comment 0

Powerlessness, Paralyzation & Prayer

I am not sure what I thought my late thirties would be marked by. I anticipated being a soccer mom, paying bills, and steering both a car and a grocery cart regularly; however, I never imagined the amount of powerlessness I would feel at this age.

As a child, when I saw people in the middle years,  I saw certain and secure adults. However, now that I somehow find myself in said demographic, I realize how deeply these middle years are marked by a deepening realization of limitations and weaknesses.

I imagined that making droves of decisions daily and being in charge of families, business, and churches were privileges entrusted to the powerful. I am now realizing that these privileges only expose a deeper sense of powerlessness and dependence in those who are entrusted with them.

This past week, despite my repeated attempts to halt the terribly contagious stomach flu with Lysol sprays, bottles of bleach, and meticulous hand washing, I was reminded of my powerlessness over microscopic germs.

My boys are getting older, which means that we are in the process of attempting to wisely and incrementally lengthen their leashes. They are trying out for sport teams where real risk offers both real reward and real rejection. They are choosing friends, tracking their own grades, and being faced with moral decisions. In all of this, I wake up daily being hit by fresh waves of powerlessness.

IMG_3840.jpg

As a Women’s Ministry director at a fairly large church, I experience similar waves of powerlessness.  I can buy all the cute napkins and have all the creamers, but I cannot make the women whom I have grown to love hunger for God and walk in righteousness. I can set the living and active Word of God before them, but I cannot change them.

Lest I sound too despairing, I am beginning to welcome this powerlessness as a driver towards the all-powerful One. As I continue to catch glimpses of my insufficiency,  I have a choice to make regarding the regular realizations of my utter powerlessness: I can either let the facts paralyze me or I can allow them to drive me to prayerfulness.

Rather than being utterly paralyzed by daily doses of powerlessness, weakness, and limitations, I am learning to lean all my weight unto the Rock that does not move.  Facing my powerlessness is an invitation to seek the face of God who cares far more about the people entrusted to me and under my keeping than I ever could.

Power made perfect in weakness is beginning to be stretched from a postage-stamp-sized reality to my permanent address. I wonder if the Apostle Paul felt like he was unraveling as he grew more and more conformed to the image of Christ.

After all, he had lived a life of zeal, confidence, drivenness,  and surety.  He knew what it was to be on top of life and at the top of the pack.

If anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews;  as to the law, a  Pharisee;  as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law,  blameless. Philippians 3:4-6. 

And then Christ grabbed a hold of Him, stripping him of  all confidence in the flesh, but equipping him with an eternally founded confidence in Christ.

Such is the confidence that we have through Christ toward God. Not that we are sufficient in ourselves to claim anything as coming from us, but our sufficiency is from God, who has made us sufficient to be ministers of a new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit. For the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life. 2 Corinthians 3:4-6. 

Paul, who might have been on the cover of the Hebrew version of Forbes magazine as an up-and-coming leader, spent his life after conversion as a man quick to admit his powerlessness. An amazing orator, he spent his life preaching the power of Christ, not the power of his own word play.

And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. And I was with you in weakness and in fear and in much trembling, and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of  wisdom,  but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God. 1 Corinthians  2:1-5. 

Powerlessness alone will lead to paralyzation. But powerlessness turned into prayerful dependence will enable a faithful life proclaiming our powerful God.

In light of a God whose Word calms the sea, I will fight to welcome the waves of powerlessness. Bring it on, late-thirties and early forties. Your exposure of my powerlessness will push me deeper into the lap of the Powerful One.

IMG_3841

comment 0

The Cry of Caregivers

While every human being longs to be seen and supported, these longings become the clamant need of primary caregivers. In a world that celebrates flashiness over faithfulness, those who sit by bedsides tend to fall to the wayside. In a world that airbrushes to make already beautiful people even more beautiful, those who are sick and weak (and, thus, those who care for them) are quickly isolated and ignored, being relegated to rooms both literally and proverbially.

The Longing to be Seen

While I know these realities in a cognitive way,  it is not until I am in the presence of the aging or the ill for extended times that the reality sinks into the heaviness it ought to hold in my heart.

