manna, cont’d.

I find a strange rest in running.  Some of you might be able to identify with that, while others of you are convinced I just boarded the crazy train.  It’s not a physical rest, obviously, but a mental one.  The moments in which my body and brain take a simultaneous break are rare, so mental rest often demands a payment of much huffing and puffing…and pretending I’m good at running.

A few months ago, I was out struggling – I mean, running, I was out running – and the beauty of my surroundings reminded me of the manna I’ve spoken about before.  Nature was all around me, in song to something way bigger than itself.  Have you ever paid close attention to how things grow in the wild?  The plants all seem to know how to work together to have their own place, even if inextricably mixed together.  I’m lost for eloquent words to describe how it makes me feel, but it really is a beautiful thing to behold.  It’s like a dish with many ingredients mixed together.  Not every bite has every ingredient, and any number of flavor combinations could happen with any given spoonful, but the whole of it is pleasurable in taste.  This path beside a lake and through the woods is full of color and texture and light.  Even weeds and vines are beautiful there.  Is it that the wilderness, in its unintentional, overgrown, tangled beauty somehow reflects my heart?  Is that why my soul feels full of breath and life when I’m in the middle of it?

I thought about creation, and the privilege we have to even look at something that resembles God.  I thought about sitting on my deck in perfect weather, and how God must feel something like that.  I thought about ocean water at heart-level, and how big God is, and how I’m completely swallowed up in something so grand.  I thought about my children, and how they are image bearers of God, and what luck I have to see Him reflected in them.

I remembered a time I was lying in bed, awake, probably taking a few minutes to rest my weary bones.  I pictured my daughter standing at the foot of the bed.  I don’t remember our conversation, but I remember how beautiful she was to me in that moment.  Her head was tilted slightly, making her sweet face somehow look sweeter.  Her hair was hanging down the side of her face, like sheer curtain panels, just letting her eyes be revealed.  It rested on her shoulders, in tousles of gold.  In this unassuming moment, I beheld a part of the King.  She’s beautiful like He is, she is sweet like He is, her hair moves like He moves, she is a refuge like He is.  She was fearfully and wonderfully made, and I get to experience that on a daily basis.  What grace, what manna.

These things I’m lucky to have – nature, my wife, my son, my daughter, music, dance, art, and on and on – aren’t happenstance; they are God on display in this fallen world.  Daily bread – manna – is actually Himself.  How gracious is He to allow us to know even a part of Him?  Even the most amazing wonder of creation that we can fathom is merely a foretaste.  I consider myself blessed to see a shadow of what’s to come; it keeps me seeking.

What’s mind-blowing about this daily bread is that it is what is meant to sustain us.  Fortunately, it is made up of the most beautiful things we could imagine.  Of course the challenge is to remember this sustenance in seasons of drought or famine.  When fear comes to knock, the answer is manna.  When doubt calls our name, our response is manna.  When sadness threatens to drown, our life jacket is manna.  When turmoil comes to battle, our shield is manna.  When need exists, our fill is manna.

In honesty, most of the time I fail to remember this; these sustaining truths slip my mind in the middle of hard times.  But, if I were face to face with the person of Jesus, and He were to ask me “what do you need?”  In light of how lavishly the Lord has given of Himself to me in daily bread, the only answer I could possibly muster is “what I already have”.

 

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Psalm. 

In the chasm between wakefulness and sleep, I often find myself stirring with thoughts that don’t always feel like my own.  Last night I managed to have bouts of full consciousness to write them down.  Given this context, forgive me if none of this short stanza makes any sense.  And yes, some of these words are pulled directly from the Bible. 
Your mercies, they hold me between hems.

Canons of color and sound are the stitches that keep straight the path, 

and though my soul errs to drift, my feet are set with the new dawn –

O, that I would be sure-footed as the deer on the mountainside.

Even at night, Your word is pure, and leads me in the way everlasting.

Narrow is the way to You –

were it wide, would I ever wander.

Take a Bite < Take, and Eat.

