Let Me Help You

dirty feet IMG_4615

“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.”

Then Bursting Forth In Glorious Day

sun leaves backlit ch rs IMG_4497

I lost a friend today. I was shocked when I heard the news. She was a relatively new friend, someone I was getting to know and appreciate, but we had many mutual friends. Our most important mutual friend was Jesus Christ.

She prayed for me when she learned I had cancer, when I went through surgery, when I started treatment and when I learned the disease was in remission. She was often there beside me praying because that’s what she did.

I was the one who was sick. I never expected her to be the one who went to dance in the glory of paradise first. She left mid-conversation. One moment she was here and the next she was stepping through gates of splendour. I’ll bet God called her by his own name for her since she was not fond of the one she bore here.

I met a man from a part of the world where people in his family of believers were often killed for their faith. He said, “You North American Christians sing about heaven, but nobody seems to want to go there. It is not so with us. We do not fear death. To be with Christ will be a wonderful thing.”

Now my friend is seeing this wonderful thing. I grieve for and with her much-loved family and friends, but I rejoice for her. We have lost her for now, but not forever.

We sang this song together only a few days ago:
Then bursting forth in glorious day
Up from the grave he rose again
And as he stands in victory
Sin’s curse has lost its grip on me
For I am his, and he is mine
Bought by the precious blood of Christ

No guilt in life, no fear in death
This is the power of Christ in me
From life’s first cry to final breath
Jesus commands my destiny
No power in hell, no scheme of man
Can ever pluck me from his hand
Til he returns or calls me home
Here in the power of Christ I stand

(from In Christ Alone by Stuart Townend and Keith Getty)

You are truly shining in the light of his glory, Margo. Dance, girl, dance.

The Couch

The secret of the Lord is for those who fear Him, and He will make them know His covenant. (NASB)

“Did you know the root word in Hebrew for secret can mean a couch?” the songwriter asked as she rummaged through her file looking for the draft of her new song.
Blogging at Ishshah’s Story this week.

Ishshah's Story

Karen's cottage ch

“The greatest freedom is having nothing to prove.” – R.T. Kendall

When I look at the big comfy couch and overstuffed armchair here in my living room, I think of open-hearted conversations with friends. I think of the times people have trusted me with their stories as we sat on sofas covered in white brocade, brown leather, floral print (like this one at Karen’s cottage) or, in student days, something that looked even worse than the army blanket covering it.

Many times friends gave me the chance to be unguarded as I offered them the same privilege. We laughed, cried, challenged and encouraged each other. I welcome unadorned truth from friends close enough to genuinely care and who can extend me the same grace they have received from the Lord. Other than the entryway, where the deepest conversations seem to be accompanied by one hand on the door knob, the…

View original post 899 more words

Skin People Stories

Take a picture of me jumping!
Take a picture of me jumping!

We wondered what our wee granddaughter was talking about when she asked a question about “skin people.” Her story books were full of talking fur or feather people, she explained, so she wanted her mommy to know she was talking about other kinds of people who look like us.

“They’re called humans, Honey,” her mommy answered.

The next day, within the hearing of other shoppers she asked, “What are those humans doing over there?”
More than one head turned.

I realized that many children’s stories meant to teach a moral lesson use personified critters –clever foxes, wise owls, sneaky snakes, innocent baby bears. It’s easier for authors to frame a story when you are in control of the rules in the fictional world simple characters live in. It works. Kids love it, and there are fewer stupid human tricks for us to explain.

Lately, she’s been asking me to tell her stories about me or her mommy or my friends. At nearly six-years old she has become a student of skin people nature, which can be pretty baffling at times.

Since we were discussing birthday plans I told her this true story about my friend and a birthday cake. There were two people who loved to play jokes on each other. One year “Dolly” decided to play a big trick on her friend, “Burt.” She hired a baker to decorate a cake made up of doggie biscuits frosted together (because he had already played a joke with doggie biscuits on her). From the outside, the birthday cake looked fantastic. Then she dropped it off at Burt’s house. He wasn’t home, so his wife took it gratefully and said she would give it to him later.

