Author Archives: gaimee

Good News for the Sifted & Condemned

I am a perfectionist. This means that I am constantly battling accusations and condemning thoughts from the worst place: myself. My own internal voice does a number on me. And Satan loves it when I get in such a stuck cycle. I do all the work for him.

I wrote this poem yesterday to express how it feels in those cycles of condemnation and accusation.

Just a little longer 

I’m stuck in a swamp of self-censure,
Mucking in a morass of deep doubt;
Attempts at escape further press me in
Even as they promise to pull me out.

Father, I need your full-on rescue.
Don’t send a messenger; I need you.
I need your arms and your face.
I need presence; platitudes won’t do. 

These long-lingering lies paralyze;
They’ve held me so long I think them true.
I need a Father’s persistent whispers.
I need powerful proximity to you.

My mind knows you are not far off,
But my heart keeps missing its cue.
My throat is hoarse from crying out.
Father, please come be my rescue. 

Until it’s time to pick you up, dear,
I’ll stay right here by your side. 
This swamp — it’s just a puddle 
Next to my love so deep and wide. 

I dove into the depths of its darkness,
And I rose, raising you on my back;
So even in the swamps of despair, 
There is nothing that you lack.

Just a little longer, my brave little girl,
You’ll see Me fully, and seeing resemble.
I’ll hold you bodily in my strong arms.
My love will still your every tremble.  

I know and have memorized Romans 8:1-2:

“There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death.”

My heart doesn’t always quickly get the memos my mind sends. This is the good fight of faith, the slow work of sanctification, the transformation from one degree of glory to another (2 Corin. 3: 18).

How Christ Treats those Accused

I was helped this morning by a scene from the book of Zechariah, the last book before the long silence between the Old and New Testaments.

God gave his prophet Zechariah a vision of Joshua as high priest standing in the presence of the angel of the Lord (which is Old-Testament-speak for Christ). Satan, ever the twisted impersonator of Christ, was “standing at his right to accuse him” (Zech. 3:1).

The angel of the Lord’s response to Joshua amidst an attack of accusations stirred my heart to hope and courage this morning. The Lord rebukes the accuser (Zech. 3:2). The Lord clothes the accused (Zech. 3:4-5). The Lord speaks truth over the lies (Zech. 3:4). The Lord remains close by to the accused (Zech. 3:5).

Christ, our advocate, stands right there in the midst of the attack. Even if the accusers words are true (Joshua was clothed in filthy garments), he speaks a deeper truth (he is still mine and I’ve a righteous robe for him). He speaks as One with all authority. And he stays close at hand.

We get a similar glimpse of Jesus advocating for the accused before his death. Satan, ever-the-accuser and the father of lies and half-truths, has demanded to have Peter so he might sift him like wheat; however, Christ assures Peter that he has prayed for him that his faith may not fail (John 8: 42-47; Luke 22:31-32).

Christ could speak such truths to Peter and the angel of the Lord could clothe Joshua only because of his coming death on the cross. The advocate would become the accused. He would be sifted to the point of suffocation on an instrument of shame. The undefiled one would be defiled by our sin.

Our advocate knows accusation. He knows the strength of the liar. But he also knows the power of his resurrection. He knows that his life and his love could not be held by death (Acts 2: 24).

If you feel sifted to the point of soreness, if you are sinking in the swamps of accusation, you have an advocate who is full of agape love and resurrection power. Soon and very soon, those who trust in him will be in his presence.

Anger at Easter

When I think Easter emotions, anger is usually not on the top of my list. I’d much prefer hopefulness, joyfulness, gratitude, hopefulness. And, to be certain, they are there. They are just not as prominent as anger this year. No cute memes over here. Just an honest wrestling with anger.

Part of it is the most recent shooting and my empath self having a hard time moving on with the news rotations. Part of it is where God has me personally. He is teaching me so much about his heart and how much room it has for lament and raw honesty. Most of it has to do with studying Isaiah 63.

As we approach Easter, it is natural to find ourselves in Isaiah’s prophecies of the Suffering Servant and the Promised Messiah. We stand in wonder, as we should, at the Spirit’s hints through the prophet’s words fulfilled to the smallest detail in Christ. This year, I found my soul stuck in a different prophecy that does not goes down so easily. In my ESV Bible, it is aptly subtitled “The Lord’s Day of Vengeance.”

