I saw something in a church the other day. Something I hated. I saw a formal ceremony occurring—one in which the peoples involved proclaim their surrender to Christ. Only, I suspected an insincere heart inside those standing in their faithful proclamation.
They had no idea what they were doing.
It was a formality. A positioning strategy, but not, as I saw it, a move where anyone was self-positioning under anything.
The church was asked to stand in support.
“Wrongness!”, I thought to myself over and over. I wanted to rise up and confront this display of delusion and sickness. How could I feign even toleration?
The church was then asked to sit back down.
And the second I touched my seat I heard: “By hook or by crook.”
And in the depth of that short phrase, I understood, through the beaming face and the smiling lips of salvation, “Whatever sick, twisted, self-concocted reason anyone takes one step toward me, I will run to them. For whatever shred of a reason—true or not—anyone turns to me for hope, I will have them and work miracles with that tiny, tiny seed. You too, are a beneficiary of this kind of love. There is wrongness everywhere, but have compassion on what you see.”
I suppose there is a time to rise up, and a time to be still. But clearly, that day, my marching order was one of peace.
So here I sit, quite happily, in the wake of God’s rebuke. Happily, you say? Yes, because it is far less miserable to love than to hate.
That’s how old you are, Ava
My tether to heaven
I dance around your day as if there is still something to dread
But God’s grace fills in shortcomings
He makes things whole
Maybe the grace in you can help me today?
The very sheer and delicate fabric you were made of left much room for salvation to strengthen
How strong you must be now
In the summer of 2013 I took my girls on a road trip to escape the heat of the Valley’s summer sun. We had decided that our respite was somewhere northwest of us. As road trips go, at a certain point on our three-day itinerary, one of my ideally long travel legs was cut short by the arrival of lunch time. With one eye on my navigation and one eye on the road, we began looking for a good place to stop and eat.
We eventually saw signage which promised a few eatery options up ahead. I exited off the highway and pulled into an upscale shopping center. We compared the storefronts and the marketing claims of our different dining possibilities, and opted for the quaint-looking deli/shop which flaunted “Sandwiches Made with Freshly Baked Bread”.
This was no fast-food freeway stop. This was a sparkling resort town we were passing through, complete with scenery, amenities, and fancy cars. Our tired, bird-poop and bug-splattered, old four-door was a bit of an anomaly; but I take great pleasure in anomaly, so seeing my car doing its own thing amongst the other aggressive and svelte luxury cars in the parking lot made me feel a sort of twisted satisfaction.
Once inside, all appearances and menu options indicated that this was a very “natural” sandwich shop, which is always a bonus for me (so long as the place is also clean), and a welcome change from the usual road trip faire.
We walked up to the counter and placed our order. Fortunately, it wasn’t too crowded inside. Over the course of our escaping-the-heat career, we have learned to become hungry at 11:30 in the morning instead of noon, in order to avoid the lunch rush. We easily found an empty table for ourselves and sat down while our lunch was being made.
With an affinity for contrasts and contradiction, my gaze immediately fell on a woman who appeared to be well-healed, yet who carried herself in a frantic demeanor, and her hair and hygiene presented as… well… “lived in”.
She caught me looking at her while I was simultaneously trying to dislodge with my tongue, a sesame seed that had been in my teeth since breakfast. I quickly looked away.
She walked over toward me and leaned down and said, “I see you laughing at me, and I want you to know that I am humiliated.”
Of all the one-liners one stranger can say to another, I wouldn’t have predicted this one. I sat for about three seconds, stunned. Then my name was called by the sandwich maker—our order was ready.
I went to the counter to get the sandwiches and turned to see that the woman had taken the table right next to us. I walked as slowly as possible back to my table, and put the girls’ lunches in front of them. In those seven or eight strides, I had concluded only that I’d better go talk to this lady.
I forced myself in her direction—praying that I wasn’t walking any faster than the speed of grace, and that my mouth wouldn’t arrive at her table too awkwardly long before it could be filled with the right thing to say.
“I’m sorry,” I said, “I wasn’t laughing at you.”
“Yes you were,” she said, “I saw you and I am humiliated.”
“I’m so sorry I gave you that impression. I didn’t mean to humiliate you. I wouldn’t ever mean to do that to anyone,” I said. I realized later that possibly my sesame seed dislodging might have read as a smirk.
