A good friend was stopping by with her daughters for a last-minute play date that added a bit of buzz and delight to what was otherwise a quickly depreciating Friday afternoon. It had been a chaotic week. I can’t tell … Continue reading →
1. Even if you have all the power, splendor and resources of God himself, come into the world unattractive, poor and in a social standing generally regarded as powerless. Isaiah 53:2-3 He grew up before him like a tender shoot, … Continue reading →
You know how when you’re having a conversation with another person and one of you has bad breath, it can be so distracting that it’s difficult to even really hear what the other person is saying? If we’re the bearer … Continue reading →
I walked down the dirt road on which my in-laws’ cabin sits and let the beauty of nature wash over my senses. The sun does not not neglect to generously warm each inch of my skin. The breeze offers a cooling balance and stirs the long grasses to release their sweet scent. The ferns on the forest floor stretch out their fronds in endless configurations of orderly beauty against the rakishly disorderly backdrop of the forest floor.
It is all there, whether I choose to enter into it or not. This feast for the senses, almost an embarrassment of riches in a place like the cabin–the sun, the breeze, the sweet grasses, the fern fronds, the birch forest- it all would have existed even were I not here to experience it. This uncultivated beauty is unlike the more civilized variety that we humans maintain or mold by our own efforts. Natural beauty simply IS. By no effort of mine it exists in glorious splendor, free for me and all the rest of humanity to enjoy.
I walked and I felt the tongue of my soul thirstily lapping up all that was around me, I started to wonder why I am made like this. Why is natural beauty the food that feeds my particular soul? In my life as a mother of three young children there are a long list of things I need to do in order to receive the benefits of healthy relationships, a passably hygienic home, meaningful work, even recreational pursuits require a lot of effort at this time of life. For every single arena of my life there is a litany of requirements for maintenance.
Yet the beauty of nature excites and soothes. It inspires and humbles. It wraps around my senses in endless varieties and provides satiation. But I do nothing to receive such a lavish feast as is provided by a place where natural beauty prevails.
I do not need to pay nature in order for it to administer these gifts to me. I do not need to feed it. I do not need to work for it. Entertain it. It seems as if it would balk like a strong but good-natured grandfather if I tried to coddle it.
Natural beauty requires nothing of me. In fact is one of the few things, perhaps the only thing, that I feel no sense of guilt as I enjoy it. It is undoubtedly good, so I feel no shame as I bask in it and I do not accumulate debt as I accept its gifts. I can be free to receive what it gives me with no sense of needing to reciprocate. It takes nothing from me, not even requiring my appreciation of it as sometimes I feel about beauty that has been produced by human hands.
Natural beauty does not require me to maintain it in order for it to be.* It existed before I came along. It will exist after I am gone. It is remarkably persistent, tenacious even. Fire consumes acres and dainty, green tendrils begin to shoot through stricken soil soon after. Disasters occur to wipe out entire landscapes, but natural beauty reappears before humans can even begin to rebuild. Destruction may seem to have overcome, but glitter spills in night skies above and the sun will rise amidst a never-identical show of enigmatic shades of color the next day. Natural life will unfurl its tentacles wherever chaos strikes and slowly but surely begin to re-order itself.
And for a soul as hungry as mine, it is a blessing and a wonder that inherent in the character of natural beauty is that it is perpetually available. There is not a time of day in which it does not exist somewhere around you, most likely within immediate reach of at least one of your senses: loamy soil’s scent, a dancing tree’s shadow play, smooth stone rubbed between finger and thumb. It. Simply. Is. Moment upon eternal moment. Cycles of light and life never ending. The beauty of nature is there to take in.
As I round another curve on that dirt road only to arrive upon another landscape ripe with pleasure for the senses, I realize that I cannot think of any other thing besides natural beauty of which I can say this is true of its relationship to my soul: It requires nothing of me and yet my whole self- mind, body and soul- feel saturated with enjoyment of it. I receive so much without giving a single thing to it but my attention. And even if I do not give it my attention, it still exists within my reach for whenever I do tune myself to it again.
And as I turned back on the path towards the cabin again, the brilliance of the sun’s reflection on Lake Superior dazzled my eyes. In the same sort of flash I realized why this natural beauty is food for my soul. Because the beauty of nature is, to me, as clear a picture of God’s grace as I can seem to experience. And none of us can survive even a moment without grace. Grace is that which is present around me at every turn, whether I call it or not. Whether I recognize it or not. Whether I do anything to deserve it or not. It requires nothing of me and yet exists for me in the tick and tock, hum and drum, press and pull of every moment. This is what grace is: It is the thing which is there for us to receive freely and be filled.
I may not always be tuned to appreciate it, but as sure as natural beauty IS whether I choose to tune my attention to it or not, so is Grace.
