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Love Theories 3: Laid Down

Anticipating the end

you emptied

carrying the burden of perfection into the marketplace to barter away your breath

surrendering it to the world while we try to give you something in return

In our pride mingled with ignorance, we desired to invest a portion of our work to lay claim to something we could not pay for

often forgetting, you were paying a debt we would not comprehend

you seemingly overlook that I murdered you by the violence I exact on myself as I incarnate sin

You did not rage at this injustice, you forgave it, calling my wrong reproachable yet remain approachable

sprinkling, then pouring your blood upon the pitiable life I’ve offered you

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calling this small movement, beautiful, making me believe, giving you my heart was worth more than gold and myrrh

as if I am the frankincense, the fragrance, the aroma you desire

my almost obsolete obedience, you mold into something and call it the delight of your eyes

you embrace, you wash, you display, stopping my decay

offering me a better body

offering a “where are your accusers?’ to your shamed daughter

offering a “welcome home” sandals, robe and ring to your unforgotten son

offering “behold your son” to the wounded heart, blessed mother

offering your footsteps to mimic and show us the Father who is Ours

offering yourself, as if, I was never not your friend.

Love Theories II: Coming and Going

It is leaving Heaven

It is finding luxury in sharing the suffering of the dirty and fallen in order to make them clean and whole again

it is eyes fixed while awaiting the gaze of the beloved

it is resolute patience, incomparable kindness,

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it is the greatest guard

it is the hopeful guardian

it is the eternal guard

of the heart

it is the seal with a kiss, with blood, with the Spirit

it is the coronation before consummation as it fills and overflows a kingdom

It is returning to Heaven, leaving an army behind

It is coming from Heaven with an army behind

It is making  it’s home with us forever

patient for us to desire it, as desperately as it desires us

It does not regret what it endured

it was it’s joy to give us everything

it waits for our everything

Love Theories: Not Soup nor Slumber

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It can’t be stirred in a pot until it tastes better
Can’t be set a top a stove to heat up
Can’t be baked at 450 and set before us to satisfy our hunger
It can’t be shaken out of slumber or kissed alive like a fairy tale

It’s timing is a mystery when it chooses to awaken, when it chooses to be given

It must be wait upon, served when ready, not served when wanted

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It is not self-seeking, it doesn’t wave you off, it doesn’t point you in the wrong direction, it doesn’t see the opportunity you provide, before it sees you

It doesn’t try to perfect your body before it takes you as it’s own, it doesn’t let you go when you can’t make yourself well. It doesn’t ignore your call or get back to you only when convenient

Love is not convenience, it’s not angry when it’s presently healing and freeing others; it rejoices in that kind

It reciprocates goodness, does not hedge its bets or hedge its heart; it entrusts itself to potential hurt recognizing that it cannot fail even when wounded.

Love is the overcoming currency of the world, yet it never insists payment

But when it’s missing you will hear it, you will see it, you will see the blood in its absence, carry the dejection in darkness, feel the rage when it is replaced with indifference

Love is not another lecture, though it will endure far longer than one

Love will never lose its luster, though it will fall frequently to wash feet

Love isn’t interested in leverage, it holds loosely and is delighted to walk along

Love when perfected eliminates fear, brings near, keeps here

When love lays down or conquers, it looks the same because it leaves a wake of life

When love awakens, we are full

 

Temporary Flights, Indiscernible Heights

731E86F3-D5BF-45A4-9D6F-D144A5D2F680I’m somewhere in the air floating, waiting to land. This wasn’t the plan, but this is where I am. God may have called an audible.

I still am not sure this is where I am supposed to be but God has promised to be with me.

And my soul has grown quiet. The one thing this season has done is simplified my soul. That does not mean that temptation is not sometimes loud or that the weight is less heavy. But I’m learning to tread softer. I’m learning to make less noise when things don’t go as planned. And I’m accepting I might not know God as well as I thought.

I’m also having to accept that my intuition regarding people cannot be ignored. That doesn’t mean I have to speak bad about them or slander them which I have been guilty of. It just means I have to accept that some people’s character is just unattractive, not becoming and in need of transformation.

I thought a year of chaplaincy would mark me more. While it may have helped keep me tender, it did not thicken my skin. Nothing has hardened to help protect myself as a result. So little if anything can bulletproof you from loss.

I should give you an update. The amount of doors that have closed or never opened for ministry in the last few months have been humbling. And where I find myself is on a construction project in Atlantic City, installing power lines via helicopter. It is a job so foreign to chaplaincy, yet perhaps not so foreign.

