Wednesday, February 29, 2012

What The Rain Brings

It has been raining in my life for several months.  It started with a violent storm, but was followed by a dripping, dreary, persistent kind of rain.  There were some days of sun, but a charge in the air made me know the rain was not done yet.  Then the storm came again, unexpectedly, with thunder and lightening, followed by a relentless downpour.  The kind where the wind whips you in the face and the waves threaten to sweep you away.  The kind that floods your basement, makes you climb into the bathtub for cover, or curl up under a blanket wishing someone stronger and braver were there.  In the middle of this storm, all I can think about is the storm itself, and the damage it is causing and will cause.  I cannot see its purpose, its meaning.  I cannot predict when it will end or where it will lead.  I am powerless against this storm.  There is nothing I can do to stop it.

I want to run, to find shelter or painkillers.  I want to be delivered, not experienced.  I don’t want the temptation and doubt and self-pity.  I want to be strong, capable, undoubting.  I just want the storm to end, and if it doesn’t, then I want to know where it’s heading, what it is planning, what the damage will be.  And yet, I don’t know any of these things, I cannot find shelter, and nothing makes the hurt go away. 

I was praying about this a couple days ago as I paced my living room, sobbing in a somewhat unarticulated pain.  I was crying to God that he would take the hurt away when this came to mind: “Jesus wept.”  I believed this was in the Bible, but did not know where, and could not remember in what context it may have happened.  (Turns out, this is found at John 11:35 in the story about Lazarus.  I had to look up “wept” in the concordance to find it.)  Scholars could debate and have debated the reasons Jesus wept.  But what God apparently wanted me to know as I prayed for relief from the pain was simply that Jesus wept.  I began to say this aloud.  Jesus wept.  Jesus wept.  I had been saying it for days, but could not arrive at any resolution or solace.  

Last night, when I put my daughter to bed, I heard rain pelting the window.  This surprised me and then it occurred to me that I had forgotten what the rain brings.  As I leaned close to my daughter, who was tucked under her warm covers, I could pray only what was on my heart at that moment:

        Thank you for the rain.  It reminds us that Spring is on the way, that you are making things new and that life and sun are on the horizon.  We love you.  Amen.

I remembered then that after Jesus wept, he raised Lazarus from the dead and all who were present saw the glory of God.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Nothing Else To Say, Nothing Else To Do

There are times when there is just nothing else to say, nothing else to do.  A time to circle the wagons, lock the doors, hang on tight, and trust that what he says and all he is, is true.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Way Before Good Enough

Not too long ago, I ran into a woman who saw me with my Bible and asked me why I carried it.  Her question was so direct, it took me slightly off-guard.  I said something like, “I never know when I might need it.”  She looked curious and so I sat down next to her and asked her what she knew about the Bible.  She told me she didn’t go to church, but knew about Jesus.  I asked a few more questions: “What do you know about him?  How come you don’t go to church?  Do you have a Bible?”  Then she told me that she can’t go to church yet.  I was struck by this word “yet,” so I asked her what she meant.  “I still do bad things.  I’m not good enough yet.”  

It is easy for me to forget the state of my life when God’s grace first appeared to me.  I look back now and see the destructive road I was traveling.  At the time, it seemed like the only road.  I don’t remember seeing any exits, or rest stops, or caution signs, though I’m sure they were there.  I catch glimpses of what God watched me do and heard me say, and I am so ashamed that to bring it to mind is almost too much to take.  He saw everything I did, everywhere I was.  He saw the very, very bottom.  

But it was there, at the bottom, that I was first overcome by his grace.  I had never seen it before.  I had not been aware I needed it.  I had not been aware of its power and its gentleness.  It did not wait for me to stop doing bad things or to clean myself up.  It did not wait for “good enough.”  It was just suddenly there, mysteriously closer than my own breath when I was at my worst.

I must encounter people in my day-to-day living who, although they might not say so explicitly, are at or very near their bottom.  They are starting to see what they are capable of and how their own hearts can lead them to do things they are ashamed of when they are alone in the dark.  I might be the one God will use to show his grace to them in this very moment at the bottom.  I might be the one, if I would only be available, that God will use to reveal how his love and grace can cover every deed, every word, and every thought.  I might be the one that God will use to show that his mercy simply knows no bounds and reaches in when we are at our worst.  I might be the one that God will use to say that Jesus saves now, when we are not good enough, when we still do bad things.  (Romans 5:8)     

The only way for me to be someone God uses to show that his grace doesn’t wait for “good enough” is to never forget where grace came to me:  way before good enough. 