Having spent only a few days with my precious parents-in-love in Texas last week, the heaviness of caregivers sits heavy with me. Watching my Amma offer costly care to my Appa who has been suffering from Parkinson’s Disease for over a decade brings tears to my eyes. Her calendar is filled with appointments, not to get her hair done or to have lunch with a friend, but to receive physical therapists and occupational therapists into her home.  Unable to leave Appa alone, she cherishes the twenty minutes of freedom offered her to run to the pharmacy and grocery store to fill his meds and their pantry.

This has been her everyday year after year. And she is not alone in this plight. Just yesterday, two precious older women at our church shared with me the weights they carry as primary caregivers for their aging parents. Another friend has spent the better part of her year sleeping amidst beeping machines and rotating orderlies in the hospital by her toddler who has cancer.

While these caregivers need gift cards and meals, they most long to be seen and known, to be remembered. They need to know that, in the midst of the re-ordering of their lives around others, they are not forgotten.  A simple text, a note, a short visit… these go a long way to remind caregivers that they, too, are cared for and seen.

bret-kavanaugh-MIfUp3FA5ek-unsplash.jpg

We Need to See their Service

As much as they need to be seen, those who are comparatively free, unhindered and healthy need to see their service. In a world where choice and independence reign as king and queen, these despots are dethroned by watching the lives of those who faithfully lay down their choices to care for the dependent. They give us enfleshed pictures of the way of Christ as laid out in Philippians 2.

Their rest-less sheet-changing and bath-giving routines remind us that a better rest is coming, that this world is not our home, that we are waiting for new heavens and a new  earth in which righteousness dwells (2 Peter 3:13).

In a world where love is an ephemeral feeling, the committed and costly choices of caregiving love both depict in action the covenant love that God has for His people.

The One who Always Sees

In the Ancient Middle East, there was a tradition among the kings to keep a book of remembrance so that those who had been helpful to the king and his cause might be repaid for their service (see Esther 6:1-3 and Malachi 3:16-17). Such acts needed to be written down, because their subsequent rewards were not immediate. One can imagine that significant acts of bravery and prowess were recorded in these books.

The King of King and the Lord of Lords needs no such book. He is not in danger of forgetting. But, if He were to have such a book, we can be certain that the deeds and moments recorded therein would likely seem small and insignificant in the eyes of the world. Our God is a God who sees, even when we, His people, forget to see.

Oh, Lord, help us to see and support those who are serving as primary (or secondary, or tertiary) caregivers as we go about our busy days. Thank you for being the kind of King who sees and celebrates committed acts of love that otherwise would be unnoticed and celebrated. Make us more like you; shape us into the kind of people who live with your  values and in light of eternity. Amen.

comment 1

The Cattle on a Thousand Hills

As those who recently spent time in Texas, I can at least say that I have seen the cattle on a thousand plains. And as those who raise financial support for a ministry, I can say that I have prayed this phrase countless times (mostly out of context) to remind my anxious soul that God always provides, for all that is on the earth is His! However, this past week, the Lord brought the phrase to mind in a different light.

helena-lopes-QaWSsUSJMbo-unsplash.jpg

“Hear, O my people, and I will speak; O Israel, I will testify against you. I am God, your God. Not for your sacrifices do I rebuke you; your burnt offerings are continually before me. I will not accept a bull from your house or goats from your folds. For every beast of the forest is mine, the cattle on a thousand hills, I know all the birds of the hills, and all that moves in the field is mine.” Psalm 50:7-11. 

In context, God offers the powerful imagery of owning the cattle on a thousand hills to rebuke His people who were quick to do due diligence to the letter of the ceremonial law while their hearts were far from Him. In essence, God says, “I don’t need your sacrifices of bulls; all the bulls are mine anyway. I want what only you can offer me: your dependence, your honor, your worship.”

In juxtaposition to the rote, heartless sacrifices offered by God’s children to their Father, the Spirit brought to remembrance a heartfelt sacrifice from an unimaginably generous and forgiving father on behalf of His child.

But the father said to his servants, “Bring quickly the best robe, and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand and shoes on his feet. And bring the fattened calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate. For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.” Luke 15:22-24. 

I am certain that the father did not consider it lavish to sacrifice the fattened calf to celebrate his wayward son’s long-awaited, oft-cried over return. While the father from the Parable of the Prodigal Son gives us a window into the heart of God the Father, the Cross of Christ gives us a far more focused glimpse into the nature of our God.

