The Dark

Sometimes I potentially overthink songs and ruin them for other people. That is precisely what is about to take place.

There is an adorable song (by a great band with a terrifying name) called I Will Follow You Into the Dark.

Love of mine, someday you will die

But I’ll be close behind

I’ll follow you into the dark

No blinding light or tunnels to gates of white

Just our hands clasped so tight

Waiting for the hint of the spark

If heaven and hell decide that they both are satisfied

Illuminate the Nos on their vacancy signs

If there’s no one beside you when your soul embarks,

Then I’ll follow you into the dark.

It’s beautiful. It’s truly being together forever, in the worst and best of times. The trouble comes when I envision myself in that situation: me and my love, in darkness, with heaven and hell fully occupied.

NO.

For starters, while there are a number of things about which God has not revealed enough to be entirely clear, there are also quite few about which He was clear. My understanding is that my soul is broken. It is imperfect in the eyes of a perfect God. However, that perfect God became a perfect man, that He could replace the brokenness of my soul with the perfect righteousness of Himself. Because I believe in that replacement and in the loving and just God who orchestrated it, I am going to heaven. The best thing about heaven is not that there are white gates or that I’ll get to see loved ones; it’s that I’ll get to see God and experience Him fully. I’m quite excited about this. It has formed the foundation of my life. Christ’s example is why I live and love the way that I do. It is why I am so happy and positive.

To die and be standing in the darkness with another broken soul would be nightmarish. It would be the absence of God, and thus it would be awfully close to hell, if not hell itself, “No Vacancy” sign or no.

I also have to imagine my trust would be shattered- here I had built a life on faith, hope, and love related to Christ and He had abandoned me- who’s to say this love of mine is sticking around? I’m certainly not going to follow him further into darkness and I would not advise following me anywhere, either, because I clearly do not know what I am doing.

I love that the Bible points this out in 1 Corinthians 15. It makes no secret of the fact that we are relying on something being true and are in quite the situation if it is not true.

And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified about God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.

BUT 

“in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead.”

It is that same faith, hope, and love for Christ that keep me from fearing that this would come to fruition. I have explained on this blog before why I am a Christian. I believe that Jesus was a real, human person, that He is God, and that the Bible is factual document. I believe that there is evidence to support this. So I look what is stated in something that I have found to be true. I look at what Jesus said and did, and I have faith around the bits that haven’t happened yet. I have hope for a better day than the broken and often sad ones we’re living now. I hope through His promises, in which I have faith.

But the Bible points out that the greatest of these three things is LOVE. Love that sacrifices. Love that already followed me into the dark because I was already there. As it says in Isaiah 9 (a classic Christmastime chapter), “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shone.” I was already surrounded by an absence of light, creating more darkness from my own brokenness. It was God who took the initiative, who followed me to bring me to light:

“But grace was given to each one of us according to the measure of Christ’s gift. Therefore it says,

“When he ascended on high he led a host of captives,
and he gave gifts to men.”

(In saying, “He ascended,” what does it mean but that he had also descended into the lower regions, the earth? He who descended is the one who also ascended far above all the heavens, that he might fill all things.)” (Ephesians 4:7-10)

We’re currently celebrating Easter weekend, and Saturday is the day that not a lot seems to be going on. On Friday, we talked about Jesus’ death on the cross, and on Sunday, we’ll celebrate Him being risen and conquering death. I often forget that Saturday represents the time that He was in the darkness retrieving me that He might create light in me.

“And so, from the day we heard, we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God. May you be strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy, giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light. He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.” (Colossians 1:9-14)

Praise be to the God who was not content with my residence in darkness, who conquered it for me, and who made me new. Happy Easter!

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The Who/How of Love

Firstly, I would like to announce that my regularity of posting is going to have to change due to the unprecedentedly ridiculous nature of my level of busyness this semester. I read all of 1 Thessalonians last night during a much-needed break and realized that I was drinking it in so thirstily because I have been running on too little of the Word! If it comes down to posting twice a month and having time to read the Bible, I’m going to have to choose the Bible. This said, I’m definitely going to aim to still post at least once a month. Follow my blog (by clicking “Follow” towards the top left of the screen) to be sure to catch updates when new posts come out! I would also like to take this time to announce my admiration of “mommy bloggers.” I’m just taking care of myself and I can’t find time to blog while keeping other priorities in order; you all are taking care of yourself plus at least one other person and run amazing blogs!

