My husband noticed it first. As we hiked in the North Georgia mountainside in early spring, he pointed out new life springing up everywhere.
We had stopped to gaze at the waterfall gurgling into a lazy stream below. He pointed to a tree that was broken off at the top, maybe struck by lightning or snapped off by the wind. It looked like it had long since died, yet there were new sprouts all over the trunk, emerging from what had once seemed dead. He said he loved the way nature had a way of renewing itself like that.
I looked at the new green on that once dormant tree and I saw a glimpse of the hope the followers of Christ must have felt the day they discovered that the stone had been rolled away.
With the resurrection in my thoughts, Easter celebrations close at hand, my mind turned to the time Jesus spent with those who loved Him in the days following His return to life. I imagine the wonder they must have felt, hearts so full and light, bursting in their chests. I wonder if they also feared though. Did they keep touching him, afraid of when he would leave again?
God has a way of bringing life from what appears to be the end.
So often new hope requires death first.
My oldest child, taking in all the wonder of the surrounding forest, asked us why so many fallen trees lay over the river. Her dad stopped by a tree that was almost completely decomposed at the base. To show her how it had broken down over time into rich soil, he scooped up the moist, black earth in his hand. A musky smell of disturbed earth filled the air as he told her it was supposed to be this way, that it was how the forest stayed alive.
What had been a life-giving tree, providing oxygen, shade, and shelter was no more. In death nature had done its work and the tree now gave life in a different way. It had fulfilled its purpose in its life and also in its death.
I love new life, the spring, the hope and feeling of renewal. Fresh starts and new beginnings are awe-inspiring.
It’s the death part, which has to come first, that doesn’t come so easily. I tend to hold onto dreams or seasons of my life, not willing to let die that which God requires me to let go of to bring new life. Continue Reading
On Wednesdays guest writers are raising their voices. I discovered Amy's writing last October when we were both involved in Write 31 Days. I have devoured her work over at Sun Steeped Days since and am honored to have her words here. Whether you write or not, I know you will relate to the tension she describes, as we are all such torn souls, heirs to both the Fall and the Covenant. - Nicole
I once read about a woman who approached Elisabeth Elliot and said, "It must be wonderful to be able to read your own writings!"
To which the inimitable author replied, "It is like chewing on stewed Kleenex."
On many days, reading my own words feels exactly that way.
When I set out to find my voice as a writer nearly two years ago, I ended up with two. One arose from my exposure to writers who cultivate their faith through contemplation, who approach word-craft like a pursuit of beauty; the other, from living in a world that craves life-in-the-trenches anecdotes and honest truth for survival. They have always pulled me in different directions, and I never enjoy the struggle.
I want to be gentle; I want to be firm.
I ought to paint a thoughtful picture; I should just drive the point home.
Do I encourage by illustration, or say it plain?
Each time I sit down with this ill-fitting pair, my tones and words clash like building blocks in the frustrated hands of my toddler, and I struggle to find the space where they'll finally click.
But after living in the tension between them for over a year, I'm beginning, at long last, to make my peace with this position.
For I’ve begun to see how deeply both voices are rooted in me.
I am spirit and flesh. I need talk of beauty and of God's high country, and then, too, I need someone to tell me she's also had a cart full of groceries when a small voice says, “I need to go potty.” Even in my soul alone, the division is strong:
We know that the law is spiritual; but I am unspiritual, sold as a slave to sin. . . . [I]n my inner being I delight in God's law; but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me. (Rom. 7:14, 22-23).
I nod along to Paul's words, because I feel urgency pulling me in both directions. If it is true for both of us, then perhaps the dissonance I feel in how and what I write exists because I come of a people who are, by their very nature, torn.
The story of mankind is a story of pairs: soul and body, sanctification and sin, and -- from its very beginnings -- a high and humble lineage.
"You come of the Lord Adam and the Lady Eve," said Aslan. "And that is both honour enough to erect the head of the poorest beggar, and shame enough to bow the shoulders of the greatest emperor on earth." (Prince Caspian, C.S. Lewis)
As heirs of both the Fall and the covenant, we hunger for holy things even as we battle our burdens. When we read stories and listen to songs, we search for lines that look us in the eye and acknowledge our current realities, and we also look for ones that point out of our spheres and tell us that there are things beyond.
We are creatures whose feet grit into the earth even as our inward selves strain for clearer air.
So then, how does one write — both to and from — these realities?
I'm still asking this question, finding my way one sentence at a time, trying to light match after match against the darkness even if I don't know how useful it will be for anyone else's path ahead. I am broken, too; we are all stories half-told, and halved by our very living.
But what I try to remember, each time I unfold my secretary desk, is this:
If there is tension in all of us, then that shared struggle is precisely what gives our split voices purpose, and what transforms our struggles into the birthplaces of our best art.
The accounts I write from my life don't flow together magically. Sometimes a mess is an unspoken sermon for me about God's mercy in my family's growth; sometimes it's simply a pile of elastic bands, receipts, and picture books that I need to pick up with a cheerful heart. But no matter which perspective prevails on a given day, I can’t deny that they do both speak of the same trajectory: a ransomed life that's traveling Home to walk with and know joy perfected -- mine as well as His.
