The God who Brings the Rain

I woke up early this morning, as the first rays of pre-dawn light were just beginning to touch the sky, grabbed my giant mug o’ coffee and settled in front of my bedroom window like I do every morning.  I looked outside and saw movement near one of the street lights, a faint shimmer in the pale morning light. I blinked to make sure I wasn’t imagining things and hurried to the window to get a closer look.  I squealed gleefully and grabbed my phone to text my mom, giddy as a kid on Christmas morning – “It’s raining!!!!!!”

I have never been more deeply thankful for rain.  As much as I’m ashamed to admit this [as a native Californian living in a state that’s been in a severe drought for the past several years] I usually view rain as an annoyance, preventing me from doing what I want to do – go for a long run, sit on an outdoor patio for brunch, have a frizz-free hair day.  Today I don’t feel one ounce of annoyance – all I feel is deep, deep gratitude and the poignant reminder of how dependent I am on God’s goodness and provision.

I’m in a fellowship program this year and one of the books we’re reading is on ecofeminism [a word I had never heard of before and still don’t feel 100% confident I fully grasp] written by a Catholic nun in Brazil.  One of the themes she talks about is how a connection to the earth, to the environment, is essential for an authentic connection to God, and I think she’s right.

Most days my life feels about as removed from the rhythms of the natural earth as you can get.  I live in the heart of Silicon Valley and I work at a tech company where my days are spent typing emails and talking to people over screens.  When I need to get from one place to another I use an app on my phone to summon a car to pick me up and drop me off. When I’m hungry I go to a grocery store where every food I could ever want is neatly arranged in rows, and the only challenging labor I have to engage in to get fed is figure out which line at Whole Foods is shorter.

I know agricultural life is far from idyllic, and I don’t want to mythologize or romanticize life on a farm, but I do often think that it might be easier to stay connected to God if my daily life were full of reminders of my dependence on Him for my very survival.  If my life and livelihood depended on forces beyond my control, and I was forced every day to go to God in prayer to ask Him to bring the rain – I think my faith might look radically different.

I love my life and I would be useless on a farm, but the danger with my modern way of living is that I too easily fall into the delusion of self-sufficiency.  Because the truth is that my very life is dependent on God, but that dependency is hidden behind so many layers of modernity that I have to work hard to see it.  I am so many degrees removed from the rain that is necessary to make the organic carrot grow that by the time I put it in my shopping basket at Whole Foods I can too easily buy into the lie that I am feeding myself, and I don’t need anyone’s help – a farmer or God’s – to make my life run.

But the truth – the glorious and grounding truth – is that I am utterly dependent on God for the very breath in my lungs, the beat of my heart, the ability to bend my legs and get out of bed in the morning.  I am dependent on God for the provision of my job, the neurons firing in my brain that enable me to stare at those screens and type those emails, the blessing of people who support and champion me in that work.  I am utterly dependent on God for every good and perfect gift in my life, and when I am reminded and reconnected to that truth I am so, so grateful.

This morning as I saw the rain fall I felt wonder and awe and deep deep gratitude – bringing a clear, clean respite from the smoke filled air and providing help and relief to the firefighters battling the fires.  I imagined people all over Northern California turning their weary faces to the sky and feeling the refreshment of that rain, a baptism of hope and a new start, breathing new life.

Have you ever noticed the trope in romantic comedies that the climactic final kiss tends to happen in a downpour?  I wonder if part of the reason is that rain is actually a really good metaphor for that head over heels, swept off your feet, crazy-in-love kind of love – a force that you can’t stop or control, that is so much bigger and more beautiful than our human understanding can grasp, an awe-producing miracle.

So today I am thanking the God who brings the rain, and asking Him to continue to pour out His blessings of fresh starts, new beginnings and abundant grace, hope and love into all of our lives.

A Thanksgiving Feast

I’ve never been so grateful for the upcoming holiday season.  

It has been a heavy, heavy past few months – mass shootings, sexual harassment, wildfires that have wrought devastation.  There is a literal cloud of dark smoke hanging over San Francisco as I type this, and there is a somber hush on the streets, every other person wearing a mask to keep out the smoke, trading sad and serious glances when our eyes meet above our masks.   It feels apocalyptic and deeply sad, scary and surreal.

My soul is weary, and I know I’m not the only one.  My manager and I were talking yesterday about how dark and heavy this season has been, how it seems like the hits just keep coming, and she shared this quote a friend had sent her:

Do not be dismayed by the brokenness of the world.

