Now Is the Time

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I came across this beautiful blessing written by the late John O’Donohue in his book To Bless the Space Between Us. It seems apt for this time in our country. And his are not the only words that are apt—indeed, this is a time to listen to those who are hurting and oppressed because they are hurting and oppressed. Now is the time to open our ears and eyes and hearts. Now is the time to seek to understand and to risk our very selves for the sake of others. Now is the time to lay down our swords. May we be the ones—not who seek to be right—but who extend love.

For Love in a Time of Conflict

When the gentleness between you hardens
And you fall out of your belonging with each other,
May the depths you have reached hold you still.

When no true word can be said, or heard,
And you mirror each other in the script of hurt,
When even the silence has become raw and torn,
May you hear again an echo of your first music.

When the weave of affection starts to unravel
And anger begins to sear the ground between you,
Before this weather of grief invites
The black seed of bitterness to find root,
May your souls come to kiss.

Now is the time for one of you to be gracious,
To allow a kindness beyond thought and hurt,
Reach out with sure hands
To take the chalice of your love,
And carry it carefully through this echoless waste
Until this winter pilgrimage leads you
Toward the gateway to spring.

Now is the time for one of us to be gracious. May it be so.

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The Truth About The Election…At Least For Me

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There will be books written about this time in the United States’ history. I’m sure many are already being written. What does all this mean? Who’s right? Who’s wrong? Where does the truth lie? Do we even have the ability to know anymore? I can’t sort it all through.

The deepest truth I can find in this election and its accompanying atmospherics, for me at least, is the darkness it has revealed in my own heart. Some of what’s in me is a vague and ambiguous judgmentalism that I can’t even quite pinpoint. It just kind of sits heavily in me and operates seemingly without direction. It arises without my conscious permission. It has an unbridled willingness to draw dehumanizing, dismissive, and diminishing conclusions about both entire groups of people and individual human beings, while simultaneously excoriating those who do the same.

It is this that keeps me awake, this darkness in me. It feels like too much to bear. I have wondered (or, perhaps discovered?) if this—the darkness within my own heart—is the burden Jesus was referring to when he said, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” I have never quite thought it so until now. But given the tears that come to my eyes and the begging my heart begins to speak as I hear this invitation, this must indeed be what he meant. “Come to me and I will give you rest.” Yes, Lord, here I am.

New Mercies

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New mercies always seemed like supernatural,
hard-to-miss displays of souls coming out
of darkness and bodies coming into healing.
Look at that! How amazing!

But then I caught the brave dandelion heads
waiting for the noon winds to render them
stems to spread their life;

And a tiny sparrow pick a buried twig out
of overgrown grass to surround
her marbled eggs, beginning to crack.

And I filled my cupped hands with cold, clean
water, lifting them to my mouth to drink.

Look at that! How amazing!

Longing for the Good

“Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them.
They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God.
‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.’”
He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!”
—Revelation 21:3–4

This past weekend, my daughter and I went to my mom’s home to help her box up or clear out old things that had piled up over the years. At one point, we came across a collection of works my grandmother, Lou Sheffield (we called her “Little Granny”), painted or sketched during her lifetime (November, 1913–May 1993). Some were stored in a large black folder, others were framed and leaned against the back of the closet, and still others were buried in sketchbooks. Several still hung on the walls. Her specialty was watercolors, but I remembered in that moment that her in-home studio smelled of oils and her hands often carried the dust of pastels.

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Initially, as I looked through her work, I saw the transitory nature of life. Was all this creative beauty, this ability to transfer what is inside an imagination onto a canvas for nothing? Is it all ultimately without meaning—her life’s creative work destined to be thrown away or relegated to storage facilities over the next several decades and then never to be seen or known again?

And then almost immediately, a deep longing for heaven welled up within me. I don’t mean a faraway place in the sky where we sing and play harps. I mean the new heavens and the new earth we see in Revelation 21–22. I don’t know that there are words that describe the longing I felt and I’m not sure I’ve ever felt it before, but it’s a bit like the ache you have when you find something from your childhood that reminds you of a good that existed long ago.

