NDTD: Leaving the Pigsty

It started when I was nine.

A few days before, some friends were giggling about this thing called sex. Curiosity had been stirring within me, and I finally did it: I searched for it on Google. Up came countless links to pornographic websites. I clicked on many of them, and the screen was soon covered with explicit pop-ups. A flood of intense shame came over me. But I wanted to see more.

I almost got caught soon afterwards, and I resolved to never do it again. I came too close to being exposed, and the shame was too much. I soon learned that you hide to survive.

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Christmas Spirit, Christmas Longing

In Luke 1, Zechariah the priest was filled with the Holy Spirit and burst into song, overjoyed with the news that the time had come for God to send the Promised Rescuer. These were the lyrics:

“Blessed be the Lord God of Israel,
 for he has visited and redeemed his people 
and has raised up a horn of salvation for us
 in the house of his servant David, 
as he spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets from of old, that we should be saved from our enemies
 and from the hand of all who hate us;
 to show the mercy promised to our fathers
 and to remember his holy covenant,
 the oath that he swore to our father Abraham, to grant us
 that we, being delivered from the hand of our enemies, 
might serve him without fear, 
in holiness and righteousness before him all our days. 
And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High; 
for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways to give knowledge of salvation to his people
 in the forgiveness of their sins,
 because of the tender mercy of our God,
 whereby the sunrise shall visit us from on high
 to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, 
to guide our feet into the way of peace.” —Luke 1:68-79

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You’re Not A Sad Story

I love being around high-school students because they haven’t quite learned how to make their emotions “presentable.” I often find myself telling high-school girls that adults experience the same exact things they do: discouragement, betrayal, confusion, doubt, fear, and frustration. The only difference between an adult experiencing these things and a high-schooler is that, as an adult, I am able to mask it all more effectively. The struggle, the angst, the tangled web of emotions, the heartache that they experience as teenagers isn’t just a result of the fact that they are in a period called adolescence. It’s a result of being a broken, sinful human in a broken, sinful world; whether you’re 90 or 9, suffering is real, the struggle in this world is real.

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Stories Matter

We sat across the table from one another, casually chatting about life and school. She said something about how she was having a hard time because of what everyone thought about her.

“Well, what do people think of you?” I asked.

“Whore.”

My eyes met hers just as she was moving her gaze back down to her plate and quickly out the window.

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Reflections On Forgiveness

How is a relationship between two people with wounded hearts, relentless insecurities, and haunting fears sustained in the darkness? It shouldn’t survive. It’s not logical. It’s not smart. And it’s certainly not safe. But neither is grace. And grace is what sustains it.

Forgiveness is a funny thing. It doesn’t take away pain. It doesn’t exchange mourning for happiness. It doesn’t deny wrongs done. It doesn’t make anything easier. But it does bring freedom. Forgiveness, like repentance, must be done continuously, and that’s something that I’ve been learning a lot lately. Peter asked Jesus, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?” Jesus’ shocking reply is, “Every time” (cf. Matt 18:22). How can forgiveness know no bounds? We can forgive because someone else has paid our debt, and we are free (cf Matt 18:33). We don’t owe anything anymore.

I have been wrestling with what forgiveness is on a human level—what it means, what it does. I want forgiveness to be a one-time deal; I want it to tangibly soothe the pain and clear the slate for good. I want the forgiveness I grant never to grow stale and rancid, but it does. God’s forgiveness is the only kind without an expiration date. My forgiving is only possible when I realize that someone else has paid my debt and that I don’t owe anything. I’ve been radically and completely forgiven. It’s scandalous, and it’s unfair. But it is where the heartbeat of life is found.

I’ve been learning that forgiveness means releasing someone from the obligation of owing you anything. The flesh screams, “I deserve to be repaid!” The Spirit whispers, “Jesus is enough.” The gospel tells me that Jesus is all that I need and that his finished work has secured for me everything that I could never obtain for myself. Forgiveness is only possible if everything needed is already possessed. In Christ, not only are our debts canceled, but we are given all of his riches. We have everything we need. I have everything I need. But unbelief creeps in every day. And the whole of the Christian life is, “I believe; help my unbelief!” As Jesus helps my faith grow–even a little bit–that much more is my forgiving others possible.

Compassion spurs on forgiveness when I am tempted to build up resentment. There are times when the hurt still wells up and I’d like to tell the other person what it feels like. But my hurt is not theirs to bear. And they have their own. There is only One who can bear that weight—and He has borne it totally. When I feel that way, I try to imagine what it would be like to be my offender. To be both the victim of affliction and the culprit of infliction is the vicious bite of the curse. And we are all both. And so when I try to imagine, I feel the tension in my clenched fists begin to fade. I see brokenness, which is no stranger to anyone. I see familiar fear. I see myself. I see an equal need for grace. And I pray: Lord, have mercy on both of us.

I Am A Poor Wayfaring Stranger

Oftentimes I think that we forget an extremely important thing when approaching Scripture—namely, that it interprets us. In coming before Scripture, we need to remember that, as God’s Word, it has the ultimate authority to describe the story of the world in which we live and diagnose the problem of its current state in which we find ourselves each day. God’s Word tells us about us. And when we begin to understand the Story, we will be surprised to find some of our most exhausting and seemingly hopeless experiences validated.

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It Was An Ordinary Day

It was an ordinary day filled with chocolate stains, ice water, and the sting of death.

I walked into her house. The kids were watching a TV show—their focus broken every few minutes in order to wander into the other room or play with that toy for the tenth time. She walked into the kitchen with eyes that reflected the waters of her heart: confused, tired, devastated.

