After a particularly gut-level session with my counselor a few weeks ago and then a subsequent gut-level conversation with my husband, an image took shape in my mind.
It is a picture of me. Well, a picture of me if I were a two dimensional black and white drawing of a gingerbread man. I can say gingerbread man because other than the unmistakable cookie cutter shape, the picture has no distinguishing marks. I have no eyes or ears or mouth or hair. Well, at least not that I have noticed. But maybe I haven’t noticed because that flat, black and white, cookie cutter version of me is full of words… not metaphorically but real black and white lettering crammed into every millimeter of my shape to the point of overflow.
There is no room left.
That’s why after the deer wrecked our car a few weeks ago and totaled it and the insurance company gave us a couple of options on a settlement and David wanted to talk to me about it, I felt mad. At the time I didn’t know why talking about cars was making me mad and David didn’t know why being intentional about exploring my opinion on the matter was making me mad, so thank God for Brenda. Because Brenda knew why. She suggested I just let David know I trusted him to make the car decision without my input so that there wasn’t one more thing I needed to think about. Having made an agreement not to ever spend more than $200 without fully discussing it, this response surprised my husband. Having known my-often-micromanaging-self all my life, agreeing to such a suggestion surprised me too. But she was right. I felt relief.
My cute husband bought a great little Prius at an enviably good price and all was right in the world. All, except for that pesky gingerbread man that has been haunting my thoughts and showing up when I least want to acknowledge it.
Writing is the primary way I make sense of my inner workings. Good conversations stir me like good books or an afternoon of clarifying solidarity. But the ordering of those unearthed realizations and nearly all of the connections made and all the real “ah-ha” moments to be had, for me, are found in sitting long enough to put the feelings into words and and the words into sentences the pictures into paragraphs.
So, suffice it to say, there hasn’t been much of that lately.
I am at least 6 months behind on getting these experiences and thoughts and feelings into enough order that they can be managed and digested and understood. It is overwhelming. But I am afraid if I ignore that black and white cookie cut out of me, she may start bleeding words from her nonexistent eye sockets.
Sunday morning I was fidgety and distracted, exemplifying all my worst ADD symptoms right in the third row of the sanctuary in our church building. I crossed and uncrossed my legs, bumping David more than twice with my boots. I doodled on the back of the prayer cards and envelopes provided for better use because I forgot my notebook. I almost blushed when my giant
purse bag opened, revealing a sea of crumpled up receipts, loose credit cards, an oversized parallel Bible, random sticks of gum, a child’s sock, a tampon and (naturally) no working pen. I have an aversion to black ink but had to settle for the black ink pen that had been placed on the back of the chair in front of me. The guest speaker was moving around a lot, walking back and forth across the front of the room and when I’d hear his voice nearer I’d look up and smile. Hopefully it was a warm, kind smile and not an apologetic, guilty one but I wouldn’t bet on it.
He was about five minutes into teaching when a Scripture resonated in my heart and I quit calculating how I could fit these two amazing salvaged pieces of furniture into my currently nonexistent kitchen.
—This is the point where I should probably mention we sold our house early this fall and moved out of it about 5 weeks ago. At the time we moved out we were under contract to buy a house and it was loosely “the plan” that we would spend a month or so updating that house and then move in… without question, by Christmas. The short version of the longer, sordid tale is that said house hadn’t been properly winterized, causing us to break the contract for all of the potentially unknown issues.
Since then we have looked at countless homes (countless because I don’t want to know the number), put in a rejected offer or two on other homes, consider building as a solid option and ultimately to come to terms with the reality we will not be moved anywhere by Christmas.
As most of our Christmas items are packed neatly and tightly (if you guessed that is thanks to my neat and tidy husband, you are correct) in the back of a storage unit I have picked up a few odds and ends in the last week so that we can make this 1100 square foot home feel homier for the holidays.—
And yes, you read that right- 1100 sq.ft. and no, we have not divided our children among relatives so that means all seven of us are living in 1100 sq.ft.
I cannot complain, tight as things are, right now. I want to make a point of saying that because it is true. We have a place to live and it is a gift. There are two bathrooms and enough places to sleep and a kitchen to prepare food and a table big enough for us all to sit at once. However much I wish we were unpacking our things in a great home, I have nothing but gratefulness for the way the Lord has and is providing for our needs. (end catching up rant)–
Last night, all but one kiddo was out of the house and the one kiddo in the house was asleep, so I organized the laundry basket of Christmas decorations I have been gathering from my favorite secondhand stores and I decided to do some decorating. I told myself it was okay to do the mantle and table on my own since the kids will really only be interested in putting ornaments on the trees. I separated out the kid friendly ornaments and placed the less glitzy items around the house. Mom randomly gave me a table runner last week so I put it on the table (it was literally the perfect length) and I added a wreath as the centerpiece. I thought about the centerpiece Cohen and I made two yeas ago from dried beans and peas in a hurricane vase and the clear plastic tree we had last year with the teeny tiny multicolored bulbs the kids had arranged and rearranged almost daily. I felt a twinge of sadness. I wanted to find a wreath with built in candle holders to light traditional purple advent candles but hadn’t found one. I had toyed with the idea of making one but my glue guns are also packed somewhere neatly and tightly in storage. What could I put in the center of the wreath? I went back to the basement and looked through the dwindling pile of holiday decor I had laid out.
