Sunday, November 13, 2016

In the Storm

What a month or so it has been. I’m finding this particular period of time difficult to describe because it’s been such a blend of extremes. Lately, we’ve seen temples in Thailand, taken tuk tuk rides through rural Cambodia, admired red cliffs and turquoise water along Australia’s Great Ocean Road, and soaked up the pastoral perfection of New Zealand. But enormous, chaotic chasms have cut in and between these mountaintop-type experiences. Let’s start with the hurricane.

One week before we were due Down Under our governor issued a mandatory evacuation order due to the threat of Hurricane Matthew making landfall. We spent five days at my in-laws’ home in North Carolina along with Taylor’s parents, my parents, my brother-in-law, and two dogs. We lost power after three of those days and spent our remaining time together avoiding cold showers, preparing food using alternative methods, playing games by candlelight, and preparing ourselves for the fact that the family trip to Australia we had booked six months prior might not be happening. When we returned home we found that Hilton Head Island was standing, but it was also stripped and changed. The 48 hours before our non-refundable departure were spent with chainsaws, blowers, and rakes in hand as we dug ourselves and a few neighbors out of the debris piled on our homes. We removed a massive fallen limb from our roof, covered the fractured skylight in our kitchen with a tarp, threw some clothes in a carry-on and did our best to mentally prepare to leave the United States. Hurricane Matthew caused millions of dollars of damage to Hilton Head, and debris removal in our neighborhood alone is expected to stretch well into 2017.


And then there’s the election. Taylor and I watched the results roll in from a hotel room in Te Anau. From the television to my Twitter feed, first came shock, then came anger and accusations and finger-pointing and shaming and caustic headlines and countless expressions of hopelessness. The next day, while on a beautiful walk through a green, green forest that spilled out onto a blue, blue lake surrounded by tall, tall mountains, I cried. For the division, for the lack of understanding, for the readiness to talk and the inability to listen, for the fact that no matter whose name had been announced I would have been left with the same lack of confidence and trust in our leadership I was then experiencing. These feel like especially dark times, don’t they? And yet we are not the only country whose streets are currently filled with protestors. As I type, thousands of men and women are marching in South Korea and calling for the resignation of their president amid accusations of corruption.


Now for the present. Around 12:30 this morning our Christchurch hotel room began to shake and creak and sway. I woke up out of a dead sleep thinking that we were on a cruise ship and that the waves outside of our window must be huge. In reality, we were experiencing a magnitude 7.5 earthquake along with the rest of New Zealand. Once we were both conscious of our actual surroundings, Taylor called the front desk of our hotel and asked what to do. They answered on the first ring, said “Stay in the room” and immediately hung up. The screech of some kind of metal-on-metal scraping – maybe the building’s newly renovated infrastructure, swaying with the movement of the earth – continued in our room, and I looked up at the ceiling and wondered if it was going to fall on me and if I would be crushed, or if I would survive it and be pulled out of the rubble like the people who had survived the devastation of the 2011 quake in Christchurch that made headlines across the world; the one the city is still recovering from. Once the shaking stopped we got dressed and walked down the stairwell and into the lobby. Most of the other guests were already there, circled up in groups and taking turns describing what it felt like. Someone at the front desk said that we could go back to our rooms and that there wouldn’t be any aftershocks, but he was wrong. We experienced several while still in the lobby, one strong enough to send a large portion of the lobby contingent running out of the doors and into the streets.


Following the scare of the biggest aftershock, the general manager and several employees put on yellow vests and announced that tea and coffee would be served. A tsunami warning had been issued but they felt confident in the combination of our hotel’s downtown location and 30 million dollar renovation; there was no need to leave and, again, we really could go back to our rooms and try to get some sleep as soon as we felt comfortable doing so. Around 2 a.m. Taylor and I decided against evacuation and did just that. We took the hotel staff at their word because they are the experts; the ones who endured the 2011 earthquake and came out stronger on the other side. We left the United States a month ago in the wake of one natural disaster and we are leaving New Zealand today less than 24 hours after another. For the first time ever I am able to literally say that our world has been shaken.

And now I write. I am sitting at the airport, waiting to board a plane and wade back into the waters of post-hurricane Hilton Head and post-election America, and I write because it’s the best way I know how to process it all. The one-two-three punch of the last month has left me with much to consider, and strangely enough, I haven’t felt a peace about any of it until last night – the moment I realized that the roof of a Christchurch hotel might very well crush me in bed.

It was an impression in that moment, but this afternoon it is more well-defined: from the hurricane, to the division, to the earthquake – in all of the current chaos – I see and I feel and I believe that everything on and under the earth is groaning in expectation of and longing for the return of Christ.

