Tag Archives: Religion

Spring Breaks and Breaks and Breaks Me

 

creative commons; d. sharon pruitt

creative commons; d. sharon pruitt

 

It’s spring after a long winter. Too long. Too much.

Farmers tilling up dirt, making soil ready for bounty. God is tilling my heart. I am learning, feeling this as I put hands to the dirt in worship this morning, preparing spring ground for summer flowers.

The frost has heaved up rocks, pushed them to the surface. I pull them from beneath the soil and wonder where they come from, how far they’ve traveled only to be tossed aside.

The weeds—they’re so alive. They come up first, pushing through as a glimmer of hope. Toxin disguised as hope. They kill, they choke. I’m pulling up them up and out of this ground but each tug is filled with uncertainty—is this ugly thing only weeks away from radiant bloom? Or is this the poison that strangles out beauty not yet born?

The invaders, the unwelcome, I find their roots so shallow. So weak. A slight tug and they give way.

The flowers, they’re deep rooted, strong. Clinging to dirt deep. Awaking from winter’s long slumber. They don’t go gentle.

Oh, how I wish to be a flower. An iris. A lily. A tulip. A daisy. Dug in so deep. Bursting with beauty and light and newness. A beacon of hope, a pennant of promise.

Oh, how I have longed for spring, for the winter to roll back on my soul, for the Vinedresser to pull out heaved rocks and poison-plants.

This winter of my soul has lasted much longer than New England snow and ice, stuffed turkeys and heart-shaped candy boxes. I found that no jacket or mittens or boots could keep me warm and safe and dry from my own wretchedness.

I’ve waited long for this season—this time of new and fresh and beautiful; this time bursting with life and potential; this time of tearing up dead to make way for life. I’ve waited to feel the Farmer’s hands at work, to feel the plow meet the field of my wintered heart.

And it’s here. Tearing and sprouting and blossoming.

Spring breaks and breaks and breaks me and it feels like life.

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Prayers & Promises

I didn’t know what to say. I didn’t know what to do but the words formed at my lips, pressed from my mouth before I could grab hold of them:

Can I pray for you?

But…I don’t…I can’t…I…

I am empty of jargon and oft-quoted phrases and trite expressions.

I am silenced. I’ve offered prayers that I cannot utter.

This moment of collision—my empty faith, my thankless heart, this broken world, His hurting people.

My mouth is dry, my throat is tight. I choke out His name.

Father.

One who spoke stars and filled seas and sculpted Adam and fashioned Eve and forsook True Son. Maker of worlds and heaven and these clammy hands and this brain knocking about for words. One who cradles close and promises peace.

Abba.

My voice is quiet and slow. Each word drags heavy and pulls tight.

I’m clawing at Your goodness and struggling to pull it close, to make it real, find it tangible. I’m drawing near, this time not just to Your promises, but because of them.

Come closer.

I’m asking and seeking and knocking. I’m drawing near. I’m offering up these bumbling words and broken heart as an invitation, as a desperate plea.

And another collision— the Giver of good and perfect gifts, my restless heart, His peace.

“The sacrifice you desire is a broken spirit. You will not reject a broken and repentant heart, O God.” –Psalm 51:17

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A Call, A Promise, & Peace

There are days when I feel like I can’t approach the throne of God.

Today is one of those days.

I feel distant, I feel alone. I feel away.

These are the days when I deny myself grace, deny myself the promise of forgiveness because denial is the path to God, is it not?

I feel like if I’m quiet long enough, if I don’t ask for anything today, if I keep my shoulders hunched and my eyes down in a posture of shame, God will beckon me to come.

I know, I know that I am wrong. I am wrong a thousand times over.

The very essence of God is a beckon to come, a call to communion. The very Spirit of God, alive inside my wretched frame, a seal of relationship. The only Son, by his voice, invites me to Come.

The hand of God, extended always, not to push away but to bring near.

His Grace is crying out into my darkness and it is saying I am here.

Remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility. –Ephesians 2:12-16, ESV

It is finished. It is done. I have won.

