I saw the look in His eyes, heard the fist pound on the table, and the venom and his voice as he declared God’s hatred for a certain country and its people. From another corner I watched her eyes, bright and alarmed, telling her story of fear better than her mouth spoke it. Conspiracy after theory poured out, and she wondered how in the world we’ll survive when the U.S. government controls the whole world? We hear the words evil, sin, unfairness, and justice spoken constantly. I wept this month as a dear family traded in brotherhood and community for escaping from the world, and are choosing to live alone and disconnected from the economy-in preparation for the end times and its tribulations. Graphic news articles and the many stories of innocent people suffering are enough to cloud any day with darkness. We’ve all heard dont’s and should not’s all of our lives and have heard about consequences far more than heart issues. I spent my tender, childhood years believing that salvation was a ticket to heaven and an escape from hell, because those tones were echoed across the pulpit. I know what it’s like to be curled up in bed sweating, with a thumping heart and wide eyes. I know what it’s like to come to Jesus because I’m scared.
And negativity closes in around us, controls us, defines how we look at life and live it. But it’s not the spirit He’s given us. There’s a better hope, a living freedom, a perfect peace through Him. He’s not something to be escaped to, a security blanket to make it through the world’s darkness. His mercies are new every morning and He promises grace to thrive in this world, not a survival kit for hiding from it.
This week, once I plugged my ears and shut my eyes, I wanted to hold my head high, to prove that I’m living and breathing in beauty all around me. My world: it’s full of it!
I saw it on Sunday, in the old grandma next to me, who begged her Lord to come back soon please, and had to take off her glasses when tears started rolling down her cheeks. It was in the love of Jesus pouring through the hands of His people as they handed food to the hungry and needy. (It was especially in that particular lady who laughed and clapped and danced and sang catchy tunes in between the parcels she held out with wide-open arms.) One day in the mall I was thrilled to see tables full of legos and wooden building blocks, with children, parents, and grandparents of all ages laughing and playing together around them. The lady at the markets told me I looked sweet and stuck six brilliantly coloured roses into my bag. Beauty was in the breathtaking loveliness of the lookout nearby, where my sister and I shared coffee and tears. Later, it was in the abandon of sucking in the crisp air and throwing arms full of red and orange autumn leaves into the air. My favourite moment was passing a car on the highway, which held an old chinese grandma doing the cutest duck-lips and jamming to her music. Today, I laughed and laughed because a little 5-year-old girl was following me all over the library, up and down the many aisled, and hollering out to everybody on the way to “Come and see my new BEST friend!” I was having too much fun to be embarrassed. Best of all, beauty this week was Jesus Himself, cleansing and doing repair jobs in the deepest parts of my heart, replacing bitterness with forgiveness and compassion.
Jesus is joy, and His joy is my strength, but I know He intimately understands suffering and pain too, and I’m glad He does. I know that His weeping people move something deep inside Him. After all, He promises He has enough bottles on hand to store all our tears in. I believe His heart breaks too as He holds the baby who went home far too early in one arm, and its weeping mother in the other. He had to know pain to be the healer of it.
That’s our God. Papa God. I’m so glad to know Him and His peace, no matter the state of the world.
In Thee is gladness
Amid all sadness,
Jesus, sunshine of my heart.
By Thee are given
The gifts of heaven,
Thou the true Redeemer art.
Our souls Thou wakest,
Our bonds Thou breakest;
Who trusts Thee surely
Has built securely;
He stands forever: Allelujah!
Our hearts are pining
To see Thy shining,
Dying or living
To Thee are cleaving;
Naught can us sever: Allelujah!
If He is ours,
We fear no powers,
Not of earth nor sin nor death.
He sees and blesses
In worst distresses;
He can change them with a breath.
Wherefore the story
Tell of His glory
With hearts and voices;
All heav’n rejoices
In Him for ever: Allelujah!
We shout for gladness,
Triumph o’er sadness,
Love Him and praise Him
And still shall raise Him
Glad hymns forever: Allelujah!
Johann Lindermann, 1958
“So how’s married life?” one of them asked. “Well, I suppose you’re just busy frying pancakes now!” the other one said. (The one with the perpetual angelic smile.) I chuckle my polite, fake little laugh and tell them it’s great. And it is, but it’s not everything.
