I thought I’d be nervous.
I thought the bars and the razor wire and the concentrated mass of humanity would make my insides shake, and I thought my hands would show it and my voice would betray me.
But they didn’t, and I wasn’t.
I saw your little sisters there, all innocent and smooth-skinned with ponytails swinging and doe-eyes smiling. I saw them shocked when we cheered and greeted them with high-fives and hand shakes.
I saw them cry because they were the center of our attention.
I was shocked, too. And surprised when I saw your grandmas there in wheelchairs, or trudging slowly with toothless grin, gray hair all astray. With cloudy eyes squinting to see a familiar face or a fresh hope, they came last in line and headed for the bits of shade.
I may have cried.
Your moms were there, and your daughters and granddaughters. Your neighbors. I don’t know what age I expected them all to be, but it was the sheer range of years that affected me first.
Then I thought for a split second that there were men there, but there were not. Women with stolen identities and shaved heads, women with huge biceps and angry eyes, women trading beauty for power were there, everywhere, but I expected that.
We gathered in the yard (and I may never say go play in the yard again) and there was division, and light battled darkness because some ladies wanted to sit and listen, to follow the rules and be respectful regardless of their tattoos and girlfriends and stereotypes, and some stood out on the fringe and ignored the program. They ignored the requests from the front to please sit down, please enjoy the speakers and the music, and please listen because God has a message for you.
We wore purple as if we were royalty and they wore prison-blue, a blanket of bruised humanity all spread around in the bleaching sun.
By the end of our time there was nothing shocking anymore. A docile lady in her 60′s, with white hair and purple shirt, was surrounded by 5 or 6 girls with tattoos and shaved heads, and the smiles and conversation were as though they had just shared milk and cookies together.
Some sat in groups of 10 or 12, some were one-on-one, and God met every personality and every phobia. People with similar life experiences, similar interests, similar languages, all had a place to minister regardless of the color of their skin or hair or shirt.
Women in blue brought chairs to the tired and scorched visitors. They were concerned with our water and with the bugs in the grass and with our long trip home. They were thankful for listening ears and bolstered by messages of Hope, but this was real life to them.
“You’ll be gone tomorrow, Tresta, and I’ll still be here.”
I want to leave Hope in the places I can’t stay.
Of course the enemy was there.
There were those who refused to listen , who crossed their arms and averted their eyes. There were those whose only purpose was to intimidate or separate or discourage, and they will always be there trying to mingle among the Hope-ful.
I saw you and I there, too. Because bars are real and man-made and all of us have chosen to be in or out of them, at one time or another.
And maybe still. Good girls and boys, all of us on the outside imprisoned by the bad girls and boys on the inside.
They live for justice or mercy or re-trial or letters to the governor or pardons or next week’s program or maybe a visitor.
Some live in truth and are free, walking the hardest walk.
Some live in denial and won’t cross the Nile where Egypt is purged, won’t face the Promised Land because they know about the 40 years of wandering, and their eternity started already and it ain’t pretty.
But you and I are there, believe me.
We want justice but need mercy and forget that He said there’d be trials and maybe someone will write the Govern-er for us, and we work for a pardon so we get ready for next week’s program and then we’ll visit an orphan or widow. Or prisoner.
And a run-on sentence followed by a fragment is such irony here.
A death sentence made you free and it lasts forever. Let’s not live a fragmented life or even a fragment of death.
I often wonder what all of eternity will be like.
No sorrow, no mourning, no lack of anything good and absolutely nothing marred by sin. I’m fairly certain eternity won’t involve clouds and harps.
I also wonder, though, about longing and satisfaction. The two must go together, for how do you know what satisfaction is if you don’t experience a longing, a need that must be filled? Will we hunger in heaven and have the satisfaction of being filled? Will we have desires and then see them met?
Maybe all of this life contains enough longing and unfulfilled desire to meet heaven with. All our perceived and actual needs, all the trials of life and mistakes and injustices, maybe they’re all righted in heaven and that leads to eternal satisfaction, without the need for any more longing.
Even in my dreams there is injustice I long to see righted.
So what will satisfy a soul for all eternity?
I heard Ken Wytsma speak earlier this month and he said that our folly is in trying to make God less mysterious. Trying to package Him all up tidy and make everything spiritual be logical and easily reasoned and explained, so that we don’t’ have to take any leaps of faith.
He talked about Abraham, trying to explain to Sarah where he was taking their son Isaac on the morning of the sacrifice. He concluded that Abraham came to a place we all need to come to: a place where we throw ourselves out there simply with the belief that God is good, and that’s enough for us.
God is good, and that’s enough for me.
A good God would not make an eternally-boring eternity for His children, harps and clouds and dull sweetness ad nauseam. He made this life, for heaven’s sake, and there are boring people but nothing boring about living.
Jesus is speaking in John 17, red letters bleeding before the sacrifice, pouring out desire and longing before the Father Who was leading Him to the cross. Pouring out desire to a good God and completely satisfied with His goodness, even on the eve of intense struggle. He endured for the joy set before Him.
If any struggle on earth ever was enough to satisfy a soul for eternity, this was it.
While we seek to make God less mysterious here on earth, this sphere He created and we have yet to fully understand, He continues to allow those who will to search Him out.
And He’s given us all eternity to know Him more.
This is eternal life. Spend forever, because you’ll need that long, to know Me and My son and fellowship with us and search us out. Let Me be your desire and your satisfaction. Forever.
Go ahead and start now.
