Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Drawn

A very short story, inspired by a writing prompt.


Drawn

I was convinced she was the antithesis of my muse. In all my artistic forms. Written or sketched. There I would be, sharp and focused. Creating. Then she would come and undo me. Making me second guess myself. Were we not supposed to be one? Why did she seem to stand against everything I represented? Didn’t she see how hard I worked? How meticulously I made each line; wrote each word?

I gave myself to my work. Giving all that I was.  Only later did I see how much of herself she gave as well. I wore her down. The harder I pressed on the more she had to absorb. Did I not see how gentle, how softly she came to correct and inspire. So often it seemed we were going in opposite directions.

Time carved us down. As all things. The river to canyon. The bone to dust.

Then, in an ordinary moment. I paused. Examined. I had been so distracted, caught up in myself, I did not realize how close we had become. It had happened so slow and subtle. I began to see how connected we were. Where I had come to only see two opposites, I began to see balance. Compliment. A beauty that had escaped me for so long.

Here, near the end. We are closer than we have ever been. We are less than we were yet more than we have ever been.

In quiet reflection I see that her changes, critiques, were not those of my antagonist. No, instead they were the gracious hands guiding me to better forms. More pure and precise expression. She saw in me what I could not see in myself. The pages. The canvas’. A testament of love. I cannot take back the times of resentment and doubt, but I can fill what we have left with humility and gratitude. Anything I created is accredited as much to her as it is myself. More so perhaps.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

God put a smile on my face: Coldplay and the Love of God.



I LOVE Coldplay. Their music over the years continues time and time again to resonate deeply with me. I have a lot of respect for the way they conduct themselves as a band and once I saw them in concert I was done for.

Sadly what this lead to was me questioning if I was making the band an idol in my life. Over and over again God declares that he alone is to be worshiped above all else. The second commandment is that we shall have no other gods before Him. I worried that I was too obsessed with Coldplay. I feared listening to them too much.

I don't think that this was irrational. I am committed to loving God above all else and know that my greatest joys, peace and needs can only be satisfied in Him. I go through this same line of thinking when I start desiring cars, nice houses, reckless freedom, money, etc.

But then, as my sad little heart is reminded often, God surprised and blessed me in ways I would never have dreamed.

In May of 2012 I had the opportunity to go to the Hollywood Bowl and see Coldplay from some of the best seats in the house for free. This was a concert I did not have tickets for and did not think I would get to attend. On top of this I was able to go backstage, on stage during setup, and interview their audio engineer. I got to hang out for hours in the Coldplay friends and family room. Stocked with beer, wine, and fine food. I truly felt like I had died and gone to heavenly. I felt that I needed another body to pour joy into.

Me and two friends of mine from church got to watch the show from the mixing board and when the amazing spectacle of the concert was over the engineer turned round and handed us cold beers.

All that afternoon and evening I was deeply struck by the idea of Grace. Grace is receiving something that we don't deserve. Something we don't earn. Everything about that day was grace. It was good gift on top of good gift. And these were gifts I would never dream of asking for. Several times I would just close my eyes and thank God for getting to experience something so fun and abundant.

That's when the change came. From that day on, whenever a Coldplay song comes on, especially in public, a smile come across my face and I'm reminded that God LOVES me. I became more aware of how God communicates that love through different means, including my favorite band. I can worship Him through Coldplay. Like a sunset, a hot steak, a friend's hug, they lead me to the source of kindness and generosity.

He is the gracious Father of good gifts. I try to be grateful. Oh what dreams may come.



Saturday, November 24, 2012

Stubborn Stains

I work at a church and a few weeks ago we were the victims of a tagger. In three places these lovely initials were sprayed on two of our parking lot lights and this retaining wall where all the water drains from our lot. The two on the cement bases for the lights came off fairly easily with a special cleaner and a lot of scrubbing. Did I mention it was over 100* the day I had to clean these.

