Small Talk

​Hey, hey.

Whaddup, they say.

What you doin today.

Gettin bored, by the way.
How are you?

I’m cool, too.

Nothin I wanna do.

What you up to.
But what I can’t tell you and what you don’t know

is that I don’t desire to hear how your morning goes –

or what you ate for breakfast or what game you played

or about what’s on TV or what whoops this celeb made.
Hi there.

What you gonna wear.

The weather is fair.

Boredom everywhere.
So don’t tell me about the safe and mediocre details

of the humdrum day of which you so complain.

Don’t tell me what so-and-so wore or the new CD

or about the job or the show or the fans or the rain.
Tell me about what makes your soul sing.

Tell me about what sets fire in your blood.

Tell me about what makes your heart beat double.
Sing to me of the injustices that touch you for another’s sake;

Or of the dreams you have, almost too fragile to breathe.

Don’t make pointless comments and flap your mouth for sound to me –

Sing to me of your destiny.
Don’t make small talk.

Talk big.

Truth.

Let me be really, really straight with you for a second here.

You’re going to die someday.

It literally does not matter who you are reading this right now – this is absolutely true, 100% correct. Your days on earth are numbered. Each breath brings you closer to your last. Each second ticks you closer to the time when your clock stops.

The body you have now is already decaying. You can feel it, can’t you? You keep having to push things into it to keep it going. But even that’s not enough. It doesn’t matter who you are, where you are, how much money you have, or what you think – you are mortal.

You’re going to die someday.

Marching on as if that fact isn’t real doesn’t help anyone. It’s coming. The castles you’re building in the sand, they’re not going with you. Whatever idol you’re praying to won’t help, because it’s an idol. Deaf and dumb and doesn’t care about you. I know you’re not on your knees in front of a golden calf. Idolatry is much more subtle, much more deadly in these last days. We don’t forge our false gods from gold and silver anymore, but we still have them, and they’re still just as dead. They come in so many forms.  Riches. Power. Businesses. A family legacy. Big houses. Healthy living. World views. Huge circles of friends. None of them are going to help you.

Because you’re going to die someday, and in that moment you’ll be completely alone – but for One.

The One Who made you, made the world, and decides which way you’re going.

Because you’re going to die someday, and you’re going either up or down.

Do you know which? Do you really know? Are you sure? Do you think you’ve earned your way up or do you just not care that you’re going down or do you just not really think about it in the hope that the ruthless fact will go away?

There is a Heaven. There is also a Hell. You don’t want to end up in there, trust me. Because your body is going to die, but your soul is eternal, and will continue either in eternal life, joy and peace or in eternal agony. I’m sure you don’t like it, but you don’t have to like it. It’s the truth. You might as well not like gravity; gravity doesn’t really care, you fall hard just the same.

You’re going to die someday and you don’t know when.

It could be in fifty years, lying in a hospice surrounded by mourning beloved. It could be gruesomely in six weeks, tangled in the mutilated remains of the car you saved up so diligently for. It could be tomorrow. None of us know when it’s coming, but rest assured that it is coming. You arrived here with your return ticket already punched.

And that truth is terrifying until you know the whole truth.

Because the whole truth is that for some of us, death will be life.

Some of us walk right up to that coming death and smile into its hideous face and throw our arms wide open and say, Come and get me. Because some of us know that the ultimate defeat of dying was made into the ultimate victory of life by the God we serve. We know it’s coming. We don’t know when. But we do know one thing with a rock-solid certainty: we’re going up. O death, where is thy sting? Chopped off with the flaming sword of the Word of God. We do not walk blindfolded. Oh no, we stare at that spectre day in and day out, laying our lives down and marching into the shadow of its wings. Serving the God Who knows it intimately.

But even in that darkest of nights, we fear no evil, for Thou art with me. Our God is with us and He is bigger than death. To die is gain, because our God died for us. Death is terrifying, but our God is bigger. So much bigger.

So the real question isn’t really if you know that death is coming. It’s not when you’re going to die. It’s not how open your eyes are.

