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.

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

Healed into a wheelchair

Image courtesy of Renjith Krishnan/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Renjith Krishnan/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

She wheeled me through the exhibits in the chair we’d borrowed from the front desk. It felt to me like a miracle: not that I was in the chair—I’d needed that a year ago when we’d first talked about going to a museum or art gallery, but I’d chosen instead not to go; not that I was being wheeled around—I’d needed that five years ago when I’d insisted on walking myself through the airports on the way home from Afghanistan though I was flown business class because I was too sick to sit up. What felt like a miracle on Saturday was that I was in the chair and wasn’t the least bit embarrassed about it. No anxiety, no shame, just gratefulness to be able to linger long enough to read the information and enjoy the exhibits. That freedom seemed like a much bigger miracle than the miracle that would have been needed for me to stand for the three hours we moved slowly through the museum.

I don’t know to what to attribute the change: my mother’s prayers? God’s deepening of my certainty of being loved just as I am? my decreasing fear of the messiness of life? I feel a bit like the newly sighted man trying to answer all the questions about how he was healed, “One thing I do know. I was blind but now I see!” One thing I do know: a year ago I shuddered to think of setting foot (or seat) in a wheelchair; on Saturday I was free.

Our God is a healing God: sometimes he heals us out of wheelchairs and sometimes into them.

There are a host of ways to pick up your bed and walk.

 

Related post:

When the lame walk

Where joy finds you

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A favorite picture sits on my desk. The grey rock of a tomb dominates the background. On the right hand side a man is walking. But it’s the left side of the picture that draws my attention. A pottery jar lies on its side in the grass, its lid fallen separate, forgotten. A woman kneels—if you can call it that when she’s still in motion—with one leg in front of the other, her back foot scarcely touching the ground. Her face is radiant, arms upraised, stretched out; her whole body leans forward, garments still flying behind her as though she has been running toward the man and has fallen, mid-stride, into worship.

She wasn’t seeking joy; she was seeking Him. And so she came, bringing spices to anoint the body of the most precious person in her life. When the other disciples went home, she stood outside his tomb, crying her questions, speaking her grief. And now, in the midst of the being present and the letting go, the grieving and the not understanding and the staying there, she is met by the one she has been seeking, met and named. She finds him—or, rather, he finds her—and in him she finds herself. In that moment, her grief is gone. She was doing all she knew to do—staying close, coming to anoint his body. Now he gives her other work to do, and she goes gladly to spread the word, “I have seen the Lord!”

The only thing that counts

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“What would you like people to say about you at your retirement party?” The question is designed to help us think about our life vision, about what really matters to us in terms of godly character, relationships, and legacy.

I have several answers. I’ll share just this one. I’d like people to see that I wasn’t afraid of the mess. That I understood and lived grace deeply enough that I was neither ashamed of my own mess nor afraid to be with others in theirs.

I’m learning. The mess is where God comes closest. There’s a part of me, now, that gets quietly excited when the light shines into another messy corner, wondering how God will transform this one. All of my favorite people – the ones whose presence feels like a grace-filled nook in which I can curl up and rest – are art that God has hand-designed as He has touched the pain-filled corners of their lives.

And when I slip back and fear the mess? It’s usually because I’ve started listening again to the rules I still carry in my head. The ones that make me race around, busy, trying to prove my worth. The ones that demand that I measure up and call me a failure if I don’t.

God’s in that mess, too, that mass of rules that purport to create order but instead wind themselves into a web around my legs and leave me tripped in a helpless tangle. He’s there, reminding me that He has cut the ropes and that now, “neither our most conscientious religion nor disregard of religion amounts to anything. What matters is something far more interior: faith expressed in love.” (Gal 5:6 The Message) Or, as the NIV says, “The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself in love.”

The only thing that counts . . . is trusting that because of Christ, God accepts me as though I’ve kept all the rules perfectly. What I see as mess, He sees as space for grace, place to love most deeply.

And out of that love that leaves me with nothing left to prove, the only thing that counts is letting that love that has loved me love others through me. Right in the middle of my mess – my space for grace. And right in the middle of theirs.

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Want to soak a little longer in the love that welcomes us in the middle of our messy breaking and keeping of rules? Check out these two talks on the story of the prodigal sons, explored in the culture in which they were originally told. Guaranteed to help you marvel at the magnitude of this love.

Scandalous Love

More Scandalous Love