From the Basement

July 14, 2010

The Light in the Tension

I haven’t been posting regularly due to a two-week excursion in which I visited various family and friends in four different states. Five modes of transportation, one great lake, and countless cups of coffee later, I’m a little tired but mostly rejuvenated.

Curiously, though, I’m not feeling rejuvenated in my writing. This is a really strange sensation. I wrote a lot at the first lake I visited (the “From the Lake” post), but after that… not much. I write longhand on yellow legal tablets, so I spent a lot of time typing up those notes, but aside from that – nada.

I attended church this last Sunday with my boyfriend’s family (the last stop on the trip). During the sermon, the pastor briefly discussed what he called “the tension between promise and fulfillment.” Those of you who have been reading can certainly understand why this phrase appeals to me; you’ve read my thoughts and prayers as I learn to negotiate the teeter-totter that is unemployment/contentment. But over the last two weeks, I’ve shared that information with a lot of people and, honestly, I’m a little burned out. I’ve spent so much time explaining that I’m focusing on my writing that I’m… err… not focusing on my writing.

These conversations have stoked the fire that is expectation. Expectation is one of those double-edged swords – on the one hand, it’s good to have goals, expectations, hopes, and dreams. But on the other hand, those expectations can turn into little monsters, things that make us cower in the corner because they seem too big. And I’m going to quote Nelson Mandela, who quoted Marianne Williamson:

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us.

Sometimes, I’m as afraid of the work it will take to achieve as I am of total failure. It’s the tension between promise and fulfillment. For example, I know I will finish the novel I’m writing. This is a promise I’ve made to myself that will be fulfilled. But sometimes (like right now), I’m like a deer in the headlights, scared stiff in the middle of the road. My own expectations have spiraled out of control, and as a result they’ve halted my progress, halted my running.

This seems to happen when I forget the foundation of the promise. The foundation is the knowledge that writing is a gift from God. The foundation is knowing that He didn’t give me a gift and a calling only to leave me out in a barren wasteland. When I am centered on him and him alone, and not on myself and worries about success and reaching people and whatnot – in that, there is peace and security and love. There is no fear when we are walking in the light.

Marianne Williamson continues:

We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us.

In Philippians 2, Paul says that we shine like “stars in the universe” in the midst of darkness and depravity. And Jesus calls us the “light of the world.” When we are walking in him, we are walking in the light.

His light in us is the gospel: his love, his mercy, his graciousness, his forgiveness, his faithfulness. And that light is manifested in many ways: relationships, words, actions. Through writing. Through acting. Through dancing. Through singing. Through… (your gifting here).

As the childhood song goes, “This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine!” The song exhorts us as children to not hide our light, or to let Satan “pff!” it out. What a powerful message this is for adult believers. Don’t hide your light – don’t be ashamed of the gospel or of the form ministry takes in your life. And above all, do not be discouraged. As Angela Thomas writes in Do You Think I’m Beautiful?:

In case you have missed it, there is a battle going on. The battle is for your soul. And if your soul belongs to God, Satan will go after your heart and your mind and your passion. You will still make heaven, but eventually he will turn up the fire and try to scorch your dreams, your enthusiasm, and your very life. …. As long as you and I are hauling that stuff around, Satan wins. And I’m so tired of him winning. (180)

Matthew 5:16 says, “In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.”

Lately, my light has been dim. The beautiful thing is, all we need to do is look to the Lord for comfort, renewal, joy, love, peace. We can sing praises over our barren places and watch our Redeemer tenderly and faithfully work that land. What was (or is) barren can be fertile. What feels dry can be watered, renewed. What once was dim can shine anew.

In the tension between promise and fulfillment, there is light.

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May 25, 2010

Choosing Faith

Over the last few days, I’ve asked God, “What do you want from me?” (you know, sort of like the Adam Lambert song). The response every time has been, Faith.

When I was dipping my feet in the pool of abjection, faith seemed like a ludicrous and trite answer to such an enormous question. But really, in reflection, it’s the only answer that makes sense. It’s the only answer that can give hope.

I worship a God who does not deal in specifics when it comes to answering my prayers. That is, I never get a direct telephone line, “Just wanted to let you know that x, y, and z will be happening today. In case you’re wondering, spend the most time on x!” I trust that, even though I can’t see what’s coming, he knows the specifics; “For you formed my inward parts; you covered me in my mother’s womb” (Psalm 139:13). And from the same Psalm:

O Lord, You have searched me and known me,

You know my sitting down and my rising up;

You understand my thought afar off.

You comprehend my path and my lying down,

And are acquainted with all my ways.

For there is not a word on my tongue,

But behold, O Lord, You now it altogether.

You have hedged me behind and before,

And laid your hand upon me. Psalm 139:1-5, italics mine

My favorite Psalm. Verse five is my favorite: “You have hedged me behind and before, and laid your hand upon me.” A hedge is a form of protection. “Behind and before” implies both foresight and hindsight; he knows the scope and span of a life, of my life, of your life. He knows us intimately, sees the darkness, and protects us anyway.