The real question is, do you know Jesus? Do you really, personally know Him? Is your life His, so He can save it? Or will you cling to its last pitiful scraps to the very end?

Because as big and sheer and undeniable as the fact of death is, there’s another fact that’s even bigger, even more undeniable, even more real and solid. A fact that you don’t have to like, either – it doesn’t make it any less real. He made gravity. He made you. He overcame death.

That fact is God. And God is life. And God loves you.

An Open Letter to the High School System

One of my students has just finished her first two weeks in high school.

I am disgusted.

Not with my student, of course. She is brilliant. Vibrant and vulnerable, yet stronger than she seems. She’s dealing with it. She has a strong support group. She has people who listen to her.

I am disgusted with you, high school.

Not with everyone who works for you, of course. There are fighters in there, people who believe in those kids and a better future, people who see the value in them. I’ve never even been to high school so I don’t know who to point a finger at, but I know something is wrong. Really wrong.

You have just been entrusted with the lives of a whole class of thirteen- and fourteen-year-old kids, young people just tentatively reaching for the first step of adulthood. Kids who in four years will be facing enormous decisions about what they’re going to do with their lives. In your halls, they will go from adolescents to adults. On your playgrounds, they will learn the ever-increasing complexity of social interaction. In your classrooms, they will be taught what you think is necessary for them to know as functioning adult members of society. They will now begin to be bombarded by all the ugly, evil things that they were sheltered from as children.

But you’re not terribly worried about that.

You’re too busy with initiation. A pointless tradition, designed to belittle the already-vulnerable grade eights, to place the matric kids into a false sense of importance. In other words, to reinforce exactly the negative social structure that teens find themselves drawn into. The peer pressure that’s responsible for more social problems than I really want to list here. Including substance abuse and teenage pregnancy.

You like numbers, right? Pass rates and who knows what else. Here’s some numbers for you.

According to these two studies in the UK and USA, as many as 26% of young people have suicidal thoughts. In 2013/14, more than 1800 teenagers were admitted to hospital in the United Kingdom alone for eating disorders. 50% of mentally ill adults’ symptoms first manifested around the age of fourteen. The numbers are on the rise, relentless and exponentially (by 70% in the past 25 years).  In England alone, 160 people under twenty years old commit suicide successfully every year. And here’s the most terrifying number of all: suicide is the third highest killer of young people.

Our kids are sick. Our kids are dying.

They’re dying right in front of us. In those high schools.

Shouldn’t it follow that their first week in high school should include extensive counselling? Well, no. You’re too busy putting Vaseline and peanut butter in their hair.

I don’t know if you realise what you have there. I don’t know if, beyond all the pointless patriotisim and flaunting of your “school spirit”, beyond the colours and the cheerleading and the songs, you realise the biggest truth I know about young people: they are created in the image of God. Thousands and thousands of created, holy, eternal spirits are walking those halls, terribly vulnerable, poised on the brink of the abyss that is adulthood. I don’t know if you get that they’re not supposed to be there for you. You’re supposed to be there for them.

“We have to pretend to be invisible tomorrow,” my student confided in me as I tightened her horse’s girth. (Did you know that about my student? She’s just another kid in green in your class, but she controls a half-ton animal and gets it to fly for her. Isn’t that incredible?).

“Invisible?”

“Yeah.” Her smile was almost apologetic, but I could see the dread in the set of her shoulders.

Won’t she have enough opportunity to feel invisible, high school? Won’t she be made to feel inadequate and unimportant enough times in the coming years? Isn’t it going to be hard enough to face the onslaught of approaching adulthood?

You’re telling them they’re invisible. But these kids are the light of the world.

This is not okay, high school.

And that’s all I really have to say to you.

 

On Burnout

Bible study this evening yielded advice from thousands of years ago that is oh so applicable to us today. Thanks Lord, I really needed to hear this truth from You in my exhaustion today. You’ve called me not to be superhuman but to be Yours, and while I am willing to stand alone for You, there is a whole Body of Christ out there. I don’t have to carry this alone. But if I had to, I would, Sir!