“But everybody laughs at me.”
“Why does everybody laugh at you?”
“Because my life is so awful—everything has been taken away from me and I have nothing and I am humiliated,” quite accustomed to living with tears, she began weeping but didn’t waver or wobble as she continued her story.
“My name is Camela. I’m in the witness protection program. Two years ago, I saw my father-in-law commit a murder. The day I went to report it, my husband left me. He didn’t believe me, you know—it was his father. And I have two children… and I haven’t seen them…”
Of all the second, third and fourth-liners that one stranger could say to another, I wouldn’t have guessed any of these, either.
By this time, more patrons had begun trickling into the shop, and I was acutely aware of their eyes on us. And without even looking, I knew my girls were there behind me, slightly uncomfortable, slightly curious, one looking over my right shoulder and the other looking over my left, chewing slowly and holding their sandwiches with sticky, jam-covered fingers. (The sandwich maker—obviously not a parent—was overly generous with the peanut butter and jam). The girls weren’t really eating so much as they were chewing in a meditative state, like that dinosaur we rode past on the train ride at Disneyland—that leafy strand always there, still dangling from its mouth after all those years of chewing…
“…I don’t have any friends. I don’t even have relationships with any enemies. It is too dangerous for me to stay in any hotel long enough to make any new friends. I have no one, and I am so lonely…”
I wondered if she was recanting an actual reality or a perceived one. I felt horrible for wondering that, because there is nothing worse than confiding in a dutiful but doubtful listener; but certainly, what was real was her fear and sadness. And I supposed if I wanted to play like that—like trying to decide if a person’s suffering was real or made up—well then, perhaps all of our fears and anxiety are a result of our imperfect perspectives. Who was I to judge?
“…once a week I go into the police department to get my stipend. It isn’t much. My case doesn’t seem to be a priority, but I think it’s because my husband’s family is very wealthy and important. There is no court date, there is not enough evidence to convict anyone—there is only my story. And while no one seems to believe me, the police know enough about this case to make them think I ought to stay out of sight…”
OK, sidebar: Clearly this was meeting was intended for ministry. And even if it wasn’t, I certainly was planning on responding to her story with something more than just: “Huh. Well, I hope it works out for you.”
And with regards to said ministry, I understand there is a debate amongst Christians. It has to do with whether ministry “counts” in the absence of saying the name of God. I think I empathize with both sides of the argument. As an ambassador of Christ, I am learning that there are times when the name “God” closes doors. In one of my networks of friends, the mention of the name “God” causes gigantic rolling doors to slam shut. I can almost hear the chains and metal sections rattling as their doors plummet emphatically downward. So I suppose in these circles I have become more of an ambassador of kindness and grace. That is more palatable—much easier to for them to digest than all the stigmas that surround the name “God”, and the word “Christian”.
I happen to think that sharing the nature of God with others in these circles can be life-giving and enlightening—both a primer and a sustainer. I believe in the effectiveness of sharing the nature of God because even my own day is brightened just by the smile of the kind barista who remembers my name, and I don’t think she is even a Christian.
But, I also believe that sharing the name of God is the ultimate hope to work toward. Eventually, we really do need to know who authors and perfects the kindness and grace that is so attractive and healing. And, it is not our kindness that raises us from the dead—it is Christ.
Speaking of preaching the name of God, I’m not super well-practiced in my Christ-testimony to strangers. Which brings me to the unusual thing that happened next in this conversation with Camela. As if things could get more unusual…
Suddenly, a thought flashed into my head—hopefully not stemming from my own imperfect imagination—“Say the name of God.” This is almost never my first inclination when I’m with someone I don’t know. Actually, it is absolutely never my first inclination. Except for that one week in Mexico over Spring Break when I was fifteen.
“Say ‘God’,” was the thought, again. So I tried to create some sentence where the word “God” would flow seamlessly and beautifully, and would transition logically from where Camela was at in her monologue. But I couldn’t weave anything decent together because I was actually trying to listen to her and do all this thinking at the same time. So I resolved to say “God” somehow at the next break. After all, my call is to be obedient, not wise and persuasive.
I was neither subtle nor eloquent: “I believe in God”, I blurted nervously, and held my breath. She had only left a quick beat for me to squeeze that in.
