It's raining outside, and because the sun is still shining, the earth is cold and crystallized. The outside is quiet and tranquil, and we are all rushing back and forth from here to there under bike helmets and umbrellas. Few of us are willing to brave the clouds for the little light above, and we walk slow.
It's so quiet, nothing looks stressed, and yet, the rushing and rain forces many of us to look inside for warmth and flavor. Oxford is the kind of city so picturesque and calming that it easily overshadows the stress and weight of social and academic pressures. This dichotomy is familiar to me. I know how it feels when exteriors look as calm as their interior does not, and sometimes I think I am this city. In work, in commitments, in relationships, in loving and learning and hope. I wrap myself in these things and then feel at a loss when, in the beautiful midst of it all, I still feel a bit uneasy or disquieted.
I do not like to feel out of control. Maybe it's because I know all too well what it feels like to be without control. This has taught me how to go with the flow-----to adapt and engage with changing situations, however, I still so desperately feel the need to stay controlled; calm and collected in a hidden-quiet.
I know who I am, and I don't feel the need to justify this to the world, and when people ask about my future ~ about all the plans that I have, I'm happy to share; these dreams are close to me. I chose them.
But when people ask about my past or present-tense, I feel flustered. How am I supposed to explain that I want to live a life that is so counter-cultural to the norm and still feel familiar? I don't want to be distant from the people I care so deeply about. I want them to know that no matter how different we are, I still understand them. I still understand their choices. I understand their uncertainty, their love and their loneliness, even when it is not my own.
How often I feel so strong and still so weak. This dichotomy is a strange place, and, although it leaves me torn, I still pray that my love would be both innocent and w i l d. that it would protect and guide me. that it would be as it is in heaven: holy. a sort of passion that is pure and peaceful----maybe a bit reckless, but never wrong.
Sometimes I find that people have expectations; they ask me to choose between power and vulnerability. I wonder ~ is it possible to live with both? Like Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden; they experienced the greatest Peace in all His glory because they they were aware of who they were created to be. It did not matter if they bent their knee to glorify, or rose in this glory; they were children of God.
I still feel afraid sometimes. Because pursuing Christ (and the calling in your life) looks unusual. It is the living with humility, in servitude, the mourning for and with those who are misunderstood, the seeking of righteousness, in forgiveness, the sacrificing for the sake of another. I have heard people call these attributes weaknesses. And when I, or we, feel accused of a weakness, is it easy to feel on edge.
Peace. What is this word? The dictionary says that peace is freedom from disturbance; quiet and tranquil. Peace is looking like a sunset by the beach, and/or peace is the peak at the top of the mountain.
But when I think of peace now, I see the image of a storm-----a waterfall, all crazy and unkempt. And in the kinda crevasse you find in the between-beneath-rock, there is peace. Everyone wants peace in their life, but, until we recognize that peace is supernatural, we will all continue to look for it in the-temporary-escape. And temporary peace seems almost counterfeit.
Some days I wake feeling refreshed and at peace to find that the evening returns me home to a mess of emotions; they are as scattered as my thoughts, and I think and I think and I pray for a way to control them all again. To fit them back inside as they were: the beautiful before the broken, and now, I'm starting to wonder if the only way they will return to me is if I layer them beside each other. Beauty. Brokenness. A bit of curiosity. What it would be like to carry them both in equal weight. And I'm starting to wonder ~ can this curiosity carry one a little closer to contentment. To courage.
This world is its own storm; obnoxious and wonderful and hurting and whole, and if only we could find a way to peace in the midst of it all, in the midst of us, then we wouldn't feel so on edge.
For me, there is a hope: a peace so transformative in nature it could never be temporary. This is Jesus.
I have written a few blog posts recently about literature and my life, and this is perhaps the most personal one because it speaks of the faith I hold dear. I want to share this with you because it is personal, and I need it again. To hear the testimony of faith over and over and over again like it is the most beautiful song that is never exhausted because it is always the same and always changing. Like Jazz, like love------like days we dream of and reinvent as they grow closer and we grow older.
I've tell you this so that trusting me, you will be unshakable and assured, deeply at peace. In this world you will experience difficulties, but take heart! I have overcome the world.
