When you don’t have what it takes

IMG_4353I wake tired and empty, find myself dreading the day.

“Jesus, what is going on here? Why am I dreading this day you are holding out to me as a gracious gift?”

I feel myself trying to gather the strength for what I need to do today. What I think I need to do. The way I think I need to do it.

“I am the vine; you are the branches. The one who abides in me and I in him bears much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing.” (john 15:5)

The blossoms along the path I run are so thick I can hardly find the leaves.

I measure myself by them and I think I know what fruitfulness is supposed to look like. Thick. Vibrant. Eye-catching. Blogs posted, books written, lives changed.

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Tired days can feel like failed days when I count fruitfulness by words on the page.

But as I slow and listen to His heartbeat, I see that the fruit Jesus is promising is as different from my measures of productivity as the means of growing it is from drivenness. Yes, as I make my home in Him His life may flow through me in words written and floors swept, but the core of His promise is not that I’ll write more words or tick more things off my do-list, but that my being and doing will be marked by His character.

“The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience. . .” (Gal 5:22-23)

I sink deep into his love—and I love Him all the more.

Who could love me like this, with a love not dependent on what I bring? Joy awakens.

I settle into the assurance that His love isn’t changed by what I accomplish—and peace stretches and enfolds me.

When I know He’s not disappointed with my current word count, I can wait for Him to give the words in His time. Patience is growing.

And somehow as I make my home in His love the words are written and the work is done—and we got here gently, Him knowing me and I Him and both of us enjoying the other.

“I’ve loved you the way my Father has loved me. Make yourselves at home in my love.” (John 15:9, The Message)

What God does with your mistakes

DSCN5627I’d just arrived at the hospital in the Northwest Frontier Province of Pakistan, travelling in a taxi with door handles falling off and lumpy, lopsided seats.

A preacher whose name I don’t remember was speaking in the hospital chapel that weekend, reminding us that failure is never final with God. God never discards broken things—He values them. The preacher told us about the making of Persian carpets. The master designer creates a pattern, and numerous craftspeople work on it together. If one of them makes a mistake, they do not take it out—that would weaken the fabric. Instead, the master designer redesigns the pattern, incorporating the mistake. Often the result is even more beautiful than the initial pattern.

Seventeen years later and I’m listening to another preach about Jesus’ promise: “I am the vine, you are the branches. If anyone remains in me, and I in him, he will bear much fruit.” (John 15:5)

I’ve struggled to believe that. Oh, I’ve thought I believed it, but my fear of failure showed me that something else was going on. But today I realize I’ve finally begun to trust that promise. Living in Him, with Him in me, I will bear His life into the world. Because the promise is not that I won’t make mistakes along the way. The promise is that my mistakes will never be greater than God’s creative grace.

Resurrection: what God does with your wounds

DSC_0110I’ve been so grateful since I heard, a few years ago, that Easter isn’t a single day but Eastertide, the whole fifty day stretch from Easter Sunday to Pentecost. I need fifty days, I need a whole lifetime, to explore the truth of Christ’s resurrection as it stretches backward and forward to encompass and change everything.

The words came last year as we approached Lent:

“Winds wind

blinding hair

gold around stability

bind flesh to bone

and glory to fragility.”

The Spirit-wind pauses, hovers, and glory is bound to fragility, God to our flesh, in a young woman’s womb.

The God-man baby grows and lives, suffers and dies, and it isn’t just in that one man that divinity is bound to humanity. He gathers and holds our wounds, lets them settle deep and they pierce right through, pierce his feet and his side too, and in His suffering and death He takes our sin and our pain and makes them His own, binds us to Him, our fragile flesh to Glory.

And when He rises from the dead to walk again among us, then rises through the clouds to the side of His Father, He carries us with Him, still wearing our flesh.

“Then you will know that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you.” (John 14:20)

He rises still wearing His wounds, our wounds, His scarred hands outstretched in blessing as He ascends.

A fellow pilgrim shares of rolling his own wounds around in his hands like dark pearls, and of the invitation to “drop them in this open place of good and glory” which Christ’s loving presence has created.

Jesus, how do I drop them?

I see the baby again, reflexively grasping whatever touches her palm. Jesus picks her up, settles her to sleep. Her grip loosens. He’s calling me to come close, reminding me that only as I know myself loved and learn to rest in that place of grace will my need to cling ease.

I listen again to my fellow pilgrim and watch Jesus “gathering the dark pearls of my wounds (when finally I could let them go), and stringing a necklace to place lovingly, lightly, round my neck in a place of honour and beauty.” (Doug Webber)

He’s giving me a glimpse into a grace bigger than I expect. Even resurrection doesn’t erase all scars; wounds aren’t meant to disappear without a trace. Instead of discarding, grace transforms. Places of pain fill with joy, places of death, life. Places of fragility, backlit, are discovered to be thin places where the greatest glory shines through. Even wounds once festering with self can become, in His love, scars which shimmer with Him.

Two days ago I saw this necklace of grace on a woman who hid for two and a half years while she recovered from trauma; I marveled at the gracious wisdom she now speaks out of God’s presence in her own story. I’ve noticed it lately on a friend who calls weekly to listen and encourage; she understands because she remembers God meeting her in her own deep places.

This is one of the gifts of resurrection: we don’t need to fear our wounds. Those holes in your hands might become the very places Christ’s love flows through to bring life to another, those dark pearls of your scars a bright necklace speaking hope to all who see it.

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Images of the dark pearls and necklace by Doug Webber. Used with permission.

