A Reminder of Goodness

Jesus, you are the feeling of lying on a boat under the sun on Memorial Day, a fresh Capri-Sun in your hand and the taste of oranges on your lips.

You are climbing into bed after the most exhausting of days, the way the blanket welcomes you in like a mother with a gentle hug, how sleep cradles you into rest, how dreams tickle you hello.

Jesus, you’re the freedom of dancing in circles, knowing when you fall the grass will catch you and the clouds will spin along with you.

You’re sitting across the table from someone you love so much your stomach hurts, and that feeling in your chest as you watch them eat and wonder how slurping spaghetti could look so perfect.

You’re my mom’s arm stretching out in front of me every time we slam on the brakes, that strength that keeps me safe in the face of possible calamity.

Jesus, you’re the warmth of my cat curling up beside me like I’m the only person in the world she wants to sit with.

You’re a fresh cup of coffee that wakes my brain up and dries the foggy corners of my mind, how morning can feel like a fresh start, the way a coffee shop can feel like a separate universe where you’re allowed to slow down and breathe for a moment.

Jesus, you’re everything good that ever was or ever will be. You’re creation itself, you’re the sun in all its splendor and the moon in all its beauty and the wind in all its might.

You are everything good that ever was or ever will be. Help me remember that creation is in you, goodness is in you. It is all you.

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Smash the Mirror

I picture Jesus cupping my face so often. My cheeks rest in his hands and he makes me face him, our eyes aligned. He speaks truth to me there, says things with emphasis to try and make me believe them. It feels a bit like how a Grandma looks at you, like you’re precious and she needs you to understand it, like she’d give you anything you asked for because this face in her hands, this face, lights up her entire day. I think that maybe Jesus feels that way about me. I think maybe he looks at me and mourns a bit because I look in the mirror and wonder why I didn’t try harder today, I look in the mirror and think that I failed again. So he tries again, he pulls my face away from that mirror and makes me stare at him, tells me again how much I matter. He tells me that he made me to matter, he made me with purpose, and nothing I do or don’t do can change that. I usually believe him for a moment, get teary-eyed and nod and we hold each other, but the next time I’m in front of that mirror I forget. I can’t possibly matter, I didn’t do any cleaning today, I didn’t read enough for school, I didn’t show enough love, I got angry at my customers, I watched too much TV, I didn’t pray enough. How can someone with so many flaws matter? How can someone that needs medication to think straight matter, really? I only matter when I’m properly medicated and I’ve had enough sleep and my mind is thinking straight, because that’s when I can actually contribute to the world.

And he comes and cups my face again. He stares into my eyes, an intensity in his own. He says, “I died for you. I died for you when you watched too much Netflix. I died for you when you yelled at your sister. I died for you when you cursed at a passing driver. I died for you when you slept all day. I died for you when you contemplated suicide. I died for you when you lusted. I died for you when you hated others. I died for you with your bitterness, your brokenness, your pride, your shame, your flaws and imperfections. I didn’t die for a perfect person—there would have been no point. I died for you because you need me. Look at me.

Help me look a little longer, Jesus. Keep holding my face so I can’t turn away. Can we smash the mirror? Let’s smash the mirror. I just want to look at you.

#Write31Days – Days 14-16

1/14/18 – “Aware”

On an average day I’m so aware
of my hips and how they fold
gently over the top of my jeans,
or my eyes and the way they’re
disproportionate to my face
if I don’t wear the right makeup.
My head goes through all the reasons
I’ve been a bad friend this month,
chastises me for my impatient driving,
and how I don’t give people grace enough.
I’m constantly criticizing
the amount of time I spend on netflix,
the hours I wasted when I could have been
cleaning
exercising
calling my mom
writing more
reading all the books I spend my money on.
I think, I’m a terrible sister,
I didn’t ask them how their days were,
or my husband must be sick of me
leaving dishes in the sink and
always seeking validation.
I’m so aware of
all my mistakes,
the ways I could have done better,
where I fell short of perfect.

But on the days I seek Jesus
I’m so aware of His love for me
that I forget everything
except the cross.

1/15/18 – “Move”

He said,
you can move mountains.
but what about
the pebble in front of me.
can we just start there?

1/16/18 – “Little”

“Tell me about when you were little,” he said, half his voice muffled by the pillow. She groaned. “No, come on,” he pestered, laughing, like somehow even her defiance was funny.

“What’s there to tell?” She turned, meeting his eyes. Something in them said he’d take any story she gave him, like his desire for her didn’t end with her body. It scared her, but still she started talking.

