Tuesday, May 19, 2009

The Ballad of Peachtree Street

Peachtree Street with her tall trees skirted in emerald ivy, strings itself through Atlanta's downtown as if she were a secret kept only for those parched and weary of concrete and glass buildings. I walked her way last week and knew I was amidst the sacred, the preserved part of a city whose towers no longer remember their roots. And as I ambled past cafes and patios polka dotted with black bistro sets I marveled in the culture, the variety, the vastness, the couture of God's creation. Then I saw them--spaced apart like park benches--they lay here and there, unnoticed. A part of the landscape to the buzzing administrative assistants, the graphic designers and marketing researches, they went unnoticed and unregarded. Homeless. Without a place to go, without money to get there, without purpose, they dozed at noon while others hurried past to grab a bite to eat before returning to the business hub. Broken lives wasted--this is the ballad of the homeless man on Peachtree Street. When Jesus had fed the masses--a miracle to all who witnessed this act--he made a statement that always penetrates my spirit. "Gather up the broken pieces that are left over, so that nothing is wasted." (John 6:12) Of course he's talking about bread and fish here, but to me it says so much more. When I think of those men and women, hair long, faces brown with weather and lives void of purpose, I can't help but think when were they broken? Once they were whole and somewhere along the way things happened and they were left discarded as useless, no longer worth picking up and taking home. And then I consider the lives of those who I know and love. I think of the broken pieces of a life torn by abortion, the remnants of a life torn by death. I recall the shreds remaining when marriages end and children and wives are left to sift through the rubble. I'm nauseous at the reality of alcoholism and drug addictions that leave in their wake only debris, debris and more debris. Broken pieces. And there are moments when I want to shake my fist and swear and ask, why? Why? WHY? I want to shout out, "This isn't fair." And Jesus says, "Gather up the broken pieces...so that nothing is wasted." Nothing is wasted. I have not lived out the greatest heartaches. I'm certain there are those that measure far deeper than my own, but of those that I have seen there is one thing I am certain: God does not waste our pain. He does not discard our grief. He does not cast off our hurt or our confusion or our sorrow. He gathers with hands that are skilled and gentle healers. He binds. He knits together. He multiplies. He soothes. He redeems. He renews. He brings a light into the darkest recesses of our pain and causes life to emerge from the places that have suffocated our spirits and left us for dead. Our God never leaves those places. He does not. I know when His Spirit passes the path of Peachtree Street He calls out to those sunken frames that huddle on sidewalk and corner, "You are mine and you have purpose. You have value and you have My Love." And when His Spirit passes the deep places of our own hearts He sings the song of restoration, "I heal the brokenhearted and bandage their wounds." (Psalm 147:3) Pray with Me: Father, You are the binder of the broken and the healer of the hurting. You are the restorer. Will you take the pieces, Lord, that I see before me and restore life to them. Return to them your original purpose that they would again have use in a world where hope seems an intangible theory. You are the God of hope. You are hope, Lord. I believe you will restore and I ask that you would grant me faith and patience as I wait to see your plan unfold. Amen. Read with me: Isaiah 61 Psalm 147

Monday, May 18, 2009

Song of the Whip-Poor-Will

It's a relentless call--that of the whip-poor-will--a lullaby that blankets the dusk as she fades into night. I've known her song since I was old enough to remember she was a bird whose face wouldn't be seen in the daytime. And I've loved her. Who wouldn't? Her voice almost speaks into the darkness insisting that her lover join her on some distant tree's limb. Her call continues long past other nighttime voices repeating the same words over and over and over again. She won't quit her song until it has accomplished it's goal. From the jam-froth pink bedroom of the cabin my father crafted to the bayou-mist of the bedroom my mother let me paint and then finally the slumbering hues of these walls where I now lay down my head, I have always heard a whip-poor-will's call. Just last week it was some time after 3 in the morning and still she sang. I had cracked the window to hear her more clearly and let her song shush my heart back to sleep when God whispered, "That's how I pursue you, Sarah." And just like that I saw Him differently that I had before. I imagined His own words to me, "Sarah, I love you. I love you. I love you. " Over and over and over again. They never stop. He never stops. His love never fails. It's like a cliche and because it is like a cliche our ears get to the point where they don't hear the words anymore. Growing up in a Christian family I heard those words my entire life. When that's the case, their meaning becomes diluted with the passing of time until one day the fact that God's love never fails, never ends doesn't alter our outlook on life. We no longer see life through His love, we see His love as a faded childhood photo somewhere on a distant wall. And yet He calls still. Again and again. In speaking of the restoration of Israel, Jeremiah 31:3 holds one of my favorite passages in scripture. "In a far-off land the Lord will manifest himself to them. He will say to them, 'I have loved you with an everlasting love. That is why I have continued to be faithful to you." It didn't matter what the Israelites had done--how many times they sold out to the nearest bidder--God's love for them continued. He pursued them across deserts, He called them across seas, He sang to them when they were in distant lands and He loved them no matter where they were. The beauty of His song is that it is for all mankind--He sings for you and He sings for me. He sings for our children and for our families. He sings for those who do not hear and for those who choose not to hear. He sings for those who will not listen and He'll never quit; never. And I can't help but think of the times in my own life when His call has gone unanswered. How many times have His words floated beyond my heart and scattered amidst the debris of my life while I chose instead to cling to worldly wisdom, to whatever was clear and right in front of me. How many times have I chosen to accept the things that are seen instead of believing in His love? And I can't help but think of the people in my life now who I wish could hear His song. I want to grip their hearts and pry them open making room for this tender love song, and yet I cannot. You know people like that too. You have children for whom you've prayed and prayed. You have Fathers and grandmothers and sisters for whom you've interceded, and yet they do not hear. May I just say to you He still sings--even in places far off. When our voices have grown hoarse with our own attempts to share the truth, His has only grown stronger. Sometimes I think Christians get so caught up in the newest book or theology or new approaches to having church that we drown out our Father's song. We make so much of our own noise that we can't even hear His call let alone those we love and want to reach. There are the great theologians and the lofty thinkers, but I resolve to remain a simple follower--a follower of my Savior's song. As long as I hear His song, I know I am near Him, following Him, in the right place. I know I am home. May our own response to His song be so vivid that those around want to join in the chorus. The whip-poor-will sang long that night. I lost my wakefulness while still she sang. Our heavenly Father's pursuit continues too. May we have ears to hear. Pray with me: Father, thank you for your pursuit of my heart. Thank you that you call to me long into the nightimes in my life. Thank you that you sing when I listen and you sing when I join in and you sing when I hold my hands over my ears in stubborn rebellion. Forgive me for ignoring you. Teach me to believe that your love is greater than the sum of my life and that somehow in relaxing into your unfailing love, I will find rest. Amen. Read with me: I Cor. 13 Psalm 89

