The speakers are turned up loud,
the song is on repeat,
and I’m on my back on the floor.
I have no words, so there is this:
a prayer in music, just for me, from my friend.
It’s a scratch track,
recorded on a laptop;
original music long since lost.
But I don’t care.
This is the song that unravels me,
then puts me back together again.
The song that tells me it’s ok not to be ok.
To not even know why you’re not ok.
This is the song that prays for me when my words are gone.
When my primary creative tools are keystrokes and shuttersnaps, it’s nice to make something every so often that requires sandpaper and hacksaws. There is a physicality to this kind of creation that is absent from my digital creations.
Recently I have been turning an old pallet into a shelf for my kitchen wall, and I’ve found myself surprised by what Jesus has been doing through the process.
The shelf started as an old, rough, wooden pallet. My first step was to pull boards off, resizing and realigning them as needed. It’s a brutal and demanding process! How often I’ve found myself there with my faith, too. I find the ever-patient Jesus prying off the boards of jealousy; control; every area in need of an overhaul. It’s not an easy process, but it is absolutely necessary to shape me into who God longs for me be.
Then there’s the hours of sanding. Hours of running a rough piece of paper up and down the boards. It’s a tedious and repetitive task: there’s no medals for smoothest board, no awards for longest sanding. Every run along the board adds to the callouses on my hands. Calloused to match the areas where I’ve been hard hearted and stubborn, and desperately need Jesus to sand my soul.
Finally the shelf is finished: the right boards are in the right places at the right level of smoothness. All that’s left is to hang it on the wall. But right now it’s sitting on one end in a corner of my bedroom. Perhaps not the best place for it if I want to set placemats and recipe books on it. I wonder how many other places in my life I have started well, only to get distracted or frustrated halfway through? It doesn’t matter how smooth or beautiful the shelf is, if I don’t finish it. Without actually hanging it on the kitchen wall, all I’ve got is very pretty wooden posts randomly sitting in my room.
Surprising how much you can learn about faith while building a shelf.
Earlier this month, Facebook reminded me that it was “6 years ago today” that I got my tattoo.
I’d had an eventful couple of years before that.
I moved out of my parents house and moved countries.
I started (and dropped out of) university.
I travelled the globe.
I discovered things that made me come alive.
I found things that killed my joy.
I had no idea what the wild goose chase really meant. I still don’t.
But for now…
It is the greatest adventure, even in the darkness and the doubt.
Today* I tried to climb a hill.
My best friend’s six year old climbed it.
The girl who’s never climbed a hill in her life got to the top.
I should be able to do this.
But with every step my body is screaming at me,
“You can’t do this today.”
That’s the word I miss.
All I am hearing is, “you can’t do this”, and it’s breaking my heart.
One year on and my energy is
still turning great days into insanely frustrating ones in the blink of an eye.
I trudge back down the path, gutted to be accepting defeat.
I tell myself the hills will always be there, and I know it’s true.
But I wanted to get to the summit today.
There are no shortcuts in life.
The hill I tried to climb was Ben Nevis, but it was also anxiety.
I only made it into the foothills, but it was higher than I got yesterday.
I will be glad for the day the Lord has made;
that is disappointing
that leaves me frustrated
where I watch from the sidelines
as others do the things I long to.
I will be glad.
*Today was actually a few weeks ago now.
Another winter arrives, bringing the cold front with it.
The joy of sun on my face is replaced with the sharp, upward thrust of pain, of memories of loss.
The cold front of apathy, of anger, settles over me like snow on undisturbed ground.
In the midst of this, there is Thanksgiving. Tonight, my house will be full, the table will be overflowing, and
“The dinner party is a true proclamation of the abundance of being – a rebuke to the thrifty little idolatries by which we lose sight of the lavish hand that made us.”
[Robert Farrar Capon]
I believe in a great big God – one who is so far beyond my understanding. I will never understand November. There are unanswered questions, persistent doubts. But there is also this: a God who is weaving a future I can’t even imagine.
“I want to cultivate a deep sense of gratitude, of groundedness, of enough, even while I’m longing for something more. The longing and the gratitude, both. I’m practicing believing that God knows more than I know, that he sees what I can’t, that he’s weaving a future I can’t even imagine from where I sit this morning.”
Walking Edinburgh with an American is a revelation. Every two steps involves a pause, a photo, and a superlative.
Okay; I exaggerate (but only slightly).
As we take in beautiful buildings that now house H&M or Starbucks, I realise how little I notice them anymore. And this from someone who would consider herself observant, drawn to beauty and wonder.
I’ve become numb to beauty. Beauty has numbed me.
// There’s an enemy among us
And he stole as best he could //
We have a very real and skilled enemy.
He comes to steal and destroy in place of the life Jesus longs to give us.
Which leads me to Edinburgh. To the city of tourists.
To the wonder I see on my friends’ face as she treads streets older than her country.
// I want, I want to be seen
With a fresh pair of eyes //
How I long for a fresh pair of eyes.
To see the world anew with wonder and childlike joy.
To relinquish cynicism and discover that it’s been holding me prisoner all along, not me holding it.
To discover that when I make space, the life-to-the-full we’ve been promised will rush in and fill the void.
// I am empty
In my end you are my beginning //
*Lyrics quoted can be found on this Spotify playlist.
I come to you
In truth, only because
There is no where else to go.
You hold the words to life eternal
I fall to my knees
Nothing left to give
Surrounded by deafening silence
You hold the keys to death and hades
Forged in fire,
I lay the pieces of my life
on your altar
Waiting for fire,
a fire that consumes
falls from above
and burns the dross away
it burns me, too
burns deeper than I dreamed
a blaze that purifies
still I wait
with your healing waters
soothing away the agony
and at last
In the dead of winter, I’m curled up under a duvet in my living room, journals strewn around me, coffee cup in hand. It’s a similar process each year: read the last year’s musings, make space to reflect, to listen, to dream again.
Lately, it’s been one or two word phrases that seem to guide and define my years. There was create (in all its forms), then there was adventure. This time?
That’s it. Get closer, Emma. Get closer to God, to other people, to your dreams. Don’t hide, don’t shy away, but take a step forward, take a step closer to the life you want.
Not long before Christmas, I saw Bon Iver play in Glasgow. He’s on stage with the band and what seems like more instruments than a full orchestra, and all around people are swaying and nodding and being immersed in this experience. It’s busy, and there’s people crowding around me. A group of friends move in front of me, and suddenly there is a ponytail in my face. Swaying. Nodding. And a ponytail.
Maybe God is like that ponytail in the face. Moving towards the dreams he calls us to is often uncomfortable; it’s not always what we would chose. When we step towards him, he’ll call us to change. But that ponytail-in-the-face moment is always rewarded far beyond our wildest dreams – it’s just that sometimes it doesn’t look the way we thought it would.
“The Bible is by far the most fascinating, beautiful, challenging, and frustrating work of literature I’ve ever encountered. Whenever I struggle with questions about my faith, it serves as both a comfort and an agitator, both the anchor and the storm. One day it inspires confidence, the next day doubt. For every question it answers, a new one surfaces. For every solution I think I’ve found, a new problem will emerge. The Bible has been, and probably always will be, a relentless, magnetic force that both drives me away from my faith and continuously calls me home. Nothing makes me crazier or gives me more hope than the eclectic collection of sixty-six books that begins with Genesis and finishes with Revelation. It’s difficult to read a word of it without being changed.”
[Evolving in Monkey Town]
And that is one of the reasons Rachel Held Evans is fast becoming my new favourite writer.