Are You Ready?

It first occurred to me one evening in church. Exams and craziness had begun, and more were looming. And I was certainly not feeling ready.

I hadn’t been to church in a while. Two weeks, actually. And all semester I’d been pretty lacking, with good spurts here and there and many stagnant weeks. I don’t believe we’re penalized for the weeks we spend out of church. In fact, I wouldn’t even say that not attending church is a sin.  Yet there’s something about missing that makes me feel sad, and something about going that makes me feel right. More than right. Peaceful, a little bit joyous, and a lot more hopeful.

My soul was ready to be back.

But as we stood side by side, singing Christmas carols within the festive sanctuary, my heart began to ponder a question: Are you ready? It came suddenly, fleeting, and mostly unintelligible at first.

On the second round, the question was clear. The same words, seemingly created in my brain, inspired this time by the pastor’s message. Are you ready? Are you ready for Him? 

For Jesus? 

For once, I wasn’t defensive or quick to say yes. Because I wasn’t certain that I was ready and I knew that.

A year ago, if you’d ask me, “Are you ready for Christmas?” I would have replied with a persistent and quick “yes!” Are you ready for Jesus wouldn’t have even been a thought, however. If someone had tracked me down and held me into place over the matter, I wouldn’t have known what he meant.

Ready? Of course. I already did all that “heart asking” and “inviting” so many years ago.

But that Sunday night, after the hardest three months of my life, I suddenly had the knowledge to know that I did not really know. I have never known, and I will never know a lot of what I like to think that I do know. And one of those facts, these pieces of knowledge, which is really not a fact at all, but which goes like this–it’s a question, actually–are you ready for Jesus? 

I tell you, my friends, about this now because it had intrinsic meaning for me. December is the time for Christmas, for a hustle and bustle and a busy season. But as Christians, are you ready isn’t just a matter of having the turkey prepared and the presents wrapped. Are you ready is a spiritual question, and a deeper layer.

Are you ready for the Christ child, the spirit in human flesh, the incarnate deity? 

Are you ready for a miracle that will knock you off your feet? A child born of a virgin, and conceived by the Holy Spirit? A child that is both God and man? 

And are you ready for that child to possess a love so deep that it will save you? 

Are you ready to bow down? 

Are you ready to let God, Jesus, the Holy Spirit–the three in one–in to your entire being, your heart and soul and life and everything

Are you ready for that? I knew I wasn’t, as we sang about Angels on High, sipped coffee, and took communion.

It didn’t make me sad. Just a little thoughtful.

Christmas is overwhelming, but not just because of the elaborate turkey dinner that’s to be made or the 27 guests that are coming. The height of this overwhelmingness doesn’t have anything to do with the gift buying budget or the list of festivities to attend. It is much, much deeper than anything material. Anything we can see with our eyes.

Christmas is an invitation that began with a young girl, who was no doubt inexperienced, uncertain, and downright scared. She was invited into a very special relationship with God, unlike any other before her. It would transcend her body, her soul, heart, and mind. It was a relationship meant for everything, and an intimacy reaching to the very depths. With her acceptance, the whole world was invited into this crazy, exuberant, uncontrollable, saving love. 

Are you ready? I didn’t know why I wasn’t. I still don’t know why I’m not.

What is holding you back? I don’t pretend to know even an ounce of it all. But I know there is a fear–of knowing and of being truly known. Vulnerability is desirable, but fearsome, too. The thought of being naked sickens me, but the vision of being known and loved in spite of everything and anything, and in all the nothingness I am, is immeasurable. 

He says come in. He whispers, Let me near. I love you, and I want to be part of you. 

What is holding you back?

The 25th is coming. We remember the story and the life birthed to us for eternity. The gift to know, and be known through and through.

Will you take it?

Note: THANK YOU for all of the positive feedback to my return to the blogging world. I really appreciate all of the warmth and encouragement. I realized something from it all, and I thought I’d share it with you. Your comments are very important! I’ve actually known this for a while, but I never wanted to admit it because I thought it made me shallow. I’m seeing things in a different light now, and I’m not afraid to admit that I love hearing from you! Feedback, in any shape or form, is very welcome and actually really helpful. It keeps me going with the writing, if I know people want to read more… disagreements and queries are also welcomed as I love to go deeper with thoughts. Thank you!

Advertisements

Of Fridays Past & Future Joy

“It must have been sad when Jesus died,” I remember thinking, as I went through Good Friday services as a child. Even at a young age, I thought of Jesus’s friends and followers, of Mary Magdelene and Peter and doubting Thomas, of how Jesus told John to look after his mother, as he hung from the cross.

