Burn Those Boxes

My experience of following Jesus started with the demonic. It was a black night terror sort of feeling and yet a strong powerful buzz that rushed through every single one of my cells.

God showed me the true darkness that lies beneath the shiny facade of this world. I didn’t know why until I had time to think and pray on it:

  1. I would never have become a Christian unless something drastic occurred (check).
  2. He wanted me to understand the power Satan can have over people (check check).

It’s easy to turn on the television and see skin and flesh and hate it with all your might. And if we go that route, that’s exactly the sort of thing the enemy will enjoy, sitting back to slow clap.

For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.

Ephesians 6:12

A lot of you are trying to make sense of all these things and jam them tight into poorly made boxes. It’s a waste of perfectly good energy, friend.

And then, on top of that, once the boxes are crammed and the seams are spent and broken open, we like to go online and talk about what we’ve just done. How we’re right, everyone else is wrong, and ultimately we’ve solved the problem.

No. We are all wrong. Jesus is right. And he already solved the problem by dying on the cross.

You feel itchy, no doubt. Your hands want to do something, your mouth wants to say something. Well, here’s the good news: you’ve already been given a directive and here’s how that plays out:

Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’

Matthew 22: 37-39

Oh and one more:

“Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.”

James 1:27

There are no sides. There are just people. As Christians – let me rephrase that – As TRUE believers (because not everyone who calls themself a Christian actually is), we’re to be medics and help any and everyone who needs our help. We’re to humble ourselves to Jesus and follow His command.

We are not to dole out personal judgment.

Does that mean we agree with the state of the world? No. But the world is the devil’s playground, a mere carbon copy of what it was originally meant to be. The boxes here are warped and won’t carry a darn thing.

So leave them. Walk away. Look at the world with fresh eyes and look at the people as flesh and blood and hurting hearts. We’re here to heal them, not break them. Something to never forget.

We Don’t Live There Anymore

I’m starting to realize I’ve cried more for a chihuahua mix this past week than I ever have for any human being.

I’m starting to worry about myself a bit.

But I’m also not worried one iota. This week has been the hardest and the best one of my life. For the first time, my toes have edged the threat of death, and I’ve gotten the opportunity to stare it directly in the face.

And I’m still here.

I’m realizing now where the suffering in my heart is coming from. Sure, I’m devestated I won’t see my dog again here on this earth, and there have been a few growing pains knowing life is still moving around me even when my chest feels empty (and that it’s probably less than beneficial for me to wear last night’s pajamas while watching Dr. Phil and eating icecream straight from the carton in bed – but how fun, right?). I have to go out. I have to look people in their faces. But what’s even harder to swallow than that is knowing I have to look back on the gift God gave me and weigh the purpose Roxie put forth in this world.

Love. Unconditional. It’s what she taught me. That, and having a gusto for playing ball and eating until you want to pass out. But I’ll probably take a rain check on the latter.

I’ve made it my life’s mission to do just this. It will look messy and awkward and have a complete Ericka twist to it where you’ll tell me something and then I’ll have you repeat it because I was busy daydreaming what it would be like to zoom through Wal-Mart wearing a jet pack.

I have a lot going on upstairs. Apparently.

But my heart will be in the right place even if I have to keep roughly repositioning it.

I didn’t cry last night. I didn’t have a panic attack, wondering about the void that is death and how it feels like its consuming every inch of me. I slept peacefully.

“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)

It’s what I wholeheartedly believe.

Two things: Horatio Spafford wrote “It Is Well” after his son died in the Great Chicago Fire (which also ruined him financially) and four of his daughters died on a ship he put them on because he was delayed helping D. L. Moody with is upcoming evangelistic campaigns. His ship had to pass the exact location where his daughters had perished, and as his own ship moved past their final resting place, he wrote this:

When peace like a river, attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll;
Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to know
It is well, it is well, with my soul.

That, my friends, is what true faith is.