Someone else tells me I have it all now: loving and being loved, playing house, travelling with a man who holds my hand when we fly, and using this new era to hunt out jobs, do crafts and babysit hyper children. I suppose if you look at it like that, it’s not fair. But neither is where you’re at and what you’re doing right now.
Sure, it’s jolly. I know I’ve never talked or laughed or given more contented sighs than I do now. We read scary stories to each other and sing Old McDonald Had a Farm on the way to church, with one of us singing the lyrics and the other doing the appropriate, irreverent barking and quacking noises. I suppose we do the romantic things like jogging along the river and sipping chai lattes at Gloria Jeans, but sometimes there are tears that drip into the coffee. On any given day I feel all wifey–packing lunch for the husband and sending him off to work with a kiss, and other times I suppose we’re just two spoiled children living under the same room, letting all those new habits and traits of the other perturb us. He sees blue, I see pink, but we also get to sit up till midnight laughing and crying over ourselves, because the differences we let define us are pathetic and fantastic.
The first week we moved, we set up our handsome secondhand bookshelf, and couldn’t wait for the familiarity of our combined books in place on the shelves. David had them unpacked from their boxes within an hour, and when I came to investigate the progress, he called over his shoulder, “Don’t worry, I’m not finished yet!” Good, thought I, because it certainly didn’t appear that way. Tall books on one end of the shelf. Even taller books on the other end. And every other shape and height arranged in no particular order on the rest of the shelf. The next day is his first day at the hospital. Wife takes it upon herself to help him out by arranging the books nicely for him as a thoughtful surprise. She categorises the shelves: churchy, theological, storyish, music and arts, languages…and for the next 30 minutes there is clanging and banging as new stacks are made and everything is rearranged to look pretty to the eye–by height! Husband returns home and asks with a slightly-dismayed tone what happened to all his work the night before? Wife did not know that he had already arranged everything by much-more-detailed subjects within each shelf: nonresistance, biographies, fiction, history, creation, apologetics…through her glasses, she had only seen disarray.
We both sputtered, but we also burst out laughing at each other. I suppose that’s the nice thing about living with someone and knowing you better get along or else. Really, marriage isn’t always some glorified, extraterrestrial experience. It’s just one of the ways God chooses to mature selfish human beings. There is death: I lose my right to hibernation and hiding in my little dens. He chose to live with someone far less-educated than himself to whom he’d have to constantly be explaining medical and scientific terms. Sometimes we’re on a slippery bank, desperately trying to grab on to the remnants of individuality.
So to you, my inquiring friend, yes, marriage is great but it’s only something, and no, I’m not just cheesily frying pancakes. We love fiercely, giggle I’m sorrys, and get lonely if we ever think that the other can replace the need for Jesus’ fulfilling passion. I guess it’s the way God decided to make the two of us more like Himself, and we worship, because it’s doing the job.
that against all appearances, I haven’t actually rolled off the face of the earth. A dear friend of ours sarcastically told my sister the other day, “Be sure to tell Carolyn how much we’ve appreciated all the recent updates!”
And I know
- that spring does come, the sun does still work, and winters don’t last forever after all. I’ve never anticipated and celebrated it as much as I do now, coming here from the place where every day is a barefoot day! I made it a point to grin at a garden full of yellow pansies the other afternoon, and they smiled back.
- that it’s painful calling down kids in class when they’re so stinkin’ cute
- that the grim stares on the streets and conversations-that-stop-when-you-walk-past kind of looks don’t need to be taken personally if you don’t want them to be
- and that sometimes there are happy somethings on the dark streets, like a shuffling, toothy old lady who smiles in a grandmotherly way, a baby who pointed at me with an teensy finger and nearly spit out her pacifier because she was grinning so hard, and passing students who recognise you and grin & wave, and suddenly the world isn’t quite so hard after all
- that I get to squish my little sister in SIX days, and I almost don’t know what to do with myself
- that I can’t be everything to everyone, and that what one person sees as a strength is a huge weakness to another, and it’s ridiculous to fear & preoccupy myself with those facts
- that sometimes it’s a lot more fun to go to a private lesson just to talk with the mother beforehand than it is to sit with her wriggling boy who’s obviously preoccupied thinking about computer games and the weather outside. Because sometimes you can only take so much spelling out letters, reading Pooh stories, and talking about the opposites, of cold, stop & hard, and need to discuss feminism, mother-roles, and gay marriage instead
- that you can talk to God better & more efficiently under a full moon at the park than anywhere else.