When I got to this final graffiti I sprayed and sprayed, and scrubbed and scrubbed with a steel brush. I have tried on two more occasions to get this stain off the stone bricks and if you come by the church it will still look like this. I am currently trying to team up with someone to get a sand blaster and hopefully get this removed.

While I was drenched in sweat and striving to erase this mark I was reminded of a deep truth. This stain is as stubborn as my sin. My life, my heart, my soul are covered in the marring of disobedience and foolishness.

Despite my greatest efforts, the sweat on my brow, the callouses on my hands I can't remove a single one. I cannot cover them or get them to fade. It's hopeless. Vanity and striving after wind.

How glorious and good it is to read the words of the the prophet Isaiah.
"Come now, and let us reason together," Says the LORD, "Though your sins are as scarlet, They will be as white as snow; Though they are red like crimson, They will be like wool." 1:18
The writer of Hebrews tells me even more of what this means for me.
how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to serve the living God." 9:14
Jesus washes clean my sins, my dead works, with His own perfect blood. It's as though the sin was never there. I am so thankful for this gift and thankful for reminders that I can rest in the completed work of Christ and finally serve the living God.

I just hope the graffiti will get on board with my theology.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Too Close for Comfort

Snip, snip, snip. Every sign of beauty and color torn away. The growth of the past year reduced to a jagged stub. What once was a thriving life seems nothing more than the skeletal frame of abandoned promise.

I have trouble discerning the pruning shears from the ax at the root of the tree. Is this the discipline of my Father? The careful, wise trimming of a loving Gardener. Often I fear that it is the punishment of a Holy Judge. One sin too many. The final test of a fruitless tree. The righteous wrath to bear down on my stubborn neck.

But I stop. The slippery lies. The panicked doubts. Who am I to say that the power of Christ blood has reached it's high tide and I find myself dry on a sandy shore. His redeeming love shall come this far but no further. The audacity.

His atonement is an raging tsunami that over takes the swiftest runner and the strongest grip clutching earthen security.

It overcomes, it overwhelms. It drowns me in a bed of crimson. I don't want to die. I resist. I struggle against death. You are good? This is right? With burning lungs I scream into the thick.

















Death.


Death of a wretch. Death of desires that lead to deeper death.

Old sinks. New floats to surface.

A canopy of stars.

The peace of letting go.

This is Love.

These Hands are strong. The power to rend the all that stood between Heaven and earth. How will I not be crushed.

Eyes that see. Not just what is but what shall be.

Help me trust your hurts.

If only your silences were not so deafening.

Spring will bring blossom. Fuller. Stronger.

Can I be naked in the garden again? The intimacy that is everything I crave and everything I fear.

Rest.

The worst is over.

You will never be apart from Me again. Only ever closer. Closer.

Closer.



Closer.



Saturday, May 19, 2012

The Knitted Soul

My church is reading through the Bible this year. At the end of a section of books we have a reflection service. Last night we had a service for the historical books of the old testament. The focus was on the life of David. Several of us in the church were asked to select people in David's life and write an account from their perspective. I chose Jonathan, the son of Saul. This is the piece that I prepared.


Mephibosheth, my young lion, my son.

I pray this letter finds you well in these troubled times. We are on the eve of battle and my mind is swarming with thoughts and questions that rob me of sleep. I wander our encampment here at Gilboa. My eyes search the heavens for a sense of hope or peace, yet only cold distant stars stare silently back. Mirroring them are the flickering fires of the Philistines across the valley. Burning into the night, into my heart. I wish the Lord would out stretch his hand and brush them from the hillside like dust.

In my youth it was the thrill of battle that kept me from rest. Yet now, I find my heart heavy within me. There is a weight that hangs over our army tonight and yet an emptiness as well. You know well the bedtime stories I have told you of war. Days when your grandfather and I were the only two men in Israel with swords and yet by the Lord’s hand the enemy was delivered over to us. We were swifter than eagles and stronger than lions then. There was a glorious future for all in Israel.