For all creation is waiting eagerly for that future day when God will reveal who his children really are. Against its will, all creation was subjected to God’s curse. But with eager hope, the creation looks forward to the day when it will join God’s children in glorious freedom from death and decay. For we know that all creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. (see Romans 8:19-24, NLT)

I have so fervently clung to the illusion that I have control over this life of mine. I think last night’s earthquake may have finally been the death of that. You see, we were given a week’s notice to evacuate before Hurricane Matthew made landfall. If I couldn’t control the election results, I could at least exercise my right to vote and feel as though I had some small say in the final decision. But you cannot predict an earthquake. You can simply endure it once it strikes. I have never felt so helpless before, and at the same time, I have never felt so completely wrapped in the “peace that surpasses understanding” (Philippians 4:7). Last night I realized that no matter my end – if I was truly going to be crushed in my bed that very night, or if Christ’s return will happen within my lifetime, or if I’m destined to meet Him in another 70 years or so – I am safe and held and secure in the Father’s love, and in His plans for me and the world that He created.  

Can anything ever separate us from Christ’s love? Does it mean he no longer loves us if we have trouble or calamity, or are persecuted, or hungry, or destitute, or in danger, or threatened with death? (As the Scriptures say, “For your sake we are killed every day; we are being slaughtered like sheep.”) No, despite all these things, overwhelming victory is ours through Christ, who loved us. And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:35-39, NLT)

Before leaving for this trip I had really hoped that New Zealand would be perfect. Like apparently every other American, over the last few months I had been tossing around the idea of packing my bags and running away to another country if things got too bad at home. I wanted New Zealand to be that beautiful island of refuge that Taylor and I could escape to, maybe permanently, if America and the rest of the world began to sink. But even before last night’s earthquake I had already realized the truth – there is no heaven on earth. There is beauty here, but there is no place I can run to where sadness, sorrow, and sickness of heart and mind and soul and body cannot touch me. And so I have two choices: to fight to regain my semblance of control and obsess over the darkness and the muck and the mire, or to choose to remain in the rest and peace I felt last night – the one that enabled me to actually fall back asleep as the aftershocks of an earthquake continued to shake the walls around me. 

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Words and Love

"Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart
Be acceptable in Your sight,
O LORD, my strength and my Redeemer."
(Psalm 19:14 NKJV)

There are so many words to say about the state of this world, this nation, right now. And yet I know that no matter how purposefully I choose them, my own words will never be enough.

Enough to speak to and soothe the pain on every side.

Enough to find the common ground we can all shake our heads "yes" to.

Enough to universally satisfy; enough to keep that dreaded reaction—offense—from springing up in whoever is on the receiving end of the words I share.

We live in a world that's desperate to define microaggressions in the hopes that other words, like marginalization, will cease to exist. And yet a quick scroll through Twitter will tell you that, by and large, we still see no problem with—in a very macro way—using our words to annihilate the viewpoint of anyone who dares to disagree with us about any given issue, usually via an attack on said person's character or intellect.  

Raise your hand if you've ever seen the words "go kill yourself" tweeted to a politician, an activist, or just some person on the internet who accidentally composed their thoughts the wrong way and went viral because of it.

The words we use don't line up with the things we say we want for this country, this nation.

We have so much work to do in the way of love.

And speaking of love—I believe we've watered it down. That's because I don't believe that love is an emotion. It's not a feeling. It's not something that can be given and then taken away when the person we're loving says, or does, or even believes something wrong.

"Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. He who does not love does not know God, for God is love." (1 John 4:7-8)

I believe that there's good in the world, and I believe that when we use our words to cry out for more love, we mean it. But I also believe that in so many ways, we've gotten it backwards. We've elevated love to the position of a deity, believing that if we can just love more this world will be fixed. This is futile, because the truth is that love isn't God. God is love. 

The Love that He personifies is sacrificial, completely devoid of selfishness, all-knowing and constant anyway. The fact that my God can see every motivation of my heart and continue His perfect Love towards me brings me to my knees. 

Because here is something that I know He sees: I want to be loved by all men. I want everyone to like me and agree with what I have to say. I have an actual fear of being ostracized due to a misinterpretation of my beliefs or words; of being dragged through the mud of social media and labeled as something I'm not. Of being hated and reviled. Maligned and misunderstood.

And yet then I recall that my God already was. 

The same people who waved palm fronds and welcomed Jesus to Jerusalem spit on His face and shouted "crucify" just a few days later. Jesus, who never sinned. Jesus, who never had mixed motivations. Jesus, who had spent three years giving sight to the blind, healing the lame, and raising the dead out of an overflow of compassion for all men. Jesus, the Son of God who could have justified Himself in an instant and obliterated anyone and everyone else who said otherwise. 

