That first page opened up to Him on the first Sunday in June. It opened wide and blank, an offering to Him as much as a request of Him to teach me through the sweltering days of summer that stretched both long and short before me.
“How to Find Peace?” that first page asked.
He taught me to breathe. He taught me to breathe in and out His Name, that everything that has breath really does praise Him, because every breath is a whisper of His Name. Aspirated consonants. YHWH. In and out, we breathe His Name day and night, a chorus of glory filling up every corner of this earth that is still so good.
Six days later: “Cynicism isn’t strength and ranting doesn’t rejuvenate and frustration can never accomplish what Faith can.”
“Smile,” He said to me. “Just smile. Exercise the faith I gave you in the promise of the good that is to come and smile. It will make you feel better. Eventually. Because a joyful heart is good medicine, but a broken spirit dries up the bones. So smile. It’s the first act of surrendering to the truth that I am in the mending.”
“Joy is the way to live bravest of all,” He whispered to me on a warm June morning. And I answered: He makes me brave. Joy is the bravest way to live. Thankfulness yields joy. Breathing Him yields thankfulness. Breathing is mandatory. Breathe.
Great fear descended in those early mid-June days. We turned upside down and inside out and quaked at the pit stretching out beneath us, and we up and cried out to Him and breathed. We spoke truth and life and smiled and chose to be thankful in the midst of a week that could have undone us. We quarreled, too, and barked at the kids who were afraid and didn’t know why and tried so hard to hang on for dear life, because fear sometimes eats a body alive. And He was faithful. Like always. He cast a net for us over that pit and caught us up in His mercy once again.
A billboard appeared above the kitchen table two days before Juneteenth:
He did each single thing, as if he did nothing else.
We sojourned in Psalm 16 for days. Again and again, we read it. Roots pushed deeper down and this year’s ring widened a bit during those days. Such a downpour of healing rain. He is my inheritance, my boundary lines, my portion, my cup. Of course my lot is secure. Of course my territory is pleasant. How can it not be, when it is Him?
I have, as Ann says, soul amnesia, so I must preach the Gospel to myself throughout the day. The fundamental difference between me and Jesus is that Jesus never forgets His identity, while I forget who I am every day, the pastor said, and I knew it down in my bones that he was right. Soul amnesia. It’s the plague of the believer. We forget far too easily.
So, I preached the gospel to myself in July. Again and again, the Word stretched out and reached down and pulled up and sprouted wings. I am one radically loved by God. The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places. He makes me brave. Joy is the bravest way of all. Breathe. I am faithful, because He makes me faithful. I am righteous, because He makes me righteous. No scheme of the evil one can change that. Though I fall, I will not be overwhelmed, because the Lord holds my hand. I am one radically loved by God. I am one radically loved by God. I am one radically loved by God.
Jehoshaphat came to visit on July 15th. We swapped howdies, and I found my kindred spirit.
“Jehoshaphat was afraid, so he resolved to seek the Lord.”
“We do not know what to do,” he prayed, “but we look to You.”
Fear is a signpost. It tells us to seek Him.
Reality changed at the end of July. The real story – what really was happening all those years – I learned that it wasn’t the story I’d read, and I followed that signpost to Him. Because I didn’t know what to do, I looked to Him.
The truth is, I rarely know what to do beyond seeking Him.
This is what You have taught me more than anything else in my life, I wrote on the first day of August, I need You. Every impulse, emotion, happenstance, ordinary or extraordinary is a signpost pointing in one direction: You. I would be wise to follow where they point me.
A letter from a Brother in Auschwitz circled me back to the first of June:
“Dear Mama, I am in the camp of Auschwitz. Everything is well in my regard. Be tranquil about me and about my health, because the good God is everywhere and provides for everything with love.”
How to find peace? The good God is everywhere and provides for everything with love.
On August 10th: I haven’t the vocabulary to express what is wrong inside me. Each word I can think of doesn’t seem to identify the way I’ve been feeling for the past six weeks or so. Overwhelmed. Sad. Discouraged. Uneasy. Perhaps uneasy is the closest. I feel restless and out of place, like I can’t find where I should be or where I want to be. Nothing fits quite right, and I just keep plodding along. There are moments of great joy and peace…But outside of those [moments], I feel utterly misplaced….Father, I can only keep doing what I have been doing all summer: immerse myself in the truth of who You have made me and fix my eyes on You. Eventually, my heart will heal….I believe if I do what You have asked of me, then You will handle the rest.”
And for the first time, my real name finished my prayer: Must Be Loved.
He taught me that about my name. Amanda. The baby name books all say it means “worthy of love” or “beloved,” but what it really means is Must Be Loved. A declaration. An absolute. A nonnegotiable.
Must Be Loved scampers across August. Bravely. Because He makes me brave.
A question sticks with me from the 19th: “In a fallen world, how profound is it to see what’s broken?” My answer: Look for what He is mending.
By late August, complaints surround me. An assault of them. Grumblings that infect like a virus. My soul amnesia causes me to forget, and I am not sleeping well. The seeing what’s broken ruins my appetite, and I spiral. That uneasiness I wrote about on the 10th devours me. I can’t surface, and I’m pulling the ones I love down with me, all the time knowing that this is madness. But I am so bone tired, and these slanderous voices are deafening. Frantically, I breathe and croak out the Gospel to myself.
Two friends can see the flailing. They ask what’s really going on, and they pray for me and they speak life into me and they help me for real. And I can’t stop thinking about how their names – both of their names – mean grace.
Smile. It’s the first act of surrendering to the truth that I am in the mending.
“Joy is the way to live bravest of all.”
“He did each single thing, as if he did nothing else.”
The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places.
I do not know what to do, but I look to You.
The good God is everywhere and provides for everything with love.
All is grace.
The journal pauses here on this last day of August. Another warm Sunday morning. Tomorrow, a new first page will open up wide and blank in offering and expectation, and He will meet me there because He has the final word in this tale. He will meet me there, in those sacred pages reserved for Him. He will meet me there, His Must Be Loved.