Quote harvesting: Glorious Weakness

I have no idea how Alia Joy’s Glorious Weakness came into my life. Twitter was involved, I think. Since I’m not sure of the specifics, let’s just credit the Holy Spirit and get on to the good stuff: Alia’s words.

“No one wants to need. No one wants to be found lacking. No one wants a ministry of weakness.”

“To believe that the experiences we have are valid, that the feelings and expressions of them are true and real and worthy of being listened to, is one of the greatest mercies we offer each other.”

“We rarely develop stamina in our faith when there are other routes available, as avoiding complete depended has been our default since Eden.” 

“We learn how to settle. We learn how to accept our weakness but never ask for God’s strength. How to accept our poverty without expecting provision. We learn to live with the ache of never enough. We pray to God as if we don’t know him at all, we live with bastardly longing—because a true child would ask. A true child would crawl right up into God’s lap and ask for a better story.”

“If this grace a true, a weary world rejoices because we have been claimed by a devastating love. But sometimes I’d rather have effortless love. I want an affinity group, not a community, not a body, not a church—only a Savior for myself, not a King of a vast and scandalous kingdom. My husband’s cousin Peter, who is a pastor says, ‘It’s not community until someone you don’t like shows up.’ Truer words were never spoken.”

“I didn’t know then that sorrow is sacramental. Sorrow is sacred. Suffering is not an indictment against God; it can be the single space we identify most deeply with Christ, who knows it best.”

“Jesus paid attention. Jesus wept. Jesus broke bread and laughed with his friends and healed the sick. He tucked himself away to rest and pray. He want to parties and took naps. He walked this earth in a body that easily be broken. He said come unto me. And in so doing, he royally ticked off a lot of people who despised how common he made grace. But Jesus knew how to read the room. When we look at Scripture, we see Jesus offered comfort, presence, and mercy, but he also met people’s needs right where they were. He fed them and healed them and served them. He gave them water, washed their feet, and helped them fish. Jesus didn’t fear the fleshiness of our existence, our faulty or our failing. He came near, God with us. As Christ followers, we must be willing to practice the art of nearness. Of with-ness.”

“I wish I had known that sometimes this life will ache with emptiness and it’s okay not to rush to fill it. It’s okay to leave some questions on the books. It’s okay to be angry and to admit we can’t see the good of it all right now. To sit on the floor in my baby’s room and weep over the blankets and the onesies and the car seat that would be packed back up. It’s okay to grieve the lost things you held only as the flutters of hopes and dreams. It’s still loss. How else do we make peace with the present? I wish someone had told me it was okay to relent to sadness, to doubt, to the divine ache and the catastrophe that is death. We can lie on a gurney with God and allow the sorrow and suffering its due. We let God reckon with death, and we acknowledge that things are not as they should be and we are not the only ones offended by the tragedy coming for us all. I wish someone had told it was okay to succumb to anger, to the great and formidable why? I wish I had understood that God is undaunted by my humanity.”

“Lament says you belong to me, and I belong to you and will enter in with you.”

“There are so many among us who hurt, and we may never know we’re sitting next to someone barely holding all the pieces together when we gather on a Sunday to sing rickey hymns and hear God’s Word cracked open for us. I can tell this truth because I’ve learned the ministry of honest words, of weak spaces, of holy dependence and admitting our deep hunger. This is not a litany of complaints, this a lament of love. And sometimes, when honesty is our invitation, we find that those silent ones, the ones among us we never knew were hurting, the hungry ones who can no longer hear their Savior’s psalm , they come and knock at our door. We pull out a chair and welcome them to the feast.”

Practice makes natural

A quote from Henri Nouwen popped up on my Twitter timeline a few weeks ago:

As disciples of Jesus, we are sent to where there is poverty, loneliness, suffering of any kind.

We are given the courage to be with suffering people. We can trust by entering into places of pain, we will find the joy of Jesus.

A new world grows out of compassion.

He’s right—in my experience, Nouwen usually is. But here’s a thing we need to remember: being with suffering people, entering into places of pain takes practice. Practical practice, not role-playing. Getting knee-deep in the muck, not standing near it.

Here’s another thing we need to remember: it won’t get easier with practice. But because we are humans, and because God made us to be together, it will feel more natural.

Like a new, challenging exercise. Or parenting.

Eventually you stop feeling like you’re walking around with your legs on backwards.

She lets silence bloom

No one would describe her as chatty. Fun? Yes. Friendly? Absolutely. But she’s not one with the need to fill open spaces with her words—although it probably would be welcomed because her central North Carolina accent is as charming as all get out.

When a person’s rambling comes to a stop, she takes the moment most would use to get a word in to just…pause. She usually smiles. A nod—she’s just making sure you’re finished. That moment can build you up or completely undo you. Maybe both.

Sometimes you’re not finished and keep going. Sometimes you are, and after that pause you get a gentle but eye-opening wallop of truth. It’s not unlike what I imagine being smacked in the face with a big magnolia blossom would feel like.

I wonder if she knows how much power she carries—and wields—in that pause. All because she makes the decision not to talk.