 

When Moses’ father-in-law saw all that Moses was doing for the people, he asked, “What are you really accomplishing here? Why are you trying to do all this alone while everyone stands around you from morning till evening?” Moses replied, “Because the people come to me to get a ruling from God. When a dispute arises, they come to me, and I am the one who settles the case between the quarreling parties. I inform the people of God’s decrees and give them his instructions.” “This is not good!” Moses’ father-in-law exclaimed. “You’re going to wear yourself out—and the people, too. This job is too heavy a burden for you to handle all by yourself. Now listen to me, and let me give you a word of advice, and may God be with you. You should continue to be the people’s representative before God, bringing their disputes to him. Teach them God’s decrees, and give them his instructions. Show them how to conduct their lives. But select from all the people some capable, honest men who fear God and hate bribes. Appoint them as leaders over groups of one thousand, one hundred, fifty, and ten. They should always be available to solve the people’s common disputes, but have them bring the major cases to you. Let the leaders decide the smaller matters themselves. They will help you carry the load, making the task easier for you. If you follow this advice, and if God commands you to do so, then you will be able to endure the pressures, and all these people will go home in peace.” – Exodus 18:14-23 NLT

A Hug From God

Today just kind of wasn’t my day.

It started early, or rather, it didn’t. I startled awake five minutes after my alarm went off, suddenly remembering I had to pick up our junior groom at 06:00. It was 05:25. In a whirlwind, I flew up and got dressed before charging off to pick up the poor chap five minutes late alongside the road on an ice cold morning. By the time I was back and had helped push our head groom’s dead car into the safety of the yard, we were late. “Late” in my life means skipped rides or skipped meals. Also, something had stung my heart horse’s nose and given him hives and my favourite schoolie had trodden on my foot. Did I mention the ring was super boggy? I nearly wrote my youngster off lunging him in it.

And then, cantering around a turn towards a fence, my top horse fell. Almost on me. She’d slipped on the equally boggy arena footing – I can only blame sleep deprivation for my poor judgment. She bounced up like a rubber ball; I groaned to my feet. Nothing major, but I knew I’d be feeling it tomorrow. Coincidentally the day of my first lesson in preparation for my coach’s exam.

I dragged myself through the rest of the day, sore, grumpy, tired, whining, and decidedly ungrateful. I snapped at my sister and gave a sale pony a reprimand she didn’t really need, and it took every shred of my remaining patience to finish my first two lessons.

In short, I needed a good slap.

But God gave me a hug instead.

I was trudging through my last lesson, feeling the steady ache in my neck, wondering how I was going to do it all again tomorrow and trying my best for my client because they always deserve that, when I heard it. A high, surreal sound, thin and bright as a rapier blade catching the sun, and so pure and piercing that I stopped dead and stared into the sky. I half believed it was a dream. I’d only ever heard recordings. But then it came again, thrown joyously across the mighty sky.

The cry of a fish eagle.

It took me a second to find him, but there he was. A noble shadow cut into the sky; tremendous wings thrown wide in sharp silhouette, the white head outstretched. He wheeled on the dizzy heights with fearless grace. Higher than I could comprehend.

I have never seen a fish eagle here before, and I’ve lived here almost seventeen years. And you know I love to look towards the sky. The haunting cry rang out again, straight into my soul. My clients stared, but I couldn’t stop looking at that bright wingshadow, knowing exactly what lay so far beyond and yet closer than my breath. I reached up and wrapped my fingers around the cross I wear, fighting to keep down the tears.

 But they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint. – Isaiah 40:31

I didn’t know what to say except thank You. I was a bit tired, so I’d scorned and snapped and sulked and stumbled, pushed away His commandments and whined about my small miseries to the God Who’d died a gruesome death to pay the price for me. I deserve punishment.

But what I got was a direct reminder that no matter what, He’s with me. That as long as I hang on to Him, exhaustion will fall away. My freedom, my flight would mock that of the majestic eagle who threw wide his sharp-edged pinions on the rising wind. My strength would be renewed because it wouldn’t be mine, but His in me.