“When I was little my mom took me out a lot – she hated being at home. We’d go to the farmer’s market and she’d feed me fresh peaches to keep me entertained while she’d flirt with the vendors. We’d drive 3 hours just to go to an art festival, even though we never bought anything. I was always bored after 15 minutes, so my mom made up stories to go along with the weird paintings. There was a reoccurring character – Ricardo the horse – why do so many people paint horses? – and I loved him so much she bought me a stuffed animal of him. At night we’d visit the pond by our house, sit on park benches and eat the bread that was meant for the ducks while we looked at the stars. She didn’t know any of the constellations but told me names for them anyway. I think she had whole galaxies made up in her mind, and she’d visit them whenever we had to stay inside.”

She blinked, looked back into his eyes.

He looked away.

#Write31Days – Day 9

1/9/18 – “Post-It”

Post-it note sized
reminders of why it’s good to be alive

i. the smell of the ocean
lingering on your body
salty kisses
stuck in your hair

ii. the crunch-sound leaves make
the liberating sensation as you jump in a pile
and it catches you
like your mom used to
when you were lighter

iii. fingertips sliding along your bare skin
like ice skaters
goosebumps shoot up like ice flakes
and under your skin there’s
the warmth of a fireplace

iv. the way a body curves
its hills and valleys
how skin stretches to hold us
no matter our shape

v. words and their endless material
the infinite universes out there
waiting to be created
and the gift we all possess
to make them

vi. I’m so loved;
when my phone rings because my mom is calling
when he rubs my back for no reason
when I sit across from a friend with coffee in our hands
when Jesus came and hung on a tree for me
the love swells and
no post-it note can contain it

#Write31Days – Day 3

Author’s Note: This one is for C.S. Lewis (Clive), one of my favorite authors and people. He wrote the Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, and naturally that’s the only place my brain could go when I read the word of the day… Hope you enjoy!

1/3/2018 – “Wardrobe”

I looked over at old Clive
his hands nursing a hot cuppa
(a bit of borrowed British lingo)
and my curiosity got the better of me.

“A wardrobe, huh?”
I questioned.
His thoughtful eyes met mine,
eyebrows arched, amused.

“A wardrobe, yes.
Haven’t you ever wondered what
goes on in closets when we aren’t looking?”

I smiled,
brought my oolong tea to my lips.
“Doesn’t that beg the question, then—

whose wardrobe are we in?”

We Dance

Inspired, in part, by Stefanie Gretzinger’s We Dance.
Sometimes I picture myself dancing with Jesus. The other day, during a church service, I nervously wondered if I was wrong to do so. Was it weird, that I pictured dancing with the Savior of the world? Then, in that same sermon I sat in, my preacher specifically said that Jesus wants us to be so close to Him it’s like we’re dancing. And he said it casually, not knowing that through him Jesus was speaking to me. He said, He wants us to be so in step with His ways that we move along with Him in a dance. And I smiled. Because Jesus loves dancing with me so much that He sent words down just to reassure me. So, I decided to write down how it feels to dance with Him. Of course, Jesus sent all these words, too.

I step up to Him, a ball in my throat. The toes of my shoes hit His and I mutter an apology, because we haven’t even started and I’m forgetting the moves. He shakes His head, that same serene smile on His face, and says, “Just follow me.” There’s a weight on my chest that my heart seems to be trying to pound away. He takes my left hand in His, pulls my right hand onto His shoulder, and holds me close. He smells like earth. Like waterfalls. Like air so fresh it hurts your lungs. It instantly stills my heart, calms my breathing, sets my mind in a place that feels like swaying on a hammock under a sea of stars. Suddenly, we’re moving, and I don’t know how but my feet know exactly where to go and my body doesn’t hesitate as it glides along with Him across the room. My thoughts fall away as the wind slides around our spinning forms, and this is life, this is life, this is being alive.

He’s teaching me the motions as we go, never faltering when I am a moment too slow, picking up the pieces of my mistakes without a second thought. I don’t feel ashamed when my mind stumbles and my feet follow suit. In that instant, He lifts me up, places my feet on His and we continue to swing. My slipups do not faze Him; He’s too perfect for them to affect His dance. As the song tiptoes upwards, the beat rising, the power resonating, a laugh tumbles out of me, so sudden it surprises me. He looks at me, grinning, as though my laughter we more melodious than the music to which we sway. And laughs. And that laugh is like a baby’s, like the sound of hope and wonder and enchantment and any good, new, fresh floating feeling I’ve ever had in my life. In His laugh I see my happiest memories sweep through my mind, and my body shakes with more laughter, with pure delight. I’ve forgotten that we’re even dancing. And this is joy, this is joy, this is being alive.