The best thing about my best friends is that we don’t talk much, and we’re okay with that
That sounds harsh or sarcastic but it’s not, it’s really what I appreciate at this stage in life. I appreciate that we are friends when we have time for coffee or time for praying together or time for a weekend away. And I appreciate that in all those in between times, the months where we don’t talk and lose track of each other’s lives, in those times we are still friends.
It can be months in between. There’s no hurt feelings and no pressure. No pouting or excuse making. Because Moms know this: that friendships change over the years and the ones that are meant to last are the ones that you don’t have to work hard at, the ones that step aside for your family, pray for your family, and pick up wherever they left off.
That’s the beauty of having friends in various seasons of life.
In high school there were unspoken rules about who you could really be friends with. Artificial friendships formed because you were all thrust into the same experiences and forced to endure them together – those aren’t typically enduring or endearing relationships.
But real life? Real friends who pray in the in-betweens and who’ve endured births and deaths and diapers and empty nests along side you – those friends are the real deal.
Sharing five minutes on the writing prompt Friends (which is a ridiculously inadequate amount of time but I’m trying to follow the rules) and linking up with Lisa-Jo and others for Five Minute Friday.
If you’re still reading, let me just add that one thing I’ve learned over the years is that I don’t have to be just like my friends in order for our friendship to be true and lasting. Comparison kills, and I never loved a friend because they were just like me. Rather, I love them because they are different from me in ways that I can appreciate and grow from.
“When God brings the blank space, see that you do not fill it in, but wait.”
There is a mental assent to the whole giving up yourself and following Jesus thing.
In my head it’s great and grand, like many things are in my imagination.
Real life hits the floor hard though and I find myself in the third person, talking about Myself rather than me, and Myself is one with lofty ideals and deathbed wishes and me?
I’m living pretty good.
No casket needed here. No burial clothes or mourning because I’m pretty much still alive, still living and grasping for abundant life rather than dying daily.
I read a verse in Ephesians 5 in the amplified Bible last week.
And walk in love [esteeming and delighting in one another] as Christ loved us and gave Himself up for us, a slain offering and sacrifice to God [for you, so that it became] a sweet fragrance. ~ Eph. 5:2 AMP
My husband can read a verse and chew it all day, just completely breaking it down and consuming it. But I’ve always felt like I had to read large hulking portions of scripture in order to fulfill the “requirements” for having a quiet time. It has to be a chapter at the barest minimum, and more is always better.
And seldom can I tell you in the evening what I read in the morning.
But Ephesians 5, all amplified and stretched out like that, was a feast for me this time. There was no need to go any further. This verse was about relationships and it was my prayer for our children that day, that they would esteem and delight in one another. Sounds ideal.
And then it was caught in my throat: He gave Himself up.
I gave up sugar for 30 days. And grains and legumes and dairy. I learned to drink my coffee black and to inhale the scent of pancakes rather than pancakes themselves, and I learned that I have all kinds of bad habits when it comes to food.
I’ve given up on goals and given up on people and given up on trying from time to time, but never have I truly given up my Self, like, for good.
Idealist-Me has given up my Self again and again with at least sincere mental assent. It’s good. It’s needed. It’s called discipleship and it means Christ now lives in me because I’ve been crucified with Him and only one of us came out alive.
But me, the real me, walks daily in conflict with Myself. And have I ever truly given myself up?
I call it Deathbed Christianity, this always struggling with dying and living in Christ.
I want to quit me but it’s not like quitting sugar or cheese or warm crispy toast with creamy peanut butter, cut into fourths like mom used to do.
I want to quit me but in so endeavoring I find myself completely focused on my Self, and it’s distracting.
I just really need the One who gave Himself up for me and Myself.
My Self, that pitiful part of me that takes center stage in feigned martyrdom, a death of only my imagination and my mind. This flesh is still all clingy and to take it off like a garment? To unclothe right there on center stage?
Let me step down first.
Let me put Him in His rightful place and all eyes can focus solely on His goodness and maybe, possibly, they’ll not notice my lack of it.
So I am a Deathbed Christian, after all.
I am the one lying helpless and naked-as-I-came, dying but gasping and weakly clinging like flesh to all my bones.
He gave Himself up. Just quit Himself right there on the spot for me, and you.
So I take up my deathbed-of-a-mat and walk because He says to. I’m telling Myself to let go of lofty ideals because Jesus called me to live in the dirt and flesh, and by that I mean that I can’t spend my time focusing on being better or doing better or even on dying to self.
Because then I focus on me.
I have to trust that His righteousness covers me.
I have to believe that all His breathed inspiration is for me, too. Little ol’ me, and not just for His favorites or His superstars, of which I know there are none. I know it.
Or maybe I am His favorite. His favorite Me, like I tell my kids that they’re my favorite Ethan or Shelby or Jacob or Bailey.
When the dying is no longer the focus, the living is so much easier.
I’m working through these thoughts so that on those days, those flesh-taking-over and those struggling-to-die days, I can see my deathbed for what it really is – a blessed riddance.
“Like the eye which sees everything in front of it and never sees itself, faith is occupied with the Object upon which it rests and pays no attention to itself at all. While we are looking at God we do not see ourselves – blessed riddance. The man who has struggled to purify himself and has had nothing but repeated failures will experience real relief when he stops tinkering with his soul and looks away to the perfect One. While he looks at Christ, the very things he has so long been trying to do will be getting done within him. It will be God working in him to will and to do.” ~ A.W. Tozer, The Pursuit of God