~ John 16:33--17:1
In the Bible Jesus tell us that we will feel the weight of the world: the stress and anxiety of things that were once so simple and sweet turned complicated and unnerving. But he says: 'take heart, I got you, girl, don't worry, I got you covered and protected.'
And I want to say, 'You want me to take heart? I'm'about to take a nap. Why is this so hard? Why am I so tired? Why is this life so beautiful and so full and yet, I am still so exhausted? so afraid.
And the reply is despite. despite, take heart. People are going to misunderstand you. When you do not speak the same way. When you do not know of things you were never created to know. When you live with a sincerity that unravels you, and people wonder why you would risk something so precious as to be seen in your fear. When you feel alone. in this, take heart.
I think about this for a while, and then I ask the definition for 'taking-heart.' The dictionary reads: To receive comfort, and in this, courage and a confidence that comes from elsewhere. A supernatural hope, wherein what seemed impossible becomes probable.
Jesus doesn't lie: We will have pressure in this world. God does not promise the absence of pressure, but creates a covenant with us: To be with us-----to never leave, nor forsake us (Deuteronomy 31:8).
Pressure is one way we truly identify if we have peace. If everything is good, how we gunna be able to tell if we have peace? I think of the story in Mark, Chapter 4, where Jesus and his disciples where crossing to the other side of the sea. The same story retold in both Matthew and Luke.
Here, Jesus and his disciples climbed into a boat to cross the sea, and in the middle, comes this storm all wild and blowing and pouring in on the sides of the vessel. And the disciples, some of them real fishermen----strong and powerful and knowing-how-to-survive-the-waves, fear for their lives; they cry out to Jesus 'save us'. And Jesus calms the storm.
It's like I said above: the storm that they were in-------that we are in; it's not to take us out, it's to identify where we are. Peace is supposed to be a place you abide, and, in life, we cannot control what happens around us. Why do we ask about "life happening?" Sometimes there isn't a known reason, and when we try to figure it out, we end up even more distraught. Life happens, and is not always smooth sailing. Sometimes, despite the calm weather on the outside, we feel a wild and terrific storm within.
I tried rowing for the first time last semester. It was an experience. Firstly, because it was completely new------and, every early morning, I always tripped, one shoe caught between wood and wall, boat and water. The second reason: I wasn't accustomed to the workout. I didn't mind the rowing part of it. I felt peace in those moments. You didn't have to think about life happening because you rowed fast and rowed faster until you almost didn't notice that the grass blurred at the edges of the river.
It was the bars. The weights. These, I dreaded. I know the gym. I know the treadmill. I like listening to music all loud and headphoned as I run at my own steady challenge. But the weights? That workout where you lie down on a plank and lift a bar above your chest while something watches from above, and it's all heavy and exhausting and nearly impossible for me because my arm-strength is at a carry the-violin-case-four-blocks-away, three-grocery-bag, a-tray-of-coffee-cups kind of level, and I never ever want to lift a bar above my chest again. Because there were moments-----almost every moment-----where I felt I would never be able to lift it again.
And what happens every day when we feel like we are lifting weights we didn't put on the bar? I know my life sometimes still feels like that moment in the rowing-gym. I'm shaking and I get that bar up just in front of my chin, just enough to let people think it's okay, but still I'm struggling, buckling under the pressure. And this is life?
It isn't almost the catastrophic things in life that carry the most weight? Sometimes, yes, but sometimes it's the little pressures that convince us they're worth worrying about. Pressures that are so uncontrollable, they feel unconquerable.
And Jesus-peace is a peace that sustains us; that we find underneath the pressure. There, where we lie below the bar and struggle and struggle. There is where His peace is found. In our most vulnerable moment. In the moments when we cannot defends ourselves because we are holding up our lives with what little strength we have, struggling to breathe and unable to stand. It is there Jesus says: Take heart, I have overcome the world. And I am sending my spirit to live in you, to guide you, to empower you, to be your advocate in moments when you cannot defend yourself.
I think about the moment when Jesus washed the disciples feet and told them he must leave. It must've made them feel so hurt and angry; they could not understand why he would leave them in a world where "life was always happening" around them. The disciples didn't have a business plan. They just followed Jesus and made stuff happen. When tax season came around, he told them to find a fish, and inside, they found providence. When, they were hungry, he feed them and all the thousands of people with them. When they didn't understand, he was patient; he re-explained himself over and over again just so they would begin to grasp his love for them. And I can only imagine how they felt when they found out he was leaving------to die for them.
