mornings in-between

by k. sauer

We finally bought that patio table I’ve been dreaming about, and I’ve found my spot in our new apartment where the light is white and I can hear the birds and feel the breezes in the morning and the evening. I think I knew before we came that I’d end up on the patio, that I would forgive the heat for the cool of the day when I would find a way to breathe.

Today I might be getting in the way of the construction workers, but they don’t seem to mind my being here, and I don’t really mind them – I understand about doing what needs to be done when you can do it. They’re on the roof, and there is a shadow falling across the wall of the patio, and the kids are coming in and out, and I feel a little bit alive again, being out in the life bits of the world. It makes me imagine what it might be like to live in a European village somewhere, where the laundry gets hung out the windows and there are always stories happening around you.

I can’t quite get this apartment to feel like home – I suppose that might be expected. We’re thinking about how long we’ll stay, how long can all three kids share a bedroom, how long we will live by halves until we think about owning a house again, how long it will be until we are truly Home. After thirty-some moves, I don’t really believe we get to have that on earth anymore.

But I figured out over the weekend that the thing I am looking for isn’t so much a forever home – it’s the ability to feel content wherever I am. I crave hygge, and the scent of fresh bread baking and bacon for breakfast and the light coming in, throwing sunbeams across the living room. It’s finding green outside my window, nurturing life where it might not otherwise exist, holding expectation in spaces where I question His ability and desire to provide the abundance He’s promised.

We’re in between here – and we know it. We didn’t know it before when we bought a house and made plans to stay in Charleston. I am re-learning how to make memories without having to have them again, trying to reorient myself in a time zone that comes after all the other time zones, trying not to feel as though I have been left behind as all my friends and people I know get up hours before I wake and go to bed hours before I am ready to sleep.

It feels good to write again. To record the narrative in my mind. It helps me clear my head a little. I want to hold these moments.

words that…

i need words
the words that say more
than pictures do,

words that script colors
on white
with only
black and white

words that tell
what happened
what happens
what happens next

words that express
feeling and sadness
that give
courage and happiness

i need words that help
me understand
who i am
becoming.

5-30-2016

snapshot

Do you feel alive at all? Because I don’t feel like I know you right now.

If it’s any consolation, I don’t feel like I know me right now either. I feel dark inside. And very, very tired.

When I Need Him

Sometimes, I am afraid He is not really there. For big things like car accidents and 9/11 and cancer, or for littler things like gall bladder issues and daily peace. There is an essential oil for anything you want to feel or not feel, and death has to happen, and gall bladders will do what gall bladders will do – there are reasonable explanations for everything good and everything bad that happens in the world.

I don’t want to stop believing in Him – there is nothing like imagining Him out of existence that frightens me more – but I am having a hard time lately. Maybe I am looking for a sign that could only be Him, but then, wouldn’t I try to explain that away?

Driving to the doctor this morning, the tears began, and they stayed close through my visit and spilled over as I tried to breathe normally in an oxygen chamber meant to help me feel better than I have for the last week. Why do I have to believe in a God who is good when He doesn’t always act on the bad things with His goodness? My adult self is, I think, grieving for the God I wanted to believe as a child – but I wonder if I believed as a child again if He would reveal Himself to me?

I love Him – I wouldn’t be complete without Him in my life – but I am afraid sometimes that I have invented Him, that all this here is all there is, and if that is the case, why go on? His Person is so much more than His doings.

When I am at the end of me, though, I can’t help needing Him. I don’t always like that His Kingdom is not of this world. Everybody is praying for a loved one who has cancer, and many times, their prayers go unanswered. Is God just trying to school us in His sovereignty when we ask and are denied? Do we have such a small faith that He is ignoring us? Why does He want us to need Him if He won’t act on our lives?