Friday, February 10, 2012

On The Inside

Last week, I took my daughter and her friend swimming at the local park district pool on a Saturday afternoon.  I swam some laps and then sat on the side in a patch of sunlight that was pouring through the windows.  I watched them play and talk while holding onto blue kick boards.  My daughter's hair was slicked back by the purple goggles perched on her head, the girls' laughing was swallowed by the high ceilings, and splashes of water echoed like intermittent waves on the shore.  The undeniable beauty of this moment struck me suddenly and I realized how much I loved the slowness and smallness of it.  I often think of God in big moments and great tasks.  I often think of Him on the outside.  But here He was inside of this little moment at the pool.  Here was His grace and love, strong enough to conquer even death, on the inside of the laughing and splashing.  Here He was on the inside of my family, the inside of my life.  And, for some reason then, I began writing a list, a list of other small, slow moments that I want to experience with Him on the inside.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

I Know, My Love. I Know.

Psalm 139

I heard it from my bedroom, a violent retching from deep down in her soul.  I ran to her room and saw her sitting up, crying, shaking and looking at me with teary, apologetic eyes.  “I’m sorry, Mom.  I couldn’t make it to the bathroom.”  It is true, there was a mess I hadn’t experienced before, but what I noticed more was the way she shook and the way the pain overtook her.  “It’s okay, my love.  It’s okay.” 

I lifted her weak body off the bed and escorted her slowly to the bathroom, where she sat in front of the toilet.  I whispered to her that it would be okay and she was going to be better soon.  She shook her head, disbelieving my words because they were so obviously inconsistent with her current state.  After hours of cramped legs near the white porcelain and the yellow bath mat, I still rubbed her back and closed my eyes from tiredness.  I opened them at one point and looked at this sweet, pained girl who had by miracle of all miracles come from my body. 

She sat slightly hunched, shivering, and mouthing words silently.  Curious, I tried to read them, and leaned in to hear if any sound came so I could share in what she whispered into the dark.  I couldn’t make out the words, and so I asked if she had been praying.  “Yes,” she said quietly over a now-sore throat.  “What did you say?”  She said, “Lord, have mercy on me.  Have mercy on me.”  My eyes welled with tears and I brushed her hair from her face, realizing that I hadn’t prayed.  I hadn’t asked for God’s intervention.  I wondered why this hadn’t occurred to me, and at the same time felt endlessly thankful that it had occurred to her.  I echoed her prayer, knowing that this was the only thing to do: “Lord, have mercy on her.  Have mercy on her.”  Then, I noticed a tiny vein on the outer part of her ear; a small mole near her hairline; eyelashes that could sweep the floor they are so long; her warm, feverish skin; her fingers that look like my sister’s fingers. 

She cried every half an hour or so, “Mom, I don’t want to throw up.  It hurts too much.  Why do I have to?”  All I could do was to rub her back and say, “I know, my love.  But there is something inside that your body knows it needs to get rid of in order for you to get better.  Once it’s out, you will feel better.  I promise.  And I’m right here.”  She leans into me.  I couldn’t have loved her more in those hours by the toilet.  I couldn’t have felt more heavy-hearted as she got rid of what was making her sick.  But I have seen this before, experienced it myself, and so I knew, even though she couldn’t see it, that she would get better.  I knew that the only way she would begin to heal was to hurt.

There is something deep in my soul that needs to come out.  It is hurt from so long ago, when I was about my daughter’s age, and just recently, it has begun to sting my insides, to occupy my waking thoughts, to invade my sleep.  This injury prevents me from trusting anyone but God with all of who I am.  This old hurt emerged just as suddenly and unexpectedly as the stomach flu.  And I make the same protestations and ask the same questions of God that my daughter asked of me: “I don’t want to feel this.  It hurts too much.  Why do I have to?”  I say the same prayer that she whispered into the dark: “Lord, have mercy on me.  Have mercy on me.”  These are the only words that come. 

God sees my tears, hears my cries, carries me gently where I need to go. His heart breaks for the pain, but he will allow it to come, all the while, rubbing my back, hemming me in.  He knows that once the toxins are out, I will feel better.  He promises me this is so and he sits next to me holding me fast.  I lean into him.  He studies the hands that he made, the eyelashes he planted, my inmost being that he created and that he alone knows.  He sees light where I see only darkness.  He could not love me more in these painful hours.  He could not feel more heavy-hearted as old hurts arise and are exposed and expunged.  But he sees what I can’t see.  He knows, even though I disbelieve because it is so obviously inconsistent with my current feeling, that I will get better.  He knows that the only way I will begin to heal is to hurt.  And so, he leans close and whispers, “I know, my love.  I know.”