No more holding back

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I’d just about given up and trashed the lanky, dried-up thing. Despite my best efforts it had shriveled almost beyond recognition. When do you say “enough”? What do you do with the things in your life that seem ugly and lifeless and dry?

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The pastor speaks of the first Palm Sunday and how until then Jesus had been holding back, keeping things quiet, telling those who guessed his identity not to go public with it. It wasn’t time yet. And then, in a carefully orchestrated drama, he rode into the city on a donkey, declaring Himself their king come to bring peace. No more holding back. The time had come, has come – Palm Sunday AD 33 and Palm Sunday 2014 – for Jesus to be openly declared, in action as well as in word, King.

A few days later He was in the garden and He wasn’t holding back there either, pouring out His pain to His Father. And then death and the three days’ wait and new life for Him and us together. Nothing of Himself held back.

No more holding back. It reminds me of those moments before a baby is born. The baby descends to a certain point and the mother almost involuntarily begins to push. The pain may be intense—but it’s easier now to push into it than to hold back.

And the head gets lower and the burning intensifies and sometimes the mother holds back again, crying out in pain and fear. But by then the head is so low that the only way out is through the pain. And that most intense burning comes just before life slides out in all the slippery, wailing beauty of newness.

And yes, there were moments after she challenged me to write the book still more vulnerably autobiographically that I thought “I can’t.” And yes, there were hours between rewriting the chapters and sending them to her that I held back, grateful for Denise Levertov’s lines giving voice to my struggle and holding it in the context of His:

“. . .The burden of humanness (I begin to see) exacted from Him

that He taste also the humiliation of dread,

cold sweat of wanting to let the whole thing go,

like any mortal hero out of his depth,

like anyone who has taken a step too far

and wants herself back. . .”

But right now I can hardly wait to finish my term paper so I can get back to working on the book—because He is meeting me there. And more than anything else in the world, I want Him. All of Him. And I want Him to have all of me.

And I’m so grateful she’s calling me out of hiding and so thankful he’s encouraging us not to hold back because there’s this amazing thing happening as I give Him all of me. Not just the bits I think He might want to use, but all of me. All of my story.

The places I most want to hide, throw out, hold back are the exact places He’s birthing beauty.

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Turns out that nothing’s ever over ‘til it’s dead and buried.

And then it’s just beginning.

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And the song came up in my playlist as I worked out this morning: “I have decided to follow Jesus. No turning back, no turning back.” Yes. And no holding back either.

How do you see surrender?

IMG_3194I’ve got to admit I’m struggling with it. As a girl who until just a few years ago would answer “fine” even when I was half dead, and seldom trusted anyone with my thoughts, the advice to keep learning to write more and more vulnerably is stretching me. It’s also adjusting the way I think about surrender.

What image comes to mind when you think about surrender? For me it has been Jesus in the garden, sweating drops of blood as he pleaded for the cup to be taken from him and added “yet not my will but Yours be done.” It’s a hard image. And a true one. Surrender involves sacrifice.

But surrender does not equal sacrifice. To equate them misses the point. Discipleship, discipline, obedience: Christian surrender is never about sacrifice for the sake of sacrifice. It’s always about relationship. Intimacy. Union. The goal of surrender is crucial. “Who for the joy set before him endured the cross. . .”

We’re not asked to surrender to just anyone. We’re asked to surrender to the God whose love is, as Brian Doerksen sings, “purer than the purest heart.” We often won’t understand what He’s doing. Surrender will involve struggle and pain and tears. But for a people whose God is their husband1, making them his beautiful bride, the mutual surrender of the marriage bed is as appropriate a picture of surrender as the cross. And a whole lot easier to desire.

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1. Isaiah 62:3-5; Ezekiel 16; Hosea; Ephesians 5:25-33 and many others

When your mind spins

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Photo by Melanie Brown. Used with permission.

 

Worlds whirl

 —fragments of stories—

too many for small hands

or grown-up minds

to keep in motion.

 

Sun lights on arm’s tip

a single slat in the chair’s back

calling “Come.

Come.

Rest.

 

The spinning spheres

—minds, lives, galaxies—

are held

 upheld

 held together

by wiser, gentler hands.”

When you’re afraid of looking bad

 

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I’d been to see my internist. We’d been struggling to figure out why I had bad stretches and what we could do to improve them. He’d asked me to keep a closer record of heart rate and blood pressure in a good week and then “when—no, if” I had another bad spell to record everything again and come back and see him.

I found myself thinking, “Wouldn’t it be lovely if I didn’t have another bad stretch?” Then I found myself thinking, “But then he’d think I’d made it all up.” It didn’t matter that it had all been long since tested and proven in a medical setting; that’s where my mind went.

“I don’t want to look bad.”

I recognized the bottom line instantly. I’d never been so honest with God about it before. I’d never realized it so clearly before, though now that it was out I could see it was the bottom line in my fear of writing vulnerably, of speaking up in a group, of just about everything.

I didn’t have time to register either the surprise of the realization or the relief of having it out in the open before I sensed a response, “I don’t want you to look bad either.” Huh? Was that God speaking? Now I had a lot more to register.

