Wednesday, June 15, 2011

The Words that move us forward

I live for good words. Words propel me forward. We have kayaks, you know, and sometimes we float along together, kayak to kayak, letting the current move us. But eventually, we'll begin to float in the wrong direction, or our stomachs will rumble, signaling that it's time to get back to shore and dinner. In those times, we grip our paddles, dip them authoritatively into water and- move. Words are the paddle in my life. No matter where I'm floating- in crystal waters or stormy seas, at some point, a word will come, dipping deeply into my spirit and move me on. Some words came this week- and while I'm sailing along, thrust forward by their impact, I'll write them down here before I forget them and wait for the next ones to do the same thing.

They came from two completely different sources, but together they pushed me forward- like dipping the paddle to one side of the kayak and then the other ensures that you'll stay on course. I didn't know what the first paddle-strike was about, really, I just read it and stopped- paused- re-read, closed my eyes and knew- this is beautiful, powerful and true. Here it is- a paragraph from the very first chapter of Chris Cleave's Little Bee.

On the girl's brown legs there were many small white scars. I was thinking, Do those scars cover the whole of you, like the stars and the moons on your dress? I thought that would be pretty too, and I ask you right here please to agree with me that a scar is never ugly. That is what the scar makers want us to think. But you and I, we must make an agreement to defy them. We must see all scars as beauty. Okay? This will be our secret. Because take it from me, a scar does not form on the dying. A scar means, I survived.

After those words dipped in and came back up, truth dripped down and around until the next words came and evened it all out. Power followed by purpose. The purpose stroke came from Larry Crabb's God's Love Letters to You devotional.

God says: My Spirit is telling My story to your psychological culture, a culture that actually believes woundedness- how others treat you-is a more serious problem than selfishness- how you treat others... Live for your relational comfort and your joy will be shallow and temporary. It will not free you to love. Live to know the truth of My story of forgiving love, and you will be deeply unsettled by how profoundly you need forgiveness. You will discover, slowly but surely, the power of My ongoing forgiveness and Presence to change you into a person who loves.

Wounded. Scarred. These are not things I like to think about on beautiful June days. Sometimes I'd rather paddle around those things, forgetting them, justifying my actions in them or complaining about the injustice and pain of it all, than to go through them. But the words- His Words- insist that I move through, not around, and that I accomplish His purpose for me in the journey. I cannot avoid the pain or His constant beckoning to go through it authentically with Him so that I can actually become like Him. So the words move me into it, changing me with each stroke, bringing me into the middle of it so that I can finally come out once and for all.

The change is good, and the only real thing. The only good thing. I love when Jesus said, "Why do you call me good? There is only one that's good and that's the Father." Goodness is not a real thing, it's a byproduct of something real. I liken it to the smell that comes from freshly baked chocolate chip cookies- it's just something that comes from the real thing. Sure it's nice, but without the cookie, there's nothing to substantiate it. This is why I hate cookie flavored candles and that sort of thing- without the real thing- the smell is mostly frustrating and sometimes a little sickening. Goodness is just like that. Goodness is a fruit of the Spirit- it's something that naturally occurs from an authentic relationship with Jesus Christ. Without the relationship, there's nothing to substantiate goodness, and, like the synthetic flavors in those candles- false goodness mostly just stinks and very often sickens me. Yet I want to be seen that way sometimes, you know? I want to be good. A good wife, a good American. A good teacher. A good Christian. But what an idiot I am to desire goodness. Who in their right mind says, "I want to smell a chocolate chip cookie?" No one. "I want to eat a chocolate chip cookie." Now that's another story.

But when my goodness is attacked, I feel so wounded. This year, people said I was not good. Not a good wife. Not a good teacher. Not a good Christian. And it wounded me. Terribly. I tried to react rightly- sometimes so that I would be seen as good- sometimes because Jesus told me to- sometimes because I thought I'd lose my mind if I didn't choose somewhere to stand on things. I'll let Jesus sort the motives out Himself- in any case, the whole mess of it- the attack on my "goodness" and my subsequent positioning here- in June- left me with a scar. A scar that I sometimes stare at disgusted. For so many months, I was fighting tooth and nail to keep myself, my marriage, my reputation among men- from that scar. I thought the scar was ugly, something I was never supposed to have. Never did it occur to me until these words that He put it there for a reason- that scars always have a purpose, a story, a truth and beauty- if we will just choose to see it. This is why He sends the words when He does, I think- because He knows when it's time to stop avoiding or denying and move forward with finality and purpose.

So I read those words and I realized that my goodness doesn't matter at all. That is something that I knew well once, but that I forgot and exchanged for the lie that goodness does matter- that it is, in fact, the most important way to attain worth. I believed that because I felt surrounded by people who believed that goodness was more important than truth, and wounds more sacred than scars. I believe that wounds are precious to Jesus sometimes, but since these Words, I am starting to see that it's the scar that contains the real beauty. Because the scar means that the wound has healed and that we've chosen not to waste our lives nurturing our pain, but instead have trusted and followed, forever changed, but more His than ever. Forgetting the wound means that I realize that my own pain is nothing in comparison with the pain that I am capable of inflicting-on Him and others- when I choose my selfishness over faith in Him. But even though I wound Him time and again because of my slavish devotion to me- He loves me enough to send me words, and tremendous bouts of joy, or patience or clarity. He loves me enough to remind me that I was never "worthy" or good, so why in His name did I ever get upset about people saying that I wasn't good? What difference does that make anyway? Do their words have ANYTHING at all to do with how He feels toward me? No. Not at all. But see, it's His Words that have pushed me out of the whirlpool of lies that said, "they have some say in how He feels about me." Praise God for Truth pushes me forward before my life capsizes under the pressure of lies like that.

It's June- a year of wounds are behind me- and I find myself realizing that the whole ordeal was a chance to experience truth and live like Him. I was talking to Him about this sometime between the paddle-stroke from Chris Cleave and the counter-stroke from Larry Crabb, and I asked Him if I had failed (to be honest, I already knew the answer.) You did fail, Meredith, He said. But somehow tenderly- not like He was angry or even all that disappointed, but just sort of sweetly sad that I had just now- a year later- realized that it was an opportunity from Him dressed up as an attack from others. I see it now. Through the scar, I see the truth. He never left me. He doesn't listen to lies. I don't have to either. And I should trust. I should forgive. I should love. Because that's what He's always doing for me and what He always wants to do through me. Scars-His scars- are the reminder that life with Him is sacrificial by nature. But there are no scars on the dying. He is alive. I will live too.

Our striving for goodness tells us to avoid scars in any shape, form or fashion. Hide them. Lie about them. Cover them up with something else. But scars save us. So wound me again- I will heal. There is nothing that can be done to me that He cannot take care of. And we'll agree- He and I- that those scars are a mark of our togetherness and that they are beautiful because it means that we are living- and we'll forgive and we'll love and the Words will keep moving us forward- together.

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