The medium sized round candle holder (I think that’s what it is?) isn’t really my style. In fact, I am sure I picked it and put it back at least twice in the store and sat in the check out line with it in my “maybe” pile, ultimately only deciding to buy it because it was $2. I picked it up, still feeling unsure about it. The doves painted around it have olive branches in their mouths. Is this even really a Christmas piece? I realized I had had the same thought standing in the check out line before putting it on the counter. I tried a couple of other decorations on the table but they didn’t work. So I tried the that blue, dove painted, candle holder type vase. I had no more sat in the middle of the table than tears sprung up at the corners of my eyes.
“…He Himself is our Peace…” It wasn’t audible but I heard it. The doves are cliche and not at all artsy or innovative but I felt moved. The context of that phrase doesn’t fit neatly into traditional Christmas discussions, but it is true: He Himself is our peace. Cliche or not, that decoration somehow couldn’t be more well suited to the center of our table and the center of my thoughts last night and this morning.
Sunday the speaker mentioned Isaiah and I flipped my Bible open to chapter 44. I didn’t know that is where he intended to go but that’s where I found myself. I caught up with him a few minutes later and backed up to read the first few verses he was referencing. He continued but I noted that after verse 3, I had at some point circled a cross reference (in blue ink of course) and put a star beside it. Normally, I date or write a note next to verses when I star them but there was no other mark. Curiosity got the best of me so I flipped back a number of pages to chapter 32 of the same book and my eyes landed at the top of the page where verse 15 began.
“Until the Spirit is poured upon us from on high, and the wilderness becomes a fruitful field, and the fruitful field is valued as a forest…”
Verse 15 divides chapter 32 into two very distinct parts. Everything before verse 15 is what happens before the Spirit is poured out and everything after describes what life is like after the pouring out of the Spirit. This can be confusing if you just start with verse 15 and don’t take a second to realize it is the second half of a sentence not the beginning of a new thought. (Not that I would ever have that moment of confusion on my part *wink*)
To start at the beginning of the sentence w have to back up at least one verse:
“For the palace shall be forsaken, the populous city shall be deserted; the hill and the watchtower shall become dens [for wild animals] endlessly, a joy for wild donkeys, a pasture for flocks, UNTIL the Spirit is poured upon us from on high, and the wilderness becomes a fruitful field, and the fruitful field valued as a forest.”
I love the unfolding, the progression, of verse 15: The Spirit pours out, the wilderness becomes bears fruit, and then the fruitful field becomes a valuable forest. If you have ever walked along the beach, close to the waters edge and felt the ebb and flow as waves restfully meet the shore and roll over your feet than I don’t have to tell you the peaceful feeling that accompanies it. The ocean feels alive and close in those moments. It has a rhythm. Giant waves that originated deep in the bowels of the earth, moved and tugged on by the forces far out in the galaxy and have been ridden by the daring much further from the shore, continue their intended course, landing peacefully on sandy banks, one after another after another. The sand pulls away from underneath your toes, giving effortlessly into the rhythm, only to be deposited back on the shore, carried by those waves.
Sometimes when I think about the pouring out of the Spirit, I picture something akin to ever popular the ice bucket challenge. But this morning the picture in my mind is a lot more like those small waves lapping against the beach. They are the same powerful waves they were out at sea but now they are close and palatable. As the water, rhythmically and purposefully and intentionally, rests again and again on the shore… the wilderness and its barrenness are transformed. Now where nothing had grown is a fruitful field. Another wave of outpouring and another and another and eventually the field is nourished enough to support more than just flowers that bloom in the spring and die in the summer heat and fruit and vegetation that bloomed to be eaten and then lie dormant in the cold. Now the field has been built up and nourished enough to sustain deeper roots. One tree and then another and then another, until the field is a forest of old, longterm growth and an intricate lattice of roots and connections far deeper than what is visible to the eye.
When that transformation has taken place,
“THEN justice will dwell in the wilderness, and righteousness (moral and spiritual rectitude in every area of relation) will abide in the fruitful field. And the effect of righteousness will be peace (internal and external), and the result of righteousness will be quietness and confident trust forever. My people shall fell in a peaceable habitation, in safe dwellings, and in quiet resting places.”
I love that although transformation has occurred and wildnesses have become forests, even in the wildernesses that remain, justice will take up her residence. I don’t know about you but the older I get, the more deeply I find myself longing for the kind of justice I have yet to find here. It feel likes a word on the tip of my tongue or a dream I can almost remember. I know when I see it I will know it, but it is just out of the reach of my experience. Justice even in the barren places? I can almost see it. Righteousness will recline, kick up her feet and make her home in the fields with love, joy, patience and every other spiritual fruit in full bloom around her.
