03 October, 2009

The Insignificance of Injury

I have been on this road before. All of the landmarks are very familiar and strangely comforting, like a pair of shoes that doesn't fit anymore but still seems like an old friend. I wonder how many times I've come this way. Hundreds? Maybe thousands. I know the route like the back of my hand and I am fairly certain—no, I am absolutely sure—that I could finish the journey blindfolded. The way seems pleasant and easy, most certainly the logical and reasonable route. Anyone who would look at my course of decision would agree that yes, I have been quite understandable and perfectly smart to journey as I have. But even as I take another step, a small screaming voice has begun to escalate in the dark recesses of my heart, becoming more insistent with each step. I am so at ease with this road, this perfectly logical strategy, that it is easy to ignore.

Then I notice that the once pleasant sunshine that once coaxed me along has now become punishing, throwing harsh waves of heat and sulfur at my face. I try to remember why I chose this route as I have so often before. I think back to the point of decision but the moment is blurred, as one on autopilot. I feel my energy sinking and the once buoyant sense of familiarity is now sharp stabs of regret. The faint voice from within is growing still louder now, but the words still seem muddled together as though someone were speaking through a rolled up sock. I try to comfort myself by reviewing my choice and yes, when the case has been presented and all the facts laid out, the math carefully calculated, I have been perfectly understandably reasonable to come this way.

I press onward motivated by logic alone, but slowly my morale is draining away. Blisters and burns begin to emerge and this pain, this specific brand of personal torment, becomes as familiar as the road. Suddenly it comes to my mind that I remember where this road ends. It is as though the sky has turned red and all moisture has been drained from the earth. I blink to ease the sting of sand in my eyes. I have wondered into a desert and I have done it on purpose, by choice, as I have done hundreds of times before. I stop and close my eyes and now the voice is clear and easy to understand. This is the road of fear. You've been here before. It is the road of the coward and the orphan. It ends in your destruction.

I have been married for five years in October. Looking back now, I can admit that I have been easily surprised many times by just how much another person—your closest person—can damage you. Of course, there has been joy and all things wonderful. But my heart, in the hidden places, is huddled to protect a network of scars so deep, so shameful, that no one must ever see. Like every wife, I feel a responsibility to protect my husband—after all, it's not as though he injured me out of malice or intent. My scars are those of a man learning his way, carving it out of the rock and pursuing a dream. And some, if I am honest, are self inflicted.

Five years ago, I said my wedding vows to someone whom I thought I was safe with, who would protect me and be my hero. I promised to respect and honor him and thought that would be easy—how could anyone that handsome be hard to love? That was my first mistake. Respect and love are hardly the same. And as we launched into our eternal bliss, my visions of star-crossed lovers, romantic evenings, and long conversations drained away, leaving behind a woman clutching to hope like a wilted, lifeless balloon. I tried to coax and correct him out of love, not realizing that unasked-for advice always stings like criticism. So I chipped away at a warrior with broken armor and thought I was helping. When a couple pursues a dream together, it rips them open and exposes everything, the great and the despicable. I wasn't prepared.

And little bit by little bit, accidentally and on purpose, I pulled my heart away from his. I had to—somebody had to protect me. I ached with the anguish that comes from realizing you might have been wrong. Knowing every word I might say would do more damage than good, I retreated all together, sinking into depression. Had I seen potential in someone who would never see the greatness in himself? It seemed unthinkable. Would I forever be sentenced to a life of mediocrity, linked to a man who would casually bleed possibility and destiny until the day he died? Was my ambition to be completely swallowed up in him? In my heart, I trusted my instincts and knew I was right—I knew Nick had been specially crafted by the Father for a high purpose. But the pain of watching him overlook—or even ignore—his God-given gifts was too much. I just wanted the pain to stop. It was a dark overwhelming cloud that poisoned every endeavor. So I considered divorce. Life without my best friend seemed less tormenting than life with a shadow.

This was only about eighteen months ago. It is only because of prayer and Papa's grace that we crossed that chasm without falling apart all together.

The morning sun has just come over the mountains and here I sit, dealing with a new battle. Nick has gone from servant boy to knight in a few months. It is as though scales have fallen from his eyes. The Father is revealing himself to Nick and I find myself spinning, unable to put my feet on solid ground. Character has suddenly taken root and courage has steeled his spine. A little boy has become a man. The tortoise has become the hare and I find myself chasing him. And I am suffering from an acute case of whiplash.

As Nick pursues the Father, our strategies for life require more faith and less logic. It is the road of the Kingdom, where taxes are paid from the mouth of a fish and a few loaves feed thousands. There is nothing reasonable or comfortable about the way of the Kingdom. It is an adventure designed only for those who choose faith over fear. Nick has jumped in, ready to take his place as son and heir, exuding confidence and passion. He is far more than the shadow now. And I am inspired and in complete agreement. Well, almost. The part of my heart that has been diligently huddled around my bleeding scars is wild-eyed, unwilling to trust. The fortress there is solid and well-maintained, the guards practiced and not easily fooled. My husband has had moments of genius before, bright blips on an otherwise silent radar. As Eomer says in the movie Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, “do not trust a hope. It has forsaken these lands.” My heart is a place that is well guarded because it is still so fragile. One swift blow, just one more blistering disappointment, and I fear the whole of me might crumble.

I hear the voice of Papa and I know His road for me is to give up the guard. To once again become vulnerable. I have clung to my Father too long to question Him now. Is any of us so perfect that we have not been forgiven and shown grace, that we qualify to ration it in judgment upon another? The lyrics of Shane and Shane's song “Beg” are accurate: “I'm haunted by my God, who has the right to ask me / What by the nature of my rebellion / I cannot give?” As much as I might prefer to negotiate, I know there is no argument, no justification for disobedience. I want to demand of him how five years is to be so easily erased. But my questions will only cause delay. I want to hold up my pain as a talisman, my defender against future insult. But my defenses will shut down God's blessings. He has promised to make all things work together for my good and to withhold now is unthinkable. I want him to redeem my hurt. I can trust him. As Vish says, “He is a good Papa and knows how to give good things to his children.”