This is a funny switch from my fear that He WILL act on my life, though. I have been reliving our Alaska trip since Noley came, thinking about the endless depth of the sea that surrounded our ship, the way it moved beneath me, nothing holding us up but itself. I don’t know if I have ever been called upon to trust like that in real life, not even really in an airplane, which can land even if it is in distress. There was NOTHING but the sea, and that morning I watched it and felt it, I felt His love for me, and I fell in love with God all over again, and yet I still held back from asking Him what He’d invited me to ask Him.

That’s the trust He’s asking of me, to let His love, as deep and endless as the ocean, to hold me up, to let the wellspring of His heart meet my deepest needs, not just my physical needs. I’m floundering here, though, trying to breathe, but so very afraid of so many things, and so very tired of dealing with my body. I need help, on so many fronts right now, and I’m not spiritual enough or childlike enough to ask Him for it, or at least to ask Him for it in the *right* way, if there is such a thing.

The peace that passes understanding – it’s not something you can arrange to have, you know?

Apparently, I Don’t Believe

And I’m not yet sure I want to…

Since I was a child, I’ve heard about that eighteen inches between the head and the heart. I was taught the danger of knowing something in your head and not believing it in your heart. Living like that was never okay – you couldn’t just know “about” God – you needed to “know God,” or you would, of course, be lost forever.

(Oddly enough, many of the people who taught me this lesson are the same people who also teach to “believe in your head and your heart will follow.” Let me leave the irony there for the moment, however.)

As I grew and learned to speak the truth in my heart, I felt that I managed to avoid the 18-inch gap that stretches for eternity without the Holy Spirit’s work in a heart, and in typical, human fashion, I rather checked the lesson off my list of things to pay attention to, pretty much figuring that if God had me, He had me, and He would take care of it.

This worked fine until this year, when God decided to do that thing He promises to do to people who draw near to Him – He drew near to me.

And let me tell you. Having God draw near is one of the most incredibly uncomfortable things that can happen to a girl who, for all intents and purposes, has been living a practical deism for the last ten years or so. It’s not that I have taken God for granted, and it’s not that I don’t believe that He can or would weigh in on things in the world. I don’t really think He created the world, set it spinning, and then stood back to watch all the things go down without Him once He set things in motion.

But apparently, I do believe that He only ever intended to get as close as Christ, and since everything begins and ends with Him and His life, death, resurrection, and return, I have no right to expect to see any blessing, interaction, intervention, or presence of God in my actual everyday life here on earth. However subtle it may have been, at some point in the last several years, I simply stopped believing that God’s goodness was at all specific.

Except there was that time… And there was that one too. And He *did* specifically tell me that these things were good gifts that He was giving to me

My jaw kind of dropped yesterday as I realized that for everything I believe in my head about God, I really don’t believe in my heart that He intends to be good to me. The reason I hate the word “blessing” is that it feels like a curse. I reject the idea that delighting myself in Him should have any effect whatsoever on my life outside of a fulfillment of my spiritual obligation, and the thought that He will “give you the desires of your heart” (if those desires are not specifically Him as my great reward) makes me throw up a little in my mouth.

I’m sorry. That’s probably heresy. And here I’ve been living it.

So that eighteen inches between my head and my heart is getting me into trouble, because even if a body is doctrinally “right” in the head about God, you can’t leave the heart behind, because it is with the heart that “man believeth unto righteousness.” You don’t get a to-do list to check off for spirituality when you’re walking humbly with your God. You get your heart and God holding it and holding you and being God enough to do so with Christ covering up the rest of the mess with His righteousness.

I don’t know what to do with God when He gets all Old Testamenty in my life and wants to interact in “all my ways” as I’m learning to acknowledge Him there. I think I do want blessing, and happy, and I want to say “oh LOOK what God did!” – but I’m scared to let Him in, really let Him in, and be that specific and that personal with me in my world.

Because I’m the better manager for this life that is not my own, don’t you see.

My practical deism has just been given a limited lifespan. I’m not sure I am ready to say with the Roman centurion – “Lord, I believe, help my unbelief!” But I think I’m willing to wait a little longer with Him drawing near, and take one step at a time while I am learning how to humble myself in His sight. I’m already generally okay with His being God. I guess it’s time for me to learn some specifics, huh?