Unorthodox McDonald’s

The way my next door neighbors ordered McDonald’s fascinated me as a kid. In my family everyone told my mom or dad what they wanted and then the order would be placed. One meal per person—no more, no less.

Their family did it differently. Their mom or dad would go to McDonald’s and just order a bunch of stuff: a few burgers, a few boxes of chicken nuggets, several containers of fries, a couple milkshakes. And then they just put it all on the table, and everyone would graze. Maybe you’d have a few nuggets and then split a burger with someone. Milkshakes would be split into faded Tupperware cups.

It felt wildly, wonderfully unorthodox to me. The handful of times I was invited to join them, I would stare—wide-eyed and amused—as I timidly helped myself to the piles of food in front of me.

At my house you were handed what you specifically asked for and then you ate it. I imagine my parents did this to avoid fights, which worked. Come to think of it, other than the haphazard McDonald’s ordering, the other thing I remember most about our neighbors’ house was how much screaming went on over there.

But it might’ve been fun to order their way one time.

Opening, cleansing

It was like a rubber plug was ripped from a drain and water gleefully glugged through this sudden and new opening.

Accept the water was tears and they were glugging all over my face.

I’ve cried a lot of tears in my day, but these felt different. Simple. Clean.

Not unlike the tears I cried when my mom called me to say our dog, Buddy, had been hit by a car and died. I was 22. We’d gotten Buddy when I was 12. He was a good dog, and I was sad.

Only sad.

Not mad-sad. Not disappointed-sad. Not hurt-sad. Plain, old sad.

The tears I cried in this moment felt like those tears. Free from layered emotion, they just flowed. I didn’t feel the need to stifle them or justify them or replace them with another response.

I was sad. And I cried. I wept—but not bitterly. No wrong had been done. No guilt exposed.

Tears of spring water, not vinegar. Cleansing, not burning.

Just sadness and the response to sadness that God gives us.

Maybe not holy tears, but something close.

Quote harvesting: A Grief Observed

I’m in the early days of a new writing project which, for me means reading what lots of other people have already written about the thing I want to write about and then filling many pages with quotes.

(I call it my “quote harvesting” phase, hence the title of this post.)

I read C.S. Lewis’s A Grief Observed a few weeks ago and spent some unexpected free time on Friday transcribing the passages I highlighted during my first pass through the book.

Here are some that just wrecked me—with a little commentary, if I may.

“I keep on swallowing.” (I love that he found this notable.)

“I almost prefer the moments of agony. These are at least clean and honest. But the bath of self-pity, the wallow, the loathsome sticky-sweet pleasure of indulging it—that disgusts me. And even while I”m doing it I know it leads me to misrepresent H. herself. Give that mood its head and in a few minutes I shall substituted for the real woman a mere doll to be blubbered over. Thank God the memory of  her is still too strong (will it always be too strong?) to let me get away with it.” (The “clean and honest” part cut deep. Feelings—even if they are painful—that can be categorized easily are so much more bearable, in my opinion. Once emotions are layered they are suffocating.)

“It’s hard to have patience with people who say, ‘There is no death’ or ‘Death doesn’t matter.’ There is death. And whatever is matters. And whatever happens has consequences, and it and they are irrevocable and irreversible. You might as well say that birth doesn’t matter. I look up at the night sky. Is anything more certain than that in all those vast times and spaces, if I were allowed to search them, I should nowhere find her face, her voice, her touch? She died. She is dead. Is the word so difficult to learn?” (JUST SAY THE WORD, EVERYONE.)

“One flesh. Or, if you prefer, one ship. The starboard engine has gone. I, the port engine, must chug along somehow till we make harbor. Or rather, till the journey ends. How can I assume a harbour? A lee shore, more likely, a black night, a deafening gale, breakers ahead—and any lights shown from the land probably being waved by wreckers. Such was H.’s landfall. Such was my mother’s. I say their landfalls; not their arrivals.” (I had to look up what “lee shore” meant, and it took me a long time to understand—I don’t have much nautical context from which to pull. Once I got it, wow. I’ll leave you to look it up yourself so you can experience that wallop yourself.)

In the pew with you

We’ve been going to our church since its first service in 2006.

A few years after that, our friends Leah and Jeremiah moved back to Richmond from California and joined our church.

Since moving to our current worship space, they’ve sat near us. In the last few years, we’ve fallen into a rhythm of them sitting, with their two boys, in the pew right behind us.

Today, as we were singing “Great Are You, Lord” I got choked up as I heard them singing along.

Most Sundays, I worship our living God with Leah and Jeremiah’s voices filling up the space behind me. Neither of them sings loudly, but I know their voices from having heard them for years. I can pick them out from everyone else’s. I miss them when they’re not there.

What a thing to have.

New things

I’ve got a new writing project brewing. I’m not sure what it’ll will look like, but it’s shaping up to be a look at God’s presence in the midst of our suffering.

Right now I’m doing two things:

1) Writing down every stray thought I have that’s even tangentially related to the subject.

2) Making lists of all of the books, articles, sermons, etc. that I want to read.

I’ve realized that those two things have to happen before I do anything else. It feels like packing for a trip, but I’m not sure where I’m going or how long I’ll be there–best take everything with me.