Washed Away

This post was first shared at www.inspireafire.com. Special thank you to C.J. for sharing her artwork. Photo credits to J. Canino. I hope you enjoy!

Hours of careful effort had etched the colorful chalk drawings into the sidewalk. They were there to brighten the day of the neighborhood and the mail carrier. They certainly brightened my day. A small gift from the hands of the artist.

And then they were gone. Washed away in a pop-up thunderstorm that ran the color into the ditch and down the drain.

Just like that, only grey sidewalk remained.

Why is it that the things we want to stick around never seem to, while the things we want to wash away always seem to stay?

Regardless of whether we’re talking about people, events, or emotions, the good times seem so fleeting, while the challenges seem to endure. Anger, rejection, sadness, anxiety – negative thoughts and bad habits – these things cling to us like dark chalk on sticky fingers. The more we try to brush them away, the more they seem to cover us.

I cry out with David and the prophets who pleaded with God across the pages of the Old Testament: How long, O Lord, must I call for help?

The answer may surprise you.

Because the answer is that He has already answered us. The problem is that we might not always like His answer.

First, He answers us with His forgiveness. That part we like. But then He answers us with change. Not the change of the situation that we were hoping for, but a change of us that we may not have seen coming.

Like drops of rain chiseling into stone, we may find layers of what we once held dear washed away along with that which needs to go. There may be layers of color and layers of grey. There may be flashes of sunlight and coverings of darkness. We hold our sin-stained hands to Him, again and again. We let His promises and His works do the washing that we ourselves are powerless to do.

It does not feel good.

The Bible tells us that weeping only tarries for the night (Psalm 30:5), but oh what a long night it sometimes seems! It feels as though the darkness will never end. It feels quite the opposite of God’s promises – indeed it feels as though joy is fleeting and hardships endure.

But all of this is allowing for the deeper and ever more beautiful creation to be revealed.

There is joy in the very center that God is helping us find. He is teaching us to cling to His promises like the lifeline that they are. Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed. His mercies are new every morning. Joy itself will come in the morning. (Lamentations 3; Psalm 30)

I’ve asked God many times how to actually do this. How does one cling to an invisible God? How does one believe when unable to see in the dark? I do not have a perfect answer, but here is what I am learning:

  • Some nights I fall asleep gripping my Bible in my hand.
  • Some nights I sit on my bed and write scriptures on my wall.
  • Some nights I read pages after pages in my Bible, underlining the word love.
  • Some nights I plead with God to do all the things I cannot, including telling others all the things I can no longer say to them myself.
  • Some nights I write out every verse I can find that tells me something about God’s character.
  • Some nights I write out questions to God.

Every night I am waiting. I am waiting for God to fight my battles, restore my peace, and fill my spirit with joy. You have been washed, the Bible tells me (1 Corinthian 6:11).

And I continue to be washed.

Faith Like a Squeaky Toy

Dog with stuffed toy.
This post first appeared at inspireafire.com.

Have you ever wondered what’s inside a dog’s squeaky toy?

Of course not. Because if you’ve ever had a dog with a squeaky toy, you’ve already seen the inside.

Dog toy stuffing.

Do you know how you got to see the inside? Because the outside was completely chewed up and destroyed.

Some days I feel like that squeaky toy.

The Bible tells us that Jesus Christ is in us (2 Corinthians 13:5). Unlike the inside of my dog’s squeaky toy, I don’t know what that looks like.

Unfortunately, I suspect the way we find out is very similar.

Dog chewing on toy.

In times of trial, I question why God is making me go through this. I feel like I am being ripped apart and chewed up. Or maybe like I’ve been swallowed whole and am navigating a long, dark, winding passage that, quite frankly, stinks.

The reality is even worse than the metaphor.

I argue with myself – whether God is causing the suffering, whether I brought this on myself, whether there is any way to get through this dark night of the soul any faster, whether I am going to make it out at all.