But Sunday always came swiftly, ever beautiful and painted with spring, making us all happy again.

I remember one Easter in particular, when I was quite young. It was the first time I’d discovered the Easter bunny and it was a glorious morning indeed. I couldn’t believe my eyes at the chocolate trail leading from my room to a pile of presents in the living room. It was a gold mine. My own gold mine. I was so excited that I picked up my sister’s chocolate, too!

And I recall these strange thoughts running through my head, as I contemplated my childish joy. I often spoke to myself aloud and I did then. I remember saying, “I’m not going to sing again,” “I’m not going to play dolls again,” and the like. I still don’t understand exactly why I said those words. But perhaps suddenly, as I was hit by that sweet five-year-old bliss, I thought I’d got it all, I thought I didn’t need to keep on trying, I thought my joy was complete at last.

That was a long, long time ago now.

Now I sit in church on Good Friday, watching a beautiful service unfold, much like the one it was last year. It’s one of five services happening around town and so various members of the church community gather in my own place of worship today. I enjoy the beauty, try to worship, and contemplate it all.

But I’m distracted, caught up in the memory of Fridays past. Of Easters gone by. My thoughts lead me far through life and back again to the present as the band starts up again and we take the communion cup.

I’m wearing black today. But I remember a Good Friday when I wore a light blue dress and greeted visitors at the door. I was just a baby then, in my faith, in my growth, in personhood. There were so many things then I had yet to do and know and learn. My immaturity, the poor decisions, the bitter disappointments of past days haunt me as I sit in the pew. Sometimes I hate to think of what and who I was. But I remember the fragrant joy with which I had towards life, and the love I was growing for God and church and people, the love that was only beginning, the love that still churns now.

“And if only I knew then…” So many things. So many words. So many problems.

Four years ago, I was fifteen, sitting perhaps in the same row, in a blue dress. I remember the older Dutch man who became a friend to me and my family that year and that day in particular, as he helped us greet folks at the door. But that was four years ago and a lot can change in time and now he’s not even here and he won’t be coming back.

“It must have been sad when Jesus died…” I think again. I’m sure it was, for his friends and followers. But then He rose again.

I remember that dear old Easter when a trail of chocolate made my little heart soar high. He came to make our joy complete.

I remember the person I was yesterday, last year, and four years ago. The pain, the mistakes, the strife. He came to change us, to set us free, to give us life.

I remember the ones who have died, the ones who will never sit in church pews again. I regret, I mourn, and I wonder. He came so that we might never die, so that we could live forever, so that we could find perfection with Him.

Good Friday reminds me of the strife of this world. It reminds me that there is something better, even than a living room full of chocolate. And with it all, I remember the joy past, and most of all, the joy that is yet to come.

The Cracks & Crannies

Sometimes, it’s hard to see because its too dark. And we cannot hear because its too noisy.

But then, when the blindfold comes off and our ears listen carefully, we can see and hear into places we never thought of before. The darkness is revealed and we see, though dimly, the things we never expected or dreamed of seeing before. Suddenly, the cracks and crannies of life are revealed.

I’ve been seeing there lately. I didn’t expect to come to this place nor did I know it ever existed. I did not really mean to get here, but now, here I am. I’m seeing a bit of the dustiness, the messiness, and the dirt of life.

It is easy to look down on others for whatever–their drug addiction, the smell of smoke on their breath, the way that they limp, or even the holes in their clothes. It is easy to pity them and wonder how they got there. It is easy to dislike them or wrinkle your noise at the strange smell. I know I have been there and done that a thousand times, if only because I didn’t know what else to do.

But that was when I was on the surface. I could only see the surface–the hallow look, holes, the cigarette buts, and the limp. I couldn’t see past it, though I tried.

I’ve spent this summer working as a cashier in a Thrift store. You meet all kinds in there. It’s really an interesting little place for a writer-theatre-student-combination-of-a-girl. And its there, I’ve learned, that you begin to see the cracks and the crannies, in all their dirt and dustiness.

I see the hallow look on the worn face and smell the cigarette smoke. There’s a roughness in his eye and his bag reeks of marijuana when he hands it to me to keep while he shops–yes, I do wrinkle my nose at that. I see the man with the limp and the woman who asks politely for a deal because she’s coming out of a bad situation and the man who comes out of the dressing room with six shirts instead of eight. There are pushy people and others who don’t think I know how to be a cashier. There’s the men and women who come in to get free clothes for a new start at a new life and the kids who come to the front with their little wallets and buy video tapes and board games and stuffed animals. Oh, and there are the people who want deals and more deals and drive me absolutely crazy. There’s all kinds–more than I could ever write about here.

