Life is Not a Masquerade

Life is not a masquerade.
Life is not a masquerade.
It may be fun to go to the ball,
But it isn’t where real life happens.
A dressed up skeleton is still lifeless,
A decorated corpse is still hopeless.

We spend hours crafting our image for others to see,
Hoping words of admiration and approval
will satisfy the darkness gnawing deep inside.
Smile for the camera, boast of successes,
We bury the brokenness only to find we are digging our grave.

We paint on a mask at such an early age,
And curtail it to match what we perceive others desire.
When one version no longer suits us,
we add another layer. The mask grows thicker,
And day by day, our hearts also become harder.

We do it so well we don’t always realize we are doing it at all,
Masters of individual PR, masters of deception.
Wearing a mask daily, letting it become our identity.
With each layer, with each empty word,
We only dig our graves deeper.

It may be what we do, but it’s not what we were made to do.
Life was not given just to be lived under a disguise,
Nor our energy be exhausted to keep up an image.
Life sometimes beats us up all black and blue,
But in the scars and bruises, the light can seep through.

Life does not have to be a masquerade.
A masquerade is not where real life happens.
Real life is messy, complicated, and sometimes painful.
But it is only when the masks are taken off,
That the darkness within can see the light.

Live authentically - only then can the darkness see the light..png

Music Monday | Something Wild

Music Monday Something wild

Fun fact about me: I really love violin music. To some, this is surprising, given my other tastes in music. I’ve always loved it though, ever since I can remember. And I especially love it when it can also be described as “epic.” Knowing this, it’s no surprise that I enjoy Lindsey Stirling’s music. My absolute favorite song of hers is “Something Wild,” which she performed with Andrew McMahon.

While the song appeared in the movie Pete’s Dragon, I associate it with Narnia, and more precisely, my favorite quote from the Chronicles of Narnia. In The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, Susan asks Mr. Beaver if Aslan the lion is safe, to which Mr. Beaver replies: “Safe?…Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.”

The line blew me away the first time I heard it, and helped me see God in a new light. It’s no secret that the Chronicles of Narnia often parallel Biblical narrative, with Aslan symbolizing Jesus. The idea that this King is not safe, but good, is a powerful truth.

Modern Christianity often seems to gloss over the hard parts of Jesus’ words and teachings. A “safe” God is more appealing to the public and more comfortable for us to follow. We try to fit Him inside a box of what we think we need to make our lives better, sometimes treating Him more like a genie than a loving God and Father. We ask Him for safety and we ask Him for comfort. We often only turn to Him fully when our lives are crashing down around us and we’re left with no where else to turn. And then we beg Him to take away the pain. In our struggles, it’s easy to see God as just a safe haven to run to. And while He does indeed protect His children and does give them rest, He is also incredibly powerful, strong, and just. God is not safe. He is wild. He calls His followers to do things that don’t make sense to the world. He calls us to love everyone, even those who hate us. He calls us to pick up our cross daily. He doesn’t promise riches or comfortable, stylish earthly dwellings – in fact He promises troubles and hardships in this world! But He is good. He is good beyond human comprehension.

While the thought of God not being safe but good blew me away, it also brought on a twinge of anxiety. Like most people, I don’t like going out of my comfort zone or security. I do not have a natural inclination to risk great amounts for other people. Anxiety has been a strong force in my life. But I still want to follow the great, wild God who created me, loves me, and called me.

“If you’re lost out where the lights are blinding
Caught in all, the stars are hiding
That’s when something wild calls you home, home
If you face the fear that keeps you frozen
Chase the sky into the ocean
That’s when something wild calls you home, home”

-“Something Wild” by Lindsey Stirling & Andrew McMahon

The word “home” can mean many different things, but perhaps the most beautiful definition is a place where you belong. Christians know that their home lies not in the world, but in the one to come, the new heaven and new earth that God is preparing for His children. That home is only home because we will dwell with Him. In Him, we find where we belong. In Him, we find our true home.