After a few days she had not heard anything from him and wondered if his feelings were hurt, so she phoned him.

“The cake was amazing,” he said. “Wow. Thank you so much!”

“It tasted good then?”

“Marvelous!” he gushed. He paused and then said, “I’m sorry, Dolly. I have to I have to tell you what happened. I was tired when I got home so we put it in the freezer and thought we would bring it out when we had company. But last night my wife suddenly remembered she promised to supply the cake for a birthday party for a person at the Old Folks Home. It was too late to order one and yours was beautiful so she brought it down to them this morning.

“Oh No! Did they give the dog biscuit cake to the old person, Nana?” granddaughter asked.

“Well, Dolly called the baker and asked him if he had a cake in the shop she could have and he did. So she hurried over there and bought the cake and rushed to the nursing home with it. She ran into the kitchen and asked the cook if Burt’s cake was there because she wanted to trade it for a fresher cake, but the cook said the cake was already in the dining room for the party. Dolly ran to the dining room.

“Don’t cut that cake!” she yelled.

“Why not?” everyone asked.

Just then Dolly’s friend Burt came in the room and everyone laughed and laughed because they were all playing a joke back on her. Burt knew the cake had dog biscuits inside and he told everybody he was playing joke on Dolly. He already had another one there for the party.

“Why was it funny?” my granddaughter asked.

“Why did she make a cake of dog biscuits? That would taste yucky. That could hurt his feelings.”

“How did Burt know there were dog biscuits inside? Why did he tell his friend he was giving it to the old person? Wasn’t that a lie?”

“Why did the lady forget to order the cake? Didn’t she write it on a calendar?”

“What bakery did Dolly go to?”

Well, I thought it was funny. My next story will start with “Once upon a time there were three bears…”

Skin people communication is so complicated. Friends who understand each other can share practical jokes and laugh at the re-telling for years. Let-your-yea-be-yea-and-your-nay-be-nay people will ask, “Why would you give me a dog biscuit cake? Why would you dishonour me this way?”

Nothing is more shaming than being told your attempts at communication with people you care about have been interpreted in the opposite way you intended – especially if they wait for years to tell you that they have only been smiling politely and they have found you offensive all this time.

Sometimes in our attempts to make connection too much is assumed. It’s like we have only a partial picture of this skin person and they are much more complicated than we think because unlike illustrations of fur and feather people in story books they keep bouncing out of the frame.

The moral of the story: Never assume you understand skin people. Never assume skin people understand you.

Do you know what I mean?

Hot day, cool friends

Photo: Hidden lake

Friends invited us to join them at their campsite yesterday. We’ve lived here 26 years but I never knew about this little lake at the end of a winding one lane dirt road.

“John” would know. He’s a mountain man, more at home resting in his portable easy chair beside a fishing hole in the ice at minus 35 degrees than in an office. He’s happier worshiping God while he cooks for us outside in plus 35 degree heat than in an air-conditioned church. I think he knows every inch of this valley and loves it and the animals and people who populate it. This is the guy to know if ever we need to learn to survive in the woods. He’s a man of action, not like our usual collection of academically inclined friends who are people of words (on the way out to the lake we actually had a discussion about discussion) although John is never short of words when it comes to environmental policies and wildlife management.

John is the kind of guy that boys with long black braids bring gifts of worms and minnows to, hoping he will take them out fishing in his boat later. (He did.) He’s the kind of guy who, when he saw a neighbourhood boy shooting out streetlights with a beebee gun, grabbed him and hauled him home. He then asked his mother for permission to teach the boy how to handle a gun properly and to hunt to supplement her single-mom income. He’s a tough teacher, but the boy, now a young man, completed the safety courses and is now a law-abiding citizen who deeply respects his volunteer “dad” –and the family had venison this winter.

