To Reach A City

In 2010, I first felt the call to cities. In 2012, I first felt the call to the city I now call home: San Jose, California.

Over the last few years, God has been revealing to me what that means: to be called to a city. While I know I am still very much in the middle of my journey and I know God has much more to teach me, this video is the embodiment of what I have learned so far and how I hope to live my life.

Film: Paradigm Films
Text: Kathryn Kong

Show Me the Fire in Your Heart & I Will Show You Mine

People are reasoned, while God is mad. They love only beauty; who knows what God loves? – Annie Dillard

Who knew hayfever and heat could be so incapacitating? I have been languishing, lazy and lethargic in this heat; my very bones seem to have taken on weight and any attempt at movement or even mental alertness seems too much to ask of my body. My enemy—near invisible specks of pollen—is hidden in each breath I take. It’s so ridiculous, really, it borders on injustice—how all 130 pounds of me are utterly helpless against mere floating particles.

Again, I am faced with my own body’s vulnerability, its absolute impotency against the forces of this world. With age comes the shedding of the illusion of immortality. My body is no clean canvas; it is etched with violences: blisters and bruises, scars and burns, cuts and scrapes, bites and stings, half of which I have no living memory of receiving. But undeniably there they are, little testimonies to the fact that life batters on all sides.

If I have learned anything this year in England, it is that death isn’t hidden. It isn’t lurking around the corner or in the dark margins of life, just out of sight. Death is the centerpiece. Death is the pattern, the texture of our lives. My body is text—each day an aching muscle, a new injury, this cough that won’t go away weaves into that persistent narrative: “You are bound for death. Each breath is one breath closer to ever-silence.”

Every moment of the day rushes toward night. Every hello holds within it the dark seed of goodbye. The face of the one you love is marked with scars, wrinkles-to-be. The whispering shivering leaves that still and shatter you are gashed and ripped from wind, rain and caterpillars.

The things that are most beautiful are the transient ones, the ones you can only try to catch before they’re gone: a sunset, a firefly, the glisten of dolphin back, that arresting stillness of an empty city street where the only sound is the rhythm of your feet on the pavement, twenty months of your life.

*

I started this piece over two months ago, in high summer, as we were counting my grandpa’s last days. I meant to write about him and his lungs which long ago renounced their task, about a God who is good and yet suffers His children to walk through fire, and what it looks like to love the Lord with all our heart, soul, mind, and broken and scarred bodies. But my grandpa slipped from this life into the next before I finished. After the fact, how does one gather the loose ends and tie them off? Reality is too complicated for that.

I was away at a youth Christian camp when it happened, worshipping my God who holds time in His hands. Then it was the long goodbye, followed by the long hello—long, but fast and full. Now it is two months and 108 pages in my journal later—and every day I feel the edge, am pushed up against the cusp of darkness, wilderness, unknown.

*

A few days ago I sat by a creek with the eucalyptus trees towering above me, breathing in that deep damp smell that is the secret of the forest. I sat there and tried to empty myself, tried to pour out these questions and thoughts that assault me like battering rams, tried to release myself from the frantic busyness and emotional intensity of the last two months. All I wanted was to sit there, still, in the earth’s humming silence like a reed bending in the wind.

But that’s impossible right now. There is a restlessness in me, simmering words and stories that are wilting from keeping them inside. There is power in the telling; stories infuse new life into old bones. My craving is for substance, commonality, questions that cut deep, conversation that fuels the fire in my heart and hospitable space to share what has transformed me from the core.

What is seen is temporary; what is unseen is eternal. I have lost already my pseudo-British accent, am quickly losing my British vocabulary. But oh I have known joy so deep and true it streamed from my heart like living water, have felt the sharpness of a heart shattered for injustice, have held the cup of living and dying to my lips and have drunk even the last dregs.

These are the things I carry invisibly, unwittingly. Their hidden power emerges in the most unlikely of times and places, when I stand in a place that once was familiar and known. Something unsettles in my stomach, and I bring the details of the present close, examine them as under a microscope, step back, hold up these new bits of who I am to this light, and ask “What is this? Who am I becoming? What is it about this situation that makes me feel so remote and ill at ease?”

But how do you speak these mysteries in normal conversation? So much to say but words are ill-fitted to the task. And how do you engage people who have no desire or capacity to talk of matters of the heart? You talk about routine, talk about the weather, talk about your plans for the future, talk about small tangible things that you can hold in your hands and offer to each other in lace with a bow on top.