All things break.  And all things can be mended.

Not with time, as they say, but with intention.

So go. Love intentionally, extravagantly, unconditionally.

The broken world waits in darkness for the light that is you.

L.R. Knost

I am so ready for the holiday season, not as a form of escapism, a shiny, twinkly light distraction from the pain of the world, but rather as an opportunity to reconnect to the hope and light that is still there no matter how dark [literally and figuratively] the world may seem.

I am craving the light of the holiday season – the joy and awe and wonder, the reminder that magic and miracles still exist, and that they tend to pop up in the most unlikely times and places. I’m craving the reminder that a poor baby born in a manager to an oppressed people can change the world.  I’m craving the reminders that God is constantly at work in this broken world of ours, bringing beauty from ashes, light from darkness.

As I look forward to celebrating Thanksgiving with my extended family next week, I am craving a giant hug from my 2 and ½ and 4 year old cousins more than I’m craving pie [and that’s really saying something because #ohmeohmyIlovepie].

I am craving family news and meeting my cousin’s fiancee and hearing every detail of their wedding plans.  I am craving togetherness and family and seeing four generations gathered together in one room. I am craving the taste of traditional Hawaiian style sweet potatoes with coconut syrup, the same recipe my mom’s mom made every year for their Thanksgiving table. I’m craving the taste of sparkling apple cider, something I only drink at Thanksgiving and then wonder why I don’t drink it more often because it is freaking delicious.

I’m craving unstructured time, afternoon that bleeds into evening, lunch that becomes dinner, eating until we all declare that we can’t possibly eat another bite and then finding ourselves picking at leftovers as we clean up, somehow finding room for one more bite of stuffing, one more tiny sliver of pie.

I’m craving uninterrupted time to talk with my cousins about their lives – about how work is really going and plans for the future and their most recent vacation. 

I’m craving time to build lego towers and play ice hockey with four year old Calvin, and hear all the sweet and profound and precocious things he has to say.

I’m craving time to play peek-a-boo with 2 and a ½ year old Audrey until I coax a shy smile out of her, trying to decipher her toddler lingo and figure out what “Banoo” and “Hoobae’ mean [your guess is as good as mine].

I’m craving time to be and not do, to be fully present with nowhere else to go and nothing else to do, no responsibility or emails or laundry, just being present and soaking in the priceless and precious gift of the people I love.

I’m craving the sounds of laughter and children’s voices, ukulele music and pans clattering on the stove.  I’m craving the sound of champagne corks popping as we toast to family and the many, many blessings in our lives.

I’m craving the warm clasp of my family’s hands in mine as we bow our heads in prayer, and thank God for the gift of being together and lift up the families who are spending Thanksgiving without their homes.

I’m craving a connecting and reconnecting to the most essential truth – that perfect love drives out fear, that the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness cannot overcome it, and that I believe in a good, good God who is at work in this world making all things new.

Hope

The last two weeks have been…heavy.

I’ve been struggling to find the right word or phrase that is large enough to hold the breadth of news events and personal experiences that have filled the last 14 days and that word fits best.  There is a physical weight to the pain and grief and injustice and suffering and shake-your-fist-at-heaven feeling that has marked the world lately.

Last week I was reading an article on my commute to work about how in the wake of the shooting at the Tree of Life synagogue, many Rabbis are having conversations with the children in their congregations about hate, a new reality for many youth who have come of age in 21st century America, and my heart broke in two.  I was in tears walking off Muni into work – and I walked into another heartbreaking news story that hit too close to home.

The news about Google executives being accused of sexual misconduct has felt simultaneously not at all surprising and like a deep betrayal.  People in power abusing it is in many ways the oldest story in the book, but it feels like a fresh wound when it’s happening in the place you’ve lived so much of your life, the birthplace of dear friendships and personal growth and magical memories.  It cuts fresh when you gather together in protest in a plaza with hundreds of your co-workers with a sense of the surrealness of the moment and wonder “how did we get here?” It cuts fresh when you hear story after story of pain and wrongdoing and the gross miscarriage of justice and see the woman next to you holding a sign that says “I reported, he got promoted.”  That feels like a punch in the gut. Seeing the anger and hearing the pain feels…heavy.

On Sunday my church hosted a guest speaker, Candice Czubernat, who runs an organization called the Christian Closet.  Listening to her stories of how the church has hurt her and her wife and their two darling children, the weight of that pain, felt heavy and brought tears.

