An honor you can’t afford to miss

DSCN3604Have you ever wished you could have been present at creation, watching as God spoke the stars into being and stooped to shape the first human from dust?

I can’t think of an honor much greater than being witness to creation.

I’ve tasted the joy of witnessing creation in my work as an obstetrician, delight in it still as I watch the life of God take shape in the hearts and lives of those with whom I’m honored to walk.

But I’m starting to see that that there is a greater honor and joy than being witness to creation. And that we’re given it.

The thought is so startling at first I want to run away from it. If this honor wasn’t given, my claiming of it would be the worst of pride, a horrendous affront to the one Creator God. But I’m learning that I can’t outdream God. When something seems too incredible to be true, the problem is often that I’m seeing through my too small human perspective. So here it is:

We are invited to be co-creators with God.

I’m grateful for Jeremy Begbie’s reminder: “All good theology is done on the cliff-edge—one step too far and you tumble into idolatry, one step back and the view is never so good.”[1] If God has created us to be co-creators, we do not honor God by stepping back from the cliff edge; instead we miss seeing and entering the startling magnitude of God’s grace in making us not merely servants but sons, not merely stewards but co-creators.

Dorothy Sayers helps me begin to see the Biblical foundation for our position as co-creators by taking seriously the context of the declaration, “So God created humankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them” (Gen 1:27). Since the only (or at least main) thing we’re told about God prior to that declaration concerns God’s creative activity,  “the characteristic common to God and man is apparently that: the desire and ability to make things.”[2]

J.R.R. Tolkien put it this way: “[W]e make in our measure and in our derivative mode, because we are made: and not only made, but made in the image and likeness of a Maker.”[3]

God’s creative act is always primary. His creativity bestows and blesses ours:

Where a man would make a machine, a picture, or a book, God makes the man that makes the book, or the picture, or the machine. Would God give us a drama? He makes a Shakespeare. Or would he construct a drama more immediately his own? He begins with the building of the stage itself, and that stage is a world—a universe of worlds. He makes the actors, and they do not act,—they are their parts. He utters them into the visible to work out their life­—his drama.[4]

We co-create in the world around us, through our writing, our gardening, our home decorating and designing of scientific experiments and mathematical proofs. But God invites us right to the top, allowing us to co-create that pinnacle of His creation: the human person.

  • God designs the shape of our noses and the size of our ears; he leaves us to map the pattern of our wrinkles as smile-lines or worry-creases.
  • God creates us with neurons able to make new connections; he gives us vast freedom to determine the shape of our brain pathways through what we focus on.[5]
  • God gives a certain initial form to our personality; he grants us immense power in the shaping of our character through our moment-by-moment choices.

God shapes our infant form; working together with Him, we have great input into who we become. Co-creatorship helps me make sense of the mystery reflected in Phil 2:12-13 “. . . work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose.”

No matter how often I experience God’s love, the magnitude of this kind of love still surprises me—love that doesn’t hold back even the prerogative of creation but creates us to be co-creators with Him, co-creators even of our own selves.

I’m beginning to feel I’ll never find the limits of the truth spoken by Dr. J.I. Packer: Love is “the resolve to make the loved party great.”[6]

 

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[1]Jeremy Begbie, Theology, Music and Time (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000), 279.

[2] Dorothy L. Sayers, The Mind of the Maker (New York: Meridian Books, 1956), 34. (I do think bearing the image of God is broader than this—we’re also given at least a hint of God’s relational nature in the words “Let us make humankind in our image—but Sayer’s point is well-taken that context insists that we take seriously the creative aspect of our image-bearing.)

[3] J.R.R. Tolkien, On Fairy Stories, p.18

[4]George MacDonald, The Imagination and Other Essays, 3–4.

[5] For an intriguing exploration of the extent to which our brains can change, see Norman Doidge, The Brain that Changes Itself.

[6] J.I. Packer, Systematic Theology A: Prolegomena, The Knowledge of God, Revelation and Creation, CD 18.

 

Why you can dare to dance today—no matter where you are

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She put them in the vase all neat and obedient, beautifully lined up with just a pleasing amount of randomness. It only took a day before they were all spread out in a dance of wild beauty, reaching, stretching toward the light.

I can’t bear to cut them again and set them back neat and tidy. I want to see what happens as they keep dancing toward the light. I want to see the light toward which they’re reaching glow like fire deep in their centers.

I want to live it too, want to keep learning how to stop trying to prune and organize Life and just dance wild toward the Light, His fire burning hot in my deepest center.

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The dance can start from anywhere—sadness or joy, longing or delight. It can begin with the slow, sad, “How long O Lord?” (Ps 13), the aching desire, “O God, you are my God, earnestly I seek you,” or the twirling celebration of thanks and delight, anticipation and joy. It can begin in sickness or success or a Nazi concentration camp:

“You have made me so rich, oh God, please let me share out Your beauty with open hands. My life has become an uninterrupted dialogue with You. Sometimes when I stand in some corner of the camp, my feet planted on Your earth, my eyes raised towards Your Heaven, tears . . . run down my face, tears of deep emotion and gratitude. I have been terribly tired for days but that too will pass. Things come and go in a deeper rhythm and we must be taught to listen to it; it is the most important thing we have to learn in this life.” (Etty Hillesum)

There are a million ways of turning toward the light, and it’s the turning toward the light that makes the tulips dance.

There are a million reasons to dance, too. Today’s favorite?

“The light shines in the darkness and the darkness can never extinguish it.” (John 1:5)

      

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What’s your favorite reason to dance today? I’d love to hear . . .

When you decide to live free

DSCN9564editConfession: I can know the truth about something for a long time before I learn to live comfortably in it. It takes a lot of times of living something new before it feels like it fits.