John’s dear wife is always ready to pray. She has taught me so much. She’s the kind of woman who will listen to my stories and then ask questions that show she is truly paying attention and make me so uncomfortable I want to bop her one sometimes. That’s why I love her. She knows me, she loves me, and she’s not afraid of the truth. We can only hear the truth from someone we know cares deeply.

And so we spent the hot afternoon beside this cool lake with people who know how to love.

It was a good day.

Beached

A day at the beach

There’s nothing quite like a day at the beach to remind us that although we are all fearfully and wonderfully made, very very few of us have perfect bodies.

A lot of people avoid the beach, postponing enjoyment (often indefinitely) until they have bodies that match the images in their minds. Others just have fun in whatever shape they may be in (although a little more modest covering on some could help avoid awkward moments and the problem of averting one’s eyes.)

We can be pretty good at trying to dress up our hearts to look spiffier than they actually are too, layering them with politeness, accessorizing with colourful splashes of generosity and public service to detract from our less  attractive “problem” areas. (To be sure a little discretion can sometimes help avoid awkward moments there as well. Not every foible needs to be exposed in public.)

I wonder if there is room in the big C Church for a beach for the heart -a fun place where we can dare to let go of tailored suits or winter boots or freshly-pressed vestments (or even flak jackets) and exchange them for modest, but less disguising garments and just enjoy life together, soaking in the warmth of the sun.

I guess it’s called friendship.

It might even be called love.

Stepping on the brakes

Photo: Manitoba highway

While on a recent road trip my husband and I were discussing how discernment should operate in an atmosphere of love and grace. Just then a car pulled out in front of us as it turned left onto the highway. My husband had to hit the brakes to avoid a collision. He let out a heart-felt, “Whew! Lord, help that guy!!”

I felt the Lord say, “Like that.”

As I thought about it, it came to me that our vehicle had the right of way. We were in the right. The vehicle that pulled out ahead of us was clearly in the wrong and it was his responsibility to yield. Had we continued going the speed we were going, and had there been a collision the other driver would have been charged –but we both would have been wounded -probably very seriously.

I realized the Lord is teaching me that in discerning wrong teaching or a wrong spirit we have the option of restraining ourselves, even if we are perfectly right, to makes allowances for a brother or sister’s error in judgment.

I think this person driving the other vehicle just made a bad judgment call. Perhaps they were inexperienced, or tired, or just plain inconsiderate; perhaps they had an emergency we knew nothing about. Now had it been obvious that they were drunk and careening about the road in a grossly unsafe fashion, obviously being a threat to their own or others safety, we would have gotten their license number and called the police. Had the driver been someone under our authority, one of our kids or a student we were teaching to drive, we would have made a u-turn and followed them until we could have pulled them over, found out what on earth they were thinking (or not) and given them a kind but honest talking-to, or even taken their keys if the situation called for it. Had the driver been a close friend we may have done the same, but perhaps would have appealed to them to be more careful.

Sometimes, in the church Body, we are called to do that, but not often. Sometimes we need to warn others, but most of the time we need to apply the brakes, make concessions, let them by, pray for them and trust Holy Spirit to police the roads. He’s the one who brings conviction. Neither party would gain anything by ramming them to teach them a lesson. In fact, both would lose and the journey would be greatly hindered.

It’s not as if no one has ever had to apply the brakes for me. As much as it hurts I’d rather have a friend come along side, pull me over, speak kindly and honestly to me, and bring the consequences of my choices to my attention, than to read about “some people” on Facebook or read a rant about my heretical beliefs on a blog, or overhear “concerns” in a hallway. “Faithful are the wounds of a friend; profuse are the kisses of an enemy.” Proverbs 27:6

Today I read, “…pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace along with those who call on the Lord from pure heart. Have nothing to do with foolish ignorant controversies; you know that they breed quarrels. And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome, but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth and they may come to their senses and escape the snare of the devil after being captured by him to do his will.” 2 Timothy 2: 22b-26.

There are, indeed, some reckless, inconsiderate, inexperienced people with too much power out there on the road. Be alert. Be ready to step on the brakes. Drive carefully. Pray.