Friday, March 25, 2011

feather flakes

A quiet, Christmas Eve kind of feather snow wandered its way down out of an expressionless sky, incongruous because of the green blush just beginning to return to the grass below, incongruous because just a few days ago it felt like spring. I watched it fall through an old stained-glass window hung incongruously in the back of a weathered but pleasant little kitchen, and sighed.

I would have adored this snow ... in mid-December, or even January.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

while we were sleeping

[This post has been removed by the author for structural revision and re-processing. It will most likely be returned to the web at some later date, in some form or another, when it is deemed suitable for public consumption. Thank you for your patience, and have a nice day.]

Wednesday, March 16, 2011


You were out with your dog on this first really warm day. Several houses down, I was walking to my car, on my way home. When someone's bigger dog came bounding across the street, your little dog was not amused, and neither were you. She hollered at him to come back, came after him with a leash, but how you shouted, how furiously you shouted. 

 You cursed her  for the sake of a little dog. If you thought of the words, would you still say them? I could see in her movements, she was apologizing, explaining he didn't mean any harm, but you backed away, stalked off, cradling your unhurt pet.  

I was angry at first, angry at the injustice, angry at your anger - though I only saw it from afar. I drove away sad, the world is so broken, so trapped in its own mad snare - and I trembled when I watched you and saw my own reflection. I knew how you felt, because I felt the same things this morning. The old nature dies so hard, and I fight it so feebly - but the arms that hold me up are strong. 

I wish you could be free, would let go of your rage, the seething need to be right, your upside-down priorities. I don't know how to reach you, I don't even know who you are, don't know where you live - your face was too far away, and disappeared down the street. 

 I prayed for you on the way home, that someone will be sent to you, sent with the light. Oh, what you could be if you were restored, if you believed! You are immortal, do you know?  

I forgot to pray for the kid behind the gas station register, with hair in his sad eyes and a mumbling voice. He is immortal too, but I was too much in a hurry, anxious for supper and family, eyes turned in already.  

There is so much need, so, so much, and I see so little of it. How can I reach you? God, show me how ... make me willing, make me see, and show me how.

This song came on my mp3 player's shuffle as I drove away. How can we keep from singing? But we have to sing so the world can hear.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

slough on a string

Sometimes I feel like a pilgrim, like Christian in The Pilgrim's Progress, trudging down a frequently dark and weary road, but guided along as I hold my Father's loving hand. Quite often I foolishly let go and plunge into a brambly ditch after a kitty that turns out to be a skunk, and then attempt to strike out on my own through the tangled wilderness. I let myself forget that death is out there. But always, He comes after me, takes hold again of my erring paw, and leads me back to the safety of the path. I didn't ask to be loved like this, but you'd better believe it's saved my life.

Still, there are times when I feel like the above-mentioned pilgrim-self is consistently doing something really dumb and weird. I feel like I stumbled into the Slough of Despond somewhere near the beginning, like Christian did. But then after Help pulled me out, before moving on, I took a log chain out of my pocket (what, can you think of a better place to keep it?), and hooked one end to the Slough (please ignore all the logical fallacies in this analogy) and the other to my own belt loop. And so all the time (or some of it) I go around hauling my own personal swamp behind me - which, I'll have you know, is pretty hard work in itself.

And I'll tell you what purpose it serves. Whenever I'm wandering along and suddenly find myself face-to-my-own-face with a mirror, and am appalled at what I see - whenever I jump back in terror from some real or perceived danger - whenever I'm suddenly confronted with a decision or a situation that's much harder and murkier than I'd imagined it was going to be - at these times, I say, as I back away in fear or revulsion or total befuddlement, there behind me waiting is my friendly neighborhood Slough - and, ploosh! in I go. 

To compound the problem even further, the Slough has some inexplicable way of becoming familiar and almost ... comfortable? It's filthy and it stinks and for goodness' sakes I'm up to my neck and sinking ... but, you know, we've been here before, and it's hard to get out, so what's to be done? We'll just kind of ... wallow here awhile, how about.

Bwonnkkk - wrong answer.

It's possible a better solution would be to wrestle my way out, unhook the chain, and quit dragging the dumb thing around with me all over the place. And maybe it will follow me on its own, or maybe there are more Sloughs out there like it, waiting for me. But in any case, maybe a safeguard against falling into them would be to just stop backing away from challenging surprises - to stand still a moment, perhaps, clinging to my Father's hand and gathering His strength - but then to plunge ahead again in faith, and kick maybe some dust into the old swamp, just as a parting gesture.

This is hard. But I think it can be done. Pretty sure it falls into the category of the "all things" I can do through Him who strengthens me. Hmm, yeah.

