Posted in Living this Life

the e-mail

I could tell by the subject line that I didn’t want to open the e-mail.

Yet, I knew by the subject line that I just had to open the e-mail and read the words I didn’t want to read.

It was true. Another place closing. Another place that I love – gone.

Thing is, this isn’t just another place. I drove by one of my favorite restaurants the other day and saw the for sale sign. That was a bummer. This was different. This hit deep, and I suddenly didn’t know how to process it.

It’s one of those places that I have never been able to get out of my soul. One of the first places I understood the word “home”. In a life of feeling perpetually out of place, this was a place that welcomed misfits like me and gave us a sense of belonging.

It was my sophomore year of college – that summer when I walked through the doors of a The Shelter, a youth hostel in the middle of the city of Amsterdam on the edge of the red light district.

I had no idea God would forever change the trajectory of my life that summer. That He would show me who I was created to be and that I would never be satisfied settling for anything else.

I went back after college and spent a year in those walls – eager to learn, eager to meet people from around the world, eager to share my Jesus with them. God used that place to forever alter my life.

You may say it’s just a building surrounded by a multitude of other buildings. But it was on that rooftop I would pace when I felt my world crumbling around me – I would pace back and forth – praying and pleading with God for His Truth.

It was in that dining room where I would eat with people from around the world – Laughing, singing, talking, doing life together.

It was in that kitchen where I learned to make Moussaka and Boerenkool. But it’s really the place I learned that the simple act of spending a day cutting onions and peeling mounds of potatoes can carve out quiet places to let the Spirit in.

It was in that snack bar where I would discuss the beauty of my Jesus with a Spanish traveler who had just from a Tibetan monastery. Where I would pore over the Scriptures and rest in the peace of the Psalms with my friend Jess, a gay prostitute who was desperately hungry for balm for a hurting soul.

It’s where I learned not to fear the questions – for if you keep looking you will find the Truth. It just takes a lot of courage to face the real questions and a lot of persistence to uncover the answers. It’s where I saw that we aren’t really all that different under the surface – where a smile has the power to transcend all cultural, racial, and political differences. And sometimes when trying to register a group of 20 travelers who don’t speak English, a smile is all you have.

It’s where I learned to love shoarma and frites with mayo. And I learned the value of knowing how to ask for coffee with whipped cream in Dutch (Koffie met slagroom, alstublieft)

So I read the e-mail, and as the truth soaked in that they were having to close their doors due to the current condition of our world, the tears started to fall. Not just for all the faces I saw, the people I had come to love, the memories I cherished… I wept for the loss of a place to return to.

Oh how the heart longs to remember what fades so quickly! How often we long to return to places that matter because they remind us of who we were. More importantly, of who God is and what He has done. And I don’t have many of those places…

Growing up in the jungles of Africa was an unmitigated blessing and I wouldn’t trade it for anything. But my home no longer exists – the ravages of war destroyed my childhood village many years ago, and I will never be able to take my family to the place I grew up. I can show them the country as it is, but it will forever be a different place than the home I knew.

So all these years, my heart has clung to this special place on the edge of the red light district in Amsterdam. I longed for the day I could show my family the place where God changed the course of my life. Where I learned how real He truly is and discovered that He really will catch us when the world crumbles around us. I have walked through those old hallways with my family so many times in my mind – just waiting for the day it could become reality.

And I wept for the loss of that opportunity.

God has placed eternity in the heart of man (Ecclesiastes 3:11) – and yet we try to fit this small earth around that. We grasp for the ideal of an unchangeable good – a place where our hearts feel safe. But buildings crumble and heroes let us down.. What do we do then? Construct new idols? New mirages of control or illusions of contentment? Or do we reject the stuff of earth and place all our hope firmly and only on heaven?

We’ve all experienced loss this year. And I know my story is light compared to the life changing loss many have endured. But we all share this one thing – longings for something we may not be able to return to. It comes out in grief, sorrow, rage, cynicism, depression… and I wonder – what do we do with all these feelings?

When the longings start and we are torn between what is and our nostalgic memory of what was … we often think we have to choose between the two. Instead of rushing past the callback, why don’t we linger a couple more minutes and let it bloom into something of beauty? What if we’re experiencing a foretaste, a promise, a shadow of what is to come? In His moments of greatest agony on earth, Jesus looked to the “joy set before Him”. (Hebrews 12:2)

Do you see it? Can you smell it? The welcoming notes of the fresh baked bread? The delicate aroma of flowers we have yet to discover? We blush and call it childish nostalgia – but could it be so much more?

