Written in Blood

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Some of the things I post are written in blood. My blood. They have cost me plenty and were a struggle to write, but I knew there was gold in them.

Apparently no one else, or at least very few, noticed the sparkle.

I don’t check blog stats most of the time anymore. I am realizing that some concepts I struggle  to articulate are mostly the result of my need to process something that matters only to me and perhaps a handful of others. They are not without value — just without hits.

Some of the things I’ve posted are more like quick sketches on the back of a junk mail envelope. Sometimes something I wrote in 15 minutes catches the attention of readers. A friend with a large following shared one of those recently. Within a few hours I received an unexpected notification from WordPress that it was receiving thousands of hits. (Thanks, PM.) I desperately wanted to go back and fix some details, the kind of awkward bits I am nose-blind to until I sniff around from the vicarious position of an expected house guest, but too late.

I wonder what it was like for serious composers who spent years struggling to write symphonies and operas and oratorios only to have their reputation hang on a simple song they wrote for a local playhouse because they needed quick rent money. Bobby McFerrin is a brilliant classical and jazz musician. What is he known for? Don’t Worry. Be Happy (which I actually enjoy listening to on gloomy rainy days like this one.)

Fans are fickle. God is committed to my good. I need a reminder not to get them confused. He showed us how to be who he created us to be when wrote his message in blood long before anyone (including me) had any idea of what he was talking about.

For an audience of one.

(But you can read this too — if you want to.)

Then Shall the Eyes of the Blind Be Opened

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Following up on a reminder to remember, let me tell you this story.

“What would we do if that happened in our family?” my son asked. A book he read for a school assignment upset him. It was the story of a girl who became blind.

“First we would cry,” I told him. “Then we would make adjustments and help her to live life as best she could.”

That was an inadequate answer. I had more to learn. A few weeks later our daughter, his younger sister, went blind.

A case of pink eye, combined with side-effects of medication for another condition and the use of contact lens I told her not to wear, but should have confiscated, turned into a raging infection. I didn’t realize how serious it was until one morning, a couple of weeks before Christmas, she screamed that she couldn’t open her eyes because of pain. We took her to the hospital still thinking she was overacting a bit when the ophthalmologist told us she was admitting her. She had “fried her corneas” and faced serious scarring that meant she would probably lose her eyesight permanently.

The doctor was not nice about it. She yelled at us in the hallway in front of patients and staff, berating our parenting ability and accusing us of negligence. I was terrified and filled with guilt. Not only could my precious child go blind, but it was my fault!

The next few days were agony for all of us. Our daughter was placed in a small windowless room near the nurses’ station on the children’s ward. Anyone who visited her was also essentially blind, since any light caused her great pain. Every hour, day and night, a nurse entered and administered painful drops, which, we didn’t know at the time, she was allergic to. Her condition deteriorated.

“First we cry,” was entirely inadequate for the situation. “First we weep and wail and throw up,” was more like it. Of course, we tried to not let her see – or rather hear – our reaction. We tried to maintain a positive attitude around her, even when the doctor told her there was no way she was going home for Christmas. She would be spending it in the dark, stuffy room.

Of course, we prayed, but it was more and more difficult to maintain any kind of faith with every new negative report. But God…

“There was someone in my room last night, Mom,” she said when I came in early in the morning.

“It was probably a nurse, or hospital staff,” I said.

“No. I always know when the door opens because the light in the hall hurts and besides, they always talk to me. This felt different. The door didn’t open. It was just there. I felt, I don’t know, a presence.”

I assumed painkillers caused her to hallucinate.

Then the doctor came in. She was shocked. Our daughters’ eyes were much better. There was no sign of infection and inflammation and swelling were fading. She remained in hospital a couple more days to make sure, but she came home for Christmas.

Today she is a teacher and artist – a professional photographer who depends on keen eyesight. She was told she would never be able to wear contacts or have laser surgery for near-sightedness, but that prognosis was not fulfilled either. Now, she doesn’t even wear glasses. When doctors predicted her husband would die of necrotizing fasciitis, she had faith and hope beyond any logical scientific limitations. An encounter with the Healer opened her heart to possibilities she never imagined. It opened our hearts as well.

Here is where I was wrong. I told my son that if such a thing ever happened in our family, we would try to find ways to cope. Even though I grew up in the church and heard all the stories in the Bible about how Jesus healed people, I didn’t know he still heals. The best we could reasonably expect was help in learning to cope.

I know, the first yeah-but that comes to mind is the question about why many people who pray are not healed. I don’t know. All I know is that people who believe The Healer is part of who God wants to show himself to be for us see a lot more miracles and healings than people who have lost hope. People who rejoice in his goodness are free to live in hope – and hope frees us to live without limits.

God is good.

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Confident Vulnerability

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I heard a young woman say, “I guess if I’m going to be a writer, I’m going to have to develop a tougher skin.”

