UNFEIGNED PLACE

You Bring Flowers

Salutations
And greetings long and wide
For Spring is here
And the birds sing new songs
Of days to come

Lift your hanging head, lovely one
Layers and layers
Are coming away like old dressings
Making way for new nectar
To be had and stored and poured

I used to wonder what it was
To expose one’s heart to Heaven
To open one’s life to the risk
Of being known
To truly trust myself to Spring’s song

I’m discovering that it is simply
Laying one’s heart low
To be seen
And held
By The One who made it

Because the fount of His delight
Isn’t in ritual and raised arms
It is is found when with crushed heart we come
Bringing songs
Made with quiet strength and humility

And the tenderness comes
When brokenness is offered
And the flowers come
When the matters of the heart are sung
And the known one trusts


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Slightly Off Centre

I’ve stopped apologising for being ‘sensitive’ because it fuels my words and enables what I do. I’m mastering the art of defining what this sensitivity means for my life though, because it can quite easily rule me if I’m not careful.

For years, I didn’t understand why I was the way I was… why I felt things deeply, why I was afraid of being too caring or too invested. I didn’t get why things affected me differently than the next person, why someone would experience the same thing and not be moved or upset or hurt. I realised that the heightened sensitivity that I seemed to have towards things, people, and the Holy Spirit, wasn’t normal and it was driving me into deep bouts of depression and anxiety. Instead of just being a ‘sensitive’ person I let my sensitivity have me.

For reasons beyond my control, I lost someone I deeply loved. As a result, I experienced a raw, tender heartbreak like I’d never known before. I felt it all, stronger than ever, deeper than ever. It was like grieving and agony and hurt all at once.

But, God.

My Sweet, Soft God… He knew my deepest distress and my heart’s desire. And aside from the heartache itself (which is valid and expected) He used this time to show me the dark side of my insight, the danger of this awareness, the disillusionment that ensues when I don’t let Him have my soul. He was warning me about me… showing me what my emotions were truly capable of if I wasn’t careful… He was teaching. Refining. Sanding the edges down.

About a month into this confusing time, I attended a few night-classes at my church. Paul Zaia, a pastor and creative, was taking them and teaching on worship. Not just music but heart position. Life position. These nights would redefine my life in the most honey-like way.

In those sessions I got the revelation and I’m still getting revelation that creatives don’t realise the privilege and power of their gift. Privilege, because this gift of seeing beyond is not entrusted to everyone. Privilege, because we experience life with tender hearts. We arrive at conclusions from battle not theory. We discover truth because it sinks into the cracks of our hearts and makes a home there. We observe and notice and ‘take heed of’ our gut. We get weak knees when we’re asked to share our thoughts. We are agile in our craft and learners through and through. We are both heart on our sleeves people and ones who internalise and analyse detail at great length. We are outward in our insight too, pitching fresh idea, giving voice to the voiceless, letting others in on the secrets and mysteries of God in whatever form that might be.

And this gift has power too. Because this creativity, this sensitivity to interpret the human experience, has the potential to consume us and/or the potential to propel us and others forward. There’s a double entendre to it – power in all its dangerous, serious, consuming, destructive force and power in its potential for strong movement towards a goal, impact on and energy with.

Zaia taught on King David, a deeply sensitive man. He tousled with his life and then he informed his soul about His God, his hope, his salvation. He actually rose in sensitivity and articulation. He practiced the presence of God. How? He learned to play music in the pastures of his father’s land tending to sheep as a boy. He learned the strength of His God when he killed a giant with a slingshot. He learned the potential of pain through unrest turned victory. He learned the voice of God because he leaned in to hear and listen. He knew how quickly things could turn. He realised the weight of his worship, the strength in his words, what it was to sing anyway, to set his affections in the right place. He was a man spilling over in thanksgiving against all opposition.

Until God, I had no idea that this lens I had of the world was meant for helping. It’s up to me to articulate the frailties of humanity not fall victim to them… To hold this delicate humanity with open hands for exploring, navigating, teasing out. And then the Spirit of The Living God breathes on this damaged heart like only He can. And the heart ends up being a lush, leafy, flowering site for shade. For me. For you. Because maybe, just maybe, our human condition is better seen in pain. Maybe, the pain makes the green greener.

And we, in our sensitive nature, the creative lot of us. Who are slightly off-centre, a little bit too emotional for our own good, the ones who take things to heart, we are the same ones who harness this thing for good. We are the ones who demonstrate God’s power… His might. Not because we are strong but because He is.