But now, now there are whispers and rumors slithering from tent to tent. Dark stories of heavy sins. I would spare you of them but there are no walls high or thick enough to hold back a man’s iniquities. They claim your grandfather secretly sought out a witch and more terrifying still that he even spoke with the ghost of the prophet Samuel. I tremble at the thought of such a bold foolishness. What terrible wrath might the king have invited on us in the wake of tomorrow's fight.

Son, do not think ill of your grandfather. He was and can be a great man. The seeds of fear were planted years ago. It’s black and twisted roots grew in his heart. Where there is a weed he sees a flower. He masks the fear with pride to cover his insecurity and jealousy. When you are high on a pedestal you have farther to fall. He let fear of man eclipse fear of the Lord, who alone is to be feared. He knows that his failure to obey the Lord has caused the kingdom to be taken from him. Now he grasps to keep hold of what is no longer his to possess. It wretches my heart. Learn from this my son, and let humility and wisdom spare you of the same fate.

Mephibosheth, know that my heart is for you. That tomorrow in battle I shall fight to the last breath to protect you and our people from the enemies of Israel. And should it cost me the full measure of my life, know that I lay it down without hesitation or regret. Yet know how deeply I desire to be home with you, to wrestle in the palace gardens, and instruct you to use a bow. I achingly long to see you grow in stature and wisdom. To teach you the ways of the Lord and to serve Him above all else in this life.

Son, if the victory be to the Philistines, fear not. David yet lives as the Lord’s anointed and He will sit on the throne. Do not fear the reign of David. Though the transfer of power in a nation leads to much bloodshed he has sworn a covenant with me that he will show kindness to our family when he is king. We declared “The Lord is witness between you and me and between your descendants and my descendants forever.” He is a man of mercy and full of compassion. There is no doubt in my mind that he will ensure your safety and care all of your days.

Many will tell you that this is not possible.That the sword of David will not be quenched until the last of Saul’s household are wiped from the earth. You will be tempted to flee and to hide yourself. My son, never doubt that the Lord’s anointed is for you and will be your salvation.

As sure as the Lord lives I remember sitting by your grandfather as David entered the royal tent fresh from victory, gripping the severed head of the giant. Though only a youth, David spoke with such boldness and confidence of the power of the Lord. In all my life I have never found a man in Israel who possessed a passion for the Mighty One of Israel, as this shepherd boy had.

I found my heart leaping like a young calf. My very soul was knit to his. All that I believed of the Lord and hoped for Israel was being lived out in this young man. I have loved him as I love myself. His friendship to me has been as vital as the blood in my veins. I think of the nights that we would sit around a fire and I would listen as David sang psalms of the Lord’s majesty, beauty and faithfulness with honesty in his heart.

On one occasion David tried to teach me how to throw rocks with a sling. By days end David was rolling on the ground laughing at all the bruises on my head. David can laugh with such joy and abandon. It raises up the most downcast heart.

But there has also been shared weeping. Unbridled tears, heart splitting pain and gut wrenching loss. The last time I saw David was in Horesh. He was in hiding and I had found my way to him and sneak away from the king. How does one trust in the Lord when all His promises seem in vain? How my loyalties were tested again and again between my father and my friend. I knew there was little I could do to comfort him but I did my best to reassure him of the goodness and sovereignty of our Lord. I reminded him that there is nothing that can hinder the Lord from saving. Nothing. The promises of the Lord are sure.

Son, I fervently pray that you would be blessed in this life with a friendship as I have shared with David. If you live in rags, and are but a servant but possess a bond like I have known than you will be richer than the greatest of kings.

Mephibosheth, I know that not all I have written will make sense to you now. I trust that you will keep this message with you all your life. May it be a guide and a comfort to you. The sun will break this dark night soon and what will be shall be. The Lord’s will be done.  

Your loving father,
Jonathan

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

A tale of two Christmas concerts

Tis the Christmas season and my church has had its share of events to celebrate the Advent of Christ. The two big events I look forward to each year are the Christmas concerts. One with adults and one with children. I loved both concerts but for very different reasons. Each allowed to me reflect on the Lord but from opposite perspectives.

