This birdhouse has a purpose and it is not to house birds, or to feed birds, or to do anything related to birds at all.Read More
It’s all for nothing
The voices say.
It’s all for nothing anyway.
The pain remains
From what has passed
The moments of peace
They fail to last,
It’s all for nothing, the voices say.
When you finally reach the end,
You’ll leave the same as you began.
It’s all for nothing, the voices say.
And you’re lucky to hear them,
To see the meaningless here then.
Much is for nothing, you say.
The scraping, the striving, the scavenging and buying,
Much is for nothing, you say.
You sell all you have for the one thing you need,
And you pour out the proceeds on your savior’s feet,
And you leave as you came, naked, empty-handed,
But the best thing can’t be taken, now that you have it.
Much is for nothing, you say.
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This is the background of a painting I’m working on. It’s meant to be a background, a foundation, a first layer. I started this piece with unbridled excitement. It’s experimental, it’s a leap, it’s not like anything I’ve done before, and I couldn’t wait to see it finished.
But something happened over the last couple of days, as I waited for it to be ready for the next layer. I became fond of the background. I became comfortable with it. I started to wonder if I couldn’t, maybe, just leave it the way it is.
It has a simple complexity to it. It reminds me of both the ocean and the sky depending on when I look at it.
I like it the way it is.
Instead of excitement over the finished project, today I felt fear over losing what I have now. Even though it was ready for the next step – I left it as is.
But tonight, I turned my eyes back to the plan, back to the reason I began this painting. I started to dream again. I started to envision the next layers, to get excited about the original vision. Tomorrow, I'll start work on the next layer.
* * *
I have purpose in this life. A race. A mission.
But sometimes I stop and I survey and I see how far I’ve come and I become fond of this place, this season.
I become comfortable.
Comfortable with my community, comfortable with my family, comfortable with my routines, comfortable with my habits. I forget the race. I forget the mission. I let fear freeze me.
I take my eyes off of eternity and dwell on the temporal. And when my focus is here and now, the excitement is drowned in fear.
I have to turn my eyes back to the plan. I have to dream again, to envision the next layers of the journey, to get excited about the mission.
The difference between the painting and my walk with God is this painting could end up total garbage. I could hate it. I could regret the moment I turned my eyes back to the plan.
But I won’t regret turning my eyes back to eternity. I won’t regret adding layer upon layer of surrender. I won’t regret any loss or failure or pain associated with the mission. I don’t know how the finished product will look, but I know it will be a masterpiece.
As for the painting, we’ll see.
When Joshua led the Israelites into the promised land and they were defeating the cities in the area - clearing out the neighborhood so that Israel wouldn't be corrupted by the inhabitants - they first went to Jericho. God specifically told them not to take ANYTHING from Jericho. They were supposed to burn the whole place down and take nothing for themselves.
One man didn't listen. He took silver and gold and a cloak, and Israel paid for his mistake. When they went against the next city, Ai, they were ran off and they lost 36 of their men. When the sneaky man with the loot from Jericho was found out, his family paid - the whole family and everything that belonged to the man was destroyed. Harsh.
Once he was gone, God led them to defeat Ai.
And then something weird happened. God told them that they could take the livestock and the spoil of the city as plunder.
They were forbidden from taking from Jericho, but invited to take from Ai.
A bible scholar, or a historian, or maybe even someone who paid more attention while reading the story might be able to tell you what the difference was between the two cities. They might understand why taking from Jericho was dangerous and taking from Ai was okay.
But really, it doesn't matter for me right now. I needed to see this story in a new light. I needed to see how sometimes God asks you to give something up - to pass by silver and gold and fancy clothes. Sometimes He says "Give that up" or "Pass that by" or "Let that go" with no explanation - no promise of something specific He would give in return. He doesn't say "Destroy everything in Jericho, I'll let you take what you want from Ai," He just says, "Destroy everything in Jericho."
Mrs. Bible scholar/Historian/Person who pays more attention might correct me, but I'm thinking the plunder from Ai was even better. I bet that if they had known what they were about to receive, passing by Jericho would have been a breeze. But they didn't know. What they did know is this: God was taking pretty good care of them. These are the people who ate manna in the desert and quail when they whined about the boring manna, they saw Joshua part the Jordan, they had JUST seen the walls of Jericho fall because they walked around it and made some noise. They knew God is awesome. They knew God can do anything. But that one guy just could not trust that God had something better, so he slipped some trinkets and a jacket into his coat.
I just passed by something. I lingered beside it knowing God was saying no. I attempted a negotiation - "I won't take the whole thing God, how about this little piece of gold, maybe the silver, and how about this coat - I'll never find another one like this - maybe just the coat Lord?" But I had my marching orders - don't take anything.
So I didn't.
And that's pretty scary. But I have my own stories of manna and quail and parting waters and thick walls falling. He is trustworthy. All of the time. And if He says to leave the coat and Jewels in Jericho, I'm leaving them.
I'm leaving them, and I'm waiting for Ai.
I saved a boy from drowning once. Well, I helped. And then I regretted it.