The Crimsoned Garments

“Who is this who comes from Edom, in crimsoned garments from Bozrah, he who is splendid in his apparel, marching in the greatness of his strength? ‘It is I, speaking in righteousness, mighty to save.’

Why is your apparel red, and your garments like his who treads in the winepress?

‘I have trodden the winepress alone, and from the peoples, no one was with me; I trod them in my anger and trampled them in my wrath; their lifeblood spattered on my garments and stained all my apparel. For the day of vengeance was in my heart, and my year of redemption had come. I looked but there no one to help; I was appalled, but there was no one to uphold; so my own arm brought me salvation, and my wrath upheld me’.” (Isaiah 63:1-5).

You won’t find that on Easter decorations or on cute banners in front of churches this Sunday. It is a picture of the wrath of God against sin.

And God’s people liked it. They longed for the Messiah to come, hoping he would deal with the nations in his wrath, imagining he would smite their enemies and establish their nation again.

They wanted God’s anger against the others. They did not understand that God was also angry with them. They wanted a conquering ruler, riding in with the blood of their enemies on his robes. They had no idea that the robes of the Ruler they would receive would be stained with his own blood, shed on their behalf.

They liked anger that stemmed from his affection for them. They could not digest anger that stemmed from his holiness and stood against his own people.

The Suffering Servant

Later in the same chapter, we hear of the God who was so attached in love to his people that he was affected and afflicted by all their afflictions.

“In all their affliction he was afflicted, and the angel of his presence saved them; in his love and in his pity he redeemed them; he lifted them up and carried them all the days of old” (Isaiah 63:9).

They had seen hints of the coming Redeemer. They had known his loving intervention and his hunger for the holiness of his people.

They had no clue the degree that he would be afflicted for them and on their behalf. Though Isaiah hinted at it, saying, “Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds, we are healed” (Isaiah 53:4-5).

The Two are One

Christ was the suffering servant and the crimson-stained warrior of vengeance. The angel of his presence saves us because he did not call down the legions of angels to save himself (Matthew 26:53). He carries us only because he first carried our cross. We will be lifted up with him in resurrection life only because he was lifted up on the Cross, drawing all men unto himself (John 12:32).

He enacted his own vengeance against himself on our behalf. This is the story of Easter. His anger turned against himself out of his agape affection for his enemy-people.

His Broad Back & His Everlasting Arms

My son drew a worry monster this week.  A little sketch made of charcoal pencils in his tiny notebook. The worry monster didn’t surprise me. He looked like what I would think a monster would look like: large, foreboding, and strange. The little boy is what choked me up. A little semi-stick-ish figure holding two very heavy weights, one with each hand. 

What weights they carry. What weights they carry. These children of ours have seen and processed things that should never be seen. 

Those children in Nashville. Those bereft families. The strain of so much gun violence. It’s nearly crushed me. It’s nearly crushed us all. The worry monster is threatening to eat all of us as we carry our weights. Or that’s how I operated the first few days of these week: disorientation; brain fog; futile attempts to micro-manage because the world seems more than a little off-tilt. 

Everlasting Arms Underneath Us

But God met me. He met me through a verse, a portion of a poem, and  an image from C.S. Lewis. I’ve been meditating on and memorizing parts of Deuteronomy 33 where Moses speaks blessings over the twelve tribes of Israel. Of Asher, Moses speaks the following blessing and inheritance:

“There is none like God, O Jeshrun, who rides through the heavens to your help, through the skies in his majesty. The eternal God is your dwelling place and underneath are the everlasting arms” (Deuteronomy  33: 26-27). 

Those everlasting arms that are underneath holding all of this, holding all of his children who are reeling this week, holding up the battered globe that holds our battered hearts — those arms must be straining. But they will not snap. He is not like man like he should lie (Numbers 23:19). He is the everlasting One who never tires (Psalm 121). 

In the midst of these horrific days, we are held. Yes, we are held, and we are carried. 

A Broad Back that Carries Us

In his poem “Of the Incarnation,” St. John of the Cross imagines a conversation between the Father and the Son before creation. Two stanzas that I have committed to heart that have also offered comfort:

“I go to be close to the bride
and to take on my back (for it’s strong)
the weight of the wearisome toil
that bent the poor back for so long. 