The longer we dance, the easier it is to predict His movements, to know where we’re headed and when. It becomes mindless, this dance, this togetherness, and I wonder how it is possible that I should become one with the One. I think, I am not a dancer. I have not put in the practice, the dedication, to deserve this intricate knowing of motions and melodies. I have not earned the right to be His partner. And, as though reading my thoughts, He pulls back to look at me and mutters, “No, no.” In a flash, I am blinded. The room falls away, the music fades, I lose track of my feet.

I see myself, four years old, playing in the grass of my old backyard. I am lizard-hunting, and as I watch my fat, happy fingers fishing for reptiles, a wave of powerful love slams into my gut. A love I’ve never known, a love incomparable, indescribable, and that love is for four-year-old me, who knows nothing and deserves nothing. I’m so ignorant of it, this love that could tear down cities with its ferocity. But something echoes within me and I know, it’s always been there; this adventuresome girl is followed around by a love bigger than the universe itself.

The memory is traded out and I’m a puddle of pain on the floor; I’ve been hurt, used, violated, at only twelve years old. I can still feel the love billowing inside of me, but atop it is a vicious anger, a roaring lion eager to defend and avenge. Twelve-year-old me is loved with a protective fire, ready to burn all who harm her. I am in awe. Nothing can match this love; a mama bear seems docile in the face of it. It is a five-car pile-up of screeching anger, it is tornadoes ripping up fields, it is an earth-shaker that would destroy everything for little twelve-year-old me to never have been hurt.

A new scene emerges: I’m older now, a wizened veteran, familiar with wounds of all kinds. But still the pain roils beneath the surface, and in this moment its burst forth; I sit alone in my car, as though the windows are a wall shielding me from the outside world. And the sobbing seems like it will never end. But surrounding that young woman, that little girl, I see ethereal arms. They hold me tenderly, but with a steadiness that promises to never let go. And I am struck by a whirlwind, a torrent of complete adoration, of heartbroken torment. And I know: the love is sobbing with me, sharing in the sorrow. I am so universally, eternally not alone. Where I ache, it aches. Where I tremble, it trembles. It refuses to let me bear the wounds alone. That love nearly brings me to my knees. It is a rising flood, covering everything. It is a powerful hurricane, unstoppable, ripping through all my fortresses, all the lies, the shadows where I hide, and the fears that keep me crawling away. It is a love that will not fail. It refuses to give up until its staring me in the face, wiping my tears away, calling me home into its embrace.

My sight slowly returns, and we haven’t missed a beat. My face is swimming with tears. Weighed down with that hurricane love, I hesitate to meet His eyes. I know what I will see there. In them is certainty, is eternity, is a roaring lion that will never stop His pursuit of me. I am seen. And I am known. And this is love, this is love, this is being alive.

We dance.

Hi, My Name is Carla and I’m A Flesh-aholic

I’m no stranger to the Alcoholics Anonymous program. Not because of any struggle of my own, but because of the struggles of some of those whom I love. I went to meetings somewhat frequently as a teenager, to the point where I became comfortable enough to speak up and join the conversation. I used to say, “Hi, I’m Carla, and I’m not an alcoholic.” This always earned a soft tide of laughter.

addictionFor those of us who have never struggled with an addiction to something like drugs, alcohol or sex, it’s really easy to feel—consciously or subconsciously—like we’re a lot better than those who do. For those college students reading this, you look around at your fellow high school graduates and think, “Man, I may not be passing all my classes but at least I’m not passed out drunk every night like Suzy Q.” Any of the moms and dads reading this, you might find that you give yourself a little pat on the back when you find out that Richard has a drinking problem, or Zoe got addicted to the pain meds after her surgery, because at least you and your family don’t struggle with those things. I mean, let’s be honest, we think about alcoholism, drug and sex addiction as the BIG no-no’s, the taboo-iest, the dark alley that WE’D never go down. I’ve had those same thoughts myself, plenty of times. When I first became a Christian and the Holy Spirit would tap me gently on the shoulder to remind me of the guilt I felt over my own sins, I would always tell Him, “No, Spirit, it’s fine. I’m not out drinking every night, I don’t have sex with random guys…we’re good.” I wrote off my own struggles by looking back on those AA meetings and thinking, “At least I’m not that bad.”

