Thursday, February 25, 2010

The Shack (my version)...

I scanned the cramped room... So dark. Damp. Stale.

This was home. A single room shack - six feet by six feet.

The lone cobweb-laden shelf to my left was severely slanted and could hold no books - nevermind that I didn't own a single book - but it was nonetheless mildly adequate to serve as a reminder of what a shelf might be (a lousy one). Indeed, it gave me the feeling of having a shelf. And I'd learned to settle for vague feelings.

The floor was composed entirely of dirt - the dusty kind of dirt that perpetually stirs up from the ground and settles in clothes and between fingers and in every place in which it's least desired. But I no longer thought about the dirt. I'd long ago adjusted to it. If one doesn't think about such things, they really cease to be much of a concern.

Naturally, the shack had no furniture - not even a bench or stool. Between standing, squatting, and lying down in the dirt, my options for positional comfort were minimally satisfactory - which I could accept. After all, furniture only clogs things... Altogether unnecessary.

I ran my fingers over the rough walls. Splinters jutted out from the old, warped wood panels, if they could even be called that. Who really needs insulated, sealed, smooth walls anyway? Not I... I had convinced myself that the frigid drafts, eerie creaks and groans, and lack of protection from inclement weather were all lovely things with which I should be quite pleased.

There wasn't a speck of light in the place, save for the rare brave beams that might momentarily slip through the shoddy wood paneling and illuminate the room in dirtied slivers cast on thin portions of the floor. The subsequent effect was altogether eerie and drab with murky light drooping about in dim beams, being quite subdued by the chilled dark.

But best of all, I was alone in my shack. Just me. Not a soul to throw off my delicate balance.

And all these things constituted my existence.
My world.
My home, as I'd chosen to have it.

I sat in the dark. In the cold. With my crooked, empty shelf, my dirty floor, and my shoddy walls... and I knew nothing else. I wanted nothing else.

My family and friends came to knock on the door of my shack. They invited me to all sorts of lovely parties and socials. Some asked if they might just spend a little time with me. They asked me to come out for just a moment or two. They told me that I'd like it very much outside. I politely declined. A few begged me to leave the shack... to get some sun... to eat a fresh meal... to have a firm hug. I adamantly refused. A select few took the initiative to turn the handle; but they couldn't open the door. It was locked. And I'd left no spare key.

The inquiries dwindled as time passed. And I preferred it to be so. I loathed being bothered in my cramped, dank shack. I much preferred my dirt, my squatting, and my dark in privacy and solitude. And so it was.

But in the silence, came fear. First, as a pinprick - a nagging vise on a small corner of my mind.

Then it grew.

And grew.

I was alone in a world that, if maintained, would wreck me. The dirt on the floor became odious. The slivers became abhorrent. I longed for a book to read on that darned empty, crooked shelf. I craved light - bright, happy, golden light. But my pride kept me from admitting my deep dissatisfaction, my entrapment. After all, this was indeed the precise life I'd wanted. And it was all I'd ever worked for.

But I couldn't delude myself forever. At last, despair overtook fear and shook me hard. I took to crying. Daily. Then hourly. I crumbled into a mess. I stared blankly into the dark.

And finally, I wanted out of the shack. Fiercely.

I crawled to the splintered door and weakly grabbed at the latch. It was then that I realized that the door was locked from both sides. And I had no key. I'd built my own dungeon.

Then I wept. Not a cry... not a sob... But an unimpeded soul-consuming weeping.

I laid my head down on the dirt and surrendered. I surrendered to the fury of the oppression I felt. I surrendered to hopelessness. I surrendered to ravaging despair. And - rising up through these flawed counterfeits of surrender - came the genuine form. It came quiet and soft. It was unmistakably foreign to my heart - a surrender born not of me, but from a Source greater and deeper and sweeter.

It was a painful surrender, but I welcomed the pain as I became increasingly aware of its residence in me. It was the pain of the surgeon's scalpel and not at all the pain of the tormentor's blade.

Then, while I sat still in the dark and damp and dirt, hope gripped my soul.

And I heard one Voice at my door.

A Voice I'd never heard so warmly, so clearly. A Voice that shook my very bones. A Voice that I felt I knew more intimately than any other. Indeed, a Voice that I felt knew me more intimately than any other.