“In speaking of this desire for our own far off country, which we find in ourselves even now, I feel a certain shyness. I am almost committing an indecency. I am trying to rip open the inconsolable secret in each one of you—the secret which hurts so much that you take your revenge on it by calling it names like Nostalgia and Romanticism and Adolescence; the secret also which pierces with such sweetness that when, in very intimate conversation, the mention of it becomes imminent, we grow awkward and affect to laugh at ourselves… These things—the beauty, the memory of our own past—are good images of what we really desire; but if they are mistaken for the thing itself they turn into dumb idols, breaking the hearts of their worshipers. For they are not the thing itself; they are only the scent of a flower we have not found, the echo of a tune we have not heard, news from a country we have never yet visited.” CS Lewis

So today i don’t think I’m going to wipe these tears away too quickly. I think instead I’ll try to just rest in the magic of the mystery. To let the ache in my heart intensify my longing for heaven – that great unending good that will never be taken from us. That we will never outgrow, move away from, or lose. This is the gift.

For here we do not have an enduring city, but we are looking for the city that is to come.” Hebrews 13:14

Posted in Living this Life

River of Delights

Well, I didn’t expect that this morning.

Sitting out on my back porch, writing another boring journal entry of what I am missing, places I am not going … a bit numb of heart and mind, if I’m being honest.

I don’t know if you’re anything like me, but what word would you use to describe your heart during these trying times? Anxious? Confused? Maybe angry or frustrated. Often bored, sometimes detached. Emotional? Definitely. These are usually the richest days of my year. The days we get the live what we were made for – individually and as a family. And here I sit on my back porch, trying to find something to write to capture another week/month filled with laundry, [more] organizing and random home projects, and more meals cooked than ever in my life. Feeling bored and a bit useless. It’s hard not to grieve.

But my Jesus. He finds a way. Here’s how it went.

My journal entry from a few days ago contains these words, “I continue to feel a bit numb these days. I’m spending time with Jesus, meeting with Him each morning, and He sustains me, meets me, gives me precious promises. But I long for life! For that spark that makes me excited for this day…” With nothing to really look forward to, our days can become a monotonous repetition of the day before and we’re all feeling it.

Then these words came along, swung me sideways, and left me on my knees before Almighty God. “He satisfies the longing soul, and fills the hungry soul with goodness” Psalm 107:9

Longing and hungry soul – I can relate to that.
Satisfied? Filled? Not so much.

So what stands in that gap? No one but me. And thus I sank to my knees.

I must confess, when I first read these words, I thought about what He would give me to satisfy my longing – where will You take me? What will You provide to fill this aching?

And the naked truth is – He already has. Read on – “My soul longs, yes, even faints for the courts of the Lord; my heart and my flesh cry out for the living God.” (Ps 84:2). And this – “They are abundantly satisfied with the fullness of Your house and You give them drink from the river of Your pleasures… My people shall be satisfied with MY goodness, says the Lord” (Ps 36:8; Jer. 31:14)

Maybe my biggest problem isn’t everything the news cycle screams at me. Maybe my biggest problem is me – where I am looking for satisfaction. Some days we may be doing the right thing, making a difference in the world, being busy for God – but is this where my joy lies? Because when it is all stripped away and I feel so naked, the truth about me is revealed. In this quiet, in this “lack of purpose”, my God is the same. And the river of pleasures He provides hasn’t shifted one little bit.

Spend a few minutes here with me … There was a time in the nation of Israel when they lost everything “normal”. They were taken to the foreign land of Babylon and suddenly their world was upside down. Feels a bit like 2020 right now – only instead of us being taken away to Babylon, it feels like Babylon has moved in and claimed our world. It suddenly seems like we’re living in a foreign land and it’s hard to find your place in it at times.

So those Israelites? They spent their days longing for what they had lost. Pining for the day they would return. In the middle of all this restlessness, God sends them this message: “Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat their produce. Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease. But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare. (Jeremiah 29:4-7)

foreign land 2foreign land

Do you feel like you’re in exile some days? Like you step out of your house and see a foreign land around you? Come into this place with me – camp here a while and let these truths soak deep into your bones. Right here, in the place – find the beauty.

