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I wrote this a few weeks ago, but my thoughts seemed to be meandering in circles even more erratic than usual and I’m afraid I wasn’t quite able to wrestle them into submission. Proceed with caution.

Today I watched October Baby. As I have no control over my emotions in movies I was crying openly for at least the entire second half. But then again, so was the rest of the theater. Such a powerful, redemptive, healing movie. If you haven’t seen it, do. I walked out of the theater to low grey skies and spitting rain, caught the fresh, damp wind that rides before a thunderstorm and breathed deep. And I couldn’t stop thinking.

Before this past year or so, I truly didn’t know there was such sorrow in the world. Shielded by youth or naivety, I never imagined such deep griefs and sufferings could exist, that the wounds and pain of sin could strike so close and savage. My eyes are being opened, and sight overwhelms me. The more I see, the more I am humbled. In the past few years, I have watched girls younger than I lose their mother to cancer, beautiful in their courage and faithfulness. I have seen a man tortured by past sins, shoulders made strong because they bowed in grief and repentance. I have watched one closest to me trapped by depression in a dark world of terror and despair I am powerless to enter and helpless to comfort. I have held the withered hand of a woman with dim eyes and fading mind that once sparked with creativity – now she looks at me earnestly, trustingly, as words fall from her mouth in tangled strings I can’t unravel. I have heard a woman sob as she told me the story of the abortion she had when she was a teenager, and the heartbreak of when she became a Christian and knew what she had done. I didn’t imagine these things before. In theory, yes. In books, in movies, in my mind, in far off places, in other people’s lives perhaps, but I never imagined they would be my friends, my family, my people. I have been silenced by their great griefs, too great for me to bear. I have been broken open, crushed by the weight of compassion. My heart breaks, for suddenly I see that everyone around me is a broken soul. Everyone carries scars, wounds, bruises, tears that I cannot mend, and suddenly I tread gently through the world. Each touch must be a touch of love, each word, “Courage, dear heart.” I forget, yes, I forget, and am sharp, hard, fierce. I am a creature of rough edges, stony heart, a proud look, sharp and black as obsidian. But God keeps laying broken people in my path, teaching me kindness, breaking me as I bear each broken spirit gently beneath my chest.

“But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong.” – 1 Corinthians 1:27

And God has broken me. For so long I vainly thought or hoped or wished that I could hide my sins from others. He has broken me more painfully than ever before. Every cut and scrape and bruise has tempered me so that now I might be crushed and not fly into a thousand shards, though I bleed and weep and break and cry “no more!” No veil over my sins, no mask of strength. I was trapped by sin and like a wild creature it drove me mad, and in my desperation I dug my pit deeper since I couldn’t drag myself out. I was like a child who knew I had done wrong and couldn’t mend it, so I frantically sinned the harder, hoping someone would notice, grab me by my collar, and give me a good shaking. Hoping God would notice, as if I had fallen into a Sheol too deep and gloomy for His piercing glance. Too frightened or rebellious to remember I could approach and repent, confident in my High Priest. I am ashamed – how small my faith is still.

“For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are – yet He did not sin.” – Hebrews 4:15

“He is able to deal gently with those who are ignorant and are going astray, since he himself is subject to weakness.” – Hebrews 5:2

And one night, He came in compassion when I would not, swift and tumbling as the clouds of a summer rainstorm. He convicted me and broke my heart, black with bitterness and rebellion. I grew transparent, shivering in my naked soul, past caring what the world could see, past caring if everyone saw me for what I truly was – sinful, broken, ridiculous, wretched – because I could only look at Him, only repent and cling to His love and mercy and rest in the feathers of His overshadowing wings.

“But He said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.” – 2 Corinthians 12:9

What a God of mercy we serve. What a God of love. He took my hand and drew me out of death: “Talitha, cumi.” He gathered me up when I lay in blood and shame and darkness. He tore away the horrible scales that I could not remove with all my frantic clawing. He opened eyes born blind and milky to drink in the light. He washed me in His crimson blood, costliest of cleansings, and dressed me in fine linen. “If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness” (2 Corinthians 11:30). Look at my scars, because they are wounds of love. See how broken I am, because Christ has made me whole. Look at my unloveliness, because Christ loves the unlovable things of this world. I am the most wretched of sinners, rejoice with me! Because I am forgiven. And now I am a slave not to sin, nor am I my own master, but I am a slave to Christ. And, finally, I am free.