How Great?

My mom told me recently that the first time she ever felt me move in her womb was during a congregational hymn at – of all places – a Bill Gothard convention. The irony of that location alone makes me snort a bit – and to be perfectly honest, the hymn that made me dance then has been making me snort even more lately, for the irony that “How Great Thou Art” has been the song in my head for as long as I can remember, and it is, in a way, the very last song I want to sing right now.

All my life, He has been my safe place in my music. I wasn’t ever meant to compete, or even to lead worship in church – it was a special line of communication between me and Himself, a way of speaking my prayer, of listening to Him. It has always been what He has used to open my heart to Him, whether I am singing, or playing piano. It is where I know He cares about me, where I understand Him, where I am allowed to fly. There *is* no edge of the cliff to stay away from when I sing – except when I have been angry with Him.

It’s not that He even deserves my anger lately – I don’t think, anyway. His challenge to me to ask Him for weddings has become quite the conversation, and it is almost May and I haven’t asked because I am afraid that He will let me down, and on the days I am not, I am afraid that I don’t know how to ask properly to get what I want, and I am afraid of wanting what I want enough to ask Him for it and risk wanting Him to weigh in on my life in a tangible, practical way. And I am afraid of “no” and “too much” and of His saying “yes” and then being overwhelmed with things I don’t want, because “relationship” and “love” is never as easy as “oh that’s beautiful” – it is always “exquisite,” like crucifixion, and suffering, and “diverse temptations.”

Last weekend He went into “ye have not because ye ask not” with me, and “if your son asks you for bread, do you give him a stone?” and then a wedding I really, really wanted to shoot went to another photographer, along with a piece of my heart. I felt less. Worthless. Shattered. And so. very. angry.

Because as much as I believe He is good, I do not believe that I have a right to expect that His particular goodness would extend my direction, and I know that I know that I know that He is not a “vending machine” God, only there to answer my prayers like some cosmic genie in order to get what I want. I know that I don’t deserve anything, that I have no right to expect anything from Him. He is God after all. He’s most interested in His own glory.

I told Him to screw off.

And then the next day I found myself breathing the words, “Oh Lord my God, when I in awesome wonder consider all the worlds Thy hands have made…

I wanted to smack myself, walking the edge of that cliff that suddenly reared itself before me. No way was He safe enough for me to handle sending that particular song His way. No way was I ready to acknowledge His greatness if I couldn’t desire – or accept, or ask for – His greatness in my own life.

It has been fun to imagine it this year as I’ve thought about asking for weddings. To think about what I might see happen if He really does do exceedingly abundantly above all I can ask or imagine. It has been wonderful to consider what “being childlike” in my faith could mean for my walk with Him.

But I am not childlike. Holy wow, I am not childlike. I am a fighter and a control freak and I think I know the whole story and if I don’t know it, I am CERTAIN it will not be good if I cannot guarantee the outcome I want.

I’m stuck, you know? Wanting Him, not being sure I want Him, knowing through to my marrow that He is great and He is God and He loves me and deserves my praise, knowing how utterly empty I am without Him. Like the Psalmist said, His love hems me in both behind and before – He has laid His hand on me from the time I was in my mother’s womb, and my freedom is also the thing that constrains me, that holds me back from doing and seeking whatever and I want with my life without acknowledging Him.

GOD, I wish knowing Him was only about “doing the right thing.” I wish it didn’t involve desire and my whole heart and all my strength and all of the self He created – and is recreating – in me. I wish He could just be God-up-there and worry about all the spiritual stuff. This whole God-with-us thing is throwing me. I can like Him just fine so long as He doesn’t really want to be involved in my life.