And He spoke of freedom. He offered life... abundantly. But most grippingly, He told me that He loved me, as no one ever had or could or would love me. He told me I need only whisper 'yes' to Him.

So I did.

His voice rang out with joy and He ripped open the door, shattering the lock altogether. Glorious, happy, golden light flooded my tiny shack and, in its presence, the depravity of my 'home' was made painfully clear. Yet He still ran to me. He embraced me. And He wiped the tears from my dirty face.

I love you.

I love you.

I love you.

He whispered it over and over. Then He lifted me, and carried me. "Come home, dear one," He said to me. And through my tears, and in my weariness, I knew He had made me free... Indeed, He was my freedom.

And He became my world.

"If the Son has made you free, you are free indeed."

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Lovity love love. Love.

"If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing." 1 Cor 13.1-3

If I qualify for the Olympic Trials in the marathon...
If I build a wildly successful photography business...
If I travel extensively and experience the world...
If I return to school and obtain my bachelor's and master's degrees...
If I marry a sensational man...
If I write a book and see it published...
If I serve in missions in India or Africa...
If I maintain an impressively intelligent/winsome/deep persona...
If I wholly overcome my flaws and personal struggles...
If I communicate warmly with a vast assortment of friends...

Without love it is nothing - I am nothing. Merely a redundant, senseless noise.

I've been mulling over my life recently. (Um. Duh. Don't we all?) I've been proverbially chomping at the bit to uncover what's next for me. I want to strike gold. I want to hit upon the "one thing" that God has for my life (hence the list above) - the epic adventure, the centrally enthralling purpose into which I can channel my passions... essentially the question nearly all humans grapple with in their early 20's, yes?

And the more I crave to know, the less certain I become. All of my "fallback certainties" are being shaved away: hoping in friends, family, a job, financial security, circumstantial stability, predictability, etc. I don't have a darn clue where I'll be next year. But in the absence of those chaff-like securities, a singular, paramount Security has become fantastically tangible... Jesus' love.

He loves me.

HE loves ME.

A whole gloriously freaking lot.

And I love Him back.

And the experience of His love is teaching me how to prioritize, how to live in the precise moment in which I find myself, how to get out of my own way, how to rest, how to laugh, how to feel deeply, care emphatically, speak gracefully, serve humbly, and dream intentionally.

His love is the beginning, middle, and end. It is the "one thing" I've been hunting down. And, in reality, it has hunted me down.

I feel giddy at the thought that I have indeed hit upon the centrally enthralling purpose for which I live and move and have my being. But, more accurately, I've not hit upon it... He has hit me with the onrushing force of His ten million pounds of delight and freedom and satisfaction and expansive love.

Okay, so that sounds poetic and somewhat exaggerated. But it's for reals. For. Realsies.

It isn't the sort of giddiness of Disney characters who break out into some cheesy, trill-laden melody in the middle of a yard or room while talking animals (serving as back-up singers) weave about in a choreographed dance with goofy grins pasted on their faces. Nope. That's eerie.

I'm talking about the "Why-the-heck-does-my-heart-feel-so-happy-and-free-right-now-when-nothing-circumstantially-has-changed?-Jiminy-crickets-it's-Jesus!" giddiness. Yes, that kind.

The one thing is Jesus. His love. For me. For you.

When His love saturates and satisfies me, my endeavors and words and thoughts and choices and interactions won't be counted as resounding gongs or clanging cymbals.

Nopers. I'll be filled with "the fullness of Him who fills everything in every way."

Amen to that.

"I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge - that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God."


Saturday, February 6, 2010

February 6 is sun-soaked thus far - the sort of morning sun that lights up just the top halves of trees with gold and spreads warmth that weaves its way through the lingering predawn chill. I'm sitting in a guest bedroom - propped up against feather pillows - with a delightfully expansive window, a snuggly bed, clean ivory carpet, and freshly painted, bare walls surrounding me. I'm warm, content, and reveling in that Saturday-morning-lazy-feeling that's so frustratingly enticing on a 6am weekday.

Downstairs, I have free selection for my breakfast - Cheerios, steaming pancakes with syrup, fried eggs, toast with strawberry jam, fresh fruit, coffee, hot tea... All at my unbridled choosing. Or, on a whim, I could venture out to eat, with all sorts of delectable yums to lure me.