“But He was pierced for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on Him, and by His wounds we are healed.” – Isaiah 53:5

For as long as I can remember, I’ve loved the rain, but I can never quite explain why I feel such a surge of joy and beauty as it falls. Today the sky is dark and grey and heavy with rain, but in the dim light the world is overwhelmingly green, lush, and growing. The darkness, the weeping sky, is what transforms the world with life, what makes the earth drink deep and grass struggle eagerly upward until the drab, dead world of winter is a riot of rain forest. Rain like mercy, like grace, like blessings on our head. Sometimes it’s hard to see past the hardships, the sorrow, the pain. But when we can shift our eyes to what God is growing in each, blessed, broken, dear creature of the earth… it’s glorious.

I move through the world softly, hushed and slow, humbled by these great griefs, and overwhelmed by the great work God is weaving all about me. Christ has been merciful to me, redeemed me from death, replaced my foul and filthy heart, bound up each bone He has broken. Everywhere I turn, His hope and joy and redemption is seeping into the dry, cracked soil of the world, uncurling strong green tendrils, binding the broken, strengthening the faint, waking the dead. I live in a fairy story, I tread on holy ground, I am blessed beyond anything I deserve or can comprehend.  I move through the world lightly, joyfully, delighting. There is pain and sorrow, but there is One who has suffered and made satisfaction on our behalf, and where He is, there we shall be also. Courage, dear heart. He makes all things new.

“The Spirit of the Lord God is upon Me, because the Lord has anointed Me to preach good tidings to the poor; He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound; to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn, to console those who mourn in Zion, to give them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for heaviness; that they may be called trees of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, that He might be glorified.” – Isaiah 61:1-3

“Do not be afraid, land of Judah;
be glad and rejoice.
Surely the Lord has done great things!
Do not be afraid, you wild animals,
for the pastures in the wilderness are becoming green.
The trees are bearing their fruit;
the fig tree and the vine yield their riches.
Be glad, people of Zion,
rejoice in the Lord your God,
for He has given you the autumn rains
because He is faithful.
He sends you abundant showers,
both autumn and spring rains, as before.”

– Joel 2:21-23

Disclaimer: Any and all of the following comments may have been written under the influence of too little sleep and too much caffeine. The author apologizes to whoever is kind enough to actually continue reading.

Usually nothing short of the apocalypse or Becca sleep-talking will wake me in the middle of the night, but after being away from NC for the past two springs I guess the approaching storm was strange enough to shake off my dreams. Warm, humid stillness thick with the scent of rain. The approach of far-off thunder, muffled drumbeats beneath the taut skin of cotton field and woodland. The cool, pine-spiced wind, rushing and hissing like waves on the sand. Pale, cold brightness lingering unnaturally long, the crack of brittle sky. Wind, rain, and thunder roll through the whipping pines – the gut-shaking thud of a thousand fireworks, the cracking report of artillery, the rumble of a waking dragon rising from the earth. His roar rattles the windows and creeps beneath my skin. Love wrestles fear. The thrill of excitement is also a shiver of terror in the irrational realm of night.