And this is his banner over me: peace. A flag of nearness and promise.

It flies high today, just as it does every day.

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Enough with the Enoughs

Today is a big day.

Today is the first time that something I’ve written gets published not just on my blog.

Here’s an excerpt from my post, Enough with the Enoughs. The rest of it can be found on Quarterlife Woman.

“I’ve been teaching myself bad theology, that the only thing that matters is what people think of me and feel towards me- if men find me attractive, if women find me friend-worthy, if my coworkers find me dependable, if my family finds me faithful.

And I’m just now realizing that I am full to the hilt of fear.

I’ve read 1 John 4 just about every day this week, clinging to all of the truth that I can find.

Perfect love casts out all fear.

My fear is not just a lack of faith. It is a rejection of truth. It is the bold-faced belief of a lie: that God is not good, that He is not trustworthy, that He is not enough.

I never feel like enough. I never feel success though I chase it all day long.”

Read the rest of it here!

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Senses in the Morning

Breathe.

Slow down. Sip your coffee. Give thanks.

Breathe deeper.

Listen to the quiet. Hear the house creak. Hear the heater roar. Hear the refrigerator hum. Hear the coffee pot click. Hear your heart beat.

Be still just a while longer.

Do not hurry into life. This is a moment that you can never have back, as simple as it may be.

The simplest moments are often the sweetest.

Drink it in. Taste the coffee. Taste the cinnamon and ginger and nutmeg. Taste the cream. Taste the warmth.

Feel the mug between your hands. Feel the comfort in this home. Feel the fullness of this life.

Pour another cup.

Close your eyes. Breathe.

Be content. Be satisfied. Smile.

This. This is a day that the Lord has made, has gifted. To you. To me.

Rejoice and be glad in it.

© Alyssa Bell; February 5, 2013.

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You are there.

I don’t like to be alone much. It makes me think. It makes me feel.

I don’t like the quiet because it makes me feel alone.

It’s quiet and I’m alone but only in a metaphorical sense. It’s midnight but Miranda is reading just a few yards away, the fluorescent glow of her iPhone reflecting off our yellow walls.

I just finished reading in the Gospel of Matthew. I closed the Book, shut the light off for the night.

I can’t shut off my mind.

I’m thinking about the white washed tombs that Jesus talked about.

I’m thinking about all of the dead things inside of me. It feels like they’re living a lot of times.

How can something be dead and yet feel so alive?

Possess some sort of life? Maintain some measure of power?

I want to make a list of everyone that I know who is a Pharisee. I want to succumb to the idea that they are the problem with the church in America. I want to write their name on a list of those to blame for the defamation of Jesus’ name. But I can’t put the pen to the paper of my mind.

I am plagued by this idea, haunted by this thought:

It is me.

I’ve spent the last year casting blame in each direction, blaming the gossip and the liar and the Pastor and the parishioner. I’ve spent the last year with my eyes wide-open to the hypocrisy of those around me and yet completely blind to my own.

I have a beam in my eye. I can’t see clearly.

I’ve spent the last year leading, limping along and hoping that no one would notice. That no one would find me out. That no one would run and tell. That no one would banish me to the fringes, to be alone with myself.

Anything but that.

I don’t think I’m alone in my distain for solidarity. It’s a fear of many. Fear that their loved ones will leave them- physically, emotionally. Fear of rejection. I live in fear of alone.

They say that it is in that aloneness that God speaks. That it is in that quiet where the groanings of our souls are realized.

But I am afraid of quiet because it is rarely there that I hear God. The quiet is where my sins whisper and my desires chafe against my heart, rubbing it raw. The still night is when my doubts come creeping closer and my fear comes to rattle my bedposts.

But late on this night, as my veins pump fear, my soul cries Truth:

“Where shall I go from your Spirit? Or where shall I flee from your presence? If I ascend to heaven, you are there! If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there! If I take the wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me. If I say, ‘Surely the darkness shall cover me, and the light about me be night,’ even the darkness is not dark to you; the night is bright as the day, for darkness is as light with you.” –Psalm 139:7-11

His perfect love casting out my fear. His peace guarding my heart. His light casting out my darkness. His love covering my sin. His hand hemming me in, behind and before.

