Tag Archives: grace

For the One Who’s Still a Long Way Off

photo credit: almost there via photopin (license)
photo credit: almost there via photopin (license)

“So he got up and went to his father. But while he was still a long way off,
his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son,
threw his arms around him and kissed him.” Luke 15:20

So you’re taking the long way back, hobbling along, still a little amazed, actually, to find yourself heading back to that place you left so long ago.

Back then, you were young and drunk on the idea of independence, on your plans, on your dreams — your inheritance burning a hole in your pocket. And, besides that, you were sick to death of the whole damned thing, not sure what you believed anymore or why you’d ever believed it. Not sure if you belonged anymore in that house, among those people, the ones bowing their heads in prayer one moment and whispering side-eyed in the foyer the next.

You weren’t sure, even, about Him. The Father whose love sometimes felt like it might crush you, flatten you into something smaller than you wanted to be. Love as familiar and bland to your tongue as the bread you’d eaten every day of your life. And from the threshold of that doorway between past and future, the world looked like a buffet…a hundred thousand things that you’d never had a chance to try. And you found yourself ravenous.

If you’re being honest, it’s not like you’re particularly ready to go back. This isn’t how you saw this playing out. You thought this would all work better, and who can imagine, at first, the fragile nature of success? Who would think that it’s just a soap bubble getting bigger and bigger until it could almost swallow you whole. And then. Pop.

You’re going back, frankly, because you’ve run out of options. Because you never could manage to outrun your past, because it kept creeping up on you as you lay in the hollow of your despair, wishing things had turned out differently.

Go home, go home, go home, the phantom lullaby sang in your ears, and it was so familiar and soothing, that eventually you found yourself thinking, What the hell. What else am I going to do?

And so here you are, taking the long way, dragging so much baggage that you can hardly keep going. Failure. Resentment. Pain. Anger. Doubt. Distrust. It feels like a long way from where you are to where He is, and you don’t even know what it’ll be like when you get there.

Is it as bad as you remember it? Is it as good?

What is waiting for you at the end of this grudging acceptance? And Who?

A hundred miles away. A thousand. It might as well be a million for all you can imagine, and each step feels hard as you lift your leaden, heavy feet and walk.

You are not as far away as you feel.

You have turned, barely, in the direction of home.

So little. The least and the most that you could possibly do.

It’s exactly enough.

Somewhere far away from where you think you are, the Father is waiting, watching. He sees you who are a long way off. He comes running.

And, after all, who can outrun that crushing Love that, in the end, makes us so much larger than we ever thought we could be? That Love that has been waiting, watching all this time for you to run to the edge of the world and then turn, finally around.

I’m not saying it’s not a long journey. Anyone who has ever run away knows this. Anyone whose heart has calcified from sadness to anger to cold, stony cynicism knows that it’s a hard road home. But also, it’s so much closer than you think.

Because the Father is running toward you, His eyes full of joy and tears and all the love that’s been yours all this time. He will walk you home to where that same bread will taste familiar in your mouth and fill up your emptiness. To where you will finally understand that it was always enough.

You are still a long way off, I know, but I want you to know that he is coming anyway. Maybe you can’t see him yet, but he is sprinting, laughing, calling your name across the void.

He is closing the gap with raucous, echoing grace.

When Lent Comes Too Soon [Guest Post]

lent comes early

I started Lent early this year.

Not long after New Year’s, a meltdown enabled me to glimpse the darkness of my heart: the way I use people, my capacity for self-deception. A dustup online confronted me with the need to cut back on Facebook. A strange reaction to my morning coffee suggested a switch to decaf.

Perhaps it’s the reclusiveness of the Northeast winter that brings it on. Maybe the quiet of January after the holiday rush lends itself to introspection. Whatever the cause, Lent has started early for several years running.

At the same time, formal Lent has become a grind. I used to plunge into its heavy spirit of mea culpa with abandon, walking through Holy Week with a shadow over my soul, trying to repress the craving for whatever I’d given up. A few years ago—maybe with the job that went horribly wrong, or the crises of loved ones too close to me, or the slowdown of age I no longer want to fight—I realized I couldn’t do it anymore. The intensity was just too much.

