Immanuel

In the wake of a tragedy, the world is sensitive and throbbing, like a wound irritated and freshly opened. Fingers are pointed and blame is cast–from guns to mental illness to the government to the belief that God was “kicked out of the public school system long ago,” the last one standing out from the others as something that makes me so, so sad and not for the reason you’d think.

It’s simply because I don’t think it’s true.

In her blog, Rachel Held Evans counters the argument that “God did not show up at Sandy Hook because ‘God is not allowed in public schools,’ because ‘we have systematically removed God from that place'” by stating:

God can be wherever God wants to be. God needs no formal invitation. We couldn’t ‘systematically remove’ God if we tried.

photo courtesy of www.weheartit.com

photo courtesy of http://www.weheartit.com

Like Rachel Held Evans, I feel troubled and provoked by the assertion that God can be removed from somewhere, especially in light of the Christmas message that He sent His son to be Immanuel.

God with us.

Allow me this space to vent.

God’s ways are not our ways (Isaiah 55:8), He is higher and more powerful than our human laws, and our government, and our educational systems and institutions, all the ways in which we attempt to organize our messy and sinful world.

He is more infinite, more far-reaching, and big that even our most sophisticated systems and intelligent laws cannot even begin to explain what He can do.

To think that a law, a bill, or an institution can keep God out is to greatly limit how vast and powerful He is. Preventing children from saying the Lord’s prayer in schools will not keep Him out, because, as Rachel Held Evans says, He cannot be kept out. He is everywhere at all times, God with us, even when we can’t feel it, even when we think something we’ve done or let happen will keep Him out.

What’s even more troubling to me than the loss of the Lord’s prayer in schools is that hearts have turned away from Him and don’t know His love. Because His people, Christians, aren’t showing them love–they’re keeping it to themselves, sequestered in their churches and programs and systems and then shaking their heads in disbelief when the rest of the world doesn’t follow suit.

They think that what a broken and hurting world needs is another church, another building, another system, another organization, another program or law, turning their noses up at the whiff of anything subversive or different, forgetting how subversive and different the very core of their religion is.

It is not, I believe, the system, the government, the organization, the program or law that people need. Telling people what to do and how to live their lives and “taking over” the government is not going to cause people everywhere to fall on their knees and take up Christianity.

It is you, Christ in you, the hope of glory (Colossians 1:27).

It’s people, showing His love to other people in the simplest of ways, showing others how valuable they are without a script or a tract or a million-dollar church building or the “anointing” of another spiritual celebrity.

As previously mentioned, Jesus was different. He didn’t require the most sophisticated synagogue to reach out to people, or traveling funds or ministry school degrees or the celebrity status of the modern-day spiritual leader.

His ministry was so simple. He sat with people–the prostitute, the tax collector, the homeless, the adulteress, the sick and poor and forgotten and neglected and built relationships with them. He listened to them, broke bread with them, wiped their tears and spoke to them, the ones from whom many church people would turn away.

Because it was the religious people who ticked Him off, how they inflated their own egos and turned his “church” from being about people to being about getting money from people.

It is my personal opinion that many Christians are fighting the wrong fight. They’re fighting for laws to be passed and systems to be changed, when they should be focusing on how they can change their own hearts from being marred by self-righteousness and pride.

The fact of the matter is simply this:

Jesus loved people, and if we want to change the world, that’s what we have to do too.

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All You Need is Love

Last night I dreamt that I was pushing my nephew in a stroller around the mall. I would say to him, “I love you!” and he would say back to me, “I love you too!”

I woke up feeling drenched in love and the feeling has not left me.

photo courtesy of google image search — “surrounded by love”

As today marks the 11th anniversary of 9/11, I’m reminded of how short life is and how important friends and family are.

If you’re in my life, you’re there for a reason, and today, and every day, I thank God for you.

You are valuable.

Every moment we spend together is valuable, and I treasure your precious time, the present of your presence.

I think I lose sight of it sometimes, and I get so ensnared in pettiness and fears and busyness and I don’t remember what matters.

People matter. You matter, and without your friendship and your love I wouldn’t have much of a life at all.

