Saturday, February 15, 2014

Rest

When you skip two "days of rest," what do you get in return? 

For me, it's a list of priorities that starts to read more like a web than a list, and a deafness in my ears that prevents me from hearing His voice: knowing what to do first, or just, in general, what to do. This morning, I kept hearing, Do what you think you shouldn't. 

Make juice.

Stretch.

Take a nap.

Boil an artichoke.

Watch a movie. 

Write a blog, slowly, peacefully, with your eyes looking past the computer screen at the leaves shaking under heavy rain, the washing that I've brought upon creation today, the weather I've made to keep you inside, soothed by the white noise of My power. 


I stayed in bed after waking, and I finished reading Exodus. The ending was hard for me, and I found myself detaching, skimming, wishing it was over, and skipping days. I was agitated by the instructions the Lord gave to Moses and His people because they felt too parallel to the work that I had to do this week: the on and ons of details and chores and busyness, busyness, busyness. 

Here I am, stuck to the web that is my commitments, desperate for God to turn it into a list of things that I can check off one by one, and I'm reading His voice on the page, His voice commanding every little detail of the work for the Tabernacle, and I'm jealous of His meticulous instruction given to this ancient people. I'm desperate for Him to tell me what to do, meticulously. All the while, I realize He told me chapters prior, to take a break, and I've been ignoring that. I've been starting each day with a naive sense of my own strength.

After a week of chewing on this, I can finally feel my heart ripping open, and I am ready to repent. For my obsession with success, and my concern with the opinion of others. My incessant pursuit for praise and my unwillingness to be still, for even a moment. I know I should concern myself with His approval alone, and this is something that I have never found to be easy. 

There I am again, stuck to the web of my commitments with my hands and feet unable to pull away. And I'm trapped and vulnerable, but I also feel light and suspended like laying in a hammock, swaying back and forth. 

So, I close my eyes. 

Rest a while. 

Trust in Him to fill me up and set me free, in time. To take away my shame. 

Because He told me once, as we were running along the beach and playing in the sand, that I could build the biggest, most fantastic sandcastle, but that He could not love me any more than He already does. There is less to work for in this world than I often times acknowledge, and there is so much more to enjoy. His presence. His beauty. Passing in front of me every second of the day. Too often, unnoticed. 


Monday, February 10, 2014

I will never breathe the same.

I'm falling behind on blogging, but I'm catching up on grading, and I'm still breathing :) You win some, you lose some, right?

On Friday, I ended my time at the first ever Washington State Sustainability Conference, and I was so relieved to check out of my hotel and attend the final day of workshops without anxiety looming over me: the fear of sleeping another night alone in the unfamiliar hotel room, on an unfamiliar street, in an unfamiliar city. My time at the conference was challenging for reasons I did not plan for, but most importantly, it was inspiring, and I learned a little bit about how to breathe. 

The lesson began on Thursday, when our opening speakers humbly approached the microphone with quiet voices, asking us to be thankful, to show gratitude to mother earth. Imagine, they prompted, all of the processes, systems, pieces, relationships she constitutes; breathe in slowly, and out slowly, and remember her for all she does to create oxygen for us to breathe. Give back, they urged, and they continued on to remind us that we all share the same air. The gift of air. The gift of now: a time to be alive, to breathe, and to do what is meant for us in this moment.

I spent the time with my eyes closed, thanking God for my fragile life. Thanking Him for speaking to me that morning, through anyone, at anytime, as He had been telling me He would do in weeks prior. As I was praying, I realized so clearly that my breath is not to be wasted: that it will come and go. Its repetition, its daily presence, its miraculous life-giving power should remind me that I can do more than merely breathe while I am here. That His plans for me extend beyond survival

Later in the day, in a workshop, we were asked to clear our laps, to remove our lenses, to silence our cell phones, and place our feet flat on the floor. To breathe in slowly, and out slowly. To focus only on the feeling of air passing through our nostrils, and to conquer all wandering thoughts and distractions as we narrow our focus, hone in on the sensation of air passing through. Sit up straight and breathe in slowly, and out slowly. Because it is calming, because it cultivates attentiveness, and because it opens up the mind for reflection and contemplation.