This Jesus, My God, did not go to the cross with vengeance and anger in His heart. He went to the cross not only in perfect love, but as Perfect Love itself, crying out "Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do." (Luke 24:34) The One least deserving of shame and reproach bore it willingly so that I could be made free and gain acceptance as a child of God. 

"For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God." (2 Corinthians 5:21)

It would be easier to love those who stand in complete opposition to us if we weren't confronted by their opinions every day—the ones that make us feel completely out of control and more than misunderstood. I know this. I've felt this. But I'm not called to limit my love to those who agree with me or love me back. I'm called to love as I've been loved.

"As the Father loved Me, I also have loved you; abide in My love. If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love, just as I have kept My Father's commandments and abide in His love. These things I have spoken to you, that My joy may remain in you, and that your joy may be full. This is My commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one's life for his friends." (1 John 15:11-13; keep reading here)

To be clear, this passage on love doesn't end here—immediately after, Jesus explains why the world will hate us for following Him (read that passage here). He knew these days of violent actions and vicious words would come. So I'm going to trust Him in this world, in this nation. I'm going to intentionally call to remembrance what He bore on the cross before bearing up arms. And by His grace, I'm going to continue to love even if and when the world's commendation turns to condemnation.

- - -

"Finally, all of you, have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind. Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless, for to this you were called, that you may obtain a blessing." (1 Peter 3:8-9; this entire letter focuses on encouraging believers, by way of Christ's example, who are suffering—start from the beginning here)

"Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake. Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you." (Matthew 5:11-12) 

"You have heard that it was said, 'You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven; for He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust." (Matthew 5:43-45)

Monday, April 25, 2016

Come Away

This morning, I reached for a devotional book that's been set aside for about a year: Charles Spurgeon's Morning by Morning.

For the past few weeks, I've felt a longing to say something. I've felt words stirring up in my heart, but they've only been fragments of thoughts; a kind of straining, a grasping, that's never become fully formed enough to write down. I think that's partly because there's been so much on my mind lately. Perspective—how to find the right one, and how to hold on to it once it's been discovered and defined. Time—how quickly it passes and the fact that, so often, the unknown future looms over my head like a dark cloud rather than a journey waiting to be taken. Truth—what (or rather Who) it is in every hot-button issue associated with these changing times.

Maybe these thoughts have remained fragments because I so rarely slow down for long enough to let them sink in and take shape. Or maybe the swirling is just a calling to look up; a reminder that I'll never uncover the answers, the direction, or the comfort I crave by looking inward. That the only true security and stability and unshakeable certainty I'll ever find is in Christ alone.

Yet this swelling in my heart remains, reminding me that there is more than what I so frequently choose to fix my eyes upon. And still I want to say something, no matter how imperfectly. The devotional I read this morning finally helped give direction to that desire.

"He is risen" (Matthew 28:6) and I am risen in Him. Then why should I cling to the dust? From lesser loves, desires, pursuits, and aspirations I desire to rise toward Him...Further and further from everything selfish, lowly, wordly, and sinful He calls me. Yes, from the outwardly religious world that does not know Him, and which has no understanding of the mystery of the higher way, He calls me. "Come with Me." The call has no harsh sound to it in my ears. Yet what is there that holds me to this wilderness of vanity and sin? —Charles Spurgeon, Morning by Morning

What a rich longing, followed by such a powerful question! I am so thankful that the Lord put these words into the heart and the pen of Charles Spurgeon. Although originally written in the year 1865, they continue to resonate so deeply.

"Come with Me," the Lord calls, and how I long to. When I'm at the summit of the word "overwhelmed," I wonder if I should go away with Him to a foreign country. I wonder if working the ground and feeding the hungry with its produce would be more worthy than working in marketing and feeding the world one more social media post. I wonder if "loving like Jesus does" would seem easier if the people I was trying to love didn't look, and talk, and think so much like me. I wonder if seeing and experiencing Hunger and Lack and Lowliness on a regular basis would break me of the cycle of consuming, accumulating, comparing, and longing for elevation.

Maybe abandoning everything I know right now and going after God and the things of Him in India or Romania or Africa would "fix me." Give me a right perspective that lasts. Slow down time to a crawl rather than a sprint. Remind me of Truth in every circumstance. But then again, maybe it wouldn't. Because deep down, I know that if I follow the call of my own feelings rather than the direction Christ is leading me toward, all I'll find at the end of the rainbow is more of myself, no matter where in the world I run to, or what holy and good endeavor I throw myself into.

"Come with Me," the Lord calls, and how I long to. To see Him right where I am, in the midst of the overwhelm and the burn-out. To fix my eyes on the eternal in the very midst of the mundane. To see and to hear and to selflessly love the culture I'm in, in the same way He has loved me. To know him as Provider and All in All and King of Kings in the midst of busyness and abundance and cell phones and schedules.