Living in a way that follows Jesus requires stepping out of the comfort zone. It requires facing fears that keep us frozen in complacency and apathy. And when we do, when we follow where Jesus calls, we find that good, unsafe, wild God and we find where we belong.

“You’ve got a big heart
The way you see the world
It got you this far
You might have some bruises
And a few of scars
But you know you’re gonna be okay.”

-“Something Wild” by Lindsey Stirling & Andrew McMahon

In living a life in pursuit of Jesus and following where He leads, we’re bound to get beat up a bit, physically and/or emotionally. As Rich Mullins put it, when you die, “it’s not gonna matter if you have a few scars. It will matter if you didn’t live.” At the end of it all, something Wild is calling you, calling you after Him, and eventually calling you home with Him.

The Circle & The Tangent Line

The Circle & The Line (2)

I’m tired of running in circles,
But afraid of running a tangent line.

In the circle, I find my comfortable masks that I know too well,
But on the line there is no room for façades, only authenticity.

In the circle, there are lies and warped truths to lull me to fitful sleep,
But on the line there is truth and rest and life.

In the circle, there is no true, permanent hope,
But on the line there is hope that doesn’t put the holder to shame.

In the circle, there are chains to hold me down and keep me spinning,
But on the line, I am free and the one who Christ sets free is free indeed.

I’ve ridden the circle many times, more than I can count.
But I long to walk the narrow line with my Savior.

My feet are inclined to turn and walk the curves,
I’m dizzy from the circle and cannot always stand.

In the circle, I ran alone, desperate and tired.
But on the line, I do not walk by myself.

In the circle, I relied on my own strength,
But on the line, my Savior steadies me and keeps me from a deadly fall.

In the circle, I followed a predictable cycle,
But on the line I walk in sweet, pure freedom.

I have run in circles all my life long,
But now I want to walk the line.

Music Monday | Stars

Music Monday Stars

I just came back from a wonderful weekend at Soul Fest, a three day music festival devoted to faith, love, and action. It is such an amazing (physically tiring but spiritually restful) event, especially for the region I live in. The last act of the festival was Skillet, one of my many favorite bands. Most of the set list was hard rocking, but in the middle of their show, they played an acoustic rendition of the song “Stars.” I’ve loved this song ever since I heard it for the first time, but hearing it live while being outside, under the stars, was an awe-inspiring experience.

If You can hold the stars in place
You can hold my heart the same
Whenever I fall away
Whenever I start to break
So here I am, lifting up my heart

-“Stars” by Skillet

As they played the song, I couldn’t help but close my eyes and lift my arms high in worship of the One who made and holds the stars. I’ve heard it said that the best things in life are unseen, and that that is why we often close our eyes when we laugh, dream, worship, etc. For a moment while Skillet played this tune, this sentiment was indeed very true.

At the same time, however, I think it is equally true that sometimes we need to consciously open our eyes. When I opened mine and looked up, I was looking at the actual stars – a magnificent work of our artistic God. The moment became even more special.

To us, the stars look like pin heads dotting the sky. The dark canvas of the night sky is beautifully interrupted by these tiny specs of light. While they look like tiny dots to us, the stars are in fact gigantic. The smallest known star is approximately 0.12 solar radii or 167,000 km across1.

Perspective is the key. How we see the stars in the sky doesn’t change how massive they truly are. 

I can’t help but think that we often see God similarly to how we see the stars. I mean, in our minds, we know that God is bigger and greater than anything we can really fathom. We often make Him too small though. I for one often find myself thinking that my problems and sins are too much for Him to fix; that I’ve screwed up too many times for Him to still be faithful to me. My faith falters and pride takes over. In those moments, my belief in God doesn’t disappear, but it becomes distorted. The darkness overwhelms me. I tend to distance myself and suddenly I’m trying to live life fully on my own strength. I end up seeing Him as a small, far away, unreachable spec in the dark canvas of my life, even though He is the reason for every cell of my being and every breath in my lungs. My perspective doesn’t match reality.