I was seven, maybe eight. It was a campground pool, and it was my cousin’s birthday. The memory is a weird one, one of those trauma-seared memories, with certain parts vivid, like a movie replaying in my mind, and other parts missing entirely.
I remember jumping into the pool, I remember my older cousin – the one with the birthday – jumping in too, I remember swimming toward the center of the pool to meet him, I remember giggling, I remember him asking if I’d seen his friend Jared* because he’d come out of the locker room before him, I remember a strange feeling in my stomach, I remember us looking at each other and then, together, looking down.
I remember seeing Jared kind of standing at the bottom of the pool, lifeless. He had on goggles, which later seemed so strange – he knew we were going swimming, he brought trunks and goggles, he left the locker room early and jumped into the deep end of the pool. He did these things knowing he couldn’t swim.
My cousin and I dove down immediately, grabbing his arms and pulling. I was a strong swimmer, but Jared was a few years older, a lot bigger, and total dead weight. I came up for air once, then dove back down to help my cousin bring him up.
I don’t remember yelling for help, but one of us must have. And I don’t remember where she came from – if she was there the whole time, or if she came in response to our screams – but there was a nurse.
I remember CPR and puking and an ambulance and the ICU and then a boy who lived. And I remember I helped.
I was proud of the moment. I retold the story many times over two and a half decades. I saved a life, helped anyway. I was just a little kid, but I got to be a part of a big thing. I did a good thing, I thought. I did the right thing, I thought.
Last year I found out Jared is in jail and won’t ever get out. He grew up to do something so heinous I won’t describe it here.
Did I still do a good thing? Did I still do the right thing?
I know the answer to this. It’s the same as when I reflect on my time in Iraq, and it’s the same as my response when naysayers ask what that homeless guy is going to do with my money.
I don’t know.
I don’t know the end result of every action I take. I don’t know if the good thing I do today will result in a bad thing ten years from now, and I don’t know if that bad thing will somehow turn into some amazing and miraculous thing 100 years from now.
I don’t know. But I know the one who does.
It is not my job to label things as “good” or “right,” and thank God because I have no idea. My job is to follow closely, to abide, to learn His voice, and to listen like my legacy depends on it. My life is not about amassing a collection of “good” and “right” things to earn salvation – it is simply about following the one who already earned it for me.
I just finished watching Robin Hood, the three season BBC series, and I am genuinely, pathetically depressed there are no more episodes for me to indulge in.
Over thinker that I am, I over-thought this today. Why did I love the story so much? Why was I so sad to see it end? Why did I identify so deeply with a story set hundreds of years ago and why did I (seriously, I know how pathetic this sounds) feel like an actual part of myself was missing when it ended?
I think it's because this is our story. A kingdom wracked with injustice. Starving people hanged for stealing bread. Slave labor in deadly mines. Livelihoods destroyed over failure to pay an unfair tax. War. Drought. Famine. And amidst the injustice, character is revealed.
There are those who rebel openly and fight against it - Robin Hood and his men. There are those who rebel secretly and fight injustice from the inside - Marian. There are the young and the sick and the elderly who can do nothing - who are at the mercy of the cruel if there is no savior to step in and fight for them. There are those who have money and title, but who do nothing. They fear the consequences of helping the poor. Or they rationalize - helping will not solve anything - sticking their own neck would be foolish. They stick their heads in the sand. They protect only themselves.
And there are the villains - the ones who want more and more and more. More money. More power - at any cost. The Sheriff of Nottingham and Prince John and Sir Guy.
We have those characters. Here in the 21st century we have heroes and rebels and villains. We have weak and powerless people being crushed by greed and neglect. We have heads buried deep in the sand. We have gobs of injustice.
It is our story. It has always been our story. It is the result of sin. It is why Jesus came - to bind up the brokenhearted, to set prisoners free from darkness. To set us free. To set everyone free.
We are free. Right now, we are free.
In the series, Robin Hood lost his land and title because he refused to oversee an unjust hanging. He ran to Sherwood Forrest, no longer an Earl but an outlaw. In a run-in with a group of outlaws in the forrest, one of them said something that stuck with me -"We are dead men." They had lost their homes, families, a place in their country, a reason to live - they were simply surviving as men already dead. Robin challenged them to stop living as dead men. He gave them a purpose, something to fight for, something to fight against - something to live for. And later, when he was handing himself over to the Sheriff to protect an innocent woman- when his men said that doing so meant certain death- he said, "at least I will not die a dead man."
He was living free. Daily willing to lay his life down to protect the innocent. Entirely devoted to combating the injustices in front of him - never letting an opportunity to right a wrong pass him. Stripped of everything that his society valued - labeled an outlaw - walking with a price on his head. But in a way, more free than he could have ever been sitting in his manor, observing the injustices outside his window, and doing nothing.
For 36 episodes, I felt free too. Living vicariously through a fictional character, I felt lighter, as though my own chains were no longer holding me. Chains of practicality, of pleasing others, of meeting expectations, of meeting properly set goals and following carefully laid plans. Chains of achieving, of seeking wealth, of designing a comfortable and contented life. For 36 episodes, I was with Robin - living as a nomad in the forrest with one set of clothes - eating whatever small animal my friend managed to catch and cook over a fire - facing death every day - stripped of the life I cling to and welcomed into a life of purpose. A life devoid of so much that I value, but so full of the freedom I crave.