I love you.

photo courtesy of google image search

[i carry your heart with me(i carry it in)]

i carry your heart with me(i carry it in

my heart)i am never without it(anywhere

i go, you go, my dear; and whatever is done

by only me is your doing,my darling)

i fear

no fate(for you are my fate,my sweet)i want

no world(for beautiful you are my world,my true)

and it’s you are whatever a moon has always meant

and whatever a sun will always sing is you

here is the deepest secret nobody knows

(here is the root of the root and the bud of the bud

and the sky of the sky of a tree called life;which grows

higher than soul can hope or mind can hide)

and this is the wonder that’s keeping the stars apart

i carry your heart(i carry it in my heart)

— e.e cummings, from Complete Poems: 1904-1962

I Have Found the One Whom My Soul Loves

To explain my absence from the blogosphere as of late, I’ll show you what happened to me one month ago, because a picture is worth a thousand words …

photo courtesy of Caitlin Ingles (http://caitliningles.carbonmade.com)

Needless to say, the past month has been a backwards roller coaster of emotion. To say I’m over the moon would be an understatement.

I have found the one whom my soul loves  — Songs of Solomon 3:4

Now that I have some time to myself to think and reflect and, like Mary, treasure these things in my heart, it’s amazing to see how God brought us together and the journey He’s taken me on leading up to this life-altering moment. As a girl at work (a newlywed) told me, having a semi-longish engagement (11 months) is perfect because it really gives you time to savour this new season and revel in the excitement of preparing for something you’ve been dreaming of since you were a little girl, and the ways in which God was preparing my heart this entire time …

Truth be told, being single wasn’t always very fun. I’d have moments of acceptance and faith in God’s plan for my life followed by moments of crippling doubt. Every time a Facebook friend got married and posted pictures of their wedding, I’d struggle to keep the bitterness and feelings of “is this ever going to happen for me?” at bay. I remember walking down the Escarpment last year, feeling utterly broken and lost. “When You Say Nothing at All” by Alison Krauss was playing on my iPod as I was thinking about my completely unattainable love interest at that time and I felt so lonely and low that only God could shine the light, meagre as it was, through the cracks of my brokenness.

I had to hold on to the memory of August in Scotland, riding the ferry to the Orkney islands, and feeling wind-whipped and so alive that I could cry and laugh at the same time, and God’s quiet assurance that He was orchestrating the details of my life and that I’d meet the man of my dreams very soon (5 months later, to be exact, although I didn’t know it then!)

Sounds crazy, but I met K in January of 2012 and was engaged on my 27th birthday. For some reason, back on that ferry ride in Scotland, I felt so strongly that 27 would be the perfect age to become someone’s wife, and I will be 27 on June 8, 2013. Our wedding day.

photo courtesy of Caitlin Ingles (http://caitliningles.carbonmade.com)

Joy is the settled assurance that God is in control of all the details of my life, the quiet confidence that ultimately everything is going to be all right, and the determined choice to praise God in all things — Kay Warren

Last night, after a day of wedding dress shopping and high emotions, I went for a restorative walk up the Escarpment along Ridge Road (which is actually quite close to our venue, and a part of my town I’m very drawn to). It was around 8 p.m. and the sky was blazing red and gold. Twilight has always been my favourite time of day, and the loveliness of walking in a magical dusk in late August when the perfect music is playing on your iPod is absolutely healing.

In the beauty of that moment, with a bluegrass hymn in my ears, I spotted three deer in the meadow. I stopped and marvelled at them, taking my earbuds out and simply being. Two deer scampered off, white tails shaking, but one stood and stared at me for what seemed an eternity. Immediately I thought of the verse:

As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you — Psalm 42:1

photo courtesy of google image search

This past week, K has been gone across the country to his home province visiting his mom, and despite initially being grateful for a week “off” from wedding planning and errands, and despite speaking to him nearly every day, I’ve been lethargic and without appetite, like a character in a Jane Austen novel. I longed for him, a bride-to-be longing for her future husband. What God showed me was that marriage is a reflection of His love for His people, His bride, and how we long for our Bridegroom’s return.