Life in Plaistow has ruined me for normal life forever. I don’t want those pretty little offerings; I don’t want yoga on a beach, or the leisure to sit in a coffeeshop all day; I don’t want a job that impresses people; I don’t want a little family; I don’t want to fight for a cause for the thrill of belonging to something bigger than myself; I don’t want to give my life to music or writing; I don’t want to fall into a death-cycle of maintaining image, reputation, and status; I don’t want neat answers; I don’t want to avert my eyes from what is gruesome; I don’t want to pretend I don’t feel the impossible weight of the splintered mess that is life and death on this planet.

Give me substance; give me trauma; give me truth; give me what I won’t understand. Give me the terror and beauty of intimacy with Jehovah, the Lord of Heaven and of earth.

The marks on our bodies fade but herald a deeper, more lasting woundedness on the membrane of our being. We stumble through the days of our lives internally crippled and maimed; our hunger for companionship crashes us into each other, and each crash whacks away another bit of our hearts. I come to you now with this offering wounded, with barbs sticking out of my heart.

Oh but my Jesus, my sweet Jesus, carries in His body the memory of supreme violence, brandishing scars that have been transformed from glory into glory. He is the treasure we have in jars of clay. He is the unseen yet eternal light that burrows deep beneath the surface, beneath all that is unlovely and lacerated and scarred beyond recognition, and transforms us there in the deepest, darkest place from glory into glory.

[originally published on dailymarvelous – 10.18.2012]

Who.

Even now I wonder: if I meet God, will he take and hold my bare hand in his and focus his eye on my palm, and kindle that spot and let me burn?

But no. It is I who misunderstood everything and let everybody down. God, I am sorry I ran from you. I am still running, running from that knowledge, that eye, that love from which there is no refuge. For you meant only love, and love, and I felt only fear, and pain.

– Annie Dillard

With time, I thought, my search for identity would settle. There was a time not long ago when I thought it had. I could see God’s hand weaving the strands of my life together; I thought I understood God; I thought I understood myself.

That’s when the word came, like a hammer, to leave safety, comfort, and familiarity behind.

*

We had been walking hand-in-hand through the field. He made promises, shared secrets, and invited me to plan and dream with him. My heart was filled with hope; my steps were light with anticipation. I craned my neck to look ahead and knew we were entering new territory—the pathway was being laid before us, brick by brick. Flowers lined the pathway, quiet reminders of the promises he had made.

The pathway took a sharp turn and twisted through a cave, ending abruptly at the edge of an abyss. I paused, staring into the darkness, peering into the depths. My God had led me here, and he wanted me to walk right off the edge into the darkness.

*

Jesus: Who do people say that I am?
The disciples: Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and still others say Jeremiah or one of the prophets.
Jesus: But who do you say that I am?
Peter: You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.
Jesus: Blessed are you, Simon son of John, for this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by my Father in heaven. And you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church.

Revelation of identity always comes after a revelation of God. I have known this; I have lived the reality of this. He is my Father and I am his daughter and he has provided for my every need. He is Emmanuel, who walks with me through all seasons. He is my Shepherd, who guides me and leads me.

But here, in the darkness, he is elusive. I stand here, calling out into the dark: Who are you, God? Who are you for me here in this place?

I am met with silence. I know he has not abandoned me; if I focus, I can feel him near, only he feels different: distant, mysterious, unknown. This is not the warm, comforting presence I knew in the field.

More questions rise to my lips, but fear keeps me silent: What of the promises he made? Have I been deceived? Have I known him truly, or only a shadow? Is he deaf to my cry or has he intentionally chosen to remain silent? And if so, how do I reconcile these contradictions: Is he good or is he cruel? Is he neither, or both?

And worst of all, if I have lost my understanding of God, then have I lost myself? If I have lost God, then who am I?

*

I balked. I ran the other direction, but lost my way. I argued with this unfamiliar God, shouting promises into the darkness that echoed back through the caves, mocking me; I wept; I threw myself to the ground in despair.

Silence.

No matter how much I protested, something in me knew it was inevitable—something burning within me brought me right back to the edge. I had a choice, I knew, but, really, there was no choice. I could go nowhere but forward. With my spirit wrung, I lifted one foot, peered once more into the darkness, shifted my weight, braced myself for the plummet, and stepped into nothingness.

