When you’d rather skip this stretch

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Photo by Karen Webber

“Go in the car—you’ll get there quicker!” The not-so-old woman with the slightly crazy grey hair shuffled along behind her walker, calling out to me her best wisdom as I ran past her this morning, breathing hard.

There are sunflowers on my table, their golden heads starting to droop. My friend brought them Friday, the day she came for lunch. The day I was longing to offer her gentle, grace-filled space. The day I ended up sick—again—and she helped serve, loaded the dishwasher, and chatted while I lay on the couch. There was grace in being loved like that. And sadness. I’d wanted so much for the day to be about her this time, not all about me. I’d wanted to love her by serving her.

We talked about her walk along the 800 km of the Camino trail last year. She was remembering the fields of sunflowers, the gift that recurred over several days, each appearance of the bright blooms bringing some new understanding or inviting her to pray in some new way. She noticed, looking back, that the gift of the sunflowers came on the meseta, the stretch of land in the middle of the Camino that many people bypass by taking a bus, thinking it’s a desert or a boring plain.

I sat alone with Jesus after my friend left. “Jesus, what are the sunflowers in this stretch? I don’t want to miss what you’re wanting to share with me.” Illness has often felt like gift, Jesus using it to rescue me from an impossible situation, using it to make space for me to become still enough to learn His love in a way I’d never have known it otherwise. But on Friday it just felt like disappointment and frustration. If there’d been a bus I would have jumped in and raced to the other side of this meseta where I could have served my friend the way I’d wanted.

“Go in the car—you’ll get there quicker!” The not-so-old woman’s words ring in my ears. But there isn’t a car and there isn’t a bus and five days before Friday I’d been at a prayer service asking for healing and how do I live in this space where I’ve asked for healing and things just seem worse?

The sunflowers on the table are starting to droop, their necks bent, their bright faces turned toward the ground. They look like they’ve forgotten their life in the field. When they were young and supple, looking up, up, all the time, their expectant faces made a daily pilgrimage, tracing the path of the sun across the sky. As they matured, they settled into facing east, turned resolutely toward the place they’d learned by long habit that the sun always rose to kiss their faces and awaken his glory in them.

I can ask for healing and then my call is to live with my face turned toward the sun, offering myself to God as I am now, not as I might hope someday to be. I sing along with Stuart Townend, “O my soul, arise and bless your Maker,” and as I turn my face again toward my Maker’s I sense Him smiling on me. We reach the last verse—“Then one day, I’ll see him as he sees me, face to face, the Lover and the loved”—and tears run down my face as I see another of the things I need to remember to live wellour days here are just the beginning.

There’s a whole forever coming when He’ll give me a strong body and I’ll be able to make meals for friends and walk mountain trails with them and stand and praise with the congregation for hours. But in the meantime, He loves me and I love Him and in these few days I have here I want Him to have the whole of me—whatever that looks like. If he wants to give healing, I’d love that, but if there are days or decades still ahead when He delights to receive my love and longing lying down, well, He has my soul, my body, my love. And I have Him. And that is enough.

When your heart needs the simple truth

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“In the name of the Father who made you, the Son who loves you, and the Spirit who fills you.” She moves her finger across my forehead in the shape of a cross, leaving a trail of anointing oil. Marking me once again as belonging to the Trinity.

The words are a simplification, of course. The Spirit was present at creation too, hovering over the waters, and without the Son nothing was made that has been made (John 1:3, c.f. Col 1:16). The Father loves me as He loves His Son (John 17:23), and as the Spirit fills me the Father and Son are also making their home in me (John 14:23).

But in its simplicity, the words capture the profoundest of truths. And sometimes—often!—the things I most need to remember are the simplest.

God made me. He never forgets that I am dust, loved dust, a fragile and priceless creation handled with care by my Maker.

God loves me. Enough to die to make me His forever.

And God fills me, being in me enough and more than enough when I am not enough. Gracing me to share in His life and in His loving of the world.

At the end of the day, or at its start, what do I more need to remember?

 

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Taking it deeper:

Spend time soaking in one (or all!) of these truths again, asking God to sink these truths deep into your heart.