To make certain-sure of her life
I’ll manfully die in her place, 
and drawing her safe from the pit, 
present her alive to your face.”

His very human back carried the weight of the eternal cost of our sins compounded over all time. And it crushed him until He rose bodily and crushed death. He went down into the depths of death, and He and only He can lift us up from it. C. S. Lewis captures this powerfully in his book Miracles. 

‘In the Christian story God descends to re-ascend. He comes down; down from the heights of absolute being into time and space, down into humanity…He had created. But He goes down to come up again and bring the whole ruined world up with Him. One has the picture of a strong man stooping lower and lower to get himself underneath some great complicated burden. He must stoop in order to lift, he must also disappear under the load before he incredibly straightens his back and marches off with the whole mass swaying on his shoulders.” 

The weights are crushingly real. The worry monster is large and looming. But the Rescuer is convincingly near. Our only hope is in Him, the God with everlasting arms and a broad, risen back.

O Pioneers: Kingdom Outposts in Dark Places

I never thought of myself as a pioneer girl, but upon moving to the West Coast from the Southeast, I began reading the literature of the West. Wallace Stegner, John Steinbeck, and Willa Cather became my companions and guides into the pioneering experience of settling in the West. As a literature-nerd, I did not think anything of my sudden affinity for pioneers; however, now that we are almost two years into church planting on the West Coast, I am beginning to connect the dots. 

As we were sharing our vision for church planting in our neighborhood of California with friends, I found myself using words like kingdom outposts and homesteads. Even though Southern California has an elaborate and efficient set of highways, spiritually-speaking it feels more like the uncharted lands I had been reading about in the novels of the early settling beyond the established East. The spiritual ground in post-Christian California feels overwhelmingly hard and untilled. Abandoned, broken tools from past attempts are littered all throughout our city. People have left en masse in the past few years, longing for lower costs of living and greater political and spiritual alignment. It is hard to do ministry and raise a family centered upon Christ out here. Our spiritual climate eerily mirrors our physical climate: drought-stricken, dry, and brown. The same realities that initially compel many to come became the realities that send many packing their bags to head home. 

In her classic novel, O Pioneers!, Will Cather captures the opportunity and crushing openness that come with uncharted areas: 

“The roads were but faint tracks in the grass, and the fields were scarcely noticeable. The record of the plow was insignificant, like the feeble scratches on stone left by prehistoric races, so indeterminate that they may, after all, be only the markings of glaciers, and not a record of human strivings.” 

Pioneering (or re-pioneering) the gospel in hard spiritual climates requires a different perspective and a different set of tools than ministering in places with an existing gospel footprint.

Outposts aren’t fancy, but they are functional 

In Wallace Stegner’s novel Angle of Repose, the reader follows historian Lyman Ward’s tracing of his family’s arduous, circuitous journey as westward pioneers. Lyman’s mother who came from an old-money established family on the East Coat found herself following her husband to rustic, one-room cabins in mining towns. The pioneering adventure forced her to pare down her accoutrements to the bare minimum. After some adjusting, she began to embrace her minimalistic life on the fringes of society. 

Those seeking to pioneer the gospel in spiritually-dark or ignored places could take a note or two from the pages of pioneering books. Early on in the church planting process, we realized that we were stepping away from well-oiled programs and bells and whistles. Sometimes I miss them, but we are focusing on functioning and existing as a kingdom outpost. To merely remain in such hostile or hard places is victory. To compare our little kingdom outpost to a more established church in a more suitable spiritual climate is an unfair task. 

Our power points are often a few second delayed. Our music set up leaves much to be desired. We borrow spaces and tents and chairs. But we are here, and God is moving. Maybe a few generations from now, more established spiritual footprints will enable more elaborate schemes. For now, we celebrate the slow and steady growth God enables. 

Pioneers link arms locally 

Pioneers, different though they may be, link arms and share tools. The harsh landscape and the cutting winds erodes away differences that divide and propel pioneers toward deepening partnership. They offer tools and tricks of the trade that are nuanced to their shared soil. They show up at one another’s places ready to lend a hand and sweat beside each other. For us, this has looked like linking up with other church planting families to provide a tribe of other like-minded families for our children. Many of us left biological families and support systems when we came to plant on the West Coast. We are learning to fill that gap with one another. We combine resources and collaborate on youth and outreach events. We don’t have energy or time to waste on competition. We collaborate to survive and seek to help build pathways toward thriving. 

