For the overwhelming moments

It’s a busy stretch right now as I prepare to present my final master’s project in ten days’ time. Room booked? Check. Posters printed? Check. Paper done? Script finished? Slides prepared? I want this first public sharing of the book I’ve been working on for several years to be a blessing to those who attend.

In the midst of the busyness (which sometimes degenerates into anxiety), I’m sensing myself reminded, through an image and a phrase, how to live this time.

The phrase? “It’s not mine, it’s ours.” The book, the accompanying papers, the presentation aren’t mine, they’re ours—a love-gift that God and I have been offering to each other for years and are now preparing—together—to share with others. The responsibility is not mine to carry alone.

And the image? I’m flailing around in the ocean, grasping wildly at a life-ring, trying to pull myself up out of the water and stand on it. It flips over, dumping me unceremoniously back into the water and leaving me coughing and spluttering as it bobs to the surface again a few feet away. Jesus, walking on the water, reaches out his hand to me, inviting me to stop trying to stand on (or even cling to) the life ring and let him help me back into the boat instead.

The life-ring, I’m discovering, can be just about anything. My own intuition. A structure or protocol or tradition. Detailed planning. Friends who are helping me out. Anything that is good and helpful and sometimes even life-saving, but that isn’t meant to be the foundation for my security. Anything, in other words, that is not Jesus.

What (many of us) grown-ups have forgotten

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I sit with the friend who most intentionally helps me listen for God’s voice in my life and confess that lately I’ve been coming up against the hard truth that every single thing I’d like to be able to think about myself is not true, not the way I’d like it to be. I’d like to think of myself as disciplined, but the chocolate in the kitchen drawer could tell another story. I’d like to describe myself as gentle, but then I hear the harsh voice in my head berating me again.

She listens and questions and shares how she’s been back in the story of the little boy’s lunch again and has been realizing, That little boy probably had no idea that what he was offering was utterly inadequate. He’d simply overheard the adults asking if anyone had any food. “Here, you can have mine,” he’d said.

I picture Jesus smiling at him as he accepts from the boy’s hands the five little rolls of bread, a bit crumbly and squished, and the two small fish that have been sitting all day in the hot sun. Jesus smiles at the boy and winks, the two of them sharing a secret. The little boy smiles and winks back. He doesn’t yet know the whole secret and he might not be able to put into words the part that he does know, but somewhere deep down his heart knows the truth that the worried grown-ups have forgotten: Placed in the hands of Jesus, what I have to offer is enough for whatever Jesus wants to do with it. 

Babies hold out soggy cheerios in their newly-mastered pincer grip and toddlers extend dandelion bouquets in chubby fists with full confidence that their offering will bring delight. Only grown-ups are ashamed of their gifts.

Little children seem to know something else we adults have forgotten: It’s not really about the gift at all. It’s about the relationship. The children are offering their love, their trust, themselves, to someone who loves them. What could be not to love about that?

Jesus isn’t critiquing our soggy cheerios; he’s savoring our love and our trust.

Here, you can have me, I say to Jesus, watching him smile and open his arms to receive the gift. I can’t keep myself from smiling back.

And so during August I’m setting aside (as best I can) the part of me that thinks I always have to do more to make my gift acceptable. I’m stepping back from blogging and other writing so I can be fully present to Jesus and family and friends, giving myself rather than what I produce and polish. And while some critical adult voice in my head says, “I can’t believe you’re going to write that,” the little girl part of me that is smiling at Jesus smiling at me shrugs and takes Jesus’ hand and skips off, borrowing my parting words from Lynn Ungar’s poem, “Camas Lilies”:

                                         “. . . Gone

to the fields to be lovely. Be back

when I’m through with blooming.”  

Not because we must

IMG_1302It was just the two of us around the table the day I first heard the words that are shaping my life during these days of Lent. I was hungry for Jesus and had emailed ahead and asked my spiritual director if we could, please, share communion when we met. After we had listened to God’s heartbeat together, she pulled the plate bearing the bread close and, smiling, spoke the simple words that filled my eyes with tears, “We come not because we must but because we may.”

I’m pondering, these days, the various habits in my life that have arisen out of a must: the run each morning, the nap each afternoon, the need to stay home most evenings. Most of my quiet, listening life began from a must. But I’m realizing that though I still need them all, most of these habits have deepened from a must to a may: I do them now not just because I have to but because I want to, because God meets me and loves me there, because they have become treasured places where I can meet him and love him back. I do them now because, in the seven years of this slower pace, Jesus has been dismantling, brick by brick, my wall of misbeliefs about who He is and who I am. I’ve learned that God is not the one who drives me. That he wants the real me, not the me I think I should be. And I’m learning to see my limitations as training wheels, helping me find my balance, guiding me into a way of listening and loving that fits the personality, giftings, and body God has given me.

