Tuesday, June 26, 2012

When The Shadows Fall

It's been nearly a half-dozen years since I've set foot in my grandparents' house, but when we pull up to the curb in the middle of the afternoon, I wonder if I ever left at all.

This little red house with the white front steps and that tiny patch of grass, it's just the way I remember it from the time I was small.  The years, they've taken their toll.  But me, I'm walking right back into childhood when I step over that threshold, and I'm not expecting it to feel like this.

Like I've found a piece of who I used to be and there's nothing I can do to take it back into the life I live now.

My dad and his dad, they rummage in the shed for bicycles long unused, and my grandma and me, we wander the house and recount the past.  I trace my hand over wallpaper and curtains and I smile to myself at things still hanging on the walls after all these years.

We make our way to the basement in search of the puzzles my grandma once loved, because her eyesight's slipping away and there's no more use in trying to see what she can't.  She pulls them out from all the places they've been stashed and I look them over slow, choosing a handful to carry back to my side of the state.

And we're standing in that room where my whole family used to sleep when she points to a photograph on the wall and tells me a story I didn't know.  My grandma, she's not quite 80, but the years--they haven't been kind.  She's forgotten how to cook an egg and she's forgotten how to use the microwave and she's starting to forget her own grandchildren.

She's starting to forget me.

But she remembers that morning decades ago when she left the house before dawn, my grandpa already off to work.  And it was only 5 am when she made her way to that bridge across town and snapped a photo for a newspaper contest.  Grandma won second place for her efforts and she still smiles big when she tells me the story.

And that's the moment when I feel my heart break open just a bit, all these pieces of the past weighing me right down.  Because there are too many things I've forgotten, too many things I've never known about my own family, all our history slipping away in the unkind river of time.  And I know it now, how it's too late and some things really are lost and, oh, the longing to get it all back?  It leaves me broken and grieving.

I don't want to re-live the growing-up years, so heavy with pain and loss.  But there's this one thing I wish I'd known from the start--that counting all the moments and giving thanks for what's here and now, it's the only way to remember what shouldn't be forgotten.  It's the only way to carry the heritage of a family into all the years to come.

Maybe it's the only way to build a heritage at all.

Because there are stories told in photographs and mementos and there are stories told from one person to another, but what does it really matter without the story of God's goodness running right through all our days, all our generations?

And isn't that what the listing of His gifts is really all about--telling the story of His goodness?

It's two days later when we're driving home across the mountains and I hear the echo of my soul in the words of a songLife is full of light and shadow.  Oh, the joy and oh, the sorrow.  Because I'm still aching a bit over what's been lost and what can't be found again and yet I'm whispering thanks with every breath, desperately grateful for even one more day with the grandparents who birthed our family.

And it's the chorus that shouts loud the truth I'm trying to learn:
When shadows fall on us
we will not fear
we will remember.
When the darkness falls on us
we will not fear
we will remember.
When we're thrown and we're tossed
we'll remember the cost.
We're resting in the shadow of the cross.
~~David Crowder, Shadows
There's no going back to all the years before.  Before I started counting His Graces, counting on Him.  There's no retrieving what's been lost and uncounted and unremembered, but there's the giving thanks for what is and there's the remembering of Him right here and now.

Because maybe there's only one thing that needs remembering in all our lives--Christ on the cross, God redeeming us out of every shadow that will ever fall, us never forgotten by the One Who holds the whole world together.

When the shadows fall on us, we will remember.  When time steals our eyesight, our memories, our loved ones, we will remember.   When we've forgotten everything and everyone else, we will remember.

Because the record of God's goodness?  We're writing it down, carving Him into the story of our lives, choosing to remember Him when all else is slipping away.

The grief over what's been lost and what's slipping away, it breathes life into the gratitude for what is and what has been and what might still be.  And the shadow of the cross?  It leads us right to the Light of the World.

Recording the story of His goodness...