I replaced someone who was beloved and died tragically far too young.

I took this while interviewing for somewhat of a dream job doing campus ministry at Princeton University ministering to college students across the street from the church I came to know Jesus in. It would have felt like it brought my endeavors full circle, instead like opportunities before it, I interviewed more than once and came close.

Now, my job is new and can be isolating and my heart is grieved, not so much by the job, more so how out of control it all has felt. I am on God’s time which is less urgent than we can imagine; the only thing that has a time stamp of “now” on it is salvation and reconciliation in relationship to the Father. God’s preeminent priority is our hearts.

I’m starting to believe God only cares about our vocation so long as it does not keep us from Him and the calling and creativity in our lives, by which we give Him glory.

For me that is writing, preaching, teaching, listening to the way people are loved by God, persevering through suffering and experiencing joy.

I need more of the last one. I need more of the hope that there is indeed a thread knitting us together in love and purpose to see the Kingdom established on earth as in Heaven.

I also need help and hope for life itself.

EDD42FEF-82F4-4DDB-9FEB-96C1563CDDF5Because dangling through this season, I am looking down and don’t recognize where I should land. I don’t even know if I can guarantee a safe landing. This job gives me a chance to figure out where I want to land, and that makes me sad because no one else is surveying up here with me.

There are only cherished voices shouting up to come back down or to stay where I am. It is lonely in the clouds and I have never been too confident about landings.

I also don’t know how high up I am or will go before I come back down. I feel lower than those tethered and planted in the ground and I want to be planted somewhere. So I reach. I write, I wait, I hope I land and not drift away.

 

 

100% Responsible and Forgiven

Have you ever noticed that blame is never beautiful?

Deferring responsibility may be celebrated, but it only entices others at the expense of creating victims. Forgiveness though, that is beautiful. It has the power to free the victim and the guilty party. Jesus forgave his executioners while it was happening, not holding their responsibility against them for crucifying the One whom they did not know.

Jesus says, “You did it, but you didn’t know, and I offer you my embrace.”

It is beautiful yet fearful. The Psalms state forgiveness makes God fearful because God is the only one that can truly cleanse us from our wrong. And that is terrifying, yet equally terrifying is the Spirit God gives that enables us to forgive. I am presently overwhelmed by this, primarily because of having to take responsibility for myself.

I am responsible for my anger, even rage, for what I do with my feelings, for who absorbs it, for how I act in light of the temptation to despair. I am responsible for what I do with my time so long as God allows me to wake up to new mercies every morning. Nobody else gets to choose what I do with my day or how I heal, except me and God.

No

body

else.

I’m reading the Chronicles of Narnia for the first time and I am currently on Book 4 Prince Caspian. Until yesterday, it was my least favorite of the books, until Aslan came and talked to Lucy. I’ll share the excerpts, you can fill in the meaning.

“I didn’t mean to start slanging the others. But it wasn’t my fault anyway, was it?” asked Lucy.

The Lion looked straight into her eyes.

“Oh Aslan, you don’t mean it was? How could I–I couldn’t have left the others and come up to you alone, how could I? Don’t look at me like that… oh well, I suppose I could. Yes, and it wouldn’t have been alone, I know, not if I was with you. But what would have been the good?”

Aslan said nothing.

“You mean,” Lucy said rather faintly, ‘that it would have turned out all right– somehow? But how? Please, Aslan! Am I to know?

Aslan

Jesus, I mean Aslan, says “No” to the answer of what would have happened in the past if we had obeyed. Instead he offers a way forward in forgiveness. Because He has already made a way.

Oh how Lucy wrestles internally without an immediate reply, without an answer to the why.

“Oh dear, oh dear, said Lucy. “And I was so pleased at finding you again. And I thought you’d let me stay. And I thought you’d come roaring in and frighten all the enemies away– like last time. And now everything is going to be horrid.”

“It is hard for you, little one,” said Aslan. “But things never happen the same way twice. It has been hard for us all in Narnia before now.”

Lucy buried her head in his mane to hide from his face. But there must have been magic in his mane. She could feel lion-strength going into her. Quite suddenly she sat up.

“I’m sorry, Aslan,” she said. “I’m ready now.”

blameNo.. body… else. Nobody else can have a relationship with Jesus for us, and we shouldn’t want someone else to have it for us. I should want it for myself. I should want his lion heart love for myself because Jesus will not leave me alone especially when I bury my head in my pillow with tears crying out for help.