It’s easy, though, even when a must has morphed into a may, for me to keep hiding behind the must. It feels far safer to my people-pleasing self to turn down an invitation based on “I can’t. . .” or “I have to. . .” than a simple choice to be still. Stillness, in my mind, has appeared too close to laziness for comfort and even though I’ve known that God calls us to stillness (Ps 46:10) the part of me that’s afraid of what people will think whispers, “You’d better look busy, or at least look like you have a good reason for not being busy.”

But here’s the truth: while God calls us to good, hard work, he also calls us to stillness. And the work, if it’s love-work that lasts, can only flow out of the stillness that lets us know ourselves small and dependent and loved. That’s why Jesus so often left the crowds that followed him and headed off somewhere to be alone with his Father (Luke 5:16).

My soul and body confirm what God commanded and Jesus modelled: I’m not made for a hectic pace. It shuts me down. It cuts me off from God and others and myself. It keeps me from being able to love. So I’ve decided: The world can go on chattering all it wants about importance and busyness and making sure I matter. I’m choosing (yes, choosing, not because I must but because I may) to keep living a life that holds enough space for me to hear my Father whispering over me that I already matter.

The must of my limitations has been a gift from God to me, creating enough space for me to begin to hear his heart beat with love. The growing freedom that has allowed the shift from must to may has been his gift too. Now everything within me cries to love him back by choosing to stand rooted in the truth of who he is and who I am, listening and loving and giving myself to be ever more wholly his not because I must but because I may.

Lent is a lot about choosing. Choosing to repent, to turn back again from whatever distractions have been nipping at our heels and swirling in front of our eyes to see and follow Jesus. Choosing to follow. Choosing to love. Choosing, in my case this year, to keep listening, only with even more intentionality, owning this way of living now as a may rather than a must, an even more conscious choice to live in ways that help me listen to God’s heartbeat and be who He has called me to be for the sake of the world.

 

Jesus,

We walk these next steps of the journey with you

in the same way we come to your table—

not because we must

but because we may:

because you have drawn us close and made us long to be closer still,

because you have graced us with freedom to choose,

because you have loved us so gently we have found ourselves loving you.

And now, fuelled by that love and that longing, we do choose—

life in the freedom of may rather than a cowering behind must,

and a growing into full-bodied, whole-souled attentiveness

that opens us to love.

Grace us, we pray, with eyes clear to see you

hearts bold to follow

and an ever-deeper conviction of your love

that roots us firmly in the truth

of who you are and who we are in you.

In the name of the One who chose us

not because he had to

but because he could,

Amen.

Christ in you: a letter to my sister

A live doll for her birthday

My dearest sister,

Two days before my third birthday, when Dad put you into my arms, I scarcely glimpsed the gift I was receiving. I knew this live doll who wiggled and woke and ate was a wonderful creature. I was happy to have a sister. I didn’t know I was being handed a person who would grow into one of my dearest friends, someone who would show me in a thousand beautiful ways what Christ looks like.

It wasn’t long before we began to play school. I was the teacher, helping you learn to write your letters. I didn’t realize you were becoming my teacher, too, helping me sound out the meaning of the Word as I saw Him living in your skin.

You kept loving me even when I didn’t want to wear matching clothes, and didn’t want you to play with me and my friends.

You forgave me a million slights and pushing-you-aways, and never stopped believing in me or wanting to be near me.

As you twirled and sang and made our new baby brother laugh with your silliness—”Mary had a little lamb, it’s fleece was green as peas”—you began a lifetime of helping me realize that God’s love is celebration as much as seriousness.

In you I see how sacrifice and celebration can co-exist—how joy is not just the fulfillment but the fuel of costly love.

When I returned home from Afghanistan too sick to shop for my own clothes, you put your fashion talents to work and brought home outfits for me to try.

You sat on my bed while I rested, and brought your children to read with me. You taught them by your own love to love me, and they learned that we all have limitations and that mine didn’t make me any less precious.

Almost every time I’ve returned home from a far country or the other side of this one, you have shown up at the airport or the house with a bouquet of flowers or a balloon and a hundred hugs, always delighted to have me home though you know it won’t be long before I’ll fly off again.

You would love to keep me here close to you, but you have encouraged me to find my wings, to keep growing into the person God has made me to be.

You have given me space when I needed it.

You always think the best of me. You aren’t blind to my faults and weaknesses, yet somehow they don’t seem to matter much to you. Somehow—amazingly—you never make me feel as though I’ve been a disappointment. Your love makes space for all of me. You know your job is not to change me but to love me. And you never make me feel like you want to change me. Somehow, love like that does end up changing me, setting me free, because it opens up safe space for the real me to creep out of hiding and begin loving too.