The earthly father killed the fattened calf to celebrate the son’s return. Our heavenly  father killed His obedient Son to enable a path for all the other wayward children to return.  I imagined God thinking about the cattle on a thousand hills as possessions He would gladly give up to celebrate the return of more of His children.

The Cattle on a Thousand Hills

The cattle on a thousand hills- 
All of them are mine.
I’ve no need to brand them-
I am their Maker Divine.

Yet, I’d gladly give them
Upon a thousand returns.
For a thousand more children,
My entire being years. 

I’d slaughter every cattle,
But I already gave Myself.
To purchase their pardon,
I gave up all my wealth.

Like the generous father,
I’ve a robe to wrap them in;  
I’ll cover them in my robes,
For I’ve covered all their sin.

A thousand thousand children
for a thousand thousand years;
This is my rightful reward
For all Golgotha’s tears. 

comment 1

Behind the Ball (that just dropped)

The ball dropped three days ago, yet I already feel behind the ball.

We are finally slowing down after a few weeks of holiday travel and excitement which preceded a full eight days of intense college ministry. Even the slowing down feels like a quick pit stop to frantically patch up some popped tires, refill with gas, and get back on the track.

While others seem to be stepping into the New Year with selected theme words of purpose, goals, and stocked pantries, I feel like I am starting in a deficit on all fronts. Don’t get me wrong, I am deeply drawn to intentionality and planning, I simply have not had space enough to do laundry, let alone come up with a laundry list of goals and plans.

designecologist-At-k-FQrwJM-unsplash.jpg

While flying home late last night, the Lord was so gracious to use one of my favorite authors, Eugene Peterson, to speak hope into my tired soul. In this particular chapter of his book Under the Unpredictable Plant,  Peterson has been talking extensively about the way that God uses the storms in our lives to expose us and realign ourselves with Him.

“They {the sea storms} expose us to what we cannot manage. We are returned to primordial chaos, to the tohu and bohu of Genesis 1, where we submit our lives to the world-making word of God. These storms are not simply bad weather; they are the exposure of our lives to the brooding, hovering wind/spirit of God. In the storm  we are reduced to what is elemental, and the ultimate elemental is God. And so prayer emerges as the single act that has to do with God.” 

While I am not experiencing any particular storm, I do feel haggard from the continual exposure to the weather that is this season of ministry and life. Three sons, each in one sport they love, fills their cup, but tends to drain mine. Our calling to college ministry keeps us on the front lines of the gospel advancing, but also exposes us to the shrapnel of the spiritual battlefield. Doing women’s ministry in our local Church is my dream job, but it has a way of exposing all the ways that I am not the women’s director I dream I could be.

If I am honest, I feel weary and worn. I know in my mind that these are the best kinds of weary or worn, but they still cause my soul to sag and my hands to drop. Rather than looking out on a new year and a new decade with hope and excitement, I have been looking at them through eyes of very real powerlessness and insufficiency.

Peterson’s reminder of two harsh Hebrew words strangely brought me hope.

In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters. Genesis 1:1-2.

The Hebrew word tohu, translated above as “without form,” can also be translated as confusion, chaos, emptiness, desolation, and empty space. Likewise, the Hebrew word bohu, translated above as “void,” can also mean emptiness, vacuity, and an undistinguishable ruin.

The canvas on which God chose to work His creation was chaos, confusion, emptiness, desolation. Figuratively speaking, those were His media in creating everything ex nihilo, out of nothing.

God did not start with a Create-by-Number kit, unfolding an instruction manual and opening His fresh paint pots. Our powerful, self-existent, all-powerful Trinitarian God took emptiness and made everything. He ordered chaos with His voice.

In Genesis 1:1, bara, the Hebrew word translated “created,” can also mean to shape and to bring about.  Our God is the cosmic chaos-shaper, the ordinal order-maker.

Oh, what hope that brings me as I stare into what feel like the emptiness, chaos, and questions of a new year (I am not even letting myself thing about a new decade)!

Oh, what pressure is released from control-hungry, expectation-starving soul knowing that my God can order and shape whatever whoops, whirls, swirls and storms are on this new year’s topographical map!