I have a food problem.

We have a love/hate relationship, food and I.  Something so fundamentally functional doubles as the arsenal in a battle waged against my emotions.  Identity, success and failure, “good” and “bad” hinges upon simple acts like hand-to-mouth, and mouth-to-stomach.  The very thing that could “win” the battle is what brings my defeat.

I don’t think the fall of mankind was arbitrarily brought on by eating.  Don’t you feel like food goes into the deepest part of you?  Like the bottom of your stomach is the closest thing to the emotions that feel inseparable from yourself?  “Go ahead, Eve, take a bite.”  She was tempted with the lie that she and Adam would become like God.  They believed the lie and ate, and the power button on the idol factories that are our hearts was pressed by the forbidden fruit.  Not ironically, as deep as food seems to go into the depths of me, so does idolatry.

It’s as if the Almighty knew that gluttony and the idolization of food would be the widespread (though under recognized) problem that it is for humanity.  In varying degrees, in varying seasons, most of us (if not all) have relived our first bite of sin.  Don’t we try to self-deify in the moments we emotionally eat, Adam, as if we have the power to fix the mess on our insides?  Don’t we think that we can become omniscient by our own volition, Eve, like we know how to answer our innermost call out to our Creator?  Further, we desperately try to employ the very thing we idolize to fill the void left by the idolization thereof.  Food, the forbidden fruit, will always yield a void.  We tithe to ourselves with food, and we take and take and take, and always end up empty.

This is a picture of what I desire: satisfaction, arousal of the senses, something good, an experience, something emotional, pleasurable, comforting – but it is never enough.  There is a never-ending craving for more and more and more; more of the stuff that isn’t designed to truly fill.  “I’m eating my emotions”, we say.  No, we are eating our death.

But…

Man does not live by bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of Adonai.

“This is my body,” He said, “broken for you.  Do this in remembrance of me.”  The broken body: the one that bore the cross and the wrath of God, that was pierced for our transgressions, that was bruised for our iniquities, that rose again, that is seated at the right hand of God, that came that we might have life and have it abundantly, that made us new creations, that gives beauty for ashes, that tramples over death by death, that has chosen us that we might bear fruit, that died in our place.

“This is my body, broken for you.”  Take, and EAT.  Eat and be satisfied.  Be filled in every way with the fulness of God.  Indulge in a new kind of “full”.  Take in the grace and truth and light offered to you.  Let it go down to your inmost parts, and be true substance and sustenance.  Take and take and take the Bread of Life, and be filled.

Take in the power that defeated the grave.  Take in the Name that makes the enemy flee.  Take in the grace that sets us free.  Take in the love that sacrificed.  Take in the rest for the weary and heavy-laden.  Take in the hope that promises salvation.  Take in the mercy that is new every morning.  Take in the blood that leaves no stain.  Take in the body that brings us to righteousness.

Take.  Take.  Take, and eat.

With a bite we found our death, and with a bite we are given life.
*please know that I write this with sensitivity toward those diagnosed with eating disorders 

 

Word of the Year 2016

This might cause you to think that some of my screws have come loose, but I’m way beyond the point of caring about seeming crazy.  Do me a favor, though.  Read all the way through.  🙂

 

In December of 2015, I had the pleasure of sitting with a dear friend at a wedding reception.  While we were waiting for the wedding party to arrive to the reception site, we spoke in the manner that our conversations usually assume: the “get in there, share life, talk it out” kind of manner.  She told me about one of her colleagues who receives a “word of the year” from God, and that she had taken his advice to listen for her own.  She proceeded to tell me about her experience and encouraged me to ask God for my own.

That night when I laid my head down to rest, I decided to give it a go.  So I’m lying in bed and start chattin’ up the Almighty like “yo, dude, let’s make this happen.  2016 word of the year, lay it on me” and – BOOM – outta nowhere: “perseverance”.