Thankfully, in those moments where faith falters and I stumble and fall, God is faithful beyond comprehension. He doesn’t abandon me even if it sometimes feels like He has.

The deepest depths, the darkest nights
Can’t separate, can’t keep me from Your sight
I get so lost, forget my way
But still You love and You don’t forget my name

-“Stars” by Skillet

When I find myself in the deepest depths, stumbling through the darkest nights, God still sees me. Psalm 139:12 says it perfectly: “even the darkness is not dark to you; the night is bright as the day, for darkness is as light with you.” Whatever my feelings, whatever my perspective, God sees me. Whatever your feelings, whatever your perspective, God sees you. He made us, He loves us, and He holds us in the palm of His hand just as He holds the stars in the sky. God is bigger and greater than we can ever fully imagine or fathom while in these mortal shells. He is bigger than every fear, doubt, sickness, tragedy, problem, and sin. That is the glorious reality, no matter what we feel or see with our finite, sometimes distorted perspectives.

If You can calm the raging sea
You can calm the storm in me
You’re never too far away
You never show up too late
So here I am, lifting up my heart
To the one who holds the stars

“Stars” by Skillet

  1. Cain, F. (2015, December 25). What is the Smallest Star? Retrieved August 5, 2018, from https://www.universetoday.com/25348/what-is-the-smallest-star/

 

Lessons From the Garden | The Sensitive Plant

Lessons from the Garden_ The Sensitive Plant

I’m a firm believer that the natural world around us can show us things of God’s character and give us important reminders as we journey through this life. After all, He is the creator of it all. Art reflects the artist. We just have to open our eyes and pay attention.

Where I work, we have several gardens and probably a couple hundred different flowers, vegetables, herbs, etc. There is one particular plant that has fascinated me ever since a co-worker showed it to me last summer: the sensitive plant, also known as the “shame plant” or “shy plant.” It gets its name from the fact that when you touch it, it immediately folds inward and droops on the ground, as the picture below shows. In a few minutes, it starts to perk up again and soon, it is as if it never drooped at all!

Sensitive Plant

Sometimes life’s circumstances seem like a sudden punch to the gut. Sometimes we crash and burn. Sometimes our faith falters. Sometimes our situations look hopeless. We may turn inward. We may see our lives looking like the shriveled up leaves this plant has when it is touched. Things looks dead and hopeless. But as long as we have breath in our lungs and are still rooted in Jesus like the plant is rooted in the ground, there is hope. Things aren’t always the way they look at first glance.

That’s a frequent theme in scripture and in life. Sometimes our senses and our feelings fail us. They are not 100% accurate. There is always hope even when all seems hopeless. Even on the most hopeless day in history, the day that Jesus died a gruesome death on the cross, there was hope. He came back and will come back again. If Jesus could come back from the grave, then we can know for certain that there is hope in the seemingly hopeless in our lives too.

Of course, it may take exponentially longer to get up than it did to fall down. The same is true with this plant. It folds inward almost immediately upon being touched, but takes five or ten minutes to come back out and face the sun again. It doesn’t happen all at once either. It’s a slow, moment by moment comeback. And that’s the important thing: there is a comeback. One touch from some other force beyond the plant’s control does not keep the plant down. It is resilient. As God’s sojourning children in this world, who do not fight evil forces on our own but with the power of God, we can be resilient too. We do not fight this battle alone. We can and will rise again.

“Rejoice not over me, O my enemy; when I fall, I shall rise; when I sit in darkness, the Lord will be a light to me.”

(Micah 7:8)

 

 

The Pieces of My Shattered Heart

God can take the shattered pieces and make something full of life & beauty

When my glass heart was shattered,
Some pieces went missing.
I tried to pick them up,
But the shards only caused more bleeding.

