Lord, Save Me!

Our introduction to public school has been on one hand sweet and smooth and the other, depressing and disappointing.  We left an excellent school in order to enter more fully into the lives of our neighbors and to participate in the collaborative effort necessary to improve the quality of life for those who don’t have the resources or options available to the more resourced in our same city.  I shouldn’t have been so shocked, then, to discover the reality that a great disparity exists in what is provided for the abundantly resourced and the “resource stretched”.  But I was.  I immediately started running around like a crazy chicken (or as I imagine a crazy chicken might) scheming how to get Ellie back into her former school.

My sister was recently published in the online magazine Relevant, writing about how God has used bipolar to mature her faith.  She writes articulately and sensitively about this on her blog, mybipolarbrain.com.  Even so, many read her writing for the first time in this particular article and were amazed, grateful, encouraging and full of praise.  We take for granted living in a community where honesty and transparency are the norm, and many of the comments reminded us that this is not comfortable for many people.  The most interesting compliment she received multiple times was that she was “brave.”  Of all the things that describe her experience of bipolar and wrestling with faith, brave would never be a word she might have chosen, but so it seemed from the outside.

Shortly before dawn Jesus went out to them, walking on the lake.  When the disciples saw him walking on the lake, they were terrified. “It’s a ghost,” they said, and cried out in fear.  But Jesus immediately said to them: “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.”  “Lord, if it’s you,” Peter replied, “tell me to come to you on the water.”  “Come,” he said.

Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus.  But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, “Lord, save me!”  Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. “You of little faith,” he said,“why did you doubt?”  And when they climbed into the boat, the wind died down.  Then those who were in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”  Matt. 14:25-33

Running while listening to a Tim Keller sermon on Saturday morning, I was reminded that every time people have a face to face encounter with the living God, He sends them out.  God sends His people out to do the very work He intended from the beginning, to tend “the Garden”, to cultivate new life and nourish the existing life.  After “the fall”, the work of healing, restoration, resurrection and redemption is now a significant part of bringing His “kingdom on earth as it is in heaven.”  Abraham was sent away from his people and familiar home, Isaac had to leave to grow the kingdom, Joseph was sent to Egypt to save His people, Moses encountered God in the burning bush and had to go to the very place he had escaped and ultimately, Jesus left the lap of luxury, authority and fortification to enter into His creation to redeem it.

The small vignette of Peter leaving the boat came to mind as I was running, listening and fretting about our present positional dilemma.  The first thought was that I was sinking just like Peter.  I was listening to reason (You can’t walk on water!  You have to provide the best for your children’s future!) and gripped by fear and dismay at the absurd situation I now found myself in…”Get back in the boat!”  “Lord, save me!”

But the second thought was where the person and work of Jesus really began to become more clear.  Jesus, not Peter, initiated this whole walking on water event.  Peter wasn’t initially sitting in the boat thinking, “My faith is weak, or at best in question, I need to do something big so I can experience big faith!’  And, I’m going to hazard a guess that neither he nor his buddies in the boat would credit bravery for his action of stepping out of the boat.  He wasn’t motivated by bravery or by special faith but by His Lord, who he did love and trust even if imperfectly, and wasn’t considering anything else in that moment.  When the considering did begin, he realized how unreasonable this thing he was doing actually was, and began to sink.

Jesus was dealing with Peter personally and intentionally.  Peter walked not based on his own will or power or extraordinary faith, but purely because Jesus called him and Jesus did it.  The others stayed in the boat because walking on water wasn’t a new law or form of righteousness, it was a particular moment in Peter’s growth, faith and story line.  Peter would doubt again, would be faced with his weak faith again and would be saved from drowning by a compassionate, merciful and faithful Jesus again.

Like Peter, when I encounter Jesus face to face, I willingly jump out of a familiar world into one that might kill me.  Like Peter, the moment I start to consider what it is I have done, I begin to panic, fear, be depressed and totally disoriented.  Like my sister, this process has little to do with bravery and everything to do with His personal and particular work of redemption in my own heart and faith, and perhaps if necessary, at some point, through our lives to others.  And in the process, all I can do is yell, “Lord, save me!”

The one who calls you is faithful, and he will do it.  1 Thes. 5:24

Arms Up

Martha Jane has this endearing and simultaneously perplexing response to being disciplined…she immediately reaches out for an embrace and buries her face in my neck.  I faintly remember Chad doing something similar and have been wondering at what point he stopped and how I contributed to the change.  The child’s desire to please and be intimate with the parent is overwhelming, making reconciliation a top priority at the first sign of division.  There must also be an assumption that affection and harmony are desired from the parent for the child to run so quickly after it.  Somewhere along the way, I think two things diminish this beautiful response to conflict: 1) a desire to please self more than anyone else and 2) uncertainty that the relationship is cherished and full of the treasure that once held it above all else.

