Monday, February 24, 2014

Do you want to be healed?

Source: IF: Equip 

This is a response to a devotional sent out by IF: Equip.

After this there was a feast of the Jews, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. Now there is in Jerusalem by the Sheep Gate a pool, in Aramaic called Bethesda, which has five roofed colonnades. In these lay a multitude of invalids—blind, lame, and paralyzed. One man was there who had been an invalid for thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him lying there and knew that he had already been there a long time, he said to him, “Do you want to be healed?” The sick man answered him, “Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up, and while I am going another steps down before me.” Jesus said to him, “Get up, take up your bed, and walk.” And at once the man was healed, and he took up his bed and walked.
Now that day was the Sabbath. So the Jews said to the man who had been healed, “It is the Sabbath, and it is not lawful for you to take up your bed.” But he answered them, “The man who healed me, that man said to me, ‘Take up your bed, and walk.’” They asked him, “Who is the man who said to you, ‘Take up your bed and walk’?” Now the man who had been healed did not know who it was, for Jesus had withdrawn, as there was a crowd in the place. Afterward Jesus found him in the temple and said to him, “See, you are well! Sin no more, that nothing worse may happen to you.” The man went away and told the Jews that it was Jesus who had healed him. (John 5:1-15)

"Do you want to be healed?"

Sometimes, I'm not so sure.  It's way too easy to hang onto these hurts, my cyncism, my fear that it will always be this way.  I want to hope and trust, but I'm all too quick to say, "I just knew it wouldn't work.  It always goes wrong."

"Do you want to be healed?"

I want to believe that people are good at heart, but when things go badly, I am quick to judge others' motives.  I speculate and worry and spend way too much time wrapped up in rehashing the conflict.

"Do you want to be healed?"

But it's not my problem.  If THEY would change, everything would be fine.

"Do you want to be healed?"

It's impossible.  It's the same old cycle again and again.  If I could change I would have already.

"Do you want to be healed?"

But I am already healed.  I'm fine.  See, you can barely see these scars.  It's all good.

"Do you want to be healed?"

But I've been here for so long, and no one will help me.

"Do you want to be healed?"

I'm not sure I have enough faith.

"Do you want to be healed?"

Do I?

Do you?

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Always My Baby Girl

A blog post for Maryn.

You have always loved babies and often ask when I will have another.  Oh sweet girl, you will forever be my baby, and there will not be another to take your place.  Even as you've grown, I still carry you to bed in my arms  like the baby you were.  Now, though, your legs dangle so far down, you usually get the giggles at how I struggle with the size of you.  When I check on you as you sleep, I smile at how you lie perpendicular in the bed, sometimes with your head hanging off the side.  When you've tried to sleep with me, you do the same, your feet pushing into my stomach, and I remember the baby that did flips in my womb and kept me awake at night with all the kicking from the inside.  I knew you would be feisty then, and you have not disappointed me.

You long for me when we are apart, and I think back to your traumatic emergency delivery when I feared I was losing you.  I sobbed uncontrollably until I went under and then emerged minutes later to find that you were "perfectly healthy", thank God, and I couldn't wait to hold you as we were separated.  Apparently, you couldn't wait either, and I could hear your loud cries down the hall as they rolled you to my room after recovery, and when I held you, you stopped crying and found comfort in me.  It still amazes me that I can be that peace for you when I often feel like such a chaotic mess inside my own head.

You cling to me, and I find myself no longer holding back, but hanging onto your gifts of love and trust.  I see so much of me in you, but have so much hope that you will surpass the barriers I've built for myself.  You are strong and brutally honest, not afraid to tell it like it is, and yet you have such a sensitivity to the feelings of others and long to make peace and soothe hurts.  You make me laugh with your silliness and impress me with your cleverness.  You show me who I could be if I were as brave as you, and you make me want to be more.  The gift is how you accept me for who I am.

Girl of my heart, I have so many dreams for you, but my greatest hope is you will always know how loved and cherished you are.  You will always be my baby, even as you grow into a woman and one day relinquish your hold on me.  I will try my best not to fight that letting go, but to bless your independence.  May your beautiful gifts touch the world as they have touched our lives, and may you always see the art in God's creation as you make your own.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Memories from the womb

A post for my son, Brady.

Your favorite thing lately is to watch old home movies of you when you were a baby.  You can watch the same one over and over (which is fortunate as we have so few that we’ve converted from the camera and computer to DVDs).  You ask what you were like as a baby, and I smile, thinking back, although I know nostalgia puts a rosier glow on it than I felt at the time.  I remember long periods of holding you, staring at you, trying to get to know this new stranger than had already stolen my heart.  I recall the tears I cried as I wondered if you had also stolen the life I knew, although I would never tell you that as each sacrifice has brought more than it has taken.  Instead, I tell stories of how you would laugh and talk to the bear mobile on your pack and play, and how you had the hiccups every night at the same time just like when you were in utero.

