Pursuit

You wore me thin
As I staggered and lurched
Through the shadowed valley
‘neath a burden that I
Refused to let go of
Though it caused me to twist
And turn open blisters
‘neath a stress-cracked veneer
Once fired by my own pride
Now scattered in pieces
Strewn around on the ground
You pursued me like a
Lion stalking its prey
Before overtaking
My shaken countenance
Striking a fatal blow
To my fear rendering
Joy sprouted from a seed
Buried deep within me
Freed by humility
Bought by recognition
Of my own empty hands
And your bloody pierced paws
That surely along with
Mercy shall follow me
All the days of my life

“We know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” -Romans 8:28

“The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters. He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake. Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me. Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.” -Psalms 23:1-6

I wrote this poem a couple of days ago after reading a section in Mark Batterson‘s book THE CIRCLE MAKER in which he discussed the 23rd Psalm, particularly, the verse that says, “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life…”:

Batterson wrote, “The word follow isn’t a strong enough translation. It’s a hunting term in Hebrew. It’s like God is hunting you down – but not to harm you; God is hunting you down to bless you. He wants to show you His goodness and His mercy, but too often we run away from it. Why? Because we doubt His good intentions. We can’t believe that God is for us.”

Batterson’s explanation really took root in the days after I read it and eventually led to this poem.

Land and Water

A major difference between water and land is the fluidity of water. It moves. It can be contained, to a certain extent, and it may even be characterized by currents that travel within in predictable ways. But, in general, it is free, wild and anything but still. Even when sitting in a glass, seemingly motionless, particles of liquid are evaporating into the air, out of sight.

I live in the south. I didn’t grow up here and I don’t honestly see myself living out the rest of my days from this cul-de-sac point of view, but, who knows? It is, after all, comfortable. I have a decent back yard, an office space to myself above the garage, a membership to the local Y, and plenty of places nearby to run as I continue trying to work toward one of the characteristic benchmark achievements of middle-aged, middle-class, health-conscious white folk like myself: running a marathon. One has to have goals, right?

I  teach in a rural elementary school where, if you pull out of the parking lot, turn left, take another left at the intersection, and follow the road to it’s end, you’ll end up on the church grounds of a congregation that pre-dates America’s independence from Britain. My wife, my kids, and I attended that church for a few years and enjoyed its beautiful grounds and storied history.  Members of the congregation were very kind and fairly welcoming. A few especially loving members of the church family even played a significant role in providing company and comfort to my Dad during his battle with brain cancer before he passed in early 2012 and I am sincerely grateful for their compassion. I certainly have fond memories of the church. It was very comfortable.

In terms of personality type, I would have to classify myself as an introvert. I appreciate routine and an environment where I have some level of control. Spending a lot of time in a room full of people isn’t my cup of tea. So, after a day full of teaching fifth graders, uttering greetings to colleagues that I pass in the hall, and putting students into their cars when they are picked up at the end of the day in the car-rider line, all I really want to do is go home, go for a run by myself, or sit down and relax. The fact that I have a nine year old daughter and a five year old son that don’t always have the same idea of a good time as I do means that my blissful afternoon decompression time doesn’t always materialize. But, overall, I can’t complain. I’ve got a decent job that, for the most part, I enjoy, I work with people that I like, and I love my wife and kids to pieces. It’s comfortable.

Taking all that I’ve said so far in consideration, I’d have to admit that I’m much more of a land-dweller than a seafarer. I like to have my feet kicked up and resting on a sturdy ottoman that sits upon a sturdy floor in my comfortable living room.

I’m learning, though, that God is a lot more like water than land. My father’s final two years were characterized by a lot of pain, frustration, stress, and fear. It was a period that could have been characterized as anything, but, comfortable. But, in the midst of that storm, as I rode upon waves in a boat that I’d not planned to be in, I experienced the love and compassion of many around  me, the likes of which I’d never have know were it not for the rough seas around me that tossed my life, and even more so, my dad’s, around so violently.

In addition, I’ve learned lessons in the past year, in the midst of mourning, about the real and vibrant role that acts of faith can play in opening the door and allowing God’s beauty to flow in. The impact of His love on my life simply can’t be quantified. With eyes opened wider than ever before, I’m finding moments of grace and blessing in my life that I could’ve never dreamed of. Their cumulative force has brought me to the point where I am checking under every rock and looking at every face in anxious anticipation for what blessing will reveal itself next. But, I’m doing so knowing that the proportion to which God reveals his plan is often related to the extent to which I put comfort aside, move out of my cul-de-sac mentality, and get in the boat He has waiting at the dock for me. While I know that the waters I will float upon have the potential to become wild and stormy at any given moment, I have a growing faith that the journey that I take upon His water, water that is living, will be well-worth it.

As Josh Harmony sings in his song Paradox, “I know You enough to know to trust you with what I don’t…”

“God’s desire is that we get out into the open water, because it is there that the real relationship happens. A real relationship with God doesn’t happen in the harbor, safely tied up to the dock. The boat wasn’t made to stay tied to the dock; it was meant to sail in the open water.” -Mark Stuart, Hands And Feet Project director

“Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path.” -Psalms 119:105

Living As A Result

It is when I consider my flaws, my mistakes, and the horrible things that I have done in my life that I fall down, broken, in full appreciation of the grace of Abba. The fact that He has blessed my life so richly, despite my long track record of persistent selfishness and vanity, sparks gratitude to the highest degree. It goes far beyond arguments about morality, theological debate, and adherence to particular church traditions and rituals. God is a boundless, infinite being not confined by time or human understanding. We can’t hope to outwit God anymore than a paintbrush can hope to understand the artist. Our true peace and joy is found in surrendering to the pure, unearned, grace of God and living out our resulting gratitude each day.

Excerpt from Reflections For Ragamuffins by Brennan Manning, Pp. 227:

The spirituality of accepted tenderness brings an intermittent awareness of the loving gaze of the Abba of Jesus…It is a spirituality without manuals and navel-gazing, goals and game plans, stress and distress. It simply rejoices in the gift. And it is all the work of the Holy Spirit defined as given tenderness.

“Yahweh is tender and compassionate, slow to anger, most loving. As tenderly as a father treats his children, so Yahweh treats those who fear him.” Psalm 103:8, 13