R U T S

Time to state the obvious: it’s been awhile.

Here’s the thing about writing for me - forcing myself into it is hard. Beyond that, I’ve been successfully playing the self-induced role of Stretch Armstrong lately, and I’m tired of it. Work is stressful, work #2 is wearing, and generally speaking, life is demanding right now. Oh how delicate the strings of life become when pulled in all directions; stretched thin, worn out, eventually fraying.

I’ve frayed. But the reminder I have in my ability, even more so, my requirement to grow into a state of discomfort in which old skin needs to be shed lies here:

“No one cuts up a fine silk scarf to patch old work clothes; you want fabrics that match. And you don’t put wine in old, cracked bottles; you get strong, clean bottles for your fresh vintage wine. And no one who has ever tasted fine aged wine prefers unaged wine.” - Luke 5:36-39

There is so much found in the letting go of the old to step into the new. I become like a toddler who’s exhausted, but won’t sleep - that’s how I know the time for growth has come. With each new cycle of ecdysis, I’ve found that the shedding of my old self isn’t complete until I give myself permission to grow. This permission usually comes in the form of grace. In the same way that “you get strong, clean bottles for your fresh vintage wine,” I need to step into a fresh skin of wisdom skimmed off the top of the past season of life so that I can continue to develop in boldness, fullness, and well-rounded flavor. It’s truly putting to test that phrase, “it’s what’s on the inside that counts.” I also love the idea that I myself am fresh vintage wine, so let’s go with that.

I want to grow. The discomfort I feel comes from stagnancy and the stress of feeling like I’m in over my head, and while these two ideas seem contradictory, they walk in stride with one another. While I work hard to make it all happen, the monotonous feelings of daily routine pile and compound, cracking the old skin until it’s not longer fit to carry this body growing inside.

Growing up in the Midwest, I learned to say a lot of words that I’ve later had to re-learn how to say correctly. For example, the root of a tree was pronounced like “rut” by my younger self. I think back to when I tried to order “Rut Beer” at a restaurant and unsuccessfully so. I’ve since learned that it’s more commonly pronounced with a soft ‘o’ at the center, eliminating a lot of confusion across the board. Ironically, in this season, the rut I find myself in has to do with the roots I’m choosing to nourish and with what.

But at the heart of it all lies gratefulness; gratefulness is that drop of serenity cooling the crazy rhythm of life as you try to sink your roots down deep into new soil, and honesty is the pathway that gets you there. And man, am I ever grateful for the sweet life I am so quick to call out for being demanding.

The word I have graciously been given for this current season is: trimming. I know some of you don’t give a what about the Enneagram (and if you don’t know, you need to know), but I have found great resonance in my ‘type’ that has allowed me to make sense of so much and of so many aspects of my life. As a 7, my constant emotional state is to need to experience the absolute most out of life. The most adventure, the most emotion, the most socially, etc; so receiving the word that means, “to cut off irregular or unwanted parts” terrifies me because I want it all.

When the unnecessary is trimmed away, purposeful growth is given a greater chance to bloom into what’s meant to be. Like I said earlier, there is so much found in the letting go of the old to step into the new. If something isn’t propelling you forward, if it’s holding you back from staying true to the conviction of what you’re really waiting for, if it’s a thorn in your side instead of an encouraging voice equally as interested in personal growth as you are, then time to trim. The season that’s coming next is also one of trimming, but of the “decorative material added around the edge of something” kind.

Running for Today

Today, on the phone with my sister, I said,  “I ran four miles yesterday without stopping.” The older sister/younger sister relationship allows for much grace in the area of achievement, mainly because I’ve been telling my big sister my accomplishments for 28 years now. But this was not just another moment of bragging induced by adolescent nostalgia, this was a moment of me saying the truth out loud for myself. 

A brief history of my turmoiled relationship with running: I didn’t. I had a higher-than-average mile time as a seventh grader because I took off the second the gym teacher’s whistle shrieked so that I could get it over with. Years of dance only furthered my running form of bouncing fairy feet, and I consistently left any time spent running with a matching pair of shin splints. I loathed running. 

Living two blocks from the ocean has blacked out any possible excuse I could come up with as to why I’m not out and about more than I am curled up inside reading or re-watching Stranger Things. Let me be clear: I have already re-watched Stranger Things 1 & 2 in preparation for the Season 3 premier. I have also taken up running. Naturally, on the first day, I ran towards the ocean. I breathed in through my nose and out through my mouth letting my fairy feet relax into a heel-ball-toe rhythm that fought every ounce of dancer in me. I relaxed my hands like I’d heard my sister’s cross country coach tell her to do, and I ran. 