Yet every day I return to the ruins,
And once again I try to pick up the pieces on the floor.
But I drop them again as more blood falls,
Causing the few fragments to become many more.

See the flesh on my hands was never capable of truly repairing.
All they can do is collect some of the pieces,
As I wince in pain and bite my lip,
And attempt to apply some temporary adhesive.

But there are minute pieces that are still missing.
No mortal hand could find the full amount.
Some hide in crevices, some in the dust.
There are more pieces than I can understand or even count.

And even if every piece was accounted for,
No human effort could put them all together.
It would be a puzzle beyond one’s finite comprehension,
Not a question of “if” but an answer of “never.”

But there is one called the Great Physician,
Whose hands are stronger, whose eyes see deeper.
His skills are unfathomable and unmatchable,
He is the ultimate Healer – not just a reliever.

He takes the shards of my sin-sick heart,
And carefully trims, shapes, constructs, and assembles.
Sometimes it cuts, sometimes it stings,
But He knows when to apply pressure and when to be gentle.

He is not just repairing,
But rather He is creating.
A new heart, pristine and beautiful.
The process hurts now, but ultimately, it’s liberating.

My cold, hard, once dead heart,
Is being transformed to one that is full of life and His beauty.
And while this life may still batter it,
It will not and cannot destroy it completely.

For it sits in its Maker’s hands, strong and good
From His throne on high it will not fall,
His steady hands hold it now and for always,
I know He will see it through it all.

Music Monday | Terminal

A picture of a Meetinghouse steeple and clock

Death is the ever constant elephant in the room. Everyone knows about it, everyone knows it is eventually inevitable, yet rarely does anyone want to think or talk about it. Yet death, as cruel as it is, is a necessity in this world. Everything that is now alive in this world relies on something that died. The plants that sprout from the ground and feed animals and humans grow from the dirt – made of decomposed plants and animals that came before. Even in the new heaven and earth to come, all who live there will be alive because of Jesus’ death on the cross and dying to themselves.

Lately death has been on my mind. Perhaps it is kind of morbid, but it’s hard to not think of it, with all the stories on the news and all the young people I have known to meet untimely ends. Death is prevalent, and it isn’t going away until the day Jesus returns. It’s the elephant in the room we have to address if we want to live this life like the gift that it is. None of us are getting any younger, and none of us know how many days we have left. I’m in my twenties, but I’m just as mortal as anyone in their supposed “sunset” years.

“The doctor says I’m dying
I die a little every day
But he’s got no prescription that could
Take my death away
The doctor says it don’t look so good
It’s terminal.

Some folks die in offices one day at a time
They could live a hundred years
But their soul’s already dead
Don’t let your spirit die before your body does
We’re terminal, we’re terminal.”

“Terminal” – Jon Foreman

Every day is one day closer. And in the mundane tasks of everyday life, it’s easy to forget what a gift this life is. I find it very difficult to remember this as I get caught up in the pressures and stresses at work. Perhaps that’s why the line quoted above about folks dying in offices cuts so deep. Sometimes it feels like I’m wasting precious time, caught up in the drudgery of getting my work done and just surviving. It’s easy to take all the little things – like breath, food, friends, and nature – for granted. It’s easy to lose wonder in the world. It easy to fall to cynicism and frustration. It’s a fight everyday, but I refuse to let my spirit die one day at a time as I go about my work. I want to live for something more. I want to live for Someone more.

Not only that, but I want to live BECAUSE of Someone more, that is, Christ. My hope is that you want this too. And there comes the concept of death yet again. See, in order to be in Christ, one has to die. 2 Corinthians 5:17 says “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” I am alive in Christ.  And I am alive in Christ because of Christ’s death 2,000 years ago. Yet this new, eternal life is currently housed in a mortal shell, a vessel that will die. And even though I have been born again of God, part of the promise is not yet realized and will not be so until the day Jesus returns. As Christians, we live in both the now and the not yet. For now, while we inhabit this world of tension between physical birth and death, so too our souls lives in the tension of being saved yet not fully resurrected.