Dust you are: living the mystery together

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There are three ministers sitting at the front behind the communion table. I’ve come full today, full of the sadness and fear and anger I’d tried to leave behind but couldn’t. And I’ve come empty, hungry for Jesus. I’m so grateful He calls me to come as I am.

The senior minister, Darrell, is in the middle with Andrea on his right and Abe on his left. Darrell stands, welcoming us all to the table and speaking the words of institution as he lifts the loaf and breaks it. I watch as Abe and Andrea pass the trays of bread to the servers to share with us. Darrell asks that we hold the bread until all have received and can partake “because we’re all in this together.”

Then, to his right, Andrea stands and lifts the cup. Her clear voice rings out, “And then He took the cup. . .” I was raised in a church where women couldn’t speak the words of institution or distribute the elements. My heart is in my throat. Something is happening and Jesus is in this place and we are on holy ground.

I expect her to suggest that we take the cup when we receive it as a sign that even though we are brought into the body we each come to Jesus individually. She asks instead that we wait once again and drink together. That breaks me right open and tears run down my cheeks because don’t we all have times we need to be reminded that this is the ultimate truth, that we really are part of Jesus’ body, all in this together, with each other and for each other and that’s how it’s meant to be?

We’re singing “Let the weak say I am strong” and part of that strength comes from sensing your fellow cells squished up against you in this living, breathing, growing body. There are moments Jesus’ life flows through you to feed them and warm them and hold them up and there are moments the flow is reversed. And often those moments aren’t very far apart.

I watch as the mystery unfolding in front of me deepens. Andrea returns from passing the trays of tiny cups to the servers. Darrell has stepped out from behind the table. He speaks to her a few words I can’t hear and she smiles and steps in behind the table, into the middle, into his place, and sits in his seat. Darrell sits in hers, then stands again to collect the emptied trays as the servers return.

This is the Lord’s table and I’ve just watched Him step out of His place and put me—a straggler and a struggler and a woman1 —in it, right in the middle of the Trinity where I can sit, surrounded and honored and safe and then where I can stand again—Jesus now wearing my flesh—and offer His blood and His body, His life and His strength, to my fellow ministers and to the world.

There are no words Darrell could have spoken which would have carried that message to my heart the way his action did.

There is truth that has to be embodied and joy that has to be laughed and grief that has to come out in wet and salty tears. There is love that has to be knelt and danced and lived and longing that can only be expressed as you lie clinging to the feet of Jesus.

Our body is not an accessory to our souls. It’s not a mere house for the more precious and lasting part of us. Rather, as Old Testament scholar Johannes Pedersen says, ‘The body is the soul in its outward form.”2

 

Taking it further:

Speaking of Genesis 2:7, Celeste Snowber Schroeder says,

“The Hebrew literally tells us that ‘God breathed in the nostrils the breath of life and the human became a nephesh,’ most often translated as soul. The passage does not say that the human was supplied with a soul as some other attachment to the body, but by the breath of God the human became a living body-soul, a living human being. So man and woman in their total essence are souls. As articulated by Old Testament scholar Johannes Pedersen, ‘Soul and body are so intimately united that a distinction cannot be made between them. They are more than ‘united,’: the body is the soul in its outward form.’ In the beginning of creation we were designed as one: body-soul.”3

What questions does this raise for you? What difference might this understanding of soul and body as two facets of the same whole make in your life (in your work, your decisions, your relationships, the daily practice of your faith and the way you read Scripture)?

 

Notes:

This is not to imply either that Andrea is a straggler or a struggler, or that women are in general any more so than men. We’re all dust, and the great mystery of grace is that Jesus puts any of us in this place where He wears our flesh and loves others through us. But since I’m a woman and have the church background that I do, the grace of Andrea being placed in that seat enabled me to glimpse and receive the grace more deeply.

Johannes Pedersen, Israel: Its Life and Culture (London: Oxford University Press, 1959), 171.

3 Celeste Snowber Schroeder, Embodied Prayer (Liguiori, Missouri: Triumph Books, 1995), 22.

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This is the fourth in a series of Lenten posts exploring what it might look like to live fully alive to God with our bodies as well as our souls. Click on the links to read the first three:

Dust you are: an invitation

Dust you are: a call to pay attention

Dust you are: love in the desert

When you’re facing a too-busy week

airplane

I never thought it could happen.

I looked last night at my calendar for the week. I’d felt each item was right when I took it on, and there was nothing I felt I was being asked to let go. But it all added up to a week busy enough that I usually would have looked at it and swallowed hard. The strange thing was that last night I looked at the calendar and I wasn’t scared. I wasn’t overwhelmed. I was excited.

It took me a while to figure out what had made the difference. Why could I look at the week and instead of panicking, look forward to seeing how God would work?

Then I realized. I’d spent the week remembering:

It was April 2004. I’d just lived my first two days in Kabul. I was supposed to be flying in to see for the first time the little village where I was going to work. But it had been raining, and when someone drove a truck onto the runway it sank ten centimeters into the mud; the flight was postponed. So I waited. And when the call came the next night that I should be at the airport at 5am, a kaleidoscope of butterflies took flight in my stomach. Would we make it this time? What would I find? Could I cope in this place to which I was going?  I wasn’t sure I’d sleep at all, but I went to bed anyway, and picked up my copy of Daily Light before turning out the light. “Arise, my darling, my beautiful one, and come with me.” (SS 2:10)

I went to sleep with the words in my head. They called to me when my alarm clock rang at 03:45. I heard them again as I shivered at the airport, watching the sun turn the fresh snow on the mountains pink as the pilot made the final adjustments to the four-seater plane.

“Arise, my darling, my beautiful one, and come with me.” Love is calling me to come with Him into this week too.