Can we talk about the still small voice for a second?  It’s one of those things that, if you forget about it, startles you upon its return.  I can hardly fathom a whispered word from a God that literally cannot be exaggerated, but it’s exactly what I got.  Immediately I thought to myself “Uh…ok.  Well I’m just gonna wait it out in case that wasn’t it.”  It makes sense that I’d doubt it for a second, because an almost audible word spoken by neither of the two people in the room isn’t something that my flesh usually indulges without a second thought.

I awoke the next morning all excited.  I was thinking “Man I’m gonna be awesome by the end of 2016.  Perseverance?!  I’m gonna be able to handle anything that comes my way.  And not just “handle”, but destroy because I’m gonna be all steadfast and stuff.”

lol.

Let me tell you what perseverance really is.  (Hint: it’s not something to make you more awesome.)

Perseverance is a warning.  If you’re going to have to persevere, it AUTOMATICALLY means that things aren’t going to go the way you want them to.  Persevere defined is “to continue in a course of action even in the face of difficulty or with little or no prospect of success.”  The word itself should’ve signaled an urge to gear up for what would inevitably be a tough year.  I did not see the warning, and I was not ready for what was to come for the duration of 2016.  I should also say, I think “perseverance” carries a positive connotation.  Sure, the implications can be negative, but perseverance is a positive response thereto.

Perseverance is simplicity.  About 8 months ago, my wife and I got rid of 1/3-1/2 of our crap and moved into a house that is 600 sq ft less than the one we left.  It’s been one of the best decisions we’ve made in a long time.  Our daily lives are so much simpler, and the kids are very happy in our current situation.  Our lack of crap and a smaller house has been great in and of itself, but that theme has spilled over into other areas of our lives.  Our theme is simplicity.  It’s been a blessing during this season of perseverance, because so much of the distraction that all the extra usually brings is out of my mind.  It’s certainly full of normal life things, but all the other garbage isn’t taking up the extra mental space I need for pushing through one day to the next.  It’s also the simple act of living each day, each day.

Perseverance is mundane.  I had this notion that I’d be peaking regularly through 2016; that I’d have victory after victory.  It’s not so.  That’s just not how it works.  It’s an incredibly monotonous, daily drift: to wake up with the single goal of putting one foot in front of the other.  There’d be spurts of seeming joy, followed by ten times as much anguish, which ultimately led to stoicism.  I learned that being stoic isn’t the most ideal way to live, but it was the only option I had for success at taking one step at a time.

Perseverance is to look directly in front of oneself.  This one is twofold.  First, if I looked directly in front of myself, I could get a grip on what I needed to do to drift through the current day to the next.  “Make it to work” or “make it to the gym” or “make it to nap time” or “make it to bed”…thinking too broadly doesn’t serve most of us well when in the middle of trials, because it scatters everything on “the list” (ugh, the list – I hate the list) into a widespread mess that is too hard for us to keep together – simplicity, remember?  Second: when I look directly in front of me, I see the things that give me life: my wife, my kids, my house, my couch, my dog, my kitchen, my open curtains to the sunlight…  When I’ve made it to the rocking chair to rest my body and mind, these things and more serve as a reminder to keep going.

Perseverance is trusting your loved ones.  My wife, who walked with me in 2016, was a constant support and helpmate.  In my most vulnerable year ever, I had to trust her with every burden, and she didn’t waiver in that support.  (By the way, THIS is what it looks like when a wife “serves her husband”.  I am forever grateful, and hope to reciprocate the same service in the same manner when needed.)  I placed a similar trust in some family members and friends as well.

Perseverance is hanging on by a thread.  It’s knowing that this day will end, and I will wake up tomorrow.  It’s trusting that the thread will not break, and that if I hold on for JUST a little bit longer, I’ll make it to solid ground.

Perseverance is reaching your hands heavenward and saying “Jesus, this is me clutching the hem of Your garment.  Give me something.”

Perseverance is deep, calming breaths at 3 AM that lull you back to sleep.

Perseverance is living second by second if necessary; closing your eyes and knowing that right here, right now, everything is okay.