I'll admit: I twitched. My back hurt. My stomach groaned. But all the while, I breathed, and something about that impressed me: whether I could focus on it, or not. Whether I could calm myself to enjoy it, or not. Because I knew that, no matter my efforts and ability to be still, the God of Peace was as with me as the air that filled my lungs, and that made me smile as I failed.    

In another workshop, the speaker projected images of extinct species on the board at the front of the room. Close your eyes, she invited. Breathe in slowly, breathe out slowly. She said that the air we breathe is air that these animals used to breathe, but will never breathe again. She told us in a soft voice to accept that. To be thankful for them. And to be thankful for all of the animals that are still here, who breathe the same air, and who so desperately need us to defend them. To consider them. I quieted my heart and felt compelled to ask God for forgiveness.

By the end of the conference, I was oddly aware of all the breaths I had breathed and the theme that had unfolded, mostly in the background of the day's highlighted moments. I opened my journal to read a daily scripture, and the words on the page couldn't have been sweeter:
"Breathe Me in with each breath."
Breathe Me in: in times of gratitude, distraction, grief, anxiety, exhaustion, and fear. Be reliant upon Me. Be aware of me in all things, Amber. I couldn't escape it. I kept breathing, and I realized that I will never breathe the same. Because He generously provides every single breath, and He gives His Spirit as readily as the air I breathe. He is standing so close to me now that I can almost imagine we share the same air.

On my final night in the hotel, I was reading from the Bible, continuing on with the year's plan, and I read about Moses parting the waters and traveling through the Red Sea, and how God protected His people from their enemies, saying, "I will pursue, I will overtake them." Moses said of God in return, "But you blew with your breath, and the sea covered them" (Exodus 15:9-10). There I was in the unfamiliar hotel room, on the unfamiliar street, in the unfamiliar city, and I could imagine the breath of God moving with force in all directions away from me, putting my enemies to rest, sending them away for good. That same fierce breath then passed lightly over me: over the embers of my faintly, faithful heart to enliven a small flame or fire within. I "need only be still," You say: to breathe in, and breathe out. 




Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Ugh. Life as a Girl.

I felt like a big girl, driving away in the company car, with the passenger seat empty, the company card in my pocket. I had my map app set to go, and a plan to pass through Seattle early enough to miss the traffic, and the parade, and every other bit of the crazed post-Superbowl frenzy.

It was probably two hours into the drive when my phone started to die and the gas dial began to dip. I stopped at a Starbucks, bummed that I wouldn't make it to Bellingham while the sun was still up. My phone charger barely made the connection to kick start my battery, and when I drove across the intersection to fill up the gas tank, I struggled with the key and the cap for a while. I struggled in the cold, and grew frustrated, wishing frantically that someone else was there with me. I was standing on a foreign street fixated on the sound of five lanes of strangers' cars whizzing past me. I felt inadequate, and helpless, and stupid, and alone.

Anxiety was on the rise...

As the sun set, I neared the exit. And by the time I pulled into the "check-in" lane, the sky was black. Two things, God; I just need two things. First, I hoped, discriminatingly, that there would be a young woman behind the counter to greet me. Instead, I was met by a man. He checked me in as expected, but I couldn't shut down the panic I felt over certain questions like, "One or two?" "One," I replied, regretting my honesty instantly: regretting my fear, as well.

He turned on the heat in my room, showed me the bus stop, pointed me to a parking spot, and offered to help me with my bags. I declined the offer, on the basis that I had only one bag; his daughter, 24, travelled with 3 over-sized suitcases, he said.

The room was warm, clean, empty. I shut the door, and there went the second thing. I was hoping for a chain: no chain. Not even a chair in the room tall enough to wedge between myself and the big bad world. Not even a gun in my suitcase, because I left it at home. And, not even courage. Not an ounce of it. Only a wild imagination plagued by a lifetime of fears, too much CNN, the realities for women across the globe, and the realization that this would be the first night of my life spent alone in a hotel room away from home.

Ugh.

Sometimes, I hate being a girl.

I don't want to dramatize this post. Nothing bad has happened to me, and it's likely I'll drive myself home on Friday night grateful for the opportunity I had to be here. Quickly forgetting the personal trials I faced, yet feeling guilty about how my fears demonized the strangers around me. But, I have to say it again: my fear, however childish, is still rooted in a reality for women everywhere, around the world. And if I can make anything worthy of this moment, I'd ask you to please pray for these women: stolen and abused. Pray for our world. A world in which daughters are not safe, and sons are often feared. Pray that daughters would be brave and smart, despite the world we live in, and pray that sons would grow up to respect women and treat them with sweetness because of the world we live in. That these young men might become generous protectors. Not the bodyguard kind, but the kind who commit themselves to compassion, and who desire freedom from fear for the ones they love.

