Falling Short

The other night my husband and I watched a small-budget film. We cringed in places at the writing and acting. While it was clear the film had heart, we stopped the movie more than once to groan over its shortcomings.

Now I’m a huge proponent of doing whatever you are called to do with as much excellence as you can. And while healthy criticism has an important place, I want to bracket that for the moment to share the wave of conviction I felt later that evening as I went to bed.

God laid me flat with this thought: It’s easy to criticize; it’s hard to create.

Clearly, we live in a consumer-oriented culture. Everywhere we go, we are lulled into the sluggishness of consumption. Restaurants, grocery-stores, our televisions, even our churches let us limp along with the false assumption that our primary purpose in life is to lap up the fruits of others’ toil.

But God made us all in His creator image for a purpose: to model Him in creating. And that means everyone, creative types and those who would never apply that label to themselves. God calls each of us to create and bring order out of chaos.

But here’s the rub: to create, as an imperfect being, means to create with imperfections. It means even as we aim, we err.

Earlier tonight, my middle son sat crumpled in my lap in tears. He had labored over a drawing book, emulating a master artist’s creation of a blue jay. Despite my son’s earnestness and effort, his final product was not like the master’s. That gap between ideal and real undid him with shame.

As I gathered him in my arms, did I mock his work? Certainly not. Did I lie to him and tell him it was easily as good as the drawing in the book? No. But I truthfully told him that his drawings showed much more promise than mine did at his age. I praised his effort and encouraged him that even going through the process of emulating the master’s work he was learning and improving. I sympathized with the gap between our hoped-for creations and our actual-creations. And I told him I was so very proud of him and pleased that he was practicing his drawing skills.

Here’s my point. God calls all of us to create. To create is by nature a risk and we have no promise of perfection. But that risk by no means gives us the right to opt out. Like the parable of the talents, we have been entrusted with a sum. The master will by no means be pleased if we bury it in the ground (Mt. 25:14-30).

We consume on auto-pilot. That’s easy. Criticizing? Yep, that comes naturally too. But where is God calling you to take a harder route?

Creation requires mindfulness, effort, and vulnerability. Perhaps the fear and nakedness we feel as we do it, might just be the reason God calls us to it in the first place. “Take my hand,” he whispers: “I’m with you.” Falling short might just mean we have to fall up and further in.

Like what you are reading? Kick back and stay awhile. Check out some of my past posts, take a look at my books on Amazon, and subscribe here so you don’t miss a post. I hope you leave here challenged to live a deeper and more fearless faith.

Weep with Me

an uprooted tree

About a month ago at our rental home, I stood at the sliding glass door with my heartbroken boys watching our beloved magnolia tree lacerated and ultimately severed with an ax. I felt each hit in the pit of my stomach as I watched. We’ve lived in this new place for less than a year, but it has been a hard-hitting year for my boys. One of the bright lights, in these difficult months had been our large backyard and in particular that tree. They’ve climbed this tree, swung from it, read under and in it, collected its funny pine cones, discovered treasures in it like a beautiful bird nest, and dug for worms in its shade. It has been a source of joy on some very hard days. And right outside that glass a paid worker was hacking away at that piece of goodness in our lives to reroute a drain system.

As I stood later watching an excavator ply at the root system of that ancient magnolia, I could feel why the year that had included a move to a different state had been so hard on my boys. Oh the roots! They were so much more intricate and elaborate; they were so much stronger than I knew from looking at the above-ground version of the tree. Watching the worker push that strong trunk again and again with that mighty machine, unsuccessfully trying to displace that stump from the ground, was both mesmerizing and unnerving. The machine itself would tip up off the ground as it tried to get enough traction to ply the trunk from the ground. It took hours getting it all out.  As I stood watching, I felt the crushing guilt of moving my boys, of uprooting them and all the manifold network of roots that were severed in the process.

a frozen waterfall

Strangely, later that day I was driving my boys down the mountain we live on when I caught sight of something that was both breathtakingly beautiful and yet somehow hit me as hauntingly sad. It was a frozen waterfall—the first one I’ve ever personally seen. It clung to the rocks, a cascade of icicles, frozen mid-motion. There it loomed above us a crystal chandelier, dangling from rocky crags, an extravagant spectacle of beauty, and yet also somehow cold, hard, and piercing with its myriad spiked edges. For weeks I haven’t been able to get that image from my mind. Did it have a meaning? Why had I seen it the day the magnolia died?