And yet.

And yet the last two weeks haven not been nothing but a 24-7 marathon of pain.

There have been moments of profound beauty and life and joy in the darkness.

As Candice Czubernant spoke at my church she shared stories of pain and hurt, yes, but she also shared stories of hope. She talked about churches that have hurt her but also about churches that have embraced her. She spoke of friends and family members that have loved her and her family well.  She spoke with grace and love about ways we can be better allies to the LGBTQ+ community, concrete examples of ways to lay down our own privilege and stand with our brothers and sisters against the lies of systems of oppression that tell them they are anything other than the beloved children of God.  She has every right to be angry at the injustice of the world, but she spoke with such grace and such hope, and her words were a gift.

Last week I stopped by to see one of my dear friends and [as I always do] seized the opportunity to snuggle her 3 month old close.  He locked eyes with me and smiled [if I could figure out a way to bottle the feeling of a baby smiling at you, I could retire now.] I marveled at his chubby cheeks and traced a finger across his perfect button nose and I felt some of the heaviness lift, in the face of such precious new life.

I spent last Saturday in a room with a group of kind, thoughtful, engaged people from wildly different backgrounds and we talked about faith and the bible and truth and beauty and reimagining how we view God and the world and ourselves.  I sat outside in the warm sunshine [in November!!] and in a conference room and in a beer garden and I had conversation after encouraging conversation about reckoning with our own privilege and loving our neighbors well and my heart filled up with hope and community.

On Tuesday I sat with my church community group and listened to the director of City Hope talk about his heart and vision for loving and serving our neighbors in the Tenderloin with authenticity and compassion, humor and strength. As I listened to his words I felt the heaviness lift and I was reminded of what beauty is already happening in the midst of brokenness, hidden in plain sight.

Last night I showed up at my usual Thursday volunteering gig and a gaggle of 8 year old girls ran toward me, asking indignantly why I hadn’t been at practice on Tuesday, and throwing their arms around my waist. I told them I had missed them and found that I deeply meant it.  We couldn’t run outside because of the poor air quality from the fires so we played tag on a deserted classroom floor and I had them bear crawl across the hallway, to remind them that they could do hard things. They laughed and collapsed and were their usual lovably wild cacophony of energy and I felt a little more of the heaviness lift, even more space open up in my chest.

The question I have been asking the past two weeks – aloud in the communities I’m part of and in my own mind and heart – is this: what does it look like to have hope in this season?  I don’t want to drown in the despair of the news cycle, but I also don’t want to brush aside or minimize the reality of the pain and injustice and suffering happening all around me.

I want to sit with the heaviness because the pain is real and worth wrestling with.  I want to sit with the pain and discomfort of the Jewish community, the LGBTQ+ community, the survivors of sexual harassment and assault, the men, women and children living on the streets of the Tenderloin, because their pain is my pain.  We are all the beloved children of God, and I want my heart to beat and to break with theirs.

I want to sit in the darkness with them, to feel the full weight of the pain and the brokenness.

And then I want to stand up.

I want to stand up and look up and ask the God of all hope to fill me with love and compassion and the wisdom to know how to move forward.  I want to ask God to open my eyes to where He is at work bringing about hope and change and shining His light in the darkness, and join in that holy and messy and profoundly beautiful work.

I already have some ideas of where to look.

I think He’s at work at my job, in the conversations I’m having with colleagues and friends and leaders about doing the work to repair broken systems, to bring about justice and do the right thing and truly “not be evil” and love each other well.

I think He’s at work at City Hope, in goofy movies and karaoke night and popping popcorn and serving with love and building relationships with people who have wildly different life experiences than I have, and letting that be a source of shared learning, love and laughter.

I think He’s at work in the most mundane aspects of my daily life, giving me opportunities to, as Brennan Manning says “give life and not drain it” to my family and friends and roommates and Lyft driver and the check out guy at Whole Foods.

I think He’s at work in this big, beautiful and broken world in a million small, beautiful ways, pinpricks of light in the darkness, illuminating a hopeful, beautiful way forward.

So I am taking a deep breath today, and opening my palms and asking God to lift some of the heaviness so the light can get in.  I’m asking Him to open my eyes to the places of brokenness and beauty and to open my heart to know what it looks like to love with strength and mercy, kindness and courage, faith and hope.