Now onto today’s order of business: LOVE. I love the month of February for a variety of reasons, but especially because Valentine’s day is coming up. I have been running around singing “V is very, very, extraordinary!!” because it’s combining a favorite love-focused song and my daily search for the extraordinary in my life, but I truly believe that Valentine’s day is much more than gloopy songs or, on the other side, Singles Awareness. I so enjoy a holiday that encourages us to reflect on who we love, why and how we love them, and by whom and how we are loved.

Over the course of this month, I’m going to fill out the following on my Sabbath days as something of a meditation on how love works in my life. You’re welcome to join me! If you really want to get into it, you’ll operationally define love beforehand; what does it mean? My current approach is to just answer with whatever first comes to mind, and I’m interested to see whether this reveals what the definition of love that I live by is.

Who I Love

Why I Love Them

How I Love Them

Who Loves Me

How They Love Me

Just in looking at each area, I can already tell that I am going to be challenged by the “How I Love Them” section; do I live out the love that I claim for others? For Christ?

I’m going to go ahead and answer the beginning of the “Who Loves Me” section. First and foremost, I know that God does. Isaiah 54:10 says:

“’Though the mountains be shaken and the hills be removed, yet My unfailing love for you will not be shaken nor My covenant of peace be removed,’ says the LORD, who has compassion on you.”

I’m overwhelmed by this passage and I’m sure I’m not even fully absorbing it. God (and what is man that He is mindful of him?) has an unfailing love for me, and it’s accompanied by peace and compassion. All the more, He has sent amazing people who love me in the beautiful imitations of His love. My immediate family (about some of whom I have already carried on) loves me so clearly it brings me to tears sometimes, my uncles and aunts (one of whom sent me one of the sweetest and most thoughtful Valentine’s gifts I have ever received), grandparents, and other extended family are amazing. Then there is, of course, the matter of my family in Christ- the sisters and brothers that I’m going to get to share Heaven with one day and who are so encouraging and enjoyable even right now! And even beyond that, I have some truly wonderful friends who love me so well that it challenges me to love and be better through the model Christ has set for me.

Ah, I so enjoy this month. Happy February, everyone! Know that you are loved.

What We Have Seen Today

“And behold, some men were bringing on a bed a man who was paralyzed, and they were seeking to bring him in and lay him before Jesus, but finding no way to bring him in, because of the crowd, they went up on the roof and let him down with his bed through the tiles into the midst before Jesus. And when He saw their faith, He said, ‘Man, your sins are forgiven you.’ And the scribes and the Pharisees began to question, saying, ‘Who is this who speaks blasphemies? Who can forgive sins but God alone?’ When Jesus perceived their thoughts, He answered them, ‘Why do you question in your hearts? Which is easier, to say, “Your sins are forgiven you,” or to say, “Rise and walk”? But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins’—He said to the man who was paralyzed—’I say to you, rise, pick up your bed and go home.’ And immediately he rose up before them and picked up what he had been lying on and went home, glorifying God.

And amazement seized them all, and they glorified God and were filled with awe, saying, ‘We have seen extraordinary things today.'”

Luke 5:18-25

We have seen extraordinary things. I think it is interesting that the people used the plural here. Presumably it was particularly “remarkable,” as another translation says, that the man was able to walk home. It was shocking that Jesus forgave his sins. What else surprised them? Were they caught off guard by the faith of the man’s friends? Or that Jesus knew the Pharisees’ and scribes’ thoughts? Whatever it was, it led them to 1) be amazed, 2) glorify God, and 3) be filled with awe.

These are things towards which I strive as well. I often pray that God will be glorified in different situations, particularly ones that I find incredibly confusing or challenging, but often in less exciting ventures, too! I recently sat down and wrote out some goals for my time in graduate school, which probably fits into all three aforementioned categories and many more. Number one on the list is that “I want to do all things for the glory of God and to show love to others.” I want to know God better, to know how to serve and love Him, and as a result, to serve and love like Him. I want to see and note the extraordinary things that He does every day and to take the time to appreciate them, to be amazed and filled with awe, and then to glorify Him. Even when I’m not feeling completely bowled over by something I’ve seen, I want to be thinking about it and reflecting on it. I want to be a part of His extraordinary.

I’ve been asking myself every day, “What did I take in (see, hear, smell, taste, touch, etc.) that was extraordinary?” Today it was “watching the sun set over water.” A couple of weeks ago, it was “the capacity of human emotion.”

