Sometimes a particular dream catches my attention, as though it is wiser than I am and wants to tell me something if only I’ll pay attention. When I pause to ponder and pray about it, I often notice things that seem obvious once I see them, but I was too blind, or my mind too busy, to see them in my waking life.
One of those dreams came last week. In it I was feeling inadequate next to a friend whom I love and respect, and afraid that she’d tire of our friendship. We were at a course together, and as she came by my room to pick me up on our way to the next session a few steps across a small, dry courtyard, I observed aloud that we were both in sock feet. She looked at her feet, seeming mildly surprised, then smiled and shrugged as though she was used to discovering that she wasn’t quite put together. I, meanwhile, stopped to try to find my shoes. I couldn’t find them, but I wouldn’t stop looking—under the bed, in the closet, again and again searching places I’d already looked. The next class was beginning. Eventually, my friend went on ahead.
As I lingered with the image of being shoeless, I noticed that we were both in sock feet. None of us in this life has it all together, no matter how it may seem when I make the mistake of comparing my inside to someone else’s outside. The difference between my dream friend and myself was not that she had it all together, but that she had learned not to let her lack of togetherness derail her from her calling.
I remembered, too, God’s command to Moses: “Take off your shoes, for the place where you are standing is holy ground.” Standing there together, both of us shoeless, my friend and I were on holy ground. Maybe we’d find that we always are, if we paused to pay attention, for where can we flee from God’s presence? My incompleteness, our incompleteness, is never the end of the story because God is alive and active and at work in both of us, as well as between us and through us. God is as eager to show us more of who He is as He was to show Moses more of Himself when He appeared to Moses in the burning bush. And He’s still perfectly able, through that knowing of Him, to complete us with Himself—whether that means offering faith in the face of fear or, as it did with Moses, transformation from being someone with such severe anger issues that he murdered a fellow human, into being one of history’s greatest leaders. That completion comes in the following, though, in the leaning in and clinging close and paying attention not to my inadequacy but to God’s sufficiency. The question is: Will I follow, shoeless, my attention on the wonder of the bushes burning around me, or will I stop and refuse to move until I find my shoes?
Photo by Marjorie Bertrand on Unsplash
When we entered the sanctuary yesterday, we saw them: hundreds of little paper crosses strung between the balcony and the large wooden cross raised at the front of our place of worship. Our lives, our worship, our suffering, all connected to each other’s and to His.
It reminds me of how a magnet held under a sheet of paper covered with scatted iron filings shapes lines of intricate order out of the chaos. Here, joined to his cross, our stories settle into place and begin to make sense.
It seems so right as we begin this Holy Week to find once again our small place in his big story. Yesterday was Palm Sunday. It was also Annunciation Day, and in the juxtaposition of the two, Mary’s yes to God’s invitation merged with Jesus’ yes, the human story intertwined with God’s story at yet another node. To Mary the invitation to bear God’s Son into the world. To Jesus the invitation to bear fallen humanity back into into intimate friendship with God. Both said yes. Both knew the deep joy and the deep suffering of their calling.
And now we too are invited to take up our crosses and follow, to enter more deeply the privilege of sharing both in Christ’s resurrection and in his sufferings.
We’ve been coloring the crosses for weeks, each Sunday School class, connection group, seniors’ gathering setting aside time for each person to color a cross in a way that expressed their gratitude for grace or shared what they wanted to bring to the cross. Each cross was a little bit of someone’s love, their surrender, their yes. And now the crosses hang as we enter Holy Week, our lives all linked to his: “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.”
Our lives all linked to his, and to each other’s. I can’t find my own cross. It doesn’t matter. I know that it’s here somewhere, here in the stringing of connected lives, the singing of worship linked to the cross and, through the cross, to the multitudes around his throne who continue to sing to the One in whom all of history finds its proper place, “Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and praise!”
I walk past the billboard declaring, “Mental health affects everyone. On January 31st, let’s talk about it.” When my brain finally makes the connection, I find it mildly ironic that January 31st is the day my lease ends, one factor in the saga of the past few months that has tipped me into a depression for which I’m having to take antidepressant medication for the first time in my life.
The timing has not been convenient. (Is a disruption like that ever convenient?) Almost everything about moving requires making a series of decisions: choosing where to move, what to pack and what to sell or give away, trying to sort out what I’ll need for the next three months and what can be tucked away in the boxes that aren’t to be opened until after I almost certainly need to move again in three months’ time. (To where? That will be another matter for discernment and decision.) All these decisions are a problem for someone in the midst of a depression where even the simplest daily decisions seem almost impossible.