It’s funny how in the mist of despair, in the midst of temper tantrums, in the midst of anger toward God, we can lose sight of his goodness and faithfulness to us. In my experience, anger and sadness are pretty much inevitable in any relationship, and since we’re human, it stands to reason that at some point, we will be angry or sad with something we perceive God has done/is doing. The danger is that when we lose sight of his goodness, of his glory, we cannot see the light, and if we cannot see the light, then we are in darkness.

I’ve been angry with God and still praised him (“Blessed Be Your Name” is a good song for those times). But this last week was a time when I felt angry, betrayed, rejected, a good for nothing … and there was no light. There was no glory. There was no praise.

A conversation with my mother reminded me that the quickest way out of darkness is praise, because darkness cannot remain in a room where the name of Jesus is being lifted high. She also exhorted me with that verse about the mustard seed and the mountain (Matthew 17:20) and challenged me: can you summon the faith of a mustard seed? Because even a small faith can move mountains in your situation.

In the gospels, we have numerous examples of situations where, by faith, people were healed and – this is crucial – the nature of Jesus was understood. By having faith in who he was and by acting in that knowledge, people were healed. The woman who bled for twelve years and reached out to touch the hem of his garment. The Roman centurion. And various others. They reached out to Jesus, having faith that he was the only one who could bring light and healing into their situation. They opened the door and invited his presence in.

Conversely, fear (among many other things) can cripple the power of an action taken in faith. When Jesus called to Peter to walk across the water to come to him, Peter was afraid and, taking steps in fear, began to sink. “And immediately Jesus stretched out His hand and caught him, and said to him, ‘O you of little faith, why did you doubt?’” (Matthew 15:31). Peter doubted, so he sank, thus preventing the awesome experience that Jesus had called him to. But – and remember this! – immediately Jesus stretched out His hand and caught him. Immediately, Peter was caught by his loving Lord. Immediately, Jesus acted and came to the rescue, catching his friend and pulling him back into the boat to recover. Immediately. Even when we doubt him, even when we’re fearful, even when we don’t believe him, Jesus catches us.

He knows us intimately. His love for us is vast and unfathomable. Even in our failure, he catches us, hedges us – protects us.

And still, faith is a choice. The fact that we choose to believe him or not – the fact that he gives us the option – continues to astound me. Even after salvation, everything is a choice. Prayer. Worship. Digging deeper. Having faith that he will come through in a difficult situation. Having faith that he will heal what has been broken. Having faith for x, y, or z. Opening your bible to read. Choice. At every step, we have the option of choosing him or not choosing him.

When we continuously choose to walk in light, the fruits of the spirit (Galations 5:22-23) are evidenced. While I often remember that patience, gentleness, and self-control are fruits of the spirit (a.k.a., things I have trouble with!), I so often forget that faithfulness is also a fruit. Faithfulness is one of those things that grows every time you choose it. It’s like a muscle; it grows when it is exercised. When we choose faith (or love, or joy, or peace, etc.), it grows. God is faithful to us even we are not faithful to him, but when we are faithful, the reward is great. More peace. More joy. More faith. And hope. Above all, hope.

Jeremiah 29:11-13: “For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, says the Lord, thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope. Then you will call upon Me and go and pray to Me, and I will listen to you. And you will seek Me and find Me, when you search for Me with all your heart.”

May 2, 2010

Acts of Service/Love

Today’s post is in honor of my friend Jenelle, who today will be driving 6+ hours to come visit me in the northwoods of Wisconsin. After spending time with both of my respective parents, we’ll then head back down to the tiny town that is home to my Alma Mater. I’ll be spending 8 days there, joyous days with friends; I’ll also be preparing for a big interview. But, today, I’m grateful to have a friend willing to come up to Wisconsin to get me.

It’s an act of service – an act of love.

I hope that you all have people in your lives who love you. I’ve talked about the love languages before, and let me tell you, acts of service is not one of mine. Just this morning, my mom said that there was a chore she wanted me to do before I went to bed last night. I looked at her blankly and she said, “Well, I just wanted you to feel inspired to do it.” I’m getting better at anticipating her needs, but that sort of inspiration does not come naturally!

I have developed relationships with so many awesome people over the last four years. And a lot of them give through acts of service. There’s the boyfriend, who gives foot rubs whenever he’s asked. Anna, who always gives me a neck/shoulder/head rub if I have a migraine (the first time, she just showed up in my room with lotion, said she’d heard I was sick, and told me to lay down – okay!). Laura and Kayla, who graciously leant me their cars almost every Sunday so I could go to the church where I felt most connected. Emily, Brittany, Mikelle, Annie, Em, Audrey, Chris – and a myriad of other friends who have offered services with or without prompting.

So here’s to the people in our lives who have loved us and been there to do things we didn’t even know we needed. I’m so grateful to God for placing each of those friends in my life, whether or not this is their primary love language, and I can only hope that I love them back as much as they’ve loved me.

Matthew 22:36-40: 36″Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” 37Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ 38This is the first and greatest commandment. 39And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

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