The kind who are willing to spend most of the night with her, on Facetime, just to make her feel less alone. To help her sleep. To help encourage her to have hope for the morning, even though her fear is irrational. Even though it's time to grow up.


I asked Jesus to join me tonight. To take a seat, please. And I really believe He is with me, but in more ways than one. Because He gave me Eric, too. And while Eric is on the line, working on his computer while I work on mine too, I know that God is up to something. Two posts ago, I found myself repeating these lines from one of my favorite songs: "There was nothing to fear, nothing to doubt." I'm getting there. He's getting me there.

Father, forgive me for my fear. Forgive me that I do not see things Your way. Take fear away from me, and give me Your eyes of wisdom. Your heart. Your strength. Your courage. Your protection. Thank you, again and again, for Eric. 


Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Shut Everything Down

I've had one of those days where your tasks drag you along. Seriously, every punch of a key is a test of my patience because I am over words. Especially the ones that have to be documented, revised, edited, published, uploaded, and dispersed. And especially the ones that have to be read, attentively: emails, essays, blogs. It seems I can't work fast enough, as the list in front of me continues to grow.

But this reminds me of something I've been trying to write down for a while now. A realization, a belief you could say, that has centered me before in times of despair and exhaustion:
It's the understanding that God does not want to be at the top of my priority list;
he wants to be in all of my priorities. 
It's hard to fully grasp the meaning of this. So often it seems as if I'm forced to shut the book, close down the app, walk away, and when I do, it feels like I leave Him behind. Like I put Him on hold, try to hurry through my chores, and feel frustrated when I find myself with little or no time to return. Most hours of my day require my mind to be filled with the words of others: to consider them, fully. How can I even speak a word of my own? How can I hear you in the midst of all of the noise and chaos of a busy life?

I know how healthy it can be to shut everything down and make time for silence.

But I refuse to believe that God requires this in order to speak, or in order for me to realize and feel the power of His presence. I think He is waiting for me to ask Him, instead, to join me in the most mundane, wild, routine, shocking moments of my life. I think He wants me to acknowledge Him as a necessary part of every moment; not an alternative to my moments. To see that any conversation, with anyone, is an opportunity to speak with Him, to hear from Him, to see Him, and to know Him.

I'm trying to learn all of this, and I meant what I said the other day about not being willing to trade my time, my relationships, for the ability to check things off "the list." But the truth is: the lesson is painful. How long until I hand it over? My chores? My weaknesses? My pride? 

How long will it take me to see the world, my life, as Yours: no seams between my time with You and my time awake or asleep?

Thank God, love is patient :)

And, love is kind. 




Monday, February 3, 2014

Breach (a different kind of post)

Today, my iPhone told me to read something different. Thank you, Bible app. You are kind :) 

Yes, I read the Bible on an iPhone. Don't judge!

Since I am taking a break from the Book of Exodus, I thought it might be fun to publish something out of the ordinary for me. A different piece of writing. A piece that I am still working on. 

Breach

I hated the ocean. I loathed its massive, breaking sounds that drew me to the borders between rushing water and wet, dark brown sand. In this place, I would wonder—feet barely following the other, and carrying my empty mind along. The ocean reminded me of the vastness of all that is, of the unknown. And being faced with it, felt like looking at myself and seeing only a deceptive surface. Felt like madness. A shell here and there. A creature spread out, unidentifiable. Living, dying matter, but always the in and out of the tide. Always the noise like the inside of a seashell, and the memories of stealing them from the beach and taking them home, where as a child I would tuck my ear inside with dreams that I might escape my landlocked world.