God made you: Psalm 8, Psalm 103, Psalm 139

“The reality of our dust does not evoke in God rejection or judgment, but fidelity.” (Walter Brueggemann)

Dust you are: A call to pay attention

God loves you: I John 3:1-2, Eph 1:1-14, Psalm 136

The truth your heart is hungry for

God fills you: John 14:8-27; 2 Cor 4; 1 Cor 6:19-20

When you’re being made gift

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Welcome to this summer series leaning into God’s repeated invitation to remember. I’m asking, “What, right here in the middle of the year, the middle of life, the middle of a messy or happy or numbing day, do I most need to remember? What is the solid ground I need to feel under my feet in order to keep faithfully moving forward?”

If you’re just joining us, please, won’t you pull up a chair and make yourself at home? Rest for a while in the first week of the series where where we remembered God’s ever-present invitation, “This is where I want to love you,” or explore the second week, recalling how seasons of emptiness are gift.

When you long for fullness

It rises and falls moment by moment, me scarcely aware. Receiving breath-gift. Fullness. The surrender of release. Emptiness.

The breath cycle happens in spirit as in body. Grace is given, received with thankfulness. A moment, a day perhaps, of felt fullness, joy and peace. Excitement at what God is doing. Then it fades. Fatigue sets in. Restlessness. A fresh awareness of my own emptiness and poverty and need.

I seem to want always to feel full.

I forget that constant fullness leads to death.

Those with asthma know. Emptiness is a gift, constant fullness that against which they war. For in their illness, the problem is not receiving breath, but releasing it; not getting air in, but out.  As the airways close, the lungs stay full. No release, no space for the next breath in. And the air within, the gift of the past, has already done its life-giving work, gracing the body with oxygen. It can give no more life but waits to be surrendered, the space emptied for another rise to fullness.

And I wonder, can I learn not to fight the process of surrender? Each time the fullness wanes, can I learn to ask, “What am I being invited to release?” Can I move beyond seeing emptiness as a necessary but unpleasant preparation for fullness and learn to receive the unique gifts that emptiness offers? For it is only here that we discover ourselves loved in our poverty, our nothingness. It is here alone that we learn we are cherished not for our doing, but because by unfathomable mystery God delights in our being.

And I realize that without this gift of emptiness, there is no rising cycle to fullness, for this is the gift, the earthy, holy stuff of new creation fullness, that at our emptiest, we find ourselves embraced again by the One who delights to draw us close enough to breathe into us our next moment of fullness.

 A repost from the archives 

Eight words that can transform your day

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I first heard the words some weeks ago.

We were talking about something that was painful for me to see. Somewhere in our conversation we stopped to listen to what Jesus might be wanting to say to me in that uncomfortable place of not liking what I saw in myself and finding myself unable to fix it. And the invitation that came then has kept coming each day since, echoing through my fears and into my failures, His presence in my hopes and disappointments and uncertainties: “This is where I want to love you.”

Right here in your fear.

Right here in your not-yet-perfection.

Right here in the painful place of not being able to fix the things that you don’t like to see.

This is where I want to love you.

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His words disarm my tendency to beat up on myself.

They replace my fear that God is disappointed with me with the truth that He delights in me.

They help me rest in His gentleness.

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On Saturday I ran. I was getting my morning exercise. I was also trying to outrun the chorus which mocked me. As I stood at the end of my run with my ankle on the stairwell railing and bent at the waist to stretch, I saw it lying there on the rough hardness, right down near the cracks and the fallen fig leaves, the bits of grey gravel and the dirt off everyone’s feet—the pink petalled reminder, “This is where I want to love you.”

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Welcome to the first of my summer series. Over the next three months I’ll be looking back, leaning into God’s repeated invitation to remember. I’ll be asking, “What, right here in the middle of the year, the middle of life, the middle of a messy or happy or numbing day, do I most need to remember? What is the solid ground I need to feel under my feet in order to keep faithfully moving forward?” Today’s repost from the archives is one of the truths that stands for me at the center of that answer: Whatever this moment holds, God is speaking into it, “This is where I want to love you.” 

