Layers

Layers of life
In some ways like accumulating
rings of trees
marking seasons, telling times
living records that still speak
if we will lend an ear

The only way to hear them
is be cut in half
uncovering the mounting rings
of life that’s been
of life that is
of life that’s true

Layered years
of fire and drought
and joy and pain
and loss and fear
and hopes and dreams
both realized and dashed

The rings don’t lie
but courage is required
to see their truth
to feel their truth
to know them for the gift
they were and are

Past events
aren’t really past at all
they breathe beneath the surface
of the present day
and shape our words
and prompt our deeds
and set our course

The layers of our souls
must be exposed
that we may own
the breadth of who we are

Danny Mullins©2017

Hope

An ember buried in the blackness of the night
concealed within the faded hopes of yesterday
Ignited by a cosmic wind the cycle starts again
the eastern fire kindled by a hidden hand
Night yields to dawning day, unique and rare
unlike another, like unto itself alone
Complexities of dust and vapor
incandescent as the morning climbs
Ebony gives way to gray
then quickly yields to colors that defy a name
Changing quicker
than the eye can catch them
And with the day hope rises from its tomb of pain
announcing it survived the night as well
Welcomed or not it shamelessly asserts itself
refusing to be swallowed by the night

Hope is hard to kill

Great effort and persistency
can push it to the edges of oblivion
But even then it’s subject to reviving
for resurrection lives within its veins
I think resurrection flows within my veins as well
how can I tell?
Because I cannot seem to help myself
hope has me by the heart and won’t let go
But evening comes
it always has, it always will
There’s nothing can be done but let it rest
let it lay and turn my eyes toward another day
Even when engulfed by darkest times
the ember glows
Though hidden by the blackness of the night
His wind still finds it
And against my better judgment
I begin to move toward its warming fire

I suppose I am the moth
and hope’s the flame

Danny Mullins © 2016

Living in the Question

“You are entirely faithful”
Psalm 89:8 (NLT)

I am learning to live in the question.

There is a vast difference between living in the question and existing with it. One is an expression of life, the other of resignation.

To embrace living in the question opens the door of possibility, the chance to flourish in the presence of uncertainty, to know in the unknowing, to breathe freely in the midst of the incomplete and unresolved, to carry on meaningfully with a sense of purpose and holy cause. The presence of a question unanswered need not detour me, need not send my life down a dark path, need not move me from God’s intention for my soul.

Living in the question suggests, or perhaps demands, a life of faith-filled longing for more; to seek understanding but live contentedly with the measure of understanding granted.

A life lived in the question is built on the bedrock of David’s declaration: You are entirely faithful. It is not David’s testimony to it or my belief in it that makes it true. It has always been and always will be true. God is entirely faithful.

Like a gentle rain upon the earth, may this truth increasingly seep into my soul until my life becomes so deeply saturated that every good seed falling upon my life lodges in fertile ground ripe for the growing. Words germinate and quickly sprout; root, stem, leaf, and fruit nourished by the knowledge that God is entirely faithful.

Then it shall be true that I will have become a well watered garden, a desert become a flowered field, a parched and dusty river bed rushing with rippled waters smoothing out the former stones of stumbling. Those stumbling stones were demanded answers.   As the water deepens, they affect its flow less and less. Eventually the former turbulence becomes a deep pool slowly carrying the rough edges of my life into a sea of grace.

I’m learning to live in the question…and learning to live in the learning.

My Greatest Truth

I learned it as a young boy.  Very young.  I couldn’t tell you who taught it to me.  Mom? Dad? Grandma?  Church?  Who would have thought it would become the deepest and most profound truth of my life, the foundation stone upon which everything else rests?

“Jesus loves me, this I know…”

In his book Repenting of Religion, Gregory Boyd says, “Our one need is to simply be people who are loved for free, who are filled with love for free, and who therefore love all other people for free.”  In our search for truth, a search every human being is on whether they know it or not, we are often sidetracked by the misguided need for words, ideas, or systems of belief that have a beyond us sort of feel…an esoteric maxim, a PhD dissertation. Certainly we aren’t looking for a Sunday School song.

We shouldn’t be surprised at the simplicity of it all.  But I have been.  Perhaps you have fallen into the same trap.  My search for assumed complexity misses the glory and richness of the simple.  Eyes for the future cost me the power of the present.  The ticket into the kingdom is childlikeness.  A Sunday School song.