Perseverance is letting the tears flow, when weeping is might seem like the only hope you have for numbing the pain that brokenness brings.

Perseverance is, to paraphrase Watchman Nee, to keep my hand on the plow while wiping away those tears.

But…

Perseverance, I believe, is a promise.  2016 was the “year of undoing” for me.  Or maybe it was more like deconstruction.  Actually, you know what?  On third thought, it was probably the year of destruction.  [Not to worry, though.  I’m okay.  My family is okay.  We are not in any danger.]  I had a dream recently about a giant statue falling to the ground, leaving a crumbled mess of broken stone.  That’s me after 2016.  It would be impossible for me to forget this year, because the struggles I was up against were the hardest I’ve endured.  (Also, I’m not going to tell you what they were, so don’t ask.  I love you.)  Yet, the stone that’s now lying in a mess all around me is a hint of a hope to come.  Once everything is a mess, the only thing to do is rebuild…restore.  I cannot believe that all of this perseverance was for naught.  There has to be something at the end of it, even if that thing is seeing the fruit of what I suspect will have been the most shaping year of my life thus far as well.

So, onward.  Though I could possibly find an answer one day for all the struggle, the perseverance won’t stop now.  It was merely being developed over 2016 (though maybe not quite so “mere”.  Perseverance wouldn’t be necessary if things weren’t dire.)  I’m going to keep persevering to the restoration.  And I have good reason to…

In December 2016, on the EXACT date I received my word in 2015, a new word was spoken  to me (audibly – it’s the craziest thing) for 2017:

Rest.

The promise is real.  So now I will persevere to rest; to find where rest is and what rest means.

Rest is, after all, where restoration begins.


[for bracelets like the one pictured, visit mudLOVE]

 

To be completely honest, I’m not sure why I wrote this, especially since I’ve chosen to keep my circumstances concealed, other than for the hope that maybe it’ll help someone who feels like they’re in the throes of hardship.  Also, if you can resonate with anything I’ve said, please let me know; kinship can be a huge relief for the struggling.  Try to listen for your word, too, and if you have one, tell me what it is!  Let’s talk about it!

manna

I see you.  I know – I KNOW – it feels like you’re on an island while you’re stumbling your way through a life you never thought could be this hard, but I see you.  You’re not alone, and I’m there with you. 

Being an adult is the actual worst.  My life is not my own, and burden of sacrifice that’s been bestowed on me is far more difficult to bear than I could’ve imagined.  Wouldn’t you agree?  Work, family, and the never ending task of balancing the two takes almost 100% of ourselves, and most of the time the things that give us life are not a part of this equation.  When we have no choice but to put our heads down and pull the cart, we can’t see the things (often right in front of us) that fill us.  

I began to realize this about a year ago, and with many successes and failures between then and now, I started noticing small things – little gifts – daily bread – manna, if you will – that enrich my life.  Sometimes, if I pay close enough attention, I see that they surround me.  They’re constant, and many times are things I take for granted, to sound cliché.  

These are part of the manna in my life:

– a full moon, low on the horizon

– climbing into a bed of clean sheets 

– the first sip of wine, from a bottle that’s just been opened

– a rare few moments of being the only one in the house who’s awake in the morning

– the scent of a gardenia

– the way my daughter’s hair hangs at the side of her face and rests on her shoulders 

– standing chest-deep in the ocean

– showering with the window open

– the sound of an overnight rain on the roof

– the gradual awakening that coffee brings

– hearing people sing in perfect harmony

– warm weather with low humidity

– my son’s belly laugh 

– the feeling I get after a good workout 

– natural light coming through my windows 

– watching someone who’s really good at something do that thing

– when trees finally show their leaves after the winter 

In these ways, I am rich, and my life is full.  Even when my circumstances seem impossible, my daily bread remains.  I’m blessed to be able to experience these small delights every day, and am coming to know that the small delights is what big joy is made of.

So I encourage you to keep your head down and press on, but keep your eyes open.  There are blessings all around you.