Then you want to know about pregnancy and childbirth, and you laugh at the ridiculousness of how you were literally cut from me, how you were small and naked and weak, and we literally forced you to eat hour by hour through the long dark nights.  I share how you first really looked at us as the nurse held you up for us to see moments after you were born, all serious and intense, and I still see that same gaze from time to time on your almost eight-year-old face.  

I’ll never forget the look of recognition you gave us once as we came to visit you in the hospital nursery.  You had only viewed our face for a few days, but I was certain you knew us.  You wonder how you ate in the womb, and I talk about biology and mechanics, but also how we sustained each other in ways physical and messy.  You find it interesting that you hated bananas from conception and still won’t eat them to this day, and I think about the ways your preferences have altered me.

Your daddy and I can tell funny stories about the first diaper we changed at home and how you pooped all over the wall.  I don’t think you’ll ever tire of hearing that one.  I love recounting how you didn’t talk clearly for over two years and how we worried about you, and now we’re often reminding you to let your sister talk and to not talk so loudly (or so much).  You go to bed talking, and wake up shouting and singing.  Your first favorite phrase was “up-high mah” which you would use repeatedly to ask for snacks from the cabinets above the counter (there was also “door mah” for food from the fridge).  When you began talking, you narrated every observance, and then repeated it for each person in the room.  You have a gift for writing and telling stories, and I’m always impressed by your ability to talk to anyone.

There’s so much of you that has been there from the beginning.  In spite of our attempts to mold you in our expectations, you are Brady, our unique and spirited one.  I’m so grateful for that.  May you never let anyone (even us) make you into someone you’re not.  May you continue to be and become who God created you to be as you were knit together in my womb.  May you always inspire me to see the beauty in the unexpected, and delight in surprises as you make your own way and dance to the music within you.  I’m so proud of who you are and how you are molding me as your parent.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Girl on Fire

There's a fire within me, a passion that could light up a room,
or a force that could destroy the whole building.

There's a hurt within me that can build empathy for those in pain,
or that could break relationships with all those I love.

There's emotion that I call holy and righteous anger,
but I may just be yelling God's name in vain.


As I sat through my pastor's last service at our church, my mind and heart were a mess of emotions: sadness, anger, confusion, bitterness, denial, hurt, fleeting hope...the whole spectrum of grief.  Perhaps the greatest testament of her gifts as pastor was exhibited in the way she left with grace and kindness, showing the gentle leadership that will be her legacy.  Each scripture, prayer, and hymn reminded us of the importance of coming together as a church led by God.  The sermon challenged us all to let go of our grudges and get to the work of caring for one another in this difficult time.

The words from Isaiah 58 hit home for me:

If you remove the yoke from among you,
   the pointing of the finger, the speaking of evil,
if you offer your food to the hungry
   and satisfy the needs of the afflicted,
then your light shall rise in the darkness
   and your gloom be like the noonday.
The Lord will guide you continually,
   and satisfy your needs in parched places,
   and make your bones strong;
and you shall be like a watered garden,
   like a spring of water,
   whose waters never fail.
Your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt;
   you shall raise up the foundations of many generations;
you shall be called the repairer of the breach,
   the restorer of streets to live in. 

While I want to point the finger of blame, I know I'm accountable, too, and anger and judgment aren't what will heal our brokeness.  My instinct, though, is to burn bridges instead of building them.  But running away has gotten me to this point time and time again.  The old "fight or flight" response kicks in.  Fortunately, through my pastor and this church's love, a lot of wounds have begun healing, and I don't want to give up the fight this time.  I want to be known as a repairer of the breach, a restorer of this spiritual home.  I want to...but I still have a long way to go.

Old habits die hard, and I was reminded of it in all the emotions this transition has brought up.  I've been through church battles many times before, and it's like the scars are showing up once again (I think about how Harry Potter's scar burned every time Voldemort was near).  I don't want "church" to be a PTSD trigger for me.  I don't want to think about parched places, but to see it as an image of a spring of water bringing life.  I know it has been that for me more that it has been a source of hurt, but it's easier to hang on to the hurt more than the joy.  But perhaps there's no greater parable of redemption than the church, broken and beautiful, damaged yet hopeful.  It's there in the broken bread of communion we share, in the tears we shed together of grief and joy.  We are reminded that life is not easy, but the hard things grow our strength and faith.  These times remind us that we are not alone, and even when we feel like retreating, life is better (though harder) when it is shared.

This song, which I sobbed through during the service, is my hope...that we can be gathered together in this place centered on God's love and our shared calling.  My the fire within us be of love, a light that will shine in the darkness.

