The God of surprises

Since mid-November when my landlady told me she’d sold the condo in which I was living, I’ve been looking without success for a new place to live. A week ago I saw an apartment that seemed perfect. It was big enough but not too big. The old, tiny kitchen didn’t bother me, and I loved the living space that was separate from the bedroom. The suite was bright, the building was secure and the manager who showed me around treated me like a human being instead of the next head of cattle being herded through and inspected. And, best of all, if you drew a circle between the homes of four of my good friends, it put me right in the middle of the circle, only a few blocks away from each.

I submitted my application. None of my references was called. A follow-up email led eventually to a response that my application has been rejected. The listing remains posted. It has been hard not to feel like I was automatically rejected because my primary source of income is disability insurance. And hard not to think that if I’d still been practicing medicine, I’d likely have been a shoe-in. Except that I probably wouldn’t have been applying at all because I’d own a home rather than needing to rent one. I don’t blame the owners. I recognize in their desire for the most secure option the similar desire that lives in me.

So when I received the email, I cried out (again) to the God who defends those in need and provides for his people. I’m in that graced place where it’s easier than usual to stake all my hope on God because there’s nothing else for me to cling to. I appear to be at the mercy of others, which really means that I’m at the mercy of my kind and gracious God who holds in his hand the hearts of kings and apartment owners and building managers.

I grieved the disappointment. I lamented. And then I turned again to the truth of this fifty-day-long season of Easter in which we’re living. I need every one of these days to remember the reality of resurrection and to practice living in the hope that George Herbert and Malcolm Guite describe in my new favorite Lent devotional, saying: “From now on there is just the single, eternal day of resurrection” (p.174). Jesus has been raised, death has been conquered, and there’s no turning back. The new reality is the unshakeable, forever reality. Here in this season I practice remembering: There is always hope. God is the God of wild and crazy, ridiculous, impossible surprises. The God whose ways are higher than our ways, and his thoughts than our thoughts.

I’ll continue the alternating pattern of crying out and returning to hope; of lamenting loss and puzzling over confusion and choosing to trust the God of resurrection. Because as certainly as there is now “just the single, eternal day of resurrection,” in this world we do not yet live the full freedom of that new life. Here and now, resurrection is a taste and a certainty and a hope that holds us through the pain of all our little and big deaths. Resurrection follows each big and little death; it doesn’t prevent them. “In this world you will have trouble,” Jesus says. “But take heart. I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). And Paul explains, “We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body” (2 Cor 4:10). We who are joined to Christ in his death experience the pain of our own big and little deaths on our way to living fully and forever united to him in his resurrection.  We groan and cry and lament. And then we turn and see Jesus appear to two confused and grieving disciples on the road to Emmaus, call Mary by name in the garden, and cook breakfast on the beach for his closest friends. None of them knew him at first. That didn’t keep him away. And so we can rest again in the certainty that even in the moments when we are blinded by our grief, the smallness of our faith, or the simple fact of our humanity, the risen Jesus still walks among us, quietly working resurrection surprises within us and around us and even through us.

 

________________

Photo by Zoltan Tasi on Unsplash

Healing in his wings

On Friday morning, I sat at the breakfast table with my blue pottery mug of lemon-ginger tea. I’d sat there first with my bowl of cereal, but I had a little extra time before the Good Friday service, and the sun pouring through the windows, warming and soothing me, summoned me to sit longer and savor its gentle, healing welcome.

Most often in this temperate rain forest where I live, I experience the sun as a gentle force, a longed-for and welcome presence. But as I sat at the table on Good Friday, I was reminded that the sun that welcomes me with its warmth is an unthinkably immense, brilliant force with the power to nourish life or take it, to turn darkness to light, ice to steam, and clouds to clear skies. It summons leaves to bend toward it, holds planets in their orbits, and turns winter to spring with its coming.

If someone asked me what I most love about Jesus, I’d probably name his gentleness. That’s what has made me feel safe enough with him to love him. He always summons me back again, welcoming me to come and find myself loved no matter my condition.

But on this devastating, triumphant weekend, I saw again the strength that lies behind the gentleness. A strength to bring unending life into the darkest and most hopeless of dark places, the blackness of death itself. A strength that announces victory with his last breath, shatters the grave, and restores hope to the hopeless. That brings long-forgotten prisoners out of their tombs, and sets the captives free. A strength with the authority to judge, but the will  instead to heal both captives and captors who are willing to be healed.

“Do I take any pleasure in the death of the wicked? declares the Sovereign Lord. Rather, am I not pleased when they turn from their ways and live?” (Ezekiel 18:23; c.f. Jonah 3:10-4:2; 4:11; 2 Peter 3:9; John 3:17)

This is blinding light, all-powerful holiness, but a holiness that is for us, intent on healing and setting right all that is wrong, on freeing and making whole and bringing to life again all the good that has been crushed and crucified. Easter weekend is where we see most clearly that God’s holiness is another name for his goodness, that his holiness and his love are two entwined sides of his same brilliant and overflowing life that he is always pouring out for our hope and healing.

“The Lord of Heaven’s Armies says, “The day of judgment is coming, burning like a furnace. On that day the arrogant and the wicked will be burned up like straw. They will be consumed—roots, branches, and all.

But for you who fear my name, the Sun of Righteousness will rise with healing in his wings. And you will go free, leaping with joy like calves let out to pasture.” 

(Malachi 4:1-2 NLT)

 

________________________

Photos (in order) by Julia Caesar, Kent Pilcher, Johannes Plenio, Lukas Budimaier, and Nick Scheerbart on Unsplash.

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.

______________

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!

______________

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.

DSCN4790

jon_liam_lydia

lydia2

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.

IMG_1720

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.

IMG_1351

IMG_1346

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.

IMG_1348

 * * * * *

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.

___________

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