- that knowledge-expansion of vocabulary usage can come in unlikely ways, like my hyper teenager who barely knows how to stumble through the answer to the question “What did you today?”, but said she was angry yesterday because, “My little brother debauched my homework.” Yay for non-native speakers!
- that sometimes the biggest encouragement comes in a simple thing like the envelope of fruit tea from a close friend every two weeks
- that maybe “Polish lessons” aren’t actually so much about learning as they are good talks, tears, hot tea with a tired mom, and crooning over pictures of her children, so it’s nothing to get frustrated at after all
And to close, a paragraph from Mike Mason, written to me I’m sure. I don’t have a clue how to live with grace & mercy sometimes instead of clinging to truth, and the self in myself is very alive.
” Our natural tendency is to treat people as if they were not “others” at all, but merely aspects of ourselves. We do not experience them as the overwhelming, comprehensive realities that we feel ourselves to be. Compared with us, they are not quite real. We see them as if through a haze, the haze of our own all-engulfing selfhood. We are constantly filtering others through the fine electronic mesh of our own private system of perception, so that what finally reaches our awareness and registers there is not usually a real person at all, but a sort of computer image, a reconstruction based on our own personal programming and biases. We live in a heavily screened, body-guarded reality. Not much gets through the barbed wire, not much gets by the great bulldog of the ego!”
Remember this post from over a year ago?
Let me take some of that back. It’s jolly fun making fun of high-heeled ideals, but that was then, and you know, sometimes those completely unrealistic, from-a-movie moments actually happen after all.
So here’s to my Valentine, to real life sometimes being just as perfect as I used to criticise, and to loving. Even today from a distance.
First, was the day when we were learning the names of relatives, sounding out the difference between “grandpa” and “grandma, talking about what a cousin is, and how a sister-in-law is different than a sister. Following the worksheets, was a family-tree game, with discussion questions on each block. One little girl took her question and described her favourite relative with enthusiasm. “She live in Amerrrica. She not work, she at home. And she has one small boy, my cousin. He two years old. And the other child….umm…is still…um….in woman body!”
In the same class the following week, we talked about countries, and each student wrote a few sentences or a paragraph about why they do or don’t like living in their home country. J, who doesn’t want to live anywhere else in the world said, “I loooove Poland because it’s super, and so fun, and so good, and sooo nice and lethal!” New vocabulary definition coming up.
Among the more advanced students is the boy who tries to be all macho, loves fighting, and wraps his world around computer games. On the aforementioned discussion game, was a question asking the students, “What makes a happy family?” K answered the normal things I was expecting—an Apple computer for everyone in the family, big screens, a new version of Minecraft…and then he smiled and said, “And I think a little baby sister.” There was an audible “awwww!” from me.
On another afternoon, one little girl followed me into the teachers room to wait on her mother after our class was finished. She stood beside me, grinning for all she was worth, and then- never mind that we had just been together for an hour- said loudly, “Hi! How are you today? Do you like cheese?”
On another note, FOUR people smiled at me on the street yesterday. Four! When the sun comes out in Poland, miracles happen.
- fitting my take-along life into 3 suitcases, and the rest onto a closet shelf full of tightly-taped boxes
- tight hugs
- unexpected tears
- frappes with Heidi in the Aldi parking lot, our favourite place to talk & watch people at the same time
- long naps, because sometimes sleeping is more effective than packing & getting everything done
- baby sister & the way she melted me with one adorable giggle just in time for me to hear it before leaving
- card after card slipped into my hand
- wondering why I left stuff like tax-return files, banking, and closing other accounts until the last few days
- seeing my favourite male face every day this last week-and enjoying the time, but feeling the pain already
- little brothers counting down the days and reminding me of it every morning
- realising that my high ambitions of sitting down for 2 hours every day to learn Polish were rather humorous. Someone asked tonight how language-study is going. Let’s just say, it’s not going at all.
- knowing that on the other side, are wonderful people who will make the transition enjoyable
- a daddy who sings sappy, nostalgic songs just to make me cry
- support. Beautiful verses with God’s promises given to me over & over. prayers behind me
- parents who struggle to let go, but send me off without questions, because they know the Father’s will.