I’ve been wondering about it, rolling it around in the back of my mind. I know it didn’t have to have a meaning, but somehow it felt meaningful to me. As a person who has spent many years of my professional life telling people’s stories, I’ve noticed what a masterful storyteller God is. I’ve marveled at the way he weaves symbols into our stories, the way he shows us themes and ironies, and how he cares about our character arc and our resolution. And so I mulled the meaning of the tree, which felt so obvious, and the meaning of the frozen waterfall, which did not.

an invited guest

A week or so later, I couldn’t sleep. Tears kept slipping down my cheek and onto my pillowcase. It was after midnight. My husband was sleeping peacefully next to me. I didn’t want to wake him. I didn’t particularly want to be comforted. I just wanted to cry, and let the weight of many heartaches fall.

I slipped out of our room and into the family room. I sat on the floor next to the same sliding glass door where we’d watched the magnolia fall. And with the moon lending its light over that hollow place in the earth, I wept. I poured out my heart to Jesus not just about the ache I felt in uprooting my boys but about other sorrows I’d been carrying and wept and talked some more. There was no magic at the end. No real resolution. But afterward I felt spent and ready to sleep. I had wept and Jesus had wept with me. It was what I needed. I felt heard, seen, understood.

In my life I’ve known deep and meaningful friendships and since I’ve been married the depth of a truly intimate friendship with my spouse. But there is a way in which none of us can be completely known, completely empathized with, except through Christ. As Christians we have an unsurpassed intimacy with Christ. He has truly felt our every emotion alongside us. He has experienced with us both our highest joys and deepest sorrows in ways that even the most kindred of our friends, family or even spouse cannot. As George MacDonald writes, “In every man there is a loneliness, an inner chamber of peculiar life into which God only can enter. I say not it is the innermost chamber.” There in the innermost chambers of our hearts we are known. This is intimacy.

a lyric of love

The next Sunday at church, our music minister sang a song from Rend Collective I’d never heard before called “Weep With Me.” The lyrics so perfectly encapsulated my after-midnight meeting with my Savior:

Weep with me
Lord will You weep with me?
I don’t need answers, all I need
Is to know that You care for me
Hear my plea
Are You even listening?
Lord I will wrestle with Your heart
But I won’t let You go
You know I believe
Help my unbelief
Yet I will praise You
Yet I will sing of Your name
Here in the shadows
Here I will offer my praise
What’s true in the light
Is still true in the dark
You’re good and You’re kind
And You care for this heart
Lord I believe
You weep with me
Part the seas
Lord make a way for me
Here in the midst of my lament
I have faith, yes I still believe
That You love me
Your plans are to prosper me
You’re working everything for good
Even when I can’t see
You know I believe, yeah
Help my unbelief, oh
Yet I will praise You
Yet I will sing of Your name
Here in the shadows
Here I will offer my praise
What’s true in the light
Is still true in the dark
You’re good and You’re kind
And You care for this heart
Lord I believe
That you weep with me

Songwriters: Ali Gilkeson / Chris Llewellyn / Gareth Gilkeson / Stephen Mitchell / Patrick Thompson
Weep With Me lyrics © Capitol Christian Music Group

I listened to that song on repeat every chance I had for the next week. It was full of so much truth. In it, I could hear and remember Christ pausing in the pregnant moment of time to weep with Mary of Bethany, the sister of Lazarus. He knew he would raise Lazarus from the dead before nightfall, but he stops, he sees Mary in the depth of her pain, he experiences the pain and loss and sorrow with her, and he weeps (John 11:35). In the song, I could also hear the doubt and the faith of the man who had come to Jesus to heal his demon-possessed son. “Lord, I believe; help my unbelief.” (Mark 9:24). And I could hear the echoes of Job, who could in the midst of his sorrow, say, “though he slay me, yet will I trust in Him” (Job 13:15).

three funerals, two hospital rooms, and a glass bottle

This week loss has echoed through my heart. My cousins lost their Dad on Thursday. A friend from college lost her husband and the father of their three children, the same day. And another friend lost his teenage son on Wednesday. Two other friends have children battling cancer in the hospital. And as I think of each of them, my heartaches seem small, but these truths loom even larger. Our Savior sees. Our Savior feels. Our Savior weeps.