She stopped. That sentence had broken her rhythm. Looking directly at me as if being woken from a trance, she said, “I believe in God, too, but my life doesn’t make sense of the God I thought I knew.” And suddenly, I knew this woman. We had shared the same thoughts over the course of history.
Despite being in the witness protection program, she proceeded to tell me everything about herself. I listened as she spewed the details of her life, disregarding rules that the movies would say she is bound by as one protected by the government. She did all this for the sake of making a connection. Finding herself without relationships was her most loathsome form of poverty.
Then, the next thought in my head: “Tell her that life is a gift.” That sound bite had to have been from God—it certainly wasn’t the conclusion I was heading toward.
Camela was just finishing, “… and I don’t even know why I am being kept alive.”
So I inhaled timidly, and wished my words well as I heard them leave my mouth and tumble toward her chaos. “The fact that you are being kept alive in all of this is a gift. Life is a gift.”
I was prepared for a kick to the shins under the table. I hate it when people tell me this kind of stuff. It wasn’t an awesomely convincing statement. I didn’t buttress it with unfailing supports, or decorate it with elegant sentences, or head off the anticipated “how/why” questions with profound wisdom. If I were Camela, I’d have a lot of critiques about what I said. But she didn’t question it or resist it. And she didn’t need any more from it. Maybe, maybe, it actually was just the right thing to say to her. Or maybe she thought I was ridiculous and not worth saying anything else to.
Whatever the reason, the conversation wound down immediately. She offered her thanks for my listening, and I offered my sorrow for her situation—it was both a civil and a spiritual exchange. Then she left. I don’t remember if she ate her food. I don’t even remember if she actually ordered food.
It is now some time later, and I am still unpacking that phrase. “Life is a gift”—even a life like Camela’s—which is to say that in her case, it is a gift to know utter heartache. It is a gift to know the anguish of this world as it remains largely separated from its only real hope. It is a gift to know injustice and powerlessness and loss, and to have a palpable knowledge of the absence of all that was once good and full of promise, because…
Well, frankly, believing the world in itself offers anything else is to be living a delusion. Part of life’s gift is that through it, truth would be known. If I don’t experience or know the shortcomings of the world, I don’t know the reality of it. And, as evidenced by the haunting dissatisfaction of those who are far removed from knowing limitation and consequence: being completely disconnected with the consequences of this world is quite actually, a curse.
Drawing upon my own experience (specifically the suffering of it), I could list quite a few beneficial byproducts of life: it teaches me, it disciplines me, and it enables hope. Life is the laboratory of trials and events which reveals the world’s weakness, and transforms me into a shape which might accept something “other-worldly”.
Hidden within each day is a the gift of dim, veiled expressions of eternal things, for examle: faithfulness—displayed in the rising of the sun rising; sovereignty—illuminated in the designs within creation; and grace—shown in the way hope grows even in the most arid places.
Life is the place where God comes to us and gives us a new version of it. Where we are gifted breath, we are being gifted a place for salvation to manifest (oh, Lord let me want this and be satisfied by it).
Although a hardship-free life has a shimmering allure and a salvational appeal, it is not the goal. Non-suffering in itself is not the ticket to ultimate satisfaction. That I should have no problems, is not the “gift” of life—this life, anyway. (This is me preaching to myself right now). A utopian life, made possible by me, is not the real escape-hatch from the consequences of my human-reality, and the loneliness and fear and disappointment therein. Christ is the goal, He is our only salvation—and by his example, it is a process that includes great suffering and humiliation. The goal is Christ, who triumphs and perfects and heals all of life’s failings and the vast damage done by it.
I’m all for practicing gratitude and making a discipline of seeing the good in what have in our grasp, but there are days—for some, even decades—where it is all we can do just to ask for the gift of being sure of what to hope for and uplifted by what we cannot see.
Each day is a gift, if only to clean up a mess, or to walk through the anxiety of an unknown future, or to be sustained as the poster-child for brokenness. To be flatly unable to attain a shred of happiness and to be made fully aware of the limitations of humanness… It is a gift to suffer, and to become humbled—to be humiliated!—and to still be breathing all the while because…
It is only fuel for our imminent and eventual resurrection. God comes to His people of need, and causes real resurrections as we finally accept our real state of hopelessness without Him. To that end, the needier the better.