The first few days were pretty ugly. I stopped regularly, walked parts, and couldn’t figure out how to work my breath. But I loved the freedom running gave me; freedom to move, to explore my limits, and be out among the life happening down by the ocean. So I kept pushing and worked up to two miles, then three, now four. I don’t have a specific goal in mind and I’m not running for any specific purpose, but here’s why I’m obsessed with running: it forces you to be exactly where you are.  

When I set out on my first run, I had no idea what I was capable of. I quickly realized that running tested my body, but it more so tested my mind. My mind was the thing that encouraged my body into quitting or pushing on. The thoughts going on inside my head getting jarred by each stride have the strongest influence over what happens on each run. I learned quickly that if I focused on the end of the run, the finish line if you will, I struggled. If I thought about all the ground I’d already covered, I’d lose my momentum and eventually want to stop. But when I focus on the music in my ears and taking each and every step exactly when it comes, I last longer, I run faster, and I can push myself harder. 

I’ve been having countless conversations lately about daily bread. What I’m talking about is that moment in the Our Father where Jesus says, “give us today our daily bread...” The moment where he emphasizes that our Father’s grace is sufficient and we would do well to keep our focus on what His grace in our lives looks like today. Not tomorrow. Not next year. Not next week. Today. Running has been a physical representation of this for me. It forces me to be fully present where I am. It brings up the mantra: do what you can with what you have where you are. These have been the themes of my life lately as I re-entrust the desires of my heart to a God who’s promises are big enough for eternity, but dying to meet me right in this moment exactly where I am. He sees my needs as small in comparison to the need for surrendering to His ways. He still sees my needs and takes delight in showing me how we’ll get there together, but I have come to the place of daily humility in the full knowledge that anything I try to do for myself beyond today is outside of His call. I will still make plans and look forward to future events, but His heart is for the dailies: daily surrender, daily trust, daily reliance on our savior who promises to hem us in behind and before so that we can be fully alive to his promises today. 

 

God's A Drama King

It’s so difficult to know - really truly know - and believe that the life we are currently living is temporary and fleeting. It’s easy to be aware of and comment on how quickly the time passes, but the funny thing is that we have nothing else to compare it to. We can compare March to January or 2019 to 2018, but there’s no real way to compare our current life with eternal life - the life that’s coming. And then to comprehend that what we are doing in this life will fade away while death here brings about something lasting and forever, now that sounds like something out of a sci-fi movie.

This gets even more challenging for me when I measure my heart’s desires against the value of eternal life. This morning, I realized all over again that I want to love Jesus more than I want to love anything else in this life. And if that’s the case, anything I pour my heart into and care about has the opportunity to become an idol in the face of my faith.

I was listening to a lecture by John Piper about how Jesus wants us to experience and go after the joy of knowing Him and glorifying Him. He talked through what it truly means that “to live is Christ, to die is gain.” In death, we lose nothing (because of Jesus’ death) and in life, we experience Christ through what Piper called “staying alive to the theater of God” that is the world. He further described this as wanting “Christ to be magnified in his life and in his body.” He finished this thought by saying, “Christ will be made to look magnificent in my dying when in my dying, he is made to look not like loss in this world, but gain.”

And I thought, it’s easy to magnify my joy for so many things, but these things are nothing compared to what Jesus has done for me and what He has prepared for my future. I thought about all the things that fight for space in my heart and in my life, when Jesus has blessed me with space in abundance - these things are not to be craved, but He is to be.

I want my desire to see the Holy Spirit move and work on the Earth to be greater than my desire to be married or always have enough in my back account. I want my desire for Jesus to be known to be greater than my desire to do well in my work. I want my desire to share his promises with those who’ve never known them to be greater than my desire to know that other people are enjoying my company. I want my daily perspective to dwell in the knowledge of eternity so that the way I live is truly reflective of what I believe. I want less space between me and Him. I want His heart to be my heart. I want to be able to say without any hesitation, “You can strip it all away, Lord, and I would still have the greatest treasure/everything I need, because I would have You.”