Which brings me to my real point in this post. I may not be an alcoholic, but that response—that looking at another person as if I know their very soul and thinking, “Well, at least I’m better than they are,”—proves that I am an addict. I’m a flesh-aholic. Because only someone addicted to pacifying their fleshly desire to feel good about themselves, to feel better than others, would think such things. But we’re all flesh-aholics, aren’t we? fleshweakThe Bible says that our flesh and the Holy Spirit are at odds with one another, because they desire opposite things. Because of this, “you do not do what you want,” (Galatians 5:17). It also says that we are SLAVES to sin, which is the gratification of the flesh. Slavery sounds a lot like addiction, yeah? If you’re still not convinced you’re a flesh-aholic, consider the following verse from Galatians 5:19-21: “Now the works of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, moral impurity, promiscuity, idolatry, sorcery, hatreds, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish ambitions, dissensions, factions, envy, drunkenness, carousing, and anything similar.” Now, most everyone I know has struggled with envy, anger, hatred, selfish ambition, and idolatry (Yeah, dudes, football counts—anything you place above God counts. I’m pretty sure I idolize my cat, actually…I should pray on that), so even if you somehow have managed to stay away from the sexual immorality aspect of the list, you’re still a flesh-aholic.  (The first step, in case you didn’t know, is admitting you’re a flesh-aholic. Some of us may simply need to start there.)

But I’m not saying these things to bring any of us down. Actually, my point flows back to those Alcoholics Anonymous meetings I used to go to. If you don’t know what the program is like, the gist of it is addicts coming together for hour long meetings where they share their struggles, share their lives, and encourage each other to keep fighting the good fight of sobriety. Meetings can be found around town morning, noon, and night, so depending on the difficulty of your day you could go to three or go to one. Most addicts truly dedicated to recovery go at least three times a week, but I’m pretty sure that once a day is the goal for most. The purpose of the meetings is to reset your mind, remind yourself of your goal of continued sobriety, but most importantly to remember that you are not on the journey alone.

But meetings are not where the program ends. Listening to the same people talk about their personal lives and struggles nearly every day creates some pretty significant bonds, and from that most addicts find a community, a family. They find lasting relationships that go beyond the walls of the meeting house and flood into lunches, coffee dates, desperate phone calls for encouragement…someone to sit beside when the shadows roll over and running back to the addiction feels like the best option. You get a sponsor, which is a glorified (and much more dedicated) accountability partner, who is wise in their experience battling the addiction and graciously devotes their time to helping you through the 12 Steps. The 12 Steps are all about facing the obstacles that can stand in the way of sobriety in a practical, introspective way—and, incidentally, they require the help of a Higher Power to get you through each of them. The goal is really to learn how to live your life better, with honesty and truth and freedom. Freedom from the addiction and all the tiny ways it tricked you into slavery.

meetingtogetherSo I was doing the dishes this morning, thinking about all of the different Christian study groups I have the opportunity to be a part of. I’ve just joined one on Mondays, my husband and I are hoping to begin attending one on Tuesday nights, and I have the opportunity to go to another on Thursdays. I was considering how much time this would take up, the many hours I would lose snuggling my husband while dutifully bingeing Parks and Rec, when I considered something. My mom and stepdad go together to AA meetings several nights a week, and it’s not something they consider optional. I’m sure many times they would rather be vegging in front of the TV, but they’ve learned through painful mistakes that the sacrifice is quite worth it. And this made me stop for a moment and think: how much stronger would my faith and my fellowship with other Christians be if we treated our Christianity like an Alcoholics Anonymous community? And how much better at fighting my flesh addiction would I be?

The first century Christians, I think, knew that we are all flesh-aholics. In Acts 2 we’re told that “all believers were together and held all things in common (v. 44).” In fact, “Every day they devoted themselves to meeting together in the temple complex, and broke bread from house to house. They ate their food with a joyful and humble attitude, praising God and having favor with all the people (v. 46).” They met together daily? And had all things in common? They went to each other’s homes and ate together? That sounds a lot like a community of addicts who know that they need constant encouragement, honesty, and togetherness to be able to fight against their addiction.

I’m picturing the church. It’s not a building where people come once a week to hear one person give a speech, ignore one another, and then leave and pretend it never happened (that’s called a college lecture, people). It’s individuals who know each other intimately, who are humbled by their mistakes and share everything with one another, including their struggles. It’s people who know that if they don’t sacrifice things like personal free time or personal privacy, that their addictions will win and they will lose it all—people who have the proper perspective of what is most important, because they remember their life before this change, they remember who they were and they never want to be that person again. It’s people who, when their friend starts to forget who they once were and begins giving into it again, are unafraid to step in and remind them; unselfish enough to sit beside them and fight the battle together. People that will give a huge piece of their life to a stranger who needs their help, who will choose to mentor that person through healing, understanding, and growth that only comes from God. It’s individuals who meet together often, even daily, to share life together and build each other up because they know what it looks like when they try to do it alone. And in this Godly community, the fight for sobriety somehow gets easier.

It’s a punch to the gut when you realize that the people you used to look at and say, “At least I’m not that bad,” have a more Christ-like community than your own Christian church does.

So here, allow me to start the meeting: “Hi, I’m Carla, and I’m a flesh-aholic.”