“You know that couple we’re friends with? The one whose baby has been nonresponsive for the past three weeks since the birth?”

“Yes?”

“They decided to pull the tubes today at 2:30. It could take as little as two or three minutes, but I heard about another couple whose baby took sixteen hours to go.”

We glance at the stove. 2:55.

Her little girl hoists herself up onto one of the chairs at the counter. “Mommy, can I have a pudding?”

I get her a cup out of the refrigerator and peel off the top, handing it to her so she can lick it. She smiles and sheepishly reaches out to receive the gift.

I continue to listen as her mother explains more about the couple who is now sitting in the hospital, watching their only child take her last breaths of her too-short life. I ask some questions, and she goes on as she prepares some food to take to the family later that evening.

We eventually move into the living room and sit down on the couches. Silence.

“I just keep thinking about them. I just keep praying that God takes her quickly.”

Her daughter skips down the hallway and joins her on the couch, her white and blue shirt laced with chocolate pudding stains. I smile at her and continue to sip my ice water from the glass in my hand.

Here we are, another ordinary day filled with chocolate stains and ice water. Except, suddenly, my water tastes like life and the remnants of chocolate pudding look like grace. The sting of death has transformed the ordinary into the sacred.

Forty-five minutes pass by and I get in my car to go home. The clouds above roll ahead of me. Some daring leaves scamper across my lane in the wind. Single droplets of rain assault my windshield—one, two, then twenty-three.

Today, darkness settled in the afternoon. The sun seemed to stop shining. And there was groaning…

…echoes of another Day…

A day when a Father watched His Son take His last breaths of life. It was three in the afternoon, and darkness came over the land, and the sun stopped shining. And when this Son died, there was rumbling, not of a mere thunderstorm, but of Death itself surrendering.

On that Day, Death died, so that on days like this when darkness comes too soon and there’s rumbling in the distance, we can be sure that whatever is taken from us, is never taken by a hand of justice, but only grace.

On days like this when the groaning turns into white noise and forsakenness seems real, we can remember that Day, when one Man groaned, once and for all, so that our soul-sounds can be longings for home rather than the agonies of the home-less.

It was an ordinary day filled with chocolate stains, ice water, and the sting of death.

It was another reminder that, no matter how normal these days feel, there is nothing normal about a world that aches and groans. A reminder that chocolate pudding and water are never just food and drink when the Son of man has taken on flesh and spent his life eating and drinking with those who would later stain him and leave him parched.

A reminder that, no matter how many pages in we are,

We will reach the final chapter. When we have eyes that can stare into the sun, eyes that only squint for the Shekinah, then we will see laughing children pulling cobras by their tails, and hawks and rabbits playing tag.” -N.D. Wilson

The Unnecessary Burden Of Carrying Yourself

Jesus, some weeks feel like a whilwind–times when I’ve been caught up in everything you’re doing, but I haven’t been caught up in you.

There seems to be a pattern here.

When you start doing something really neat, I usually start to function like it’s my project and my job to carry it out and get it done. I take the reigns, and immediately begin to worry and doubt.

I’m just like Peter.

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When We Can’t Fix It

While sharing prayer requests with some people at my church, a weary mother expressed the heartache and confusion she is experiencing as she watches her teenage son break under all of the anger and pain he’s been carrying around. Another woman looked at her with eyes full of compassion and said, “We so badly want to fix our kids’ problems, but we can’t. And that is so hard to realize. And when we can’t fix it, we just have to hurt with them. I am so sorry. Hurting with your children is so painful.”

The majority of my life has been spent trying to fix things: myself, my circumstances, and problems that others bring to me. I so desperately want to fix what’s broken so that I don’t have to feel the brokenness. My life was a lot easier when I fixed everything. I wasn’t burdened by my own depravity. I wasn’t disturbed by my inconvenient emotions. I wasn’t crippled by my own inabilities. I wasn’t torn up over the fallenness of the world. My heart wasn’t broken for my friends. I was never interrupted by tears shed over the burdens of others.

But my humanity was hanging by a thread. I was barely alive. My heart was calloused, cold. I was trying to be God. And since I was trying to be God, I couldn’t have possibly been trying to be human. I was trying to hold it all, and as a result, I wouldn’t let myself be held.

And then, through two dear friends, I began to see that feeling was a part of real life—with all of its joys and sorrow—and it was actually something very beautiful. And I started to crave that real life; I longed for that, I yearned to be able to just sit and cry because that’s just what creatures are free to do.

And so I prayed. I prayed that God would break me. I prayed that He would enable me to feel what Jesus felt, He felt everything, and He felt it deeply. In John 11, Jesus goes to be with Mary and Martha after their brother Lazarus has died. When Jesus arrives at Lazarus’ tomb, we see something profound: Jesus hurts with this grieving family; he weeps. He willingly feels the full weight of all the pain instead of immediately fixing the situation. Later on, we know that he does ultimately fix it. But he chooses to feel first. Jesus is showing us that love suffers with, before it rescues. Only He had the ability to rescue, and He chooses to suffer first.

There is only one Rescuer, and we can stop trying so hard to be Him. There is only one Rescuer, and we are free to be fellow sufferers, to carry each other’s burdens, because we have One who daily bears ours.

Jesus, give us more of a willingness to hurt with others. We can’t fix them. We can’t even fix ourselves. Help us to move towards brokenness, not needing to fear the pain, for you have borne all of our griefs and sorrows. You have taken them to the grave, and the tomb is now empty. They have been conquered; they can no longer conquer us. We are free to feel, for we no longer have to hold all things together because they are being held together in you.