Clenched Fist: A Poem About Letting Go

the words "Clenched Fist" over a black and white image of a clenched fist

I’ve held on so tightly to what is not mine to hold,
Grasping for control like a drowning man violently flails,
Trying to save himself from sinking when the lifeguard is approaching.
Clinging to the shimmering pyrite I worked so hard to obtain,
Turning away from true treasure, the only lasting gain.

My fists have been clenched for so long now,
Knuckles white, fingers stiff –
Difficult to flex, painful to unbend.
My hands grip the remnants of my pride,
Serving the master of self that ought to be crucified.

Once a slave to sin, I know this master well,
No longer my king yet still a brutal power.
I belong to another Kingdom now,
But Pride holds on tightly to the prey it seeks to devour,
Lulling me back like a clever, abusive lover.

I’m afraid of surrender,
Defensiveness is my nature.
Fists are great for holding but also for fighting.
I’m weary and burdened yet still terrified
Of the pain it takes to loosen my grip and kill my pride.

Yet I cannot change the past,
Nor ever tame the future while still in the present –
And I cannot hold onto this good façade forever.
The control I thought I had and carefully clung to,
Was really just a figment and not something true.

This life is not my own.
I was bought with a price at Calvary.
He saw me then, He knew His purpose for me,
For I was formed by the hands that made all things,
And forever belong to the King of Kings.

By the strength of Him who opened His hands on a cross for me,
Whose arms now embrace me and whose lips call me ‘beloved,’
I can learn to slowly unclench,
To let go of this wretched pride,
To surrender and follow my Savior, my ultimate guide.

For only with open hands can I receive
His gifts that are never earned but always given freely,
The grace that abounds, the mercies that are new each morning,
And learn to stop fighting the Lifeguard who came to me,
When I was sinking under the waves of the deep sea.

New Mercies For New Years & New Days

New Mercy (1)

I almost always get in a really weird, not particularly good mood on New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day. It’s like regrets from the year coming to a rapid close and fears about the future are combined with a bunch of sentimental crap, making a poisonous concoction. It’s isn’t exactly deadly, but it certainly is sickening.

I also get annoyed by all the fanfare. Maybe I’m just a New Year’s Scrooge, but I can’t help it. People are celebrating all things new when really the only thing new is the year listed on the calendar. And so what? The numbering of years is just an earthy construct used to organize the passing of time. It’s useful, but not exactly earth-shattering. People make ambitious resolutions (and I have too), knowing full well that they will probably fail within the first month. These resolutions are usually good things – like eating healthy, reading the Bible daily, or exercising more – but rarely does one actually succeed in a resolution without falling at least a little. People shout “new year, new me!” as if they didn’t say the same exact cliché last year, only to be stuck in their same old ways by February.

As Christians, we can celebrate true newness every single day – not just one day a year. And this newness isn’t like the newness that the world parades with. The newness that the world offers is really just a mask on the same old deadness inside. The newness that God offers reaches to the deepest darkest places in our souls. It brings what is dead back to life and replaces cold, hard hearts.

As this year comes to a close, I’ve been thinking a lot about one particular passage of scripture: Lamentations 3:22-24. Read it once, and read it again.

“The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases;
his mercies never come to an end;
they are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.”

(Lamentations 3:22-24, ESV)

Did you catch that? His mercies are new every morning. Not just the day you first believed. Not just the moment you first trusted Jesus. Every morning. Every single day. His faithfulness doesn’t end. For every morning we wake, His mercies for us are new.

Of course, it doesn’t always feel that way. More often than not, our hearts and minds are flooded with worries, doubts, pain, and the weight of yesterday as soon as the alarm sounds and our eyes open. Mornings are filled with dread and not celebration. In these groggy moments, it is so easy to lose sight of truth. Just like our eyes struggle to adjust to the bright light of day after hours of darkness, our minds struggle to focus on the Light of Christ after hours of sleep. These early morning moments can easily define the rest of our day – at least, they tend to do so for me. Most mornings I struggle to get up – fighting anxiety about the past and the future, doubts, guilt, and just sheer exhaustion.

Whatever I’m feeling though, that doesn’t make truth any less true. The truth is that God is faithful and His mercies are continually new. I don’t have to carry the weight of yesterday’s shame, failures, and struggles, nor do I have to carry the worries of tomorrow. For the past few weeks, my nightly prayer as been “God, help me remember your mercies when I wake.” God is faithful. He has reminded me of them. It makes me almost teary eyed to think of it. Mornings still feel like a struggle. I have to wrestle with the thoughts that flood to my mind. It’s a battle and I don’t always win. Still – God is faithful. His mercies are continually renewed. They were new today, on the last day of 2018. They will be new tomorrow, as 2019 dawns. They will always be new. And thanks be to God.

Digging a Deeper Hole

Digging a Deeper Hole

Last night, someone lost control of his truck, hit (and broke) the curb on one end of my family’s property, ripped a street sign out of the ground, knocked out a mailbox, spun back into the road and ended up in a large shrubbery on the other end of the property, with one of the back wheels thrown several yards away. After hearing the thuds and burning rubber, I looked out my window to see the driver frantically trying to drive out of the bush and the hole he was in. He kept pressing down on the gas multiple times. The engine revved up and dirt flew into the sky. His efforts to drive away only deepened the hole that his remaining back wheel was in. He dug himself into a deeper hole.