“We are, we are the living souls
With terminal hearts, terminal parts
Flickering like candles, shimmering like candles
We’re fatally flawed in the image of God.”

“Terminal” – Jon Foreman

We are living souls with terminal bodies. So even as Christians, our physical predicament hasn’t changed. But because of the new life that God has given and because of His promises, we can live this life in our mortal shells with hope and purpose. Because of Christ’s death, we are free to live for and because of God. Because of Christ’s death, we can live this life with hope and with longing for a world we have not yet seen. Because of our own eventual deaths, we can live this life like the gift it truly is. We can flicker and shimmer like candles, shining a light in a world that is so dark.

As we shine our light and acknowledge our own mortality, it also behooves us to take a breath, take a step back, and treat our fellow eternal souls in mortal bodies with decency and respect. While we may be different in looks, skills, status, or reputation, one thing is the same across the board – we are all dying. All of us face that predicament.

“Whenever I start cursing at the traffic or the phone
I remind myself that we have all got cancer in our bones
Don’t yell at the dead, show a little respect
It’s terminal, it’s terminal.”

“Terminal” – Jon Foreman

Everyone has some baggage they are carrying, even if it’s not easily noticeable.  Knowing that everyone is dealing with something, whether it is grief, physical illness, emotional problems, financial instability, etc., we ought to show love towards all, just as our Savior did. Getting mad about someone cutting you off on the highway isn’t going to do anything good for you or them. On your deathbed, you won’t care about that sort of thing. So let’s be slow to anger, quick to love, and willing to serve our fellow mortal beings. We’re all terminal, but for the time being, we can shine like candles, helping illuminate a dark world with the hope and love.

 

The Potter and the Clay

But now, O Lord, you are our Father; we are the clay, and you are our potter; we are all the work of your hand.

I know the clay has no right to say
Why the Potter shaped it some particular way.

Yet I cannot help but wonder
And so, I sit, I cry, I question, I ponder…

Why did the Potter make me so–

Prone to anxiety,
Easily swept by pride,
Overcome with feelings so deep,
So shy and awkward,
And easily afraid?

Quickly jealous,
Painfully indecisive,
Susceptible to crippling doubts,
Often impatient,
And lonely?

My hope is that these things aren’t me.
That these things are not the end of the story He wrote for me.

That these things may somehow be used to glorify Him,
As he skillfully shapes this lump of clay with a plan and not on some whim.

That He won’t abandon this mess I’m in,
And that He sees a brighter future, not just where I’ve been.

That His hands will shape, trim, and cut when needed,
And that He won’t leave me uncompleted.

That I will not be burned up in that fiery kiln,
But that he will take away all my burdens and sin within.

That the vessel that comes out is beautiful and purposeful,
Pointing to the Maker and His grace so bountiful.

That I am a creation being created,
Now and for all my days that He allocated.

pottery process

Music Monday | Polaris

Music Monday | Polaris by Remedy Drive

The world seems rather bleak these days. Somewhat ironically, the bright screens we hold at our fingertips scream of the darkness that covers the world – the corruption, injustice, greed, pain, sorrow, violence, suffering, and death that surround us. Whatever stories make the news, these are only the tips of the immense icebergs of human suffering. Still, these stories alone are overwhelming. There is so much pain, so much misery, so much darkness in this world. It’s easy to feel helpless. It’s easy to think that our individual actions are meaningless. It’s easy to crawl under the covers in a comfortable bed of apathy.

As Christians, we know that God is a just God. We know that He will make all right on a glorious day to come. This knowledge doesn’t give us an excuse to not act though. God beckons us to get up and follow Him. He calls us to love our neighbors and our enemies; to seek justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with our God; to love others as He has loved us. God is the Light of the world, and as His children, we are to let our light shine in this world of darkness too. But what can one person do in a world of immeasurable suffering and seemingly infinite darkness?