Life is a gift from God, for God. When I become convinced of this to the point where it is my inhale and exhale, a divine alignment occurs by which my human ailments are largely overcome simply by the fact that I am no longer aligned with my skin-and-bones, and therefore, its ailing.
It is not God’s desire or design that we should suffer forever. But the only real, lasting, effective way to escape the consequences of our human-reality is to be rescued by Christ, Himself.
Life is a gift—how? Well, outside of experiential proof, I could theorize and reverse-engineer myself from the truth to its reasoning all day long. And by that method, I would come up with reasons that either hit the mark or miss it completely. And I might come up with reasons that inspire and encourage and convict and motivate. But perhaps the sum of all the reasons is not at as great as wholly believing that, simply: all of life is a gift.
The fact of our creation is a wonderful thing, that we would someday have eternal life and a relationship with our Creator.
Wherever you are Camela, I remember you. I know a bit of you. As one of my friends says, “I see you, sister soldier.” I am grateful for our meeting because the words that you somehow pried loose from my mouth are the words I need to hear today, too.
God come and resurrect me with your life today.
(Details of the story have been changed out of respect for Camela).
Coined by saints as “The Prayer of Subtraction”, this is a good prayer for me today.
Feeling overwhelmed by invisible forces, I am eager to have my load lightened. It seems reasonable that if the spirit rises and the flesh descends, perhaps I should detach from the flesh if I don’t want to feel this weighty drag. Yes?
So I name the earthly things that I think make me great. And then surrender them.
I name the plans I’ve made and the purposes for them. And surrender them.
I name the hopes I project onto others. And I surrender them.
I name the hopes that have been projected onto me. And I surrender them.
I name my so-called necessities and the things I wish I had. I name my blessings and my worries. I name my strengths and weaknesses. The things I’ve been avoiding and the things that I’ve been doing instead; I name the things that irritate me, and all the thoughts that are distracting me from this prayer…
I acknowledge my separation from God and all of the sin born of that separation—all the choices and reactions I’ve made while apart from a sufficient Grace.
And I surrender them until I am nothing. Carrying nothing. Needing nothing, only Christ.
Some days I just say “I surrender”, some days I actually do it, some days I have to hack at all these attachments with a pick-axe, some days they float off me, other days they cling to me despite myself. Many days there are still things weighing me down and I don’t even know it. But I never get condemned by God in either outcome.
As I sit in the quiet, I imagine the reality of me truly being free of these things. Do I really want the freedom? Do I really want to be free of my hopes for my children? Is that the same thing as being “hopeless”? What if my hopes don’t pan out? Will God be enough for me then? And enough for them? Is my future safe when outside my hands?
Perhaps I enjoy the company of my worries.
Faith requires such trust.
I suppose God can work both ways, but I’d rather have my faith define my day as opposed to the other way around.
Sometimes, in the silence, I get an image or a thought or a verse. Sometimes I just get the silence. The freeing reset. The blessing of getting to zero.
In my nothingness, I find I ask for things in the name of Christ—those things that are in the spirit of salvation—those same things that Jesus says He will do for me (John 14:14). Things like: “Let me not waste a step today as I am about your plan for me”, or “God be working that she might know you”. From my emptiness, I can utter the mind of God whose will is unfolding as I speak.
Half-awake in salvation, and half-awake to the day’s chores still before me, I don’t feel much different—no big “zing” or charismatic enlightenment. But sometimes freedom requires momentum gained by my hands and feet. So I shall vacuum, and prepare my taxes, and do the next logical thing with regards to enabling my vocational income. And I will trust God with the results of my work today.
It is a bit less fretful being at zero.
I left a town called “Suffering”
“Injustice”, its main square
I never saw the village walls
But knew that they were there
“Loss” was my companion, and
My neighbor was “Despair”
And, oddly, I made peace with them—
With each one’s way and ware
Our lengthy bondage
Made departure strangely bittersweet
“Who left whom?” I wondered
From upon an outside street
Facing a new direction
I left old normal behind
For freedom bartered my release
With itself, in kind
I’ve no ill-will toward that old town
It shaped me true and fair
And, in the end, it posed no threat
Once Christ was made King there
Now, a new city awaits
Cautiously, I draw near
Its walls are built with truth and lies
And surety and fear
Its name is “Busyness”, I’m told
I study its grand gates
If I went in could I get out?