Friday, February 7, 2014

Let it Go

I have a little shadow, and her name is Maryn.  There's nothing better than hearing her glee when I come home from work, and receiving her full-body hugs.  I adore hearing all the stories of her day and knowing that she wants to snuggle with me first thing in the morning and last thing at night.  But there are times when it becomes a little much.  Like the other night when I tucked the kids into bed, cleaned up, got everything organized for the next day, and finally took a long-awaited relaxing bath.  But she just wanted to be with me, and escaped from bed, snuck downstairs, and took her spot beside the bathtub, refusing to budge.  She even fell asleep on the bathroom floor when I would not get out and tuck her back in.  She clings so tightly and sometimes I balk at her need and want her to let go a little so that I can have just a little time to myself.

It's hard when I have to leave and worry how she will respond without me there, when I feel the guilt of wondering if I'm giving her all she needs.  Someday I know the fear will be reversed, and I'll be wondering how I will make it as she goes away to live her own independent life.

Life is a continual process of letting go, but the experience is not natural in the sense of it feeling easy.  We struggle through the pain of letting go of expectations and dreams when they don't pan out, and relationships that evolve.  We move through one stage and another, growing and learning lessons that change who we are.

Sometimes we're aware of the necessity of letting some things go: attitudes, habits, things that keep us stuck.  I've had the empowerment ballad of the day, "Let it Go", on repeat since seeing the movie "Frozen" numerous times, and I can identify with Elsa's fear that keeps her isolated, and the freedom she experienced when she let go of others' expectations.  But for many of us, that's a daily battle, and we spend much of our lives locked behind frozen doors of our own making.  More often, it seems like we are in denial about the ties that bind us.  Sometimes we hang on so tightly to our beliefs, to our need to be right, to our vision of how things should be that we become frozen where we are, unable to grow, bend, or change to meet the needs in front of us.

This is a challenge for me, and also a reminder to show grace to those who are fighting the same battle.  As I selected a card from the The Language Of Letting Go card deck (by Melody Beattie), this was my what I found helpful:

"Today I will search for my own truth, and I will allow others to do the same.  I will value the worth of my own vision and the vision of others.  We are all on our own paths, making the decisions that are right for us today."

Many know the familiar serenity prayer which talks about changing what we can and letting go of what we can't (with God's help), but I learned that there's more to it that the often quoted opening:

God grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change;
courage to change the things I can;
and wisdom to know the difference.
Living one day at a time;
Enjoying one moment at a time;
Accepting hardships as the pathway to peace;
Taking, as He did, this sinful world
as it is, not as I would have it;
Trusting that He will make all things right
if I surrender to His Will;
That I may be reasonably happy in this life
and supremely happy with Him
Forever in the next.
--Reinhold Niebuhr
It's hard to see hardship as the pathway to peace.  It's frustrating to take the world as it is, not as I would have it.  But the hardest thing for me may be trust.  I have a lot to learn from my girl who trusts that all will be well if she is by my side.  May I remember that all is well when we stay by God's side.

For today, I will hang on to this: God, help me to change what is mine to change, and to let go of the rest, entrusting it to you.  Amen.

Wisdom card by Suzanne Vinson of silvertreeart

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

When you've had enough

It's a little ironic that I'm about to do a training for student leaders on finding balance in our busy lives, discerning how to best use our time, and learning when to say "no" to some things so that we can say "yes" to others.  It makes sense that I would share about this--as a chaplain, I'm frequently encouraging others to find spaces of sanctuary for rest and renewal and to care for their entire self; body, mind, and soul.  And yet, I struggle to practice what I preach.  I chose "enough" as my one word for 2014, hoping the reminder that I'm enough would allow me to say "enough" and step back from overcommiting.  But as my phone buzzes to tell me that it's time to leave for the training, my mind feels cluttered and my body is sluggish.

Returning from the training, I feel more hopeful and energized, and I realize that I actually heard myself for once.  As I engaged with these inspiring and busy young women, I warned with them the truth that I have learned: No, you can't have it all, at least not at the same time.  But that's actually a gift.  The past season of my life, full of transitions and unexpected shifts, has taught me the joy in stepping back and doing less (sometimes because I had no choice).  Through this I've observed that when I become more intentional about my choices, my life can be lived more fully through my passions and strengths.  When I'm no longer trying to fit a mold of the perfect wife/mother/career woman, I can be authentically who I am created to be.  To my frustration, that person is flawed and falliable, but to my relief, I still find acceptance and love.  I have learned that lesson the hard way, and told of my struggles today to hopefully save the students the same difficulty, but I'm afraid it's a lesson we all have to fight our way through.  

As I shared with them about calling and my favorite Frederick Buechner quote ("The place to which God calls you is the place where your deep gladness and the world's deep hunger meet"), I realized again my own calling to journey with young women as they seek their vocation.  It is a sacred (and often exhausting) gift of deep gladness.

