I went out for coffee yesterday with some new friends from church.
It was awesome.
We drank coffee. We shared testimony. We were real. We talked about our love for Jesus and our love for Japan.
It was awesome.
It was also a little bit scary.
Honestly. I think real realness normally is.
Because so often, when we first meet people, they look all shiny and new.
We don't look so messy. On the outside.
I mean, I think about myself. I dress bright and I laugh loud and I have some amazing stories about God doing some pretty cool stuff. And all that is totally and completely true.
But in realness, you don't have to dig too far below the surface to discover that I, like every other person on the planet, am a hot mess.
My testimony involves some messy-kind of redemption. Well, the redemption isn't messy because God is the one who runs that show… But the mess… That's messy. When I talk about the rescue of my Father and the transformation of Holy Spirit, it means I have to be real about abuse and divorce and being saved from a depression so black I didn't think I'd ever see the sunrise again. It means I talk about failure. And rejection. And freaking out when I should be standing strong. And getting so many things wrong before I start to get them right. And all these kinds of ugly words that we are so often too scared to use in daily conversation.
It means I admit that I get scared sometimes. That I don't have all the answers most of the time. That the only good in me is that which Jesus so patiently plants and grows and waters.
But I so desperately believe that if we really want to share the message of a Grace so strong that it changes the cosmos, we have to be real about this stuff.
It's not real grace if you don't really get what it is you've been rescued from.
But realness is sometimes one of the scariest things, isn't it?
Hosanna Wong (yep, I'm going to again quote my favourite performance poet) has written this powerful piece entitled 'These Waters'. Let me share some of the words.
I can trust God with my life. I try to say these truths to myself over and over, hoping somehow they sink in, praying somehow they shout louder than the voices that haunt me, because from day to day they are battling with all the words inside of me, the many wars inside of me. Like, what if God fails me? What if I make a mistake and I ruin the lives of the people around me? What if I'm the one person who doesn't have a purpose? What if my talents are not good enough? What if my decisions are not good enough? What if my life is not up to par with what everyone expects of me? And I'm drowning in this sea of 'what if's…
Because if I'm being really real, it does to me.
Isn't it reassuring to know that you're not the only one?
So you're a hot mess? Me too.
Now, before I moved to Sapporo, a couple of friends who had lived or visited before warned me about the fact that it was a location home to some scarily big crows.
I thought they were kidding. Some kind of wind-up.
I mean, a crow… Is a crow… Surely?!
Wrong. So very and incredibly wrong.
These things (I can't even really call them birds…) are literally big enough to carry you away in one swoop. They have beaks that could kill. You. And they fly so close to your head that you actually believe that could be their intention.
I mean, check them out.
The thought of taking on the crows in Sapporo makes the thought battling the bad dudes in ZyuRanger look like a walk in the park.
A friend of mine was walking to language school the other morning, and she was breaking every Japanese etiquette rule under the sun by eating outside as she meandered along the pavement. She suddenly had that inner feeling where you become vividly aware that you are being followed. And she was. Being followed. By crows. I mean, imagine that? Turning around to find a flock (is that the word?!) of giant bad-ass crows stalking you down the street. She promptly put her food away. And when that didn't work (because you know, what's a canvas bag to a razor beak?) she ran. I would have run too.
It actually led me to reflect that I believe the real reason the Japanese developed the etiquette of not eating whilst walking outside is less to do with manners and more to do with self preservation. (It's also made me doubt that the amount of underground walkways in Sapporo are purely down to the snow…)
Anyway, it also got me thinking. About how realness is often way more frightening to us than a giant crow attack.
We pretend that by keeping the conversation safe and surface level and, can I say, shallow, that we're following some kind of socially acceptable etiquette. But secretly we're petrified that the moment we let people see that we're not perfect and put together, the giant crows of shame will descend on us and carry us away.
We're scared to show the us that's freaking out, or wanting to sob at the back of church, or not wanting to get out of our pyjamas because the day just seems overwhelming, or, or, or…
But grace. Real grace. It isn't like that. Not the beautifying Gospel that changes everything.
Jamie Wright keeps this amazing blog (www.theveryworstmissionary.com) and she recently wrote about being full of grace. I love this. (And not just because she also loves the phrase 'hot mess').
Grace is the glue that holds this hot mess together…
It's not elegant or all the dignified. It's not the kind of grace that holds it's head high and pretends nothing is amiss. What I'm taking about is messy and raw, real and gritty, maybe even a little scary. It's so wild and free it can get uncomfortable.
It's an uncomfortable yet beautiful challenge. To become holy in our journey of realness, giving glory to the God who changes everything and floors us with His goodness. And to do it in community. We don't overcome sin by running from truth like it's a giant crow ready to carry us away. We overcome sin by dying to ourselves and yet finding true life in Jesus who is our refuge. We become holy by hanging out with the One who is.
I've been a bit floored by this reality this week. In fact, there I was on Thursday night, listening to these words being sung in a worship set about the humility of Jesus and dwelling upon those wounds of love that He still and always will bear (and bare), and I was a balling mess all over again.
Because there's something in that revelation that pierces me with thankfulness.
The reality that He plucked me out of a future that was destined for hell and that hell is a real place, but that now I am destined for an eternity with Him and I have done nothing to deserve it or earn it because I am a sinner in need of a Saviour. A now-made-saint only made holy and righteous because of the work of mercy and kindness of God.
Now, I'm coming into land… I have a friend who I really respect theologically, and they have been pretty important in my life over the last few years. We were grabbing a final meal together in December before I left for Japan and we were talking about realness. And compassion. And gentleness and grace. And my friend was reflecting on how he, in his genuine zeal for truth, used to be quite legalistic and uncompassionate in his pastoral advice to people.
So I asked him, 'But that wasn't the case in my situation. What changed?'
And I'll never forget his words.
He said, 'Because I knew you I couldn't help but apply grace.'
Doesn't that give you a tiny insight into the heart of God for us? Because He knows us more intimately than any other. And when we run to Him with our mess and our sin and our lack of understanding, He can't help but apply grace. It's who He is. It's what He loves to do.
So I want to leave you here. With a quote from Brennan Manning. Because it's true. And the Truth is stunning.
When I get honest, I admit I am a bundle of paradoxes. I believe and I doubt, I hope and get discouraged, I love and I hate, I feel bad about feeling good, I feel guilty about not feeling guilty. I am trusting and suspicious. I am honest and I still play games…
To live by grace means to acknowledge my whole life story, the light side and the dark. In admitting my shadow side I learn who I am and what God's grace means. As Thomas Merton put it, “A saint is not someone who is good but who experiences the goodness of God.”
… For grace proclaims the awesome truth that all is gift. All that is good is ours not by right but by the sheer bounty of a gracious God… We have been given God in our souls and Christ in our flesh. We have the power to believe where others deny, to hope where others despair, to love where others hurt…
My deepest awareness of myself is that I am deeply loved by Jesus Christ and I have done nothing to earn it or deserve it.
But because of His great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ, even when we were dead in our sins – it is by grace you have been saved. (Ephesians 2: 4-5)