I made the choice to move back to New Jersey. I made the choice to switch jobs. I made the choice to yell and curse and critique the body of Christ. I made the choice to get my hopes up and make my heart vulnerable and spend time with the dying. I make the choice to be quirky and weird, to dress like I don’t care, to get a cat, to write, to wrestle, to reflect too much, and all of it could become a vapor in a moment because I am responsible but not always in control.

And that’s where the surrender comes. That’s where the “I’m sorry, I’m ready now,” comes into play. I can get up and go. Forget about blame and go and not let love be hindered.

Forgiven much, love much.

I have one more passage if you’ve gone this far. It’s Aslan to Susan, Lucy’s sister, who didn’t believe and could not see Aslan longer than her other 3 siblings.

“You have listened to fears, child, ” said Aslan. “Come, let me breathe on you. Forget them. Are you brave again?”

“A little, Aslan,” said Susan.

Me too, Susan. Add our little to Christ’s infinite much and I’m hopeful we will be more than okay. I’m hopeful that I will stop getting angry, then exhausted by the restlessness of my soul. I’m hopeful for the breath and wind of the Spirit to overcome me each day, to posture myself to move and live and have my being in Christ.

Responsible, yet forgiven and more beautiful than blame.

Set apart, beloved, no longer hindered by shame

Mary

It’s hard to imagine the heart failing of someone who loved me so well. 

Maybe she was finally convinced we’d be okay without her. Maybe her body was just finished; certainly not her mind. Maybe it was just time. 59775954_646730895794525_4785438645509160960_n

I think I’ve learned you can prepare to make an end of living, but not death, for the moment or moments between life and life. The middle space that grief takes up. You can plan logistics of funerals and finances and forgiveness, but you can’t take a pulse of grief and parcel out emotional energy or therapy sessions to navigate the middle piece of what loss will leave in its wake. Because of this we ritualize. We have ceremonies, and sift through possessions and pictures, some of us hoping the deceased will visit us.

And after the rituals we return to life and vocation hoping the deceased will visit us. And then we form more community, hopefully enlarge our families and churches, hoping the deceased will visit us. But Jesus doesn’t want the deceased to visit us because Jesus doesn’t want death. He wants living and living abundantly, and Jesus wants the living to gather and in time the formerly dead to be seen in light of the resurrection with a glorious newness. It’s my only real consolation.

Any other emotional appeasement is not a hope I’m interested in. Merely being at rest or ending suffering is not enough. Life gained in full in the glory of Christ as a Christian has become the bare minimum of my desire, but it is also the ultimate.  It’s what I wait for and allows me to mourn as one not without hope. Because that hope also has the power to end or comfort me in my mourning.

Now I turn to Mary, my grandmother:

You didn’t leave me, you stayed with me for a season.

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It’s hard to accept your gone when you remembered our visits and held me to my words. You kept track of the time like you knew it was short but looked forward in time like you’d live forever. It wasn’t a lie; it was you weaving the story I think you knew I wanted.

I was as proud as you were while wrapping your bingo nickels

I’ll cherish the smirk you gave me the last time I “stole” your cookie.

And even though your hand won’t hold back I’ll try to hold your heart. Lord Have mercy

You were too busy living, enjoying simplicity to worry about dying. Christ have mercy

You were showing me, I believe, that death is not something to worry about. Like Jesus, it is something we can be angry about and mourn, but it mustn’t be something that hinders living or the hope of resurrection. Death might be inevitable, but death is defeated, and I’m currently becoming okay with the fact that it was your turn to pass through it, into glory. Lord have mercy.

When I spoke with Gabe in February or March, of my visit to you in January, he felt I spoke of you like one should speak of their spouse. I wanted to you to meet her (I mean, I’d like to meet her, but I wanted you to meet her), not that I needed your approval, just so I could share you with her and her with you. I mourn that. I own that. I’m sorry for that. I’m not sure anything changes because of this, but my imagination placed you there at the celebration. If you have time, please come with the Lord. Invite friends. Christ have mercy

Thanks for all you’ve given me, it would be impossible to repay you or even out the scale of love. I think you would want it that way. You win gram, but we are probably close to even in Pokeno. Lord have mercy.

I thought you might live forever, and now you will. To Christ be the glory.

What Love Lets

I met a 93-year old man who requested a bible. He moved so slowly trying to figure out where the book of Acts was and what chapter he left off reading. He mourned his age while being thankful for his health. He said, “hardly anything feels the same.” His wife had been 10 years deceased. He asked me if the 8 X 10 picture of her had followed him to the hospital and made it on the wall behind him. He later found out he had left it at home. I’ve scarcely met a man so in love. He told me that the 12 years prior to his wife’s passing she was confined to wheel chair after suffering a stroke. He cared for her changed her, and he’d have it all back again if God gave him the chance. They had been together 63 years; he wished he had more time with her.