“You don’t?”

Maybe I’d thought I had to look bad to make His grace look as good as it is.

Maybe I’d figured He’d want to let me look bad now and again to beat the pride out of me.

Maybe, watching Jesus be mocked and spit on and hung naked, then hearing the command to take up my cross and follow, I’d just assumed looking bad was part of the deal and hadn’t thought to ask what I was believing about God’s heart.

What kind of lover wants to make his beloved look bad? Love is always “the resolve to make the loved party great” (Dr. J.I. Packer).

In all of Jesus’ suffering, the Father’s heart was never to make his Son look bad. It was to give him the highest possible honor, raise him to the highest possible place—and to seat us in that place of honor with him (Eph 1:19-23; 2:6-7; John 17:22-23)

God is always for us.

That doesn’t mean people will always see us bright and beautiful. Sometimes we’ll slip and fall, and part of restoration is being honest about the mess. (But then there’s a startling beauty in the courage to let the mess be seen, and in the grace that encircles it all.) And sometimes we’ll be misunderstood as we follow close on the heels of the one who was accused of blasphemy and demon possession because he was loving people he wasn’t supposed to love in ways that threatened the comfortable religious status quo.  True love, daring love, has a way of being misunderstood.

But somehow when we know that God’s intent is always to honor us, the risk of looking bad loses a lot of its fear. Maybe because it no longer feels like failure. Or no longer holds the threat of rejection. Or there’s nothing left to earn or prove. We can just get on with what we’re called to and leave the outcome to the God who is already and forever for us.

“This I know, that God is for me.” (Psalm 56:9)

Becoming God’s Alone: A Photo Journey

Dear friends,

Today I offer you something a little different for our journey together through Lent. Over the past few months, I have been wrestling with a deeper call to be God’s alone. There have been questions I’ve had to ask all over again (Can I really trust God with my life?).  There have been things I’ve had to grieve including not having my own family.  And there has been joy and the richness of discovering God meeting me in my emptiness and longing.

Back in January, I decided to take that place of struggle as the starting place for a creative project. It’s easy for me to get stuck in my head, so I decided to carry my cell phone with its little camera in my pocket when I went on my morning runs and see whether there were images that spoke into the struggle. Then I sat with the images and my emotions and Scripture and allowed poetry to become, as Kathleen Norris says, a form of Lectio Divina, or Sacred Listening, an attempt to listen deeply and respond to God.

I offer you the result. Your journey—through Lent and through life—will be different than mine. But perhaps as you move slowly through the story below there will be a picture or a line that will speak into your own journey of asking the hard questions and finding yourself loved and letting go and becoming more deeply God’s. Or perhaps seeing this will encourage you to tuck your own camera in your pocket and watch for the ways that God wants to meet you in the world around you.

With my love and prayers as we continue this journey with Jesus toward the cross and resurrection.

Carolyn

God’s Alone

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Swings sit

unstirred

stirring silent fog into

hidden winds

and unpoured rain.

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Chains crossed,

hugs hang

hollow. Sun’s steps shimmer wet

where willows weep

on holy soil.

        

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Naked,

gnarled twigs

finger clouded heaven

in longing—

or in reckless thanksgiving?

 

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Shameless,

she cups

naked limbs, bends bareness

into welcome.

He enters.

 

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Spoken light

pierces

fearful void, gentling chaos.

Profound mystery:

“The two shall be. . .”

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Sun bursts

fog’s wisps,

strength knowing weakness;

earth’s dust

takes flame.

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Winds wind

blinding hair

golden around stability;

bind flesh to bone,

glory to fragility.

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Weeping light

circles,

mingling trickles into a joy-seeking

cascade

of witness.

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Tangled

bentness

is drawn upward, lit,

her longing

touching His.

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Sun sings

where rain lingers

“Arise, come, my beautiful one,

come, my beloved,

with me.”

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Notes: (Numbers indicate picture/stanza number)

2. This stanza held a beautiful aha moment for me. In observing the sun shimmering on the wet sidewalk under the weeping willows and in writing those last lines, I all of a sudden came to see that my grief was holy ground, not something I needed to push past or rush through, but a place where God was present and wanting to meet me.

4. This is often the only choice we have — to open the emptiness to Jesus and let Him fill it.

5. Gen 1:1-3; John 1:1-14; Eph 5:31-32

6. This is the one photo that was taken prior to the start of this project, and with a different camera.

2 Cor 4:6-12; 2 Cor 12:7-10; Ex 3:2-4; Acts 2:3-4

“Abba Lot went to see Abba Joseph and said to him, “Abba as far as I can I say my little office, I fast a little, I pray and meditate, I live in peace and as far as I can, I purify my thoughts. What else can I do?” then the old man stood up and stretched his hands towards heaven. His fingers became like ten lamps of fire and he said to him, “If you will, you can become all flame.” - From the Desert Fathers

7. 2 Cor 4:16-18; Eze 37:1-14

8. Heb 12:1-3 (in context of Heb 11)

9. Heb 12:1-2

10. Song of Songs 2:10-13