And there, where there was nothing, I felt something crystalize beneath my foot. I looked—it was a block, no longer than my foot, clear as glass, floating in the darkness.

I was held, one foot on solid ground, one foot suspended over the abyss.

*

Yesterday, I felt something new, like a clearing had opened up in my life. And I felt the possibility for change, tiny stirrings of hope: I could live a beautiful day; I could come alive. I had only one chance at this one day, so I had better make the most of it.

Instead, all I felt was fear. I didn’t understand it at first–why I would willingly turn from what would bring life and joy, peace and contentment.

But then I realized: I had signed a pact with sorrow. She had settled in so deep I could not untangle myself. Where does she end and where do I begin? Here is the fear: that if I tell her to pack her bags and never return, will there be anything left? Without sorrow, who am I?

*

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Who are you, God?

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Who am I?

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.

*

One step. And another. And another. With each step, I feel the nothingness give way to substance. I am held by invisibility and impossibility.

I am going deeper into the darkness: how far must I go? Will my feet touch solid ground? Will I see light again, or is this an endless journey, deeper, deeper into darkness?

Is this grace? Is this love? That God refuses to let me settle into a limited view of who he is, a limited view of myself? Is he stretching out my understanding of who he is so he can stretch out my understanding of myself?

*

A name: the Man of Sorrows. He is a God who knows what it means to be human, who can meet me in the place of shadow. He brings no answer, only a heart broken by suffering and he weeps with me here.

Sometimes I feel him weeping here with me; mostly, I am too preoccupied with my own grief to acknowledge him. Besides, I cannot bear to meet his eyes, even though I know they are filled with kindness. I cannot bear to be seen like this: messy, broken, resentful, bitter.

Still the Man of Sorrows opens his arms and receives the only offering I can bring: these tired questions, this endless sorrow, this weighted grief, a busted-up shell of myself.

And for now, that is enough.

Some Questions

How much does joy weigh? Does it weigh
as heavy as despair, only different,
without pain? Does joy have negative weight,
letting the carrier walk a little lighter?

Does joy look like the thing in front of you–
a home-cooked meal, quiet secrets
with your beloved, a blooming jacaranda?

Or is it the transformation of the daily task
set before you—data entry, crusty dishes,
a sticky floor—from dread into delight?

What does it sound like coming from a mouth?
What classroom teaches its vocabulary,
the shape of its sounds on a tongue?

And what does joy feel like in a person?
How much space does it inhabit?
Does it bubble or burrow, glisten or shine?

And what does joy feel like in me—
and how will it change me?

Suffering in the Presence of God

Isaiah 26:16-17: Lord, in distress we searched for you. We prayed beneath the burden of your discipline. Just as a pregnant woman writhes and cries out in pain as she gives birth, so were we in your presence, Lord.

Though harsh, these words offer comfort and clarity in a place of sorrow. I hear often that God is present in our suffering, but this speaks something slightly different: that sometimes our suffering occurs in the very presence of God, perhaps at God’s own initiative, and that that is okay. The former speaks of God entering into our reality and bringing grace; the latter speaks of us entering into God’s reality and encountering pain and distress.

It’s difficult to wrap my mind around; it feels almost heretical to say that we could suffer in the presence of God and he would sit by and do nothing, refuse to ease the suffering. But what I am coming to understand is that something beautiful and necessary is developing within me and he refuses to abort the process. Yes, he is with me–my hand is in his hand, his voice reassures me–but his goodness and his wisdom prevent his intervention.

And within me, I feel something new emerging: a strength I have not known, a boldness, the quiet purring of a lioness learning to roar; the capacity to carry unshakeable joy in deep sorrow; an audacious, impossible hope.

The Darkness of God

We travelers, walking to the sun, can’t see
Ahead, but looking back the very light
That blinded us shows us the way we came,
Along which blessings now appear, risen
As if from sightlessness to sight, and we,
By blessing brightly lit, keep going toward
That blessed light that yet to us is dark.
– Wendell Berry

There is a place in the heart of God so bright it feels dark. As the sun blinds you when you gaze into its light, so it is with the radiance of God. When you look at the Son, everything goes dark. When you turn your face away, Son-spots cloud your vision. Whether you turn towards or away, everything looks different. And as you journey closer and closer to the light, you lose your very self in the brightness—the darkness—of God.

