Feb 28, 2009

unifying events

there are things in this life that unite people - strangers even; together. in the world of sports for example,e we have the super bowl, world series, and stanely cup (a biased list i must confess). these major events allure millions to turn on their televisions and numb their minds for a few hours, or worse yet, spend hundreds of dollars for bragging rights that come in the form of green plastic fold out chairs. or in the hollywood realm, we have the ocsars, emmys (are those two the same?) and whatever proclamation of "my shit doesn't stink" award there is. then we have music. what awards come with music? i don't even know. the grammy's maybe? cma's? dove awards? did i seriously just put in dove awards???? who even watches that? all of this to say, for whatever reason, epic moments that take place in this outrageously fast paced world that we live, somehow manages to slow us down and bring us under one common umbrella; even if it is entertainment based.

there is one even that i am particularly fond of. it is not one that can be found in a 32 inch black box or on the infamous red carpet. this uniting display of beauty cannot be purchased, nor sold. it is a production of paramount popularity. what i speak of is the extraordinary event of evening's sunset. here on the west coast, you will always find a crowd of people lining the cliffs and beaches below to catch sight of the cascading pastels that simultaneously soften and liven the endless sky. i too am one of the many spectators who come out to catch sight of this awesome display of beauty. 

as i sit out there, gazing at the faithfulness of creation, i often wonder, "what is it that brings all these strangers together?" the majority of the surfers you find dotting the pacific aren't out there for the waves when the hour of sunset comes. they are there for community and to admire the fading blaze. all the people decorating the cliffs, they are products of the west coast. these are not tourists that have never before seen a sunset over the ocean; no, these are people who have grown up with the beach as their back yard. i love to see the people stroll in when the time of the much anticipated green flash rolls in.

another thought about these people crosses my mind. "what are they thinking?" i wonder if these people, my fellow admirer's, question creation at all as they stare out into the boundless world. do they question who made the sky to explode with the most glorious colors in the evenings and mornings? do they ever think, "?". is their existence, or god's, ever challenged with the blending of pinks, purples, and oranges? i mean, how could these weighty and stunning musings not cross their minds? 

regardless of the answers, there is a response that i make up that brings a smile to my face. i imagine that this was all a part of god's intention. this whole bizarre movement of strangers uniting to catch glimpse of an everyday occurrence is the extension of our creator's handiwork. what makes me think this? well, as the sun finally says goodnight to it's adoring audience, it isn't uncommon for the spectators to break out in applause. i love this part. whether they know it or not, what we are doing - together - is praising the creator of this spectacular jewel.

Feb 25, 2009

ash wednesday selah

my bones
they are wasting away
the sin 
of my soul
is too hideous to reveal.
in silent hiding
i must remain.
but dare i
the veiled ugliness?
day and night
your hand
it is so heavy
crushing, pressing down
upon me.
the strength
of my flesh wilts
as in the heat
of summer's sun.
all day long
groaning seeps from
every fiber of my being.
this pain is too great.
but dare i
the veiled ugliness?
my eyes
grow weaker still
with the sorrow and grief
that consumes me.
the affliction
of my heart
crushes the spirit
brokenhearted i remain
alone, cold, and anguished.
but dare i 
acknowledge the veiled ugliness?
untiring hands
stretch forth
in the emptiness of my night.
again i refuse
your comfort to my soul
it is easier here
the familiarity of sin
has become a companion.
my silence
strengthens its deceptive
but dare i
the veiled ugliness?
forsaken i have become
who can save me?
the pain
of my loneliness
strangles the light
holding me hostage
as a prisoner of inequities.
the troubles of
my heart
have conceived and filled
my life with despair.
there is only silence.
but dare i 
the veiled ugliness?

Feb 23, 2009

when will i learn?!

my alarm went off at 5:00 am and in a groggy morning fog, i shut it off and shut out the purpose of its clanging bell. i wasn't ready to get up. 6:30 rolled around and my eyes were cranked open in a splattered anxiousness over the fact that i slept in an extra hour and a half. flinging my covers off i hit the ground running before i stopped to say, "good morning my lord". 

i drove like a bat out of hell to the gym. i don't even have a reason for rushing - it's just my default mode i guess. today's running schedule called for a short 3 miles. thank goodness, because apparently i have loads to accomplish and anything longer than that would equate to more time wasted. plowing through 3 puny miles and dashing through the weight lifting, i could hardly wait to get to the coffee shop so i could begin my real work. lent was only 2 days away and i needed to pour over my teaching series. i have an agenda here people.