And so as I’ve been mulling the haunting beauty of that frozen waterfall, the answer has come to me at last. I’ve long loved the verse in Psalm 42: “Deep calls to deep in the roar of your waterfalls; all your waves and breakers have washed over me.” That line comes from a psalm replete with questions (Where is your God? (Ps. 42:3), Why are you so downcast, oh my soul? Why so disturbed within me? (Ps. 42:5), Why have you forgotten me? (Ps. 42:9), Why must I go about mourning? (Ps. 42: 9). It comes from a Psalm famous for its longing: (As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you. (Ps. 42:1)). The psalmist feels flooded by wave upon wave of sorrow. And yet amidst that flood, deep calls to deep. Something deep within the heart of God calls to something deep within the heart of man.

Another passage in the Psalms, which has often given me comfort is: “You keep track of all my sorrows, you have collected all my tears in a bottle, you have recorded each one in your book” (Ps. 56:8). To me it is a reminder that not a tear has been shed which God has not seen, not a moment of loss is unimportant to Him.

In the shortest verse in the Bible, time itself seemed to stand still: “Jesus wept.” Jesus paused with Mary to weep over the Lazarus whom he would soon raise. And in the midst of the torrent of waves and breakers washing over the psalmist, time stands still. He hears deep calling to deep in the roar of the waterfalls. He feels known. And in the midst of my own sorrows, the sorrows of my children, the sorrows of my friends and family, he pauses for a moment from the always-forward work he is doing, from the story he is telling, he pauses to put his arms around us and weep with us.

If you could build a monument to the Savior who stands and weeps with us, I think it might look like a cascade of light and beauty, frozen in time. I think it might look like the hard, cold edges of sorrow, looming large from the crags of the mountain above, yet somehow transformed to a spectacle of glory as prisms of light invaded each frozen shard, as the pieces of the whole joined together to form a breathtaking masterpiece, as the very impermanence of it all spoke forth a truth that this is but a moment, a frozen breath, that whispers the story is not yet finished.  Maybe you’ll think I’m crazy but I think that’s why God drew my attention to the frozen waterfall the day the magnolia died. It was His ephemeral monument to the intimacy of sorrow shared, and heard, and known. He let me glimpse the tears caught in the bottle—his and mine and yours—frozen in time, and the light shining through them.

Like what you are reading? Subscribe to get these posts straight to your inbox. Stay, for a while, read a few past posts or check out my books. I pray that you will find something to encourage you to live a deep and fearless faith. And if this post blessed you, share it with someone. Thanks!

Awakening

Looking outside in this season of what Rosetti called “bleak mid-winter,” it is hard to imagine life is getting ready to burst out in splendid renewal. All we see are limbs standing naked of their glory, fields cowering beneath in their barrenness, and clouds shrouding the brightness of the sun. The earth beneath is hard and cold and unforgiving.


Just as the world outside us goes through seasons, I believe our souls do as well. In my life, I feel as though my inner creative world has been going through a long winter’s nap. Undoubtedly, for me the demands of five children under the age of 10 are such that the creative self has little room or time for blossoming. But lately, as I’ve pushed myself to truly practice Sabbath rest, I’ve felt a stirring.

The creative spirit needs Sabbath.

It began with just a simple yearning, a hunger I filled with His Word. It led from there to an ache for beauty. I slaked my thirst with gazing deeply at Jesus, but also beholding His glory in nature and poetry and music and dragging two toddlers with me to bask in beauty at our local art museum (this by the way, is not the ideal way to enjoy art). And it has led from there to tender shoots of inspiration—a gift, not a guarantee—pushing up through a cultivated soil.

“See I am doing a new thing,” the Lord says to the prophet Isaiah, “Now it springs up. Do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the desert” (Isaiah 43:19).

As I meditate on these new awakenings I wonder. Perhaps the birth of all new things in our lives begins with a void. The emptiness gives ways to longing. The longing morphs into season of waiting, of aching. And then sometimes in the mercy of God, a new thing bursts forth, surprisingly in a way we could not have expected or imagined. “See I am doing a new thing,” the Lord says to the prophet Isaiah, “Now it springs up. Do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the desert” (Isaiah 43:19).

From what I can tell, we don’t have much control over the seasons we face in our lives. But in every season, we worship God through a posture of faith, gratitude and expectancy.

Even the ache is a gift that can lead us to Him…

May I encourage you—if you are in a season of deep mid-winter—look with the eyes of faith. Even the discontentment, even the ache, is a pathway that will lead you to Him, if you are brave enough to follow it. God works wonders in the hidden places. Even resurrection began in the dark.

