Treasure

Today a small, lovely, godly soul left this world.

We put down a dog today, a friend. I’ve decided that the reason some people become attached to their dogs is because dogs really do reflect God to us. They bring Him into our lives in a tangible way. Unconditional love. Joy. Abiding. Rapid forgiveness. Loyalty. Protection. Trust.

During this process of dying, in which we stayed and he went, the friendship was broken. I felt that the tears we cried were love that has nowhere to go right now.

During this process of dying, I felt God was asking me to treasure His Spirit as I treasured the dog.

Christ and the Ordinary

Here’s something I wrote a while back. I wish I could read more scripture this way.

In John 2, we have the account of Jesus turning water into wine. Every time I’ve read this, all my life, it’s always been about the wine. “This was Jesus’ first miracle” – etc. Except it wasn’t supposed to be His first miracle. He didn’t want to do it, but He did it anyway, because His mother asked, and then didn’t listen when He politely refused.

Mary is probably about 46 years old at this time, I’m guessing, and clearly used to getting her way. She reminds me of the lady who played Ray’s mother on “Everybody Loves Raymond.” This is a far cry from the Mary who sings the Magnificat in Luke 1 out of sheer awe of God.

So what happened? I think ordinary life happened. I think the whole family was just accustomed to Him doing miracles on a daily basis. “Hey Jesus, your brother has a nasty infection. Take care of it, will you? And don’t forget to feed the sheep.” They had become quite accustomed to having the Lord at their disposal.

And don’t we do the same? I realized the other day that I totally take Jesus for granted. I’ve become accustomed to Him working in my life. But He was only “ordinary” for about 33 years out of all eternity. The rest of the time, this is Who He is:

When I turned to see who was speaking to me, I saw seven gold lampstands. And standing in the middle of the lampstands was someone like the Son of Man. He was wearing a long robe with a gold sash across his chest. His head and his hair were white like wool, as white as snow. And his eyes were like flames of fire. His feet were like polished bronze refined in a furnace, and his voice thundered like mighty ocean waves. He held seven stars in his right hand, and a sharp two-edged sword came from his mouth. And his face was like the sun in all its brilliance. When I saw him, I fell at his feet as if I were dead. But he laid his right hand on me and said, “Don’t be afraid! I am the First and the Last. I am the living one. I died, but look—I am alive forever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and the grave.” – from Revelation 1

This is the stuff they make movies out of, you know? Even a small Christmas light bulb, if you put your eye up to it, is blazing white. It’s so small, but you can still hardly look at it. If Christ is “like the sun in all its brilliance,” then no wonder John fell down as though dead.

So what is the solution? I think it might be found in Revelation 2:

“I have this against you: You have abandoned the love you had at first. Remember then how far you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first.”

Remember, and repent. That is all.

Entering the Third Dimension

If you’re a parent, you might be familiar with the phenomenon of waking up in the night in total panic about something regarding your kid’s health or education or future or whatever. That’s me tonight. I’ve spent the last two hours talking myself down.

In the process of doing this, I realized that I have always viewed most of the people in the four gospels as two-dimensional — as supporting actors in a story, or as extras who get one line in the beginning of the show so you can care about them when the plot kills them off 10 minutes later. But indeed they were not so superficial.

All the parents who asked Jesus to heal their children were just like me, except they had it much worse. Their kids were dying or chronically tortured by illnesses. By the time they met Jesus, they were hopeless. Remember the guy who said, “I believe, Lord; help my unbelief”? He didn’t just say that like he was ordering a double cheeseburger. He said it with anguish.

23 Jesus said to him, “If you can believe, all things are possible to him who believes.”

24 Immediately the father of the child cried out and said with tears, “Lord, I believe; help my unbelief!” – Mark 9

When this father cried out tearfully, it was visceral. These weren’t the small tears you can blink back as they squeeze out of your eyelids. They were the kind that pour out uncontrollably in huge sloppy drops. The kind that come when you worry about something for a long time, but you continually stuff it down in your gut, until something forces you to deal with it. The kind that come when you realize a problem is truly out of your control, and you don’t know how to proceed. The kind that come when you finally meet someone who can help you, and you see hope is possible for the first time.

This guy was desperate. He loved his son with his entire being. He couldn’t bear the thought of missing an opportunity to help his son. This father thought the only problem — at least the only problem he cared about — was his son’s condition. Jesus saw there was more to the story. Jesus frequently provoked people to acknowledge the real issues driving their beliefs and behaviors. He not only saw that the boy needed healing — He also saw that the father needed restoration of hope. Jesus considered spiritual and emotional healing every bit as essential as physical healing.

