For the moments you’re not feeling Easter

DSC_0015I confess: I got up yesterday morning—Easter Sunday—not feeling very Easter-ish. Which, by my definition, meant not feeling much joy. Which meant in turn that I felt guilty and ashamed of myself. There I was, someone who claims that my deepest longing is to know and love Jesus as intimately as I can, and on the morning we gathered to celebrate that He’s alive and present and knowable, I was struggling to feel anything more holy than self-pity. Yuck.

I gave Him myself anyway, right in the middle of the mess, told Him again I’m all His—even the messy, ugly bits that I’d rather hide. (Okay, I confess: I tried to fix myself first. It didn’t work. THEN I gave myself to Him again.)

And He met me.

First in Mark, where the earliest copies of the gospel end with the women’s response to the angel’s shocking news that Jesus is alive and they’re to go and tell his other disciples:

“Trembling and bewildered, the women went out and fled from the tomb. They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid.” (Mark 16:8)

Then in Luke and John, where the women tell but the others don’t believe, where Peter goes to see and leaves the empty tomb puzzled, where the travelers to Emmaeus hear the news but walk along still sad and disappointed, unbelieving. Thomas doubts and Mary arrives at the tomb in the dark, weeping and wondering.

Easter always starts in the dark.

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And Jesus, who really is alive, meets them there, in the dark and the mess, in the fear and the tears and the unbelief, letting them touch him and feed him, calling Mary by name and guiding Thomas’ fingers to the holes in his own palms and side. He speaks to the travellers through Scripture and bread broken and to the disciples through fish filling long-empty nets and a meal together around a campfire.

And He meets me in meals alone with Him and I learn again that though it might take a while, the life that fills the risen Jesus is big enough to meet me where I’m at and make it beautiful, holy space just because He is there, loving me in it.

I wouldn’t have wanted to miss that.

If I don’t wait for Him in the dark I won’t find Him making it light.

I’m so glad Easter isn’t just one day, glad that the church calendar stretches out the Easter season to seven weeks of space to come with the questions and the doubts and the fears and let the living Jesus meet me in just the way He knows I need to be met. Even more glad that the arms of the risen Jesus extend this welcome to a lifetime of promised patient love.

 

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)