The oceans here are covered with a thick, yet sheer curtain of wet and cloudy gray sky. I remember reading that early settlers risked their lives in these fogs of the Northwest, as their boats would break against hidden cliffs. They would snap. Cave. Crush the adventurers within. When the fog shows up, I am the captain—blind, anxious to reach the shore, but filled with visions of snapping, cracking, and drowning—dying before I ever get the chance to press my toes into the fine sands, or breathe the air of majestic trees. I am standing on the beach with a pit in my stomach, while my friends, who are sick to their stomachs with taffy and caramel corn, tired from bumper cars, snicker at me from afar. My hood is up over my head. My eyes are on my feet. My head is somewhere else.

But now, something is different.

video

As the icy water rushes over the tops of my pale feet, red polish glimmers in a white sun. I can feel the cold invigorate my body from the ground up, and a piercing energy ignites the dreams that are dormant in my mind. My sails are up. I’m standing on the edge of a cliff, and I am ready to dive into a new pace. I can stand there, with my eyes opened or closed, and it doesn’t matter. Through it all, I can see whales racing to the surface and pulling themselves out of the water into the cool air where their bodies are light for a moment, before they smash back into the depths of the sea. They are always moving. And they know something that I don’t. It is a something that I used to fear—that I was afraid I would not want to know, or would never understand. But now I see myself further out than the borders between rushing water and wet, dark brown sand; I see myself as a speck in the midst of blue, and up close, on the leather canvas of a sailboat. A thin epidermis separates my world from the world of the whales, and I am laying on my stomach full of butterflies with my head over the edge, face down, eyes staring into the white foam that flows from the edges of the platoons on both sides. I’m waiting for a breach of truth; without it, I am dreaming of what it might be. And that alone keeps me at peace while I am here, at the mercy of the wind.




Sunday, February 2, 2014

Nothing to fear. Nothing to doubt.

I'm thinking of V for Vendetta. The image of Natalie Portman with a shaved head, clothed in a sheet-like garment, standing in the rain and lightning, standing on the balcony, with her palms held up in an outburst of rage and release and receipt and freedom. I'm looking down at the notes in front of me. There on the page are plans for my next design project. The lyrics from Radiohead's "Pyramid Song":

There was nothing to fear, nothing to doubt.

The pieces were not intended to go together, but they do. 

And they seem to go together with the Book of Job, too. 

And with me. With my story. 

There was nothing to fear, nothing to doubt. 

If you haven't seen V for Vendetta, stop reading. I'm about to give away the ending, and it's just too good to spoil when you should be watching it instead. The story of Evie and V is challenging. Evie confesses that she is not like her parents were. She is not brave. And V befriends her, then captures her, tortures her, manipulates her, and breaks her down until she faces her greatest fear: death. In the end, she walks out of her prison cell and into V's home. Deceived. Torn. Unafraid. Freed. There was nothing to fear, nothing to doubt. It's hard to know whether to hate V, or to thank him: hard for Evie and hard for us. But we like the person that Evie has become. We crave to feel as she feels. There is a rumbling in our hearts that awakens to the idea, the possibility, that we could be freed. And in the end, she makes her peace with V. She completes his work, even. She loves him. And all of this fulfills the plan. 

It might be dangerous to compare this story to Job's, but don't get too excited. Don't get too nervous or offended. This is just me learning, experimenting, and playing connect the dots to see what happens.

In Job's story, Satan is the capturer, the torturer, the manipulator, and the one who breaks Job down. And God is the one who teaches Job to face his greatest fears in order to free him, and this is why Job cries out in wisdom, "When He has tested me, I will come forth as gold" (Job 23:10). Yet, God is also the one who gives Satan permission: who points Job out, even. And how many of us have, therefore, placed the blame on God for the capturing, torturing, manipulating, and devastating of Job? I know I have. The first three chapters of Job paint a picture of God as a Father who stands back and offers up His "righteous" child as a subject for Satan's temptations and havoc (read that again and tell me why we wouldn't expect that of God, given what we know about Him in the New Testament). But I'll continue. This image of God in the book of Job is far more conflicting than that of V. Because He is God, and not a comic book character. And Job is a man, not a role that can be filled. Job is like us. 

What we determine, what we feel, in response to the Book of Job is essential to our relationship with God. It will define everything. Because in the Book of Job we are warned that "man is born to trouble as surely as sparks fly upward" (Job 5:7). And when trouble comes, will we hate Him, or will we love Him? Will we trust Him? Will we blame Him? 

But most importantly, if V is responsible for the torture and liberation of Evie, who is responsible, between God and Satan, for the torture and liberation of Job? For the suffering and salvation of us all?