People always ask why bad things happen. As a writer, I couldn’t understand a world in which they didn’t. The bad is a dark shadow on a lonely plane and on that lonely plane is a house. It’s where we used to live and wallow in darkness but at the right exact time, the moon comes, and hovers above, it’s great orb of white highlighted by the other side of the sun. And we are bathed in everything good, and we feel it too: the high of letting go and loving until it hurts, bits of us flecking off like dust back to the earth.

And then the door opens and our feet are spurned to move down the path, closer to God.

And at that exact moment, we realize, we don’t live there anymore.

God Only Knows

My most favorite and maybe even most fearsome picture is one of the author Joan Didion. She’s standing on the upper decking of a beach house that sits nestled close to the ocean, cigarette in hand, as her daughter Quintana and husband, John, lean against the railing close together, lips lifted in small smiles.

The things that grab my heart like two hands: 1) Joan is looking at them, not the camera. 2) Several years later, Quintana and John will die two years apart and Joan will live to write about it.

Live to write about it.

I feel like I’m doing a lot of that now.

My favorite prophet is Jeremiah. This seems like a non-sequiter, but I promise, it isn’t. He’s tasked with a huge ask: to share God’s words condemning idolatry, the greed of priests, false prophets…

He was only a child. And his reluctance took flight like a bird in a closed fist.

I feel that feeling. It’s like looking around and everything being in it’s exact place, but you know something’s off because you simply can’t breathe.

It reminds me of what I read (okay fine, listened to) about C.S. Lewis. One of his biographers dubbed him a reluctant prophet because He was an atheist called to God, not some studied Biblical scholar who knew all the answers.

The thing about C.S. is that he acknowledged the answers were very few but the evidence palpable. We can see enough of the detail to make out the picture. Or we can choose to be blind. C.S. changed his entire paradigm for Jesus. He was also given a wife who died of cancer and he, too, lived to write about it.

And so he did. Because God asked him to. But he couldn’t swallow for awhile. Swallowing, breathing. Different steps to the same dance.

I am not saying I’m a prophet. I am saying there’s a message shoved deep, a small bundle of letters trapped between the rocks of my ribs. There are so many different colors about this place: the bright red that tastes like bile because I can’t go back. There’s a wall every time I turn around; a yellow nauseaous aura that consumes my mind when I first wake up and that feeling of everything being the same but everything being different when I breathe in air; the cold hard blue of truth that God is in control and anything I ever thought tasted like it was mere metal in my mouth.

If you need proof, God already gave it to Job (Job 38:1-18):

Then the Lord answered Job out of the whirlwind:
‘Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge?
Gird up your loins like a man,
   I will question you, and you shall declare to me.

‘Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?
   Tell me, if you have understanding.
Who determined its measurements—surely you know!
   Or who stretched the line upon it?
On what were its bases sunk,
   or who laid its cornerstone
when the morning stars sang together
   and all the heavenly beings* shouted for joy?

‘Or who shut in the sea with doors
   when it burst out from the womb?—
when I made the clouds its garment,
   and thick darkness its swaddling band,
and prescribed bounds for it,
   and set bars and doors,
and said, “Thus far shall you come, and no farther,
   and here shall your proud waves be stopped”?

‘Have you commanded the morning since your days began,
   and caused the dawn to know its place,
so that it might take hold of the skirts of the earth,
   and the wicked be shaken out of it?
It is changed like clay under the seal,
   and it is dyed* like a garment.
Light is withheld from the wicked,
   and their uplifted arm is broken.

‘Have you entered into the springs of the sea,
   or walked in the recesses of the deep?
Have the gates of death been revealed to you,
   or have you seen the gates of deep darkness?
Have you comprehended the expanse of the earth?
   Declare, if you know all this.

I sometimes wonder about that picture of Joan. I have a nonsensical thought, that maybe if she could have just looked up at the camera for one second, maybe the outcome would have been different. Maybe living and writing wouldn’t have been her only options.