Pioneers Know Their Need and their Supplier

Though the needs are many and obvious, so are the provisions and celebrations. The God who sent his Son to seek and save that which is lost, the one who leaves the ninety-nine to fetch the one, the one who sent emissaries out to the byways with an incredible invitation —he delights in pioneering work (Luke 19:10; Matthew 18:10-14; Luke 14:23). 

In the words of J.A. Vaughan, “Man’s impotence invites and gives scope for the opportunity to display God’s omnipotence….God is strong for us just in proportion as we are helpless.” The very nature of a hard spiritual climate provides the backdrop on which God’s power and provision stand out in all their glory. 

Above all things, pioneers are a people who feed on hope. And, in the words of the Apostle Paul, “Hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience” (Romans 8:24-25). 

Resurrection (The Happiest Handkerchief)

As we approach Easter in the wake of yet another school shooting, it does not take much imagination for us to join the 11 disciples and the throngs of faithful women in their heaviness, powerlessness, confusion, and fear at the death of Christ.

As we read John’s account of the Resurrection this morning, the grave clothes stood out to me. The joy of Jesus unfurling the linens that had been wrapped about his mangled body by the hands of weeping loved ones captured my imagination. He knew they would never weep the same kind of hopeless tears again. While they would weep and grieve, as he had promised they would, they would do so under the light of the living hope that rose with him.

Because His body which was literally crushed on the cross for our sin took conquering steps out of the tomb, death cannot crush us, not even in a pandemic. We dry our tears in  the linens he left in the tomb!

Now we can say in our grief and confusion with the Apostle Paul, “We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed” (2 Corinthians 4:8-9).

We are not destroyed by death because Jesus destroyed death in His rising, infusing grief with a surpassing glory.

This morning I discovered a short poem by George Herbert which I have somehow missed in my reading before. What a timely gift from God to me! A special little Easter surprise that lifted my soul, as I hope it does yours.


From The Dawning, by George Herbert

Awake sad heart, whom sorrow ever drowns;
    Take up thine eyes, which feed on earth; 
Unfold thy forehead gather’d into frowns;
    Thy Savior comes, and with him mirth:
                  Awake, awake;….

                 Arise, arise; 
And with his burial linen dry thine eyes:
     Christ left his graveclothes, that we might, when grief
     Draws tears, or blood, not want an handkerchief.

That we can now dry our tears with God’s loosed grave clothes is such good news. It is the news that every human heart hungers to hear always, but especially in a season when death is dealing heavy blows globally.

In the Resurrection of Christ we have been given gospel hope and the happiest handkerchief. He is risen, indeed! Dry your eyes with his linens this morning! Death has not won; life in God has the last word!

Though we still live in the already / not yet of the kingdom of God, though we still live in the valley of tears, Christ’s resurrection provides the hope and the handkerchief we need to live until the days when tears will be no more.

The Cake That Cost Me

Even though the mix and the icing cost less than $10, my son and I made a costly cake today. It cost him humility and responsibility; it cost me sacrificial love and forgiveness.

Over the years as a family, we have learned about breaches and repairs, connection and correction. We know that we will not love each other perfectly, but we do seek to love each other well. Even with all that knowledge, we hurt one another. I am surprised how much those hurts smart.

More than a wound from a friend or a congregant, wounds in our family sting, less from lack of love and more from excess of love. Breaches with those whom we work the hardest at loving, for whom sacrifice the most, and with whom we spend the bulk of our time sting more. From a rational standpoint this makes sense: vulnerability is proportional to strength of love.

This family thing is both sensitive and strong. And I am so thankful it is both.

Today, some big feelings were felt. Some unintentionally hurtful words were said. Space was given. Repair was needed. But today, I needed my Redeemer to help me with the repair. He was so gracious to remind me of a few things that I know in my head but needed to be reminded in my heart.