  “You will not certainly die,” the serpent said to the woman. “For God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”  Gen. 3:4-5

When cynicism and distrust slip into my heart, I can easily twist the motives of others and pull back into myself, into a self-protective mode.  There is a sadness and a bitterness in that place of self-survival because it assumes antagonism and self-interest from those around me, pushing me further into isolation with my fist clinched and jaw clenched.  I become my central focus, my own care and development my primary interest.

The Lord God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.”  Gen. 2:18

The Lord appeared to us in the past, saying:  “I have loved you with an everlasting love;    I have drawn you with unfailing kindness.  I will build you up again, and you, Virgin Israel, will be rebuilt.  Again you will take up your timbrels and go out to dance with the joyful.  Jer. 31:3-4

At age 2, Martha Jane knows she is dependent upon me for food, protection and even entertainment.  So far, I have confirmed her assumptions and provided for her needs and even, sometimes, heaped more than just the basics into her days with swimming, dancing, playing and tickling.  Right now, the sting of division is a terrible wound to her, unsettling until we snuggle afterward and she hears me tell her “I love you.”  Right now, I want what she has…a greater interest in harmony, unity, affection and reconciliation than in self-promotion and general self-centeredness.  That darn old default mode passed along since Adam and Eve pulls so intensely when conflict arises that for now the urge to be right, to sulk in my corner, to keep my arms crossed and my face scowling just to keep punishing her (or others) for their wounds against me too often handicaps me from moving toward the other person in humility, love, forgiveness and restoration.

But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed.  Is. 53:5

Because I can’t move forward, because I won’t take the wounds of punishment which bring healing and restoration, Jesus has.  Because He has done the work of reconciliation, I can throw my arms in the air for a hug just like Martha Jane, burying my face in the neck of my adversary or of my judge.  He is just and the One who justifies so that I can walk in grace toward others, loving as generously and unreasonably as He has loved me.  Though I cannot make myself more like Martha Jane in my response to conflict, He will complete the good work that He has begun, and she provides a picture of where that good is heading.  When I am freed from the need to look out for #1, consider myself first, I am simultaneously freed to image God as He originally intended…looking out for the rest of His creation and seeking its peace and prosperity.  What Good News!

All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation:  that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them.  And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation.  2 Cor. 5:18-19

The Hope of Disparity Destroyed

For I am afraid that when I come I may not find you as I want you to be, and you may not find me as you want me to be.  I fear that there may be discord,  jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, slander, gossip, arrogance and disorder. 2 Cor. 12:20

One thing I felt while living life in Uganda was the painful and disorienting disparity between a world of privilege (the U.S.) and a world where basic resources and opportunities are absent (electricity, water, consistent internet access, education, proper nutrition, clean air air and sanitation, transportation, etc.).  The swirl of emotional and intellectual responses include frustration, anger, sadness along with the perplexing questions and faint determination to bring about improvement in the living conditions and expectations of the disadvantaged.  Here at home, I drop my children off at birthday parties in beautiful neighborhoods filled with affluent and dearly loved friends and then drive to our neighborhood where boards over windows are more prevalent than well manicured lawns.  Even store fronts have hand painted names directly on the bricks of the building rather than more sophisticated and professionally created signage as they display their wares (from furniture to dresses) right out on the sidewalk or parking lot.  As I was pulling out of our street the other evening to run an errand, a woman carrying at least six grocery bags was walking home.  Seeing her load and the nature of it (milk and bread could be identified through the plastic), I assumed she must be close to her destination.  I offered to drive her home, which she gladly accepted.  I was shocked to discover that she lived at least two miles from the spot where I picked her up!  This long walk carrying groceries is her daily norm.

A life of privilege (owning a car, having access to beautiful swimming clubs and top notch education, being connected to people with influence and power) is in itself a very good thing.  It is good to have the luxury of choice when it comes to diet (organic, all natural, local, gluten free, etc.) and the extra time to exercise and the resources to provide children with enriching activities like sports, the arts or trips to museums.  It is bad to be dependent upon public transportation, to have limited access to real food, to be offered more behavioral management in school than engaging, curiosity stirring explorations.  Ellie, age 9, made this observation the other afternoon:  “It seems like the kind of school you get to attend really comes down to the family where you are born .  It kind of seems like it all comes down to money.”  And at the end of 12+ years, it isn’t mysterious which children will be more qualified for limited university spots or competitive, white collar jobs.