When I’m at risk of thinking I can understand grace by figuring it out, love like yours keeps me grounded. I have learned far more of what Christ looks like through your hugs and laughter and back rubs than through my careful thinking. Some mysteries can only be understood from the inside; love can’t be analyzed, only received.

I can’t count the meals you’ve made, the gifts you’ve given, the cards you’ve created. And you’ve never made me feel like your extravagant love has cost you more than you wanted to give. Your love enables me to consider that God’s love just might not be a “have to” love but a “want to” love, an “I like you and love you and enjoy you and want to be with you and delight in you just as you are” kind of love. God knew I’d need to see that full-of-delight kind of love again and again to believe it, and you are one of the ways He keeps coming to me with flesh on to help me remember that this kind of love really does exist.

So, dearest sister, thank you. You didn’t choose to be my sister. You did choose—and do keep choosing—to let your body and soul host Jesus so that your loving is not only yours but God’s, your face and arms and feet mediating divine grace.

You are beautiful, dear sister, and I am so grateful for my third-birthday present. You remain a once-in-a-lifetime priceless gift that keeps growing and becoming more precious and treasured with every birthday that passes.

Happy fortieth birthday, and here’s to an eternity of continuing to enjoy God and each other more deeply. I love you so much!

The truth that lets us trust—and be trusted

DSC_0026“This may be a little out of the box, so trust our brother.” Our pastor spoke the words as the Cree chief with the strong and gentle face ascended to the pulpit to give the benediction.

Trust our brother. . . Trust. . . Trust. The word has been echoing through my hours. So simple. Yet trusting and receiving trust might be the hardest things we’ll ever do.

I stood at the door ten days ago and spoke words to a friend that showed how little I still really trust her. My words surprised me, hurt me. Her too, I think. I trust her more than I trust most other people. But somehow, somewhy, I still didn’t trust her love enough to let her wash my dishes, nor enough to relax into her trust of me. I don’t understand my struggle. But I am very sad, and very sorry.

This I do know: my challenge on the human plane mirrors my challenge with God. (I suspect this is always the case.) I think I trust Him, and then fear floods in and I see all over again how little I really do. I struggle even more to receive His trust of me.

He trusts me. He. Trusts. Me. He trusts me? It’s something I’ve been wrestling with for years. I’ve wondered whether it’s even true: the Bible repeats again and again that we’re to trust God, but where does it say that He trusts me? But when I asked, I saw the little word, the repeated refrain: entrusted, entrusted, entrusted1. Over and over, God entrusts Himself, His heart, His most precious truths to His people. Entrusted, entrusted. . . The list of verses ends with this: “. . . the faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints.” (Jude 3) All who are His. Once for all. Trusted to be entrusted with God’s most precious gifts. There’s no doubt: God trusts His people.

But why? Why would God trust us? There aren’t many moments when it’s obvious why He would trust me. But I’ve asked Him to explain, and this is what I hear: Like God’s love and His mercy, His trust is rooted in His character and ability, not in mine. Our Creator is creative enough and strong enough and wise enough that He can take my five crumbly loaves and feed thousands, incorporate my scratches on the page into His grand story, and weave my mistakes and even my sin into a design more glorious than it would have been without my failure. As a friend reminded me last week, “For every plan A that fails, God has a plan A+ that is far better. God does not do plan B.” (Christophe Ulysse)

God’s trust is rooted in His ability, not a mistaken assumption about mine, so I can receive God’s trust as the gift that it is rather than as a burden, an expectation or an obligation that leaves me fearing I’ve failed before I’ve even begun. His trust isn’t an expectation that I get it all right, but a celebration of His love and a declaration of His desire to have me as a genuine co-creator with Him, a fellow worker, other, weak—and wanted. There’s freedom here, to explore and to create, to try and to fail and to get up and try again. And to love Him who so loves us.

“Trust our brother.” Christ’s fellow-worker, and ours, to whom, along with us, the faith has been entrusted, prays over us a benediction, first in his native Cree and then in English. When our failure and sin is too great to be forgotten, God’s ability is the only possibility for trust between people. A God gentle enough to teach us that repentance means more than regret. A God loving enough to burn away our fear of difference.

Another brother circles the sanctuary, wafting over us the smoke of sweetgrass in purification and blessing, his prayers and ours rising with the rising smoke to our one Creator who risks trusting us, and teaches us to trust each other.

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I’m still marvelling over the grace our aboriginal brothers and sisters have extended to us. Read this post and marvel again with me? Between Truth and Reconciliation

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1Matt 25:14; Luke 12:48; 16:11; Rom 3:2; 6:17; 1 Cor 9:17; 2 Cor 5:19; Gal 2:7; 1 Thes 2:4; 1 Tim 1:11; 6:20; 2 Tim 1:14; Tit 1:3; Jude 3