When he realized that there was no hope of driving out of this predicament, he ran away on foot, thus digging himself into an even deeper hole, this time with the law. He ran fast and managed to get quite far away, but he was no match for a K-9 unit hot in pursuit of his scent. Fleeing the scene of a crime and trying to hide only adds another charge against him. He dug himself into a deeper legal hole.

Thankfully, no one was seriously hurt. This story could have had many other horrific endings for the driver, other drivers, my family or the neighbor’s family. We are very thankful about that.

Once the tow truck finally got the truck out of the shrubbery and the police left, a humbling thought came to me. How many times am I like the driver? How many times to I find myself in some sort of struggle or sin and keep frantically trying the same thing over and over again trying to escape? How many times do I try to “pull myself up by my own bootstraps?” How many times do I reply on my sheer willpower? And when I finally give up trying and trying and trying to fix the problem myself, how often do I run away? How often do I try to hide from all the shame? How many times do I dig myself into deeper holes?

The answer: more times than I’d care to admit. My tenancies are exactly like those of this driver. I try to fix my problems myself and when I finally give up on that, I try to run.

Sure, sometimes I try good deeds. But those deeds are often ruined by the stench of ulterior motives. Sometimes I try to just ignore the problem. But my mind always returns to it like a dog to its own vomit. Sometimes I try to rationalize and say my sin isn’t so bad. But the truth is that my hands are covered in blood and nothing I can do will wash me clean.

No matter how much work I do or willpower I have, I cannot overcome my sin. It is too strong and too powerful a foe. It is deeply ingrained in me. Sure, I can run, but my weary legs will only take me so far. My only hope is surrendering to God and believing in Jesus as my Lord and Savior.

“For everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith.”

(1 John 5:4)

Of course, surrender isn’t easy. Even though I know that God knows all, it’s hard for me to admit things to Him and to just sit in His presence. It’s even harder to follow Him when He leads to tough conversations and situations. It’s also hard to admit my struggles with anyone around me, even those who seemingly want to help me. That has been especially evident the past few weeks. I know I’m not meant to carry my struggles alone but more times than not, I try to.

I keep digging myself into deeper holes of guilt, shame, fear, pain, and sin.

Thankfully, God didn’t and doesn’t and will not leave me in a hole. He doesn’t come after me in order to punish me but rather to rescue me. He takes my grimy rags and gives me new clothes. He works in me. He sanctifies me. He is patient with me. He lavishes me with His incredible love. And He is faithful to me.

“And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.”

(Philippians 1:6)

My tenancy may be to dig myself into deeper holes, but thanks be to God, that is not the entire story.

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

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.

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.

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

There’s Not Enough Ink (Layla’s Words in My Mind)

horse racing

Layla* said  “there’s not enough ink.”
And what she said is what I think.

There are not enough words to describe the feelings buried deep and suppressed.
Somehow it’s not enough to just say I’m depressed.

All I know is that I’m so tired, in every way a person can be.
Drained physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually.

I guess the seeds I unintentionally sowed were really the heartiest of weeds.
They took root and choked out anything and everything good.

You say to come to You and You will give me rest,
Yet even when I try to pray, I often feel such distress.

These words are hollow,
like the feeling harbored deep in my chest.

And as I sink deeper beneath these waves,
I hear a whisper that He is there even in the depths.

He made the sea and He made me.
He knows both intricately.

No height nor depth – not even the Mariana trench –
can clutch me from His fist so carefully clenched.

There may not be enough ink,
but there is enough grace and mercy to keep me from the going beyond the brink.

The sea swallows sin, but it won’t swallow me.
There’s not enough ink, but there is enough of Him.


*Layla is a good friend of mine. She wrote a poem that contained the phrase “there’s not enough ink” and ever since she shared that poem with me, the phrase comes to my mind as an accurate description of how I sometimes feel. Her poem, as well as her love and the fact that she continually points to God, inspired this version.

Circumstances

For so long I’ve been complaining about circumstances, especially circumstances related to living a life of faith.

I live in New England…which although it’s beautiful, it certainly isn’t the Bible belt. I’ve been here in Massachusetts my whole life. I go to a very secular college. There are very few people who even consider themselves Christians. At Bible Study, we’re lucky if we have 4 students come. I haven’t been feeling really comfortable at church for various reasons. In addition to all of this, I’m dealing with friend problems, anxiety, and other struggles of life.

No matter where we reside, growing closer to God is hard. Satan attacks us with all he has. Sometimes it feels impossible for me to grow closer to Him when the places I spend my time are so far from Him. But still, I am here and I’m obviously here for a reason. I need to stop blaming my circumstances. I’m living in a dark place but that doesn’t mean that God’s light is extinguished. God is still here. God is in every dark place where one of His children calls upon His name.

I’m here for a reason. I’m in this state, at that school, at that church for a reason. I don’t plan to be in this state or church for the rest of my life but I’m here now. I want to make the best of it. I want to learn what God wants me to learn. I want to grow closer to Him even in the darkness and be a light in this dark world. God’s got a plan. I don’t know it yet, but I know He has one for every moment of my life.