Give generously to them and do so without a grudging heart; then because of this theLord your God will bless you in all your work and in everything you put your hand to. There will always be poor people  in the land. Therefore I command you to be openhanded toward your fellow Israelites who are poor and needy in your land.  Deut. 15:10-11

The poor will always be with us.  Poverty and suffering of all natures will not be eradicated until all things are made new, until sin is eradicated and until all hearts are fully sanctified and glorified.  The problem isn’t mainly “the poor” or “the privileged”.  The problem is mainly my heart.  The poor, the disenfranchised, the primitive business methods and run down scenery hold a mirror up to my heart, reminding me that just like Adam and Eve, my first consideration is always Me first.  The same can be said about many of the disadvantaged, who often equally regard themselves as entitled to their desires regardless of the legality of their method of attainment.  Poverty is simply a glaring symptom of a world of Me firsts.  Likewise, there is nothing inherently evil about affluence and privilege, but the fact that our hearts turn to it, cling to it, demand it and trust in it for abundant life, and no more rationally than a golden calf.  The disparity between the resourced and the under-resourced is merely a symptom of the disparity between my heart and His, a heart that takes life (mine) and heart that gives life (His).

For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice.  But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere.  James 3:16-17

God is orderly.  God is peace loving, impartial, full of mercy and good fruit.  The throne in God’s Kingdom is already taken, therefore everyone else can settle down and trust there will be manna enough to go around.  We will love generously as we have been generously loved.  We will serve enthusiastically as we have been sacrificially served.  We will be one people under one Kingdom.  Shalom…peace and harmony between all created things and their Creator.  The disparity destroyed.

If it will be so on that Day, might we begin tasting samples of it now as well?  With man, this is impossible.  But with God, all things are possible.  Oh what good news!

Then I saw “a new heaven and a new earth,” for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea.  I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband.  And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”

He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” Then he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.”  He said to me: “It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. To the thirsty I will give water without cost from the spring of the water of life.  Rev. 21:1-6

 

Understanding

Sometimes my brain feels like a machine with red lights flashing and sirens blaring with a message that says, “Overload!  Overload!  Overload!”  Life’s events, changes and interpersonal interactions can happen at such a fast and heavy volume they just can’t be processed in an orderly and timely fashion.  I still haven’t worked through the beauty and trauma of my time in Uganda, I’m still not sure how to think about our entry into public school after being at such fantastic private schools and there is such a disparity between the norms of the life I once knew in a more affluent area of town and the norms for people who live in my present neighborhood that I don’t know what to do with those observations either.  We just returned from the funeral of a dear family friend who was a big part of my childhood, though disconnected in my adult years.  The place was filled with old friends and the ceremony kept me weeping throughout.  He was always here, and now he’s not.  “Overload!  Overload!  Overload!”

“When you are brought before synagogues, rulers and authorities, do not worry about how you will defend yourselves or what you will say,  for the Holy Spirit will teach you at that time what you should say.”  Luke 12:11-12

I want to make sense of everything, understand how all the jigsaw pieces fit together, have a clearly articulated thesis ready to present even if only to myself.  But what God has to remind me of, over and over, is that I don’t need to have a tight grip on the complexities of a fallen world or the inconsistencies of sinful people or the way in which He is going to restore His creation to perfect in the end.  He has the tight grip, He has the firm grasp, He understands and is the one Who will make all things new, not me.

Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding;  in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.  Prov. 3:5-6

This old verse that almost became cliche to me now pegs me right between the eyes.  I am constantly leaning on my own understanding and finding instability, poor engineering and unreliable footing.  He hasn’t given me a bunch of clues as if on a scavenger hunt for the prize of straight path…HE makes the path straight.  “Do not worry”, He tells me over and over, “Do not be afraid!”  But I do worry and I am afraid because I trust in my own understanding more than in His.  I panic when I can’t connect the dots, the dissonance being too distressing and His hands which hold it all being too far from my heart’s consideration.

The problem with trusting is that it requires patience and passivity.  Like those awful team building exercises where you have to be blindfolded in the woods and let your friends guide you, you have to surrender control and sometimes, dignity.  Vulnerability must be accepted with confidence shifting from self-reliance to utter dependence on the only One who is actually Dependable.

I don’t know why He has asked us to trade in one type of education for our children for another or why I grew up in a more elitist culture than I had any idea and now find myself fully at home in one that is invisible at best and despised at worst.  I don’t know what to do with these conflicting realities nor any idea what purpose my life might serve for His Kingdom in this strange unknown.  But He is writing the script, He is directing the film and telling His story.  Oh might that become enough for my heart to say, “OK.”