In “The Valley of Vision,” a book of Puritan prayers, there is a prayer called “The Great God.” I highly recommend reading it, and the last portion of the prayer captures the heart of my thinking and hope with my little venture into seeking the everyday extraordinary:

“Nothing exceeds thy power,

Nothing is too great for thee to do,

Nothing too good for thee to give.

Infinite is thy might, boundless thy love,

limitless thy grace, glorious thy saving name.

Let angels sing for sinners repenting, prodigals restored,

backsliders reclaimed, Satan’s captives released,

blind eyes opened, broken hearts bound up,

the despondent cheered, the self-righteous stripped,

the formalist driven from a refuge of lies,

the ignorant enlightened,

the saints built up in their holy faith.

I ask great things of a great God.”

 

 

 

The Years of My Sojourning

Happy New Year!

As I’ve mentioned before, I’m not really one for resolutions, but I understand their value. Culturally we measure things in years, so the beginning of a new calendar year seems as good a time as any to evaluate how we’re doing and what we can improve going forward. People may also do this at the beginning of a new school year or year of life (yay birthdays!). Some of my friends ask for advice on their birthday or reflections from others as part of this evaluation process. But in any case, we’re pretty good at measuring how much time has passed and trying to consider how much or what we have done in that time. The questions and answers are fairly simple:

What year is it now?

Well, it’s 2014!

What grade are you starting?

Oh, tenth!*

How old are you today?

Yeah, I’m turning 26!*’

(*Please note that these answers are not intended to bear any resemblance to particular persons, living or dead, and there are indeed no 26-year-old tenth graders running around as far as I am aware.)

Apparently on at least one occasion, and perhaps more, a similar question was posed differently:

How many are the days of the years of your life?

Okay, that’s a little odd, but it seems you’re asking how old I am. [Simple answer.]

However, on at least one occasion, someone answered very differently than I may have. His name was Jacob. Here’s what he said:

“The days of the years of my sojourning are 130 years. Few and evil have been the days of the years of my life, and they have not attained to the days of the years of the life of my fathers in the days of their sojourning.”

He then blessed the highly regarded person to whom he was speaking. Suddenly “I’m feeling 22” seems wildly inadequate. Factual, in some cases, but maybe not as informative as this response. There are a few things that jump out at me about this.

Firstly, Jacob is 130 here. He is also what some might call “a Bible hero.” At the very least he is referenced in the Bible and part of Jesus’ genealogy. This said, he describes his 130 as “few” and “evil.” That’s a very interesting perspective and basis for comparison for a 20-something struggling regularly with a bevy of things described on this blog and many, many more. Then again, his basis for comparison may very well be his perfect Creator and the ancestors that he references. These are people who were cited in Hebrews for their outstanding faith and walking in righteousness. In those cases (particularly the former), “few and evil” sounds about right.

Secondly, Jacob uses “sojourning” and “life” interchangeably. Life is a journey, some canvas on Pinterest tells us, but what does that actually mean? Is it even true? I’m not quite sure of the answer myself, but the fact that Jacob describes his life as “sojourning” gives me the idea that it’s not a time for being stagnant. All the more so when we don’t have a lot of time to get there (the days are few) and we’re constantly tripping over our own faults and those of others (the days are evil).

Well, this is a great New Year’s message so far, Marissa. We’re going to die soon and we’re evil disasters. Thanks. Sorry, sorry! But let me explain why this is actually making my new year happy.

1.) We have examples.

Another reason that I don’t really do resolutions is that I take commitments very seriously and I have trouble coming up with resolutions that aren’t too extremist. In response to an end-of-year questionnaire asking about what I might like to let go of in 2014, I thought of the single versus married people blog war (Don’t get married yet! You’re young! You’ll throw your life away! versus If you haven’t gotten married by X years of age, you’re doing something horribly wrong! Meanwhile, everyone’s insulted.). I thought of the times I flipped through someone’s pictures and lamented my own perceived lack of beauty. If I wasn’t doing so well at repressing school thoughts during my holiday time, I probably would have considered the times that I felt so unintelligent there. So I wrote “comparing myself to others.” Seconds later, I erased it.

In a sense, comparing myself to others is good. Paul offered his behavior as an example to the church in his letters (“Finally brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about here things. What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me- practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.”) as a point of comparison. I am constantly comparing myself to Christ and those who are striving to be like him. What about their faith encourages me? How can I be more like them, and ultimately, more like Christ?

2.) We have time.