I am not behind. I am exactly where I need to be: powerless but being in-dwelt by the All-powerful One, insufficient but significantly held by the All-sufficient One.

 

 

comment 0

One Dollar More

Supposedly, John D. Rockefeller, the oil tycoon often considered one of the wealthiest Americans of all time, when asked what would make him happy, answered, “One dollar more.”

My husband and I live on the generosity of the supporters of the Campus Ministry that employs us. I love thrift stores and we try (try being the operative word) to keep to a tight grocery budget. At first glance, we are a far cry from the Rockefeller lifestyle; however, my heart is infected with the same sickness that seems to have plagued him.

While I don’t find myself clinging to the next dollar, I do find myself clinging to and hanging my hope upon the next article I write, the next exciting adventure or the next way to be more organized.  For my kids, it can look like one more Lego set, one more goal, or one more Starburst.

neonbrand-258972

Just one more.
For some it may be one more pound lost or one more sports car. For others, it may be one more child or one more promotion. For others, it might be one more compliment or five more minutes of fame. While it manifests in the widest spectrum of symptoms, the disease distempers each of us who inhabit this spinning rock.  At some point after achieving that achievement or possessing that possession or reaching that milestone, we find ourselves creating a new one more to add to the ceaseless series.

If only I could be more.
As we approach New Year’s resolution season, my case of the Just One Mores tends to become exacerbated and is joined by an acute case of the “If only I could be more…” If only I could be more disciplined, I could lose those extra inches. If only I could be more laid back, our household would be more light-hearted. If I only I could be more consistent, my walk with God would more closely mirror Mother Theresa’s.  If only I could be better at keeping in touch, I could be a better daughter and friend.

In theory, I love the fresh slate of an approaching new year; however, in practice, I find the turn of the calendar paralyzing on account of the Just One Mores and the If Only I Could Be Mores.

Antidotes.
As I come into the home stretch of 2019 and stare into 365 days of an unknown and unknowable 2020, I want to hang my hope and happiness, my security and success on the all-knowing God is who eminently knowable.  In His revealed Word and the fullest revelation of Himself in the person of Christ, I find the antidote to my sin-sickness.

But godliness with contentment is great gain, for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world. But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content.  1 Timothy 6:6-8. 

Physical food and actual clothing, yes. But we have an eternal food and clothing completely provided for us by the person of Christ.

When Christ was on the earth, He gave us hints into the secret of His contentment with his early career of carpentry and his second career as an itinerant preacher.

Jesus said to them, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to accomplish his work. John 4:32. 

Through Christ, we are given the righteous robes that cover our ragged attempts at self-righteousness and self-improvement.  In Christ, we are given the opportunity to make God’s will and ways our bread.

In Christ, we have food and clothing and the antidote to our cases of One Mores and If Only I Could Be Mores.

As we look to a new year, we trust not in our own efforts or strength, but in the completed work of the Risen and Resurrected Christ.

Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all we ask or think, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen. Ephesians 3:20-21. 

One More can become One More Chance to lean on the God who can do far more than I could ever dream or plan.

comment 0

The Power of Staying

I have such an American spirit. I love adventure, dream of travel, and am deeply intrigued by the next thing. Yet, the Lord has been pressing into me the power of staying for the past two decades.

The turning of the new year is always a bit of a challenge for me and my wanderlusting, ambitious self.  It’s not the goals or the desires that are dangerous, it it is the fuel by which I seek to achieve those goals and desires that trips me up. Since coming to faith, the Lord has been dismantling performance, self-will, and self-sufficiency in me. He has been slowly teaching my fast-paced, next-thing-please soul to wait and to stay.

When I begin to dream of bigger things, better things the Lord continually draws me back to Psalm 37. For the past two weeks, I have found my hands opening back up to those well-worn pages during my times alone with God, lingering over each word. Four words, in particular,  have been arresting my overly-ambitious self of late: stay, cultivate, delight, and commit.

Trust in the Lord, and do good; dwell in the land, and befriend faithfulness.  Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart. Commit your way to the Lord; trust  in him, and he will act. He will bring forth your righteousness as the light, and your justice as the noonday. Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him; fret not yourself over the one who prospers in his way, over the man who carries out evil devices. Psalm 37: 3-7.  

tomasz-filipek-CUWC-6MRcNg-unsplash.jpg

Stay
The word translated dwell above is the Hebrew word shakan which carries the same range of meaning as the Greek word meno, translated as abide in the New Testament. They mean to settle into, to reside, to take up residency, to establish oneself, to settle down, to station oneself. In one word, stay.