Teach me, Lord, how to "come away" with You as I stay exactly where I am.

"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." Psalm 139:8-10 

"Come Away" by Bryan McCleery

Saturday, January 2, 2016

Let this be the year

I have a distinct memory of, at age 10 or so, compiling a list of every flaw that I perceived in myself and creating a plan of action to defeat those shortcomings and achieve perfection.

I have always had a deep awareness of the layers of internal filth that keep me so far from the perfection of Christ; those secret motivations of the heart that can't be scrubbed away by an outward change of behavior. I was aware of them as a little girl and I'm still confronted by them now. Like...all the time.

Going to be really transparent here: Sometimes I think I should be famous. If not famous-famous, at least recognized and admired. I take inventory of the things I've achieved and I question why I'm not succeeding in the same way so many others seem to be. I hate that I'm admitting this, but I'm specifically talking about things like follower counts and platform size, here. I hold myself up to others again and again who have had success in these arenas, and every time I do it, I lose. Either I come away from the time I've invested in comparison believing that I'm better, and go on to begrudge another's success, or I'm defeated by the belief that I'm worse, and proceed to wade around in a pool that's filled with words like inadequate, unseen, missed-your-chance, and going-nowhere-fast.

There are resolutions I could make this year that would—temporarily, at least—combat some of these icky thought patterns that kept surfacing in 2015.

I could minimize my time on Instagram.
I could delete Instagram altogether. 
I could actively practice encouraging others.

And on and on it goes.

None of these resolutions are bad. In fact, I think they're all great steps in the right direction. But I'm not sold on the idea that implementing any of them will produce a permanent fix to the heart issues the Lord is so graciously revealing in me. Creating a game plan for achieving my own perfection didn't work when I was 10. Why would it work now, at the angst-y age of 25?

I have since wept over that image of 10-year-old me, longing to go back in time to lift the head of the small blonde-headed girl leaning over her spiral journal; to tell her that while her recognition of the sin that separates her from Christ is right, her method for resolving the gap is wrong. That perfection will always and only be found in Christ alone. That the sacrifice He made is sufficient for her shortcomings of the past and the present and the future. That she can just rest in God's grace.

Instead, I'm going to give that pep talk to the 25-year-old typing on her computer, so desperate to put into words this fire that's stirring up inside. I'm telling her:

New Year's resolutions are not going to get you where you want to be in your walk with Christ, and achieving every last one of your secret hopes and dreams is not going to bring you the fulfillment you desire, either. You know this because you've experienced it. You've won the crown. You've gotten the award. You've moved to France. You've traveled the world. And it's never been enough. The truth is that you could press and you could strain, and you could work incessantly at building an empire that's centered around yourself, and you could come to the end of your life—or even just the middle of it—and realize that everything you're holding in your hands is dust and ash. The truer truth is that you're already there. So aware of the fact that your eyes are in the wrong place, your heart is in the wrong position, and that you're in danger of missing it—the life that is truly life.

That place where eyes are opened, bodies are healed, and the dead are raised—yes, even in the here and now. That place where the cry of your heart is to know Him more, and you're not afraid to throw your arms open wide in worship and be seen by others as you truly are—a broken woman saved by His grace alone, so in awe of His glory and love. That place where He says, "Go," and you respond without hesitation, unafraid to leave it all behind and step into the unknown. That place where you forsake it all for the chance to know Him more. That place where authentic, heart-rending compassion replaces every trace of comparison, where eternities are secured and present circumstances are radically changed.

I'm not making resolutions, but I am going before the Lord and asking, "Let this be the year." The year of no more numbness. No more distractions. No more blending in. No more what-ifs. No more wishing for what's real while pursuing what's false. The year that passion replaces complacency. The year that God-stories aren't for reading, but for seeing. The year that I stumble, and I fall, and I fail in the pursuit of serving my Savior, but retain the privilege of going back again and again to His well for more grace, more mercy, and just a taste of Heaven touching Earth. The year that with everything I know how to give, I seek after the Life that is truly life. The year that I realize once and for all that my own resolve to change is simply an illusion, and that the fulfillment of any and all of these things will be accomplished through His power alone, in 2016 and forevermore.  
"Instruct those who are rich in this present world not to be conceited or to fix their hope on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly supplies us with all things to enjoy. Instruct them to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share, storing up for themselves the treasure of a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is life indeed." 1 Timothy 6:17-19

"O taste and see that the LORD is good; How blessed is the man who takes refuge in Him! O fear the LORD, you His saints; For to those who fear Him there is no want. The young lions do lack and suffer hunger; But they who seek the LORD shall not be in want of any good thing." Psalm 34: 8-10

Karley with a K. Todos los derechos reservados. © Maira Gall.