- just sitting, relaxing, watching- because there’s no point in stressing about last-minute stuff or freaking out about forgetting something
- the sunshine & bare feet & ocean and wondering if I’ll really need that furry stuff in my suitcase
- wondering & praying about meeting the souls that God will ask me to touch
This is it! I entered into the idea of this experience, feeling wildly like Maria on The Sound of Music-running recklessly and belting out “I have confidence, confidence in me…” Now I’m at the gate, wondering what in the world I’ve gotten myself into, or what I think I’m doing. But I take the deep breath, put my head down, and go–because I’m under almighty care, and in the hand of the One who knows why He put me here in this place.
And mind me with each step I am more certain
Everything will turn out fine…
Today, I sensed in a small way, the stinging love of God’s unadulterated jealousy for me.
I am the Lord…I will not give my glory to anyone else, nor will I allow another to receive the honour that is due to me. Isaiah 42:8
In a paragraph from Calvin:
The Lord very frequently addresses us in the character of a husband; as He performs all the offices of a true and faithful husband, so He requires love and chastity from us; that is, that we do not prostitute our souls to Satan. As the purer and chaster a husband is, the more grievously he is offended when he sees his wife inclining to a rival; so the Lord who has betrothed us to Himself in truth, declares that He burns with the hottest jealousy, whenever, neglecting the purity of His holy marriage, we defile ourselves, and especially when the worship of His deity, which ought to have been most carefully kept unimpaired, is transferred to another, or adulterated with some superstition; since in this way we not only violate our plighted troth, but defile the nuptial couch, by giving access to adulterers. (Institutes, II viii,18)
Far too often this month, I’ve been involved in other affairs, distracted by things flashing for my attention, too busy to nurture spiritual connection with the Father. Feeling the guilt of forfeiting alone-time with Him, but shrugging off the seriousness of unfaithfulness.
Rivals: activities, busyness, spare time, work, stress, study, technology, even doing work for God. Not that they don’t have their appropriate places, but God’s been given the backseat in my life. His glory hasn’t been my driving motive, and that’s when His jealousy spilled over. Not out of anger, but out of a fierce love, because He knows that nothing else can even come close to satisfying me the way He can. I know that too, but I haven’t learned my lesson yet. How beautiful really-that He loves me enough to protect me from chasing wildly after the things that will only bring emptiness & destruction.
That’s His part. And this is mine:
Today I pray for restoration, discipline, relationship-maintenance, and the strength to renounce the things that have been a threat to our intimacy. I am His.
People have asked why I’ve been disappearing? Because the world is on my mind, that’s what.
There’s the thing of having my carefully-orchestrated life turned inside-out, when I was asked to go to Poland to help teach English, and said “yes”. The mixed feelings that continue to follow -dealing with random tears and happiness in the same 30 seconds. Figuring out how in the world I’m supposed to reorganise myself, and deciding what will eventually have to be sorted through, taken along, and left behind. Sitting in front of the screen with clunky headphones, listening in despair to the intimidating mixtures of letters and sounds that are far different than any language I’ve studied yet, and wondering how in the world it’s conquerable. Buying stacks of baby clothes, and feeling righteously justified in doing so, since I face the fact that I’ll be a stranger to my own sibling when I see him/her next. Looking at my family, church, and everything else that has made my life beautiful and comfortable so far, and knowing I’m not quite as confident about this whole thing as I want to think I am. I’m scared, but thankful anyhow. Because I meant it when I told God one night last month that it’s really stupid for me to have my life so organised, in control, and planned out. I had dreams for the future, which included possibly teaching English somewhere –in my words, “waaay down the road.” But when I asked God to make my plans happen only if he wanted them to take place, and to do it in His timing, not mine, He took it seriously–two mornings later I got that fateful e-mail.
Better yet is the gift of being in a relationship with an amazing man of God, the fresh beginning of a commitment that holds beauty, sacredness, and feelings (indigestion included) that I didn’t know I had inside of me. I am in awe at the way God works, the beautiful art He puts together when we let Him take control, and surrender our rights to love and be loved. The way I thought my storyline for the next while was already written, until God said, “Ta da!”, and popped up with this surprise ending, which is far more wonderful than anything I had already planned out. The way He started His work in two individuals’ lives who didn’t even know the other existed, and planted desires and a common vision in their hearts that allowed them to recognise each other as answers to prayer when they later met each other. It’s been a long, exciting, and faith-boosting story. Welcome, David. *
All this, conglomerated into what feels like a breath of time. I am grateful that God chooses not to measure prayers by wordiness or poetic exclamations. Because the best I’ve been able to spill out is, “Thank you, thank you” over and over again.
