I feel my faith is like a large, rambling house - something I inherited but something with a lot of sentimental value that I have no intentions of ever giving away. And in this house are lots of things - items that make the house home. These things, in my house of faith, represent ideas or concepts that make my faith what it is. Just as my real house is filled with trinkets and treasures that make it, well, home, so my faith-house is filled with notions that define my faith in its most individual sense. So metaphorically, a table could stand for the Resurrection and a picture frame, what the Bible says about homosexuality. A glass vase is the Trinity and the bookshelf, generational sin. What do I really believe about these things? If I take them out of the house, if I put them all out in the front yard and re-examine them, really try to determine if they're important and if I should keep them, does it make my house any less of a house? No. So this is what I've done. Everything went out on the lawn, so to speak, ready to be evaluated and taken back inside to return to its rightful place as a "fundamental truth". Some of it went back before it even hit the grass. Some of it has taken longer. Some of it still remains. This is what I mean when I say I'm sick of structure. The old, structure-loving me (which I confess I have to talk myself out of going back to about every thirty minutes or so) wouldn't have been able to stand having everything out in the front yard, even for a second. That old me wouldn't have even told you any of this. But the new me doesn't see things so structured. Things aren't always black and white. Faith isn't formulaic and neither, naturally, is God. We can't just "figure Him out." We have to dig.
Grace is one incredibly confusing and totally ridiculous concept. I started to consider it the other day. If there's really nothing - absolutely nothing - I can do to earn God's favor, then why in the heck do I do good stuff? Why make "right decisions" or choose not to make "wrong" ones? That's easy. Because ultimately, I care a whole lot about what other people think of my decisions. Not just God. Even if I didn't think God existed, I'd probably still be making "good", moral decisions. There've got to be some atheists out there who'd agree that "not killing" is far more often the best plan. We don't do good to earn anything, really, other than other people's approval and praise. And if we do good so God will see us - well, we're basically as screwed up as you can get, especially if we believe in the God of the Bible. Because the Bible says we don't have to earn God's love. In fact, it says we can't. Jesus took that burden away from us. And that brings me to the next confusing point about grace. If there's nothing we can do to earn God's favor - or His blessing - then why in the heck does He give it? Why do I have a perfectly healthy child sleeping upstairs? Why do I get to drink clean water and sleep in a warm house? If I believe in the God of the Bible, it's not because I did something right. And it's definitely not because I didn't do anything wrong. David gets pretty irritated with this in the Psalms. He talks a lot about how the wicked prosper. Job does, too. I have a feeling Daniel and Esther and Joseph all spent their fair share of time wondering why all their messed up neighbors seemed to walk through life footloose and fancy free. If the wicked prosper, and sometimes the righteous don't, then it makes sense that wickedness doesn't always merit pain and righteousness doesn't always merit gain. And nothing we can do or say will make us more worthy of the latter. God doesn't lavish blessing on those who "do the right thing." If He did, grace wouldn't matter. It wouldn't have any value. If Jesus's blood were simply an asterisk to doing the right thing, then doing the right thing would have at least a little value - and I'd get to take a little credit. And that's exactly what grace won't allow me to do. I don't get to claim any responsibility in my own salvation. And I don't get to claim any responsibility in my blessing
So why do I get them? Love. That's it. He loves me. Unlike me, He has nothing to prove to anyone. Jesus of Nazareth hanging on a cross, dripping in His own blood and sweat and tears, dying a common criminal's torturous death, is evidence enough of that. Jesus born in a barn with farm animals and their dung should have set the stage - our God is not a God concerned with keeping up appearances. No. My blessed life is simply a gift of love.
Someone the other day asked me if I looked back on the day Copeland died with anger. I don't really know why this is true, but it is: for some reason, when I look back on that day, even on all the agonizing days prior to and after her death, I can only see one thing. Love. I look at Copeland's birth and life and feel marked by Love. Marked because it hurt. But marked in remembrance. In the Old Testament, God says, "See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands" (Isaiah 49:16). As He was marked for Love of us, we shall be marked for love of Him.
The day that Copeland died, the hour the funeral home came and took her body away, was Satanic. It was death-filled and dark and demonic and evil. I could almost hear the clang of swords around me; never in my life had I experienced spiritual warfare in quite the same way. When I look back now, I cannot imagine going through it again without kllling myself. I don't mean to dramatize. I'm being serious.
When I graduated from high school, I walked across a stage and received a diploma for the knowledge I had gained during those four years. If I had to do it again, based on the same standard, I could: the knowledge, once gained, was not lost. I have as much right to that diploma now as I did then. Maybe even moreso. I can tap into that knowledge at a moment's notice and probably pass most of the tests a teacher could hand me. It's no mystery as to why I graduated; it makes perfect sense. The same cannot be said of that night, the night I had to hand my baby daughter over to a total stranger knowing perfectly well I would never, never see her again. I have no idea how I did it. I cannot tap into the strength that I had then, now. I cannot because the strength given to me then was not for now. It was not might or power or even knowledge or wisdom. It was the Holy Spirit. I know this because it is a mystery - a breeze, a breath filling my lungs and causing me to gasp with life when all I wanted was to die. I cannot imagine why I made it through, even now having done so. This is how I know God was there. This is how I know He loved me. This is how I know that blessing doesn't always come in the form of happiness or even, well, what we'd call 'blessing.' My daughter died. She never came back. And I feel loved.
Conor came home tonight with a tattoo on his inner left wrist. Copeland. That's all it says. In small, black letters. Forever traced into his skin, forever a part of him. I told him that the last moment he spends connected to that tattoo will be the first moment he'll spend with Copeland. "I cried when they were putting it on," he told me. I understand. He was marking himself, remembering. "See, I have engraved you...." Paul said that we have [can] have the mind of Christ (1 Corinthians 2:16), if we are believers. Is it possible that part of the purpose in losing my daughter was to think more like Him? Is it possible that what Satan meant to be Satanic, what the world called death, was holy and life-giving? That Jesus just blew the cover off of 'structure'?