A lantern on a dark nightOne person can have more impact than you think. Think about a flickering candle flame. In a dark room, this little flame stands out. It pierces the darkness. It lights up its immediate surroundings. No longer is the entire room shrouded in darkness. It makes a difference in its own once dark corner. Add some more lit candles, and the whole room will be illuminated. We are each a candle in this world. Each of us can shine a light and make a difference where we have been placed. An ordinary white wax candlestick can be a light just like a fancy scented candle in a jar. Regardless of who we are or where we are, we can be a light. And just as one flame can light many others, they same may indeed be true for us. One flame can become so much more.

This thought is echoed by the lyrics of “Polaris” by Remedy Drive on their latest album, The North Star. One particular part of the song immediately stood out to me:

“Stay strong, be brave
Ripples turn to tidal waves
Don’t you know?
You use your pen when you don’t have a sword
You’ve got your fingertips on the keyboard
And you’ve got the sphere of your influence
Nobody else has got your fingerprints”

“Polaris” – Remedy Drive

Just like one flame can light many others and light up a room, a ripple action can turn into a tidal wave movement. One action can spur others. A group of people working towards something can have a monumental impact. That’s how abolition, women’s suffrage, and the outlawing of child labor happened in the United States. We’ve made some progress, but there are still many miles to go – both here in the United States and around the world. But we also don’t go alone; we follow a God of justice, mercy, and power who goes before us.

This God that we follow has also made us unique – with our own fingerprints and skill sets. We were made in the image of an amazing creator, and we have been given creative impulses. Creativity takes infinite forms such as painting, music, engineering, writing, teaching, and more. Our creative impulses are diverse. The important thing is to use the talents, skills, and ideas that God gives us for good in this world and the furtherance of His kingdom. One person may use their pen as a sword and write speeches, songs, and poems to spread awareness of an issue and to give hope. Another person may engineer a system to provide clean water to a community. Someone else might teach others new skills and foster the ones their students already possess. Another may rescue and counsel a victim of abuse. Yet another may work to find the right remedies to heal wounds and illnesses. An ordinary person in any vocation can do something to love, serve, and help other people.

Let our prayer be that God would help us use whatever talents, interests, and resources we have to shine His light ever more brightly in this dark world. May we not waste our lives asleep in apathy, but rather face the darkness knowing that we don’t do it alone. May we be the hands and feet of Jesus in a world that desperately needs His grace and mercy. May we let our light shine as long as there is breath in our lungs. After all, ripples can and will turn to tidal waves.

Now and Not Yet

Now and Not Yet - Crocuses & Spring

Ask any New Englander how they feel about the weather right now, and they’ll probably grumble about the April snow showers and the cold temperatures. Winter has lasted a long time, and we’re ready for sunny skies and warmer temperatures. We’re ready for spring. The weather just hasn’t caught up yet.

But the signs of spring are there. Indeed – spring is here – though it may only be in the early stages right now. At work, the crocuses are blooming amidst the shriveled up remains of last year’s gardens. New life is springing forth from the dust.

2 Corinthians 5:17 says:

“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.”

I don’t know about you, but sometimes I really don’t feel like a new creation. The reminders of past sins come and haunt me. The baggage of my guilt and shame sometimes weigh down on me. The doubts and fears creep in and threaten to steal what God has given. Some days I want to just throw in the towel. Some days it seems that hope is far off. Some days it seems like the chains of yesterday will never fall completely.

But that’s not the full story. I am in Christ, and therefore I am a new creation. But I am a new creation also in the process of being recreated. I am saved, but I am still being sanctified. Jesus has won the war, but there are still battles to fight. The kingdom of God is at hand, but it is also not yet. God’s promises are both now and some time in the future. The winter is over, and spring is here, but spring is also still coming.

A crocus in spring