To hear he was sending them a guide who would be with them forever and always. They must've been so confused. But when The Holy Spirit came to them in all force and power, they must've known that this, this supernatural strength was a gift of saving-grace.
The pressures in our lives cannot be lifted by anyone other than Christ. So much weight rests just above our chests. It sits on our lungs. I feel the way sometimes. I cannot breathe when I am afraid. And there are moments I don't know why I feel overwhelmed. Maybe this is one reasons why I deny the very fact that I am.
When God, the living holy, comes to us, we feel a lasting peace knowing that we never have to walk through anything alone.
Sometimes we look for other people to walk with us. And this is a beautiful thing: finding someone you trust enough to support you. But I think, and I know this to be true from experience, these people------no matter how much they want to-----cannot be with us all the time. For me, I know I need to guard my hearts because, in moments of anxiety, it is easy to let under-qualified people fill roles they weren't meant to fill. And then, after, I wonder why I still find myself in moments feeling empty, betrayed, and alone. We can't expect other people, even people we truly believe in, to lift all our weights when they themselves are on the bench press next to us.
I do know how important it is to be in communion with others. It is true; we find comfort in spending time with people. I think we just cannot expect them to lift pressures that only we experience. But Jesus; he carried all our pain, hurt and fear to the cross. He lifted it upon himself so that even when we feel the weight of it, we know that there is someone stronger who has carried much more than this.
I often accumulate pressure by trying to evade pressure. And lemme tell you friend, it doesn't work. We don't have a choice; we still gotta get up and give of ourselves without giving in to pressure. We'll still feel the sweat of it all, the pain, the bar, the weight, but because The Holy Spirit is with us, that bar, even with all its weight, feels bearable.
John 14:26 reads:
I'm telling you these things while I'm still living with you. The Holy Spirit whom the Father will send at my request will make everything known to you. He will remind you of all the things I have told you. I'm leaving you well and whole. That's my parting gift to you. Peace. I don't leave you the way you're used to being left------feeling abandoned or alone. Don't be upset, don't be distraught.
The Peace that God wants to give surpasses all understanding. This is a peace that is not determined or affected by external circumstances and internal chaos. When you know you have this advocate on your side, there is a sense of stability in the midst of all else. This supernatural peace infiltrates that way you engage with your relationships or issues; now you carry the peace of Christ with you to the places and people that you initially would've looked and failed to find it.
How do you have peace under pressure? You pursue it. You think about it. You gotta look for it. Don't mean you gotta be all fluff------like everything is a learning-lesson-kind-of-positive. It's okay to say that a situation is not ideal, or that this, this life is heavy and hurts.
Search for peace, and work to maintain it.
~ Psalm 34:14
Do all that you can to live in peace with everyone
~ Romans 12:18
If you want to live at peace, work at peace, you may have to go first; to bend, apologize, risk looking foolish and vulnerable or ridiculous and afraid to step towards a cross and kneel in gratitude for the gift of life. In a "life happens" kind of world, we have this eternal life, eternal peace that gives us strength. Gratitude is a way of experiencing God's peace; it guards our hearts and minds as we live.
And so, as Philippians 4:6--7 reads:
Let praise shape your worry into prayers, letting God know your concerns. Before you know it, a sense of God's wholeness will come and settle you down. It's wonderful what happens when Christ displaces worry at the centre of your life.
And how? How to cultivate gratitude? By mediating on things that true, noble, reputable, authentic, compelling and gracious; the beauty, not the ugly, things of praise and not to curse. Practice these things, and trust that God, who makes everything work together, will bring your life into his most excellent harmonies (Philippians 4:8---9).
I am confident------I feel so alive and at peace with this life, please, know this. I think it is okay to admit so. But this, I know, comes with a thankfulness that does not overlook distress, but sees it in all reality and still chooses grace. This is the work of God's love------his embrace strengthening me in mercy, heart and mind. I pray this for you.
May God, who puts all things together,
makes all things whole,
Who made a lasting mark through the sacrifice of Jesus,
the sacrifice of blood that sealed the eternal covenant,
Who led Jesus, our Great Shepherd,
up and alive from the dead,
equip you with everything good for doing his will------
and may he work in us what is pleasing, forever and ever. Amen.