Souls Don’t Open Up on a Schedule

I am continually shocked at the timetable of souls. We don’t get notices alerting us of construction in the human heart. We give ample space for connection in our home. We try really hard to be intentional with family meals, solo times with each kid, adventures, and check-ins. It’s easy to slip into a version of the parenting prosperity gospel (if we do these things well, our children won’t experience pain rather than we do these things to provide space for our children to process the pain they are promised in this life). But souls don’t always crack during the allotted crevices of time. In fact, they very rarely do. Those times do provide the security of relationship which fosters a home where fissures and fractures are free to show themselves.

Souls need space to surface. And presenting emotions are usually not the source. Deep-watered souls require time for deep-water exploration (Prov. 20:5). These things cannot be rushed; thus things must be cancelled, schedules rearranged.

After an initial sense of being inconvenienced and the annoyance that hurts surface when I am most fatigued, God was so gracious to remind me that fractures are really invitations for deeper fusion.

Seeming Inconveniences are Subtle Invitations

This was not how I imagined our Saturday going. It was such a long week, I was hoping for some peaceful alone time. These were my initial thoughts. But God was not surprised by our Saturday. In fact, he had even prepared me through a few simple phrases that jumped out at me in my prayer book: Lord, make “able to love, strong to suffer, steady to persevere.” I’ve been praying these words multiple times a day for most of the week. And God graciously set up an opportunity for me to practice them today.

I think of Christ and the hemorrhaging woman. Every one else was put off by Jesus’s stopping in the midst of the crowd. Jairus’s daughter needed healing, and time was of the essence. But Jesus had another daughter to see to, one whom wasn’t even aware she was a delighted in daughter yet (Luke 8:43-48). Love lets itself be “inconvenienced.” Love will take detours to help the one in whom it delights.

Love Absorbs, but it Still Addresses

I have learned so much from the reunion of Jesus and Peter on the shores of Galilee. Peter was more overcome with joy at seeing Jesus than he was initially impeded by the guilt he carried over denying him three times. Thus, in his particularly dramatic fashion, he strips off his cloak, jumps in the water, and gives Jesus a wet welcome!

Jesus intentionally prepares a fish breakfast over a charcoal fire (which was a subtle recreation of the scene in which Peter denied him). Even though Jesus’s agape love has absorbed Peter’s failure, he still addresses it with him. He does Peter the favor of not pretending that something had not happened. A relational breach had occurred. This was not for Jesus’s sake; it was for the good of Peter. Three times in love, Jesus went there, offering Peter a chance to completely own and be forgiven of his three-fold failure (John 21: 9-19).

Peter needed to see the care in Christ’s eyes. He also needed to see the kind of love that absorbed the real relational costs he created. Such an eye-to-eye, face-to-face encounter transformed him.

Jesus was torn that I might have the ability to repair with my children. Through him, I have access to costly forgiveness, agape love that absorbs but still addresses, and love that makes itself vulnerable.

That cake we made today? It was costly. But it was nothing compared to the cross. In fact, in little moments like these, I am able to act out for my children (and reinforce for myself) the glories of the gospel. The Apostle Paul calls it filling up what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ (Col. 1:24). Today, for us, it looked like processing over tears, taking our tired, beat-up souls to the grocery store together, and baking a cake as an act of redemptive repair.

Loving these children is changing me. It presses me into the One who loves perfectly. It invites me into his pain. It also invites me his absolute joy of repair and reconnection.

Addendum: we ate the costly cake tonight together as a family. The cake was scrumptious. The look on my son’s face as we enjoyed it together was far better!

Was Ever Joy Like Mine?

Traditions are funny. Often, whenever I try to force their creation, they fight back at me; however, sometimes, when I am not even trying to create one, it just happens.

This is exactly how my yearly reading of George Herbert’s lengthy yet poignant poem “The Sacrifice” came about. I read it once and then found myself reading it again as Easter approached. Now it’s my own poetry tradition!

As Spring shows her glad face and Easter approaches, I look forward to its familiar lines and my notes scribbled in the many margins. The depth contained in such tight stanzas still shocks me afresh every time. The repeated line in each stanza, “Was ever grief like mine?” continually invites the reader into the agony Christ endured to offer us access back to His agape love.

Here are a few of my favorites:

“Oh all ye who pass by, behold and see;
Man stole the fruit, but I must climb the tree;
The tree of life to all, but only me:
Was ever grief like mine?…

Betwixt two thieves I spend my utmost breath,
As he that for some robbery suffereth.
Alas! What have I stolen from you: death:
Was ever grief like mine?”