The English poet Tony Harrison wrote a series of poems Long Distance 1 and 2 which recounts a man mourning his mother and father’s passing. His mother passes first, and the nature of the poems focusses on his father’s life without his wife, how his routines didn’t change and how he played the game of pretending she was around in order to maintain a sense of normalcy in old age.  It reminds me how hard letting go of things we love or think we love is. But there is a part of love that must make room for letting the beloved leave or go because I believe it is the test of determining if love is real. Love is what’s left after you let go.

The prodigal son, the Song of Solomon, the Gospels. God in his design has somehow wanted to demonstrate the power of love despite distance. In each of those stories and lives there is a separation and a love that endures despite separation. There is a certain love sickness that keeps us yearning for the B/beloved and somehow that affliction reminds us that it’s real. Love is painful in this life because it is costly. Love is costly because it requires forgiveness and forgiveness necessitates that something prior or presently is lost or forfeited to maintain relationship. Yet that loss is not to be feared for the sake of the gain of reciprocated love.

I don’t often cry in pastoral settings, but I couldn’t shake that the only two things this man wanted at 93 was his Bible and his wife. He made me feel that if those were the only two things in the world he had with him, it would be more than enough. It makes me more certain that despite all the other things we might have, none of it is enough without love.

To Be A Dad One Day

If I had kids, I see them now.

                My little girl is sensitive and playful, not sensitive as in easily hurt, sensitive as in curious and attentive to the emotions around her and her own. She approaches the world with an intuitive regard for good without suspicion. She likes people and giving compliments. She also likes getting compliments. She’s a little competitive and has these moments when too much newness at once makes her shy. Because of her mom she prefers the familiar. Because of me she is willing to go on adventure, but she asks a lot of questions first and during. Afterward she assumes everyone wants to hear about her adventures and sometimes forgets that the person she tells wasn’t there with her. She carries you with her everywhere. When she meets someone new, it’s as if she is reminding herself in the days that follow that this person will always somehow be a part of her life. As she gets older, she asks more questions about why I lover her mom so much; she would often echo, “that’s why I love momma to.”

                She likes to clap a lot during worship and likes rhythm, neither me nor her mom really have rhythm, but we are thinking about getting her drum lessons. She has a responsibility to people which she probably could not help but learn because that’s the way we are wired. She likes dogs more than cats no matter how much I try to convince her little mind that cats are great. She says dogs are more huggable. She likes to show affection through hugs, it makes her giggle. She agrees with her mom more than with me and she waivers in who she thinks is funnier. She looks forward to bed time because she believes Jesus gives her good dreams. Whenever she has a bad dream, she lays claim to our bed. For a while she would let us know, “Just for tonight.” And she means it.

                As a teenager, she grew with confidence, thank God, still curious, a little more adventurous, a little sterner and more determined. Her mom taught her that. We tried to teach her resilience and have. She holds fast to the stories of our family’s faith and even as a teenager she likes spending time with her grandparents. We are grateful for that. She likes being an older sister, both in looking out for her brother and giving advice. She also holds him accountable to showing up to her events.

                Her brother is smarter than me, so is she, but he enjoys being smart. He’s athletic or at least capable but he says its cooler to be a “nerd.” As a child he trusted us and still does but he didn’t ask for much. He was much more of a content child than me. He dresses nicer than me because of his mom. He’s polite with a dry sense of humor. As a child he was eager to do the activities I was involved in but had more affection for mom. Her balanced was more beneficial to his personality. As he got older, he liked to weigh options and was less feelings driven, but mom taught him to understand and be attentive to how I am wired. She’s a great mom. As a result, my son is very aware. He regularly would ask how I feel about his decisions as a teenager more often than he would ask permission. To which he would always be surprised at the times I would say, “no you’re not doing that.” I learned to give him other options, especially when my no would disappoint him. I admire his independence even being a second child.  66454-fathers-sons-karan-johar-in-conversation-with-sadhguru

                He’s a connector. He calls his grandfather’s for advice, or to be entertained by my dad. He learns fast but also forgets fast. He’s not big into risks and as a kid liked to know how long things would take. He thinks about time too much in my opinion. We weren’t sure how being a middle child would change him. It didn’t really because he felt his younger sibling quite peculiar.