I’ve needed my friends: one to look at possible apartments with me, another to help me see how to fit my few remaining pieces of furniture into my temporary new room to make a little corner that can feel like home, and to pack some things and suggest a few concrete next steps for me to take. One to bring a meal and pray and sit with me for a few hours when I could no longer bear to be alone with my thoughts. A friend from my spiritual director course will help move furniture and boxes on moving day, and another from Regent days will help clean. Most have done several of those things and I have been so touched by their sacrificial love. I want to love like that.
I still find it hard to need help.
I find it harder to need help for mental health limitations than for physical health ones. (Why is that, I wonder?)
I’ve thought my resistance to needing help is because I care about the needs of others and don’t want to bother them with mine. I suspect the deeper reason is pride, an extension of the lie in the garden that it’s possible to be like God, limitless and without needs.
Once again I’m learning what I’ve experienced so many times before: it’s only in the places of weakness and vulnerability and opening ourselves to receive that we learn how loved we are. Grace is not a concept; it’s a person and an action, embodied once in first century Palestine and continually enfleshed as His body lives on in 21st century Vancouver and around the world. I receive grace not just in letting Jesus lift my sins, not just in baptism and bread and wine, but in boxes packed and sinks scrubbed and hands laid on my shoulders to pray in moments when presence and touch matters more than words. As often as not, it’s through Jesus’ 21st century hands that I experience God’s unfailing kindness.
Two days before I was diagnosed and started on meds, a friend took me for the first time to a new soul care group. New groups are often a struggle for me, but this group of six people felt like a gift from the moment they opened the door and welcomed me into an evening of colour in a long stretch of darkness. We ate delicious tortilla soup and kale salad and walnut bread, and by the time we lingered together over prayer and communion, the couplet in the prayer we were praying had settled deep in me:
Let me not run from the love that you offer,
But hold me safe from the forces of evil.
Someone read it again, aloud, this time in plural: “Let us not run from the love that you offer, but hold us safe. . .” .
Safely held. Those two words have lingered with me through the almost two weeks since that meeting, through the diagnosis and the new meds and the receiving of help and the still not knowing which address I’ll be travelling from when I meet with that group three or four months down the road. Part of our safely held is Jesus’ 21st century body, and being in this together. Safely held in the hands that hold the universe, yes, and, when I don’t run, in each set of hands through which our present and active God chooses to offer himself to me, packing, scrubbing, praying, hugging, and feeding me with his unfailing kindness as he also, in his kindness, continues to give me small ways to pass his love along to others.
I’m sitting in that uncomfortable space of waiting while a couple of trusted friends read a draft of my story. As much as I try to steer my runaway thoughts in more helpful directions, they seem to have a remarkable ability to slip under the fence when I’m not looking and make for this week’s favorite question: Are my friends cringing as they read, wondering, ‘How am I going to tell her this is really, really bad?’
At the same time I’m preparing to share pieces of my story with my small group and some (pretty big) part of me is wishing I’d found a way out of this.
I want to faithfully steward the story I’ve been given to live and write. But the actual stepping out of hiding and sharing it can sometimes feel like one of the scariest things in life—right up there with stepping on that plane heading for Afghanistan.
I turn for the hundredth time to my list of ten reasons I can (and must) dare to put my heart out there. This week God has added three more:
1) God wrote my story first. “All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.” (Ps 139:16) Every one of us has been given a unique and beautiful story to live. And with God as the author, there’s no question that the story is worth sharing.
2) I am meant to need help. The idea that I should be able to live—or write—my story alone (and perfectly!) is a lie from the pit of hell. We are not isolated individuals with something to prove. We are body-members, called to live together in God’s love and work together for his glory. Only I can live and write my particular part of this story. But others have been given overlapping bits of story to live which include helping me see and write my story more clearly, or praying for me in the process. Living a story, and writing one, is a community project, with every person’s part important.
3) Telling the story God is writing in our lives is one of the most powerful ways to overcome the enemy of our souls. “They overcame him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony.” (Rev 12:11) The God of peace who dealt the fatal blow to Satan’s head through Jesus’ bare, nailed feet continues to crush Satan, now underneath our feet (Rom 16:20). And in the upside-down-ness of God’s kingdom, vulnerable bare feet, willingly offered, crush Satan’s head far more effectively than self-protective steel-toed boots.
So, friends, let’s take off our shoes. We need to stand barefoot anyway, here on the holy ground of helping each other live and share the stories God is writing into our lives.
“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.
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
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