Isn't that what Jesus does? He strips us of the life we cling to - if we let Him. He welcomes us into a life of purpose - if we let Him. I wish I could be like Robin Hood - letting go of the old life easily and bounding into the new one with endless passion and energy and faith. But I am not like him. Jesus strips and I cling. He welcomes and I balk.
And sometimes, I sit in my pj's and lose myself in someone else's story instead of getting dressed and living my own.
I'm setting a new goal - to live free. I'm laying out a new plan - screw my plans and follow Jesus. I'll let you know how it goes.
*I wrote this piece about 4 years ago. I am grinning wide as I re-read the end because living free is still the goal, etched deep on my heart though I'd completely forgotten what started the initial spark. I have spent the years since writing this moving closer, stumbling lots, toward a stripped down life, which I will write some about - eventually.*
I have this giant, ever growing, list of creative projects. Some are ongoing things, like my "Essay Per Week" project this year and my "Biweekly Spoken Words" project (man is that one slipping through the cracks!) and my "Fail 12 Times This Year" project.
Others will require me (because of the way I work) to focus intensely on one at a time. Things like three different color books, a book of silly poems for kiddos, a short non-fiction book on singleness, a children's book series, a series of novels . . .
I have been in the process of rearranging my life a bit - making more time for these projects, because I believe it's where God is asking me to focus.
But sometimes I look at my list and realize how it keeps getting longer and I realize how I keep getting older and there is just no way I will keep up.
I realize some of these projects will require things I don't have, like money and certain collaborators.
I freak out a little. And I freeze up a lot. And I stress about which to do first. I worry about which ones will never get done.
I wonder about dying tomorrow and leaving them all undone and whether anyone will care, and I decide they probably won't, so why bother doing any of it in the first place. (My brain sometimes runs away to terribly overdramatic place.)
And then, thankfully, I realize I'm missing the point.
Thank God for too-long lists, for passions and goals which exceed my time and talents, for projects to fill three lifetimes.
Because if it was in my power to do it all, I would. I would set my goals and make my lists and check my boxes. I would travel from one checkpoint to the next, marking off each accomplishment and moving on to the next with only the finish line in mind.
Thank God for too-long lists because a short list, a list I could feasibly complete in my own power, would make me its slave. It would have me running around grasping at the wind.
Instead I am free, as intended. Free to follow. Free to abide. Free to be content in each day, whether in the middle of a project, deciding where to begin, or dreaming up something new.
Free to unclench my fists. I might have hours left on this earth or decades - I can be fine with either when I stop pretending I can control it and focus on falling more in love with the one who can.
*Originally posted on Instagram in January, 2018*
Yesterday, The B (my seven year old) wanted to give money to a homeless lady while we were stopped at a light.
He saw her crutches and the snow falling and wanted to give her something. When I said I had no cash, he rooted around in the back and came up with a couple coins. “We can give her these!” But I shot him down. It might just be insulting. She’d hop over in her crutches in the snow and we’d hand her 35cents? It wasn’t enough. And it was a lot of trouble to go through to get it to her. Blah blah blah.
The light was green by the time I shut up long enough for the seven year old to say “but we can just tell her it’s all we have and that we wish we could give more.” So, we could tell her the truth. Interesting concept. And maybe the gesture alone was worth something. Maybe 35 cents added to what she had would have given her enough for a warm drink.
We drove through the light giving nothing, but I apologized and talked about it with B and I’m still thinking about it today.
I’m thinking about us, who think what we have to give is not good enough.
And I’m thinking of the people who miss out on so much because they need what we have.
Faith without works is dead.
But be wary the difference between works gathered, crafted, sought out and those works which bud as a result of our abiding in him.
The latter works result from faith. The former are a distraction.
When we are consumed by works of our own initiative we impede the Holy Spirit from his work in us, and the good works we might have produced are never afforded the opportunity to flower.
We call our works "fruit" but the fruit is only good and an indication of our spiritual life when it is hanging off of a branch grafted into and abiding in our savior. Otherwise, you have gathered - you have not produced.
Those ugly wretches we talked about in the "Be You" series - Comparison, Competition, Cowering - they will get us here. They will snag us, snare us, draw us in and away from our place of abiding.
(COMPARE) That branch is producing "x" and I'm producing "y." I better go gather some "x."
(COMPETE) That branch is producing more "x" than I am. I better go gather some more "x."
(COWER) I should be producing "z," but no one else is - I'll go gather some "x" instead.
You have your own works, your own fruit, your own path and purpose to which you were called. Zoom out and and out and out until you can see your works set against eternity - until it becomes clear how small and insignificant they are without the context of God's story, God's plan, God's purposes.
Zoom out and then lean in - because you do have work to do. Work with meaning, work which fits into a bigger picture, a bigger story, and you can't hope to know what it is or do it His way if you are not leaning in.
Zoom out. Lean in. Abide.