After reading it last night, I found myself feeling stuck in the heaviness of the reality of the Cross and the cost that Christ paid for my redemption. I whispered to Jesus, “I am so sorry.” And he seemed to reply, “I’m not.”

Christ, who was once in agony, is now in ecstasy. His grief has been turned to joy. Redemption is accomplished. Christ resurrected. His children are coming to His embrace. These realities led me to want to write an accompanying poem to be paired with Herbert’s “The Sacrifice.”

The Relief

I heard her sobbing, shaking with grief,
She who from demons had found relief,
“I’m no gardener; I’m death’s chief!”
Was ever joy like mine?

I felt desperate hands clutching me in fear,
Shocked to see Rabboni again so near,
“Don’t cling; go call the others, my dear!”
Was ever joy like mine?

I found them locked in an upper room,
Huddled in confusion, mixing hope with gloom,
“Locked doors are no matter; let’s resume!”
Was ever joy like mine?

My tender Thomas was not within
Yet I heard his doubts, the honest Twin.
I offered my hands his heart to win.
Was ever joy like mine?

Walking at daybreak on a familiar shore,
Peter fled the boat like the time before.
Being led by an impulse he couldn’t ignore.
Was ever joy like mine?

I embraced him in a wet and welcome hug,
But his three offenses at his heart did tug.
Thrice I forgave what he struggled to shrug.
Was ever joy like mine?

We breakfasted over a charcoal fire,
A second chance to do his heart’s desire.
A shepherd’s calling he did acquire.
Was ever joy like mine?

I watched him shed a thousand pounds,
As I swallowed up the failure that hounds.
I welcomed him into grace that abounds.
Was ever joy like mine?

Forty glorious days with my friends,
Speaking of the kingdom that now extends,
Offering them living hope that transcends.
Was ever joy like mine?

I spoke of the Helper I promised to send,
The One who’d be with them until the end;
No better comfort could I recommend.
Was ever joy like mine?

With the Father, I watched from on high
As the Promised Spirit to them drew nigh,
And as they learned how on Him to rely!
Was ever joy like mine?

At the Father’s right hand, I still intercede;
For each of my children I gladly plead
Until with me, they will feel no need!
Was ever joy like mine?

What manner of love is this would walk through agony to gladly invite us into the agape love of the Trinity? Was ever a joy like ours?

Followers, Not Admirers

We are approaching Easter weekend. Outside of Christmas, these days commemorating the death and resurrection are among the most approachable and accessible to the watching world.

For at least a few days, even those who would not consider themselves devout slow down to admire Jesus. While this is a beautiful access point, it was never Jesus’s end goal in going to the Cross. In the words of Soren Kierkegaard, Jesus does not want admirers, he wants followers.

Born & Bored on the Same Day

People love a show; we always have. I remember being a little girl and watching the circus train arrive in our small town on the Jersey Shore. We would watch them unload the animals and scatter hay all over the muddy, trodden grounds. There was such a sense of eager anticipation that I thought my tiny heart would burst.

Entirely too much candy and popcorn would be consumed. There would be a few minutes of wonder. And then, we would head home and promptly forget about it for a calendar year.

Annie Dillard notices a similar tendency in the human heart in her book Teaching A Stone to Talk. She describes the crowds of people she joined to watch a full solar eclipse on Mount Adams. She remembers the screams of wonder, shock, and delight as the sun went dark. As shocking as it was to experience something so other-worldly together, she was equally shocked at how quickly everyone moved on:

“I remember now: we all hurried away. We were born and bored at a stroke. We rushed down the hill. We found our car; we saw the other people streaming down the hillsides; we joined the highway traffic and drove away.”

I fear that my heart often responds the same to the events of Easter each year: the build up, the anticipation, the emotion, the wonder, the disassembling and moving on.

We dress up; we prepare an extra full worship band; we up our signage game. Then we move on as admirers rather than pick up our crosses as followers. We are tempted to treat the resurrection of Christ as a day worth noting rather than the revolutionary day that it is. This day we remember, this day when a dead Savior breathed again, conquering death, this day demands a lifelong response not a check box on a response card.