In a world that seeks to bring about change by moving, buying, trading externals and circumstances, the Lord often bids us stay and be transformed internally so that we can approach the same people, places, and things from a different perspective or with new eyes of faith, more specifically His eyes.

Cultivate
Befriend faithfulness:  what an interesting, deeply phrased command. The Hebrew word raah, translated befriend above, can also mean to make one’s companion, to cultivate, to keep company with. 

Our culture rewards and celebrates flashiness, but the kingdom of God celebrates faithfulness as seen in steady, trusting obedience that does not wax or wane based on circumstances. David, the God-ordained-king-in-waiting, had much reason to be vexed, alarmed, and self-motivated to grab the throne from Saul; yet, he fought to remind himself to trust the Lord and His timing, to be more concerned with the kind of man God was making him than the externals of his life.

God would deliver on His promises in His time: that was God’s job. David’s job was to remain in Him, to hide in Him, to wait upon Him, all the while making faithfulness and godliness his companions.

Delight
Delight yourself in the Lord and he will give you the desires of your heart (verse 4). Entirely too often, I have heard this verse used as a lucky rabbit’s foot to be rubbed or a mantra to be repeated to get what one wants. However, I think David was saying something far more profound and difficult than that. David was reminding his soul to take its deepest delight in God Himself and to let that directing and correcting desire shape his other, very real desires. 

The Hebrew word anog, translated delight above, comes from a root word which means to be soft or pliable, to live or spend in enjoyment. The picture is that of a lover’s heart becoming putty in the presence of the beloved. The Spirit who inspired this psalm of David for our good and God’s glory, invites us to be so enamored with the presence of God, our soul’s lover, that our hearts and their attached desires become soft and pliable to His wishes, intention, and direction.

Commit
Note that David did not take a Buddhist approach to his desired path (ways) and dreams, seeking to nullify them. He had real desires, real plans, but he continually entrusted them, committed them, to the One who loved Him.

The Hebrew word, galal, translated as commit above, literally means to roll away. This same word is also used in the Proverbs regarding committing our plans and steps to the Lord (see Proverbs 16:3).

God does nor forbid our dreaming, desiring, and  planning; rather, He asks for a significant, shaping place in the processing of those ways. He asks that the plans that we would most naturally want to cling to tightly and establish by our own devices be rolled to His loving possession for safe-keeping and strategic implementation. To be certain, we will have parts to play in those ways, but we are walk as those prodded by His initiation. holding His proven hands, and trusting His deeper ways.

May we follow our Christ who perfectly abided in the Father even in His exile on earth, who cultivated faithfulness even to the point of death on the cross, who constantly delighted Himself in the Father, and who committed His ways to the Father even when that way included a cross.

As we approach the ball dropping, may we be those who similarly roll our plans for the new year (and new decade) to the Lord.

comment 0

Birth is Just the Beginning

Every Advent, I try to write a poem to help re-apply the Christmas Story to a heart and mind grown familiar with the tale. This year, I am down to the wire on all things: wrapping, packing, and writing.

Lately,  I have found myself thinking about Mary, the new mother who was likely scared, elated, and everything in between. After the long journey that was forced upon them late in her pregnancy and the birth in the back room with the livestock, I imagine Mary had quite a lot to process.

Every mother experiences that moment when the adrenaline wears off, the meal train grinds to a halt, and a new reality sets in.  Life will never be the same. All those months of preparation for the child have come to an end, but new life as a mother is only beginning.

After the shepherds left, the story had only begun.

There would be a flight from infanticide. An unexpected prophecy of maternal pain from Simeon. A strange visit from scholars from the East. Long middle years of normalcy and monotony, broken up with moments of perplexity like finding her adolescent Son confidently teaching grown men in the Temple. Swift tides of change as her son matured and veered from His father’s trade toward the less stable itinerant teacher track. Her Son’s sudden spike in popularity, quickly followed by threats and near-death escapes. His fate seemingly riding on the fickle waves of public opinion.

alejandro-barba-2f5OnFnHNYA-unsplash.jpg

Isolation. Relief. Confusion. Frustration. All culminating in anguish unspeakable as she watched her first born Son suffer in excruciating pain, as she heard His name mired in undeserved shame.

