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 12

1/12/18 – Five Minute Friday Free Write

I wish my brain would stop
talking for a minute
so I could get a word in

Maybe I’d say something like,
It’s okay if you made a mistake today,
you’re only human,
or,
You’re enough even if you aren’t perfect
or,
Please don’t worry about tomorrow
today has fresh air and flowers and sunlight and
they’re all trying to smile on you
if you’d only stop to notice

I’d say such sweet things to myself
if my brain would let me

#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

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.

How God Feels About You: A Reminder, Courtesy of Pixar

So last night I was watching Pixar’s Inside Out again (because sometimes you just want to make yourself cry, you know?) and I came to the scene where Joy and Bing Bong have just fallen into the Memory Dump. Everything has gone downhill. Joy and Sadness are both lost from “headquarters,” and without them, all Riley (our protagonist whose head we are inside of) can feel is Fear, Anger, and Disgust. She’s also missing her “core memories” which are what make Riley who she is. Without them, she is losing her love for family, friends, hockey, silliness, and honesty. She is losing herself. Because of this, Riley has just decided to run away from home. Joy knows this, but has no way to get back to headquarters to help save the girl they all love so dearly. Riley’s emotions are shutting down altogether, and she is becoming lost in a state of hopelessness and depression. In this moment, Joy is overwhelmed with the love she has for Riley and her desperate desire to help her.

Here is the scene, if you’ve never seen it:


As Joy picks up different memories of Riley, she recalls the special things about her that she loves so deeply. Looking at a little Riley coloring, she says, “Do you remember how she used to stick her tongue out when she was coloring?” And holding a memory of Riley telling silly stories, she earnestly adds, “I could listen to her stories all day.” Finally, looking at a memory of young Riley laughing joyfully and feeling overcome with sadness herself, Joy cries, “I just wanted Riley to be happy.”  

It struck me as I watched this scene that there are people in my life who feel this way about me. Chiefly my parents, but I know there are others too. Probably more than I realize. People who look at me and recall memories and feel love for me simply because of who I am, people who want joy for me. And then I was openly sobbing on my bed because I realized, God feels this way about me, too.

More than she represents anyone else in my life, Joy represents God in this scene. I picture Him, the Lord of all Creation, weeping over my heartbreak. I picture Him holding memories of a young Princess Jade and smiling sadly, because He just wants life for me. He just wants joy for me. God is holding little globes of my memories and whispering, “Do you remember how she always tried to catch lizards? She was so unafraid of the world.” He picks up another, “I could read her poetry all day—even the ones from middle school. She put so much life into them.” Another, “Her laugh is so full, so loud. I miss that sound.” He picks up a glowing blue memory and holds it to His chest. It’s me, a puddle on the floor, wracked with sorrow, crying out for someone to help me. And God loves me as deeply in that sad memory as He did in the joyful ones. He loves me for every single one. For every part of me, even the ugly memories that I’d rather forget. And He cries, “I hate it when she hurts,” He says, “I died so she’d have freedom and life. I just want her to have life.”

That’s real. That’s not make believe. That’s not a Disney movie. That is real life, happening right now. God feels that way about you right now.

God despairs for us. He feels pain over our pain. He aches for us to have joy and is jealous when we seek it elsewhere. God is looking at memories you can’t even remember anymore and loving you for them. He knows every single inch of your brain, has the blueprints memorized, can recall every single detail there is to know about you down to the number of atoms in your body and the amount of blood in your veins, and HE. LOVES. YOU. He knows you, and He loves you. And He desperately, desperately wants you to let Him save you.

Watch the video again. And this time, picture God instead of Joy, and you instead of Riley.

And believe it. It’s real.