I’ve written tens of thousands of vulnerable words since seeing that Christ-like serving requires exposure. Daily practiced the truth that my willingness to rest brings God glory. Kept stepping into my God-given mandate to say yes to what I’m called to and no to other things.

I’m just beginning to savor the joy of these freedoms. Just beginning to see that each of them is freedom.

At first each felt more like hardship.

That discomfort has often caused me to question whether I was hearing truly. There’s a place for that. I don’t always get it right. But I’m learning that far more often when I start to live something I’m pretty sure God is saying—when I’ve heard his voice through Scripture and prayer and one or two wise and trusted friends affirm that I seem to be on the right track—the discomfort is not because I’m hearing wrong but because my body and brain are made to resist change.

Holley Gerth explains it in her marvelous book You’re Going to be Okay: Our brains and bodies are made for homeostasis, which means that “we always seek ways to return to the status quo. That serves us well most of the time. For example, physically we sweat so our temperature stays steady. . . . Emotionally we eventually even out even after a tough day.” The downside is that “when we seek to alter a pattern in our lives, we always feel resistance.” (p. 91)

God brings us into the wide open space of freedom (because he delights in us!) But then we have a choice. We can let fear keep us walking in tiny, tight circles, still in effect chained to our old life though the ropes have been cut. Or we can accept the initial strangeness of the wide open space and explore and enjoy and make our home in His love.

Freedom only becomes ours when we live it.

So I’m choosing to trust God when He tells me he delights in me and that caring for myself is a way of loving him.

I’m choosing to trust God’s desire to make my heart beat like His gentle, forgiving heart, and when I mess up, I’m refusing to try to pay for my sin with guilt and self-condemnation.

I’m choosing to step out of the shadows of insecurity and say yes to being my true in-Christ self, offering bread to a starving world.

This matters. Every time I choose to keep walking in the tight little circles of the way I’ve always thought instead of stepping out and walking free with Christ, I push Him away. I hurt myself and others, depriving them of what I’ve been given to give.

“It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.” (Gal 5:1)

God brings the freedom; we choose to walk in it. Care to join me?

How to live again

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Through the first week of the Easter season I’ve found myself returning again and again to Jan Richardson’s Easter Sunday meditation, watching Mary as she encounters the newly risen Jesus in the garden.

 Jesus said to her, “Mary.” (John 20:16)

“You think that you would give anything just to hear his voice again: the way his words resonated in your heart, your chest; the timbre of his laughter; how he would, in the midst of the most ordinary moment, suddenly break into song.

So when, in your weeping, you hear the sound of him speaking your name, you are stunned, then elated. You want to reach out, to gather into your arms the one you had thought forever gone.

What you do not know is that resurrection is not quite the same as return. You will learn, and soon, that it comes with a cost, that new life really means this: means new, means that it will not be the same as before, means that you cannot hold onto him, means that you will have to let go of everything in order to know him and love him as he is now. As you are now, yourself altered beyond imagining.

You will learn that the cost of resurrection is also the gift: that having to let go — again, but differently — will propel you into a life you could hardly have dreamed on your own. Into the aching and empty space of your outstretched arms, a whole new world will enter. And this awful hollowing inside your chest: this is your heart becoming larger. This is the space you will need in order to hold him now.”

Our pastor begins a new series on Jesus the Healer and I find myself needing to hang out in the garden with Mary and ask the hard question: am I willing to let go? There was cost in letting go of my medical career and health and work overseas. There will be cost, too, if Jesus chooses to bless with physical healing. Am I willing to stop trying to hold onto Him as I have known Him in these years and let Him lead me into knowing Him in whatever way He now wants to receive my love and give Himself to me?

To live again I have to let go.

I hit up against places I’m not yet willing and ask Jesus for help—tell Him I want to be made willing and ask Him to help  me see what underlies the fear I find in myself. He does. It’s these two things:

1) The fear that God will change. It sounds silly put that bluntly, but I needed to be reminded that the God who has been so gentle and provided so beautifully through the past leg of this journey will continue to be the same gentle provider whether the next bit of terrain looks much the same or entirely different. (Deut 1:29-32)

2) The fear that God wants to totally change me. This one is an easy lie to fall for because in one sense God does completely change us—”I no longer live but Christ lives in me.” The complete and total change of death always comes before resurrection. But in the mystery of things, God’s goal in that is not to make us someone we’re not but to set us free to be our unique, beloved selves.

This speaks into a key fear for me—that if I’m physically well I’ll have to be out there serving all the time, working myself to death like I was before. . . that if I can do something, I’ll have to do it. I forget that God likes it that I ache to spend long hours listening to His heartbeat and then writing and mentoring in ways that help others hear too, forget that He has made me that way, put that passion in me, and has spent these years calling it out in me, forget that when I asked if it was really okay to let go of the busyness of medicine and pour all my energy into listening to his heartbeat and helping others listen, he said “I want it more.”

True, the next phase of listening and helping others listen might look different than I expect. Uncomfortably, stretchingly different. But I can trust that His heart is not to crush me but to set me free, not to turn me into someone I was never meant to be but to help me be even more my true self in deeper communion with Him.

The morning He reminded me of that, He underscored it with words from Holley Gerth waiting in my inbox: “You are not called to live up to your ‘potential’ – to do as much as you can, as quickly as you can, for as many people as you can. You, my friend, are simply called to say yes to God.”

It’s only in the context of those reminders that I can hold both the possibility of being healed and of not now being physically healed in open hands. God loves me and loves who He has made me to be. He is for me. He wants to keep bringing me closer and setting me more and more free in His love. He knows the best way to do that, and I will trust Him.

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Looking for a balanced, Biblical perspective on healing? Darrell Johnson’s sermon is a great place to start.

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.