Friday, March 11, 2011

run, rabbit, run

(This is several weeks old at least, but I just rediscovered the draft the other day, so here it is for your reading perplexity.)

I woke up this morning in the middle of a dream in which my mother, my sister, and I were first threatened, then stalked and ambushed, by a gunman on the campus of a local Christian college. Two minutes before my alarm went off and released me, we were cowering in a furnace room at the top of some stairs, while the gunman and some well-meaning but incompetent college guys battled it out below. There were more stairs to an escape, but we couldn't get to them, couldn't move, couldn't stop listening and waiting. Somehow the terror of the dream (intense as any I can recall, and slow to wear off upon waking) was unmitigated by the fact that our assailant was dressed up as Godzilla.

I'm serious - the dream was terrifying; and when I did snap out of it, there was none of that oh, whew, it was just a dream. In fact, the fear didn't completely go away until the sun had come up and the radio had been piping cheerful music for awhile. Weird, huh? Kind of childish?

It might be because of one of my deepest gut fears - not the subconsciously intellectual kind, like the fear of failure, or the fear of commitment, or of germs - but the stomach-dropping, no-brain-activity-needed, paralyzing kind of fear that smashes into you like a tidal wave and makes you a rabbit in a den of lions. It's the fear of being chased. Being hunted.

The adult in me (she really is in there somewhere) knows the answers. I know that the chances of my actually being gunned down - particularly by Godzilla - are really quite low. And I know that, even if by some strange chance that should prove to be my fate, fretting about it ahead of time will only waste today. And I know that the worst anyone could do is kill my body, and that, unless Jesus returns, it'll have to die somehow or other, anyway. And I know that whenever and however death does claim me, it will only be the gate to an everlasting life of bliss and glory beyond imagination. Death has been conquered by my precious Savior, and all the ragings of His and our enemies are only like so many handfuls of sand thrown into the wind. Can it hurt the wind? It will only come back to sting their own eyes. And over it all is the almighty hand of loving Providence, a hand from which I cannot slip. Cannot. I know this.

But the child in me still trembles. To be hunted - to be sought out and chased down for evil intent - there are few enough things in the world that terrify quite so deeply.

Which is really ironic, since one of the trademark characteristics of the maturing feminine psyche (to which I claim no immunity) is a deep-rooted desire to be pursued. Pursued and, when the time is right, caught. And so on the far-removed other end of what turns out to be the same spectrum, I'll admit that one of my greatest desires in this life, if God permits it, is to find and marry and love a godly man, and to raise a family with him for our Lord. (This is not an advertisement.)

So on the one hand, paralyzing fear of being hunted; on the other, God-given (though oft-twisted) desire to be pursued. Come again? But it's all in the intent.

Just as the ignorant, self-serving, wicked child I once was, and still am in part, looked back in terror as I perceived an angry God thundering in my wake, breathing down my neck, knowing what I'd done and poised to devour me for it. But guess what happened.

You'll guess wrong (who could have guessed right?), so I'll tell you. He caught me - but when He had taken off my blindfold and breathed life into my cold lungs, I saw that He had snatched me not into hell, but out of it. He had always been coming, and not to destroy, but to restore. It was love that pursued me, and not vengeance; love, and that mystery of mercy and justice; love unbounded.

When I was still dead, He chased after me and made me live.
When I stray, He still pursues, and always brings me back.
He teaches me to seek Him, to pursue Him with all my heart.
He won't give up the chase until He's brought me safely home.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

the kid in the souped-up truck

So, one of the latest developments on this side of the tracks has been Keegan's dual-enrollment at the local public high school, and subsequent participation in their track ... program. (Hi Keegan! Yes, this post is sort of about you.) This afternoon on my way to work, I dropped him off "at school" (that was weird) for practice, which, naturally enough, begins almost immediately upon the conclusion of the school day.

La de da ... bye, Keegan ... done this before ... only, last time we must have been a little late, because it was with some sudden startlement this time that I found myself and my Vue unwittingly swept up in a teenage mass exodus from the parking lot. After processing my first thought, which was something like: Uurrgghhh, my second thought was to note with lethargic bemusement that, for practically every other living American over the age of fourteen (including, I suppose, most of my few readers), this madness probably was - or had once been - a daily routine. I sure missed out. Baha.

Anyway, as I lurched and poked my stick-shift way into the lineup, just ahead of me a largeish tan pickup of a moderately souped-up nature was (impatiently, I assumed) squeezing its way back out of line, between some parked cars, and zoom! over to the other, less crowded exit some little distance to the right. Jerk, I thought without thinking.