Like what you are reading? Follow, share or pin this post: perhaps someone else needs this message today. Also check out Catherine’s books, available on Amazon or wherever books are sold.

The Way Back to a Heart Ablaze

heart-fire-1249098-639x424 (1)The Emmaus road felt as dry and dusty as their hearts. You see, on Friday, the man for whom these two weary travelers had hinged their entire lives had been crucified. They’d given this Jesus their everything. They’d turned their worlds upside down for him, and now he was dead. Heart-broken, life-broken, these men plodded on talking about the shattering events that they had witnessed and the strange rumors they’d heard—rumors that this Jesus had been raised from the dead.

And while they walked on in this dejected state, their hearts raising so many questions, a traveler joined them. He traveled with them in the midst of their disillusionment; he traveled with them in the midst of their despair; he traveled with them in the midst of their disbelief.

What do you do with your life when you’ve lost your center? How does life feel when there is no ballast, nothing weighty, nothing of substance to keep you in balance? And what if in the midst of that very lost-ness, the answer was right there in your presence, walking the hard road with you? That is the case here.

For you see, Jesus, the very one whom they had been grieving, the very one who had changed everything for them, was right there with them—risen, alive, and full of unimaginable, enlivening power, and they didn’t even know it.

So this stranger began to talk with them about the Scriptures. He began to retell the stories, the stories which all pointed ahead to him—to Jesus—as the key which unlocked every door, to the piece which made every other piece fit, to the answer which made all the questions suddenly seem elementary. Everything past pointed to him, but everything future also suddenly became infused with meaning because of him.

And suddenly their hearts burned within them as this stranger spoke and opened up their Scriptures to them. Their hearts burned within them, not only because he was there, and because he opened up their eyes to the prophesies which foretold him, but also because with him everything ahead had meaning again, a purpose which thrusted them with passion into their future. With him, suddenly even the most mundane parts of life became infused with a greater purpose, with a weight of importance that they could never have without him.

I keep coming back to this passage in the Bible and re-reading it. If you aren’t familiar with the story, found in Luke 24:13-35, go back and reread it. I’ve come because I’ve been weary, dejected, and lost like these travelers. I’ve come because I’ve wanted to feel my heart burning within me again like these travelers. And I’ve come and camped out on these pages, hoping.

Have you ever knocked on the door of heaven for so long that your knuckles got scratched and bloody? Have you laid your pillow down on God’s door and said, “I’m not going anywhere until I hear from you?” If you have, you know that God loves that kind of persistence. He loves it when everything comes to a roaring halt until we find our center again. He loves to answer that kind of prayer. “You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart” (Jeremiah 29:13).

Do you feel like someone has pricked the center of your life and let the air out of it? Are you meandering, aimlessly, hoping that no one will notice you’ve lost the zest for it? Maybe you are on the Emmaus road and you need to realize that you aren’t alone. Even in your lowest place, he’s with you. Even at your ugliest and worst, he’s been by your side. Even in the doubts that might have felt like a betrayal to another, he has been on your side pointing your eyes to the trail-marks which have always pointed ahead to him. Even when the mundane drum-beat of life has so beat you down, that you’ve lost sight of why you were marching in the first place, if you come and seek, really seek for answers, he won’t disappoint you.

He’ll lift up your eyes and let you see glory: two hands breaking bread—a sign for you of a body that was broken for you in the midst of your sinfulness. He’ll lift your eyes up and let you see that in the midst of your powerlessness an unlimited death-shattering, life-creating, hell-binding, heaven-opening, power has been in your presence all along. If you come to the table hungry, he’ll satisfy you. Come with nothing and you will not leave empty-handed. Seek, knock, and you will find that you were found long before you knew you were missing. You were rescued before you knew you were lost. He’s on the road with you. He has places he wants to take you. If you truly look for him, you’ll glimpse him once more and get to say with those who’ve been undone in his presence, “Weren’t our hearts burning within us?”

Ask.

Seek.

Knock.

Don’t give up until you feel his burning presence again.

 

I started this blog with a purpose: to invite my readers to a deep and fearless faith. That’s a faith that burns inside you without consuming you; it’s a faith that compels you into purposeful risk. It’s a faith that is all about this risen Jesus. If you’re looking for that kind of faith or need to renew a faith that is in embers, explore this blog, sign up to receive it in your inbox, or drop me a note. I’d love to pray for you and encourage you to keep asking, seeking, and knocking.

Buy the Book


×