after what seemed like eternity, i finally arrived to my office. (better known as the local coffee house). i work much more efficiently from the small round tables here rather than my ridiculously cluttered desk at church. before i give myself a second to pause and take in a much needed deep breath, my phone was ringing off the hook and text messages were swarming in. what is this? i opened up the word document for my lenten teaching series and drowned myself in the 6 week outline.

but i couldn't concentrate. i was annoyed. i was impatient. i was distracted. i have been awake for a lousy 3 and a half hours and already my day was as dismayed as a jackson pollock painting. what was i to do?

i shut off my phone. i closed my word documents. and then i did what i should have done the moment i woke up. i stilled myself, took one very deep breath and whispered; "good morning my lord". immediately the bindings of my overwhelming schedule began to loosen their suffocating grip from me. opening his word i was drawn to the book of mark and i found my nourishment (and comical conviction) for the day.

"He replied, this kind can come out only by prayer." ~ mark 9:20

jesus was telling his confused disciples that they were unable to release the evil spirit that lived in a young boy because they ceased to recognize that it is only though christ in them that they have the power to cast out such spirits. i failed to humble myself and embrace the truth that my teachings can only be constructed through prayer. my mentality was this: "for the past month i have been drenching prayer over this lenten teaching series. that surly is enough." oh how ignorant and prideful i can be! i must come before the lord daily. the prayers i both offered to the lord and received from his spirit yesterday or last week, or last month were strictly for yesterday, or last week, or last month. but what is for today? how could i ever have thought that i have what it takes to formulate an ash wednesday service for my students without quieting my own heart and listening for the voice of god? give me this day my daily bread, o god.

Feb 19, 2009

sacred disruptions

you know what i love about working with youth? they are like snowflakes - no two are alike (and they are often times just plain flakes!). i lead the sophomore class during our wednesday night breakout group discussion times. this half hour of dialogue with my students is unfailingly the most unusual thread of conversations i experience through the week. the amount of rabbit trails that we walk down are far too numerous to even begin counting and they are usually trail blazed by one particular student, we will refer to him as george. i completely dig this boy and i fail miserably at understanding where it is that he is coming from, and if i am going to be really honest, i have to tell you that my patience is painfully tested when i am around him. (ah there, i admitted it!)

george is the tangible form of the over diagnosed disorder of attention. he is disruptive, loud, outrageously random, and rarely - no, never - truly enters into the foundation of our discussions. he talks about outer space, improv, movies, his rigid catholic church, crazy beasts that speak to him in his dreams, old fashion horror movies, and the list goes on and on. think of the most abstract latitude of the process of thoughts and there you will find george. all of this makes up the soft spot in my heart for him and equally fans the fast burning fuse of my tolerance.

last night we were discussing the question, "what does it mean to be a sacred being?". many of the students were articulating the special talents we posses is what tags us as sacred. while each young mind was expressing their thoughts on the matter, george was bursting at the seams with improvised jokes, movie quotes, quirky body movements, and the such. during this i encouraged the voices of the other students as they spoke while entering into a deep observation process of george. "what in the world is going on in his mind? lord grant me patience. how can i love this kid in the ways that he needs? am i a failure as a youth leader? do i tell george to can it? wwjd? (just teasing)..." it was then that george broke in and exposed the truth to the group. "we are sacred because god created us"... "have you guys ever seen steven siegal's furrowed brow?" whoa! my mouth dropped open. this kid had no idea the weight and centered'ness behind his words. i had to stop him and shower him with affirmation and draw the attention of the other students to the answer george had just subconsciously delivered.

the crazy thing is that the lord exists in the midst of all of george's vibrant peculiarities. just when i begin to think that this kid will never engage in anything serious or honest, he blows me away with the profound answer to the meaning of being sacred. george was taken aback when i interrupted his own interruptions to point out how correct he is. no doubt he is used to people pointing out his tangents and inability to take anything in life seriously. i am certain that he has people telling him all day long to be quiet or to pay attention. so i had to grab the opportunity to lavish him with praise. i told him that he is so right on. that even more than our special talents we are sacred because we are made in the likeness and image of god. i applauded him and thanked him. 

george is a sacred being and god let the rest of us see that. the spirit of christ is moving and living in the people we judge to be the furthest thing from god centered. god defied my own broken understandings. god gave me patience. god showed me that by loving george i am also loving him, because he lives in george. george is the answer to the question, "what does it mean to be a sacred being?"