Even there. Even here. You are there- holding me, leading me.

{You are there.}

© January 29, 2013, Alyssa Bell.

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Cast them on Jesus.

I hadn’t even asked the question and He had already answered it.

I didn’t need to part my lips because He already knew it all together.

“God, I don’t even know what to do with all this sin.” That was the thought that popped into my head and that was it. That was all it took- just a thought.

Cast it on Jesus, He said. Cast it on Jesus.

There are moments in my life that are so thick, so raw, and they terrify me. These moments when my sin has just completely consumed me, when I feel so far from Eden. Like it was never even there.

But that’s the answer He gives in those moments:

Cast them on Jesus.

Because that is all we need to hear. That is the only answer we need. Jesus.

There are times where I want to gently place my sin on Jesus. Or to seal it up in a nice envelope and leave it on Jesus’ doorstep, thinking “I don’t want to disturb him.” But instead God says cast your sins upon Jesus.

Cast is not a gentle word. It is a word of force, of violence. To cast stones. To cast off chains. Not to roll them gently but to throw them. To throw your sins as far as you can get them away from yourself and where they land is on Jesus.

And they more than land there, they are absolved there. They are paid for there. They are forgotten there.

That is the amazing thing about grace. That is the thing that I can’t understand. That is the reason why the gospel does not make sense to me all too often.

That is why grace is so radical. That is why grace is so different. Because God did not say, “cast your sins away from you; keep your distance, groveling on your hands and knees, distraught, unable to show your face.” He does not say that.

Shame is solely a game of the world.

Instead, He was hung on a tree, put there by people like me, who were me. Not by the outlaws, but by the ones who live their lives by the law. He was shamed so that we could be shameless; bruised so that we could be blessed; forsaken so that we could be forgiven.

So, when sin tempts you to despair, when the darkness in you is paralyzing, look to your Wounded Healer- not to your sin.

Cast them on Jesus.

 

© January 13, 2013. Alyssa Bell.

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REBLOG: The Reason for the Season

I always feel like such a sucky Christian on Christmas. Every year I say that I’ll “remember the true meaning of Christmas” but I soon discover that December 25 is mostly about pecan pie and ripping paper off of boxes & out of pretty bags. The day comes to a close and I find my hand holding again my same baby blue mechanical pencil, realizing the severe lack of Christ in my supposedly Christ-centered holiday.

Every family has their own Christmas traditions. For us, Christmas means Catholic church. This also, for some reason, means that tradition & ritual trumps personal relationships with God which also means that I have to bite my tongue for an hour.

The Priest gave a mini sermon on Christmas Eve entitled “The 5 Reasons We Should Celebrate Christ’s Birth.” The reasons were as lame as his sermon title was trite. The number one reason, the most important reason given was because of the amazingly selfless things that people do by motivation of the Christmas story.

No. That is not why we celebrate Christmas. This is not about people becoming nuns or missionaries or ascetics.

Christmas is the fulfillment of a promise. A promise made THOUSANDS of years before that first Christmas night. A promise that has literally been hanging over humanity since the dawn of time— that God would come to us.

We are lucky that we’ve only ever had to wait 364 days until Christmas. I think of the people who so eagerly awaited the fulfillment of that promise, who died with faith in their hearts that although they had not seen it come to pass, God would deliver. I think of the stories of Simeon & Ana would had served their entire lives in the temple of God, awaiting the arrival of the Promised One only to see the young boy Jesus & know— He is the salvation which God had prepared in the presence of all people.

We celebrate Christmas because without it there is no Easter. Without the lamb, there can be no sacrifice; without the Christ, there can be no salvation; without the promised birth, there can be no atoning death.

We celebrate Christmas not just because a baby was born in the most humble of circumstances but because this baby- the one prophesied of by prophets, hoped in by the hopeless, & promised by the Provider came to usher in a new age: a baby who would unite again man & God. A baby who would grow to be a man, who would then surrender himself to be a Savior.