I deserve death. But what I got was an embrace from God. Such is the inexplicable and inexhaustible and unlimited love of our Holy King.

So I fall to my knees and I surrender to the One Who will lift me up on eagle wings.

A Prayer for 2017

Hey Lord,

Here we are again at the end of another year. Lord, first, can I just say that I love You so so much? You have revealed so much more of Yourself to me this year. Or maybe I was looking at You all this time and just didn’t know it, because I know my blindness lifts but slowly, Lord, and only by Your grace. Either way all I know is that every year You just look bigger and bigger. Maybe that’s just Your infinity, or maybe it’s the same effect as drawing nearer to a mountain. At first it’s just a pretty little toy thing on the horizon, but as you get closer and closer it suddenly begins to look more real and majestic and terrifying and dangerous and beautiful.

Drawing nearer to You has been painful sometimes, Sir, but I thank You for every last sting, for every last throb of that agony. I appreciate to many that seems kind of an odd thing to say. I know You know what I mean, but for the sake of them that listen in on this prayer, let me elaborate. See Lord, I see so many people have also had a hard, hard 2016. The Internet is full of relief at the end of this terrible year. We’ve all experienced a few tragedies and travails.

But Sir, that’s the amazing thing about You. Pain was never supposed to be part of the beautiful, perfect world You made, and then we broke it and brought pain in with our sins. Ultimately all pain is self-inflicted, I guess. And Satan jumps on pain so quickly to amplify it in us, trying to drown You out. But wow, Lord! How You have foiled that plan! You turned the ugly thing we brought into our world into a mighty weapon, a burning fiery sword to sever all that stands between us and You. Instead of waging war on pain, You made it into one of Your greatest strategies to bring us closer to You. All things indeed work together for our good – even ugly, nasty things we made when we broke the world.

It’s during tribulation that You often draw the troubled soul closer to You. It’s by removing all other options that You open our eyes to the thing we were searching for all along: Yourself. It’s during our most critical sickness that we finally in desperation turn to the most perfect Healer.

I know this because this past time has been among the hardest of my life, but I’ve also never experienced You as dynamically as during this time. Oh, Lord, there was pain. There was weeping. But there was also You, always. Your healing touch. Your loving arms. Your rock under my feet. The devil must be gnashing his teeth now because he launched such an attack on me and every new effort was just another inch of ground You gained, a contribution to Your victory in my heart. You never let me go, Lord. I stepped out on the waves and sank, and Your strong grasp was there to save me.

So Lord, I see and I understand why everyone is praying for an easier year next year. We’ve all got a few new scars; we’re all nursing fresh wounds, still trying to stop the bleeding. Our hearts cry out in protest against still more struggle. We want to have no more. We want to rest.

But our only rest is You, Sir. The fields are white for the harvest; You’re coming soon, Lord, and there isn’t time for slumber. We need to draw closer to You, now, today, this very minute because we have no guarantee that You’re not coming even tonight, even this next breath. The trouble isn’t that we don’t have forever. The trouble is that we do: we need to be sure where we’re gonna be spending it.

So Lord, I don’t pray for an easier year. No, Lord, I pray for even more challenges. I pray not for material blessings or for temporary joy or for worldly success. I pray that You would take us further up and further in this year. I pray that You would continue the good work You’ve begun in us. I pray You’d forge us into even sharper blades in a hotter fire; let us drink of the cup of Your blood even deeper; draw us up higher though the altitude may make it hard to breathe. I pray that You would shine brighter through us in deeper darkness. I pray that You would set us even better and bigger and harder deeds and make Your Name known because I will sing, Lord, I will sing until the whole world hears.

I pray not peace on earth, but a sword. A saving, redeeming sword that will cleave away every evil and deathly thing in us and leave us uninhibited to rise up and embrace You in miniature semblance of Your ultimate, perfect holiness and joy. I pray that we would be drained of ourselves so we may be filled of You. I pray that we may decrease, and You may increase.