But I need Him so much. I need Him to be concerned about my needs and my desires and the little things that make me happy. I need to know He doesn’t just care about everybody else, and even then just the big things. I need to know that somehow His desire for His own glory means that I have a place with Him even when my world seems to be falling apart at the seams, even when disappointment and thwarted desire challenge my ability to trust that God-who-is-great really does work all things together for the good of those whom He has called.

I am *in* it right now. I don’t know how to ask for weddings anymore than I did last Friday, and I trust Him less now, especially with all the logistical issues after the baby is born. I worry that He will just say “no” (when He has intimated that He has a “yes” for me!), and that all this business-building and investment I have done has just been a joke. It all feels like a joke at the moment. Except being His and not wanting it but wanting it more than anything.

Always Vulnerable Now

“To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable.”

― C.S. Lewis, The Four Loves

I decided this year that I wanted to stop living from the old places in my life, decided to put away the wounds that weren’t “me” anymore, and move forward to embrace joy. I didn’t realize that in letting go of the old, I would open my heart up to a completely new set of wounds, the sort of wounds you receive when you really love, when you really are.

When I was going through all the things that broke me, this quote by C.S. Lewis resonated with my growing cynicism. I knew I had to love, and vulnerability, as I understood it then, was at least a desirable (if somewhat drama-inducing) trait. This morning, however, I saw things through a different lens.

Recently, I’ve been experiencing some relational fall-out from a few unexpected places, and things that have been clear between me and God have come up under some scrutiny that has had me questioning everything. I have been reaching to love others, regardless of who they are, but love does require that I lower my walls – the angry walls that I put up to keep me safe – and as I love from who I’m becoming in Christ and love from where I am, I have found myself suddenly exposed to old voices that I thought couldn’t affect me anymore, because God, right?

Growing up, I learned to keep a constant eye on myself and my heart to make sure that I was “okay with God.” There were right things and wrong things and doing the right things indicated that I was a good Christian. Doing the wrong things meant that I must not be walking with the Lord, that I must be convicted or confronted about sin. The Bible was full of “guidelines” for figuring out the right things and for dealing with the wrong things.

So was the Law God gave to Israel to keep.

When Jesus came, fulfilling the Law by clothing us in the righteousness of God, He didn’t intend for us to become “better” Pharisees. He intended life for us – life for me – life that could be lived to the full. This is what grace enables before God: unselfconsciousness. God always meant for us to have that – it was how He made Adam and Eve, and it is all over the Old Testament as He sought out the people who would know Him.

(If you read through the books of the prophets, you find His broken heart, God who wanted to give everything of Himself and all the good things beside, trying to decide what to do with His own vulnerability. Being unable to deny His own self and His hatred of sin and sin in us was the dilemma that ultimately led to the Cross.)

Over the last few years, I have come to see that there is nothing else for me but Jesus. No other name, no other spiritual act, no constant accountability that can ever be a measure of my relationship with God. Because of Jesus, God and I have a conversation, the ongoing kind where we talk about what matters to Him and I talk about what matters to me, and we literally do life together with Him being my Father and me being (quite predictably and petulantly sometimes) His child.

My spiritual maturity has nothing whatsoever to do with my ability to lead in a church; it has everything to do with my understanding of God, that “I Am with you always, even unto the end of the earth.” I know He laid His hand on me from the time I was a child; I see His presence there always, being the God that I needed, being eternal I Am within all my moments. This is how I know His love, and how I know it does not depend on my action or inaction.

So I know now that “loving someone” means “being” in that person’s world. It isn’t some rational, quantifiable give-and-take. It is “putting on flesh” and leaving off “guidelines” to lay your life down so that someone else can know what love really is. It is being honest about who you are and leaving room for others to be honest about who they are. And, in my case, it may also mean getting your heart broken on repeat because you can’t hold onto things that others can’t let go.

As I lay in bed this morning, listening to my husband talking to me about God over the noise of the voices trying to convince me that my whole life is “wrong,” I realized that the rawness of this me-in-God-and-God-in-me thing is vulnerability. That having faith that He and His righteousness will ever and always be enough for me is the biggest risk I will ever take – and it is the biggest reason that many I love will judge me and push me away. This is vulnerability at its hardest: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart.”