 

Taking it deeper:

1. Our culture presses us to be constantly grabbing for the new—new possessions, new positions, new knowledge. But while God keeps inviting us onward and inward, into an ever deepening experience of His love, that forward movement is always grounded in remembering the past: “Remember that you were a slave . . . and the LORD your God redeemed you,” (Deut 15:15; c.f. 5:15; 7:18; 8:2, 18; 9:7; 16:3,12; 24:9,18,22; 32:7), “Remember Jesus Christ, raised from the dead,” (2 Tim 2:8), “Remember, then, what you have received and heard. Obey it, and repent” (Rev. 3:3). In the midst of your current situation, what do you most need to remember? What step might you take to help yourself remember? (posting a sticky note on your mirror or dashboard or fridge, making those words your screensaver for this week, setting an alarm to pause at noon to remember, and, of course, asking the God who longs to bring you deeper into His love to keep reminding you. . .)

2. Slow and let yourself hear the words spoken into your day, “This is where I want to love you.” What happens inside you as you hear that voice? How does your heart want to respond?

 

The truth that lets us trust—and be trusted

DSC_0026“This may be a little out of the box, so trust our brother.” Our pastor spoke the words as the Cree chief with the strong and gentle face ascended to the pulpit to give the benediction.

Trust our brother. . . Trust. . . Trust. The word has been echoing through my hours. So simple. Yet trusting and receiving trust might be the hardest things we’ll ever do.

I stood at the door ten days ago and spoke words to a friend that showed how little I still really trust her. My words surprised me, hurt me. Her too, I think. I trust her more than I trust most other people. But somehow, somewhy, I still didn’t trust her love enough to let her wash my dishes, nor enough to relax into her trust of me. I don’t understand my struggle. But I am very sad, and very sorry.

This I do know: my challenge on the human plane mirrors my challenge with God. (I suspect this is always the case.) I think I trust Him, and then fear floods in and I see all over again how little I really do. I struggle even more to receive His trust of me.

He trusts me. He. Trusts. Me. He trusts me? It’s something I’ve been wrestling with for years. I’ve wondered whether it’s even true: the Bible repeats again and again that we’re to trust God, but where does it say that He trusts me? But when I asked, I saw the little word, the repeated refrain: entrusted, entrusted, entrusted1. Over and over, God entrusts Himself, His heart, His most precious truths to His people. Entrusted, entrusted. . . The list of verses ends with this: “. . . the faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints.” (Jude 3) All who are His. Once for all. Trusted to be entrusted with God’s most precious gifts. There’s no doubt: God trusts His people.

But why? Why would God trust us? There aren’t many moments when it’s obvious why He would trust me. But I’ve asked Him to explain, and this is what I hear: Like God’s love and His mercy, His trust is rooted in His character and ability, not in mine. Our Creator is creative enough and strong enough and wise enough that He can take my five crumbly loaves and feed thousands, incorporate my scratches on the page into His grand story, and weave my mistakes and even my sin into a design more glorious than it would have been without my failure. As a friend reminded me last week, “For every plan A that fails, God has a plan A+ that is far better. God does not do plan B.” (Christophe Ulysse)

God’s trust is rooted in His ability, not a mistaken assumption about mine, so I can receive God’s trust as the gift that it is rather than as a burden, an expectation or an obligation that leaves me fearing I’ve failed before I’ve even begun. His trust isn’t an expectation that I get it all right, but a celebration of His love and a declaration of His desire to have me as a genuine co-creator with Him, a fellow worker, other, weak—and wanted. There’s freedom here, to explore and to create, to try and to fail and to get up and try again. And to love Him who so loves us.

“Trust our brother.” Christ’s fellow-worker, and ours, to whom, along with us, the faith has been entrusted, prays over us a benediction, first in his native Cree and then in English. When our failure and sin is too great to be forgotten, God’s ability is the only possibility for trust between people. A God gentle enough to teach us that repentance means more than regret. A God loving enough to burn away our fear of difference.

Another brother circles the sanctuary, wafting over us the smoke of sweetgrass in purification and blessing, his prayers and ours rising with the rising smoke to our one Creator who risks trusting us, and teaches us to trust each other.

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I’m still marvelling over the grace our aboriginal brothers and sisters have extended to us. Read this post and marvel again with me? Between Truth and Reconciliation

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1Matt 25:14; Luke 12:48; 16:11; Rom 3:2; 6:17; 1 Cor 9:17; 2 Cor 5:19; Gal 2:7; 1 Thes 2:4; 1 Tim 1:11; 6:20; 2 Tim 1:14; Tit 1:3; Jude 3