We’ve continuously created need for things in this life to fill the space that God originally created to have for Himself. We’ve made up our own versions of what a ‘complete’ life will look like. But our completeness exists with our being satisfied with all that God is for us, the bread of life. We are so quick to do what Piper called “turning away from a flowing fountain and scratching at the dirt…”

The things that make up our life are gifts - but they don’t exist in eternity; not even marriage lives on in Heaven. But it’s because we have everything we need in Jesus and our eternity is set with Him. Our call is to bring Heaven down and make His kingdom here, which we have the choice to do in many ways.

I know the next phase is something like understanding what kinds of gifts these things that make up life are and how to use them well in glorifying Him, because even though I want to be complete in His fullness, I do still have dreams for my life that have come from a place of wanting to be kept in the shadow of His wings as His daughter and child. And I’m sure that with time, the purpose of each gift will be made known. But the gifts will never take their rightful places if my heart is not first wholly His. I want to stay alive to the fullness of God’s drama through what He has gifted in this theater of His.

Worthy of Gifts

We cling to the things we think we can make stay, but until we release our grip - until we find ourselves standing whole on our own without them, those things will never be to us what they should have been in the first place. In order to fully understand the gifts we’ve been given, we have to be able to see them as they are exactly as they are; gifts that don’t belong to us, but that are presented to us. They aren’t given as rewards for good performance or perfection, but simply because we are worthy of gifts. It’s not that we’re deserving of them, but its because our worthiness was predetermined by Christs’s decision to cast His net wide and cast His net far and scoop us up, claiming us as His own.

James 1:17
So, my very dear friends, don’t get thrown off course. Every desirable and beneficial gift comes out of heaven. The gifts are rivers of light cascading down from the Father of light. There is nothing deceitful in God, nothing two faced, nothing fickle. He brought us life using the true word, showing us off as the crown of all His creatures. (MSG)

Accordingly, this makes our gifts His gifts; His to give, His to take. Our response should be an unwavering unchanging thank you. A cupped palm, an opened hand - no more white-knuckling or squeezing for dear life, but just release. Release in the face of awareness that our wholeness doesn’t come from these things - our wholeness exists outside of these gifts. Our gratefulness gets to arise whether the gift stays or whether it goes. Our worth is unchanging all the while.

These things, these gifts, are people, moments, experiences, and relationships - these are the colors to our life’s canvas, these are the amazing opportunities we have to see and know all the hues and all the levels of saturation with which our Savior chose to paint our world. These are the mirrors that reflect His light, these are the ways we can experience Him.

Our tendency is to see gifts through the lens of happiness. We assume that because the gift has been given, a new level of happiness is alive to us, but that’s not necessarily the case. Our happiness does not hinge on gifts. We get to experience birthdays and holidays and milsetone markers, but one of the greatest gifts of my life was something that could be described as tragedy. Out of the tragedy came the gift of clarity, freedom, new life and redemption. “Does this make her happy” is hardly the motive from which the gift was given because God’s concern is our unshakeable joy, not our wavering happiness. There is an immovable joy to be found in the knowledge that happiness does not determine our wholeness.

We don’t know redemption until we find ourselves with something to be redeemed. We don’t experience the full realm of our savior’s capability until we experience emptiness, until we experience things that require restoration in the same way that Jesus dying on the cross required resurrection to be fulfilled.

Until we experience things that require redemption and resurrection, we miss the full scope of our ability to know gratefulness regardless of what our gifts look like. Until we can separate our personal happiness from the gifts we’ve been given, we’ll never know the depth of the well that Jesus has poured for us. So when we take our gifts and view them from a lens of deep-rooted joy grown from the prosperity we already have from the fullness of our worth (which is the adoption into righteousness by God’s declaration of our worthiness to him) we give our gifts the ability to color our world with all the fullness they truly have to offer. There is a wealth available to us that comes from lifting open hands to heaven and keeping a song of thanksgiving on our lips.

My new self-assignment is to go through my day listing ten things I’m thankful for. I want my perspective to be as rooted in gratefulness as possible, because I know how caught up I can become in trying to create my own happiness by clinging too tightly to the things I think are mine to cling to. When I hold so tightly, I fail to let God be God and I forget to trust Him, thinking that my own grasp is more powerful than His authority. So thank you, Lord, for this new day. Thank you for the coffee brewing in the pot, the sunshine and sounds of life falling through the open door. Thank you for the rest, thank you for words. Thank you for the ability to grow and become stronger than we have been. Thank you for family and the hearts of my friends. Thank you for how you have colored my world and laid out blessings before me that I may get to experience all the details of your love for me.