With the adult Christmas concert there is a sense of Awe. The stage is packed with singers and musicians. This year a stage extension had to be built just to compensate for all the performers. The concert is big in scale and well rehearsed as the singers and musicians perform with meticulous precision.

As I sit in my seat I meditate on God's immensity, creativity, perfection, and beauty. My senses can hardly take hold of all the glory of the performance. I just sit there and let it wash over me. There is a purity in the high quality of it all.

A week later I attended the children's concert. Dozens of children, ages 5 to 12, crowd the stage. During their performance there are imperfections. Wavering voices, flubbed lines, wardrobe malfunctions (a young girl spent most of her stage time trying with great futility to keep her donkey ear from hanging in her face.)

There is another purity here. Purity in the truth of who these children are. When they sing it's from their hearts. Children haven't developed the skill of masking all their emotions the way adults do. You see their frustration, joy, confusion, personality. I love it. Their families sit watching and soaking it all up like the last portions of a winter soup. They adore their children just as they are, imperfections and all. Purity of the real.

This made my heart meditate on the shadow of how God views us. We're His children. We're flawed. He sees our hearts intentions and motives. He loves and adores us. I am grateful for a heavenly Father such as Him.

Merry Christmas.










Thursday, December 8, 2011

Bloodless Martyrdom

Over the summer I realized that as a single man in my mid 20's I am presented with a conflicting set of agendas for my life. One popular opinion is that I need to take full advantage of my singleness. Travel, pursue goals, go back to school. Figure out what I want out of life.  These are not bad things. They are great things. These may even help me to reach my life goals of marrying a godly woman and having a family of my own.

However, I'm also told that getting married and having a family will reveal to me and others the depths of my selfishness and pride. I could wait until that possible day to discover those elements in my heart but I was a Boy Scout and our motto was "Be Prepared". The hope then is that I rid myself of as much of my egocentrism as I can and to live for others now. Where I see the problem is that the life I'm being told to live now is not helping cultivate the life that I seek to flourish in later.

I set before me the same challenges that Christ presented His disciples. Pick up your cross and follow me. Die to self.

One way in which I sought to grow the virtue of selflessness was to volunteer. I had done a lot of this at my church but because I also work there the line felt too blurred. I wanted to be stretched. Careful what you ask for.

Thanks to a friend of mine I found out about an opportunity to serve an organization called Giving Children Hope, located in Buena Park, CA. This NPO sends unused medical supplies around the U.S. and world to locals that are in need. They also fill backpacks for homeless children in the L.A. and Orange counties. 

You hear people say all the time that volunteering feels good. I wish I could say that I naturally felt this euphoria, especially as a christian. But I'm selfish, and volunteering 4 hours of my day off, getting up earlier than I do for work and doing unglamorous hard labor in a warehouse did not illuminate my halo. Another false idea I had was that I'd be with very friendly, selfless people who loved serving. In reality many of the men I was working next to were court ordered to be there and talked about how much they didn't want to be there.

After a couple of months volunteering once a week, I arrived at GCH to find just myself and one other guy. The warehouse manager, a former street fighting Romanian, told us were were going to be doing some cleaning. We moved large, heavy tables, cleaned up trash, swept, mopped and waxed the floor. It was quite the operation.

It was while I was crouched down scrubbing a wall with a sponge that I really felt all my resentment bubbling up.
"Why am I doing this? There are so many better things I could be doing. This work is for people being punished. This is beneath me. I have more to offer than scrubbing walls and mopping floors."
 The thoughts tasted bitter. "So that's the real me." It made me sick. Then I heard my answers. Not easy but true. "This is why you need this. This is when it really begins."

If it had all been easy and fun what would I be gaining? That wasn't my goal, though inwardly it's what I wanted. My own glory. Picking up crosses and dying clashes with my self preservation and entitlement.

I am convinced now, more than ever, that the path to my goal of selflessness will not end before my heart does. But I look to Christ who daily set the example and lived a life of obedience and love for God and for others. May that be the prayer on my lips every morning and the reflections of my heart at night.