Monday, March 21, 2016

An Unreliable Witness

Drafter’s Note: This is not an Over My Head postthis isn't about things that are happening to me. This is about the things I can control—my response, reactions, attitude, self—and how I let the world break a little more when I don’t.

There have been some constant frustrations in my life lately that are out of my control. They are fixable, but I am not in a place to fix them, and so my frustration stews and ferments. It turns into something else, even worse than the initial frustration. It’s some kind of magic, but not a useful one.

Frustration isn't new—all of us have those everyday things in our way that we [think we] could dismantle in five minutes were we in charge, but instead they sit. Being. Irritating. And like any other irritant—allergies, bug bites, Donald Trump—the most desirable way to deal with it (avoidance, scratching, one solid slap in the face) doesn't actually fix the problem. Doesn't even address the problem, but just knee-jerk reacts to it. Which is, in fact, just another layer of problem—a smear of mud instead of a Band-Aid. Hardly magic, now that I’m writing it out. Which fits, as my most commonly-used verb these days isn’t “witch” but “wench,” an approved-for-all-audiences substitute for bitch, as in “bitch and moan.” And I list that out because at the end of the day, that’s all it is: moaning. When you get hurt, you make a noise—you cry, you moan—but then you get to work fixing, healing. Moaning is the natural, and maybe even necessary, reaction. But it’s not the fix.

How do I know? Because in the quiet, when I come home, when I don’t have an audience to wench to, those wenchy thoughts start rolling over me:
  Wow, you talk a lot.
  Why did you say that?
  How did that fix anything?
  What is wrong with you?
Because those wenchy reactions I had caused reactions of their own, and like too many waves in an enclosed space, they echo back at me at odd angles and only then do I see the full reflection: That instead of being a peacemaker, a reconciler, a counselor, I choose—a choice, not foisted upon me—to be this whiny, negative, simpering thing.

How quick I am to justify here—so many explanations that start with, “No,” like I’m answering an accuser. I want to list and recount all the offenses against me, but those are the things I cannot help, that are outside my authority. My reactions, how I live, is not. The outside factors that affect me and those around me, we all deal with. But why do I weigh down myself and those around me with all of my mess, too?

Here's why this matters, and why it matters now. Why I’m writing this.

Because this week, I remember and celebrate the strange and beautiful story of Holy Week: of a God-man who could have moved heaven and earth and instead took my punishment, my mess, on Himself so that I could live free of it. Not because I was something special, but because He is. As usual, the math makes no sense to me but I know it works out with no remainder because I've experienced it, I know it to be true. I'm not a victim, as my wenching might claim, but a witness.

No, I didn’t stand in crowds shouting first "Save now!" and then "Crucify!" I'm a witness because that very crucifying of muck and mess that I had, that very saving me and replacing mess with where-did-this-come-from joy and hope—that happened to me, and continues to happen to me.

It happened when I contemplated suicide in my late teens, and again when I struggled with identity and image in my early twenties; it happened when I lost a dad I never remember having and when I sat in an ER and heard "tumor;" it happens every little time I hand over something useless and dark—jealousy, selfishness, deceit, unkindness—and take up something better, from Something other than me. I could be a witness of this, a storyteller of my own personal proved truth.

But my testimony recently cannot be relied on to testify to who Christ is, and what He has done. I have been as bedraggled and messy and negative as anyone else lately, and not even for big justifiable reasons like brain tumors. It's been the little stuff, the daily stuff, the everybody-deals-with-this stuff. And I've proven an unreliable witness because my present day-to-day life doesn't back up my story, my testimony, of who I am in Christ.

We overuse “turning over a new leaf” and the like. And I don’t say that I’ll be perfect at this tomorrow because I won’t be. But I want to be better. I want to be the one people come to with their frustrations and hurts (and joys and jokes), not the one who piles on more. I want to be a witness—authentic and reliable—for hope and optimism and camaraderie. And when they wonder where that hope comes from, I want to testify boldly to Who gets me through my life. And what better time to commit, again, daily, to that than Holy Week?

I was driven to write this. As one of our pastors read yesterday, the Holy Spirit prompted Philip to do something, and he ran to do it (Acts 8:29-30). So while other posts simmer for weeks and months in my head and on my phone, this has gone from prompting to posting in hours. I trust that means there’s a reason for it—and hopefully, prayerfully, not just for me. When the Spirit prompts and the only potential loss is pride, you don’t wait, you don’t even walk. You run.

So this is where the witness confesses.

I’m sorry that I put my pride and self ahead of better things like compassion and peacemaking.
I’m sorry for being another negative voice in the crowd instead of a counter, an alternative.
I’m sorry for not listening, for waiting (or, more often, not waiting) for my turn to speak.
I’m sorry for valuing surface things over truth, popularity over balanced peace.
I’m sorry if this is the first time you’ve heard/read me say Jesus’s name.
I’m sorry if you’ve seen nothing to distinguish how I live from the rest of the chaos.
All of that is on me, not Him.

My shortcomings and failures are mine. Please don’t hold them against others who share my faith—and most importantly, don’t think that my messy, hypocritical self accurately reflects what Jesus is, and what He does. It’s only an indication of how indomitable He is, that He hasn’t given up on me yet. Let me be a witness that He is doing massive things, in me and in the world; that even my present mess can testify to what He’s already done in me, and points to the work He has in mind.

Yet it was our weaknesses he carried;
    it was our sorrows that weighed him down…
He was pierced for our rebellion,
    crushed for our sins.
Isaiah 53:4-5

Saturday, March 12, 2016

Three Lovers, in Brief

"The sight of the huge world put mad ideas into me, as if I could wander away, wander forever, see strange and beautiful things, one after the other to the world's end."
- C. S. Lewis, Till We Have Faces

I can't say what it is about being up here that I love, that puts me at a different ease than anything else. I'm no child, I don't look for fairies or angels. And though it's no spiritual heaven, I wonder if that trips at the reason: that up here I am heavenward, not so much up as away, apart. As a hundred intimates and I plow through perfect white cloud in a little humming machine, the worries and unrelenting questions fall earthward, corralled in the geometries of midwest farmland, diverted into the hollers of the Blues and Smokies, disoriented in the plains and deserts of the West. And I am left with nothing between me and the words that seem to have been waiting for me up here with the clouds.

“While I, haunted by a magic tune,
should know to come in out of the moon.”
Paul Frances Lowe, my grandfather

The moon is a strange fascination, in part for the duration of my love for it. To lie in my dark room and feel its cool brightness even through closed eyes, finding none of the spooky and suspect notions of ancestors... Though these days, I can’t miss that those ancestors believed gazing at the moon caused seizures. Lunatic, indeed. But it’s more than beauty; it’s the wonder and reminder of light in darkness, of the power of reflection, of watchfulness, of fullness, of just being. The moon does nothing special; it just passes something along. And it’s always been a comfort to me, the surest way to slide into sleep and peace.

"For whatever we lose, like a you or a me, 
it is always ourselves we find at the sea."
- e. e. cummings, [maggie and millie and molly and may]

This has circled my heart and clutched at my memory for the dozen years since my fingers first pressed to the verse. Crashing surf or gentle lapping, smooth sand or rocky outcroppings, from land or vessel--the sea brings me home to the girl who wandered beaches instead of streets, who spoke with friends and imagined lovers, who sang into the wind and wondered how far it could carry before the notes dissolved. The sea and I are different every time we meet, but there is a heartbeat in me that finds a syncopated natural rhythm with the waves. Regardless of coast or temperature, the sea steeps me in history, and in the unchanging weight of the everlasting.