On Death and Resurrection

Newness always seems to inspire me. If you follow me on Instagram (I’m @colibri_homestead and you can see pictures here even if you aren’t a user), you’ll know we bought a used RV and fixed it up enough to take our first trip (to the Oregon Coast!). We had to come back mid-trip for a saline infusion (I talk more about that on a recent Instagram post if you’re curious to learn more), and decided this morning it’s better if we skip the second part of our trip. There was relief there, and sadness too. All these things together inspired these words from my heart. Cheers to embracing that which we are taught not to embrace!

Physical suffering.

It can literally bring you to your knees.

Deeper than your knees. Sometimes in a deep, deep pit where there’s just the smallest glimmer of something that’s not your body’s pain and the messiness spinning out from it.

It can bring shame or embarrassment:

At the parenting you cannot do.

The relationships you cannot maintain.

The independence you lose.

The doing you cannot do.

 For me, the toilet in my bedroom and “grandma” diapers in my closet that   yes, can be used by those much younger too.

        For others the very cane, walker, wheelchair, shower chair, grab bars – the            things that can bring freedom if you don’t listen to the shame of your pain.

I had a wise friend share what she had learned from another wise friend about chronic illness: Sickness can be a good teacher if you let it.

And I let those words sink in. Even at their first reading they feel immediately right, and my seeing – it started getting bigger too.

She says somewhere in that conversation: Illness is a chance to practice forgiveness and grace over and over for the things people say or the ways in which they unwittingly cause pain when trying to be helpful.

I now see it as a chance to practice grace for myself over and over too.

A once-avid gardener and backpacker, I look around me and back to what I know best: the ground beneath my feet. And all I see is death and resurrection. And I think: that’s the key. There’s death, but then from that death resurrection pushes up, like scrappy weeds growing from cracks in the ground to that beautiful unfurling into its fullness of the rhubarb. Even in the forest at darkest night, there is still life swarming all around, like the nematode my son just caught; a great dark-time surprise. My, what I – what we – can catch in the dark! Because there’s its own kind of beauty in the dark and in the dying too.

And I am brought to my knees, with pain still, yet a hope: All the earth’s deaths and resurrections and all the seasons of my suffering – my own little deaths and resurrections, bring me close to him, the One who was present at creation, who lived in an earthly body with its pains, and is the very archetype of dying and rising again.

So now when pain hits and brings me to my knees for days or weeks or months or minutes, I remember to listen and learn and bring with me all that I have gathered along the way:

To fall into death and remember it is always followed by resurrection, even if it is just a small enough break to empty that toilet by my bed.

How all those little resurrections build and they build and they build until they outstrip my fear of death; my fear of that pit.

How now, all that pit holds is the potential for new life.

And then the pit loses its death grip on me. And I am brought closer and closer through this dying and resurrecting that my physical pain brings to the One who embodied it resulting in deep, deep union. Ah, that sweet, sweet union. Union that only the co-knowers know.

And I realize all along what the Beatitudes have told me: that those things that look more to the world like un-gifts are really the greatest gifts of all. And I do the impossible, or what some would say is imprudent, foolish: I somehow embrace my physical suffering. Pain then becomes gift, even as you both wish it away and somehow rest in it.

 


 

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On thanks despite circumstances

I appreciate these words today from Shauna Niequist: “…when life is sweet, say thank you and celebrate. And when life is bitter, say thank you and grow.”

I find life is more a mix of the two, but yes, the response to God can always be thank you. For example, #disabledmamalife (my new, humanizing and humorous hashtag on Facebook): Physical healing? Thank you. No healing? I praise and thank you yet. For are the sick, broken, poor, weak any less beloved? Oh no! And the Sermon on the Mount calls out the mourning as blessed. There’s a thanks to be experienced and lived and uttered even there, in those hard places.

It got me reading and thinking about Scripture: Paul’s thorn in the flesh, the charge “to give thanks in *all* circumstances ” (from 1 Thessalonians 5:18), and remebering Jesus’ suffering.