Right now, I’m realizing that prayer and Bible reading are essential to my spirit. I’m also realizing that I have anxiety issues that are not intermittent, as I’ve always thought they were, but chronic. I’ve simply become less effective at stuffing them down. I believe Jesus when He described the Holy Spirit as our Comforter and Counselor. I also believe I have specific problems that need to be dealt with by working with a counselor. And that’s OK, because like Paul said,

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort those who are in any trouble, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.  – 2 Corinthians 1

Many times, God does this work in us by means of other people. As Christians, we seem to be OK with giving that help. We need to be just as OK with receiving it. Considering our human need for community and relationship, I think it’s supposed to be that way.

Bitter Tears

36 Then one of the Pharisees invited Him to eat with him. He entered the Pharisee’s house and reclined at the table. 37 And a woman in the town who was a sinner found out that Jesus was reclining at the table in the Pharisee’s house. She brought an alabaster jar of fragrant oil 38 and stood behind Him at His feet, weeping, and began to wash His feet with her tears. She wiped His feet with the hair of her head, kissing them and anointing them with the fragrant oil. — Luke 7

Have you ever tried to wipe up a spill with your hair? Me neither. I usually opt for something more effective in sopping up the mess. Maybe that’s why I never identified much with the woman who wept on Jesus’ feet and wiped it with her hair. Until last night, when I found myself crying bitter tears in the bathroom at Applebee’s.

We’d come in for dinner, land the place was packed. As we waded through the mess of people to get to our table, I passed by my former boss. I barely noticed him; I don’t think he saw me. This is the second time I’ve seen him since I resigned last spring. We sat down to look at menus, and I told my husband that I felt really disturbed and I didn’t know why. Then it struck me: The last time this man saw me, I was at my worst.

On my last day, I came to his office to turn in keys. He said, “Because you sent your resignation letter by email, I still need you to sign it in ink.” I had emailed the letter from home because I was seriously sick.

I took the pen from him, set it to paper, and began to sign. My hand was like molasses. Huge, ploppy tears suddenly fell all over the paper, bleeding my signature. I was shocked by the size and number of them. The realization that I was leaving, not with a bang but a whimper, was striking me hard. All the work I’d done seemed like a waste, since I wouldn’t be able to see it through. It was like my purpose in life was miscarrying.

I handed him that paper. We made small talk for a few minutes. I left. I discovered on entering my car that my mascara, which I hardly ever wear, and which was supposed to be waterproof, had streaked down my cheeks, like makeup on a clown from one of those horror movies. The smallness and defeat I felt inside was quite visible.

As I stared at the Applebee’s menu, I realized that it was a moment of great shame for me. It’s one thing to be vulnerable with your spouse or parent or good friend, because they’ve shared their vulnerability with you as well. But with this man, there was no such reciprocation, no cathartic moment to cleanse the shame and restore the self.

A moment later found me in the bathroom, leaning against a cold tile wall, crying the same bitter year-old tears into a scratchy brown paper towel. Suddenly I understood, at least a little, why that woman cried as she did on Jesus’ feet. Scripture tells us she was a harlot, which was not only disgraceful, but stonable.

If you were anything but a married woman with children, you weren’t worth anything. How great was the shame and vulnerability of having only your vagina to sell? I don’t know, but I know what’s it like to have a moment in time feel like it seals shame, and there’s nothing you can do to redeem it. In Jesus, she saw redemption. He wasn’t there to be another man reminding her of her shame and vulnerability and emptiness. He was there to share that pain, not to reflect it back to her.

I used to think, “Why didn’t that woman bring a rag with her, if she knew she was going to cry all over Jesus and pour some oil on him?” But now I get it, I think. We don’t control shame — it controls us. Like me, sobbing in the Applebee’s bathroom. It just came over me, which is probably what happened to her as well, standing in the presence of Jesus. And she didn’t have to stuff it down, hide it, any longer. Somehow, she knew that He would take that pain from her and give her that which she needed, but was powerless to give herself.

If I run into my boss a third time, what will happen? I’m not sure, but it will be different. I suppose that’s appropriate, since the number 3 was frequently symbolic in the Bible at times where wholeness, redemption, resurrection were required. Sometimes it’s gaining an understanding of the forces which drive us that bring healing.

Jesus taught nearly everything in illustrations and parables. Leaning against that tile wall last night, I prayed, “Lord, why is this affecting me so much??” He did not give me a scientific answer. Instead, He showed me a story of a woman in shame — a story that has become part of my own story.

But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit—the Father will send Him in My name—will teach you all things and remind you of everything I have told you. — John 14:26

When the Spirit of truth comes, He will guide you into all the truth. — John 16:13a

You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free. — John 8:32

“I Am” is Enough

Near my house, there is a grassy area. Not lawn grass or golf course grass, but that kind of longer, crazy, wild grass that looks like someone should come along and bail it for livestock feed. Mixed into the grass are some shrubs of various kinds, here and there, to give it that particularly undeveloped look.