It’s a place of disorientation—thick swathes of darkness swirl past you, pulling at your feet, wrapping and entangling your limbs shade by shade. There is an uneasiness here, knowing there is no way out of this place, but further, deeper into darkness.

Eventually, the darkness seeps into your soul, emptying you out. It’s a place of purification—you go looking for tolerable light in other places, other people, other things, but the comfort they offer is cold and dim, sharpening the edge of despair, carving out the walls of emptiness a little deeper and a little wider.

It’s a place of loneliness—though others can point the way, no one can come with you. This is a solo journey into the heart of God.

Finally you realize you cannot suppress the emptiness any longer. By now the darkness has seeped into your bloodstream; your veins threaten to tear you apart from the inside out. Surrender is your last option.

So you stop running and you stop hiding and you dive headfirst into the darkness as wave after wave pummels you from the outside and your cells split with grief on the inside. You sink deep into the emptiness, let it swallow you whole, and there, beneath the surface, all goes still.

This is the silence of the grave. This is the darkness of transformation.

This is where your pupils constrict and your vision begins to adjust.

You peer into the depths of your heart and the emptiness remains, but it’s unrecognizable: it looks different, it feels different, it weighs different. No longer does this emptiness reek of despair; this emptiness is fragrant with hope and desire. This emptiness quietly trusts that it will be filled.

*

Perhaps this language sounds strange and uncomfortable. I’ll admit—it seems heretical to speak of the darkness of God when we know that “God is light, and in him there is no darkness at all” (1 John 1:5), but there are passages in Scripture where God purposefully leads his people into darkness, where the glory of God causes blindness.

Take Paul, for example, who was literally blinded by a bright light on the road to Damascus. By the time the scales fell off his eyes and he regained his sight, he had been so deeply transformed that his zeal to persecute Christians inverted into a zeal to preach the gospel. When Moses asked to see God’s glory, God hid him in the cleft of a rock and covered him so he would not see the face of God, or else he would die. Even so, Moses’ face shone, unbeknownst to himself, with the glory of God when he descended the mountain. Although God blinded him temporarily for his own protection, the light still had a visible effect on him.

Even further, Isaiah describes the experience known as the Dark Night of the Soul, permitted, perhaps even initiated, by God Himself: “Who among you fears the LORD and obeys his servant? If you are walking in darkness, without a ray of light, trust in the LORD and rely on your God” (Isaiah 50:10). Here we see that a person who walks in perfect fear and obedience may still encounter darkness, situations where the presence and the light of God fade. There is no option but to walk in blind faith, trusting that what was true in the light continues to be true in darkness.

To sum up, the darkness of God—or, perhaps more accurately, the blindness that ensues from looking into the light—is a grace. This blindness protects us from the holiness of God that would destroy us. This darkness is a place of transformation, where we learn trust and object permanence, that God is good even in darkness, that God remains present even when we cannot see or feel him. Somehow, in the darkness, we are purified in ways we do not recognize even though the radiance is evident on our faces. Somehow, we become what we behold: “But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory” (2 Corinthians 3:18).

*

For a very long time I was lost in the darkness of God. Despite knowing the facts—he was with me, he was not angry with me, his love for me was steadfast and true—the darkness hemmed me in on all sides. I held on to a promise that seemed like impossibility: “I will win her back once again. I will lead her into the desert and speak tenderly to her there” (Hosea 2:14). I knew God had led me purposefully into darkness with intentions of love, but this was no courtship filled with roses and promises and extravagant declarations of love.

For months, every cell within me resisted the darkness. Slowly it worked its way through me, hollowing me out. The old rhythms—Scripture and prayer and worship and relationship and rest—lost their substance. Sunlight felt cold; conversation circled the same shadowy topics; weariness saturated me through and through. I wandered through my days like a ghost, caught between worlds. Hours stretched long, while seasons changed with a blink of my eyes.

Finally, I surrendered. Now my eyes are gradually adjusting to the light surrounding me; what seemed hazy, ominous, and uncertain is beginning to take shape. The edges are sharpening, the details are coming into focus, and I am beginning to see that the darkness washing over me wave after wave was always his love drawing me deeper.

And, within me, deep within, a true transformation is taking place. The emptiness that sought to destroy me is being transfigured into a vast, cavernous desire for the one I have seen only in shadows and glimpses. Long ago, he set eternity in my heart, and I feel eternity swelling within me, pushing out the walls of my heart.