I used to think that way, chiding myself for being too sensitive, apologizing for getting my face in the way of someone’s hand. Then I stopped. Well, at least I decided it was time to change my mind on that subject.

“The world doesn’t need more tough-skinned people,” I told her. “Look around. There are plenty of tough-skinned writers here. You can tell by the number of people scurrying for cover when the tough ones start hammering on their keyboards.

The world needs more courageously tender people. The world needs more risk-taking, gentle, loving people whose fearlessness comes from a deep relationship with God. They know his love for them never fails. He is always for them. The result is betach – confident security. People who know they are loved unconditionally can afford to be vulnerable.”

Hmm. I think I need to put that on a sticky note above my desk.

Let Me Help You

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“Two-gun Pete with the stinky feet!” my husband crooned as he tickled his baby grandson’s toes.
“What? Where did you learn that?” I asked.

The baby laughed one of those contagious giggles that makes you repeat what ever action brought on the delightful response.

“Two-gun Pete with the stinky feet!” he chanted again, blurbling the soles of Baby’s chubby feet. “It’s something my Granny used to sing,” he added, smiling at our precious boy as if he were passing on a profound family secret.
“Is there more to this song?”
“That’s all I remember.”

The ‘baby’ is wearing size nine gym shoes now. If stinky is involved, it’s his problem.

You know, the oddest things fall off the shelves in my brain when I give my head a shake. The Pete’s Feet ditty started playing on my internal music machine while reading the story in the Bible about Peter refusing, at first, to let Jesus wash his feet. I wondered, if Peter possessed two guns that night if he would have used them instead of the sword he wielded to cut off someone’s ear when they came to arrest Jesus. He seemed the type.

The Passover meal they ate marked the last evening the whole gang spent together before the crucifixion. Jesus knew what was about to happen, so everything he did and said carried importance the way last conversations before partings do, even when nobody else recognizes its seriousness.

At one point, Jesus got up, grabbed a basin with water, tied a towel around his waist, and washed the other disciples’ feet. He came to Peter. Peter protested.

Peter looked at Jesus and said, “You’ll never wash my dirty feet—never!”
“But Peter, if you don’t allow me to wash your feet,” Jesus responded, “then you will not be able to share life with me.” (from John 13 in The Passion Translation)

When Peter refused, Jesus confronted him sternly. This was important. This was so important that Jesus said Peter could not be a part of him if he did not let Jesus wash his feet. That’s a harsh thing to say to someone who has given up everything to follow you. Why did Jesus insist?

I’ve always looked at this foot-washing act as a demonstration of the need to imitate Christ in his willingness to minister to others as a humble servant. That lesson is certainly there, but lately I’ve seen more in this story.

Pete probably had stinky feet, sanitation being what it was in the days of dusty roads and animals in the streets. Jesus was his Lord. One simply does not plop one’s unattractive stinky parts in the lap of someone one is trying to worship, and probably impress.

Peter saw himself as a servant, someone who was ready to honour and protect the man he recognized as the Son of God. He carried the sword they scrounged up at the last minute and he used it in defense of his Master.

He came from a culture with a pecking order where people knew their place. He was ready to play the part of looking after Jesus. He announced his intentions to do so. He followed the rules. But Jesus had different expectations. He was asking Peter to see things differently. Like me, Peter needed serious nudging to provoke change.

At the last supper Jesus told his disciples that he didn’t call them servants, like most would expect. He called them friends.

“You show that you are my intimate friends when you obey all that I command you. I have never called you ‘servants,’ because a master doesn’t confide in his servants, and servants don’t always understand what the master is doing. But I call you my most intimate friends, for I reveal to you everything that I’ve heard from my Father.” (John 15:14, 15)

When we first came to faith in Christ many of us approached as orphans, grateful for shelter and nourishment. A lot of people remain content with that level of relationship. Others move on to become servants out of gratitude and respect and sincere desire to demonstrate love. Many of us secretly hope, through self-sacrificing servanthood, to secure a place in the Lord’s affections by becoming useful in the Kingdom.

Jesus wants something else. He wants us to participate in intimate friendship with him.

What did Jesus ask of his disciples?

“So this is my parting command: Love one another deeply!” (verse 17)

Loving one another deeply requires mutual submission. Submission is not a word I like. Surrender is even worse. Both bring back memories of ‘play’ fights with my brothers that didn’t end until someone said ‘uncle’ or someone was hurt or humiliated — often all three.

By washing their feet, Jesus demonstrated a serving attitude in leadership as opposed to the usual “lording over” attitude of religious and political hierarchies. By confronting Peter he also gave the clear message: Unless you are willing to accept help — my help — you can’t be a part of this.

More than the message, “Help others,” Jesus also preached, “Let others help you,” and specifically, “Let Me help you.”