There is no room for my walls now, because walls are built out of fear, and there can be no fear in love. I don’t get the right to say to someone anymore: “well, you’re judging me, so I’m not going to bother with you.” I have to go on being me, in Him, with them, and let Him do the work He’s intending to do – both in me and in the other guy.

The old places were easier. Safer. More predictable. But my Life isn’t there, so now we have to figure out the “being me” with others when it hurts part. As a friend of mine shared this week, some things you just have to surrender to walk unselfconscious out into your life: “Take this, I put it on a plate and hand it to you, give me your plate instead, God.

On Being Relational – and Being Alone

It is one thing to say and to believe that solitude is okay, that I *do* need to find myself in God alone, and this is best done in “the wilderness,” as it were. But even when I am not searching for validation in my relationships with others, when I am where I am and very much by myself because of the way life has turned, I still have to face my uncertainty that “I am not enough,” or that “I am too much.” I have to acknowledge that others are not seeking me out for relationship or intimacy, and that in this moment, God Himself is the only one I *know* to be actively involved in my life. Even though I like the new confidence that being alone with Him engenders, I still feel left out, left behind, unnoticed, invisible.

There is thwarted desire here, dreams of a “kindred spirit” intimacy it seems I have never been meant to enjoy. I can name the tastes I have had of it, and I can name the things that violently tore it away from me. I carry a lot of pain around with me; sometimes I think it keeps me from truly investing in relationships.

I have stopped believing that I have a “my people.” Moving your whole life, having a personality only a few people have, being introverted, coming in late to every social group that forms – I can try to be optimistic, but I am wearing down, and I am disheartened. I’m not sure what to do with this desire but keep throwing it back on God to do what He will with it. I am almost daring Him to be enough for me in His own right just now. Only once in my life has He provided the physical person to fill a void in me; it feels silly of me to expect or hope that He would bother doing it again. Who needs a “best friend” anyway? Especially when I already have a husband and kids and clients who fill up my world?

But I know that real, intimate relationship, the kind of childlike friendship that has room for two people to be people with each other – this is something I was made for, and it is more than being a wife or a mommy or a professional. Even in the midst of my busyness, I crave the knowledge that I have a “safe space” with someone who knows me and wants me to know them and doesn’t mind my mess.

I don’t have cheerleaders, really – not people who deep-down understand what has been happening or how I have grown over the last few years. I am not surrounded by a group of creatives or kindred spirits who treat me as an equal. I have some hero-worshippers, and some peers who see me as competition – but the potential for relationship there is… not great. I don’t get the “remember that time we” conversations, or the “coffee-dates with X who is just the most amazing friend” Instagram shots. I don’t get the “we got together and our kids played together” afternoons, or the “I knew I could call you at 3am” phone calls.

I don’t know how it will all turn out, if any of the relationships I’ve pursued will ever blossom into something more. I hold them lightly, give all the space, build others up as much as I can; but there’ll be no hero-worshipping clinging for me anymore, no matter how deeply I feel I might connect with a person. I just want a real friend, you know?

Seeking Holy Solitude

2013 was a painful year for “community” for me. I spent much of the year pursuing relationship with people all over the country, sending emails, having coffee, inviting people in for dinner, sharing in group settings, even beginning to attend a small country church in our area. But “community” never really materialized, and relationships take time to grow, especially as you grow older and the childlike appropriation of a “BFF” is no longer as easy as it used to be, because “trust” and “peer groups” and “schedules.”

I went into a tailspin at the end of the year, grateful for the people who were still in my life (it is not unusual for me to sign off an email to a friend with a “thank you for being in my world”) and frustrated with the crushing sense of loneliness and invisibility I felt.

The super-spiritual side of me says “well, you should just find everything you need in God” or, on the other hand, “you are never going to find the perfect community, because it is made up of humans – just go and get involved.”