And the truth settles deep: he led me into darkness to answer the prayer I prayed long ago: to become one with him, to be filled with the fullness of him.

Yes, the darkness is lightening, but a thick, shadowy haze remains: what does it mean, look like, feel like for my one physical being to become one with the infinite, eternal, holy God, to carry the fullness of him? This is only the beginning–there are deeper layers of purification, more intricate mystery here, further shades of darkness to press through, but now at least I comprehend the cry of my cells.

But most beautiful of all: there is hope here.

Six Impossible Things

The White Queen: I’m just one hundred and one, five months and a day.
Alice: I can’t believe that!
The White Queen: Can’t you? Try again: draw a long breath, and shut your eyes.
Alice: There’s no use trying. One can’t believe impossible things.
The White Queen: I daresay you haven’t had much practice. When I was your age, I always did it for half-an-hour a day. Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.

Mark 2:22: And no one puts new wine into old wineskins. For the wine would burst the wineskins, and the wine and the skins would both be lost. New wine calls for new wineskins.

1.

6:32 am. I open my eyes and despair hovers like a hooded figure above me. I shut my eyes, pull the covers back over my head, curl my knees into my chest, but it’s too late—hope has drained right out of me and dread already settled in my chest.

This despair has become commonplace, chiseling away at my heart day after day, hollowing me out–the emptiness spread like a cancer through my soul.

Into the void, God speaks impossibilities: that I am bold and brave, that joy is my true essence, that there is good in my future. But I live as a shell of myself, with no substance within me to catch these words and no faith to believe these words could be true.

2.

Without imaginal cells, a caterpillar could never become a butterfly. In its cocoon, the caterpillar digests its own cells, dissolving into a viscous substance. The imaginal cells, which carry the DNA of a butterfly, survive the digestive process and awaken out of dormancy. Initially, these cells are regarded as invaders and the caterpillar’s immune system attacks them. Feeding on the dissolved caterpillar mass, the imaginal cells multiply rapidly. They cluster and clump together, resonating at a new, common frequency. The result is a creature which has no structural similarity to its origin—and so a butterfly is born.

3.

Sometimes I peer into my future and I am paralyzed by fear of what I can see. The image is murky, but I can feel the weight of it, the magnitude, and beauty. At times I fear the battles I will face and the losses I will suffer, but what I fear most is the possibility of success; it is the fear of becoming the person I will become, must become; it is the fear of becoming my best self.

4.

Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland tells the story of a girl who had forgotten herself, tumbling into a strange land to fulfill an impossible prophecy. It was prophesied that Alice would return to “Underland” and use the Vorpal Sword to slay the Jabberwocky on the Frabjous Day, breaking the tyrannous rule of the Red Queen.

While the Frabjous Day fast approaches, Alice protests that she is the wrong Alice. Her friends seek to reconcile the old Alice with the Alice who stands before them: Absalom the caterpillar states that she is “not hardly” the right Alice, and the Mad Hatter comments: “You’re not the same as you were before. You were much more…muchier…you’ve lost your muchness.”

An encounter with Absalom spinning his cocoon triggers Alice’s memory and reintroduces Alice to her true self. With this revelation, she straps on her armor, takes up the Vorpal Sword, and, naming six impossible things, she slays the Jabberwocky.

5.

Like Alice, I am not hardly myself. I lost my muchness. I no longer believe impossible things. When God speaks of what is to come, I object: I am not the right girl for the task. Yet he is persistent…and the day appointed comes fast and faster.

6.

In the meantime, he has asked me to write about joy. Even this feels like impossibility—how can I write about joy if I have forgotten how it feels, if I am uncertain that joy can exist on the earth? But I know there is wisdom in this: to write about joy, I must imagine it, and if I can imagine it, perhaps I could find my way back.

But really this isn’t about joy at all. It’s about becoming the person I don’t believe I can become. It’s about becoming a person who can carry joy within me. I come to the place of surrender and what I must lay down is me—my full self, everything I think I am, everything I think I believe, everything I think I love. I am the live sacrifice bound to the altar.

I am the caterpillar spinning the cocoon, unafraid of letting my whole being dissolve. I am surrendering to the process of regeneration even on a cellular level; I am anticipating the new song my cells will sing.

I am becoming the beauty written in my DNA.

I am living impossibility into reality.