But I think we all did. Such a wonderful surprise in every possible way, making our family a lot less predictable. It’s kind of fun having a child who is unfiltered. I think with the third, we thought we were good parents only to find out again we had much to learn. Our third teaches us wisdom or rather very specific wisdom, that there is not a science, that some days there is total contentment to be left alone and then the next there is a mission from God level of urgency to love our neighbors, while some days refuge from the world is the most important thing on earth. Discerning yet disarming and so joyful. Not the favorite (because there can’t be) but insists on fascinating.

If I saw them now, or saw them more, I’d hold them here.

The God and the Ghost of Present Christmas

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I read an Instagram post by Craig Groeschel about Christmas being a magnifier today.  (For those of you who don’t know who Craig Groeschel is, he’s one of those muscular pastors that talks about how he doesn’t have time to dress himself in the morning)  The intent of his post was to state how the holiday can take positive and negative emotions and circumstances and enlarge them. This is why it is so important to fix our attention and affection on Jesus as the center of our celebration especially when we bent toward the negative.

I enjoyed the encouragement and I agree. I actually was weirdly looking forward to working in the hospital on Christmas today. I’m not entirely sure why, maybe the escape, maybe to feel important, maybe to feel more or less alone?

It is lonely you know, being a ghost.

My friends came up with this little joke that I am everyone’s imaginary friend, but I myself am unaware of it. I like the concept, but that is not me. I am no ghost, although I try to be as transparent as one, when I can be, when the risk isn’t too much, when I’m not afraid of rejection or losing someone, when I’m safe, when I’m surrendered.

A patient’s husband said to me today, “You must feel good being able to help people as a chaplain and on Christmas.” I thought this statement curious because I wanted to say, “It feels okay, but that’s not why I do it.” I didn’t try this ministry out so I could merely feel good, although if you constructed a well enough argument I’d probably believe it.

I think I chose it to hopefully find God in it, desperate to find God in myself (the Spirit dwelling within). I think I chose it or rather God called and chose me, so I would live in the fear of the Lord and in the love of God. I think I chose it to be transparent about all my evident weaknesses and hoped I would find warm love in it. And yeah, maybe warm loyal love feels really good, but I often don’t feel that, which is why I wish I was a ghost sometimes.

I wish I was floating in and out of people’s lives unaffected by their pain, yet present to it and to them whenever I wished or they wished. I would be a source of comfort without the feeling. I would be present, without the awareness of when I’m not feeling a comforting touch or hug when I want to be hugged or close to someone.

To be a ghost seems to me to be without a need, to be a gift without holding onto one back. I felt like a ghost sometimes today. I felt like a guilt-ridden sinner sometimes today. I felt like one in need of love and redemption sometimes today.

I am one in need of Immanuel, God with us, and God in us by the Holy Ghost always today.

I need the God and the Ghost

Breakers of the Fall

Between faith in God and family and friends I hope you have found that those combined are more than enough to break your fall if you find yourself falling. I’m so thankful for family during the holiday, the embrace of my friends and a church that feels like home. They all offer me such a strong love.

I’m sad to be at an airport getting ready to go to a place I’ve called home twice this weekend. I found it strange slipping up by calling Charleston home, especially since it at times it feels a place I associate with discomfort.

But it is my mind.

It’s all in my head. It’s the combination of feeling unable to be self-forgetful while simultaneously forgetting who I am becoming.

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I confuse grieving the loss of the familiar by losing the one tangible living being I brought with me… me. And when you begin to grieve for yourself, you’re falling.

I fall out of touch with a realty that, yes, I am responsible for myself, but I also have entrusted ownership of myself to God.

And God most assuredly is here now with me in the airport as well as waiting to encounter me at my apartment in Charleston.

God becomes the breaker of my fall during feelings of loneliness.

For now I am thankful, thankful for a Thanksgiving that I enjoyed with my family, thankful I saw my Dad doing better, saw my grandma consistent in her awareness, so many fun moments with friends packed into 3 days, free milkshakes with burgers, laughing while playing Loaded Questions, riding on the back of a motorcycles before eating Mexican, hearing the testimonies of God’s activity in the Church community, and the heart connections of feeling heard and assured of God’s plan in the process.

I’m thankful Jesus broke all our falls, I’m thankful for the access of his love that can meet us anymore in a variety of forms including discipline, refining and gifts. But Jesus also came to break us off from the things that make us fall, to catch us but also to stop us in our stumbling and guide us in our wandering.

Hebrews 12:1-“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely and let us run with endurance that race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.”