“Then the earth shook and trembled; the foundations of the hills also quaked and were shaken, because He was angry. He bowed the heavens also, and came down with darkness under His feet. And He rode upon a cherub, and flew; He flew upon the wings of the wind. He made the darkness His secret place; His canopy around Him was dark waters and thick clouds of the skies. The LORD thundered from heaven, and the Most High uttered His voice, hailstones and coals of fire. He sent out His arrows and scattered the foe, lightnings in abundance, and He vanquished them.” – Psalm 18:7, 9-11, 13-14

The words of Psalm 18 are coming true. God walks the dark skies tonight. Each bolt is from His quiver, and it strikes wherever He wills. I weave a lifeline of the whispered words and cling to it. If this is the power of God’s handiwork alone, who can stand before Him? Could I bear to hear that holy voice above the thunder, could my frame hold such fear, such love? As the sky tears and the earth shakes, I can understand why Israel trembled before Mt. Sinai and begged “Now therefore, why should we die? For this great fire will consume us; if we hear the voice of the LORD our God anymore, than we shall die.” I know why the disciples cried out in terror when the storm overtook their small fishing boat and the darkness shrouded them in roaring wind and lashing rain on towering seas, “Lord, save us! We are perishing!”

“Those who go down to the sea in ships, who do business on great waters, they see the works of the LORD, and His wonders in the deep. For He commands and raises the stormy wind, which lifts up the waves of the sea. They go down again to the depths; their soul melts because of trouble. They reel to and fro, and stagger like a drunken man, and are at their wits’ end. Then they cry out to the LORD in their trouble, and He brings them out of their distresses. He calms the storm, so that its waves are still. Then they are glad because they are quiet; so He guides them to their desired haven. Oh, that men would give thanks to the LORD for His goodness, and for His wonderful works to the children of men!” – Psalm 107:23-31

Did the disciples remember these words when they asked, “Who can this be, that even the winds and the sea obey Him?”

Man proclaims that God is dead. He was only a dream of our ignorant ancestors, happily buried in past dark ages as we stepped into the glorious light of our own making. Science is lord. Reason is lord. Man is lord. We are so saturated with a science that sees the world as a well-tuned but impersonal machine that it’s easy to go about life blind to the hand of God in every detail around us. It’s easy to forget God is omnipresent and omnipotent in the humdrum moments of life, easy to switch to autopilot (just read the Old Testament… we seem to be creatures of singular ability in this area). And I am certainly the chief of sinners. But tonight I can not forget.

“The LORD lives! Blessed be my Rock! Let the God of my salvation be exalted.” – Psalm 18:46

There is something about thunderstorms that is otherworldly. There must be a reason the Olympians’ chief god was Zeus, why the Germanic tribes gave Thor his thunderbolt, why Luther tried to bargain with God not to strike him down with lightning on the road. “The LORD lives!” The words are written in fire on my tongue with every flash of lightning. Who can doubt that He lives and reigns in heaven and on earth?

“Who has divided a channel for the overflowing water, or a path for the thunderbolt?” – Job 38:25

“Can you lift up your voice to the clouds, that an abundance of water may cover you? Can you send out lightnings, that they may go, and say to you, ‘Here we are!’?” – Job 38:34-35

In the night, I see the crackling lightning shafts assemble before His throne, shoulder to shoulder with the high-spirited winds and grim-faced stormclouds. The bright throng lining the halls of heaven watch breathlessly in awe and delight at their LORD’s great play, His magnum opus, scene 834,793,249. Or perhaps they have lost count. There’s no time to look at the program, to tear their eyes away.

Nature is not a machine – cold, clockwork, automatic. It is consistent, thanks be to God, but never out of necessity. Chesterton writes that “Nature is a sister, and even a younger sister: a little dancing sister, to be laughed at as well as loved.” Sometimes we spend so long looking down at roots and beginnings like Gollum, searching for secrets, laws of nature, that we forget to look up and see the laughing light of miracles as well. Waking up and eating breakfast and pulling weeds on a sunny day isn’t run-of-the mill at all. Each night my body plays death in sleep only to come back to life each morning… I open my eyes and see light soaking through the curtains. I eat, and bread and butter became skin stretched over flesh and blood  and bones. Each day a million skin cells fall from my body and return to the dust we brush from baseboards. A lanky, golden-maned weed erupts from a tiny down parachute that fell in the garden. God’s handiwork is real and strange and breathtaking.