Yet now, when I see some of these people on the street on my way to work or in the mall or at the store again, I see them differently. I still don’t know most of their names or much about them at all–yet I realize that now instead of just judging them. Instead of looking on them with disdain or pity or indifference, I see them in a new light. I remember what they buy, what they always ask for, what they love in life. And I see them in that new way.

There’s the man who loves music and always buys CDs and the elderly lady who gets special things for her grandchildren. I see the man who always asks for hockey cards and the girl who likes new clothes. I see a woman who always buys gifts for her family, a lady who adores classical music, and families who may not have a lot of money but still want to buy nice things. And suddenly, the predispositions fly away and I remember their joy and I know them by their happiness, instead of their exterior looks.

Sometimes it’s a long way to the cracks and hard to breathe in the crannies, but I believe it is a place truly worth going. I admit that the surface is more comfortable and easy and that I can’t see people perfectly in the crannies. The surface seems like a clean, pretty place which we, as Christians, should work to bring the rest of the world to. Yet should we really stay in the surface? Because Jesus went into the cracks and crannies and talked to people and loved them just where they were. And while there is brokenness and pain in this place, I don’t know where we can go, save heaven, where there isn’t.

To tell you the truth, there is brokenness and pain in my life. So perhaps it is fitting to find myself in amidst the dust and the dirt. The surface doesn’t paint a real picture. We must dig deep and live in the cracks and learn in the crannies of life.

Immersed In The Spirit

Recently, I found one of my many, old journals. Like most of my notebooks, it was unfinished with plenty of pages left for more words and ideas. Oh yes, I love to write, but the problem is, I often start things that I don’t finish. A lack of inspiration, I guess you could call it. Anyway, this notebook had verses in it. I think I was trying to memorize them at some point. I tore the filled pages out so that I could use the journal for something else, but they got me to thinking about my life and things I’ve done or tried to do. And all the sudden I thought to myself, remember when you used to read the Bible, Elizabeth?

So, a year of Christian education and I don’t read my Bible anymore? Is that it? No, not exactly. I do read my Bible. But to be honest, I’m not as religious about it as I used to be. The notebook I found was from a by-gone era of memory verses, Bible reading binges, and notebooks about how to be a good Christian woman. From a time when I was just a girl trying to be the best follower of Jesus that I could be. Honestly, I wasn’t immersed in the Spirit much at all. Oh yes, I tried to be. But that way of doing it just didn’t work too well.

036

One of my new memory verses — in Spanish.

After about fifteen years of being a Christian, I’ve tried lots of things, swinging from rebel to saint, conservative to liberal as I’ve done so. The funny truth is that I never really find my place in either direction. I think I find it for a little while, but I never really do. And then I’m just stuck again, drifting back and forth. I feel like I’m constantly at a place where being a Christian just doesn’t make sense except for the fact that I’ve been one my whole life.

Changing directions this year (as in, going to school) has honestly changed my life. I’ve been forced to think about myself, the world, other people, my life, and God differently. I’ve learned to re-evaluate good and evil, faith and religion, life and love, and countless other things. But at the end of the day, I’m still asking the same question. What does it mean to live a life immersed in the Spirit of the living God?

Let’s be honest — even as the great Christians that we are, we don’t always “feel” God in us and through us or even in the distance somewhere kind of looking out for us. Yeah, He’s there, but sometimes He does feel pretty far away. How are we supposed to be immersed in that?

I don’t have the answers — I just have my experiences and the knowledge that I can gain from that. Praying is important. And I know that from not praying because I forgot and then from praying again and realizing how much I needed it. And I also know that from having people pray for me and from friends telling me that they were praying for me–even when I didn’t ask them, too. Reading is good, too. I’ve been reading little bits at a time — when I remember and when I feel the urge. I don’t like to say, “I know I should do this everyday” anymore because honestly, that takes the joy out of it. Letting the Holy Spirit live through and in you is very, very good. And I’ve learned that can come in a thousand different ways–they key is inviting Him in.

033

I’m reading two Bibles now — in Spanish and in English!

I don’t know it all yet and I’m not there the whole way. But these are my observations and my beginning for living a Spirit immersed life.

The Broken Road

This morning it rained over our fresh snow. I heard its soft pattering on the roof and watched the grass begin to peek out from the snow. It was an ugly mess.