1573.  Days without work
1574.  Car loaded down, us all tucked in for the drive
1575.  Safe travels over the mountain, clouds following us all the way
1576.  Road trip snacks and backseat catnaps
1577.  Pulling into the campground at last, sun starting to break through
1578.  Setting up camp while the sun sets across the river
1579.  Hot drinks before bed
1580.  Me tucked into the teardrop trailer for the night
1581.  4 am trip to the bathroom, horizon already on fire and everything perfectly still
1582.  Cinnamon french toast for breakfast, broken fork and laughter to start the day
1583.  Setting up lawn games in the grass
1584.  Practicing, practicing, practicing before anyone else arrives
1585.  Me and Dad traipsing around the pond looking for dragon flies
1586.  Day already hot before lunchtime
1587.  Grandpa and Grandma pulling in, their old station wagon recognized from afar
1588.  Grandparent hugs and hellos
1589.  Grandma and me moving our chairs from sun to shade and back again
1590.  Hot dogs and pasta salad for lunch, quiet conversations before the whole gang arrives
1591.  Camp stove malfunction, propane leaking when we're nearby and awake
1592.  Trip to the store to fix what's broken, finding a makeshift part
1593.  Dad and me making our way to the house where he was born
1594.  Pulling up to the house and finding everything just the same
1595.  Honking the horns on old bicycles dug out of storage
1596.  Grandma and me wandering the house in search of puzzles
1597.  Memories and feelings from the past, a childhood forgotten and remembered
1598.  Grandma recounting stories, me grieving and giving thanks
1599.  The sound of her voice, her laughter
1600.  The woman she once was
1601.  Arriving back at the campground to find cousins here at last
1602.  Hamburgers on the grill
1603.  More cousins finding their way, and a brother, too, unloading cars and setting up tents
1604.  All of us gathered around the campfire, laughing loud and late
1605.  First morning with all of us together, more french toast, and sausage falling in the grass
1606.  Playing games with cousins, me still bad at them all
1607.  Crocheting in the shade when it's time for a little quiet
1608.  Heading down to the water after lunch, carrying my chair and crochet
1609.  Hanging out with a cousin, chatting and sharing life
1610.  Day hot and sticky but all of us thankful for the sun
1611.  Bratwursts on the grill for dinner
1612.  All of us sitting 6 feet from the campfire because the day's still hot
1613.  Wind coming up at last, cooling us down just enough
1614.  Laughter and s'mores and silliness late into the night
1615.  Good sleep on the last night
1616.  Packing up after breakfast, a million trips back and forth across the grass
1617.  Everything loaded at long last
1618.  Goodbye hugs and well wishes
1619.  Protection when the cargo comes undone and we're standing on the side of the freeway
1620.  Makeshift tie-down, us making it to the next rest stop in one piece
1621.  Dad figuring out how to get us home, us grateful for Him watching over us
1622.  Rain greeting us as soon as we reach the mountains
1623.  Home, home, home
1624.  Him, Him, Him.  Yes.  This most of all.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

How Life Can Be Twice As Good

I visited a local rhododendron park last month and these photos have been quietly waiting ever since.  Today seems like the perfect day to share them with you in celebration of Summer's beginning and in honor of a very dear friend's birthday.

Happy Birthday, Rachel.  Life with you, it really is half as hard and twice as good.  I love you.


Friday, June 8, 2012

When You Wonder If It's Worth It

It's the middle of May when I drop out of my own life.

I stop answering emails, stop reading other people's stories, stop writing words of my own.

Because there's something that needs doing and I know it's going to take everything I've got just to see it through.  But when I rearrange the furniture, make room on the floor for what's larger than life, the real truth is this:  I've no idea what I've begun.


I kneel down beside all this blank canvas and I try my best to take a scribbled-out sketch and turn it into a tree standing 8 feet tall.  It's not easy for me and a struggle long, but I give thanks, too, for penciled lines that aren't permanent and erasers big enough to hide all these wayward strokes.  And when I finally stand back, I really can't see much of anything here, those lines too small and light to be visible from afar.  But I'm happy somehow, foolish enough to think I know what I'm doing.

Yes.  I am naive.

It takes three arduous days to paint every last branch of this tree, and it might be lost on me in the moment but I'll see it soon enough--how it takes three days to bring a tree to life and three days to resurrect a Savior from His grave.

And maybe this is when I suddenly realize I'm in way over my head.

Don't I already know that it's only God Who creates through feeble hands, not me creating anything at all?  But I'm the woman who forgets again and again, the woman who's always surprised when God takes over, makes something beautiful out of all this mess of mine.

Yes, that tree might be the most beautiful thing I've ever put on canvas, but it's when I'm staring at it laid out across the floor--that's when the weariness seeps in, reminds of what's been true from the beginning.  This body of mine, it's not strong enough to finish what's been started.

Those lines from which all this began, they come back to haunt and I've no choice now but to believe the impossible.
...only weakness draws all eyes
to Your radiant strength...
How could I have thought it would be any different here, in the trenches, me trying to believe in my own worth and this illness throwing me right back down?

I lean hard into the arms of a God Who's always strong, because isn't that where all the weakness leaves us anyway?  And I trust Him for what's not in me anymore--the strength to hold a brush for one more minute, one more hour.

So I start right there at the bottom, swirl the blackest black and the deepest purple together.  Then I let blues and greens shift and mingle until this tree's growing straight out of the dark.  I see that darkness covering the whole earth and all that water drowning out life until God Himself steps in and says, "Let there be light!"  I see, too, that pitch-black cave in the ground and I feel the rumble of a stone being rolled back until there's no denying that Light has conquered all the dark.