Followers vs. Admirers

Pastor/poet George Herbert captures this conundrum we face at Easter so well in his poem “Easter (II)” :

“Can there be any day but this, 
Though many suns to shine endeavor?
We count three hundred, but we miss:
There is but one, and that one ever.”

An admirer says this day is significant and moves on. A follower says there is no day but this. According to Kierkegaard, “An admirer…keeps himself personally detached. He fails to see that what is admired involves a claim upon him.” He goes on to say the following convicting words about admirers of Christ:

“The admirer never makes any true sacrifices. He always plays it safe. Though in word he is inexhaustible about how highly he prizes Christ, he renounces nothing, will not reconstruct his life, and will not let his life express what it is he supposedly admires. Not so the follower. No, No. The follower aspires with all his strength to be what he admires.”

I long to be a follower, not a mere admirer. I don’t want to be born and bored on the same day. I want to be born and bored through by the reality of Christ’s life, death, and resurrection.

In the words of the Apostle Paul, “If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied. But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead” (1 Corinth. 15:19-20).

The right response to the life, death, and resurrection of Christ is to hidden in life, death, and resurrection:

“I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I live now in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God who loved me and gave himself for me” (Galatians 2:20).

Access Goes Both Ways: Thoughts on Triune Love

I have an admission and accompanying apology to make.

I am that girl that has to be reminded to respond to an invitation. And I don’t mean one or two reminders. Evite and Paperless post need to stalk me via text and email multiple times before I reply. I think I have a mild allergy to calendaring and date-remembering.

One invitation won’t do for a girl like me who is so easily distracted by all the daily demands. What is true for small invitations like baby showers and birthday parties is also true for invitations from God.

Unfortunately, God has to send me multiple push notifications before I begin to pay attention to the invitations he is continually extending to me. Fortunately, God is the most gracious host. He patiently pursues me and points me back to the invitation at hand until I finally respond.

The Love Within the Trinity

God has been inviting me for a few months to come and check out the love that exists within the Trinity. He has been using the poetry of St. John of the Cross and the conversations between Jesus and his friends (the Upper Room discourse) and Jesus and his Father (the high priestly prayer of John 17) to show me a fullness of love I could never have imagined. The little flecks of Triune love that I have glimpsed show all the best human love to be flat and fickle in comparison.

Even as he is facing the imminent cross, Jesus is still able to bask in Triune love:

“Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you, since you have given him authority over all flesh, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him…I glorified you on earth, having accomplished the work that you gave me to do. And now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had with you before the world existed” (John 17: 1-5).

Jesus left this fullness to come and make a way for us to be invited back into it! St. John of the Cross poetically captures this love in his poem “Of the Incarnation” :

“I have no will but yours,
the son to the father replied.
My glory is all in this:
I do, and you decide…

I go to be close to the bride
and to take on my back (for it’s strong)
the weight of the wearisome toil
that bent the poor back for so long.

To make certain-sure of her life
I’ll manfully die in her place,
and drawing her safe from the pit
present her alive to your face.”

In the Upper Room discourse, Jesus says something astounding to his disciples:

“If anyone love me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him” (John 14:23).

I’ve had to reread it multiple times in the past few weeks to believe it. Jesus told his disciples that the Trinity would come and make its home in them. Do you hear that mutuality?

As St. John of the Cross so poetically captured, Jesus died to make a way for us to have access to the love of the Trinity (from which and for which we were made and from which we were severed by our sin). But he also said that the Trinity wanted access to our hearts and lives.

Mutuality of Invitation

Jesus’s stance towards those who trust in his life, death, and resurrection is invitation. He invites us back into the Trinitarian love for which and from which we were born. The Apostle Paul lived in a state of wonder at these unbelievable invitations: Christ in you, the hope of glory (Col. 1:27) and our lives hidden with Christ in God (Col. 3: 3-4).

But the Triune God also wants to make his home in us. As C.S.Lewis so beautifully writes in The Screwtape Letters, “He cannot ravish; he can only woo.” He waits for invitations into deeper parts of our hearts and lives. As Os Guinness writes in The Allure of Gentleness, “The human will is perhaps the one thing in the universe, because it is so precious and important, that God respects ultimately.”