Feb 18, 2009

the deep end of a straight path

my mom always says that i jump into things with both feet, that i choose to dive off the deep end rather than slowly wading my way in. i never quite understood exactly, what it was that she was talking about. i do know that i'm impulsive (i have three tattoos, a nose piercing, and many awful hair styles that prove this characteristic of mine) and many of my decisions are spontaneously ignited. i also know that i hold an overwhelming bouquet of passions. traveling, photography, writing, teaching, mentoring, running... and i try to do them all - often at the same time. but these things are not the core of what my mom is saying when she tells me "you are going to need someone to hold your pigtails while you dive into things."

as i prepare to depart california and enter into a new phase of life as a full-time college student my mind is consumed (and petrified) as to how i am going to financially provide for myself. it has taken no time at all for me to construct bountiful prospects that could serve as sources of income. as of right now, i am going to be a dog walker, barista, cocktailer, part-time youth minister, cross country coach, and a photographer. in my mind i considered these potentials as my way of responsibly approaching my future needs. another extension to my nearing end of one adventure and the commencing of another is contemplating different ways in which i can serve. my heart is filled with the desire to invest in the lives of others. with that i have prayerfully engaged in daydreaming areas that would provide opportunities for me to give. thus far i have marinated in the ideas of being an r.a. on campus, leading on campus ministries, organizing and facilitating small groups with the young women at bethel, mentoring more intentionally my former small group girls, and volunteering at whatever future church i will belong to.

to me, this all sounds like bissful potentials. i grow excited when i think of what my life is going to look like when i move to minnesota. i shared every one of these future engagements (work and serving alike) with my friend courtney during one of our marathon training morning runs and asked her if she would pray for me. my prayer request was that god would provide photography opportunities so that i can pay my way through school. much to my surprise she responded with: "no i won't pray for that. brianna, you are piling your plate already and you haven't even moved yet. you are so worried about how you are going to pay for school that you are stressing about bills that don't yet exist." ugh. she caught me...

i took this piece of adivise to the lord, and with mediation and the guiding of the holy spirit i was drawn to specific verses. each of these verses contained the word(s) highway, straight path. 

"lead me in a straight path" ~ psalm 27:11
"prepare the way for the lord, make straight paths for him" ~ matthew 3:3
"make straight in the wilderness a highway for our god" ~ isaiah 40:3

through contemplation and examination i dug into the deeper meaning of these words. to make a highway or to make straight paths is to confess and repent of the sins that barracade the free-flowing movement of the lord in our lives. with this enlightenment i began to see that my vast collection of sources of income and service is only my deeply embedded need to control. to control the provision in my life. since i was 13 years old i have financially provided, in one way or another, for myself. there is this deep, ugly fear that resides in my heart that i will not be provided for. and so, in attempt to keep this fear of ever becoming a reality, i relentlessly scrounge for opportunities that will extinguish the existance of the possibility. i seek control. i seek to provide. i fail to trust.

and in the middle of all of this garbage the words of my mother come to life. i am an extremist at times. i do dive off the deep end. i am on either end of the spectrum - all or nothing - blind to the middle ground. i pick up my crushing yoke and being running (yes, running, not walking). "i can do it", i tell myself. i have been doing it for 14 years now, i know better than the lord how i need to be provided for. 

so, what did i do with the surfacing of my sin? the only thing i knew i needed to do; i confessed my sin. and in doing so, i made straight a highway for my god and i carved out a straight path for him. 

Feb 9, 2009

our vulnerable and relational god

"show me your ways o lord, teach me your paths, guide me in your truth and teach me."

"one thing i ask of the lord and this is what i seek; that i may dwell in the house of the lord all the days of my life. to gaze upon the beauty of the lord and to seek him in his holy temple."

"i keep asking that the god of our lord jesus christ, the glorious father, may give to you the spirit of wisdom and revelation so that you may know him better."

"show me your face, let me hear your voice; for your voice is sweet and your face is lovely."

during my prayer time this morning i was consumed with a sweetly quiet reality. the undertone of scripture was illuminated in a gently welcoming manner, thereby captivating my worship and offering spacious room to rest.

throughout scripture we are faced with boundless invitations. but invitations for what exactly? i think our western christendom has misused, abused, and distorted the word of god to fit comfortably into our life suffocating consumerist mentality. we fashion these words so that we are justified in our hunger to obtain more stuff, knowledge ("love surpasses knowlege"!), popularity, control, etc. as shoppers of the spirit we pray and seek the face of christ with deeply embedded selfish motives. we do not explore the book of truth in order to fall in love with love himself, rather we delve to gain clarity, and certainty in our lives. we are always wanting more.

but if one dares to look, to truly dissect into the envelope that holds all the invitations addressed to us; the beloved ones of christ, what you would find is the very opposite of what it is we think we need to be searching for. what we will find is the foundational desire of every human heart - a yearning that has been stifled by our counterfeit, immediate cravings. what we find is a god who is hungry for our affections and who relentlessly longs for us to receive, to ultimately receive him. this speaks of the vulnerability of christ as passionate lover who extends an invitation to his beloved to say yes to a partnership with himself.

scripture is one giant thread of beckonings from the god of love to his beloved. show me your ways o lord. the ways of your heart. the ways of your character. the ways of your very existence. teach me your path. the path that you, not my culture, chooses to walk. teach me the journeys that you embark upon, the road you travel (which is often times less). give to us wisdom and revelation so that we may know YOU better, not know more about you - but who you are. and above all things i long to gaze upon your beauty.