To whom will you compare me?  Or who is my equal?” says the Holy One.  Lift up your eyes and look to the heavens:  Who created all these?  He who brings out the starry host one by one and calls forth each of them by name.  Because of his great power and mighty strength, not one of them is missing.   Why do you complain, Jacob?   Why do you say, Israel, “My way is hidden from the Lord; my cause is disregarded by my God”?   Do you not know?  Have you not heard?  The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth.  He will not grow tired or weary, and his understanding no one can fathom.  Is. 40:25-28

Peace is a Person

Back in July, Ellie and I had a wonderful weekend in New York City where we saw almost every block of Manhattan, mostly on foot.  Our flight home was no less entertaining as we sat on the runway at LaGuardia for 5 1/2 hours.  We both were amazed and giggling at the reactions of the people around us after only the first hour, at which point it would be safe to assume from the attitudes and behaviors of our fellow passengers that we had been taken hostage, were crashed on a deserted island and had no immediate prospect of rescue.  People were raiding the snacks in the back of the plane, coming down the aisle with hands full of cookies and tiny packages of pretzels or nuts.  They ran out of water in that back galley before we ever took off.  (Never mind the fact we could still see the gate, had electricity and bathrooms, and people had full access to their iPads, phones and laptops.)  But when we finally did take off, our plane was surrounded by flashes of lightning, and though I didn’t want to alarm Ellie, I was as frightened as she was at the concept of being a metal object flying up into closer proximity with those storm clouds.  (My Air Traffic Controller brother-in-law would of course dispel any of this anxiety with the reality that nobody in the entire aviation industry would send planes into known danger because that would hurt everyone…but as previously observed, rational responses do not always dominate in matters of the unknown.)

Last week at Tybee Island, we rented sea kayaks and paddled our way over to Little Tybee.  It is an undeveloped little island with streams, marsh, and more secluded beaches.  It was truly beautiful and in places, like being on an uninhabited planet.  Half our crew headed back to the mainland for an earlier return, leaving just my dad, Chad and me to explore as we waited for Terrell to return from ferrying the group.  As they began rowing away, rumbles of thunder started moving in and dark clouds could be seen to the north, but presumably a long way off.  We kept exploring.  Then from the other direction, we saw one of those zig zag lightning bolts and realized we might not want to be standing on this wide open beach on an island where we were essentially the lightening rods.  Just before Terrell paddled his way back to us, a phone call came in (to my cell wrapped in baggies in our backback) from the kayak place telling us storm cells were popping up all over and we needed to get back, if we were able.  Panic set in as the lightning bolts seemed to increase while we pushed our boats back into the water to return to the mainland.

Film makers have always known the power of juxtaposing blissful moments with mortal danger because the change is so unexpected and jarring.  In one moment, everything seems in control, reliable, predictable, comfortable and purely good.  Suddenly something capable of destruction swoops in, reminding me of my powerlessness and confronting me with my fears of loss, devastation, trauma and inconsolable pain.  When I am standing along a stretch of the island on a sunny morning with nothing to look at but blue herons sitting on driftwood branches in the midst of wide expanses of federally preserved marsh and sea and old live oaks covered in Spanish moss, my soul is filled with the beauty and peacefulness of my environment.  When lightning bolts fill the sky in all directions and I am vulnerably out in the open with a sea river standing between the safe place I need to be and my current position, my soul is filled with the terror of my environment.

“Who shut up the sea behind doors when it burst forth from the womb, when I made the clouds its garment and wrapped it in thick darkness, when I fixed limits for it and set its doors and bars in place, when I said, ‘This far you may come and no farther;  here is where your proud waves halt’?  Job 38:8-11

What is the way to the place where the lightning is dispersed, or the place where the east winds are scattered over the earth?  Who cuts a channel for the torrents of rain, and a path for the thunderstorm, to water a land where no one lives, an uninhabited desert, to satisfy a desolate wasteland and make it sprout with grass?  Job 38:24-27

We returned home from the beach Saturday night, and in typical form, I awoke twice that night in a panicked depression over the fact we were just “moments ago” in my soul’s most contented environment and suddenly it was all over and school was upon us and my children would be leaving all day every day to an unfamiliar public school and…just like lightning flashes and bolts surrounding the plane or idyllic island, all the beauty and peace around me seemed threatened and in peril.

He replied, “You of little faith, why are you so afraid?” Then he got up and rebuked the winds and the waves, and it was completely calm.  Matt. 8:26

Once again, I find myself rebuked by Love, reminding me that the Prince of Peace is a person, not a place, season or sunny day.  How quickly I place my trust in the seen rather than gripping, by faith, the Unseen.  How quickly I assume my knowledge and understanding is the measure of my stability, peace, confidence and even bliss.  The Hollywood film makers jolt the audience simply for the effect and shock value.  The Great Film Writer holds dear His creation, His children and His people, juxtaposing the Prince of Peace with a stormy sea not to shame or shock, but to mature their faith and grow His Kingdom.  May my confidence shift its placement from my environmental control to His control of all things, for His good, life-giving purposes.

Let the morning bring me word of your unfailing love, for I have put my trust in you.  Show me the way I should go, for to you I entrust my life.  Psalm 143:8