Saturday, February 22, 2014

All other ground...

Our house, like many in the Carolinas, is built on red clay.

Soon after we moved in, I was reminded of that fact - the messy way. One day, two of Kristiana's friends came to play with her here in the house. One of them left to go home, but soon thereafter realized that she had forgotten something here. I opened the door and she ran up the stairs, into Kristiana's room, and back down the stairs, tracking red clay up and down the "builder's beige" carpet. Muddy footsteps on our newly cleaned carpet.

That clay might leave permanent stains but it does not provide a particularly stable or permanent foundation for a brick house. Two years ago, I noticed cracks in the brick on the front corner of our house. We had them fixed. Then last year, I saw more cracks. We got those fixed as well. Today, I noticed sizeable cracks in our driveway. I'm not even sure it's possible to fix these cracks - they are that big. Sometimes I want to sell the house and get away from this red clay and all the cracks and start again someplace more solid.

As I stared down at the broken concrete, my mind drifted back to the fortresses and churches and towers I saw in Spain last October. They were built more than 500 years ago, some of them, but they stood strong, no cracks visible, at least not to my untrained eyes. I wish out house was as well built as any one of those edifices.

But the truth is that no matter how well built the house might be, if it is sitting on a shaky foundation, slippery clay, or shifting sands, it will not stand firm forever. It will crack. And someday it will fall.

This morning while driving to a friend's house, as I listened to one of my favorite hymns,
I found myself singing these words:
My hope is built on nothing less
than Jesus' blood and righteousness.
I dare not trust the sweetest frame,
but wholly lean on Jesus' name. 
On Christ, the solid rock I stand, 
all other ground is sinking sand, 
all other ground is sinking sand.

The first four lines there have not always been true for me.
I have built my hope on many things other than the blood of Jesus.
I have placed my trust in a lot of sinking sand in my lifetime.
I have leaned on many names and many people who have not been worthy of my belief.

I thought marriage would be the answer to my loneliness.
Sinking sand.
I thought parenting would be the most fulfilling job I could ever have.
Sinking sand.
I thought being actively involved at church would quench my doubts.
Sinking sand.
I thought my loyal and loving friends would fill in the cracks
that marriage and parenting and church couldn't fill.
Sinking sand.
I thought having money, a brick house, and a closet full of clothes,
I thought that traveling extensively, reading, writing, teaching -
and everything else I have ever had or done -
would combine to fill my soul, satisfy me, and ease the sensation of living on
Sinking sand.
No such luck.
All those things have helped ease my loneliness, my fears, and my doubts some,
but ultimately it's all sinking sand.
Because all of us are seeking and all of us are sinking.
All of us are a mess. All of us are hoping for that which we don't yet have.
And none of us can fill the holes for anyone or in anyone else.

Which is why I thank God for Jesus, for faith and hope and joy and grace.
I thank God for the stories of healing, of forgiveness, of tenderness,
of attention, of presence, of friendship between Jesus, the disciples, and
all the others who were blessed enough to know Jesus when he was on earth.
I am grateful for the story of the woman who wanted to touch
the hem of Christ's garment in the hopes of being healed.
I am grateful for the story of the woman caught in adultery
(I have often wondered: Where was the man she was caught with?)
whose life was saved by Jesus' intervention on her behalf.
I am grateful for the story of the woman who sat with Jesus at the well
and had the longest conversation with Christ recorded in Scripture.
When I reread those stories, my faith deepens as does my love for Christ.

Let me be quick to add: There are still times when I doubt.
When I question. When I wonder. When I think this faith thing is NUTS!
Born of a virgin? Fed thousands with one boy's lunch?
Died on a cross? ROSE FROM THE DEAD??? Crazy stuff.
Sometimes I can't believe that I believe it. Sometimes I doubt every word of it.

I have two books called, "The Benefit of the Doubt."
Different books by different authors with the same message: doubt happens.
It is normal. It is part of everyone's faith journey at some point.
Doubt is also useful because it always pushes me to ask more questions, to pray more,
to seek others who are willing to be honest about their questions and doubts,
and in the end, my doubt increases the strength of my faith.
Not long ago, I read something that said, "You can't doubt something you don't believe."
Like the father whose story is told in Mark 9, I often say: "I do believe; help my unbelief."

All my doubts notwithstanding, nothing gives me more peace or joy than the name of Jesus, 
than the stories of his life on earth, and the comfort of prayer and silence with 
the One that I believe loves me most of all. 

Shaky foundation. Shifting sands. Cracks in the walls. Broken concrete.
Every crack, every shift, every break I see in my house,
in my family, in my friendships, in my church, reminds me -
All other ground is sinking sand. All other ground is sinking sand.

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