I started this journal entry for myself a few months ago when the five-year-old boy in Alabama was held hostage in the bunker for those several days. That event brought up a lot of anxiety and fear for me, and on the fifth day of waiting to hear whether or not the child had been rescued and after checking CNN on my laptop, iPhone, and Kindle at the top of every hour to see if there was any new news, after going to bed and waking up with the image of a stolen kindergartener sleeping underground in a cement bunker, I got terribly depressed and sick.
In my prayer and reflection and through my journaling, this entry is what came about. It’s something quite personal about something treasured, so read it with gentle eyes. The ongoing and recent tragic and disheartening national events such as the one this week at the Boston Marathon along with personal cares, both for myself and for those whom I love, make me feel freer to share than I was before. Life is so fragile, so precious.
I’ve intentionally kept a few parts of myself hidden from my journal, my blog. I’ve shared openly about my childhood experiences and briefly about the ongoing and sometimes weary work that accompanies the recovery of childhood abuse. I’ve said kind words about my husband, even revealing a small but tender peak into our private friendship, and I’ve talked about my children who I treasure and adore above all other people. But the part of me I’ve been hesitant to share has been the part in which I am also most at peace to share – my faith. Not the evangelical kind that finds its way on your windshield at Kroger, but the kind of faith that is wonder, nature, spirit, generosity, love, God, all in one breath.
It was Him all along bidding me ever so lovingly to lay my burdens down one by one, and still He unburdens me. I come to Him like a heavy packed traveler would come to a friend’s home in the dead of winter. I am chilled to the bone, my feet are throbbing, and I am cloaked with layer after layer of thick clothing as heavy snow falls while I make my trek to my Friend’s door. When I reach His door, He greets me enthusiastically and brings me in from the cold. His greeting is sincere, His embrace is firm, and His smile says I belong here.
He immediately begins to help me with my winter gear. “You’re freezing, child. Let me help you,” He says. As He helps me with my wet and frozen outer layers, He listens to me complain about the trip or the troubles of the day. He unties my boots, removes my socks and places them on the hearth. The fire is always roaring no matter what time I come. As the last of my soggy clothes are also placed by the fire to dry, He fetches tea. “Come sit. Let’s catch up,” He hugs me and smiles. I make my way to the couch and already I feel His hands drape me with soft, warm fleece blankets. He fills a tub of steaming water to soak my tired feet. He is a gracious and generous host. I feel completely at ease and more at home here than any other place in the world.
My Jesus is a good listener, a good teacher, wise, kind, empathetic, full of mercy, gracious, humble, cheerful, and He loves. Oh, He loves. Above all He knows how to love. I talk and talk and talk and He lets me go without interruption until I finally ask, “What do You think?” His character is complete goodness and His heart is pure. Sitting in His company is an altogether pleasure. When I see Him, I see a person totally at peace and I think, “I want that. I want peace like that.”
His kind and compassionate character is made all the more complex and lovely for He is also rugged from the hard work of making a life on His land. He is not concerned with appearances in the slightest. His clothes are simple, patched and worn in several places. His hands are calloused and scarred. He chops His own wood and grows His food. He is friends with all of nature. He lives alone, but He is not lonely; He always has company. I know that many people also visit Him because we talk about it, but when I am with Him, I feel like I am the only one on His mind. I don’t know how He does that.
There are signs in His home of places that He’s been and of things that He’s done, some of which I’m curious and some of which I marvel, and He always lets me ask questions. He never says, “Don’t touch that” or “You’re being nosey.” He likes to answer my questions about the world He loves so dearly, like when I spied a key atop a corner shelf. I held it up to Him and asked, “What does this go to?” He beamed and closed His eyes. The expression on His face told me the key had a story, but as I watched His face I realized the key in my hand didn’t go to something, it had gone to something. Did it unlock a door? Lock away something terrible? Set someone free? His home takes on new meaning. All of the things, mundane and ordinary that I’ve seen one thousand times, suddenly become brand new and I approach them with refreshed wonder realizing that every item in this gentle Man’s home contains an exquisite and intentional story. A small reserved glass of water elicits a chuckle and my eyes narrow in careful study of this Creator who calls me Friend and Daughter. The same with a pine cone; a spool of thread and needle; an old piece of shoe leather; a spoon; a piece of clay; a guitar pick; candles from a child’s birthday cake; a luggage tag; a large mossy pebble; a bird feather; a piece of aged parchment; netting from of a wedding veil.
