Thursday, December 16, 2010

Hope is Hard

Today I read a short passage from Henri Nouwen’s book, “Finding My Way Home.” I cannot do it justice in summary, so I will just write it out.

“I have found it very important to try to let go of my wishes and instead to live in hope. When I choose to let go of my sometimes petty and superficial wishes and trust that my life is precious and meaningful in the eyes of God, something really new, something beyond my own expectations begins to happen for me.
“To wait with openness and trust is an enormously radical attitude toward life. It is choosing to hope that something is happening for us that is far beyond our own imaginings. It is giving up control over our future and letting God define our life. It is living with the conviction that God mold us in love, holds us in tenderness, and moves us away from the sources of our fear.

I also read John 16. This is a section of the gospel where Jesus is speaking frankly with his disciples regarding what is about to happen to him and to them. He says, “You will weep and mourn, but the world will rejoice; you will have pain, but your pain will turn into joy.” (John 16:20) He also says, “In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)

Hope is not something I grasp easily. Though I am often optimistic, cheerful and confident I easily turn to hopelessness. When I realized I had to leave San Diego all the hope I had came crashing down. It wasn’t hope in San Diego; it was hope that God has good plans for me. It seems like I would have learned by now good doesn’t mean easy and it certainly doesn’t mean I will get what I expect. Early on in the summer I wrote a blog talking about good not meaning easy. I didn’t expect San Diego to be easy, but I did expect it to work out and I expected God to have a plan for a job and a place to live and a people to love. When none of those expectations turned out to be true I felt like God had abandoned me and I felt like he never had a good plan for me in the first place. I also felt like Samwise Gamgee at the end of the Two Towers movie, “How could the world go back to the way it was when so much bad had happened?” All the bad that has happened, all the hard stuff I have been through over the past several years was piled up in front of me and I could not see how anything could ever be good in the face of all the hard and bad I have suffered. I could not see hope at all.

This is still true, my friends. I still do not see hope. I would like to lie on the floor and kick and scream like a two year old having a tantrum because I am so frustrated at how life is going right now. When I read John 16:20 I felt like most people are rejoicing that I am going back to school. I often get responses of hope that I am choosing wisely and that finally I will stop wandering and drifting around the world. My soul, however, is in mourning. As hard as drifting and wandering is I find staying in the same place much harder. Surrendering myself back to school feels very much like death. I wish people would stop rejoicing over the choice I made and stop trying to convince me it was a good choice.

The Henri Nouwen passage reminded me that my future is not really mine, but it is God’s. It reminded me of the calling to surrender my whole life to him. Though I know I was following God to San Diego I see now that I filled it with my expectations and dreams and plans. God had asked me not to plan anything and to just go but I still planned, I couldn’t seem to help it. This might have been easier if I could have resisted the need to plan.

Giving up control, surrendering myself to wherever God leads me and choosing to hope that he does have good plans for me even when it appears that he doesn’t is one of the most frustrating things I have attempted. Right now I am doing it with my heart full of frustration and anger and confusion, yet I am still doing it, I think. God commands my future no matter what I do, it seems. I know it would be better to follow him with a cheerful and thankful heart and to rejoice in his provision, I just don’t the will in me to do that today. So I grumpily move towards his leading. Today I realize God didn’t ever say life would get easier or smoother or safer, instead he said our pain would become joy and though we suffer trials and tribulations in the world he had already overcome the world. Life won’t be easy, but it will be painful. I know God is able to turn that pain into joy but right now I am pissed that I cannot expect anything easy to come my way. Seems like a shitty deal to me.

Monday, December 13, 2010

One Year Ago

I was going through some writing I have done over the past year and I found this excerpt from my journal from one year ago. I wrote it during a day of fasting and silence on our debrief retreat.


Debrief, from your journal.

“Out of here! Out of here! Leave this place!

Don’t look back. Don’t contaminate yourselves with plunder.

Just leave, but leave clean. Purify yourselves

In the process of worship, carrying the holy vessels of God.