I went to church this evening. The pastor talked about the guilty, wounded, and troubled heart. I know that I suffer from all of those feelings. And I sin–oh yes, I sin. Everyday, I make mistakes and wreck relationships and try to pick up the pieces again. I put off prayer because I don’t want to confront my maker with the same old problems. I don’t feel worthy of His love.

But isn’t that the reason for Christmas? Isn’t that how we know Jesus? If we were pure, there would be no use for a Saviour. But our sinful nature needs a Saving Grace. Life’s broken road is the path that leads us to the greatest Christmas gift of all.

Sometimes, its hard to accept ourselves because of sin. Sometimes, its difficult to just move on. Sometimes, we don’t even know where to begin. But the beauty is that we don’t have to do it on our own. As Psalm 147 says, “He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds.”

We have Jesus. It’s remarkably easy to pass Him by, especially with the hub-bub of the holidays. But without Him we would be nothing. Without Him, our sin would stain us forevermore and there wouldn’t be any second chances. He is the reason for Christmas, joy, and life.

042

With whatever trial you’re facing today, remember the joy that Jesus offers!

Called

There is something that has been on my heart for quite some time now. First, I was resentful towards it. I hated the events of this subject and wanted to get back at the people involved. But then I realized that none of it was ever meant in that way. It was an oversight even though it had hurt me. But God could heal me from those wounds.

And that is when the calling began. I started to see it all in a different way, and I knew that I had to do something to correct the wrongs that I had felt. God planted a seed in my heart and with that seed came idea after idea after idea. I had a plan from God.

I truly love the calling, but some days it’s hard. I’m not going to say the extent of the calling, though some of you probably know what it is. It’s something that may change the way some of my friends view me. It may make things awkward or distant at first. It certainly could make be unpopular. I know I’ll have to be careful. Sometimes, I think that it’s not worth it. Sometimes, I lose inspiration and it’s just too hard. But the Voice calls again and I know I cannot give up.

Because every time I say to myself that my calling is not important, God shows me that it is. I meet someone who has been hurt in the same way. A prof touches on the subject. I randomly read about it. And then I know that I cannot escape this calling. I know that God will keep beckoning me until I just do it.

There are callings inside all of us. They are unique to each individual, but equally important to the kingdom of God. They all tie in to the divine calling of every person…to love as God loves, to live as Jesus lived, to have the attitude of Christ. It’s an amazing calling, but not impossible through the strength of our Lord.

What is God calling you to today?

You Can’t Buy Grace

The other day, my acting prof broke into this mini-sermon on grace. He was talking about our scenes which are due next week and how to give and receive proper criticsm. But it was much more than that for me.

Cross & Clouds

Cross & Clouds (Photo credit: John H Wright Photo)

He talked about grace and how it is free to us through the blood of Jesus. And how we should live our lives with grace, as Jesus did. But how we so often don’t. And even though grace is free, we always forget about it. Because we’re steeped in the law instead of overwhelmed with grace. We don’t take the gift that is offered so generously by Jesus.

On Friday, I left chapel early. Some things that were said in my previous class, Spanish grammar that I’m just not getting, and guilt were flowing around in my mind. I couldn’t sing anymore. When I walked out into the fresh air, alone at last, it was the guilt which haunted me the most. I could brush off every other worry, but it was my guilt that I could not handle.

“God, I made a mistake,” I whispered as I walked along. I’m probably known for “talking to myself” around campus anyway, being a Theatre major with lines to memorize. “I wish I hadn’t made it, but now I have. How do I fix it?”

But I didn’t hear anything at all. No answers. No comfort.

My mistake wasn’t “big” in the eyes of others. It was simply a thought I had that I knew I shouldn’t have had. Perhaps I sound extreme, but at that moment the guilt from it was enough to ruin my morning.

“How are you?” my friend asked after joining me in the cafeteria, a few minutes later.

“I’m okay. How are you?”

Of course, I shouldn’t have said that. I ended up telling him that I felt guilty about something. A thought I’d had.

Or maybe I should have said that, because then he reiterated what our Acting prof had said the other day. There is grace. Always grace. You’re nothing without it, but never unworthy with it. You can’t buy it, but you just have to take it. Because God loves me and God loves you so very, very much.

I chose to take grace that day. And as we left the cafeteria later on, bound for our next class, I felt a weight lifted off of me. It was an indescribable feeling, but a feeling it was. The heavyness went away and I felt light. The exhaustion which had not allowed me to sing previously disappeared as a new energy revived me. I saw the sun outside and the flowers in the gardens and the smiles on the faces of other students. I saw my next three hour class as a time to smile and be with my friends and the homework I have as “something to get through.” But most of all, I saw grace for all of my transgressions.