I have, however, had to change some of the lyrics.  I came to a place where “for the Bible tells me so” didn’t cut it anymore.  It wasn’t enough.  God’s love is God’s love not because the Bible says so, but because it has been, as Paul says in Romans, “shed abroad in my heart by the Holy Spirit.”  I know Jesus loves me not because a book (as wonderful a book as it is) tells me so, but because I have experienced His love at the core of my being.  My heart knows it to be true. His love changed my life, healed my soul, and impassioned me.

I experienced it.

With no disrespect for the original version, I sing it a bit differently now.

Jesus loves me, this I know
Because I’ve felt the overflow
No longer words upon a page
But living love, the words replaced
No evil deed nor darkest day
Could ever take that love away
Jesus loves me, this I know
I know, I know
His love, I know

Opportunities

Then Jesus made it plain to them,
“Lazarus is dead.
And for you sake, I’m glad I wasn’t there,
because now you have another opportunity
to see who I am
so that you will learn to trust in me.
Come, let’s go and see him.”
John 11:14-15
(The Passion Translation)

Opportunities to see who He is.

So I can learn to trust Him more.

Those words touch something of the eternal within me, which is beyond yet somehow present to this life, a desire relentlessly wandering my soul desperately seeking satisfaction. Something in the center of my being reacts. It is a pleasant aching, at the same time comforting and discomforting.

Opportunities to know Him more intimately come in the strangest of places. The context in the above quoted passage is the death of a deeply loved friend. Peter had the opportunity in the midst of his own betraying behavior, Levi while sitting in the tax collector’s booth cheating his fellow countrymen, the adulterous woman while brought for the stones of judgment. And, according to Corrie Ten Boom, He can become known and trusted in the midst of a Nazi death camp. Opportunities. To see who He is. To learn to trust Him more.

Not all opportunities are such dire circumstances. The occasion presents itself in a glorious sunset, a cool, gentle rain, or the smile of child; in the pounding waves of a Pacific beach, hiking a densely forested trail, or any number of spectacular settings God has created for our pleasure. The revelation of who He is comes in unexpected friendship, unwarranted favor, and undeserved love. He  is everywhere and in everything.

There is no lack of opportunity to see Him, only lack of eyes to see. I pray for the grace to notice, a keenness of soul, a curious mind, an observant heart, a willing spirit. The occasions present themselves in the course of every day life, in the routine of daily existence. But they must be noticed, and then seized.

I have come to the conclusion I will never find in this life the full satisfaction of heart that I seek. I have experienced tastes and caught glimpses of what my soul longs for. But never the fullness. I believe my capacity for knowing and trusting has, is, and will increase. But the fullness…the ultimate satisfaction that always seems just out of reach will, I think, stay just out of reach. Perhaps so I will keep reaching.

I seem to have made an uneasy peace with that, a begrudging peace, but peace nevertheless. I am never fully satisfied. No matter my experience of Him, I am always left with a longing for more. It is never enough. That being said, I am no less thankful for the seeing and the knowing. They are an incomplete yet incomparable gift. They are a blessing beyond measure. And yet…

“As the deer longs for streams of water, so I long for you, O God. I thirst for God, the living God. When can I go and stand before him?” Ps. 42:1-2 NLT

 

Living in Loss

I’m living in the loss
I’m told it is the cost of truly loving
The un-avoided consequence of opening my heart

It seems unfair

Somehow I thought my choice to love
would shield me from the pain
and yet the opposite is true

To deeply love is partnered with
a deeper hurt than I would feel
if choosing to love less

So loss must be embraced

It must be gathered as a treasure
in the storehouse of my heart
and guarded well

Loss has the power to shape my heart
in ways I have been longing for
Unlikely as it seems it is a gift
a gracious gift
but only if received

Forgive me for resistance to Your ways
for they are good, always good
You’re simply doing what
I’ve always longed for
Shaped into the image of your Son

He, Himself, was also shaped
by living in His loss
as did His Father

He chose His way
I must choose mine
and in so doing follow in His steps

Living in loss
Living in love
Hand in hand they walk me toward eternity

Danny Mullins
June 25, 2016

Unending Love

“I trust in the unending love of God.  His passion toward me is forever and ever.”
Psalm 52:8 The Passion Translation

Despite all the songs, books, sonnets, and plays that have, over the course of centuries, featured love as their focus, I have come to believe that our experience of true love is rare. I certainly don’t intend for that statement to come off as cynical. I don’t feel cynical. It’s simply a realization I am coming to.