However, every living soul going out of either exit was turning left, because that's where the whole rest of the town lies - and, due to the stop sign almost immediately outside, the traffic jam backed up behind it was (for our little old town) substantial. Ha, I thought when I saw the truck from a moment before, idling behind seventeen other vehicles, So you'd just rather wait on the road than over here, huh?

I lurched ahead a few feet, stopped, and drummed my fingers on the steering wheel. This was one slow line - everyone already on the road was taking full advantage of their advantage, it seemed. Then we started to move, and I looked up, and there was the tan, souped-up truck, stopped with a line of cars behind it, and the driver was flapping his draped-over hand at us. Go ahead, the motion said, go ahead. One car, two cars, three, four pulled out ahead of him. The suburban in front of me took its turn, and the pickup driver flapped his hand at me, too. I waved and smiled, mortified, as I wedged myself into the right lane just in time to escape an oncoming sedan. One more car followed me onto the road, and then the tan pickup took its turn. Did I feel like a worthless slime head? Well, yes, I did.

I don't know who you are, souped-up truck-driving kid, but you're cool. I'm sorry for all the mean-spirited things I was thinking at you before. You didn't deserve it. You're cool, and whether you meant to or not, you shined some goodness into the world this afternoon and made my day a little better. Thanks.


She hated him. She tried to get away, tried to kill him, denied that he was even there. She was ugly and hateful, covered in filth. She shoved him away, tenderly embraced her own bony shoulders, wallowed miserably and refused to come out. Couldn't.

She deserved it. He'd given her everything, and she threw it away for a thorn, a thorn that dug into her own heart and killed her. He'd laid out the terms of the agreement, so simple, so easy, and this was justice. She must die. She'd known it all along, and it was just.

They were perfect, father and son. They were, and were together, from forever, and the being of all was from them. Out of love and for glory they made her, holding dirt together and making it like God. What dirt would have imagined such a fate? But she spit in his face. 

He didn't need her. He was enough, and she was just an expression, only a little echo, and now an enemy, futile and wicked. Walking, breathing mud bent on rebellion, hurtling blind toward the promised wages of her evil labor, utterly empty, unnecessary. 

So where was justice? Where was the analysis, the careful weighing of costs against benefits? Where was the easy, obvious decision to let the suicidal monster have its way, to rid the world of its corruption, to begin again? Where was it? It was not.

She said he was crazy, she railed against him and ridiculed him, didn't believe it. Who would do that? she scoffed. It would be mad, it's not worth it, doesn't make sense. Who would do it? He would know better. He, more than anyone, would know better.

But she didn't know. It was true. Together they agreed, and eternal holiness came down, sent by love and rejoicing to come - made himself into dirt, meekly laid himself down under her knife. He took it all, the agony of abandonment, the forever death, every last drop of justice he drank in and bled out - and died.

And she was free. The bitter depths of justice were empty, and only mercy was left, shocking mercy and grace un-looked for. And the vastness of the mystery - that this was the new justice, turned on its head yet unbroken - and somehow, life was now hers by right.

He died and yet lived, and so did she. But why? Why? Staggered by overwhelming love, she didn't find an explanation, couldn't begin to understand. Eternity lay before her, wide and free, joy beyond imagination. How could it be?

Could it be answered? What could she give back that was enough? Perhaps a careful life, conservative and calculating, hesitating, holding back, mistrusting. Heaven forbid! She wouldn't dare. How could anything he asked for be too much?

And she laid herself down at his feet, undone by - and raised again for - and called to - crazy, glorious, unreasonable love.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

would you go?

A thick black cloud rose in the East,
and stretched its fingers across the sky.
The world looked at it,
brow furrowed,
wondering at the ominous thunderings.
This was not new-
where had they seen it before?
Lightnings hissed out
and people died.
The world backed away, aghast;
Well, they said to each other,
this darkness isn't so very different, after all,
from the light.
And they embraced it.
Gladly it reached to envelop them.

A little candle in the West
flickered in the chill, growing wind,
the wind that reached even through the weave,
the bushel-basket weave,
and whispered at the little candle.
Your world is changing, it said,
your world is changing.
Will you hide forever?
And trembling, the little candle knew,
even under the basket
the world wasn't safe.
And it knew,
even in a safe world,
hiding was wrong.
a life so suddenly dear,
so frail, so passing,
and so much might go wrong;
from such fear you could go mad.

The world felt dark,
so dark and cold.
Then memory spoke:
There is no fear in love,
no fear in love,
no fear in love.
He who fears has not been made perfect,
perfect in love.
Perfect love casts out fear.
There is no fear in love.
And cried out,
Then take it away, Lord-
help my unbelief!