But you don’t have to be in a hurry.

You’re not running from anybody!

God is leading you out of here,

And the God of Israel is also your rear guard.”

Isaiah 52:11-12 (Message)

It is time to leave. It is time. I cannot stay here because it is time to leave. There is a time for everything. And now it is time to go. There is no use trying to hold on so tight to what is over. This semester is over. And with that the community I have been living in. and with that the friendships I have. Not over in the sense that I will never see or talk to them again. But now they must change. My friendship with BJ must change. We live in different states and cities and have very different lives. What it was, was good. So much healing of my heart happened as his brotherly care was lavished on me. I love his friendship and it has done for much in me.

But now that chapter is closing. But this is a good story, so the end of one good chapter means the beginning of another. And, as God and I are writing this book together, no chapter will be a waste. Each is full of beauty and brokenness and life and death, giving, taking, remaining, learning and loving.

This retreat, debrief weekend, is a process of worship. In that process I am being purified. I have taken on a slightly different appearance as my Maker is continually creating me. But the dust and the residue from the creation process, the particles of dirt that harden and blemish the sculpture, must be wiped off, blown away, washed off in a bath.

Worship is the holy bath and wind that remove what is not needed. As I worship my Maker I am purified for the journey home.

But there is no need to rush. I am not fleeing from danger. This is a beautiful process to be savored; chewed slowly and enjoyed fully. God, my Pappa, is leading me out and he has a slow pace. I can stop and rest here a while as I am purified. For my Pappa also comes behind, dusting off the picture to make the images clearer, and holding forces at bay that would seek to clutter the memories and harm the beauty that has been created. Pappa is watching out for me so I can rest here and take it slow, relishing this time even as it slips from me. Every passing moment brings me close to an inevitable departure. And I cannot control it, I have no mastery over the fourth dimension. But there is a time to let go, and this is it. This is the time. It is a horribly beautiful gift we have. We can let it go and move to the next phase of life.

“‘Folk in those stories had lots of chances of turning back only they didn’t, because they were holding onto something.’ ‘What are we holding onto, Sam?’ ‘That there’s some good in this world, Mr. Frodo, and it’s worth fighting for.’”

I can hold onto my Pappa. He does let me hold his hand through life. I cannot hold into time, or these people, or anything except my Pappa. There is good in this world and it’s worth fighting for. But it cannot be fought for if I have both hands desperately clinging to a time they cannot hold. It can only be fought for by releasing what I cannot hold and grasping the hand that slowly leads me forward.~

A year later I am not sure I have let it go. How can four months have such a huge impact on a person? The impact is so huge that a year later I am still trying to figure out what happened and what I should do now. Everything has changed and then it changed again. It seems so simple in the words I wrote back then; just let go and follow God to the next chapter. I thought I did, but maybe it was a continuation of that chapter. I found myself thinking, a couple days ago, that maybe if I could go back to Uganda I would understand the past year a whole lot better and maybe I would even know what to do next. It feels like Uganda started it all, but I don't know what it is. Maybe in Uganda I can find it and understand it enough to know where I am going now. As I write that, however, I know I probably won't find it in Uganda. My task was to move forward. Have I done that? It doesn't really feel like it, especially as I prepare to go back to school in a couple weeks. It feels like I went in a circle. But hey, that's African time so maybe it was progress in a backwards sort of way?

I know you all were probably wanting more of an update on my life since I left San Diego. I tried to write one a couple of times today and I couldn't really begin to say how my life is right now. Instead I wrote about Uganda and what happened a year ago. Obviously I made it safely back to Yakima, WA. I will be returning to school the first week of January. Until then I am at my mom's house - home is what I call it, actually. I am grieving and it isn't pretty, therefore I didn't feel like I could post anything readable cause there were way to many F-words. Maybe in a year I will be able to look back at this time and tell people about it, but I still can't do that very well with Uganda so don't hold your breath.

Blessings, my friends.