That is love. That is hope. That is Christmas.

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“Yes, Lord. You know I like you.”

Jesus met up with his disciples for breakfast after being dead for three days. He pulled Peter aside- the Peter who hadn’t exactly been a “faithful friend.” In fact, he denied ever knowing Him.

But Jesus didn’t pull away. Instead he pulled Peter in close and asked him, “Do you love me?”

I can’t imagine the brokenness of Peter’s heart. I can’t imagine the cracks crying out, converging on one another.  I hear the echo of The Words, “if you love me, you will keep my commandments.”

And my heart begins to shatter.

Peter and I. The muscles that keep our lungs breathing, minds reeling, blood flowing. Our hearts dissolving into dust in perfect synchrony.  

And Peter says, “Yes. You know that I do.”

But he didn’t get it. Even after Jesus asked him three times, he still didn’t get it. But Jesus STILL said: Care for my people. Build my church. Love them. Lead them.

The once faithless Peter called to build a community of faith.

This story is shared in only one of the gospels and yet I feel like it’s written on every page of my life. This same question posed over and over and over again.

“Alyssa, do you love me?”

“Yes, Lord. You know I like you.”

I don’t get it. I don’t get it. I don’t get it. I don’t get it.

Here I am. Denying not three times, not six times, not twelve.  Denying with each beat of my rebellious heart and yet Jesus still says to me: Love them. Forgive them. Care for them. Show them.

He is calling on the broken to bind the broken. He is calling on the wounded to nurse the sick. He is calling on the downhearted to lift the heads of the troubled. He is calling on the often faithless to share their faith.

He is calling on me.

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Twenty Five.

November,

What do you think you’re doing here? Go away.

I’ve spent the last six months thinking about my birthday, about how on the twenty-ninth day of the not-fall-but-not-winter month of November, I will turn twenty five.

I’ve let this number terrify me. I’ve let it bully me into a corner of unfulfillment. A corner where I’ve etched all of my ‘I want to’s and By the time I am’s.’ I’ve never actually made a list like that on paper but I’ve thought them- all the things I want or wanted or needed.

I’ve lived so long peeping into the windows of other people’s lives and saying, “I want that.” Coveting. Stealing with my mind. Robbing my friends and magazines and movies and my past of things that I want for myself. Now. I’ve imposed timelines on my own life and that timeline is always now.

But I tell you this, as I approach the beginning of my assent to age thirty, not one of those things is crossed off. My future is the murky and obscure that my lists tried to prevent.

I could let that be a discouragement. I could hold onto it and cry into it and rock back and forth like a child. I could stuff it into a jar with pitiful pleas of ‘why me?’ and ‘why not?’ and carry it in the breast pocket of my soul. I could. I want to. Envy and bitterness- these come easily to me. Almost natural, a conditioned response.

Or I could recognize my undisturbed, uncrossed-out lists as grace. Each item unchecked as an ounce of God’s compassion. I could begin to count the unexpected blessings that I’ve received or the strange places I’ve been as gifts. Undeserved gifts. That God knew and planned for me a life marked by fullness, one that does not necessarily echo the lives of many around me. I could let them serve as a reminder that my story is individually Authored, inexplicably person. That the things I want are not always the things I need and the things I really need are actually the things that I would have thought to want.

So, here’s to twenty five. To another year of surprises and musings, of unexpected twists and challenges. To standing up and growing up. To traveling and learning and loving and growing and baking and changing. To another of breathing and falling on my face and discovering God’s mercies in beautifully new ways.

To another year living in the obscure, chasing the Light.

[“I’ve learned that God sometimes allows us to find ourselves in a place where we want something so bad that we can’t see past it. Sometimes we can’t even see God because of it. When we want something that bad, it’s easy to mistake what we truly need for the thing that we really want. When this sort of thing happens, and it seems to happen to everyone, I’ve found it’s because what God has for us is obscured from view, just around another bend in the road.” – Bob Goff, Love Does p.35-36]

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