So I am changing course, against all logic or reason. For us to go where we must go, to do what we are called to do, to function in the Kingdom, I must close the road to fear in my heart. Fear and faith cannot co-exist. The question is: am I willing to make myself vulnerable so that the Father's complete work can be done? Absolutely. When that has been established, the course and the cost are no longer in negotiation. He who built the universe can certainly set course for me. So here I go, willing to once again trust my husband, to build a dream, to fulfill a destiny. To not do so is the road of the coward, the orphan. Of which I am neither.

08 June, 2009

A Sense of Urgency

I had an interesting conversation with my sisters yesterday. All three of us have a common trait--we simply do not know how to accept failure. It's not in our genetic makeup. There are three of us--all girls--trained by an woman of virtue and true femininity. She is graceful and postured and careful. To put it simply, she is our hero. And we try to emulate her--sincerely, we do. Sometimes we succeed.

But innately, in all three of us, an instinct to chase the sunset--to pursue excellence--takes supremacy. We simply do not tolerate well the frustrating ambiguity of mediocrity. It itches us like a wool sweater. And we squirm--sometimes in a very unladylike aggression--to be free of those chains. We prefer to struggle, to push, to entice failure, than to ensure safety. We are like Guinevere, headed off to war. Eowyn, a lady of Rohan, disguising herself as a man simply to be part of the battle. Joan of Arc. We find ourselves consistently placed as key players in an all-male cast. And when we face certain failure, as we often do, we accelerate, strategize, and step it up. Swords, once crossed, must sink deep. If we're going to fail, we're going to fail big. Go big or don't go.

Along with this appetite for the battle comes a sometimes unmeasured intolerance for wasted ability. We see potential in nearly everything, especially in others. People, to us, are like raw ore--unrefined treasure. Almost everywhere we look, almost anyone we meet...when we look into your eyes, we see almost unlimited potential. But to tell someone they have potential is not a compliment. It means their God-breathed destiny has yet to be fully tapped. It means time, the "stuff of life" as Ben Franklin so eloquently put it, is being spent without investment. And while we too have days where we want nothing more than to disappear from the front lines, inevitably we feel the burn to re-engage. It is our very fundamental design.

To that end, we struggle with empathy for those who would sit and let life find them. We find that when our paths cross with our nemesis, those who prefer a delightfully oblivious existence to the adventure of the passionate pursuit, we are ill-prepared for a graceful encounter. We want to sweep the dust from their potential and propel them along with us, to catch them up in an obsessive vision and to put their raw ability to good use. Perhaps it is arrogance or social ineptitude that finds us sincerely surprised when the daydreaming optimist, or the determined pessimist, declines our invitation. We wonder, are we simply allergic to those who are so negligent with their lives?

It is my concession, without shame, that part of this obsession for excellence is borne on the wings of a strong ego. To those who would call for false humility, I must decline. There is indeed a need for humility--but such a position comes solely from knowing one's foundation. I believe true confidence, and true humility are grounded when both the journey and the result are thrown at the foot of the Throne in praise and sacrifice. It is not profitable for God's best creation, mankind formed in His image, to walk upon the Earth as a conquered organism. I think of C.S. Lewis' character Aslan... you ask, "is He safe?" The response: "Safe? 'Course He isn't safe. But he's good."

To emulate Papa, this is a perfect picture of the fire that should be rising up in the spirits of God's sons and daughters...we're not safe, we're not conquered, we're not ambivalent or oblivious. We are a focused, determined, passionate people who have little need for external breakthrough. We look within, to the Spirit alive in us, and drive forward with strain and sweat and great risk, confident that He who started a good work will complete it. Unafraid of failure, because we understand each step, forward or backwards, to be of elemental training and foundational preparation for a greater work.

I believe that we are thinking too small. The first morning instinct of the liberated soul should be to seek out the big picture, the greatest potential, the God-sized goal. And then to pursue it. The mind that is focused on the great work, on paying the great price, has little time to be consumed by the average, the mundane, or the corrupt. There is great fulfillment, true joy, in the pursuit of something great.

So it was the three of us, these thoughts the product of a long car ride and a mutual consensus that we recognize a sense of urgency. We ended our journey in a prayer crying out for God's best. It is not the first time, and not the last, that we will pray this prayer. We feel like Jacob, sleeping with a rock for his pillow, wrestling for the blessing. Perhaps we are foolish or naive, but we have stopped praying for easy or convenient and have instead conceded that all great destinies are equally balanced by lives of great sacrifice and difficulty. Instead of requesting easy, we have asked for great. Some of the challenges have already been identified and we spent some time praying over those, embracing anything that is a prerequisite for God's complete work, rejecting anything that is unnecessary delay.

A strong sense of urgency has gripped us. There is a sickening nausea in the thought that we might approach our grave with music left inside. We believe that our generation, particularly in our family, but also corporately, must do what has been laid out to do. Procrastination and incompletion are sown on the plains of good intentions. We cannot leave this territory for our children. We must spend ourselves upon this one endeavor: that the Kingdom of God be birthed upon the earth.

There is no time to think small or to repeatedly fight small distractive battles. Perhaps that is why we cannot stop to relate to those who are not in motion. Action will produce inspiration, which will produce action. We must guard our thoughts, which become actions, which product habits, which defines character, which births destiny.

It's now. It must be now.