And, just because God is awesome and it is so evident that He delights in blessing the tiniest desires of our hearts, when I was walking back I saw two monarch butterflies fluttering by and playing with each other.

I have been obsessed with butterflies since I was a little girl, and K custom designed my engagement ring with two butterfly details. The deer and the butterflies just couldn’t have been a coincidence …

photo courtesy of http://www.weheartit.com

Remember in January, when I declared 2012 to be a year of the dragon and the lioness? I also quoted this verse in Habakkuk, where there is also the image of the deer:

Yet I will rejoice in the Lord!

I will be joyful in the God of my salvation!

The Sovereign Lord is my strength!

He makes me as surefooted as a deer,

able to tread upon the heights

— Habakkuk 3:17-19

I am grateful that I can share with you a condensed version of my story, dear readers. I urge you all, no matter what your circumstance, to hold onto hope even when things seem hopeless. My story is evidence that your wildest dreams really do come true …

Love in Nuances

Will Ferrell and Maggie Gyllenhaal in "Stranger than Fiction" (2006)

As Harold took a bite of Bavarian sugar cookie, he finally felt as if everything was going to be ok. Sometimes, when we lose ourselves in fear and despair, in routine and constancy, in hopelessness and tragedy, we can thank God for Bavarian sugar cookies. And, fortunately, when there aren’t any cookies, we can still find reassurance in a familiar hand on our skin, or a kind and loving gesture, or subtle encouragement, or a loving embrace, or an offer of comfort, not to mention hospital gurneys and nose plugs, an uneaten Danish, soft-spoken secrets, and Fender Stratocasters, and maybe the occasional piece of fiction. And we must remember that all these things, the nuances, the anomalies, the subtleties, which we assume only accessorize our days, are effective for a much larger and nobler cause. They are here to save our lives. I know the idea seems strange, but I also know that it just so happens to be true

— from Stranger than Fiction (2006)

 

We Need Each Other

I have my books and my poetry to protect me; I am shielded in my armor

I am a rock, I am an island.

I’ve built walls,

A fortress deep and mighty,

That none may penetrate.

I have no need of friendship; friendship causes pain

[…]

I have my books and my poetry to protect me;

I am shielded in my armor,

Hiding in my room, safe within my womb

I touch no one and no one touches me.

I am a rock, I am an island

–from “I Am A Rock” by Simon and Garfunkel

One year when I was in high school, I taped the words I AM A ROCK, I AM AN ISLAND to the inside of my locker door. Rest assured I was teased for that, but I was making a statement in that turbulent time, both to myself every time I got something from my locker and whomever happened to pass by and see the sign:

I am impenetrable. No one can get to me. I don’t need anyone and as long as I keep these walls up around myself, I’ll be safe and I’ll never get hurt. You can’t get to me!

Over the years I saw the futility of this message. Unless you’re a hermit and living in seclusion, you can’t help but have relationships with other people. And being human, we hurt each other. It just happens. We fail each other and hurt each other and no amount of self-protection is going to stop that.

And yet I would still build and rebuild the walls. I’d let someone in–sometimes even before trust was established–and inevitably get hurt or disappointed in some way or the other because that’s just what happens. Each time I’d look at all the broken pieces of the relationship and make a vow that I’d never let that happen to me again. It’s my fault for letting someone get that close to me, for being vulnerable, for being intimate with someone and letting them see the real me.

Up and up the walls would go. Up went the defences that signalled danger at the slightest sign of rejection, real or imagined; up went the false strength and self-preservation … and I’d wonder why people didn’t know how to approach me or why some brave souls would tell me I was a closed book and hard to get to know …

I was a sensitive little crab that would retreat to the safety of my shell anytime things got tough or personal.

But the truth is that hiding behind your walls for fear of getting hurt can be just as hurtful, if not more so, than putting yourself out there.

No (wo)man is an island.

Better when we're together

Yes, it’s important to tap into the wells of your own being in solitude and find peace in being alone. Trust me, as an introvert (albeit a highly social one), I know this all too well (and have blogged about it often). But like most things in life, it’s all about balance, and something I’ve been learning lately (especially whilst in Ireland) is that we need each other.

We were created for community.