“For out of His infinite riches in Jesus,
* If I would’ve written like I really felt in that paragraph, I would’ve put an exclamation mark or two after every sentence. You’re welcome for refraining.
**Annie J. Flint lyrics
There are times when words are distractions, when silence feels like a welcome fog, when nothing is defined, descriptive, or specific, when days fly by–leaving their marks in abstract scribbles. This month was one of those times-with one looming thing dominating the focus, while the rest of life was scrawled into a blur. I was a child with an adult-sized load. I felt the burden, but felt its disappearance even more, when I felt hope in so many beautiful ways.
Through Hope Himself, who promised to renew our strength and harness us up on eagles’ wings.
Through a friend who is oozing peace, Jesus, and encouragement–right after a difficult breakup.
Through my old German friend at the nursing home, who happily sings and holds my hand and waves it through the air like a conductor while she counts the beats, “Eins, Zwei, Drei, bang hand on table, Eins, Zwei, Drei bang…” She talks about her horrible childhood, how her children don’t come to visit, how there’s nothing to do but stare out of the window, and how one of the grouchy nurses there would love to tie her to the ceiling fan, just for the fun of seeing her helplessly fly around in circles. (Yeah, she’s graphic). Then she pulls my face down to hers, and says in a fascinating mixture of two languages, “Darling, if there’s any problem you ever have, just write it on a card, and I promise to think about you and pray. You can tell me anything; I’ll try to understand” She, who could have grounds for discouragement and despair, knows what it is to have the capacity to hope, and to rekindle it in others.
Through my little 4 y.o. friend. Last night on the trampoline, we ate our dessert- the sweet little wildcat and I. The one who attacks your midriff with a violent punch one minute, and smooches you loudly in church at the next. The one who throws wild tantrums one day but sings with all his heart and solemnly tells you all about God the next. His random observations are most enlightening
“Carolyn, you really need a Bible study man.” “A what?” “A Bible study man. A little thing that you can carry around with you everywhere, and push him to make you start singing. That’s called a Bible study man.”
“I love coming to your place, because we have to turn left to go into your driveway. I love when dad turns left”
“You have a really good church.” “What do you like about it?” “Mostly the really good seats.”
But last night, on the trampoline, he was quiet. We were at a birthday party, where he whooped and hollered, knocked a girl off a chair, grabbed my cake and ate the frosting off, and stuffed stolen balloons into his pocket. When the noise reached a certain decibel point, he and my introvert self grabbed our plates, walked past one room filled with loud laughter, past another where music was thumping from a sibling’s stereo, and out into the dark where all you could hear was the background hum of voices and the droning of cicadas. He squealed for a while as we tried to balance our plates while climbing up on our perches, and then he shivered, pushed into my jacket, and leaned his head on me with a big sigh.
“I like being out here,” he said, “we can just sit quietly, count the beautiful stars, and…and just be hidden from all the noise.“
He sat there, talking remorsefully about the remote-controlled helicopter he broke in pieces and threw in the bin, for the simple reason of not liking it anymore. About God’s rockets, babies, and chicken coops. How he wants to grow up and be a good man so he can go to heaven, but how he daren’t fly up to the stars too soon, because God snatches those people and doesn’t let them come back to earth again.
There is hope. I see his ungodly father and the things he’s exposed to, and hear the vulgar words he yells when he’s angry. But I see his sisters’ patience, and the rapt attention on his face during a Bible story. I hear his passionate, theological assumptions about God, and know that in him is a man that can turn the world upside down. He’s mature beyond his years, but no more than a sweet kid when he’s clothed and in his right mind.
I see myself, carrying a load, when God promised to be my burden-bearer. I shrug it off my shoulders. He takes it, and I feel the peace that comes with surrender, the reassuring strength, and the quiet in Him that comes only, when I too, am hidden from all the noise.
There is hope. Today, I see the spring rains coming, and I know with Robert Browning that
God’s in His heaven,
all’s right with the world.