But the physical side of me has limitations which don’t allow for that “involvement,” and the Spirit keeps asking me to wait. He has given me a spiritual gift which, in its individually-nuanced fashion, is more meaningful to the Body of Christ in an individual capacity. He has not called me into a large group of people to be at its center, but rather to keep building relationships with individuals, and to keep having conversations, and to keep learning how to love as He loves, wherever I find myself.

“All human beings are alone. No other person will completely feel like we do, think like we do, act like we do. Each of us is unique, and our aloneness is the other side of our uniqueness. The question is whether we let our aloneness become loneliness or whether we allow it to lead us into solitude. Loneliness is painful; solitude is peaceful. Loneliness makes us cling to others in desperation; solitude allows us to respect others in their uniqueness and create community.

 

Letting our aloneness grow into solitude and not into loneliness is a lifelong struggle. It requires conscious choices about whom to be with, what to study, how to pray, and when to ask for counsel. But wise choices will help us to find the solitude where our hearts can grow in love.”

 

– Henri Nouwen (via Diana Trautwein)

Nouwen is right about “aloneness.” I can sense God calling me out to cultivate it right now, something that seems counter to my training and my understanding of the way things are supposed to work. While I don’t see that He’s aiming at the seclusion of ye olde monks for me, I do see that there is a grasping neediness in my loneliness that shuts me down to others, or lashes me to them merely through a sense of obligation and an unquenchable (and uncomfortable) desire for affirmation.

When I am not okay without others when life – or God – requires aloneness, then community has become the god in my life. I am myself detached from the Head; my love for others is not His love because His love is not enough for me. I am never stronger in Him than when I have been alone with His love, than when I can walk into a roomful of people and know that He is, has been, and always will be my safest place.

My husband recently asked me where in Scripture God commands us to be “in community.” Community is a discussion that comes up a lot for us in conversation, especially as we have not found a “church home” in South Carolina. If you consider the Church as a full Body, made up of individuals instead of a standardized corporate structure run under Robert’s Rules of Order, then you can begin to see how utterly important it is for each individual in the Body to have and understand their own identity in Christ as they “submit therefore to God.”

After years outside of a traditional church community, I have learned that there is freedom to be alone within the Body of Christ. There is holiness to be found in solitude, and glory, and God Himself, who met Moses on a mountaintop away from Israel, who called His prophets into the wilderness, who died on a Cross alone and sent His Spirit to dwell in every *one* of us who comes to Him, to teach us and comfort us and seal us each individually for the day of our utter redemption.

The Church’s power comes by way of Christ, bringing each member of the Body to Himself. We need aloneness with Him to draw us together for glory. The Church is not a “fix” for loneliness; we should not be bound to each other through obligation. Our expectation is from Him, not from one another. This, I think, is what we need to know before “we can bear one another’s burdens.” We need to dare to let Jesus and His righteousness be our identity, instead of our community and our culture.

What Love Looks Like

Oh, the days when I drew lines around my faith
To keep you out, to keep me in, to keep it safe
And oh, the sense of my own self entitlement
To say who’s wrong or won’t belong or cannot stay

‘Cause somebody somewhere decided
We’d be better off divided
And somehow despite the damage done
He says, “Come”

There is room enough for all of us, please come
And the arms are open wide enough, please come
And our parts are never greater than the sum
This is the heart of the One
Who stands before an open door and bids us come

Oh, the times when I have failed to recognize
How may chairs are gathered there around the feast
To break the bread and break these boundaries
That have kept us from our only common ground,
The invitation to sit down, if we will come

Come from the best of humanity
Come from the depths of depravity
Come now and see how we need
Every different bead on this same string.

Come, there is room enough for all of us
Come, and the arms are open wide
And our parts are never greater than the sum
This is the heart of the One
Who stands before an open door and bids us come
And bids us come

– Nichole Nordeman, Please Come