June 12, 2012

I've had a case of writer's block these last few weeks. In lieu of writing, I've done everything else. I completely reworked my intake process for the creative resources for new projects. I posted nearly 50 new Yelp reviews. I reorganized my Evernote folders. I set up an e-newsletter mailing list for my business. I made a list of a dozen blog post topics, waiting to be written.

But I can't write about any of those things, because something specific is written on my heart. If I can't write about that, I can't seem to write about anything.

The whispers and the wonders

God teaches us in such abundant — and abundantly diverse — ways. Sometimes it's in subtlety. We glimpse it through the murk, glittering like a diamond earring at the bottom of a deep pool, and when we pick it up, we are immediately changed. We experience what the man in Matthew 13 experienced: A man finds treasure hidden in a field. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.

Other times, there's no subtlety at all. It's in the whispers and the wonders. You can't even get out of bed in the morning without seeing what he wants you to learn, to receive, to be transformed by. It's a neon sign over your life. It's a spotlight flooding directly over you, the light filling every room. Yes. This.

This isn't a diamond-in-the-pool time. It's a neon sign time. And the words on that sign are simple: God is with you.

I have called you by name, you are mine.
When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;
and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you;
when you walk through fire you shall not be burned,
and the flame shall not consume you.
For I am the Lord your God.

Isaiah 43:1b-3a

Living open

About a year ago, we sensed (and saw) that we needed to cut back. We were way too busy. We weren't creating space and living open — open to people who might cross our path, open to things God might want to do, open to things that weren't planned eight weeks in advance and rescheduled twice.

I had a lot of guilt around this. Busy is what I do. Filling my time is part of my identity.

To cope with cutting back, I focused my expectations on an (immediate) if/then outcome — if I remove some things, new things will appear in their place. I'm making space for this, so I'll cut out that. In my mind, it was a formula where X is the number of hours in the week and I was solving for Y. It was a calorie counter where I'd just taken out bread and cookies and was then looking for ice cream.

This, of course, is not how it worked. The whole point of living open is to stay perpetually open, and I missed that at first (and I still miss it sometimes — I prefer things that can be checked off a to-do list). But as I struggled, God kept saying, I am with you. When you pass through the waters, and they feel vast and you feel lost, I am with you. And then he started to show me why I needed to make these adjustments — and why he directed them in the first place.

For our good, and for his glory

When God's at work, there are always two acts to the story. Act I is where God works for our good. It may not feel like it at the time, especially when things are difficult and wrought with struggle, when things aren't going The Way They Ought According to Me. But this is his promise, and it's the guiding light in a world that's painful and uncertain.

Make no mistake: This absolutely does not mean that every single thing that happens to you will be good. To the contrary. What it does mean is that God is faithful, he is present, and he's in the business of practicing alchemy on your life — of taking the mire and the mess and pulling pure good out of it. Often, that good doesn't fit my definition of good, in the short-term (and ultimately pretty self-centered) blissful-happiness way. But the good is always there. Always.

But this isn't the end of the story — ever. As much as God loves us (and that's a ton — more than we will ever comprehend), we aren't the point. Act II is where we see how his working for good in us ultimately brings him glory. It's where we turn our experience outward. It's where we learn what it means to be blessed to be a blessing. And often, it's where we finally get what that good actually was.


Between acts, there's an intermission — and this time of waiting can be long. At intermission, we're confused. We don't see any way that Act I can be transformed into good. The alchemist was on stage but it didn't seem like he was doing anything. Whatever's coming up in Act II, we're pretty sure it would've been just as good (or, let's be honest — better) without Act I.

Right now? The curtain is just falling on the first part of the story.

In April, my dad was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. In May, we found out that the tumor is inoperable, and we started hearing terms like localized advanced and six kinds of chemo. Now it's June, and he's in his second round of low-toxicity chemotherapy. We honestly don't know what's next.

The curtain is rustling, and I can see glimpses of the sets and characters moving into place for Act II. These are sneak peeks, and infrequent at that. As much as I want to, I can't go back to Act I and change anything. Act I is complete, and God's working it for good, right now, as we speak.

But for now, I'm in intermission. And God is with me.

The Lord your God is with you, in your midst,
a mighty one who will save;
he will rejoice over you with gladness;
he will quiet you by his love;
he will exult over you with loud singing.

Zephaniah 3:17