I weigh the unknown fates
Supposing I leapt in with faith
That I’d be held by grace
That from this bustling home-for-now
I could still see God’s face
Oh, what is right? Will I fall prey
To Busyness’s ploys?
Will I hear the voice that saved me
Over all its noise?
Intended place, be known to me!
For I know this One thing:
All is good and right true
If Christ shall be my King
Consider this statement: I am reconciled to everything underneath my sight-level. Everything else is a threat.
For example, if my eyes are set on a cause or denomination or tangible goal, I am likely united with a behavior or a group that affirms the world as I see it; and I am potentially in discord with anything beyond the umbrella of my belief.
If my sight is set on Christ, then I am reconciled to Him and to all things, because all things are under Him. All threats, overcome.
The ministry of reconciliation is sometimes carried out as a ministry of demanding sameness.
If reconciliation of any kind hasn’t been modeled well, or has been continually resisted soon after the beginning stages, then the mere idea of being reconciled takes on a distorted meaning that wreaks havoc on the newlywed, the church, and the potentially “found”.
God has staked out a vast Kingdom—one that has plenty of room for His intended, and all of the intricate, unique facets His intended consists of. We may have an idea of what a reconciled life ought to look like, and how we ought to be encouraging others toward it. And perhaps we’ve cast too small a vision.
Christian reconciliation means to be restored to unity with Christ. And by that eventuality, I am restored to all things, because Christ is in all things. If I am one of Christ’s own, I am therefore of His same mind to restore all things to peaceful unity in Christ. The Gospel narrates reconciliation to be the purpose and the life of Christ.
Since my ministry to others is really, simply reflection of who I understand Christ to be to me, it is good for me to remember that I was reconciled because of God’s love, not because of an expectation of specific behavior. And before I indulge my temporal inclination to delineate within the ministry of reconciliation to Christ, it is good for me to remember that I am reconciled to a Kingdom of infinite-ness, mystery and mercy, which is held together by a perfect marriage of paradox.
The places within me which have too small a grasp of the bigness of God are the places where differences tend to polarize. In these shallow or disconnected places, the mere idea itself—uniting with differences—is frightening, and can evoke a cagey, closed-off existence. Just the thought of reconciliation can make me want to point out every reason why I think I shouldn’t have to.
As within a healthy marriage, reconciled differences serve to edify and increase the union, but there is a fear lurking just before the point of further unity which says “you will limit or lose yourself in the act of reconciling”. And this is consistent with the plight of humanity’s battle of the flesh and the spirit. Reconciliation will always initially read as defeat or condescension, but its expression leads to ultimate victory.
This is quite a thought for me to think, and quite another excruciating charge for me to align with. I expect my first opportunity to “die” will come the instant I put this computer down.
As the mind matures, and as the idea of reconciliation to God’s gracious bigness becomes less dreadful, and instead, more of an attractive answer to all problems, there is space to wonder what a Kingdom of perfect union with all things might look like:
I imagine that the abstract and the foundational will have figured out how to work seamlessly together.
Maybe in that place, reckless generosity and responsible stewardship are nearly the same thing.
Perhaps beauty and modesty will be intertwined.
Tradition and creativity will embrace, as will practicality with idealism.
Settlers and pioneers will be eternally grateful for one another.
Science and religion will finally bend toward one another until they are fused beautifully.
The warrior and peacemaker will be each other’s strongest ally.
Heaven and Earth will inspire one another.
Humility and triumph will bow to one another.
Need and generosity will complete one another.
Whatever my vision of reconciliation is (a vision that, no doubt, I subsequently project onto others), pray it would be propped up by the frame of eternity to include all things, as Christ is in all things. And pray that I would first be fully reconciled to Christ, that all things would follow.
But He is not fully in me yet. I do not yet possess a grace big enough to absorb or reconcile all things. Or, as other people say it better, He (and grace) is fully present, but I am not fully awake to it. So the parts of me that are still sleeping—in denial—are the parts that are resistant to unity in Christ, and are also resistant to differences in general. Is there a greater difference than the human and the divine? And yet if these can be reconciled, perhaps everything can.