Learning to Lean

The breaking began a year ago. God had spoken hard things; his words scalded me. He transitioned people out of my life, one after the next—friends, community, leaders, mentors—testing my true allegiance. He called me out of the harbor and into uncharted waters, placing me into circumstances with higher stakes than ever before.

I grieved. I grieved each thing and person he removed from my life; I grieved all he asked me to leave and let die; I balked in fear of where he was taking me. And I wrestled with him like Jacob wrestled with the angel: is this what I signed up for—such grief, such pain, such fear?

In response, he brought me to Song of Solomon 8:5: Who is this coming up from the wilderness leaning on her beloved? And I heard the desire of his heart: he longed for me to lean in close. He wanted me to keep step with him, to trust him to carry my weight, to hear his whisper weaving through the work and play of each day.

Yet all this time I had been Jacob, weaseling my way into blessing. Having received the promise before birth, still Jacob doubted the goodness of God, bargaining his way into the birthright, his father’s deathbed blessing, the woman he desired, his father-in-law’s possessions. That night, wrestling with God, Jacob once again demanded a blessing on his own terms. The blessing he received, however, would cripple his ability to ever manipulate again.

The blessing he received was not the face-to-face encounter, not the new name, not the story he would tell, not even the promise. No, Jacob’s blessing was the blessing of brokenness. God touched Jacob’s hip and broke him in his strongest place—in the place of his independence—and he limped out of the encounter, humbled and dependent. He emerged, not made whole, not healed, but broken. From that moment on, he limped and he leaned.

With each step, the pull of his muscles and the ache in his bones screamed the mercy of God.

*

My vision clicks into focus; I’d had it wrong all this time. A subtle lie had woven its way into my life—that I could come to God and he would fix me and give me words to say and things to do and I would leave strong and empowered and independent, doing things for God, putting on a show for him, but never once needing him—or others—along the way.

That was never God’s way. His desire was never to create a silent and submissive servant who would do all his bidding, perfectly and efficiently. His desire was for his daughter to live close.

But shame and fear had rusted the lock on my heart. I could feel his nearness, I could feel him drawing me closer, and I could feel the fear of being seen rising to the surface. I turned my face away and started running. And I tripped and I stumbled and I crashed into walls and my hands tightened into fists and my feet blistered red and my eyes hollowed out and my mind started going…

And one day he found me bleeding and unconscious on the side of the road. He found me broken.

But where my heart had been fractured and cracked, his love began to seep in. Only in the place of brokenness could I learn how to lean, how to come close. He broke me of my stubborn independence so I wouldn’t have to do it alone. He broke me so he could show me grace.

*

How did I miss it? How, in all these years of pursuit, did I never grasp this truth? The center-point of the story, the center-point of all eternity, is that moment when the Whole became broken: the almighty God hanging on a cross, blood streaming, back lacerated and raw, his side pierced through.

This is my body broken for you. By his stripes we are healed.

Healing rises from the place of brokenness. His blood is what saves us—we are healed at the very point where nails ripped through skin and thorns drew blood.

If I truly want to be like Christ, then surely I must do the same—to allow anything in my heart that can be broken to be broken. Like the jar of perfume that was broken at his feet, breaking my heart before him is an act of worship. Like the seed that falls to the ground and dies, the husk of myself is broken open to birth new life. Like the bread that was broken and multiplied in Jesus’ hands, so the breaking of myself feeds the hungry around me.

As I am healed at the place of his brokenness, so others are healed at the place of mine. His love leaks out of the cracks where I have let him break my heart open.

*

& he whispers to me once again: Who is this coming up from the wilderness leaning on her beloved?

It is me. I am leaving the wilderness of independence. I am learning to live as one who is loved. I am learning to let the love of God seep and saturate and stream like rivers of living water.

I am learning to surrender all my wholeness to be broken; I am learning to lean.

The Grace of Uncertainty

Well, it’s been a long few weeks.

I’ve remained silent on current affairs, not out of indifference, but because of all I do not understand. I feel the shaking, I feel a dismantling within myself, a deconstruction of who I thought myself to be and all I thought was safe and secure.

It started two days before the election. A mysterious explosion in my neighborhood shook the ground and the foundations of our house, and I imagined myself a child in the Second World War with bombs falling from the sky. Police blocked off the street, investigated, then left. For days, we searched crime reports and news articles for clues of what had happened with no results. Still, I was marked that evening. The veil lifted: it revealed fragility and fear.

