If you love Me, you will obey what I command. John 15:1
These words, from anyone but God, would be manipulative and dangerous. But His ownership of me warrants such a preserving love.
It’s not that He’s saying to me, Do everything I command to prove that you love Me.
In that lies the essence of all religion. It tries to earn love and acceptance. It always strives to lay hold of temporary accomplishments and struggles to stay above water. It is often content with crumbs because the real food of life seems desperately out of reach. It camps inside the sombre lines looking longingly out at what is forbidden, not wanting to risk the loss of its rickety shelter or suffer the searing shame of being discovered; falling prey to many border crossing escapades when it thinks no one is looking.
I know—my abandoned tent pegs are probably still stuck in the ground there.
But He wasn’t saying that. He wasn’t soliciting mindless allegiance–a dynasty of drones.
He was saying,
Obedience follows love for Me the way goslings are glued to their mother.
Obeying Me is the geyser that gushes out of a heart bursting with love for Me.
A heart that loves Me has no other flame to warm itself with in this cold, dark world—and it will stoke its fires often.
His is not a call to die under a dictatorship, but an invitation to live in freedom from religious works.
Free to be me, in His love,
opens the way to living in submission.
It was blizzardy when I left class early. The wind pelted the few exposed centimeters of my face and jabbed at my eyes as I followed the other wayfarers into the warm refuge of the bus terminal. Still half an hour before departure—I thought I’d spent more time at the drug store than I had.
The grime accosted me the first time I had to wait inside—months ago; but now it seems normal, inviting even.
I walk around and look through windows at nothing in particular. I watch the others without trying to be obvious or ill-mannered—people make me curious. I check my phone to see if my daughter messaged me and take a seat along the back beneath the window; that way I can catch what’s going on. Also, there are a few empty seats in a row.
Mostly it amazes me. The cacophonous quiet. That so many people could be in such a small space and only a spattered few are engaged in some kind of conversation. There’s a double row of seats facing me like someone set them up to play musical chairs. People slip in–trying not to make contact with the person next to them, as though they might detonate. Some are pacing, some passing through—but almost all are busy button pushing or scrolling across the lighted screens of their gadgets. I’d like to blame technology for our lack of horizontal contact, but if I’m real honest, I don’t need technology to keep me from not striking up a conversation with a complete stranger. Still, there’s something surreal about seeing so many people hooked up to the heavens—completely oblivious to what’s going on around them.
I think about what I was reading in computer class—about networks. They can be hierarchical or peer-to-peer; and all the devices connected to them are nodes. A woman walks by in front of me looking like an angel, her face glowing from the notebook device she’s looking into as she goes. She’s a node, I think to myself with a smile. We’re all nodes, connected to something.
I enjoy being here today; watching people go by, waiting for my bus. Sometimes I listen to sermons on my Mp3 player, but for the moment I’m contented just holding God’s hand with my heart. His is a secure connection–hierarchical and peer-to-peer at the same time. And I’m just a little node… learning to be content, even when the ride (as it often will) takes me places I’d rather not go.
This morning, as I was hanging my laundry on the line in descending order of weight and size, I took my time to drape the last few articles—with stains—facing the sun. Nothing can disintegrate mustard spots and fade the vilest blotches of blood like a June morning’s piercing rays. Last week I hung a white tunic up with a mango mark that hadn’t come out in the wash, and hours later I reeled it back in without spot or wrinkle. Okay, it still had a few wrinkles—we’re at the mercy of the wind for that—but the yellow fleck had forever fled from the sun’s penetrating gaze.
That wasn’t the first time this morning I’d aired my dirty laundry, though.
I hauled my basket full of soiled cares and sullied concerns to my prayer place and washed them in the water of His Word. I let His mercy pour healing agents into the rinse as I scrubbed every anxiety over the washboard of His wisdom and commands. Ours is no quick-cycle chemical cleansing—prayer is a ‘roll up your sleeves’ kind of rewarding work.
Sometimes I get up from on my face before God fully cleansed and refreshed. Other times, like this morning, I find there are things that just don’t come out in the wash.
So I hung them up on my faith-line. I tethered them to mercy, and secured them with trust—carefully positioning each one before the Son’s face. He sees them, I know. They don’t stand a chance against His penetrating gaze.
Clouds might get in the way, this is true. But out there they will stay until He comes through.
I like to think that prayer is a little like doing my laundry. I have to keep up with it or I don’t have anything to wear. Sometimes a gentle rinse cycle is all I need. Some requests get put through the wringer. And some things just have to hang and dry.
… purify yourselves and change your clothes. Genesis 35:2
So I’m sitting outside the other day with Loco and one of the neighbour girls who often comes over to visit, and she turns to me and asks, “Can I have your dog when you die?”