The effect -the consequence, the influence, the product- of righteousness will be peace, both inwardly and externally. I can’t even type those words without tears in my eyes. The necessarily transformative impact of the nourishing of the Spirit like water to our souls is that virtue, with her face upright, her gaze fixed on the higher order makes her home with us. And her influence cannot help but give birth to peace.
He Himself is our Peace.
And the result, the end game, of righteousness is quiet and confident trust without an expiration date.
I don’t know about you, but I will take it.
Not unlike justice, peace is fragile here on earth. We all sense deeply that while we have tasted of it, the real deal in its unadulterated form has yet to be known. Unless you have been living under a rock, you know about all the unrest in our country. It has many many layers. Some layers are more easily recognized, some layers more often exploited, but the deepest ones largely ignored. Earthly peace requires for the conditions to be right. It has more in common with the breakable ornaments that move further and further up the tree in homes with children than it does anything permeant and immovable. To say it is fragile being generous.
But that ill tempered peace isn’t just “out there”… in Ferguseon.. or elsewhere in “the world”. Most of us don’t have to look very far to find a lack of the peace we long to know. If we will be honest, few of us have to leave our homes to feel it is missing. And yet the Bible says THEN… the people of God will live in peaceable places, dwell safely, and have quieted places to lay their heads.
Before we dwell in peace, confident trust must result from the influence of righteousness infusing us thoroughly with peace. Before that influence is a reality, justice must make her dwelling even in the dry places and just as righteousness makes her home in fruitful places. And for the forest of old, established growth to exist, the Spirit must make wildernesses into fields nutrient rich enough to sustain the dense, lush growth of the forest.
But before any of that, the Spirit must be poured out. Until the Spirit is poured out, none of that is possible. Before the generous expanding of the Spirit is only abandon and brokenness and the disorder of watchtowers become dens for wild animals to inhabit.
The chapter ends with a verse that has really stirred my heart this morning and encouraged me, as I hope it will you.
“Happy and fortunate (blessed, in lots of translations) are you who cast your seed upon all waters [when the river overflows its banks; for the seed will sink into the mud and when the waters subside, the plant will spring up; you will find it after many days and reap an abundant harvest], you will safely sen forth the ox and the donkey [to range freely].”
I love the Amplified version precisely because includes the context largely left out by other translations (i.e. everything you read in the brackets above).
Two years ago, I was homeschooling Cohen and also doing history with my youngest two brothers. As a part of our history curriculum we were learning about ancient cultures. In geography we studied (I saw “we” because I am certain I have learned more history/geography teaching it to my kids than I ver learned in school) and learned to identify large portions of the middle East and Africa. One of the first places the kids learned to find on their maps was the fertile crescent. When labeling our maps, we would often start with it because it was nicely shaded on their maps making it easy to find plus it isn’t called the fertile crescent for nothing. So they could locate that crescent shaped shaded area right off the bat. The Nile River flows in the fertile crescent and we learned experiences annual flooding. We spent a lot of time that school year talking about how and why civilizations popped up near water and the impact of the reoccurring floods of the Nile and why the fertile credence is fertile.
This morning verse 20 brought those images and conversations back to mind in a way that has soothed my overwhelmed, tired self.
“Blessed are you who cast your seed upon the waters…”
When we think of planting seeds, we think of cute potted plants on our porches or gardens in our back yards or areas of our yard that need grass. We don’t typically think of casting our seeds into a river as the way to an abundant harvest. Perhaps if we had grown up within walking distance of the Nile River the connection would’ve been made more easily, but since I didn’t, I am grateful for the wordiness of the Amplified translation. You see, the Nile River floods regularly. If you lived there, you would come to expect the rising waters in season and its seasonal recession back to its initial borders. It was so predictable, the Egyptians based their calendar on it! There was a time of flooding, a time of sowing and a time of reaping. We plant grass right in the spots where our dogs or children have caused things to brown and dry. We bury seeds in neat little rows in the ground or raised beds or the pottery of our choosing. We put it where we expect to find it. We harvest (or mow) where we planted.
Casting seed upon flooded plains is a whole other concept. Casting it out means it may sink into the mud or be carried a little way on the water before finding a resting place in to take root and ultimately spring forth in growth. We check our plants frequently in a garden (or at least we plan to) but it is after many days that the harvest comes. In a preplanned garden we walk down the row, gathering tomatoes and cucumbers and squash. If we cast our seed upon the water, it spreads out and those we provide for can safely roam about and effortlessly find plenty of vegetation on which to feed.
So take heart friends, in a world of fragile peace and half hearted justice, we can be sure of the Spirit. We can set our clocks and timetables and calendars on His move. We can trust that where He is poured out, transformation cannot help but be at work, and justice and virtue will give way to peace and trust. He Himself is our peace right? Isn’t He? So we can be sure of casting our seed on those rising waters. Maybe not today or tomorrow, but we will reap a plentiful harvest in due time and all those who are with us will graze in the lushness and life of what has grown.
Jesus, made to be a tiny seed of a baby, was born into the world under a proclamation of good news and peace on the earth for all mankind and when He was about to leave, He said “Peace I leave with you; my own peace I give you.”
Let the water of the Spirit run over your feet today and let its regular movement wash you with that very same peace.