It’s why Adam needed Eve. Why dynamic duos tend to get more done (and have more fun) than soloists. Why even the Lone Ranger needed his Tonto. We are social animals and we need to have community with other human beings if we want to survive.

This is not to say that we shouldn’t be careful and establish healthy boundaries in our relationships. There’s a fine line between cowering behind our walls and being wise about whom you trust and decide to let in. Let God guide you, and be as wise as a serpent and as gentle as a dove. Also realize that your time is valuable and a gift to whomever is truly deserving of it.

I’m learning this and it’s a work in progress. I can’t be friends with everyone and that’s okay. I’m blessed to have many anam cara friendships, a small and intimate church family, and a tight-knit blood family. I’m learning that the premium our culture places on independence and individualism is somewhat flawed.

I’m so blessed to have spent that time
With my family and the friends
I love with my short life I have met
So many people I deeply care for

–from “Red Cave” by Yeasayer
We need each other, and we depend on each other. Not for esteem and validation and to meet all our needs, but for support. Encouragement. To share in our joy and in our sorrows (as my cousin put it so beautifully in her blog).

"However rare true love may be, it is less so than true friendship" -- La Rouchefoucauld

To my kindred spirit friends, my family, and those in my community:

I need you. I’m sorry if I have, in the past, pushed you away or let my fears of getting hurt impede our relationship. I’m sorry if I’ve shut you out and withdrawn when things have gotten difficult. I’m telling you now that I need you. I need your friendship as you need mine. I need your stories, your laughter, your tears, your triumphs, your sorrows, and your time. You are so highly valuable and precious to me and have helped shape who I am today and who I am yet becoming.

I love you.

Love Story

Catherine Middleton and Prince William on April 29, 2011

I don’t think it’s just because they’re royals that we waited so eagerly and watched the Royal Wedding so excitedly a couple of weeks ago. It’s because there’s something in us that springs to life whenever we witness two people madly in love saying “I do” … why some of us, despite our grandest efforts, are suckers for chick flicks and shows like Four Weddings and A Wedding Story.

Because we were hardwired for romance.

It’s like we have these little clocks inside of us that begin spinning and chiming a tinny tune at the sight of a misty eyed groom beholding his veiled bride gliding down an aisle or the first chords of Pachelbel’s Canon in D major. Some of us are more easily reduced to soppy messes than others by all of the furnishings of authentic love (the title of my blog should be a pretty good indication of where I stand) and the pleasure we take in discussing Kate Middleton’s elegant wedding gown or the way Mr. Thornton kisses Margaret Hale at the end of 2004’s North & South must be somewhat checked and classified as “guilty.”

While those others–jaded, cynical, disappointed, unaffected, stoic, unromantic, what-have-you–may scoff and shake their heads at our “silly, girlish” (said pejoratively) fascination with wedding gowns and flower arrangements, there lies inside of us a little girl who never quite grew up–a little girl who once upon a time crowned herself with dandelions and dreamed of being a princess made beautiful by the love of a prince.

"Romance is the glamour which turns the dust of everyday life into a golden haze" -- Amanda Cross

At the core of this–our wedding mania and obsession with red roses and soft candlelight and stolen glances and dancing slowly–is our most intimate, naked, vulnerable desire:

To be loved.

To be wanted, accepted, pursued, chased and adored, whether we be princesses, paper bag princesses or queens in our own right. Beneath our feminism and self-love and independence–all constructive things, mind you–there is still a yearning, an ache to be cherished and held, to have someone see our light and our dark and love it all. For someone to see our value as diamonds and rubies, our dust and dirt as malleable potential. For someone to say, I would do anything for you and really mean it.

Despite how happy we are and how much we’ve come to terms with our circumstances, the heart knows what the head ignores and our throats constrict and our eyes overflow at the most genuine displays of true love. Despite what we know about waning romance, infidelity, unhappy marriages and patriarchal impositions and traditional gender roles and soiled diapers, overflowing trash bins and bad breath, we can’t help but sigh just a little whenever a bride and groom march down the aisle for the first time as man and wife.