This ‘heightened sensitivity’ is our greatest liability but also our greatest strength. And when we master the art of using it for good and not self-indulgence, I think we master the art of why we’re here.

I really believe we are to make sense of this life by standing at another angle, by testing the waters in order to tell of them, by navigating our days wisely and curiously, by trusting a bit more fiercely than normal, and by encouraging others to be ok in the skin they’re in. It’s our task to carry the same baton Paul did, when he wrote to the Corinthians from a place of great sorrow and anxiety of heart. Not to cause them pain but to mobilise them in love. So that whoever comes in contact with our work would know the overflowing love we have for them. And more, that God’s love is large yet personal. Astronomic yet close. Immeasurable yet finite.

I’m learning to welcome all these far-flung dreams, deep-reaching fears and unanswered questions. In almost the same breath I’m deciding on a full-fledged, fearless, fierce, big life. ‘Cause however we’re made, straight up the guts, sensitive to the core, traditional, wired, super-chill, we’re all made to do it together. You complement me, I complement you.

So stop apologising for being you. Master you by letting God use your foolish ways, your confused heart, those loose screws to make himself strong, to show himself beautiful, to confound the wise, to bring shade and green to this hurting world.

“AS THE hart pants and longs for the water brooks, so I pant and long for You, O God. My inner self thirsts for God, for the living God. When shall I come and behold the face of God? [John 7:37; I Thess. 1:9, 10.] My tears have been my food day and night, while men say to me all day long, Where is your God? These things I [earnestly] remember and pour myself out within me: how I went slowly before the throng and led them in procession to the house of God [like a bandmaster before his band, timing the steps to the sound of music and the chant of song], with the voice of shouting and praise, a throng keeping festival. Why are you cast down, O my inner self? And why should you moan over me and be disquieted within me? Hope in God and wait expectantly for Him, for I shall yet praise Him, my Help and my God. O my God, my life is cast down upon me [and I find the burden more than I can bear]; therefore will I [earnestly] remember You from the land of the Jordan [River] and the [summits of Mount] Hermon, from the little mountain Mizar. [Roaring] deep calls to [roaring] deep at the thunder of Your waterspouts; all Your breakers and Your rolling waves have gone over me. Yet the Lord will command His loving-kindness in the daytime, and in the night His song shall be with me, a prayer to the God of my life. I will say to God my Rock, Why have You forgotten me? Why go I mourning because of the oppression of the enemy? As with a sword [crushing] in my bones, my enemies taunt and reproach me, while they say continually to me, Where is your God? Why are you cast down, O my inner self? And why should you moan over me and be disquieted within me? Hope in God and wait expectantly for Him, for I shall yet praise Him, Who is the help of my countenance, and my God.”

‭‭Psalm‬ ‭42:1-11‬ ‭AMPC‬‬

Valley of Colours

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about the power and importance of coming away. I mean that literally, of course ‘cause rest is good and stepping back is good. But, honestly, coming away is so much more than that. It’s making room and space for the voice and revelation of God even when our routines are out of whack and when it makes more sense to have Him as an afterthought and not the main thing.

The act of driving to a coffee shop, ordering a coffee, waiting for it to be made, and drinking it, brings normality to my day. I also find that exercise up and down hills and by the sea pulls me back down to earth again. I don’t know what it is, but I think since I’ve come out of routine for a couple months, it’s been really grounding to make space for God to speak to me in these everyday somewhat ‘normal’ things. Coffee. Walking. They keep me sane but more than that, they make me feel small again. Human again. I’m able to take an hour and just be quiet. I take a minute and hear Him out. It’s been challenging my worldview, redirecting my attention and breaking down the walls I’ve made around my heart.

I’ve been working on a chapter in my book this week called Valley of Colours. We’ve been trained and taught to interpret the valley as a dark and dismal place. And historically, even biblically, that’s true. It’s known as a place of tears, contest, trouble, darkness and death. I’ve been trying to work my way through different verses on valleys to broaden my scope (and perspective!) and I’ve found that yes, valleys are dark and confusing, they’re places of war and test, of tears, emptiness and mourning but that’s not it.

Valleys are colourful.