Fast-forward a few days: our nation dazed by election results. One friend likened the emotional aftermath of this election to the aftermath of a natural disaster or a national terrorist attack—the grief, the pain, the fear, the horror. Yes, but with a significant difference—while many are grieving, others are celebrating, even gloating, over the results. Again, the veil lifts, revealing our humanity, deep wounds of division.

Where the veil has lifted, I find myself questioning the “certainty” that surrounds me, certainty which takes many forms—pain and platitudes, directives and petitions, expressions of fear and hatred or shame and judgment. One friend fears deportation, another dismisses that fear as overreaction, and I find myself caught in between, understanding both perspectives, unable to validate either. I listen, I weigh, I seek to understand, but still something refuses to add up.

*

Who can say what will happen?
Who is right? Who is wrong?
Are these fears valid? Yes, absolutely.
Are they true? I cannot say; I do not know.

Are these even the right questions to ask?

*

Here, the Christian thing to say would be that God is good, He knows what He is doing, and He works all things out for good. But I remember stories that seem to say otherwise: Job, a righteous man who lost his family and all his possessions; Joseph sold into slavery to save a nation; John the Baptist executed in prison and Lazarus dying in bed while Jesus walked the streets; Paul traveling to Rome, knowing he would be killed in that city; and Jesus himself who suffered betrayal, torture, and death.

These stories come to mind and the questions rise: does restoration redeem the suffering, is the promise worth the pain?

*

A couple weeks after the election, within a three-day period, I learned that three women near to my heart had received cancer diagnoses: my grandmother given six weeks left to live, my mother’s cells turned malignant yet again, a friend diagnosed with cancer all over her body.

Here again, the veil lifts, and I awaken: we are mortals, blind and ignorant of each other, occupying our days with distraction, numbing ourselves to pain and fear. We live in illusion, flitting from thrill to thrill—talking, laughing, eating, sleeping—while time beats its death knell and decay wears our bones down.

Who can say what will happen? Each day feels like a gamble—is this the day we receive the death notification or news of a miracle?

Meanwhile, we live in the vast, uneasy silence.

*

I am Mary, weeping by the grave of my brother Lazarus. It is not just that my brother has died, but that Jesus, the one I loved and trusted, never came. And it is not just that he never came, but that he sent word that my brother’s sickness would not end in death. And yet here we are.

If I cannot trust Jesus, then who can I trust?

When he comes, he looks at me and he weeps. No words rise to his lips; what word could he say that would fix all of this, that would soften the betrayal, that would heal the aching mess in my heart?

*

It happens in the most mundane of moments—when I am packing a bag, or washing a fork, or turning a corner—and the existential despair breaks through the membrane of time and crashes in on me: what matters? What in all this world matters? What of all I have done or ever will do matters?

*

And I am Martha, standing next to my weeping sister at the grave of my four-day-dead brother, and Jesus asks, “Did I not tell you that if you believed you would see the glory of God?”

I’ll admit: it’s easier to grieve and let the reality of death sink into your bones than to stand at the grave and let hope break open your heart again. It’s painful, it’s fearful, it’s vulnerable—the moment of uncertainty, this moment before the (dare I say it?) miracle.

It’s easier to turn your face away and live a small, practical, unremarkable life but he is persistent: “Do you believe? Do you want to see the glory of God? Don’t you want to see what’s on the other side? Do you have a yes inside you, no matter how small?”

*

Now here we are in the present tense, in the middle of the story, days before the inauguration, waiting for news, standing before the grave…and he asks me: “Do you believe? Will you trust me? Will you let me breathe hope into your lungs again?”

And I hesitate, and I ask myself, can I really, truly, fully and completely put my trust in a God like this, a God whose goodness doesn’t feel like goodness, a God who seems mad, wild, and untamable?

But here the revelation dawns: maybe something else is going on. Perhaps my definition of good is too small. Perhaps it is time now for what I thought was goodness to fold in upon itself, be whittled away, stretched, and re-worked.

Could it be that the uncertainty that rattles my bones is not something to be feared but is actually a grace, a grace that shocks me alive, removing every illusion of safety so I finally come running, desperate and vulnerable, into my Father’s embrace? Could it be that he so longs for me to come that he breaks me of anything that would keep me away? Could it be that there is a greater revelation of his goodness and his glory yet to come?

[And somewhere within me, beneath the questions, beneath the fear, beneath the despair, there is a yes, a faint whisper of a yes, but a yes nonetheless.]