Not everyone’s storyline heads in that direction but they make peace with it and some choose alternative lifestyles for themselves which is courageous and tough. And fairy tales, romantic comedies, and Jane Austen novels tend to conclude at the first kiss, the marriage proposal, or the ride into the sunset because what comes after is the lost luggage, mortgage payments, dirty socks on the floor, runny noses, and trial after trial after trial (or so I hear). And perhaps for some, period romances and Harlequins and flirting with strangers become an escape from the monotony of married life because reality never lives up to the fairy tale.

But why?

Because we were hardwired for romance.

"I am my beloved's and he is mine" -- Songs of Solomon 2:16

Human love, while ecstatic and wondrous and beautiful, can only reach so far, hence the Harlequins and heartbreak. But beyond that, the reason why we ache and dream and crave, is because we were made by love, to love, for love. Because human love may be brief and may end catastrophically and nearly destroy us, but we don’t die because a greater love story runs in our veins and sings us back home again and again and again.

Masked in the filthy robes of lust and desperation is our inherent need to be loved unconditionally and to be seen continuously as a breathtaking bride meeting her perfect bridegroom at the altar: the place of unity, sacrifice, and eternal promises.

As a bridegroom rejoices over his bride, so will your God rejoice over you — Isaiah 62:6

From the moment we were born, our cries filled the air with the longing to be held and loved … the ache only intensified as we grew older and began watching Disney and royal weddings. Our hearts beat to the rhythm of love and our own personal love stories become apparent in our visceral/spiritual reactions to the sun setting in a wash of pink and gold; church bells chiming ancient prayers on lazy Sunday afternoons in the spring; the seamless orchestration of perfect moments when all of our senses are aroused … He has set eternity in our hearts and romance in our souls.

We are being romanced with a love divine, a love primordial, a love of one million happily ever afters.

How will your heart respond?

Your Precious Heart

"A woman's heart should be so hidden in God that a man has to seek Him just to find her" -- Maya Angelou

Guard your heart above all else, for it determines the course of your life — Proverbs 4:23 (NLT)

Lovely,

Your heart is so precious, so soft and so valuable. Protect it from harm. Keep it safe. Matters of the heart are not for the weak, so keep it strong by remembering it is priceless.

This doesn’t necessarily mean going into hiding, making yourself scarce and cold and unavailable. If that’s not your true nature, then you don’t have to assume an unapproachable demeanor to prevent a sick and broken heart.

It just means realizing that you are precious and beautiful beyond measure, and that your heart is full of bright and lovely things. It means your heart is not a freebie, a giveaway, a sold-to-the-highest-bidder (or any bidder–how often is our criteria for getting involved with someone simply that they like and accept us?) You’re infinitely stronger and better than that. Tell yourself this every morning as you wake up and every night as you go to sleep.

Blessed am I among women.

Eat Proverbs for breakfast. Wear your armour. Speak blessing and gratitude.

"Where you invest your love, you invest your life" -- Mumford & Sons

Make no apologies for who you are, for desiring true love and pure romance. Don’t downplay it or hide it or bite your tongue for fear of scaring someone away. The right person will treasure and value these things and will be drawn to them.

Make no apologies for your femininity, for the desires of your heart, for reveling in your softness and sensitivity and genuine tears, for your gold and your shine. These things are precious and should only be treated like the finest of diamonds.

If you get this, if you really get this and truly know who you are, then perhaps you wouldn’t treat your heart like a chipped and stained ceramic mug donated to goodwill to be purchased by those with dirty hands and greedy lips. Perhaps then you wouldn’t ask, “Do you think I’m pretty?” to anyone who walks by and base your worth on their answers or silence. And maybe then clumsy kisses with frogs just wouldn’t seem fit for a queen. And maybe then you’d derail the train (or jump!) before the wreck.

You are gold and diamonds and pearls. Your heart is a handcrafted, lovingly designed and masterfully painted china teacup, a precious gem set behind glass at Tiffany’s and only you have the key.

“How much?” he asks.

“Priceless,” you answer with a wink.

And someday, perhaps you’ll find someone suitable enough to be entrusted with the key. Listen to your heart. It will tell you.

In the meantime, you’re a queen. It’s time to start treating yourself as such.

"Only do what your heart tells you" -- Princess Diana