Open your eyes and there it is! By taking a long and thoughtful look at what God has created, people have always been able to see what their eyes as such can’t see: eternal power, for instance, and the mystery of his divine being. So nobody has a good excuse. Romans 1:20
What feeds your soul and why?
*Though, of course, if we are not stewards of it we do squander it. But sometimes I question if humans have the ability to completely destroy it. Though our efforts contribute, a hand greater than ours truly holds the power of life and death. And I think we see this common grace and the faithfulness of God in the persistence of natural life despite our best and sometimes worst efforts.
We had one of those fights yesterday that was based on an old theme in our marriage. It sent us down a well-worn path, the soft, grassy buffer of newlywed naivete had long worn away from it. It’s a path that’s we’ve trudged many times before, choking on kicked-up dust or getting entrenched in the deeper muck when it rains. Ruts have been worn and on darker days one or another of us might get hurt tripping and falling into one. Exhausted by the end of it, sometimes it doesn’t feel worth the effort to clean up again all the way before we get on to the next thing. We think we’ve washed clean enough, forgiven enough, but the time is too short before we’ll put on those dirty, wet walking sneakers again and blisters result. And then we’re rubbing against raw on our next trek.
This thing is not something that is about a difference of opinion and I don’t even know that it’s totally about a particular sin either (though it certainly is true that without sin we wouldn’t feel this disunity). We’re coming up against a fundamental difference in who we are and how we see the world. Talking about it doesn’t seem to help and ignoring it doesn’t seem to help either. I’ve prayed about it (a lot) and we still don’t seem to be able to find unity. SO, where does that leave us?
I’ll tell you where it left me at about 4am this morning when I woke up after something fell off our bed to clatter loudly on the floor: feeling hopeless. Wondering if he’ll ever really get me. Agonizing over how to live a life of one flesh with a person when it feels like the only way to fit together is to kill off some part of me. But maybe then without that gangling part of Me, could we at least be a more neatly fitted We?
I try it sometimes, just kind of a light neglect, not exactly starving that part that doesn’t seem to fit but maybe putting it on a rigorous diet. It doesn’t work. Instead the opposite seems to happen. The more I ignore it, the more it demands to be seen. It takes on a life of its own over there in the periphery to which I’ve relegated it. Flashing all sorts of colors and morphing into shapes and dimensions unexpected, it’s impossible to kill it. It’s so alive. It’s even kind of winsome, doing its own charming thing in the corner. Like a toddler in a time out after I’d forgotten I’d put it there too long, it starts singing some beautiful song to itself and I just want to join it. It’s no use. It’s just an inextricable part of who I am.
So what now? Does this mean I chose the wrong life or that God dealt me a harder hand? I honestly don’t know. Theology is tricky like that. But I know that the more married women I connect with, the more I realize that this kind of marital imperfect-fittedness is not rare. In fact, I think it may be the norm. There always seems to be something that husbands and wives don’t get about each other, even in the best of marriages. And we learn to live with them, hopefully appreciate the differences even, because we’re committed and because we chose love and we continue to choose love every. single. day.
But what about that pain? What about wondering if we’ll ever be understood, appreciated, “gotten?” What about the deep and fulfilling intimacy that we think marriage should be?
The answer was made undeniably clear to me this morning. It’s nothing new, but it’s the kind of bread I need to eat daily in order to be sustained by it. I subscribe to a service called Go Tandem. It’s awesome and it makes it really hard to ignore Truth in the midst of my busy life. It sends me mini, individualized devotionals throughout the day. I get texts and emails and voice messages and calls at times I’ve chosen. It’s just the right amount of intrusive. (And free. Sign up now, I know you’ll love it).
Anyway, usually I get one automated call in the morning around the time I get out of bed. And then if I don’t answer, it sends me the same message via email. Well today, I got this same call THREE times in a row. And then I ALSO got the same email THREE times. Now that’s just weird. Actually, it’s just God. The message was clear and the Messenger was beautifully and faithfully relentless in His pursuit of me, like the most devoted of suitors. I could barely hang up the phone before the call came through to me again. And then appeared in my email. Again. Ok, that may seem a bit stalkerish. But sometimes I need that because I’m dense when it comes to feeling loved.
I pasted it below, but basically it was a reminder that my husband isn’t meant to totally get me. He’s not meant to fulfill me. He’s not meant to complete me. If he could, I might be too easily satisfied and neglect to go after the real prize: a profoundly deep, intimate, fulfilling relationship with God.
You Can’t Complete Me
Hear from God
Listen to today’s CallIt’s so easy to look to other people to satisfy our needs. Let’s be honest, they’re here, human, tangible. But don’t fall for that junk! Jeremiah explains that only God can truly meet our needs–and he will!
This is what the Lord says:
“Cursed are those who put their trust in mere humans,
Please don’t judge me too harshly, but there was a carpenter ant crawling across my bathroom floor today and I squished it with my sandal. And I felt a pang of sadness and still have a vague sensation of lingering … Continue reading →