I know, I know, I just said that the days are few. But there are days. The days are not zero; they are few. We are a vapor, but typically a breath is not indicative of death. This just means we need to “make the best use of the time” that we do have (Ephesians 5). This is why I’m a Christian. I don’t have a whole lot of time, but I have some. I look to the One who gave me that time, to the One who is good, and I am awed by what I see. I am in awe that He not only made me, but loves me, and loves me sacrificially- with the greatest love. Not only that- He loves everyone with that kind of love. So I seek what it is He wants out of the time He has given me because whatever it is, it is good and it is based in love.

So Happy New Year, everyone! I am thankful for the days given and those yet to come; I am thankful for the sojourning and praying that it follows the steps of Christ’s time on earth as closely as possible. His days were few, in a sense, but they were good. May this brief but new year be a time of growth, blessing, gratitude, and mirroring Christ all the more as He makes us new.

To Know Just Who You Are

MERRY CHRISTMAS!

Thank you for your patience with my unexpected hiatus; I got quite, quite sick during November and then finals week hit with a vengeance and I just couldn’t keep doing everything. To make it up, and in honor of wonderful holidays falling on Parakaleo days, I’ll be doing back-to-back Parakaleo posts this week and next week.

As for today, I would like to share part of one of my favorite songs year-round that happens to be founded in Christmas:

“I’m torn between what keeps me whole and what tears me in half;
I’ll fall apart or stay intact.

With tired eyes I stumble back to bed;
I need to realize my sorry life’s not hanging by a thread,
At least not yet…

It always hurt to be all by myself this time of year;
A cold and lonely Christmas Eve.
And living out my days alone,
Well, that had been my deepest fear,
But You promised You won’t leave.

I look towards the east and see a star;
Jesus Christ, it’s blessed my life to know just who You are;
You are my hope.”

I love the fact that Relient K ties together the gift of Christ’s coming, that we may know Him and know God, with His ongoing gift. Through Him we have ever-increasing faith, hope, and love. Through Him we have a perfect example to represent us before God and to imitate, as we’re called to do in Ephesians. Through Him, we have eternal life (what that even is supposed to mean is a separate post). Christmas is more than a baby in a manger. It is God amongst men. The psalmist notes, “When I look at Your heavens, the work of Your fingers, the moon and the stars, which You have set in place, what is man that You are mindful of him, and the son of man that You care for him?” What then, is man that You loved him and became him?

I think the best Christmas gifts are the ones that show how well someone knows another person. Sometimes this is knowing and acknowledging a need, whether that be spiritual, physical, or emotional. Sometimes this is knowing a personality or characteristic (e.g. how I made my mom laugh until she cried with my note on her Christmas gift that she was not allowed to keep the box I had given her). “God only knows,” we say, too often sarcastically, but literally God only knows the depth to which I am broken. He knows how much I need love and to be made into something better. He knew what I needed the most, and how His love and purpose fits in with every quirky aspect of who I am (from the constant singing to the constant learning) and He gave of Himself the perfect gift. This is why I love Christmas. This is what we as Christians are called to do for others when Ephesians 5 starts, “Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.”

“Walk in love, as Christ loved us.” Merry Christmas, everyone!

Wise and Thankful

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

Gratitude is such a vital part of the Christian faith, and I’m so glad that it’s something that we take a full day to celebrate. We put everything aside and we make time for family and/or rest; I realize sometimes the two are mutually exclusive and that not everyone is able to take a break for the day. But with whatever time we do have for reflection on “what we’re thankful for,” we’re fulfilling the call in the book of Ephesians to “[give] thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” as part of the larger command to “look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil.”

I hadn’t previously thought of the two as being connected, but after we’re told to “walk wisely,” we see a “therefore.” Because of this, it says, do things like understand the will of the Lord, be filled with the Spirit, and give thanks always.

So even though you may be reading this when the day is done and the pie is gone, you haven’t missed your chance! There are endless opportunities for gratitude in “always.”

Each year I try to share a little bit of my “gratitude list” or a few things for which I am particularly thankful (see 20092010, 2011, and 2012), and this year I’m going off-script a bit with things that I haven’t added yet!

I’m thankful for:

– regional trees

– the feeling of familiarity that old music brings

– libraries

– the fact that our bodies let us know when something is wrong

– medical personnel who give us more knowledge than our bodies do when something is wrong

– history and a knowledge of it

– favorite foods

– the way it sounds when my mother and sister are laughing together

– gratitude, and the research base supporting it

– faith, hope, and love; the greatest of which is the lattermost

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!