Ah, I’m thinking to myself, the innocence of children. She thinks my little Loco (who’s already nearly ten in people years—making her eligible for Old Age Security in dog years, if they actually paid it out to dogs [I’ll have to write a letter to Peta]) is going to outlive me.
“Oh,” I say, “Loco’s ten years old.” But she keeps looking at me for an answer, so I continue, “She’ll most likely only live to be about 15.” She continues to look at me as I rock back and forth in my porch chair, feeling now like I should be knitting socks and pulling a shawl over my shoulders.
“Um, do I actually look to you like I’m going to die before that?”
She nods. And with childlike sincerity adds, “Yes… well, except for your hair.”
Definitely not getting the dog. And, although I did enjoy the rest of our time together (I have THE most darling neighbours), all I could think about was getting back inside so I could look in a mirror and scrutinize the latest attack the aging army had launched against me unawares. Should I have invested all that money in a good straightener when a set of curlers was more my speed?
Suddenly, how old I looked to the rest of the world mattered very much to me.
I have to admit, though, getting older isn’t the struggle I thought it was going to be—it’s those other areas of my life where people’s opinions have either validated or demeaned who I am; those areas set in stone, cemented into something sculpted by what others have said about or to me–and I find the Christian life is somewhat of a perplexing paradox at times.
We have within us an inner witness to the forgiveness, life and promises of our Creator—while outward circumstances bear down with such force they threaten to snuff it all out. And, if that isn’t bad enough, those looking on can threaten to annihilate us completely by their erroneous assessments—judging who we are by our situations.
True, we sometimes bring the storm on ourselves, and often we’re just reaping what we planted—but even then, when our hearts are repentant God is with us, and we must hold on to that truth without ever letting go, because that, alone, is our lifeline to getting through. We must learn to swim against the onslaught of opinion.
A man who’s fallen overboard and is floundering to keep his head above water in the middle of the ocean does not worry about how his hair looks as he clings to the lifesaver tossed out to him. God is not concerned about how well we impress others as we ‘work out our salvation with fear and trembling;’ clinging to what His Word says about us as the umbilical cord keeping us securely connected to the womb of faith.
Joseph had to do it. So did Job. David did it, too. All of them looking pretty insignificant in the eyes of their contemporaries—suffering scorn and contempt. One thing they didn’t do, though, and that was listen to popular opinion, not even their own. They believed what God said about them; they chose the path less travelled—and that, like the famous poet said—made all the difference.
Feeling a little boxed in by other people’s opinions? Don’t give up, God has a lot to say about who we are…
even when the rest of the world has our days numbered.
Ah, spring—and a young man’s fancy turns to thoughts of…
Mud, of course.
The snow’s finally beginning to melt around here, and underneath it all is lots of muck—in my front yard, anyway.
Looks like there’ll be a little more excavation going on, and in the meantime we get to enjoy everything the bulldozer trudged up.
I’m saying enjoy because the neighbourhood kids and I have been finding really cool rocks to paint. We spent the afternoon out front with newspapers spread across the patio blocks–and painted everything from ladybugs and bees to Easter eggs and each other.
I must say, Haley’s execution of me is remarkable—it looks just like me. Of course, Sammy doesn’t think so, but these children are too young to appreciate the beauty of painting a fresh face on every morning.
I figure, if you’re stuck with a front yard full of rocks and dirt, you might as well make the most of it.
We sure did.
It’s going to take some work, though, to get the lawn looking good again—wouldn’t want the front yard like this the rest of the summer. Want to go back to the way things were, before it all got dug up.
I’m wanting some other things to go back to the way they were, too–before some things inside of me got all dug up; when nothing was more important than the nearness of God.
“If you, Israel, will return,
then return to me,”
declares the LORD (Jeremiah 4:1).
We’ll have to rake up all the soil, dig out the rocks and get rid of the weeds and other debris that was churned up.
“If you put your detestable idols out of my sight
and no longer go astray…
It will all need to be levelled out before planting grass seed,
“Break up your unplowed ground
and do not sow among thorns.
Circumcise yourselves to the LORD,
circumcise your hearts…
Spring’s a good time to get things ready; to realize–some of those mountains that just won’t budge?
Can only be taken out one little stone at a time…
While everyone may have been thrilled about Goliath going down, not everyone was thrilled about who God chose to accomplish it, and his unyielding faith. David’s brothers despised him, and later Saul’s envy was so out of control David spent years in hiding and constant flight.
Are we willing for God’s deliverance to come through the faithful hand of someone else? Someone whose life might cast a shadow over our own–and might that shadow look a little like envy or contempt?
Then he took his staff in his hand, chose five smooth stones from the stream, put them in the pouch of his shepherd’s bag…
I go down to the valley
where Goliath begs to be felled;
from where he is a mite
scaling the footprint of God.
But he has become a giant,
and I find solace in the crowd;
comfort in the collective
cowardice. All of us
tethered to the same insecurities;
fastened by familiar fright.
United we stand
against our own success.