I realized this is the aspect of submission that I missed for so many years. I didn’t understand what the word means. Submission doesn’t mean being a doormat to someone who would take advantage. Submission means saying, “How can I extend myself to help you to become all Christ means you to be?” Submission also means responding to Christ in others when he says through them, “Let me help you.”

Submission means becoming vulnerable, but becoming vulnerable to God’s goodness.

Can I admit one of the more horrifying aspects of my health adventures in the past two and a half years has been the humiliating need to sometimes present for examination embarrassing parts of my body I prefer to keep under wraps? There’s nothing like both major gynecological and bowel surgery in one year to put a large dent in one’s sense of decorum. When you live in a small city that can involve the participation of your friend’s husband guiding a camera on the end of a probe, or a former student wiping your butt with a damp wash cloth, or a visiting relative holding a basin.

I understand Peter. I don’t want people I hold in esteem to have to deal with my less-than-attractive parts. I feel entirely too vulnerable. I would much rather see myself as someone who helps than as someone who needs help.

Lately, I have needed help. I am learning to quit dropping subtle (and sometimes whiney) hints and admit when I can’t do something.

I have learned, in this process, that I am not the only one in the crowd with metaphorical stinky feet (and other inglorious bits.) The more we become family as we connect with the Holy Spirit in each other, the more people trust us by being honest about their own messy lives. When we can offer the same grace we have received, relationships develop and love grows.

Perhaps it is not until we have been in a position of needing help that we begin to understand how to offer help in a way that preserves the dignity of both the giver and the receiver.

I wonder if some people who find themselves in prolonged seasons of feeling inadequate for the task (as Peter did after he discovered his deeply disappointing weakness), are in training for positions greater influence. I wonder if the story of Jesus washing his friends’ feet was as much about learning to receive graciously as to give graciously.

At the very least, I hear Jesus’ gentle chiding, “I dearly want you to be able to share life with me. But first, let Me help you.”

When It Hurts

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Sharing the sufferings of Christ involves the experience of the deep emotions, agony, and passion he continues to experience for the least, the last, and the lost by his indwelling Spirit. All followers of Jesus were once least, last, and lost. When we forget that, we stop feeling.

– Dr. Mark Chironna

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Written over three years ago, applicable this week.

Charis: Subject to Change

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I delete a lot of photos. Because the camera lies.

I have deleted photos of people with eyes half closed, limbs twisted in odd configurations and facial expressions from disgust to lust, none of which reflect the personality of the subject. They were snapshots of moments in time, captured moments on the way to more meaningful moments.

I kept this photo in my collection because I find it visually interesting. Some photos are like poems and condense an expression of an entire day into a moment. Some photos suggest cause for judgment where there is no actual cause. It is a snapshot. That is all.

Yesterday I realized how easy it is to make a snap judgment based on one moment. Social media can set these snap judgments in concrete. Mob justice is a terrifying thing. Mobs don’t have the time to make an effort to see the larger context. They grab…

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Wisdom Plays

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Man is most nearly himself when he achieves the seriousness of a child at play.”  ~Heraclitus

I nestle into a warm form-fitting spot on a colourful beach towel and watch the children. This boy has a plan. He has a vision. He digs. He moves the earth, forming mounds and channels with shovels and pails and his own bare hands. Towers grow on foundations he creates. Monuments to industriousness spring up where only impressions of bare feet dented the wet sand before he arrived. He pats towers into temporary permanence.

No one tells him what to do. When he finished throwing stones into the water, a ritual  all boys must follow, he picked up his tools and got to work, as oblivious to the calls of his siblings as he is to the seagulls.

They both steal his potato chips. It doesn’t matter. He is creating. He creates because he was made to create. It’s who he is. He builds because he must build. It’s who he is becoming.

The Creator made him in His image. He carries the Creator’s purpose somewhere deep inside. He is a child of God and must be about his Father’s business. His play is his work.

I watch and remember the Spirit of Wisdom saying:

I was there, close to the Creator’s side as his master artist.
Daily he was filled with delight in me
as I playfully rejoiced before him.

I laughed and played,
so happy with what he had made,
while finding my delight in the children of men.

(Proverbs 8:30,31 TPT)

It is the nature of the Godhead to laugh, to play, to find delight in each other, to find delight in their creation.

I can see the source of their joy in this boy, on this beach, on this day.

I watch the children play on the beach under the warm summer sun. Cool water laps against the division of water and land. The afternoon breeze skims over the lake and rises to play with trembling aspen leaves and sing through fir tree branches. Ospreys soar in a blue sky too full of light to see with unshaded eyes.

The boy straightens up and stands like Colossus with sand-covered legs astride the harbour. His hands, like mighty David’s hands, still hold pail and shovel, his weapons of praise at rest.

“Look what I made!”

He smiles. He is proud. He knows.

I feel God’s pleasure.

Joy.