Feb 8, 2009

flourishing tranfomers

transformers was one of my favorite cartoons as a kid. following close behind were teenage mutant ninja turtles, gummy bears, and jem. but the transforming power of those robots in disguise was far more alluring that the hot pink hair and sassy dress of jem and her rockers. it could have been the fact that optimus prime was my hugest childhood crush that stole my allegiance - but i think it was more of the autobots perseverance over the evil decepticons that really sucked me in. deep down my heart still belongs to optimus prime, the defender of the universe.

last week i met up with my very dear friend nate. nate and his wife candace (who is equally dear to my heart) have been a part of my life for the past 6 years and they have seen me through the good, the bad, and the cringing ugliness. as a young twenty something i embarked upon a seemingly never ending journey of healing; a pursuit of wholeness over a consuming eating disorder and the end of my first love, which left me with a demolished heart. the ministry that walked me through my struggle with body image was in partnership with the ministry nate and candace entrench their lives with. so, from the very beginning of my own wilderness voyage, these two faithful followers of christ have been with me.

nate was catching me up on what it has been like being a new father, the dynamic shift a child brings to marriage, and the direction of his ministry.  i volleyed the conversation with an update on my own life learnings of what it has been like living in california, embracing the god-graced holistic healing (both in my eating struggle and the shattered pieces of a broken heart), and the anticipation i hold for what is next in my life. during a very brief pause in our gab session, nate affirmingly pronounces; "brianna, you have not only survived - you've flourished!" tears immediately swelled the pockets of my eyes and trickled down my smiling cheeks.

in the quietness of my soul i am undeniably certain of the transformation that has take place in my life due to the 3 year season of solitude christ has had me in. and in this certainty i held the secret desire for my former minnesotan community to take notice and to celebrate with me. so to hear the words "you've flourished!" flow from the mouth of a close friend was the most intoxicating dose of affirmation christ could have ever gifted me with. nate's observation is how i know (not that i didn't before - but the extra encouragement only solidifies the fact!) that the maturity and changes are true; the changes that arise only when we are willing to sit before the cross, to obey, and to follow christ wherever he takes us no matter the length of the journey.

i may not transform from an 18-wheeler into a planet saving, beefy and handsome robot (sorry, i still can't help myself); but through the power of the holy spirit, prayer, and solitude i can be taken from my young immaturity and develop into the strong and bold bride of christ.

Feb 5, 2009

much more than marathon training.

i am in training for the may 31 rock & roll marathon in san diego. there is so much about this groundwork that intoxicates my soul. i love the sweat, the pain in my shins, knees, and achilles, and the overall buildup of mileage leading up to race day. the first marathon i ran i did solo, all 26.2 miles and every mile pounded out during the 18 weeks that preceded the race. but this time around i am running with a very dear friend and the dynamic of enduring the discipline and pain of preparation is vastly different. it is far more difficult to skip a day when you know you have someone who is going to ask you about your run - someone who is going to be holding you accountable.

thursdays are our day of rest. it is vital for any athlete in training to have a day where you allow your body to mend itself from the wrenching physical activity you have put it through the other 6 days of the week. today is thursday and i have been blasted with a harsh reality. and the shining enlightenment is this; i am a pathetic rest er. my alarm went off at the break of dawn and the first thought that greeted my mind was that i should go out for a run, even though i know full well that i absolutely need to rest. what makes it so difficult for me to put back the stops that i have so eagerly pulled out? i didn't go for a run, but my mind was still racing with the enticing voices telling me i should.

this difficulty in resting is reflective of much more than cultivating the 26.2 mile garden. in every area of my life it requires complete discipline for me to say no to busyness and choose instead to sit back and breathe deeply. during my intentional times of quietness it faithfully begins with a long and drawn out sparring match. 

it is my heart battling my thoughts. my soul throws out a punch from the book of Mark - thrusting the words "come with me by yourselves and get some rest" directly into the center of my thoughts. but with biting strength my mind fights back - slapping truth with it's tempting advertisements to do more, move faster, and go further. i may be choosing rest physically, but my mind is still spinning. this wrestling match goes of for quite a long while before i am able to hush the noise and draw away into the stillness of the place where love dwells.