On the other side of the cross: the grace that carries you forever

“Let grace be grace.” The invitation has wound its way through Lent, summoning me to surrender to love in all sorts of ways. But it’s in one moment on Good Friday that I experience the magnitude of this grace most clearly.

For a moment on Friday morning as I read John 19 I am his mother, watching him hang on the cross, hearing him speak to me, “Dear woman, here is your son,” and to his best friend standing beside me, “Here is your mother.”

I want to protest, “Forget about me! Look at you! You are scarcely able to breathe for the pain, the weight of your own body suffocating you!” I’m wringing my hands now. “Oh, how can I help?” It’s all so backwards, so upside-down. Surely this moment at least, this moment of his suffering and death, should be about him, about me caring for him.

But, no. Here on this day when the world is coming to an end, when my heart is hanging there with him on the cross, he tells me that my needs matter. Even here.

This love is too big. I can hardly breathe. I watch him rise again, pressing his feet against the stakes to gulp another lungful of air, and as I watch, I realize:

It’s not “even.” It’s “especially.” Especially here on the cross my needs matter.

That’s why he’s on the cross at all—because I matter to him. Because my needs matter to him more, even, than his own life.

This is the wild, crazy, ridiculously extravagant love that dies to meet my needs for healing, forgiveness, and a certain knowledge that I am forever loved. And this is the love that rises again, carrying me with him into the present, the future, always enfolded in this strong and gentle love that is enough for every need.

Someone sends me Flora Slosson Wuellner’s meditation and I find myself pausing over every line, noticing how the risen, living Christ is with me on the other side of the cross, still carefully tending every need within me and loving me into strength and wholeness.

“The risen, living Christ

calls me by my name;

comes to the loneliness within me;

heals that which is wounded in me;

comforts that which grieves in me;

seeks for that which is lost within me;

releases me from that which has dominion over me;

cleanses me of that which does not belong to me;

renews that which feels drained within me;

awakens that which is asleep in me;

names that which is formless within me;

empowers that which is newborn within me;

consecrates and guides that which is strong within me;

restores me to this world which needs me;

reaches out in endless love to others through me.”

~Flora Slosson Wuellner
, in Prayer, Fear, and Our Powers, Upper Room Books, 1989.

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I’ll be away from the blog for the next few weeks, first for the next intensive week of classes in my journey deeper into listening and helping others listen, and then for a couple of weeks of rest and celebration with family. As this new season of resurrection life begins, may you know Jesus loving you in each place of longing and need, and I look forward to listening with you again here soon!

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Paintings by Patricia Herrerra.

Good news when life gets messy

DSCN6980There’s a little voice whispering in my head, “Let it go, move on. No one wants to hear about Easter any more. That was three whole weeks ago.”

The little voice might be right. It might not. I’m coming back here anyway because I need the whole fifty days of Eastertide, and I suspect I’m not alone. I need to keep remembering that the coming of new life isn’t instant, that if I really want Jesus’ resurrection life to be lived in and through me I have to be prepared for a long process. A life-long process.

I can’t help but wonder how we got deluded into thinking of Easter as a quick and easy single day filled with Easter bunnies and spring flowers and little chicks as the symbols of new life. Pretty pastels, velvet bows—let’s pretend the coming of new life is tidy and pretty and neat. Controllable. Quick.

It isn’t.

In my experience as an obstetrician, the coming of new life is often long and almost always messy and painful.

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Jesus died before he was raised again—a slow and excruciating struggle.

All of his followers struggled through stretches of confusion and unbelief and fear before the reality of the resurrected Jesus settled into their souls.

A grandmother prays through the night for her grandson.

A woman weeps for a friend.

In the reshaping of a relationship there are stretches of pain and fear so great one thinks she might break, and then a chance to breathe before the next contraction comes.

When we see that the messy places of life are places of giving birth—or being born—they are so much less frightening than if we think the standard is tidy pink bows and we’re failing to uphold it.

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Transformation is always a process, folks.

The messy and painful places are the places in which Jesus’ resurrection life is pressing through whatever is in its way to become more fully enfleshed in us. So let’s get over the myth of quick and easy and learn to breathe with each other and give hugs and massage backs and not panic when we feel like we might break.

There’s a good chance that Jesus’ life is coming into being in us in some new, deeper way. And that is always worth it.