Just Tell Me I’m Right

After approximately three weeks of transit, I’ve realized that my first lesson of the day always comes before I arrive on campus. One can learn a lot from taking the bus each morning with the same people. More than in any philosophy or psychology class, I’d like to guess.

I’m a theatre major who happens to write on the side so it isn’t surprising that I am also a constant people watcher. I always have been. When I was in choir as a young child, I barely sang because I was too busy watching everyone else. One of the older girls was quite concerned and told my mom about it. My mom said it was just my age that made me so inquisitive. Little did they know, that I’d only grow in the habit more. Perhaps I don’t stare as much as I did at six, but I’m always watching, thinking, and wondering.

On the first day of classes, I analyzed automatically. There was a young, blonde boy with headphones in his ears and a guitar case at his side. Two girls wearing shorts and heavy lip gloss sat together, chatting about the new school year. A young woman read her Bible and the man behind her played on his phone.

As the bus went on, we picked up more and more people. Three, loud teenage girls got on the bus, talking about school and schedules.

“I hope they give us schedules because I forget mine,” one girl said.

“You might have to go to Mr. _____ office to get it,” her friend snickered.

“Ugh, I hope not!”

A woman with dark hair, dressed smartly got on, smiled at the bus driver, put her ticket in, and found a seat. Another girl got on the bus, moving rather quickly passed the loud ones.

People were talking, and the bus was nosiy. I wondered how the young woman could still read her Bible in all of this clatter.

Then, the almost full bus stopped for a young man and a girl.

“Do you have room for us?” She was short, with glasses, a high blonde pony tail, and a school backpack. Her voice was a bit nasally, but sweet.

The bus driver replied affirmatively and the two got on.

“Can I sit here?” the girl asked the boy wearing the headphones.

“Sure,” he replied, barely looking up.

“Do you know where I’m going?” she asked innocently.

He had to take his headphones out and ask her what she said again. The girl repeated it.

“No, I don’t know.”

She said the name of one of the local colleges and he replied with something like “cool” and tried to go back to his music.

But the girl kept talking. She talked about it being her first day of college and how she was strong to go and that she hoped she wasn’t late and about roller coasters and her pet dog. She was different than the others on the bus. Perhaps not the kind of girl the boy wanted to beside on the bus. But she was sweet, innocent, and so very human like us all. And as she talked, I noticed a constant theme. She wanted affirmation, encouragement. “Am I right?” she would ask again and again. The boy would say, “Probably,” but she wanted to know for sure that she was right. And as the bus bumped along and picked up more people and stopped at stops, I thought, “Isn’t that what we all want? To know that we are right?”

The loud, teenage girls kept talking.

“I’ll be easy on the grade eights the first day, but after Christmas you’re kinda _____.”

“Yeah,” her friend agreed.

I wanted to say, “What are you? Grade 9?” But I didn’t. They just wanted to be right, like all of us do.

The girl with the blonde pony tale kept talking in front of me. The boy had now removed his headphones and was listening half attentively.

“Hey,” the two were interrupted by another boy who got on the bus with a raised eye brow and snickering face.

“Hi,” the boy with the headphones replied. Although he was in front of me, I could tell he was worried now about being the “right kind of cool, teenage boy.” 

The loud girls and the shy one got off. They thanked the bus driver politely, but as they walked to their high school doors, I saw them snub the shy girl. Perhaps she was a grade 8. Or maybe just another grade 9 who they didn’t like. Regardless, they had to be right.

Meanwhile, the blonde pony tale girl kept talking and talking and talking. The friend of the boy with the headphones snickered. The girl kept talking and the headphone boy listened. But he looked back at his friend with a quizzical face as if to say, “This isn’t what you think.” He wanted to be right.

Eventually, head phones boy and his other school friends got off and the girl was left alone.

“Hi, how are you?” she asked the woman with dark hair and smart business clothes. But she didn’t answer. The woman wanted to be right. The girl repeated her question. Still no answer.

But what about me? I was sitting behind her. What was right for me? Was it to snub the girl like everyone else and look perfect and fine to the others on the bus. Or is being right love and compassion? What would Jesus do? He would answer the girl in love.

And so I replied, “I’m good, how are you?”

The girl turned to face me and answered back. She asked me all sorts of questions like the ones she’d asked the boy with the headphones. We talked until my stop came. And I left feeling that I was right for that bus ride.