And the green, it lightens up, gives way to yellow and orange stretching out across the horizon, like the sun God pulls into the sky on the very first day of this life--like the Son God pulls right out of the ground on the very first day of our Redemption.

And I let the red paint spread and cover every last inch of that final canvas, because the Blood of the Lamb, it covers every last stain of our souls.  It was never Plan B.  No, our redemption was clear right from the start, God creating the world and sending us a lifeline before we even knew we were drowning.

So when the colors are laid out and that tree's growing strong and sure, there's just this one thing left to do:  Hammer in the truth like Christ hammered my sin into His own flesh.

My dad, he searches long in a tub of old nails to find just what I need.  And when he tells me where they've been, I shouldn't be surprised.  Nails that once held together the creche of a manger scene, back in my childhood days beside the ocean, their the ones I hammer in here to hold the truth together, to hold me together.

From creation to the cradle to the cross--yes, God really does hold everything together.

And God, He really is the same--yesterday, today, and tomorrow.

So I nail the words of a friend right into the heart of this painting.  I start at the bottom, in all that darkness, and I work my way up.  God of my past, my present, my future.

Maybe this is the story of creation and the story of redemption all mixed into one, but maybe it's the story of me, too.  The story of all our lives growing out of the darkness, fighting and striving to open up to His Light and let the whole world see Him shining right through us.  Because God's the only changeless One here, the only One Who's already complete.  You and I, we're not finished yet.

And all this messy, hard, beautiful struggle to grow and change and be made new?

It's worth it.

I'm worth it.

You're worth it.

The Creator on the cross, loving us all the way to hell and back--yes, He says we're worth it. Now there's only this one thing left to do:  Believe.

Please visit my friend Christina's blog to read her poem in it's entirety, entitled Thou Art the Same God:
Part One:  God of My Yesterdays
Part Two:  God of My Today
Part Three:  God of My Tomorrows

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

When You Need To Believe The Truth

It's the end of January when I read the words of a friend and they wash right over this wounded and weary soul like a balm.  She pens Hope into a three-part harmony, points us straight to the God Who's always the same, the God Who's always with us, the God Who's always I AM.

And who doesn't need to hear that sung out strong and sure when the years have brought so much change and loss and the rearrangement of a whole life?

Maybe it's the closing lines of that first piece that lodge the deepest, leave me standing still and silent while all the world rushes past.
...only weakness draws all eyes
to Your radiant strength...
Because I'm the woman who battles chronic illness day in and day out, the woman whose weakness is the only thing that never changes at all.  And aren't I always weighed down by this one fear--that everyone who sees my weakness will name me Worthless?

Or maybe the real truth is this--that I've seen my own weakness and I've already named myself Worthless?

I've wrestled for long years with an illness that ravages and a weakness that finds me grasping about for something, anything at all to give back to the world, some way to leave His mark on a life.  And I've come far and I've grown much, but there are still these days when I can't understand how this life of mine can be worth anything at all.

So when I see those words etched in black and white, I'm brought to my knees and I feel it deep that I've got to stop believing the lies.  I've got to stop calling out the names I can't take back--even on those days when it really does feel as if there's nothing left to give.

Because maybe this is the real truth worth knowing--that everything we aren't, it points all eyes to the God Who Is.  Maybe weakness doesn't leave us empty and worthless at all.  Maybe it just leaves us open, these glass vases full of scars and broken places.  And when He pours His Love and Light right into us, He flows on through and waters the world with Himself.

But this truth, it isn't easy to live when the days press in hard, and I know I've got to choose it with my whole being, hammer it in with every bit of strength I've got left.

So I ask it quiet, unsure--maybe I can take these words of a friend and build them into something I can't forget?  She answers with a resounding Yes and I might be a little excited to begin but I wonder, too, what I've really gotten myself into.

Because this is the story of the God Who was and is and always will be.  This is the story of the wounding and the healing, the heartache and the hope.  And I struggle for months to find a way to tell this story that's bigger than all of us.

But it comes out of nowhere on a Saturday morning and maybe I don't know how the idea's born but I do know Who.  And what's scribbled down on a half-sheet of paper in the beginning of April, it becomes something wholly other by the end of May.  It becomes 24 square feet of canvas covered in paint and tears and pieces of a life.

It becomes this one woman's choice to believe what seems impossible Truth--that I am His and I am Loved and there's no weakness that can ever take away the worth of who He's made me to be.

Later this week (hopefully), I'll be posting more pictures of this enormous project and writing the story of the long labor from which it was born.  Many, many thanks to my dear friend Christina who inspired me with her writing and graciously allowed me to incorporate her poetry into my creation.