As an aside, what of these “sleeping cells” of mine? Will they be cast off? Awakened? I suppose whoever knows the answer to that might know the mysteries of God’s select verses universality, and free-will verses predestination. Will all things really be reconciled or will they be “left behind” or perhaps instead be transformed and given new life?
I yi yi, it is too wonderful for me to know.
But insofar as I contemplate lateral differences reuniting with the Firstborn of all things, there are horizontal differences to be addressed, too. The reconciliation of sin to salvation is really the thing to talk about. Reconciliation to all things is a byproduct and a calling, but (in my life, anyway) has only begun to be possible as I am first restored to an eternal life in Christ.
If one lives openly enough, one will become aware of one’s own sin, and will also befriend those who are victims of sin. I happen to have dear friends who have suffered sexual abuse, physical abuse, substance abuse, child abuse and psychological abuse. I cannot write a piece on reconciliation without their stories bubbling to the forefront of my mind.
We Christians tend to urge people to reconciliation without really knowing what we’re talking about. And I, with no credentials whatsoever, except that I have begun to know who God really is, can only say that as God sought union with me, he didn’t coddle or enthrone my sin. Nor was He unaware of it. But He pursued the eternal me, and the hope of the eternal me, and when I chose to come into alignment with this hope, I became transformed into the eternal me who God sought.
In this fashion, how can I unite with all things (if in fact that is the manifestation of eternal life), when qualities like abuse and hate and self-centeredness have as much a chance in heaven as darkness around the sun, and are certainly not a part of eternity.
In God’s kingdom where “the wolf may live with the lamb and the child will put his hand into the viper’s nest and neither will harm nor destroy…” (Isaiah 11), somehow the destructive part of the relationship between predator and prey has been absolved. In a Kingdom where all things are reconciled, carnal thirst is invited to sip from living water and begin a life of being forever changed.
When things are reconciled in Christ, they lose their death-properties. And also their fear of being put to death. Wound will meet healing, and becomes joy. Despair unites with compassion, oppressed atrocities dissolve in forgiveness, and fear is reconciled into ultimate power. And these old marks will be a banner of completion and a cause for celebration.
My failures will be reconciled into God’s triumphant kingdom. Hunger, resolved by God’s abundance. Sadness and doubt are pursued by kindness and restoration until they actually become those things themselves.
Full reconciliation to Christ would actually edify our unique and eternal fingerprints instead of erase them. Emersion into the Kingdom of God edifies that in us which will live forever—things that enable unity—and nullifies or leaves behind that which is not. In this Kingdom it makes perfect sense to pray for the also-reconciliation of those who persecute us. In this Kingdom, modes of ministry magnify the bigness of God instead of our one-dimensionality. In this Kingdom, the laws of mutual attraction work to make us more like Love, and not to demand instead that Love becomes like us.
Oh, if this is even the beginning of what reconciliation to Christ is like, let it happen now and to all of creation! And let the fullness of it come already! I’m tired of being irritated with the ism’s that emit from incompleteness, and I’m done with the anxieties that stem from the threats to my dormant flesh.
Colossians 1: 15-20. The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.
Philippians 3:21 … by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, (He) will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body.
I’m excited to announce the completion of a decade-long endeavor. I’ve got a book for sale called Ruins: The Perfect Place to Build Indestructible Life.
It’s for sale in print on Amazon and is also available as an ebook on Kindle. It can be found under the full title, or simply type in “Ruins Natalie Pagel”.
Here’s the description (you can find this, and also take a peek at many more pages in the book, on Amazon and Kindle):
“All around us are illustrations of life coming from death. Narratives of resurrection, restoration, rebirth, and transformation are everywhere. Even the vast universe came from dark ‘nothing’. Should it be any surprise that this same mystery exists inside our souls? Should it be so unbelievable that something valuable and un-killable might be offered to us, and can only take root once we have been reduced to nothing; or at least, have taken a step out of the way? Despite our avoiding or denying them, life comes with many invitations to take that step out of the way, and to let go of our self-centric understanding and our questing merely for things of temporary value. Shrouded typically in suffering, these invitations come as we finally acknowledge our shortfalls, loss, failure, and disappointment which magnify a need in us, and bring us to a position where we are compelled to choose: shall I build my life upon the things of this world, or might there be something else? Ruins is a story about discovering the ‘something else’ who chose me long before I chose Him—the Creator God—and long before I understood the depths of my need for Him. Best of all, I came to experience that God is good. This truth was made emphatically clear to me though I set out to prove Him as otherwise. This book is a collection of letters and journal entries which narrate a road from scripted religious declarations, to an embedded knowledge of divine Truth. It starts at the point of my ruination, and ends at the inception of the new creation within me which is still taking shape. As accurately as the mind can perceive and record reality, this is mine; though some names and dates have been disguised out of grace toward the ignorance that is in all of us.”