(This popped out to me too, from 1 Thessalonains 4:9-10: “Now about brotherly love we do not need to write to you, for you yourselves have been taught by God to love each other. And in fact, you do love all the brothers throughout Macedonia. *Yet we urge you, brothers, to do so more and more.*”

There’s a call to more love and more thanks ringing in my ears and pounding in my heart tonight, and I’m listening. Do you feel the pounding rising in you?

And for those in the bitter-sweet more than the sweet-bitter, oh how Psalm 13 (BUT I trust in your unfailing love) and Psalm 18 can be our encouragement and reminder: “The cords of death entangled me; the torrents of destruction overwhelmed me. The cords of the grave coiled around me; the snares of death confronted me. In my distress I called to the Lord…but the Lord was my support. He brought me out into a spacious place; he rescued me because he delighted in me…Exalted be God my Savior!” For there is spaciousness even in the suffering. I’ve experienced it to be true. It’s what Psalm 23 talks about – that even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, God has me lie down in green pastures, leads me beaside quiet waters and *restores my soul.*  And as my friend Shannon Evans said: “A life that bears suffering is not what we should most fear – our Lord modeled that for us Himself.”

More tidbits come to mind. Call this my suffering stream of consciousness…

A prayer from Common Prayer: A Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals: “Lord, as the seasons turn, creation teaches us of grief, patience, and renewal. Make us good students of these rhythms that we might not hurry the work of grief but receive the gift of your presence in our time of need. Amen.”

And words from a sister in Christ, @wildrootsparable: “To be sure, holding the griefs of the world in one palm and the joys of God’s providence in the other is a heavy burden; do you feel it too? But there is grace yet, my friends. And laughter. And peace. And beauty. If anything, these sacred gifts from our Creator shine brightest when found where they hide, tucked into the icy corners of the world’s darkest corners.”

And Cynthia Bourgeault on Pierre Teilhard de Chardin: “The haunting prayer woven into Teilhard’s (T) reflection of faith in The Divine Milieu makes clear that it is no cheap optimism that T is dispensing here, but a wrenchingly honest acknowledgment of our human predicament and an unfailing fidelity to seeing God in *every* aspect of the earth, even in our human suffering.” A final “prayer” by T himself:

“Ah, you know it yourself, Lord, through having borne the anguish of it as a man: on certain days the world seems a terrifying thing: huge, blind, and brutal…At any moment the vast and horrible thing may break in through the cracks – the thing which we try hard to forget is always there,  separated from us a by a partition: fire, pestilence, storms, earthquakes, or the unleashing of dark moral forces – these callously sweep away in one moment what we had laboriously built up and beautified with all our intelligence and all our love. Since my human dignity, O God, forbids me to close my eyes to this…*teach me to adore it by seeing you concealed within it.*” – Amen

I’ll let my stream continue on in my head as I drift off to sleep, suffering but held close by my intimate Abba Father. Or maybe I’ll focus in on the words to this song, one of honor and thanks, that just came to mind (my brain, friends, it never stops…!):

Holy, holy, holy, holy, holy Lord,
God of power and might,
heaven and earth are filled with your glory.
Hosanna in the highest.

If you aren’t feeling the sweetness now, in your life or when you look at the world around, grace and peace yet to you. May our mouths be full of thanks, wherever we find ourselves in 2018. We’ll get their by walking with Christ, our Suffering Servant, who is our “me too” gets it Saviour and friend. We’ll get there by looking for him in our bitter-sweet, with a spirit of thanksgiving, heart remebering his past faithfulness and his promises, and eyes wanting see.

“I will enter His gates with thanksgiving in my heart; I will enter His courts with praise. I will say this is the day that the Lord has made. I will rejoice for He has made me glad.”

Peace and love, friends.

(And clearly I’m into the oldies but goodies of songs). All stream of conciousness responses welcome on the comments. 😉

Surrendering over and over

Things are so, so good. And things are so, so hard. Maybe you feel that way too? Our hards are all different, yet they can feel in us and do in us the same.