Elation when her grief became glee as the younger Mary told her the joyous news of the  Resurrection. Equal parts excitement and hesitation as the disciples told her about His Ascension back to the Father from whence He had come.

I wonder, if you found Mary later in life, what she would have said about that first night with her Son in light of all that came later. I wonder what the first few years were like after her Son’s ascending back to the Father in an even more mysterious and miraculous way than He had come. I wonder if she and John sat around and laughed while crying, telling stories about Jesus, the son, the friend, the Christ.

I imagine that His Ascension, like His birth, was a beginning. A beginning of a life simultaneously longing to be with Him again, yet presently attesting to His life, death and resurrection alongside the inchoate church.

Tears fill my eyes as I imagine that first hug between Christ and His mother when we all receive glorified bodies in the New Heavens and the New Earth. A third new beginning that will never end.

No mother knows what her motherhood journey will entail. The process unfolds just as organically and often imperceptibly as her child seems to grow. Yet, Mary walked in faithful obedience, trusting that the God who had sought her out would sustain her.

Birth was Just the Beginning

Travel. Travail. A baby’s wail.
Birth was just the beginning. 

Sleepless nights. Fleeing flights. 
A momma’s heart is spinning.

Long days. Quick years. Real fears.
Her love on His heart imprinting.

Horrendous cross. Unthinkable loss.
The mother’s hope is thinning.

Reunion. Resurrection. Perfection.
The pair cannot stop grinning. 

His Ascension. Her heart’s tension.
This, too, is just the beginning. 

Oh, that we would faithfully walk out the days He has ordained from us from before there were days. That we would trust Him with our beginnings and ends, that we would live in light of the new beginning that will usher in our eternal tomorrows. That we would remember His coming, His cross, and His coming again.

 

 

 

comment 1

When Immeasurably More Feels like Immeasurably Less

While I was killing some time in carline two days ago, I heard a song on the Christian radio station that did not sit well with me. As I am not a connoisseur of contemporary Christian music, I don’t even know the name or artist, but the essence was that God’s way is always triumph and victory.  Ever since then, my mind has been churning.

Yes, God’s ways will ultimately result in victory, as we know from Revelation 19- 21 which depict our warrior king, the king of kings and the  Lord of lords, coming to judge evil for good. But the way the song was worded made it sound like if one could simply sing this song and believe enough, one would experience this victorious, triumphant life right now in the ways one desired.

We all love to pray Ephesians 3:20-21:

Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all we ask or think,  according to the power at work within us,  to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus, throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.

Some translations say immeasurably more. But what happens when God’s immeasurably more looks like immeasurably less, looks more like defeat and failure than victory and success?

Anyone who has been snorkeling in the Caribbean has experienced first hand that the more shallow the water, the greater the visibility and clarity; however, the deeper the waters, the darker it appears.

God’s purposes are as deep as His love is high. As His ways are deeper than the Mariana Trench, we should expect them to appear dark, murky and mysterious to our limited perspective and understanding.

026C649F-8BF9-48EA-87D3-01F5B06A4673

For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts. Isaiah 55:8-9.

When we pray for healing, asking God to immeasurably more than we could ask or imagine, sometimes His immeasurably more looks to us like immeasurably less when the scan comes back showing that the cancer spread. When a still-single or suddenly-single-again believer earnestly trusts God for immeasurably more in the form of the provision of a godly spouse only to continually be disappointed, His immeasurably more appears to be immeasurably less.

But to measure God’s ways by our limited perspective is like trying to chart four dimensional shapes on a basic Cartesian plane or to try to measure the depths of the sea in a child’s beach bucket.

Joseph still serving time in prison for a crime he didn’t commit didn’t feel like immeasurably more. But when we see God providing more time for him to heal and be prepared to forgive His brothers and forge a path for God’s people through famine, we trace threads of immeasurably  more  

When Naomi left with a full family but an empty bread basket for a land promising more but came back emptied of her boys and her bread, it did not seem like God had done immeasurably more. Yet, as we look back upon God’s faithfulness to her and her kin, we see Ruth and Obed woven into the lineage of Christ.