Pity the poor lad who dares
divide us asunder
with just a fist full of faith
and a pocket full of rocks.
My friend, Claudia, got a very nice camera for Christmas from her loving hubby. And just because she’s naive enough to believe I know something about photography, she sent me a few of her practice shots for feedback.
I think Claudia is a natural picture taker. She has a good eye–and the more she gets out there and shoots, the more that talent is going to shine through.
I couldn’t help but be captivated by two of the pictures, though–and only because they were so ordinary…
…in the most extraordinary way.
Sometimes we miss the beauty of simple things. A cozy neighbourhood corner sporting a spiffy red stop sign is so comforting close up–it reminds me that we should all have a place to go back to at the end of the day.
And who ever takes the time to stare at a chimney? It pours out heat from the hearth of happy homes.
Even the most mundane things look appealing with the right focus.
That’s the way it is with us, too. None of us are really all that, not really. But when we get our focus on God, and He gets us into focus–well, He makes us look a lot more appealing than we ever could have otherwise.
But He has a good eye–and He focuses on making the most out of ordinary people.
I’m hoping to be just like my dog, Loco, when I grow up. Not that I want to bark at strangers and follow myself around the house all day—just that I’d like to be as consistently happy as she always is.
From the moment I surface beneath my mound of blankets to hit the snooze button for the first time each morning, until I submerge again into the sandman’s shadows—she’s happy. And she’s not just ‘happy’ happy, she’s ecstatically thrilled about everything. If I get up from reading, a wagging tail propels her into spirals around my feet. Any sudden movement brings on a whole new carnival of contentment; a gala celebration.
If she goes outside she’s overjoyed. When she comes back in she tears up the floorboards with her enthusiasm. Even if she’s sound asleep and I slip quietly by, her tail—as if stirred by my overwhelming presence—wags at my passing. She’s no less enthusiastic about everything life has to offer than she was nearly a decade ago when she christened the threshold of every happy moment at the altars of our affection, with her wiggling wee bursting bladder.
Everything with her is as new as a freshly spanked baby’s bottom—she lives on the delivery ward of blessings about to be birthed; the cusp of perpetual penchant.
She’s the sound of an ice-cream truck on a sunny Saturday morning. She’s new furniture and old books, slapstick comedy, clowns and every happy thing you could conjure up.
If she were a drink she’d be champagne; if she could fly she’d alter the earth’s orbit. She lives life like it’s some huge pie eating contest—gobbling up all she can before time runs out.
And, it’s not as though she’s any stranger to hardship, either.
Oh, the troubles she’s seen…
She just knows how to bounce back from it is all. She doesn’t know anything about letting circumstances keep her down.
So, yeah—that’s pretty much the way I’d like to embrace the rest of my life. Living like it’s a walk in the park, because truthfully—sometimes it’s more like a walk down the plank.
And as much as we’d like them to be—trite and shallow canine comparisons, however clever—are not enough to keep some of the very sobering situations and circumstances from seeping inside and petrifying the very marrow of us.
We can’t always tear up the floorboards to the next adventure when the next adventure is another disappointment or letdown. Sooner or later, exuberance buckles beneath the last straw. It’s not all that easy to wag your tail in that place, much less sit up and beg for more. But God doesn’t expect us to, either. He promised to find us wherever we’ve been scattered to—bring us back, bind up our injuries and strengthen us. That’s where I’ve been lately—getting all bandaged up and better.
I can’t help feeling more exuberant about life again, though I’m nowhere near altering the earth’s orbit yet. Some of those circumstances and situations are just as foreboding.
Still–I aspire to live life like my loco little dog–in a carnival of contentment; on the cusp of perpetual penchant–bouncing back from the brink like it was just a nasty old bath or something.
This is a cleave poem. I was first introduced to them while spending a lot of time on a writing/reviewing/critiquing site. This genre, created by Phuoc Tan-Diep, was introduced to the site by a very talented writer. I’ve since discovered that the art of combining more than one poem (I read one that had four poems in total) goes back well before cleave poetry. But, since that is how I learned it this is what it will always be to me.
I also like the ‘cleave’ concept–that each thought leans into and is dependant on the other. We are left with a tapestry of words to wonder over; woven works of art having something truly unique to ponder depending on which way you look at them. And when you read one all together it is like taking a step back to gaze on the complete picture.
Last night I was thinking of Job, and how much better his life was after his suffering was over. God blessed the latter part of his life more than the first. Sometimes we forget that suffering will end, and that, if we are truly trusting it to a faithful heavenly Father, our lives can only be all the better for it. That’s what inspired this one.
Read it through first as one complete poem; then read each side separately. There are three distinct poems or variations of thought in this.
If Job became blessed
more than he was before are
the cruel arrows of those who
plunder wasted, should we mourn for
the suffering, despair? Knowing— they
rise up now and shall
in the end be comforted