Right now, my hards have been giving me a spirit of fear. Do you ever feel it too? Sometimes starting in your toe and creeping up your leg; a little pest? Sometimes sitting hard on your chest, or filling you to the top of your head, filling you to overwhelming?

Yet I am reminded – by myself, the Spirit of God in me, those in my life (thank you!), by Scripture –  that I need not have a spirit of fear, because instead I have one of sonship/daughtership. Scripture reminds me that the Spirit helps me – helps us – in our weaknesses, that if God is for me – for us – who can be against us?, and that nothing can separate me – separate us – from the love of Christ (Read Romans 8; it’s powerful stuff.)

So what do I do when the unwelcome companionship of fear hits? I recognize it in me, and I ask my people to pray for me. They listen to my fears, and they remind me that I am a beloved child of God and he is FOR me. One speaks a word over me; a powerful reminder to surrender to what my body is doing and to find God there. The Holy Spirit reminds me of Mary’s willing prayer: Let it be to me according to your word. And I’m reminded of what I read about St. Francis in The Road to Assisi:

Joy had returned to Francis. During a night of sleeplessness he heard a voice saying to him, “If you had faith as a grain of mustard seed, you would say to this mountain, ‘Be removed from here,’ and it would move away.” Was not the mountain his sufferings, the temptation to murmur and despair? “Be it, Lord, according to your word,” Francis replied with all his heart, and immediately he felt that he was delivered.

Francis might have perceived that the mountain had not greatly changed its place, but for several days he turned his eyes away from it and had been able to forget its existence.

And after a day’s break from fear, it rolled over me again. And someone again prays for me. And these words roll around in my heart and in my head until they roll bigger and louder than the fear: I surrender. I surrender. I want to know you more. I want to know you more.

So I will repeat those words. I will turn them into my anthem. I will keep calling on the comfort of the Holy Spirit and the prayers of my community. I will trust what Romans 8 says: that the Spirit helps me in my weakness, that the Spirit intercedes for me through wordless groans. And I will turn my eyes from my mountain – my suffering, and turn my eyes to Jesus instead. And I will do it as often as I need to put the mountain of my suffering’s existence in its proper shadow – that of Joy and Love and Peace himself.

Do any of you suffering want to share this anthem from Hillsong with me?

Here I am
Down on my knees again
Surrendering all
Surrendering all

Find me here
Lord as You draw me near
I’m desperate for You
I’m desperate for You

I surrender

Drench my soul
As mercy and grace unfold
I hunger and thirst
I hunger and thirst

With arms stretched wide
I know you hear my cry
Speak to me now
Speak to me now

I surrender
I surrender
I want to know you more
I want to know you more

I surrender
I surrender
I want to know you more
I want to know you more

Like a rushing wind
Jesus breathe within
Lord have Your way
Lord have Your way in me

Like a mighty storm
Stir within my soul
Lord have Your way
Lord have Your way in me

Like a rushing wind
Jesus breathe within
Lord have Your way
Lord have Your way in me

Like a mighty storm
Stir within my soul
Lord have Your way
Lord have Your way in me

I surrender
I surrender
I want to know you more
I want to know you more

I surrender
I surrender
I want to know you more
I want to know you more

(YouTube video here)

So here I am. Surrending. Over and over. As many times as needed. Saying Lord have your way. I don’t know why. I don’t understand. I don’t know how long this will last. I don’t know what the next moment holds. But I can see beauty here, even in this. I maybe even see you here, most in my suffering and in the suffering of those I walk with. Lord have your way. I surrender and I want to know you more. I surrender. I want to know you more right here where I find myself.

Sing with me?

I picture us – the broken, the suffering – holding hands and singing and surrendering together, and it is a beautiful picture. May God hold you tenderly in your fear and may the Holy Spirit be your comfort. May you be able to yet praise, and if not, the Holy Spirit groan praise within you.

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(Gems from the Internet on illness and withstanding suffering here and here. Art from one of my favorite and local artists Nikki McClure, currently on my wall, reminding me to praise and keep praising.)