Out of the middle of this grassy place grows a tree. It is taller than people’s ornamental trees, but shorter than many of the other evergreens in the area. It has a very conical and symmetrical shape, with no crazy branches sticking out or branchless areas. It is very straight, and it stands alone, which gives it this stately, reliable quality.

The deer like this tree very much. They eat under it and sit under it, bedding down in the crazy grass. I’ve learned to look for them there every time I pass, because frequently I see them there. The tree does not change when the deer come to it. As some kind of evergreen, it does not even drop apples for them. It’s just… there, regardless of whether they are or not. But the deer gravitate to it. They enjoy the benefits of its presence. Just its very act of being is meaningful and beneficial to the deer. The very nature of what the tree is attracts the deer.

I have driven by that tree countless times, but last week was the first time I felt I wanted to sit under the tree, too. It dawned on me that this is what God meant when He called Himself “I AM.” He meant that the very nature of Who He is — apart from anything He does — is enough. Just being in His presence is enough. His very nature, as God, is sufficient, and it is attractive to us.

Last week, there was just one deer there, sitting under this tree. Both tree and deer were very still. Both were simply being what they were created to be while in the presence of the other. The deer was probably ruminating, which makes the whole scene even more metaphorical for what our lives could and should be like. We should be sitting in God’s presence, ruminating on that which we find there. And too, my simple act of being is enough. The nature of who “i am” is enough.

For what purpose were humans created? Judging by the first two chapters of Genesis, we were created to live in harmony with nature, leading the animals and eating plants and fruits. We were also created for relationship, with each other and with God. That’s it. The deer and the tree know this. The birds and lilies of the field know this, as Jesus pointed out. Mary at the feet of Jesus knew this. And Saul knew it after Jesus interrupted his zealous busyness with the blinding revelation of His presence.

Be attracted to the nature of God. Stop expecting things from Him. Stop expecting things from yourself. Ruminate in His presence. There is no 3-point sermon here. Just a simple admonition to stop investing being in doing, and to let the deer and the tree lead us in how we’ve all forgotten to be.

My Advice for Christian Kids Going to College

I have probably been through 3 crises of faith. Every time I came out on the other side changed for the better, I believe. My take is this: If something is true, and God is also true, yet the two seem contradictory, then there must be something that is unknown or in revealed. I found that I had to be willing to hold those ideas in limbo for a time.

Many Christians aren’t willing to do that. They want to decide TODAY what is true on every aspect of the sciences and philosophy. That makes us come across as haughty, which is basically like saying we’re smarter than everyone else. That’s how others read it, anyway. But when you are willing to consider others’ perspectives, it shows you value them as human beings. In one of my classes once, a kid was asked why he had a particular belief. He said “because the Bible tells me so.” That argument doesn’t fly in college.

Christians are too quick to write off “disbelievers” as egotistical etc, but when we do that, we ignore legitimate questions about our faith, and no thinking person has respect for that. So this is a chance to understand those questions and objections, not because you necessarily think they are right, but because you respect other people. Jesus did that and he was criticised for it. He did it because he wanted to start conversations and develop relationships. Ask a lot of questions – not to prove a point, but to understand where people are coming from.

One reason people hate religion is because religious people have a tendency not to think for themselves and to believe at face value whatever a trusted leader represents us with. On the news, this looks like Westboro Baptist, or ISIS, both of which are abominable organizations. If the process feels rocky, don’t worry. If God is truth, then you have nothing to fear.

I have a lot of atheist friends. Some of them are very intelligent. You don’t win them over by arguing. You do it by developing relationship that starts with respect for their conviction. They have life experiences that lead them to one conclusion or another, same as us. My friends know if I ask them why they don’t believe in God, it’s because I actually want to know, not because Im trying to start and win and argument. And then one of them the other day asked me about death, because a friend of hers lost a baby. The classroom is not a place to win, really – it’s a place to understand. Only when you understand, and you have reflected on the validity of your own beliefs, can you give a meaningful answer to questions like “why did my friend’s baby die.”

Those are the moments where Jesus can reach people. They don’t even always want a rational explanation, either. When people come to the end of themselves, that is when they can hear Jesus speaking.

Something good to remember is “respond, don’t react.” If someone speaks angrily about God, we feel defensive – that’s our reaction, but that will not help them. It’s better to set aside our knee jerk reaction and seek to respond to what is driving their actions. That usually starts with asking questions, where you listen. Sometimes just listening, not trying to give an answer in return, is a huge testimony. It surprises people, because they view Christians as defensive and attacking. Giving no answer, but considering what they say instead, leaves the door open instead of shutting it.

One of my friends told me the other day that I’m a different kind of Christian. She invited us to a party where as far as i can tell, we were the only religious people present. I didn’t see the other guests as potential converts – I saw them as interesting people worth knowing, people with different perspectives that I could learn from. Jesus did that with people. He wanted to develop relationships. He was/is intensely interested in people.