In the truest sense of the word, they’re ‘colourful’ in that valleys are places of decision, of contrast, of fertile land, of abundance, of a hard place turned into a place of plenty, of crops, of springs, of brooks, of bounty. Those who plant in tears will harvest with shouts of joy (Ps. 126:5). We hear this in church circles and at the pulpit but maybe that’s what it’s all about – not seeing the tears as wasteful… not seeing death as final… not seeing mourning as the end… not fearing trouble… not viewing our great contests and war as the be all and end all of our existence. Because we will harvest the fruit of our hard won victories in streams springing forth in the valleys and we will bare witness to valleys covered in good crops that will feed many (Ps. 104, Ps. 65:13). And we’ll shout for joy, because the hand of the Lord is on us.

He brings us through. The One who pulls up mountains and sets valleys in their place, is The One who leads us, comforts us, corrects us, chastens us. Even when death knocks at our door. Even when it’s easier to stop and camp in our trouble. He makes a way. His living waters flow through our valleys like the slow small stream and the gushing river. He displays His gentleness and His power in our lives. He shows us what it is for flowers to come out of a hard place and what it is to breathe life into dead things.

He’s the God of the mountain, yes. But, I believe, He loves us travelling through the valley. It’s here, we learn the colours and sides of His scandalous grace. It’s here, in this dark and dismal place that He shows Himself to be green and luscious. When all seems to be otherwise… when it feels like we’re wandering aimlessly, He’s actually leading us through decisions, showing us the extent of our need of Him and the great pleasure He takes in teaching us Who He really is.

Let’s be real. We don’t have it all together. I’ll never be able to explain the love I’ve found this side of Heaven. I can only make space and room for God to reveal Himself to me. And that’s the fun of coming away… of getting quiet in the middle. Because when we get honest with ourselves and with Him, He takes us through. He does. And we only get to tomorrow with His grace and by His hand. But for today, while walking through the valley of decision, of pain, of great contest, I’m making room for my God to show me what He’s doing while I am here. And the valleys of colour I’m in are far greater than I can see with human eyes. They go way beyond what I am capable of thinking up myself and they stretch further than I could ever try and imagine.

If only you knew the purpose He’s building into your sides while you battle! If only you knew the character He’s forging in you while you walk through this season! If only you knew the strength He’s defining in you to be of great courage to someone else! If only you knew the lengths He’s going to so that others might drink of the water springing forth from your life!

This life, this year, this pain, it’s temporary. We just have to stop for a moment… make some space… get quiet… so we can hear the stream and watch the flowers appearing on our land. Things are more than they seem. God loves you. He is for you. He’s brought you too far for you to stop now.

VALLEY ONEVALLEY 3VALLEY 5VALLEY 2

I will open rivers on the bare heights, and fountains in the midst of the valleys; I will make the wilderness a pool of water, and the dry land springs of water – Isaiah 41:18

You send springs into the valleys;
Their waters flow among the mountains – Psalms 104:10

For the Lord your God is bringing you into a good land, a land of brooks of water, of fountains and springs, flowing forth in valleys and hills… – Deut 8:7

Yes, though I walk through the [deep, sunless] valley of the shadow of death, I will fear or dread no evil, for You are with me; Your rod [to protect] and Your staff [to guide], they comfort me – Psalm 23:4

All my love, J x

Beautiful & Plain

I wonder what sort of turn my life would have taken if I didn’t go to Bineng, La Trinidad. It was one of those life defining weekends and the most recent, most beautiful, most humbling reminder of God’s goodness and grace I have. So often we forget where we’ve been… beautiful and plain… mountainous and low. We lose sight of who we are and Whose we are sometimes. I know I do.

So on days when the writing isn’t coming, the job hunting is slow, and the process seems strenuous and ‘plain’, I think of that weekend in the mountains with my little friend Hyacinth-Rose & some of my family. I remember the fresh mountain air and the generosity of the people. I look back to the first time a community of flower growers lifted their hands in worship and the fried fish and huge watermelon afterwards. I think on the providence and sweetness of a Father that lets us in on what He’s doing.

I hold onto those beautiful moments to get me through the plain. Not because I want the mountain here and now. But because I realise that the plain and low are training grounds for the climb. The beautiful and plain go hand in hand. The lowlands and the mountain views are good friends. We are just passing through. So what we choose to stay our minds on has great impact. I can look back in gratitude for what He’s done, look through in gratitude for what He’s doing, and look forward in gratitude for what He’s going to do ‘cause there’s enough grace for every day, every moment, every stage, every season.  And guess what, we’re further ahead than we ever thought we’d be.