I'm currently reading Tsh Oxenreider's new book Notes From a Blue Bike as I work to be more intentional in my lifestyle.  Check out this trailer for more information:

Notes From a Blue Bike is written by Tsh Oxenreider, founder and main voice of The Art of Simple. It doesn’t always feel like it, but we DO have the freedom to creatively change the everyday little things in our lives so that our path better aligns with our values and passions. Grab your copy here.

Monday, February 3, 2014

Wholly Holy

Do you ever strive to be holy, but end up feeling holey instead?  That's where I stand right now as I try to discern where God is leading us through this difficult church season (for more about this, read here and here).  I'm not so sure what I'm sure about anymore.  As I struggle to reconcile what I believe about the church to the reality I encounter, all that once was sacred now feels empty.

In the meantime, I've been working on a sermon for another church that addresses the Holiness Codes in Leviticus 19.  Leviticus is best known as the book that derails any attempt at reading straight through the Bible with all its attention to arcane laws: you shouldn't wear clothing of mixed fibers, don't boil a calf in its mother's milk, and the gory details of appropriate animal sacrifices.  The section I'm studying is a little more familiar as many of these rules compare to the more familiar and revered 10 commandments.  The part that most intrigues me is the very beginning: "Be holy as the LORD your God is holy."  It leaves me wondering what holiness really involves.

I grew up hearing that "holy" meant being set apart.  God's people were to be held to a higher standard, leading to the saying that we should be "in the world, not of it".  That never cleared up the confusion for me, but it did explain the growth of the Christian subculture, including the Christian music genre (where Jesus' name was inserted into sub-par pop love songs), and the prevalence of Jesus tchotchkes at the local Bible store.  Apparently, "the world" was evil, so we needed to retreat to the safety of a faith that provided a clean line between what was right and what was wrong.  It felt safer to feel like we had the answers and that we were on the right side of the battle.  Somewhere along the way, however, I became less sure.  The world, as I learned more about it, seemed less black and white and more technicolor.  The simple answers no longer brought comfort, but only prompted more unanswerable questions.  It could have been terrifying, but it felt like freedom.  I didn't lose my faith, but felt it expanding, growing, broadening.

Because of this openness within me, it didn't make sense to wall myself off and erect boundaries to keep others out.  It seemed that Jesus was always reaching out, getting in trouble for hanging out with the sinners and breaking all the rules.  But he did so with a spirit of hospitality and love, welcoming all to experience the freeing good news of grace.  It seemed hypocritical to judge who was of God and who wasn't as I believed we were all created in God's image and all were offered the gift of forgiveness.

But I still couldn't make sense of what it meant to be holy like God is holy.  The God I trust is not set apart, but is close with us (Emmanuel).  This God is not exclusive, but welcoming to all seekers.  The Holy One does not respect the boundaries of what is secular and what is sacred, but comes to meet us in the ordinary and extraordinary, wherever we are.  I stumbled across this article that talked about the Jewish understanding of the word holy ("kadosh" in Hebrew) which is more about being boundless, not able to be contained.  The image that comes to my mind in from Isaiah 6 in which God's holiness filled the temple.  God is not bound by our expectations or boundaries, but works in surprising and mysterious ways.

It makes more sense that holiness should be about reaching out and drawing others closer than pushing them away.  It is about joining over commonalities than dividing over differences.  We are to love our neighbors as ourselves...not just as we want to be loved, but sharing them honor and respect because they are people just like us.  In our worship, we should be able to connect others to the love and grace of God instead of the pain of judgment.  After all, we can only point the finger at others and demand their repentance when we are somehow able to forget that all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.  We can only deny admittance to others when we have convinced ourselves (falsely) of our righteousness.

It's not easy, and it goes against every human instinct within me.  I want to protect myself by walling myself off to any risk.  Connecting seems terrifying when I don't know who can be trusted.  Being open to the mystery of God also means admitting that I don't have the answers and can't be sure of anything.  But it opens my life to the fullness that I believe Jesus was pointing to.

It's interesting to me that holy has the homonym "wholly", and they share common roots that give us these synonyms: sacred, complete, unhurt, fully, focused, restored, total, healthy, unbroken, and perfect.  We are holy when we are whole, when we seek a healthy and full life unbounded by the world's restrictions.  We are wholly holy when we live life fully as God created us, using our passions, gifts, and calling in service of God and our neighbors.  We are holy and whole when we trust God to fill the holes in us and heal those hurts that would become reasons to further divide us from others.    We are not to remain distant out of some sense of righteousness, but to see that we are all connected by our deep need for God's love.

May we learn to seek and share that together, being holy as the LORD our God is holy.

For the next part of this series, click here.