A special thanks to my witty, artsy and wise friend Barbara, over at solongsuburbia.com, for her editing and suggestions which made the book so much better. Who couldn’t love this woman who coined the phrase “Normal: it’s not a thing.”
Anyway, if you read it, thanks for reading!
“Does anyone dare despise the day of small beginnings?” declares the angel to Zechariah, the prophet. The angel was speaking about the temple of Jerusalem being rebuilt.
Small beginnings—did the people think the new temple would be too small? Was their faith too small? Maybe their labor force, or their resources were too small. Or perhaps, in light of the grand scheme of things, a simple turn toward home seemed… anticlimactic.
“They’ll change their tune”, the angel says again to Zechariah, “when they see Zerubbabel setting the last stone in place.”
Zerubbabel, meaning “born in captivity”, would be the catalyst of this first movement toward the temple’s restoration.
It’s a theme that rings familiar to those who know the Bible stories of Moses, King David, and the hope and purpose of the coming of Jesus.
Restoration starts as something small, right where we’re at. It starts the size of a cornerstone, or a piece of communion bread, or a mustard seed. It begins as a word that becomes a single light in the darkness.
And then (… and THEN!) it is everything all around us.
We are being rebuilt. We are becoming complete. We are not done yet—it gets better! It will happen and it is happening. All threats have already been overcome.
But the hope of restoration for all of creation appears fragile and meek. It starts out looking unlikely or unpopular.
It starts small—like with a person, like you and me. It begins with a humble confession or the simple act of believing.
It starts tiny. Like with a baby.
Did the early church appear as a failure when it was splintered apart and run into the ground?
Is it a failure when the defense of the Truth ends in a fatal stoning?
Did the prophet fail because no one listened to him?
Was Enoch a failure for lack of a convert despite the many, many years God gave him?
Did Jesus fail paternally as Judas chose darkness in a pivotal moment?
What must those three days before Easter have felt like?
I can hear the whispers coming from my own heart: “Such a shame… It must not have been meant to be. Maybe they did it wrong. Maybe they were wrong.”
It’s amazing what thousands of years of hindsight offers.
For all the things I’ve deemed failures because they didn’t result in my version of success, perhaps I’m not seeing correctly.
The world has very accurate instruments and systems for determining the success of a person, if indeed I’m out to do right by the world.
I’m not pushing insanity, but I am encouraged in this: as I proceed earnestly, and with all of the hope for the things of God in everyone, my only failure is to not wait on the Lord, and to not speak when He says to speak, or love when He says love.
Am I doing what I see the Father doing? Then whatever comes of that is in God’s hands.
I was always convicted and inspired by the believer’s prayer in Acts 4, which was essentially “Equip us for your calling” and not “Spare us from any failure”.
The Point: Knowing God. (Jeremiah 9:24)
My Prayer: That I would want to. (Mark 9:24)
The Arena: Here and now. (Mark 1:15)
The Instruction: Do what is right and just; and defend the cause of the poor and needy. (Jeremiah 22:15-16)
Why: “Is this not what it means to know me?” declares the Lord. (Jeremiah 22:16)
Today, as I feed the ones God has given me, I am knowing God.
Here in the place God provides, as I am forgiving, protecting, and cleaning, I am knowing God.
Wooing, nudging, cultivating souls toward the good they are not yet inclined to or able get for themselves, I am knowing God.
As I faithfully discipline, and provide for, and instruct the ones in my care, I am knowing God.
As I teach obedience, and model compassion and humility so that relationship will someday be possible, I am knowing God.
And I know this–I KNOW this–already, but saying it again helps me remember who I am.
May the gift of knowing salvation with my own hands be enough for me today. Oh please God, let it inspire me and not frustrate me. Give me your sufficient grace that I might carry out your work with your spirit.
Because: This is the whole point.