I want the space I create for others, then, to be a place of inspiration, of microscopic views of God's creative elegance and sweeping vistas of His grandeur -- but also a place of bare-headed confession. The One for whom I write knows what it is to be mortal and eternal, after all, and by some mysterious means, He's also working the dross out of me through that very struggle of scribbling.
I still wonder, on many days, if my stewed Kleenex doesn't extinguish the tiny flames of truth it tries to relay. But as I so deftly brew my next batch, I often stumble across a fine read somewhere that reminds me that the Kingdom's coming, and is even now here. So I take up my soggy, flickering words and hold them out beside others' blazing torches, because we are all weary travelers stumbling up the avenue in search of a gracious refuge.
In such a place, even a tiny, split-wicked candle may make a difference for a solitary soul.
And together, with our reflections and depictions of Him who cannot be overcome by darkness, we are lighting the way Home.
On Wednesdays guest writers are raising their voices. I think you will love these words of Nancy Roe, that speak of a faith that has grown over the years and through many struggles. Nancy speaks of hearing God's voice in a way that makes me turn to His Word with an expectancy. - Nicole
It is not easy to be me.
My life of 65 years has been a patchwork of light and dark, though the dark has ravaged deep from a young age into the present. Those holds and chains pervade hard, immovable, unyielding, and stubborn. I am too familiar with the lies and nuances, and they hide in the habitual. “The what has always been and what will always be” are insinuated into my psyche. The lies insist they are stronger now that I am older, that I am too weak, too fragile, too broken, too damaged.
I was 18 when my drug addled hedonism and atheism gave way to idealism, discovery, and faith in Jesus. The Great I AM showed Himself to me and I was utterly taken. All and everything, He was my desire. I swooned for Him, floated in Him. Such bliss in those days, heaven pulsated in and through me. The sheer intoxication of Him filled me with the ecstasy of joy, peace passing understanding, laughter, purity, and the warm palpable healing oil of His Spirit.
Heaven came to me on earth for a while. But I was young and had much living and learning in store.
The damage done by legalism and condemnation was far more heinous than I could have ever realized. No wonder Paul wrote so repeatedly, passionately and emphatically in his letter to the Galatians “see what large letters I use as I write to you with my own hand!” (Galatians 6:11)
Paul urged the Galatians to listen:
“I marvel that you are turning away so soon from Him who called you in the grace of Christ, to a different gospel, which is not another; but there are some who trouble you and want to pervert the gospel of Christ. But even if we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel to you than what we have preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again, if anyone preaches any other gospel to you than what you have received, let him be accursed.” (Galatians 1:6-8)
“Are you so foolish? Having begun in the Spirit, are you now being made perfect by the flesh?” (Galatians 3:3)
Now, I get it.
But then? I was years in a “Christian” mind control cult. Though prior to this at my faith’s inception, the wolves in sheep’s clothing subtlety held sway. All those cunning, cruel, and wicked cords wove through my belief experience, tying me, locking me down, imprisoning me deep. This was new bondage, this religious dread and panic that wove itself into the older tapestry of my childhood guilt and shame.
Fear sets us out as fugitives on the run from God. So run I did, trying to find my way to what was real. But, God... Continue Reading
Barren. Parched. Empty. I think of the desert as I sit looking out over our backyard. Half of it is green, a carpet of grass ready for little feet to run and play on. The other half feels rugged and rocky underneath eager feet. Harsh rains and hail pelted us this winter and water would stand in the shady, low places killing whatever had grown there. The grass got little nourishment from the sun and stayed bogged down with water, unable to replenish itself this spring.
Barren. Parched. Empty. I think of a valley of dry bones as I sit, trying to quiet my soul. I started writing again this year in an attempt to quiet my spirit, to take the swirling thoughts, the anxieties and the chaos, and mold them into thoughts directed at God. I have tried to find a time to write in the last week, a half finished story waiting to be completed and posted to my blog. But my soul has felt as battered as the dry places of our yard, and I have been unable to find the words, unable to even put myself into that vulnerable place of sitting down with a pen to put my heart down on paper.
All week long I felt like I was drowning under standing water, unable to see clearly through the murky mind and heart weighing me down. The little storms that came into my life this week shouldn't have so thoroughly derailed me. A spring cold made me groggy, then my five year old fell and got a slight concussion, throwing my whole week a bit off-kilter. Work got overwhelming. Discouragement weighed on me as well as I tried to push the date to the back of my mind. I had submitted stories to two magazines I felt really confident that I was a good fit for, and this week the deadline to hear if they were publishing me loomed ahead. Each day I didn't hear back made me feel a bit lower, a little more unsure of my calling to raise my voice for God in this noisy online world.
Little storms, surely nothing that should have swamped my soul and left me in a barren wasteland. But I found myself in the old familiar territory of anxiety and discouragement when I didn't cry out to God in the midst of all these swirling storms in my soul. I wallowed in them, let them build up until they blocked out the nourishment my soul so desperately needed from the One who promises to carry our burdens if we will let Him. The light couldn't break through and my words dried up, my attitude was bleak, and I couldn't bring myself to write the story of hope I had been working on. It felt like a lie.