The longing right then wasn’t necessarily to see Little Granny again, although that desire has almost overtaken me since I’ve been reflecting and writing about her. There is so much I could tell you about her that has been dormant in my memories for nearly two decades. (She once told my sister and me to pick up the middle of the floor—referring to the mess of toys we had made in our room. My sister and I looked at each other and then pinched the carpet between our fingers, literally picking up the middle of the floor. Then the three of us laughed so hard, tears streamed down our faces.)

The greater, deeper longing I felt standing in my childhood home surrounded by Little Granny’s paintings and sketches was to see her draw and paint again. To watch with wonder my mom’s mom put forth the beauty and the good God planted within her imagination, her heart, and her hands. And her hands will not be twisted and sore from arthritis, she will be able to breathe deeply without her lungs wanting to give out, and she will smile and laugh, tears of joy streaming down her face because of the good.

On Sunday night, in a private conversation, a wise man named Steven Garber said to me: “most of us live as if there are two chapters in the story: the fall and redemption. But there are four chapters: the creation, the fall, redemption, and consummation.” He went on to say that if we forget that God created the world good, we forget that all of creation was supposed to be a certain way and that way was fundamentally good and beautiful. And if we forget that there will be a day when heaven meets earth fully—in the new heavens and the new earth—and all things will be good again, everything we do and experience can begin to seem meaningless.

I have been living as if the story has only two chapters. But with four chapters, there is hope and life and good to come. And there, I will see Little Granny painting and sketching again.

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How All the Pieces Fit Together

Yet God has made everything beautiful for its own time. He has planted
eternity in the human heart, but even so, people cannot see the
whole scope of God’s work from beginning to end.
– Ecclesiastes 3:11

I can tend to get a little lost at the end of the calendar year. I forget the plot a bit. It happens every year and still every year it’s a surprise. I long for an extended break as mid-November approaches and look forward to time with my daughter. But midway through the break, I get restless and become paralyzed by the stretch of open hours. I wonder if what I’m doing for work and ministry matters. I think about relationships past and feel a combination of regret and nostalgia. I think about money and whether there will be enough. I wonder what my purpose is and whether I’m fulfilling it. I think about decisions I’ve made and whether they were right. I don’t mean to be overly dramatic, but I become a little unhinged.

And then I think about puzzles.

In January 2013, I tried a case in federal court in San Diego. It was the first case I’d ever tried in which I was the lead lawyer, which meant not only increased pressure, but also the ability to present the case in the way I thought was best. So, when I stood to give my opening statement, I began by showing the jury this giant puzzle piece:

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After all, the jury has a tough job—even though events take place in chronological order, not every witness was there for every event, and yet each witness generally only testifies once.  As a result, the jury hears the story in pieces—part of the story from one witness, another part from another witness, and so on. No witness can share every aspect of the story from beginning to end. In this way, the story told at a trial is very unlike the stories told in books or movies. Telling a story through trial testimony is more like putting together a puzzle. The case I was trying was no exception—the evidence would be presented in pieces, out of order, and sometimes without any context. Also, there was no picture on a box sitting nearby so they knew what the final picture looked like. Not until the very end would they know the whole story and how all the pieces fit together.

Life is this way—the evidence is presented in pieces, out of order, and sometimes without any context. And there is no box anywhere that shows the final picture. The lack of routine and structure around the end of the year makes me lose sight of the fact that all the pieces will eventually come together into something beautiful and stunning and that every piece had a purpose in the bigger story.

One of the most meaningful gifts I received this year for Christmas was from my niece Lucy. It was this puzzle, which I put it together today:

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Without even knowing it, Lucy reminded me what all the pieces point to—love and the crucified and resurrected Christ (I’m not as convinced about the pets)—and that eventually they will all fit together.

Just Wondering: Some Questions for My Christian Brothers and Sisters

I’m having such a hard time these days with social media and the news. Hatred, anger, and fear underlie almost every post and report. I have been especially surprised by the reactions and comments of Christians.