I pray all this because these are the last days and there are so many souls that we can show the way to You. Only You can save a soul, Lord, but Your light in us can illuminate the path. Please Lord, let us be that. Let us become little Christs, at whatever cost to us, for You have already paid every cost to You.

I pray this, my Beloved, because I know You are with us and You are the only source of love and joy and life and holiness and completeness and every good thing. I love You and I want You and my soul pants for You: it just can’t get enough of You. I hear You call me deeper still. So Lord, no matter how painful it is, make me follow.

Thank You so much for Your amazing amazing amazing love and patience and steadfastness. There are not enough breaths in all the lifetimes of the world to breathe out enough songs to sing Your praise and give You thanks for a tenth of a tenth of what You are and what You have done.

I love You Sir.

In Jesus’s incredible Name,

Amen.

I Don’t Believe In Myself

I don’t follow my heart.

I did once. It ended well, sometimes. Other times, it crashed and burned. It is only a human heart, you see. It breaks and blunders. Its scars turn to stone. It doesn’t know, it just feels.

I don’t chase my dreams.

Oh, I did once. I trampled on others and kicked leg-ups in the teeth clawing my way to where I wanted to be. But my dreams are all about me, you see. And when you’re the only one on top, you’re all alone. When I got there it was only to find it wasn’t what I’d wanted after all; to descend in agony and bruises, only to climb up on top of others again to get to another useless, fruitless dream.

I don’t believe in myself.

I have tried. But I’m just a person, you see. I failed. I broke. I wounded and was wounded; I was a vessel of darkness and even today there are shadows in my soul. I have hated and prided myself and ashamed. I have crawled through the miserable depths of sin and been bogged down in the maggoty mire of my own making. I’m not good enough. I don’t have what it takes.

And that’s okay.

I don’t have to be perfect. I don’t have to trust myself.

I don’t have to trust my fickle, fumbling heart because I don’t follow my heart. I follow Jesus.

I follow Someone Who spans the full and entire length and breadth of the glorious spectrum between might and tenderness. He does not break and He does not blunder. He feels with keenest agony the tiniest pains, and with deepest pleasure the tiniest joys, of the world, but He also knows. He knows all. He sees the full and entire plan, the big picture, the great scheme on which the world turns because it’s His. And He acts out of the abundantly overflowing goodness and righteousness and mercy of His Heart. And I follow that.

I don’t have to believe in my dreams because I don’t chase my dreams, I surrender to God’s plan.

I drown in the joy of His dream for the world. I immerse myself in the unchanging core of His calling: to bring a healing, loving God to a hurting, hating world. I am part of a mighty war, a passionate soldier amid the shining ranks of men and angels that hold back the tides of darkness. I give over all that I am to my Beloved Saviour; I feel His Spirit grab hold of me and drench me with fire and gold. I witness Him touch the world with my hands and feel my lips form His Words. I see the Light pour from me upon the dark world.

Above all, I don’t have to entrust my faith and confidence to a fallen and fragile human being like myself. Because I don’t believe in myself.

I believe in Jesus Christ.

I believe in a God Who made the world and stretched out the sky like a curtain, Who clothed a horse in thunder and commands the storms to still. He breathed life into the lungs of mankind and set a rainbow in the sky for the symbol of a merciful promise. To Him stones shall sing; for Him every knee will bow; the sky shall split open and the earth shrivel up and blow away on the wind of His coming. He created, He was born, He wept, He gave, He redeemed, He healed, He forgave, He died. He rose. He lives eternally. He is holy, almighty, unstoppable. His love stretches higher than the sun and goes deeper than space; His love knows no end, no boundaries, no conditions; His love cannot be tamed or defined or fit into any box you give it except your heart.

I follow the God that so loved the world He gave His Son to die for us. And I surrender to Him. And I drink from the fountain of pure joy. And I weather the storms in safety. Ten thousand fall beside me but I stand because He is in me. I fail a thousand times and He raises me up over and over.

So no, I don’t believe in myself. I believe in God.

And He is right here. In me.