My arguments go nowhere. But this is what the Bible says: That when we are tested by various trials – various fiery trials – the genuineness of our faith is being tested. And not just tested in the sense of does it exist and how strong is it, but tested in the sense of testing gold in the furnace. This means burning off the dross and refining our faith into something even more precious than gold.

Faith, I am coming to see, is not just revealed in the furnace of our trials, but actually made.

“I want a faith like that,” I used to think when I witnessed individuals who seemed to have an unwavering connection to God. I knew it was a dangerous prayer even when I said it, but I didn’t know it was going to hurt so, so bad.

Dog chewing on toy.
It is not always easy to get to see inside.

I do not have an unwavering faith. But I am in the furnace. And I am clinging to this promise: that we are being guarded not by our own feeble strength of faith, but by God’s power. At the last time, the goal of our faith, like a chewed up squeaky toy, is going to be revealed. And that goal is the salvation of our souls (1 Peter 1:5-9).

Christ dwells within us now. Peter (1:8) urges us that though we have not seen Christ, we can love Him, and though we do not see Him now, we can believe in Him. Some day we will see Him face-to-face, but we don’t have to wait until then to know He is here.

Maybe we just have to listen for the squeak.

Sometimes it’s hard to hear over the roar of the furnace, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t there.

A Tribute to Fasting and Grief

Kitchen Timer

A post I wrote this week for Inspire a Fire http://www.inspireafire.com/a-tribute-to-fasting-and-grief

The details of my experience aren’t significant, but the lessons are. A few months ago I did my first-ever fast. Let me tell you what l learned.

First, once I knew the fast was approaching, I became hyper-aware of everything I ate. I expected a new-found appreciation for dinner time, I was surprised when that appreciation started even before the fast.

spoonfulSecond, I was tired and cold. And no matter how much water I drank, I still felt dehydrated. This made me appreciate food as energy in a whole new way.

Third, and most importantly, once the fast had started, there was nothing I could do to speed it up.

Fasting is not something you do. Fasting is something you endure.

Most things in life you can work harder and do better. You can work faster and finish quicker. You can put more in and get more out.

Fasting does not work that way. Because even though the fast may be planned, fasting is not an action you take. It’s an action you don’t take.

Several times over the course of just one day I would catch myself feeling the unpleasantness and wanting to do something. I was willing to go through this. I just wanted to go through it a little faster. And I would have to remind myself there was nothing to be done but to continue on with my day while the fast slowly ran its course.

I had no idea then that God was preparing me for what was going to happen next.

Exactly two weeks after my fasting experience, my father passed away unexpectedly. Exactly six weeks later, my dog of 15 years similarly passed away.

And here I am.

Paw print stoneGrief, like fasting, leaves me tired and cold. I sleep and do not get rested. I eat and do not get energized. I can tell I am not quite functioning like I should, but I am powerless to change it.

I find myself thinking back to that lesson from fasting.

Grief, too, is not something you do. It’s something that happens to you. It is something you endure.

Grief, like fasting, is not an action to take. It is the absence of a million small actions you no longer take.

There is nothing that can be done to speed the grief process. There may be grief-coping skills. There may be people who come alongside you. There is the Great Comforter himself who shows up in surprising ways. But all of that does not speed the process; it merely helps you endure.

Strangely, I find a modicum of comfort in recognizing this.

My job is to endure. That’s it.

Three strands and crossIt’s okay if I feel cold and tired and am not functioning like I should. My job is to endure.

It’s okay if I feel sad or angry or lonely. My job is to endure.

It’s okay if I try something new and fail. I will try again. Because my job is to endure.

I learned this lesson before, and I am re-learning it every day: there is nothing to be done but to continue on with my day while the grieving slowly runs its course.

“Let them grieve as one having hope,” my pastor often prays.

And hope, according to Romans 15:4, comes from two places: The Bible. And endurance.

Whether you are currently grieving or will someday face a new grief, hold onto this, my friends. Let us endure, moment by moment, to the end. We cannot speed the journey, but we can choose to live each moment while we wait.