I haven’t been a follower of Jesus for that long—just since 2008—and I admit I follow him quite imperfectly. So perhaps I’ve missed something. But to my understanding it is love by which he said his followers would be known. (Jn 13:35) He didn’t say go out and be right. He said go out and be love. And he didn’t just say to band together and love each other. He said to love our enemies, to bless them, do good to them, and pray for them. (Mt 5:44; Lk 6:27–28) He said to love our neighbors as we love ourselves. (Mk 12:31) He said to welcome the stranger and visit the prisoner. (Mt 25:34–40) And he said “do not judge others.” (Mt 7:1)

These days, it seems that what we Christians are looking to do is correct behavior instead of love. Before we love you, we want to know whether you are a practicing Muslim or if you are just a Muslim by culture and in name. We want to know whether you are practicing homosexuality or if you’re just attracted to someone of the same sex. We want to know what crime you committed and whether you’ve actually repented. We want to know whether you’re addicted to alcohol or drugs before we buy you a meal. We would rather talk with you about your behavior than lavish you with love. We would rather pass judgment than extend mercy.

I guess I’m just wondering why we do this. What are we afraid of—that Christians will get a bad name? That we will be known as lovers of Muslims, homosexuals, criminals, or addicts? I thought that’s what we were supposed to be known for. No? Or are we worried that being right on certain issues is the thing that ultimately saves us? I thought we were saved by our faith and trust in Jesus. No? And, by the way, why are we afraid anyway? I thought we believed that Jesus has overcome the world and that our hope is in him, not our country, political leaders, or the Second Amendment. No?

Just wondering.

Practicing Bravery

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I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus. – Philippians 1:3–6

Growing up I received the message that it wasn’t okay to say how you were feeling, when you were hurt, or what made you angry. This was all to be stuffed down to maintain a fragile peace and to ensure that you would continue to be loved. This approach to feelings has spilled over into every relationship I’ve ever had. About a year ago, God showed me that He longed to heal this wound in me. And as in all transformation, my participation was required. So, I began practicing bravery in relationships—sharing when I felt hurt, overlooked, undervalued, or angry—every now and then. “Practicing” because I wasn’t sure I could do it or that I’d like it. This practicing is one of my biggest life battles because God is asking me to do the thing that, for me, is the hardest thing.

This weekend while riding in the car, I off-handedly told my 15-year old daughter that something another person said had annoyed me. Even as I said it, I knew there was more to the feeling, but I left it at annoyance. By some miracle, she has not inherited my stuff-it-don’t-say-it philosophy, so she proceeded to tell me it annoyed her that I was so annoyed. She said she couldn’t understand why it mattered so much to me that the other person said what they said. He was just expressing his opinion.

I felt stung and like I was 12 again and my feelings were not valid and shouldn’t be shared. My face burned and my gut tightened.

My daughter’s words hung in the air between us, waiting for a response. Everything in me demanded I not speak and the more time that passed, the more hostile the silence became. I know this kind of silence well; it has been a pillar of my relationships. A full five minutes went by and the silence felt like being in the presence of an old friend. I could wait out the awkwardness and then move ahead as if this moment had never happened. I’d done this all my life. I had a bottomless storage tank in my heart for unexpressed feelings.

I glanced over at my daughter in the passenger seat looking out the window. I know she sensed the tension in this silence and probably began to believe that she had done something wrong—that she shouldn’t have shared her feelings with me. But she could not have known the battle raging in my mind and heart. It started to feel cruel not to say anything even after the hundreds of seconds that had passed since she spoke. It was an act of aggression to shut down. Panic rose in the back of my throat as I considered responding. I prayed, but not in words; it was mostly just silent heart groans.

I breathed deeply, kept both hands firmly on the steering wheel. “Here’s why what he said mattered so much to me: When I was a kid…” I recalled what had happened at least 25 years earlier and the feelings that had been triggered. She listened with all the love she has in her, which is enough to fill an ocean. She asked a soft question and when she did, relief rushed over me and light filled my soul. I did it! And I was okay. I was safe. She still loves me.

We have no idea the battles being waged in the hearts and minds of people around us. May we be gentle and gracious with each other. And may we be brave and open as God heals our wounds.