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Missing His Face

It's not new news--we undertook a little project last April. We decided to build our own house as opposed to having one built or buying one already finished. Those of you who know us well are probably keenly aware of this endeavor since many of you assisted along the way. The reason we wanted to build was because we've lived in houses built by other people 's hands for other people's needs before. We've renovated those homes to make them fit into our lives; we've suffered through closets big enough for mice and toilets that never felt like flushing when guests came over. We've coated pepto-bismol colored walls with more palatable hues and we've attempted to infuse character and charm into standard issue pre-fab boring designs more than once. So this time, we designed the entire thing; we put ourselves into every single two by four and nail in this home. There is no room untouched by our choices and vision. There is not a closet or a cupboard or a corner that we did not think through and choose exactly the way it would look and what function it would serve. None. Nada. In fact the more we got into building the more we wanted to infuse into every shred of the home our personality, our mark, our plan. And in the end, it's like we are omnipresent in this home. We're everywhere. And here's the interesting part, if you know us--really know Jeff and Sarah--you see us in every detail of the home. But if you don't know us well, you'd walk through this house and completely miss our faces and our hearts in the bead board, the antiqued cabinets, the vintage pieces, the wooden counters. You'd walk right through and completely miss us. Here's what gets me--I think it's really easy for me to do that with God--entirely miss His face and heart in my life. There's a passage in Jeremiah 23 that reminds me of this: "Do you people think that I am some local deity and not the transcendent God?" the Lord asks..."Do you not know that I am everywhere?" the Lord asks." The transcendent God. Isn't that beautiful? When the morning's first rays of light transcend into a room it almost glows--it's not invasive light, it's a light that speaks gently, "I am here. Do you not know that I am everywhere? " When the darkness of life seems to hide the light of God can't you just hear your Father asking you that question? He is here. Now. While you read this blog, He is speaking into your heart, "Don't miss me. Don't miss my face. I'm with you. I'm in the circumstances you face. I'm in the predicaments you are in. I'm in the faces of your children and I'm in your job. I'm in your schooling and I'm in your friendships. I'm in your marriage. I will never leave. Never." But so often we don't see Him because we don't know, I mean really know Him or worse, we've forgotten what the face of God is like. When we lose the man we married to a disease that took him far too young we struggle to find the face of God in the ripping apart of our heart. When the child we raised begins to make destructive decisions the heart of our Father becomes a haze of disappointment and disillusionment as our offspring walk a path we'd never have chosen. And He weeps. Our heavenly Father weeps for us, that we could see Him amidst pain, amidst loss. And He whispers to our spirits, "You can't see me because I'm holding you in my arms. I'm not in front of you, I'm beneath you, carrying you. I'm not somewhere in the distance; I am here gripping you with my everlasting love." Acts 17:28 says, "for in him we live and move about and exist..." Our very lives are in Him. The great moments --when marriages are formed and babies sing their first cry, when homes are finished and jobs are gotten and promotions are given, when our children obey and spring surrenders her first blossoms--they're all the splendor of our Father on display. And the times when we trudge through the long dark valleys too are held in the palm of His eternal hand. Psalms promises He is a very present help in times of trouble. Very present. Near. This is our God. Do you see His face? Do you sense His presence even when you can't see His face? If our lives are houses and God is the designer, the decorater, the builder, the Creator then may we make it our goal to look for His face, to discover His heart in every detail. May we not walk through one single moment and miss Him. Open the eyes of our Heart, Lord. Open the eyes of our heart. Pray with me: Father, I know you are here, but help me to see You. Help me to believe that it is you that carries me, it is You that enables me, it is You that remains when all else fades away. May I never rob You of honor when good enters my life and may I never deny You your glory when I am sustained in troubled times. Thank you for your omnipresence in the marrow of my life. Amen. Read with me: Isaiah 55:6 Psalm 139