Let me pause here to tell you the truth. That I had a plan about what to write. It's sitting in front of me now, and it doesn't look anything like this. Half way through my drafting about V, I broke down. I read what I wrote, and I was genuinely panicked. Who is responsible, between God and Satan, for the torture and liberation of Job? For the suffering and salvation of us all?

I know this debate. I know these conversations. I generally want nothing to do with them, at least not publicly, and I tried as hard as I could not to get into this, but how can I read the book of Job and ignore the one thing that I believe God is trying to make clear?! That God is very, very separate from Satan. That He spares the righteous, just as He has always done: just as He did with Noah and with Lot. But Satan, he torments the righteous. He does not win, by the way. He is weak. He is pathetic. His only hope for victory exists in the chance that we might confuse the evil of Satan with the righteousness of God, as Job and his friends did, and as I so easily do. That we might not know how to feel about God and Satan because we see them as V: a single, foreign, masked, confusion of a character. Where does one end and the other begin?

As much as I have hated the tone of these arguments, and as much as I can sense lies and ugliness on both sides, and as far above them as I would like to be, tonight, I feel like God is calling out to me and asking me to be brave. He is asking me to face these questions because I need you to know, He says. I need you to know the truth about Me. 

I've protested before. I've said that I am fine either way. But I know that I can no longer say these things because I was given this picture of Eric, accused of a crime: I was sitting face to face with him and he wanted me to know that he was innocent. I refused to hear his story. I told him that I loved him no matter what, that it was fine either way. He sank deeply into his chair and his heart was crushed before my eyes. He wanted to be known, but I would not listen to him.

God is relational. He is my Father. And He wants to be known. I have no idea what this will mean months from now, but tonight I am filled with hope that He will reveal Himself to me, and reveal Himself to me, and reveal Himself to me until I have nothing to fear, and nothing to doubt. 

Saturday, February 1, 2014

To the God who gives life.

Let February begin!

January was so good to me. So relational.

Somehow I managed to meet with God, every day. To remember Him. I spent my Mondays at coffee with Chalayn; I spent my Thursday mornings at coffee with friends from work; I spent my Fridays with Eric and Harvard, at the river, by the fire; I spent my mornings in the car, worshipping Jesus and preparing for the day; my afternoons in the classroom; and my evenings, driving, unwinding, and preparing for the arrival home; I spent hours in the office, investing in a job I love and new friendships I am incredibly grateful for; I spent Tuesdays and Thursdays in Jan’s class, admiring and learning, and in Michael’s class, dreaming and designing; I spent evenings and weekends reading student’s stories and ideas, stranger’s blogs, and borrowed books; and now I am spending the weekend with my dad, my cousins, and my grandparents in Walla Walla.

Grandma and Grandpa will be moving into an apartment next week, and out of the only house that I have ever known them in. The walls are bare. Everyone is getting ready for bed.


I’m tired from the day, but alive—full of nostalgia. Today, I sat side by side with my cousins, perusing pictures, laughing, packing, reading, watching YouTube videos.

My dad and my aunt: the only pictures from their childhood. 

Grandma was so excited to show me around their new apartment. I was excited to lean over her shoulder, look upon a black and white collector’s plate, hear stories about her childhood in Denmark, her hometown, the school she attended, the church she attended, her mother and father. I held her Bible in my hands, earlier—a book I didn’t even know they owned, and a book I could not read. But I flipped through the pages, touching foreign words, catching a glimpse of "Jesus," wondering where my grandma comes from. Where I come from. Wondering what she believes.

There is evidence of the beauty and majesty of God all around this house. Especially in the love that my grandparents share. And each night I am here, as I pull the covers over my shoulders, I’m comforted by something that only He can provide. Some sense of peace and truth that does not need to spoken in order to be understood.

I have so many things to complete: a list of to-dos that hovers over me. But as I look back at this month, I can’t say that I would trade any single moment, any single person, for the ability to cross things off of that list. I hate the hovering feeling, but I think Jesus has it under control. I think he’s okay with where I am at, and that I am actually where He wants me to be.

Here’s to a relational February, and to the God who is the master of time—who can draw me in and send me out, and carve out time for me to read, write, work, and play if I trust in Him.


To the God who gives life, and life abundantly, thank You.