I seem to be doing Lent on my own time, as it comes to me. I still love Jesus, but not according to a schedule.

I seem to be listening to my heart.

I wonder if this is something that happens over time. You start by devouring the scriptures, analyzing passages and memorizing verses and applying them to your everyday life. You go for guidelines and forms and rituals and techniques. But gradually your focus shifts, and your life starts to coalesce not so much around the written word, but around the whispered Spirit in the depth of your soul. Things take place on the schedule you need, according to your own seasons of the spirit.

Maybe this is where your faith becomes your faith.

Years ago, someone told me you have to learn the rules first in order to break the rules later. It’s one of the few “dad mantras” our daughter remembers from childhood—and she applies it even today. If you don’t start with rules, you don’t know what you’re doing. Imagine playing Scrabble without any hint of the rules: you’ve got a pretty board and a bunch of tiles and no idea what to do with them.

But if you stay within the rules, you miss out on that strange mix of joy and fear that comes with the Christian life—the sense of heading into the unknown with the tug of the Spirit as a guide, confident only that you are loved and that the journey will make you better. At this point, the rules aren’t external; they’re baked into your heart. That frees you to follow the Spirit into places you never thought you’d go.

Perhaps this is the year I learn to live my own faith. Perhaps this year I will understand that obscure saying of Jesus: “The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”

Perhaps I won’t know what I’ve learned until Lent is over. What I do know is that it has already begun.


john backmanJohn Backman, the author of Why Can’t We Talk? Christian Wisdom on Dialogue as a Habit of the Heart (SkyLight Paths Publishing, 2012), writes extensively on contemplative spirituality and its ability to help us dialogue across divides.

As a regular contributor to Huffington Post Religion and an associate of an Episcopal monastery, he has written articles for numerous Christian publications. Check out his work at the Dialogue Venture blog and follow him on Twitter.

The Slow Work of a New Year

It’s January 22st, and I’m still easing into the New Year.

This is not how I usually am. Generally by the time the ball drops over Time’s Square, I’ve made a page-long list of resolutions divided into various subcategories: Relationships.Writing. Personal. Family/Home. Spiritual. Health. I’ve always gravitated toward the idea of blank slates and turning points. A new year; another try. A chance to get it all right from the get-go.

Normally, by the time the New Year rolled around, I would have had a completely fleshed out Blogging Plan and a new determination to Write More. I would have had measurable goals and barometers for success and all the other things that the writers of business-y books say you need to succeed.

It’s January 22nd. And I don’t.

This year, I dragged a lot of things with me into the first days of 2015, not the least of which was the almost-not-quite-finished draft of the Book #2 manuscript that was due to my editor months ago. I spent the first late nights and early mornings of the new year bent over the troubling portions of the book, writing and erasing, writing and erasing.

Finally, on Monday the 5th, I sat in the middle of the total wreck of my kitchen, finished the last three paragraphs, and sent it off.

Then I ate a cookie and put away the Christmas stuff. Or 3/4 of it. As I write this, the nativity, mistletoe and Christmas art are all still up, and I’m too tired to really care.

I’ve spent the past couple of weeks wandering around, blinking, as though I just emerged from a windowless room. I suppose in some ways I was — cloistered in the private world of the work I was trying to do. The finished pages whipped away from my email inbox — so quick, so simple — and then they were gone…off in the Void, waiting to be read by the People Who Read Such Things.

Over the next few days, I cleaned out my closets and got my hair cut. I let the impossibly thin and beautiful stylist cut a swoop of bangs across my forehead and then spent the rest of the day trying to catch my reflection in mirrors and windows, not sure if I looked silly or stylish.

I tried on a pair of fire-engine red corduroy pants at Marshall’s and sent Kim and Alissa a selfie from the dressing room. “Can I pull these off?” I asked. “YES!” They said. “Buy them!” They said. And since they were only seven dollars, and since I had finished my book, I did.

Note: It's surprisingly hard to get a photo in which you capture both your new red pants and your new bangs. This is not the best. But I tried.
Note: It’s surprisingly hard to get a photo in which you capture both your new red pants and your new bangs. This is not the best. But I tried.

