acknowledgement, "Why are you crying?"

Because he sees.

It was Mary who did not see and it is me who does not see. But he sees. His steadfast (hope-filled) love endures forever. And he sees.

And then he calls her name: Mary.