The most powerful example of immeasurably more appearing to be immeasurably less is the Cross of Christ. For there, the dark depths of the mysterious ways of God swallowed up the sinless One. The disciples, the travelers on the road to Emmaus, and the women who had faithfully followed and served Christ to the end were stunned and confused by God’s immeasurably less…

Until He rose and emptied off the depths of God that we might peer into the wisdom of His ways. What appeared to be immeasurably less was, indeed, immeasurably more than humanity could have asked or imagined.

If you find yourself staring into the deep and complex Mariana Trench of God’s purposes, you can trust His character and His intentions toward you.

 

 

 

Filed under: Uncategorized
comment 0

Powerlessness & La Posada

I had never heard of La Posada until we moved to San Diego, but it is quickly becoming one of the things I most look forward to during the Christmas season.

La Posada is a Mexican Christmas tradition which reenacts Mary and Joseph seeking a place in Bethlehem.  For nine evenings from December 16 to December 24, families and/or neighbors take turns hosting a posada (which means inn). A couple dresses as Maria and Jose and knocks from door to door until they are finally let into the home of the hosts where they are welcomed and celebrated.

The traditional Posada song alternates as a sung conversation between the potential innkeepers and the desperate parents, until at last they find shelter at the hands of the last innkeeper.  The words are hauntingly human.

Joseph: In the name of Heaven/ I beg you for lodging/ For she cannot walk/ My beloved wife.

Innkeeper: This is not an inn/ So keep going/ I cannot open/ You may be bad people.

Joseph: Don’t be inhuman/  Have mercy on us/ The God of the Heavens / will reward you for it. 

Innkeeper: Better go on / And don’t bother us/ For if I become angry/ I shall have to beat you up.

Joseph:  We are worn out / Coming from Nazareth/ I’m a carpenter / My name is Joseph.

Innkeeper:  Your name doesn’t matter/ Let me sleep/  For I am telling you /  We shall not open.

Joseph: Lodging is asked of you/ Dear man/ For just one night/ By the queen of Heaven.

Innkeeper: Well, if it’s a queen/  Who solicits it? /  Why is it that at night / Does she travel so alone?

Joseph: My wife is Mary/ She’s the queen of Heaven / And is going to be the mother/ of the Divine Word. 

Innkeeper: Are you Joseph?/ Your wife is Mary?/ Enter pilgrims/ I did not know you.

Joseph: May God pay, senores / Your kindness/ And thus the heavens heap/ Happiness upon you.

Innkeeper: Fortunate the house  / That shelters this day / The pure virgin /  The beautiful Mary. 

Joseph: Fortunate this house / That gives us shelter/ May God always give it/ Its sacred happiness.

We have only attended La Posada for the past two years, but each year,  it is has made the powerlessness of Mary and Joseph palpable to me (and hopefully to my children as well, as the older two have attended).

Added to the beauty of the enactment is the location of the particular La Posada event we attend. La Posada Sin Fronteras is a combined ecumenical effort between people in Tijuana and San Diego. For the past 26 years, it has taken place at Friendship Park, a park that is split by the U.S/ Mexico border. In decades past, the event happened directly along the fence, so closely that the Posada song was sung back and forth from Mexico to America.  However, more recently the event has been moved further back. Last year when we went, we had to shout to hear one another. This year, due to flooding and the inaccessibility of the park, we had to do the event at a different park where the wall was visible but in the far distance.

Oddly enough, we ended up walking around the outlet shopping center parking lot that juts up right to the border line. It was a strange situation, walking around, singing Christmas carols,  and hearing the names of the those who had died trying to cross the border this past year while Christmas shopping was going on all around us. The juxtaposition made it even more eery. There is nothing wrong with shopping. To be honest, we bought a soccer ball on the walk back. It was just the juxtaposition of different realities that was sobering.

IMG_1280.jpg

As I was processing the experience today, I felt a profound amount of gratitude for Mary and Joseph’s vulnerability and faith.

They said yes to the strange and utterly unexpected task of carrying and raising the Christ child in vulnerability and faith.

They had no choice but to travel late in pregnancy. Their opinion or needs would not sway the strong political system. So they went in vulnerability and faith.

They were even powerless over where they might labor to bring forth the Christ child. They literally, as the song so powerfully enacts, went door to door and put their needs out there in vulnerability and faith.