A new voice spoke,
an old voice,
a voice without time,
but true and deep and free,
lovelier than morning,
stronger than all;
the voice that spoke, and it was so:
Tierney, child of Tim,
do you love Me
more than these?
Lord, you know I love You-
don't I?
Feed my lambs.
I might call you.
Would you go?
Are you Jonah,
or would you go?

Would I run to the darkness,
arms wide,
with reckless, faithful love?
Would I count the cost,
and give everything,
be poured out willing and joyful,
until nothing is left?
Would I tear my bleeding heart
away from this world,
where it never should have been,
and plant it firm in the soil of eternity?
What would I give?
My time? My funds? My toil?
My family?
My life?

Tierney, child of Tim,
do you love Me
more than these?
Lord, you know I love You.
Teach me love still deeper.
Show me where You would have me,
and give the means to get there;
show me what You would have me do,
and strengthen me to do it.
Take away my desires
that run counter to Yours,
and lead me to run hard
after only You.
Here I am.
Send me.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

the very hard workout that wasn't

I don't know who reads this blog, but if it's you, you may have gathered from my most recent post that I've been sick recently. It's the truth - from Thursday until Monday, I was beset by a weirdly morph-prone bug which manifested itself in its various stages as a pounding headache, a sweltering fever of nearly 103, aching limbs to beat the stars, drastically decreased lung capacity, a constant compulsion to cough (yielding no results), and a competition between my nose and eyes to see which could do the best impression of Niagara Falls.

Now, I will admit that, before I fell prey to these afflictions, I had been slowly but steadily coming to the opinion that I could really use a sick day or two. Not that I've been running my tail off to any unreasonable degree or anything, but you know how there's just always something more to do. Visions filled my head, of myself curled up in a blanket with a hot water bottle on my head, a mug of hot tea at my elbow, and a stack of good books to get through. Yeah, I could stand to be sick, just for a little while. Just for a break.

Well, I curled up in a blanket alright, but the only book I read was The Hobbit, and that was on the day between the mind-killing fever and the eye-crippling water slides. Visions filled my head again, this time of myself breathing freely while I walked nimbly up the stairs, without sitting down at the top to recover my strength, no tissue box in tow, speaking in a voice with only minimal resemblance to that of a goat. Yeah, I was done being sick.

Anyway, I felt well enough today to tackle a few of my standard Tuesday activities, so I taught a couple piano lessons, then went to clean at the local grain elevator offices. I might have moved a little slower than usual, but I was pleased to find that I could do it without anything approaching misery. Still, as I neared the end of the evening, I couldn't help but notice that I was feeling a little weird - and in an almost good way, which was weirder. With every breath, air rushed into my lungs, not without labor, but with an almost insane clarity and freshness. My arms, and especially my legs, burned strangely. Was I about to die or something?

Then it occurred to me - my body felt like it had just finished a good, rousing workout. (The infrequency with which this actually happens in my life may or may not have had something to do with the time it took for me to recognize the sensation.) A good, rousing workout - of walking and standing around for just under two hours, at a pace sufficiently stagnant to accommodate the concurrent dusting and mopping of several offices? That rushing, unchecked breathing, the thudding heartbeat, the burning muscles ... yeah, I definitely earned that.

How pathetic.

Like when I wrestle with myself sometimes - shall I do what I want to here, or should I go a bit out of my way to help someone out a little? It wouldn't be that much extra trouble, but it'd be extra, and it wouldn't make so much of a difference, anyway. I wrestle ... okay, fine, I'll do it. Feel pretty good about it, too, as I do. Yeah, I'm alright - I go out of my way to do little nice things for people that they might not ever even notice I did. Thankless, that's what it is, but do I mind? No, sirree. I do it anyway.

And then it slowly dawns on me that, um, Tierney? This was really the only decent thing to do, actually. If you'd decided to just walk on by without touching it, that would've been, like ... really lousy. Like, total jerk, why don't you just sit on the couch with your potato chips and forget the rest of the world even exists while you're at it? That kind of lousy.

And I look back, and I go ... oh. So you mean ... that feeling like I just conquered something really grand, just did something really above and beyond nice, just flexed some real spiritual muscle there - that was out of line? You mean that big ol' honker of a good deed was just ... my duty?

The old cleaning-house-disguised-as-an-aerobic-workout trick. Fifteenth time I've fallen for it since lunch.

I read somewhere (I really wish I could remember where) that if we find ourselves doing our duty, and feel a subsequent satisfaction with ourselves at having done well, the only thing this shows is how seldom we do our duty. How's that for a humility-inducer?

So likewise you, when you have done all those things which you are commanded, say, 'We are unprofitable servants. We have done what was our duty to do.'
(Luke 17:10)