There's also the fact that I'm presently typing these words. Here at my fingertips is a lovely contraption -a laptop. It affords me instant connection to videos that make me wee with laughter, news from across the planet, momentary communication with friends, and any nugget of information I might desire - from beneficial to banal.

Should I feel the need to change outfits (hoodie and blue sweatpants fit this moment like a glove), I could do so at least 2 dozen times without re-donning a single article of clothing.

I'm cloistered - padded with ammenities and delights and options and satisfactions. Most call it "blessed." And I'd say that too... in a narrow way.

But right in the thick of these "blessings," I've rubbed up against the sort of raw, real, piercing, aching longing that renders me oblivious to any pseudo-comfort these conveniences provide. Like filling a swimming pool with a teaspoon, I can see straight through their inadequate promises of gut-level fulfillment. An old friend once described himself thusly: He said, "Emily, I feel like this small, real person in the middle of a giant balloon. Surrounding me is puffed up air and air air... and then the massive balloon itself. It looks so large and imposing and sizeable. But the real me is in the middle -a small me... surrounded by billowing piles of nothing, which appears quite large." The idea's odd. But it's spot-on, I think. We live and move in this life much like giant balloons bouncing up against one another. All of that air that's padding and surrounding us consists of movies and television and fashion and chatrooms and parties and internet and iPhones and games and toys and sex and sports and cars and and work and novels and shopping and exercise and gambling and drinking and eating. I could go on. And on.

I'm not indicting all that 'air': it's not the enemy. But the enemy wants to use that air. He wants to use it to lull us into a counterfeit satisfaction that leaves us in desperate need of water but with a disabled thirst mechanism. He wants to fog and muck up our thinking so that we eat (and feel satisfied with) dry puppy chow when we have the capacity and appetite to be feasting on sizzling steaks and berry pies ala mode and pastries and chocolates and cheesy mashed potatoes and bubbly enchiladas.

I do this. I rummage through heaps of trash and trinkets with a fetish to find a Pacific-Ocean-size volume of water to slake my thirst. I play on Facebook when my spirit is hurting. I watch a movie when my mind is gripped with anxiety, weariness, or lack of hope. I expect a friend to satisfy my emotional chasms. I go out to eat when I feel like I have nothing to look forward to. I watch video after video on Hulu when I'm bored and complacent.

Teaspoon by teaspoon I dribble water into a cracked and dry ocean-bed of longing that's the size of the world.

My balloon expands around me, looking so big and full and satisfied. But it's just dead air. I bounce up against another balloon and we primarily discuss "balloon things." ... ie. movies, television shows, sports, food, reputation, fads, jokes, etc. And we both walk away with another puff of helium.

But the empty ocean doesn't lie. It demands more. It tugs at me. It confuses me. Why can't I be satisfied with my friends' love? Why can't I be filled up with good food, good movies, good exercise, good sleep, good achievements, good charity, and good fun? Why do I burn inside for an "it" that is deeper and weightier and meatier?

These questions are for the person inside the balloon. That's the legitimate 'me', surrounded by the expandsive nothingness. I thirst incessantly. I hunger without satiaty. I need - I crave - an inexhaustable reservoir, a delight that won't dim or dull or fade or disappoint or reach its end.

The lame and mute satisfaction that the enemy attempts to lure me into is betrayed by this unsatiable desire. His jig is up. I've tasted what he has to offer, and I wanted something wholly different.

I want the Treasure that is worth flinging caution to the wind, sliding on my shoes, and running like mad after.

I want Passion that sweeps me into itself and satisfies every nook and crevice and corner. I want a Rock. I want a relentless Hope. I want waves of unadulterated Love that will wash over me for eternity.

I want Jesus.

Nothing but Him.

No one but Him.

Only Him.

Take everything else away, and give me Jesus. He my passion, my prize, my pursuit, my pursuer... my pleasure.

He is the cascading, thunderous volume of water that crashes into my barren sea and - in an instant - floods it to fullness with cool, clear, sweet water.

And He is the fullness that fills everything in every way. Apart from Him, blessings are just air. In Him, they are full.

And I find myself in Him.