The more God invites me to gaze into the beauty of the Trinity, mysterious as it is, the more I am sensing his patient presence in my own heart. I sense him eagerly waiting to be given access to more of me: my thoughts, my hidden shame and fears, my time, my tears, talents, time, and treasures.

I don’t think I realized until recently that I have been keeping the fullness of the Trinity cramped in the hallway of my soul. Such a large love needs full access to every nook and cranny of my life and heart. Letting such a large love and such an exposing light into areas of darkness seems scary until I realize that it is both opportunity and invitation. As long as the Trinity is crammed into a hallway, the life coming out of my life will be muddled, at best. But when God has access to all of me, his light will shine more brightly for his glory.

“If your whole body is full of light, having no part dark, it will be wholly bright, as when a lamp with its rays gives you light” (Luke 11:35-36).

What an incredible invitation God constantly extends to us. May we respond in humility, awe, and obedience!

A Poem from Despair to Hope: T. S. Eliot’s “Ash Wednesday”

I was introduced to T. S. Eliot in high school through a short excerpt in our required anthology. I think everyone else hated the entire unit, but I was hooked. The timing could not have been anything but divine. I had recently come to faith in Christ and was processing my sudden, unexpected, still-shocking-to-myself conversion. I started reading everything I could by him and was completely captured by his “Four Quartets.” He was writing in poetic verse what I had been experiencing but unable to voice.

Many decades later, I still find great solace in Eliot’s poetry. Every year on Ash Wednesday while others are getting ashes on their head, I am drawn to reread his poem, “Ash Wednesday,” written back in 1930. The first reading always leaves me befuddled. The second is the same. By the third, I start catching glimpses of the beauty contained therein.

Despair & Emptiness

If ever there were a poet for our despairing, God-haunted time, T.S. Eliot would be the man. With an entire generation, he saw the empty promises of progress theory go up in the trench smoke of World War I. It seems that soldiers were not the only ones to experience shell-shock; rather, an entire culture stared blankly at what was left after such a chilling experience.

“Ash Wednesday” is structured in six sections, moving from utter despair to the beginnings of hope.

Towards the end of the first section, Eliot writes:

“I renounce the blessed face
And renounce the voice
Because I cannot hope to turn again
Consequently I rejoice, having to construct something
Upon which to rejoice.”

He has renounced the faith, yet that leaves him nothing upon which to stand. Even when he wants to rejoice, he has to build something upon which to rejoice. This is our modern age which is marked by so much talk of hope and unity and progress but has no foundation upon which to build upon.

We have been reduced to sending positive vibes to people, hoping in our weak words to manifest realities. We speak of endless possibility but are utterly swimming in inadequacies. We scream about heights but are barely treading water in the seas of our shame.

If Eliot and some of his post-first-world-war cronies could find faith, I find such great hope for our generation. Having been raised in a vacuum of truth and having beed fed a steady diet of self-help, our generation is poised to hunger for the solid truth of a Sovereign God.

Hope of Fullness

By the third section of the poem, we feel a subtle shift. The poet has not only named the Lord but called out for His word:

“Lord, I am not worthy
Lord, I am not worthy
But speak the word only.”

In section five, the poet plays with the logos of John 1. He realizes that even if we refuse to hear him, the Word of God remains and speaks:

“Where shall the word be found, where the Word
Resound? Noe here, there is not enough silence…
No place of grace for those who avoid the face
No time to rejoice for those who walk
Among noise and deny the voice.”

By the end of the sixth section, the poet has moved toward hope, believing that God will hear his cry. He has moved from separation from God to vocalizing a desire to never be separated from him again.

“Teach us to care and not to care
Teach us to sit still
Even among these rocks,
Our peace in His will….
Suffer me not to be separated

And let my cry come unto thee.”

God is not far off from those who feel far off from Him (Isaiah 43: 6-7). Though he dwells in a high and holy place, he also domiciles with those who are lowly and contrite (Isaiah 57:15). The same Word of God which spoke creation into existence can re-create souls who seek him. He is full of grace and truth (John 1:14). God came to seek and to save the lost (Luke 19:10).

These are the truths that an entire generation needs to hear. Isolated, empty, and failed by self-help, the coming generations are primed to hear the truth that changed T.S. Eliot and still changes the despairing today.

The stage is set. It is time to speak.