IMG_3553“My dear children, for whom I am in the pains of childbirth until Christ is formed in you . . .” (Gal 4:19)

Fifty days of surprise: an invitation to see

There is a tree out the back of my place, a gnarled, moss-covered tree, looking, when I first saw it, half-dead. It had its own beauty, I suppose, but I didn’t pay it much attention except to wonder, once, what kind of tree it was.

Then one morning I walked out the back, and overwhelming, full-to-bursting, can’t-be-contained bright white life had pushed its way out through those seeming-dead twigs, right out through the trunk itself, and there’s no wondering now what kind of tree this is.

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It’s not for nothing that He’s called a shoot from the stump of Jesse, this One who had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him but startled even His closest friends when He burst forth with surprisingly uncontainable life.

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It’s several years now since I first heard that in the church calendar Easter’s not just a day, but fifty days; not a single Sunday of joy, but a whole seven weeks of wonder, of watching, of learning to live.

I’d missed them, somehow, those words that span the time from the first few days of new life to the moment that Jesus ascended to heaven:

“He appeared to them over a period of forty days. . .” (Acts 1:3)

The words whisper three things:

1) The power and the promise of the resurrection is for now, not merely for the future hope that we will be raised.

2) The full-of-life Jesus wants to be known by His followers in His life-flowing-over state. (Of course! He’s still the same God who has wanted to be known since before time’s beginning. . .)

3) And Jesus knows that the transformation of His followers isn’t automatic. Jesus was alive and Mary was still weeping sad tears, the disciples had locked themselves out of public sight because of fear, Thomas was in a prison of hopeless doubt, and the travelers were putting their heads together trying to figure out where it had all gone so badly wrong.

Jesus knows better than we: It is not the fact of the resurrection that changes us; it is encounter with the living Jesus. And so He invites us to stick around, day after day, week after week.

Only encounter, repeated and real, can overcome our inability to recognize Him. And this, for most of us, is the real struggle:

 “She did not realize that it was Jesus” (Jn 20:14).

“They were kept from recognizing him” (Luke 24:16).

“They were startled and frightened, thinking they saw a ghost” (Luke 24:37).

It’s almost always why I fear: I fail to see that in every new situation stands Jesus offering Himself to me in a new form.

“[After He appeared to Mary who thought He was the gardener], Jesus appeared in a different form to two of them while they were walking. . .” (Mark 16:12)

In a different form.

I wonder about this.

Maybe the life in Him is so vibrant, uncontainable, alive, that a single form can’t contain it all. Perhaps, then, He shows Himself to us in different forms to let us glimpse a little more of the fullness of who He is.

Maybe, sometimes, He conceals himself for a time so He can heal us in ways otherwise impossible.

Other times He comes in the way He knows we will most easily be able to receive Him.

It was so for me a few days after the tree had burst into bloom. I sat aching for Him as I had ached all week, sad that even this day of rest was now over and I still hadn’t soaked long in the Presence I longed for. I wondered how it’s possible to ache so for Him and still run from Him. But as I sat, He quieted me with the whisper that I hadn’t run. He had been with me all day, giving Himself to me in the scent of the Balm of Gilead trees, in the soft breath of the baby asleep in my arms, in the giving and receiving in loving conversation with others. He had offered Himself to me in the tangible, edible bread and wine, offered Himself freely, His fullness into my emptiness. And as I had savored and rocked, eaten and listened, I had welcomed Him in the ways He chose to offer Himself to me in that day. And I received Him again as I welcomed His gracious Presence in the quietness of the evening.

His Life is so large, so vibrant, so surprisingly tender that it encompasses all that we, in our limitedness, think opposites, meeting us in fear and faith, thirst and fullness, guiding sorrow toward fullest joy. Everywhere, in everything, He offers Himself to us.

This, I think, is the invitation of these fifty days of Easter: to see and welcome the full-of-life Jesus in whatever form He chooses to come to us. We’re two weeks in. Keep watching with me, will you?

Jesus, we can’t see you unless you open our eyes. Please do it.  Show us in what form, today, You are offering Yourself to us, and free us to receive You without hesitation or fear.

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An edited repost from the archives. Revisiting this as I long to keep learning to see Jesus in every moment. 