At times I ask about an item and He becomes solemn. He quiets for a moment and His expression changes. I know that whatever I have touched, the story it represents is different from the ones before. Jesus looks at me with a divine affection and I place it back on His hearth knowing it is one of the most sacred of all the things. It was this way when I touched a packet of seeds; a small jar of ashes; a mosquito net; a job application; a jump drive; a crumpled letter; a hospital bracelet that was far too tiny; a wedding band; a small doll with matted hair; an empty pill bottle; a door knob. At times I make that long trek and bring my own sacred thing and say, “Explain this.” Like today, through tears I said, “I don’t understand. There is boy in Alabama. He’s so small. It’s been six days, Jesus. I’m so afraid, so angry. I don’t understand.” As I spoke, His head was down and His eyes were closed. I stood for a moment waiting for His reply and when my eyes found His hands, I saw His fingers held a crayon. His heart was already there too. And so we stayed together, my Friend and I, talking about something so deeply complicated and sad for a long time. He knows what it is like to hurt. He knows how to love hurting people.
I know that is why He is so good with me. He is the consummate Lover who has shown me how to love. He is the kind and gentle Teacher who is teaching me to be patient and gentle. He is the humble servant washing the feet of His friends, showing me what it means to be still and willing to look for quiet ways to love my neighbor in truth. If only my heart could always mimic His.
My faith is mystical, romantic, wild, quizzical, enamored, forgiving, helping, and fluid. I don’t understand everything in the world. Tragedies leave me unsure and afraid. I am angry when things seem unfair. I judge things too harshly. I have not mastered the gift of forgiveness. I get frustrated when people give trite answers to complicated matters. I believe in the deep things. I believe there is more to me than my skin and bones, tissue and cells. I think my children are magical and no one can convince me that Someone didn’t have them in mind long before Mike and I ever did. I believe that God exists in every person and all creation - art so alive and exquisitely made only assures me there must be an Artist. I’m learning the balance in living with a lighter burden but a heavier heart, if that makes sense.
I don’t have a Pollyanna outlook on life. Two years ago, I was deeply rocked when a friend of mine who was pregnant with twin boys went into pre-term labor and both of her boys passed away, just hours old. Can you imagine? And then later that year she became pregnant again and we were overjoyed for her, but the same thing happened – she went into early labor, her son was delivered, and once again, she buried a child. She has birthed, buried, and mourns three children in the space of my youngest child’s entire lifespan. A conversation with a friend this week about the loss of a child of someone she knows brought us both to tears at her kitchen table, and the bombs at the Boston Marathon have reminded us all once again of how delicate our lives are and caused us to question as we have again and again how such evil exists in the human heart. Life is more than messy; life can be merciless and cruel.
Somewhere between despair and suffering and the things in which I do not understand and peace and joy and the things in which I think I do understand, there is a meeting place where my faith and God’s grace join together. Some things will always find themselves just outside of that meeting place. Just as I can never explain or grasp the absolute mystery that exists in the love I have for Caleb and Corrie, I’ll never understand why there are people who plant bombs at marathons, kill children while they play at their elementary schools, or why diseases exist in the world. Try as I might, my head and my heart simply can’t ever fully comprehend any of those things – the good or the bad. And so I’ve come to live and love in this middle ground where I ask my Friend to help me understand those things which I can’t.
I have stopped cursing Him so loudly for the people who make it their mission to bring darkness and destruction wherever they go and instead I thank Him for those who have nurtured kindness and mercy in their lives and seek to bring goodness and speak peace over the world. When a disaster happens and I grieve with the people who have lost, I ask God to again send those whom He’s entrusted with the gifts of helping and charity to be swift and able to give comfort and aid, and I thank Him for those whom He has given the gift of restoration who work tirelessly and passionately to restore the earth and care for a frail and beautiful creation. I have learned that if I am aware of it, God’s presence is far more evident than His absence.
From those who donate clothes and blood in times of need to people who set out recycling bins. To folks who give in offering boxes at places of worship to those who never pass a homeless person or the Salvation Army bell ringer without reaching for wallets and purses. To the naturist who plants a tree knowing she’ll never feel the shade, but plants it all the same to those who seek social justice and equality for all whom God loves and treasures. To the person who holds a wrinkled hand when it needs comforting to the person who kisses a small fevered head good night. God’s presence is more far more evident than His absence.