But I know I’m a fool to think that, that she chose the better thing. To look at all God had given her (whether or not she knew that’s what she was doing), and to prolong that one moment before her worst nightmare became the only task God asked of her.

You take up your cross. You carry it. And God only knows to where you shall walk.

Photo credit: John Bryson/Time Life Pictures/Getty Images

Distant but Social

A few weeks ago, I socialized.

Distantly.

It was much needed. A few friends (under 10) and I got together a healthy six feet apart in our church parking lot and talked.

T-A-L-K-E-D.

This post is about how I’m horrible at talking in groups.

Like, HORRIBLE. It’s a tennis match for me, and I feel like I’m constantly dodging tennis balls, trying to find the right moment to speak up.

Because here’s the thing: I don’t even want to say anything. I like listening to my friends. I like making mental checklists of what everyone’s going through so I can pray about everything later.

But it would be really weird if I just showed up, smiled and kept nodding at everyone.

Or maybe not. Can I do that?

No.

Okay, fine.

But the REAL point of this post isn’t about how horrible I am at talking.

The REAL point, no scratch that, POINTS, are these:

1. My friends are some of the most grace-filled people I’ve ever met. And that’s pretty evident considering they keep inviting me to things even though I probably wear a pained a expression most of the time, concentrating on when to say anything halfway coherent.

2. The Holy Spirit is real. God is real. Which is evident by the hope I have in my heart driving me to be social (distantly, in this case) when I’m a natural introvert who loathes the concept of other people. You should have met me when I was an atheist. I was a real charmer.

3. I won’t give up. This a different side of myself from the person I used to be. The old me would have just said “Never mind!” and driven back home before I even got to the parking lot. But I’ve been determined to grow and challenge myself because God doesn’t want me to be stagnant.

I’ll still learning. I’m still putting my foot in my mouth and starting sentences I never finish because I’m not great at using my “outside voice” (the concept of which makes me want to throw up in my mouth a little bit). But I’m not going to let Satan tell me I’m not good enough to have friends. To be loved. To give and receive mutual respect.

I need to be there for them. And I need them to be there for me.

Bury Those Forks

Job’s friends are the worst.

They’re slowly sticking a fork into his side in an attempt to “comfort” him.

Here’s a man who’s lost everything. His children, his home, his health. Even his wife tells him to curse God and die.

I relate to Job. But I’d be a liar if I said I didn’t relate to his friends.

Remember my sin, vanity?

Well, meet my other sin, envy.

I am not good at not being jealous.

I will say I am A LOT better at it than I used to be. But there are still those dark spots in my heart that try to eat it from the inside out.

God has shown me with my skin issues that I’m not less than when I don’t look like perfection. And he’s showing me now that where I am at this moment in my life doesn’t define who I am either.

It’s not about other people and what they’ve accomplished. Because, like the book of Job points out, sometimes God leaves people to their own devices and lets them succeed at their own hands.

And that thought, my friends, is terrifying.

Think about it: God has left them utterly alone to amass wealth and titles and all sorts of goodies and there they go patting themselves on their backs none the wiser.

They’ve never given God the opportunity to circle their sin and bring their attention to it. They’ve never attempted to redefine who they are in Christ and forget the ways of this world.

What do you think will happen to them when they die?

A brand new Mercedes is nice, man, but it ain’t gonna save your soul.

However, not everyone who is blessed with wealth is walking this path. Think of Joseph of Aramathea. He gave his own tomb to Jesus.

Now there’s a man who truly got it.

So the point is this: the health of your heart (not your bank account) totally correlates to your journey to heaven.

If there’s darkness there, sin that’s eating it away, then there’s no room to grow in Jesus.

This is something I have to be mindful of from the moment I wake up to the moment I go to sleep. I am not my circumstances or my accomplishments or the lack thereof.

I am the heart I offer to Christ.

And if it’s dark, if it’s intent on my own success at the expense of everything else, then it’s not the gift I want to offer.

“Though He slay me, yet will I hope in him…” (Job 13:15)