God has not forgotten us. And He invites us into the beauty with Him. These words from Andrew Peterson have shone a light on the path I walk these days – “Uncertainty is no reason to stop adding to the beauty of the world. We don’t know what’s coming. Write songs anyway. Make pies. Plant gardens. Why? First of all, you might be in Babylon for longer than you think. Second of all, gardens are beautiful. And beauty is one of the best ways to fight the darkness… because the love that lives in beauty lasts forever. It is unshakeable. So step out into the … world and plant whatever garden God has called you to plant. Pull the weeds of injustice and evil. Plant so much beauty that it chokes out the poison.”

Plant so much beauty that it chokes out the poison.

Do you feel like the world is burning down around you? Like you don’t recognize your “normal”anymore? Come, plant a garden with me. I don’t know how yours will look – it may not involve dirt and seeds, but I know it starts with Jesus. Letting Him be enough. Just Jesus.

jesus rescue

It’s the only real soil to plant a garden in. That satisfaction that we get from whatever we find as our identity? The fun and laughter we found in places we used to go? The grieving, the restlessness, the desire for more that we are prone to feel in the absence of the familiar? It’s all starting to feel a bit like what Paul described as a “man beating the air” (1 Co. 9:26)

Can we stop chasing the wind and just let Jesus be enough?

To “place yourself in the way of His allurement” as Jonathan Edwards beautifully describes. To let your breath catch in wonder as you watch the flower slowly open. To find some documentary on creatures on the bottom of the ocean (try The Riot and the Dance: water) and try to wrap your mind around the God who put them there, and then splashed them with color and humor that can hardly be described. To simply think that He created all the wonders of the galaxies, calls each star by name, knows every sparrow in the sky, and yet engraves our names on the palm of His hand. (Is 49:16)

“May we chase your mercies over ragged hills, pursue your song through the sparse and layered lyric of sculpted deserts, marvel at your mystery fixed in the wheeling designs of stars overhead. May we hear it in the coos and calls of owls and small creatures that fidget in the night, trace it in the leaping dance of campfire flames, and sense it in the sweet incense of pine and leafmeal” (Doug McKelvey)

All this quiddity has a purpose beyond pure exultation.  For “all of God’s creation becomes a beam to be “looked along” or a sound to be “heard along” or a fragrance to be “smelled along” or a flavor to be “tasted along” or a touch to be “felt along”.  All our senses become partners with the eyes of the heart in perceiving the glory of God through the physical world” (Piper)

To taste and see that the Lord is good! (Ps 34:18). To let that soak deep into who you are until you are changed “now that you have tasted that the Lord is good!” (1 Peter 2:3) To be strengthened in the safety of this – “Lord, you alone are my portion and my cup; you make my lot secure… I keep my eyes always on the Lord. With Him at my right hand, I will not be shaken. (Ps 16:5; 8)

Oh, be refreshed by this, my friend! Let the dew of His goodness soften all those hard places! “I will be like the dew to Israel…” (Ps 133:3)

“Find rest, O my soul, in God alone; my hope comes from Him” (Ps 62:5)

Or if you prefer Mary Poppins’ theology – “We’re on the brink of an adventure children! Don’t spoil it with too many questions!”

I’m already starting to feel more alive. Just writing these words feels like a jumpstart for my heart. I know it doesn’t solve all the injustices that swirl around us, the screaming headlines that can challenge our peace, the questions that rage. But it’s a place to stand. A place to be. A gift of joy in the midst of the chaos. Stability that can’t be shaken.

Just Jesus.

He is enough.

the path

 

Posted in Living this Life

Let us REJOICE!

I didn’t know 14 years ago, when I started this habit, how much it would impact the rest of my life. And today I needed this reminder, cuz truth is, it’s been a rough week … I don’t need to go into details because I suspect you’ve been through it on some level yourself.

Here’s the story: when my daughter was little, I would start each day by announcing “this is the day the Lord has made! Let us REJOICE and be glad in it!!” I would take her little baby arms and wave them in the air. As she grew, it led to full body happy dances as we would rejoice in our day.

One sad day, my little 1 1/2 year old munchkin was quite sick – she spent the day laying on me and being miserable. Near the end of the day, speaking mostly to myself, I said, “well, sweetheart. It’s been a rough day. But it’s STILL the day the Lord has made…” and with all the strength her little spirit could muster, she lifted up her arms and waved them slowly in the air. I get teary remembering that moment even now, because that simple act reminds me on a daily basis that we can rejoice even when our arms are too tired to lift.

When our spirit feels depleted and we have nothing left. We rejoice with what we have, and Almighty God will pour in what we need for the next step. Thank you, Charissa, for this beautiful lesson – I needed it today, 13 years later. My friend, in this place we are all in, this is my prayer for you this week: “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.” Romans 15:13