“It is possible that God says every morning, ‘Do it again’ to the sun; and every evening, “Do it again” to the moon. It may not be automatic necessity that makes all daisies alike; it may be that God makes every daisy separately, but has never got tired of making them. It may be that He has the eternal appetite of infancy; for we have sinned and grown old, and our Father is younger than we. The repetition of Nature may not be a mere recurrence; it may be a theatrical encore.” – G.K. Chesterton

Sometimes, after weeks of not noticing it hits me over the head – I could fly into a thousand fragments of nothing if God wasn’t continually speaking me into existence. And He did it again today! God is so generous with His mercies that I forget how astounding they are. A morning erupts into surprise and joy and thankfulness for God’s incredible grace and love towards us. He is in the quiet sunny morning as well as the thundering storms of night.

“Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.”
“I’m longing to see him,” said Peter, “even if I do feel frightened when it comes to the point.” – C.S. Lewis

Thunderstorms are things of power, and I love  their great beauty and strength, yet they can inspire fear for the same reasons. I fear God and His great power and might and glory – it is too great for me. Yet I love Him for the same reasons. I hunger to approach that beauty and awesome power though I tremble that my frailness will crumble in His hand. Yet so often the power and destruction a thunderstorm threatens,  though it may strike and blacken the tallest tree, brings only rain to feed the thirsty earth. And even so God in His endless mercy does not strike us as we deserve, but One who was mightier and stronger was stricken that we, the dust of the earth, might drink freely and live. To us, His hand is raised in love.

“You open Your hand and satisfy the desire of every living thing.” – Psalm 145:16

What wondrous love is this? This might and power, our shield and fortress. This riot and dance of creation, a masterpiece through which we walk and taste His goodness, and see Him in a mirror dimly. This God, alive! And full of blessings. Hallelujah.

Ye fearful saints, fresh courage take,
The clouds ye so much dread
Are big with mercy and will break
In blessings on your head.

“So when the devil throws your sins in your face and declares that you deserve death and hell, tell him this: ‘I admit that I deserve death and hell, what of it? For I know One who suffered and made satisfaction on my behalf. His name is Jesus Christ, Son of God, and where He is there I shall be also!'” – Martin Luther, Luther (2003)

“What did I mean when I wrote the book? There you have me. It was so long ago, and I am a very forgetful person. Only to-day I lost my dress clothes in the post.” – G.K. Chesterton in reference to The Man Who Was Thursday

Evening

From upland slopes I see the cows file by,
Lowing, great-chested, down the homeward trail,
By dusking fields and meadows shining pale
With moon-tipped dandelions. Flickering high,
A peevish night-hawk in the western sky
Beats up into the lucent solitudes,
Or drops with griding wing. The stilly woods
Grow dark and deep, and gloom mysteriously.
Cool night winds creep, and whisper in mine ear.
The homely cricket gossips at my feet.
From far-off pools and wastes of reeds I hear,
Clear and soft-piped, the chanting frogs break sweet
In full Pandean chorus. One by one
Shine out the stars, and the great night comes on.

– Archibald Lampman

“I have spoken of how He made miraculous bread and wine and of how, when the Virgin conceived, He had shown Himself the true Genius whom men had ignorantly worshipped long before. It goes deeper than that. Bread and wine were to have an even more sacred significance for Christians and the act of generations was to be the chosen symbol among all mystics for the union of the soul with God. These things are no accidents. With Him there are no accidents. When He created the vegetable world He knew already what dreams the annual death and resurrection of the corn would cause to stir in pious Pagan minds, He knew already that He Himself must so die and live again and in what sense, including and far transcending the old religion of the Corn King. He would say ‘This is my Body.’ Common bread, miraculous bread, sacremental bread – these three are distinct, but not to be separated. Divine reality is like a fugue. All His acts are different, but they all rhyme or echo to one another. It is this that makes Christianity so difficult to talk about. Fix your mind on any one story or any one doctrine and it becomes at once a magnet to which truth and glory come rushing from all levels of being. Our featureless pantheistic unities and glib rationalist distinctions are alike defeated by the seamless, yet ever-varying texture of reality, the liveness, the elusiveness, the intertwined harmonies of the multi-dimensional fertility of God.” – C.S. Lewis, “Miracles”

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