‘You keep them in perfect peace whose minds are stayed on you, because they trust in you’ – Isaiah 26:3

x

 

 

 

 

bineng.jpg

Bineng, La Trinidad, Philippines

rose

Rose, An Excerpt from An Illustrated Treasury of Cultivated Flowers

hyancinnn

Hyacinth, An Excerpt from An Illustrated Treasury of Cultivated Flowers

Colours, Patterns, Shapes

It’s amazing what coming away can do. I recently came home from holiday and realised the importance of emptying myself of the clutter and the stuff. Coming away allows the space we need to see from a higher vantage point. We see who we truly are and Whose we truly are. Bigger than that though, we learn what it is our lives are all about. We learn that our lives are made of more and for more. More than we see. More than we know.

A couple weeks ago I went to a Yayoi Kusama exhibition.  I knew of her work but didn’t know much. From the age of 10, Kusama worked with dots and nets to explore and deal with her unstable mental state. Art was her expression; art was her way of coping. In 2014 she was named the world’s most popular artist and she is renowned the world over for her ‘dots’. She kept producing work in her studio even though she checked herself into a mental institution. Seriously, what a woman!

Walking through rooms of her work I felt as if I was reading her journals. It was as if the rooms of paintings and sculpture and sketch represented her struggle – the wrestle in her mind… the frailties in her heart. She made sense of her life through colour and shape and pattern. Now, millions are enjoying and appreciating her work.

After we left the museum I couldn’t help but think of King David. He was a man deeply disturbed but deeply aware of his disturbances. He was a shepherd, a giant-slayer, a king, a father, a murderer, an adulterer, a friend, a leader, and a musician. He had status, fame and talent but he was still just a man. 

Just like Kusama, King David coped with creative expression. He was very aware of his humanity and explored this. Isn’t it amazing that thousands of years later we’re reading his psalms, his songs, his petitions, his confessions, his pleas for forgiveness, these pained verses, these tributes of thanksgiving, these hymns of celebration? I thank God for words I can’t always articulate myself.

King David kept the conversation with God going. Even when it felt one-sided, even when he didn’t understand. He wasn’t always emotionally stable or in the right head space but he was always real about the condition of his heart. He was always raw with God about his soul. 

I think that’s where the power of his creative work lies – in an honest approach to his story and God’s part in it. It’s no wonder he is known as a man after God’s own heart. I think David’s psalms dive into the curiosities and fears and questions we all have. Then the discovery and exploration of God and self is left up to us.

One of my favourite pieces at the exhibition was ‘Revelation from Heaven’. I don’t know why it was my favourite. It wasn’t colourful or overly exciting but it was simple and I liked the name. I don’t know what compelled Kusama to name that particular piece but it seems like an inquisitive artist yearning for something substantial… something real. For me, it’s a person looking for more. It’s colour and shape and pattern.

Maybe we best experience God when we’re open to the revelation of who He is. Maybe we best discover the mysteries of His love when we’re open to the unknown. Maybe, just maybe, when we’re deeply disturbed by the trivial, meaningless things in our lives and we stop for long enough, we find the colours were there all along. The patterns were coming together all along. The shapes were forming and we didn’t even know it.

I think the ‘more’ comes when we notice God’s colours in our imperfect, disturbing humanity.  We don’t just get a better outlook on life but a rounder more wholesome lens by which we can view ourselves and the world around us. We need to dream bigger, put legs on those dreams and watch as God leaves us in wide-eyed wonder as He moves and shakes heaven and earth to make them happen. When we’re open like that – heart and soul, mind and spirit, to the honest and genuine journey; the wrestle; the middle-ground; the pain-turned-beauty, I truly believe that God gives us colourful, intricate, detailed, unique revelations of Heaven. And our lives end up being galleries of His grace and love and beauty for others to see and enjoy and take in.

REVELATION FROM

Revelation From Heaven, Yayoi Kusama

REVELATION FROM 2

QAGOMA, Brisbane

REVELATION FROM 3

Going through the motions doesn’t please you,

   a flawless performance is nothing to you.

I learned God-worship

   when my pride was shattered.

Heart-shattered lives ready for love

   don’t for a moment escape God’s notice.

– Psalm 51:16-17

My goal

… is God himself, not joy or peace, nor even blessing, but Himself, my God.

–  O. Chambers

 

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c. wade