In my recent Bible reading, I find myself pausing again and again at passages similar to the one quoted above. Perhaps because verses about how much God loves us are so ubiquitous throughout Scripture (they are literally everywhere), it’s easy to give them the knowing nod of intellectual assent and move on to seemingly more interesting subject matter. That is, without a doubt, an accurate description of my life in previous years. There was no maliciousness in what I did; no intent to dismiss or diminish the truth of how much we are loved.  There was simply so much I didn’t know about God’s love.

David describes a love that was not the experience of my life. That is not an accusation toward anyone; just an observation. It does, I think, reveal the poverty of my experience and understanding of the quality of love the Psalmist describes in the lyrics of his song.  He is deeply affected by the eternal nature of God’s love, specifically for him. If love is not personal, I wonder if it is love at all. He uses the words “unending” and “forever and ever.” God’s love cannot be interrupted. No action or lack of action on my part can prevent the love of God from flowing in my direction. It targets my heart regardless of my response to it. I can accept, receive, abide in, ignore, or reject His love, but whatever my posture and response it does not affect it’s flow toward me. It is, most assuredly, as David describes: unending.

I don’t know how to think about that sort of love. I have intellectual and emotional limitations that hinder my ability from fully grasping the nature and extent of such a love. I live with warped perspectives and misshaped beliefs I have acquired through life in a broken world that causes me to see through a distorted lens. I have come to believe the highest goal for my life is learning, living in, and living out the love of God in this life and the next one.

An analogy comes to mind that I am hesitant to use (but apparently not hesitant enough not to use it). Janet and I have four grown sons. Through the years it’s been our experience that boys and dogs go together, so we’ve had our share of them (boys and dogs). I’m thinking particularly of the last dog we had as a family. His name was Bond. He was a rather big guy (60-70 pounds) and had a beautiful white coat with brindle spots and a ring around one eye. We always got admiring looks when we walked him. After our last son moved out, Bond lived out his remaining years with Janet and I.

I find it somehow comforting and joyous to remember him. He was part of our lives for over a decade. The point of this foray into my family history is that despite the fact that Bond was, at times, the focal point of someone’s anger or frustration; despite the fact he was, from time to time, ignored or neglected; despite the fact he was sometimes treated as an inconvenience and nuisance, he never showed any signs of having anything but love for us.

In moments when he was shown even the slightest affection, you would almost immediately find him sitting at your feet with his head in your lap looking up at you with those large, longing eyes enjoying the time and attention you were giving him. Any negative or angry mistreatment of him never deterred his desire to be with any one of us.

My intention is not to compare the love of God with that of a dog (thus my hesitancy to use the analogy), but it’s a rare thing, in my opinion, to encounter that sort of consistent, undeterred, genuine affection with another human being. It’s certainly not unheard of, but in this life it appears to be uncommon to say the least. Because we have experienced it so infrequently, if at all, we have no reference point for what an encounter with God’s love might look or feel like. Though that sort of love is described in the Bible, illustrated through it’s stories, and lived out through the life of Christ, none of those things guarantee my experience of it. My human experience has generally been one of earning the love and respect of others. Unfortunately, that laid the foundation for how I related to the love of God.

Thankfully, things seem to be changing for me (due entirely, I can assure you, to the grace of God). I am finding myself living in an increasing experience of God’s love. The Scriptures regarding His love are no longer nice sentiments but intensely personal notes from God’s hand to my heart. They stop me in my tracks as my heart considers and enters those living, loving words. I understand it at a heart level more than I ever have. At the same time, I also understand that His love that is yet to be experienced is an ocean compared to the little pond I am currently swimming around in.

I have no means or desire to measure where I am on the continuum of experiencing and living in His love. It is enough to live this moment and reach towards the next one. I am becoming keenly aware that my experience of God’s love is the experience people will have of His love through me. As my experience grows, so grows the expression of His love to others through my life. As I catch a longer glimpse of his “passion toward me”, others notice the perfume of that passion. Perhaps that is what Paul was referring to when he spoke of the “fragrance of Christ.”

Unending. Undeterred. Uninterrupted. And hopefully irresistible to all. The experience of God’s love becomes the fuel for living our lives. The lack of it brings any semblance of living to a halt.

And so Paul prays: “May you have the power to understand, as all God’s people should, how long, how wide, how high, and how deep his love is. May you experience the love of Christ, though it is too great to understand fully. Then you will be made complete with all the fullness of life and power that comes from God.” Ephesians 3:18-19 NLT