I started running again. I started making green smoothies for breakfast again and started keeping a giant pitcher of lemon-cucumber water in the fridge. I never wrote on a piece of paper, No Diet Coke in 2015!, but when I walked down the aisles at Walmart past 24-packs of Diet Coke, I began to tell myself, “Not right now. If you really need some, you can come back later. Just not now.”

I didn’t make resolutions for the first time ever…but I find myself moving slowly, tentatively, toward new habits. Maybe it has to do with starting the year off working through the final chapters of my book. Maybe it’s just the Tired Thirties. For whatever reasons, I find myself deeply aware of the slowness of change. It doesn’t usually look like a sharp angle from a single resolution toward a new life. It’s the ordinary work of creating new patterns. Falling back into old ones. Standing up, brushing off, and trying again.

Maybe it sounds simple to you, but it’s a revolutionary concept for this perfectionist-idealist. This girl who wants so much to get it right the first time has spent the last year writing and erasing, writing and erasing, rewriting, rewriting, rewriting.

And I wonder if coming to your life is a little like coming to the page: open-hearted, brave, bringing everything you have, knowing that some days you’ll get it wrong, some days you’ll get nothing done, some days it will be the wrong words…but that it’s all part of the process. You don’t know exactly where you’re going, but you have the general idea of what you want it to feel like when you get there. So you come back again and again and again. Keep trying. Keep writing. Keep going.

It’s all part of creating something beautiful.

It’s a new-ish year. 2015. I don’t have any resolutions this year, but I want to like who I am. Instead of berating myself for my unhealthy habits, I want to begin to slowly move toward new ones. To accept when I fail, let it go, and then get up and try again.

I want to come back to the page no matter how many words I deleted last time. I want to wear those seven dollar red pants. I want to be brave and I want to be kind, and I want to be here…whatever that looks like, whatever that means.

All this to say…happy 2015. It’s been a while. But I’m back.

Psalm for Wednesday Morning Chemo

For Melissa

I do not (as far as I know) have cancer. But, these days, I find myself living life alongside a dear friend who does. This is for her – and for anyone else who finds themself on this hard new journey: a psalm, a prayer, a simple grasp toward hope.

photo credit: limowreck666 via photopin cc
photo credit: limowreck666 via photopin cc

God of water and wilderness
and of hospital rooms, filled with IVs
smelling of antiseptic and latex:
To you we pray.

Glory. Glory.

You have counted the hairs on my head,
so You know, too, about the ones falling out.
The way I feel every morning:
like I’m combing away a part of myself,
becoming someone I hardly recognize.

Still, I have to believe that you who number things like hair and stars
and the grains of sand of these ten thousand fall-frozen lakes
must know each of the 37.2 trillion cells in my traitor body.
Including the renegade ones —
those damn cancer cells, dividing, dividing —
Dividing my whole life into Before Cancer
and Now. Here.

I’ll admit, it’s hard to savor your goodness
when everything tastes like metal.
And if I’m having trouble trusting it, Lord,
It’s only because I’m afraid.

Here is what I know:
You are the God who sees —
not just the ocean’s surface
but every creature in its endless deep.
You who watch the jellyfish dance
and listen to the whale sing her mournful song
and know where the sea turtle
lays her eggs —
you see me too:
my heart, my fear, my hopes —
and even those odd-shaped cells
with their multiple nuclei
and their coarse chromatin —
and all their capacity for destruction.

Your eyes do not look away:
Not from the sparrow
Not from me,
as I sit here in Wednesday morning chemo.
The drugs are pumping
into the port they cut into my chest —
the place I held my babies when they were small.
The place where you say you’re holding me

The weak fall light is straining through the windows —
and the trees —
they are almost entirely bare now.
They look a little haunted in the absence of leaves,
but I bet you know
how many leaves fell.
And I bet you’ve already planned it all out:
how many leaves
will grow there when spring comes back.

It always comes back.

And it’s Wednesday morning.
And all there is to do is sit.
The medicine courses, again, into my body,
and all I can do is
All I can do is
to the God who sees it all:

Especially that which I

Glory. Glory.


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