They were powerless over their next steps even after the delivery. They had to take a detour to Egypt to protect their newborn’s life from the jealous rage of a political power. They obeyed God’s warning in vulnerability and faith.

Many years later, Mary would stand at the foot of the cross where her beloved son, whom God had protected as an infant, would be crucified unprotected so that we might take refuge in Him.  She watched in the agony of vulnerability and faith

We all have places in our lives where we feel powerless. Powerless over family relationships. Powerless over our employment. Powerless over our addictions. Powerless over our anxiety and depression.

The Gospel invites us to be present at the foot of the Cross where the all-powerful One became powerless on our behalf. We are now filled with His power. But we are expected to wield that power in the same manner that He did (and that his parents before Him did) in vulnerability and faith.

There is a precious, fictitious children’s book written around the event of La Posada Sin  Fronteras, if you are interested in helping your children imagine a family split by the border seeking to celebrate together.

IMG_6933

 

 

 

comment 0

Beyond the Baby

My husband and I have differing taste in movies. I like somber, based-on-true-stories movies, while G’Joe loves a good light-hearted, ridiculous flick. Needless to say, finding common ground so that one of us is not irate or sleeping the whole time we watch a film is a challenge. I needed to share that so you won’t judge me (or more like so I won’t judge myself) for having watched Tahladega Nights a few times.

In this movie there is a scene that is both hysterical and haunting (actually that could be true for many scenes). As the family is sitting around about to eat a meal, Will Ferrell begins to say a blessing.  He prays, “Dear Lord, baby Jesus” which ignites a debate about which Jesus to pray to. Ferrell says, “Look, I like the Christmas Jesus best, and I am saying grace. When you’re saying grace, you can decide who to pray to.” The family then goes around the table and talks about how they like to picture Jesus: Jesus in a tuxedo shirt, samurai Jesus, and so on. And Ferrell concludes by praying to “Dear 6 lb 8 ounce newborn infant Jesus…thank you for all your power and grace, dear baby God.”

sneha-xWZSBU0s7bw-unsplash

Obviously, this is an extreme caricature, but what haunts me is the kernel of truth it is embellishing. I’m not saying that most people picture Jesus in a tuxedo suit or in a dojo; however, there is a sense in which people love to celebrate and enjoy only a chosen sliver of Jesus’ life. I read a challenging poem about a year ago that has been similarly haunting to me. Because of the onslaught of the Christmas season, I wanted to share it.

It is as if infancy
were the whole of incarnation
by Luci Northcote Shaw

One time of the year
The new-born child
Is everywhere,
Planted in madonna’s arms
Hay mows, stables,
In palaces or farms,
Or quaintly, under snowed gables,
Gothic angular or baroque plump,
Naked or elaborately swathed,
Encircled by Della Robbia wreaths,
Garnished with whimsical
Partridges and pears,
Drummers and drums,
Lit by oversize stars,
Partnered with lambs,
Peace doves, sugar plums,
Bells, plastic camels in sets of three,
As if these were what we need
For eternity.

But Jesus the Man is not be seen.
We are too wary, these days,
Of beards and sandalled feet.

Yet if we celebrate, let it be
That He
Has invaded our lives with purpose
Striding over picturesque traditions,
Our shallow sentiment,
Overturning our cash registers,
Wielding His peace like a sword,
Rescuing us into reality,
Demanding much more
Than the milk and softness
And the mother warmth
Of the baby in the storefront crèche,

(only the Man would ask
all, of each of us)
reaching out
always, urgently, with strong
effective love
(only the Man would give
His life and live
Again for love of us).

Oh, come, let us adore Him –
Christ – the Lord.

Don’t get me wrong, I love a good creche. But I need to be reminded that Christmas was simply the beginning of the life of the God-man Jesus, “the one who has invaded our lives with his purpose,” who forces us to see ourselves and humanity through the most realistic, yet hope-filled lenses. We don’t like to be addressed in our sin-sickness, our weakness, or our superficiality, but this is exactly what Jesus lovingly does. He came to earth to be the perfect full-orbed human that we all fail so miserably to be. And this is our deep and abiding hope. This is the legacy of Christ, the Lord.

 

Filed under: Uncategorized