When you need a little comfort {The End of the Story}

Gratitude flowed through me yesterday when Pastor Andrea called us to worship with the Easter refrain, “Christ is risen!” and we responded, “He is risen indeed!” Somehow, until we arrive each year at that Second Sunday of Easter, I seem to forget that the forty days of Lent are matched on the other side of the pivotal weekend with fifty days of Easter.

For forty days of mourning, God gives fifty days of joy. Or, more truly still, for forty days of suffering, our extravagant God gives fifty hundred1 (Mark 4:8, 20; Mark 10:30), or a whole eternity (Rev 21:3-4), of joy.

When we’re in them, the days of suffering can feel like an eternity. Maybe that’s one of the reasons we need the season of Easter, and the mini-Easters of every Sunday all year, to let this truth sink deep: God can be trusted with suffering.

“Those who sow in tears will reap with songs of joy.” The psalmist repeats it to be sure I’ve understood: “He who goes out weeping, carrying seed to sow, will return with songs of joy, carrying sheaves with him.” (Ps 126)

This is one of the assurances of Easter. God never wastes suffering. We might waste it, complaining our way through it, or denying it, trying to avoid the pain. But God doesn’t waste it. Instead, He invites us to plant our suffering, to plant ourselves deep in Him, to let ourselves be planted with Him—that grain of wheat that fell to the ground and died—and wait to see the harvest that God will bring forth (John 12:23-28).

“I say to myself, the Lord is my portion;

therefore I will wait for him.

The Lord is good to those whose hope is in him,

To the one who seeks him.

It is good to wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord.”

(Lamentations 3:24-26)

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1Yes, I know, 40 x 100 is forty hundred (or four thousand), not fifty hundred, but fifty hundred is my sister’s favorite number, and I figured our extravagant God who gives us a whole eternity of joy wouldn’t mind me rounding up a little :-)

Photos compliments of former colleagues in Afghanistan.

What your heart needs for all the days after Easter

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My Easter weekend was messy. I wanted to stay and comfort Jesus in the garden; I soon asked him to comfort me instead. I wanted to love Jesus in his suffering, to focus on him, to serve him; I couldn’t get my mind off keys lost and assignments unfinished and the floor that needed sweeping. I found myself sitting squarely among the disciples who fell asleep, denied, betrayed. Who ran away. Who failed.

But in that place my heart understood. The cross speaks truth: I can’t do what I want to on my own. I can’t love, can’t listen, can’t trust. Can’t fix myself. But the cross speaks another truth too, about who Jesus is.

I’d been watching Jesus walk toward the cross. His friends and family should have been supporting him, serving him, comforting him as he walked that long road. Apparently they shared my inability to fix themselves because Jesus was the one who stooped and washed their feet, prayed and broke the bread, spoke three chapters of encouraging words and prayed tenderly and confidently for them in their hearing. His friends weren’t able to give him the hour of comfort he asked for; he left them to sleep and got on with loving them all the way to the cross. With one of his last breaths he entrusted his mother to his best friend. With another, he begged forgiveness for those who had put him on the cross.

He rose, and his loving continues. Once more, he is the one comforting, strengthening, encouraging. “Peace be with you.” When he should be the honored guest, he takes the role of the host, leading the Emmaus couple through the Scriptures, taking bread at their table, giving thanks, and breaking it. Building a fire on the beach to cook breakfast. Summoning the fish to the nets of his friends. Jesus is always the host.

The pastor says the manger was a clue. Manger: those six letters in English an animal feeding trough, in French the verb “to eat.” Right from his birth, Jesus was serving himself up. (Thanks, Pastor Tim!) Here, here alone, at the manger, the cross, the empty tomb, here, at the Lord’s table, enfolded in the arms of the risen Jesus, is our nourishment, our satisfaction, the only One who keeps us alive and lets us grow into who we’re made to be.

All weekend I kept wanting to step out of the mess and into the celebration. I finally found a truer celebration in the middle of the mess. This, after all, is the reason for the celebration: Love comes into our mess. Even when Easter dinners have to be cancelled or challenges press in close around the table, the celebration goes on. Because Jesus is the meal. Jesus is the celebration. Jesus is the one who offers himself again and again in our doubt and fear and confusion, in our longing and inability and aches, declaring forgiveness and sufficiency, satisfaction and completeness. This is where joy is, finding Jesus present, alive and laughing and loving, right in the middle of our mess.