Sunday, March 6, 2011

Our Matter Matters

The Word Became Flesh

John 1:1-2 

1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was with God in the beginning. New International Version, ©2011 (NIV)

John 1:14
14 The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. New International Version, ©2011 (NIV)
lyrics to The Final Word / Michael Card
(from Joy In The Journey (1994))
You and me we use so very many clumsy words.
The noise of what we often say is not worth being heard.
When the Father’s Wisdom wanted to communicate His love,
He spoke it in one final perfect Word.

listen here

Read the passages. Listen to Michael Card sing of the incarnation and then contemplate with me the value our God places on the life of a human being.

If God did not see “flesh”  … skin, muscle, tendons, bone, nerves, heart, lungs, brain  … as that which is infinitely valuable, then He would not have sent His Son to become such a one as us. And surely the body is much much more than a temporary dwelling place for the soul while passing through on the way to eternity.

In looking back to Genesis 1, we read, starting with verse 26 :
Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.”27 So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. 28 God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.” ….31 God saw all that he had made, and it was very good.

These passages and Michael Card’s song came to mind at the end of the day in which my brother went through a 4-5 hour procedure called Leukapheresis in which they took his blood out of his body and removed white blood cells and then put the blood back. The plan is that a vaccine specific for him will be made from his white blood cells that will be used to aid his body in fighting the regrowth of the glioblastoma tumor in his brain.

(Gen 1:1-2) In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.

I have a deep conviction that God is hovering over his creation still and specifically over my brother. I find wonder mixed with my anxiety and fear and heaviness as we as a family walk together and alongside Rick on this journey. I sense a creative force moving against the “Unmaker”. (The Unmaker is the main antagonist in Orson Scott Card's alternate history/fantasy series The Tales of Alvin Maker. Never directly confronted, it is a supernatural force that breaks apart matter and aims to destroy and consume everything and everyone.)

Even though I see this tumor and it’s submicroscopic army of cells as the primary weapon of destruction in this battle with the Unmaker, I know that the God of creation has already won the war. When we are not distracted completely by this intense skirmish we see God Himself walking in our midst. He is declaring that the life of Rick Witherington is of infinite value to Him. He is pouring out His love. He is shaping and forming and making new with the tools of prayer and food and lodging and science and hope and faith. In considering God’s economy, we are learning that He desires to dispense Himself into us, to dwell in us richly. We are His created people and He has chosen to make us His corporate expression in the universe for eternity.

All things destructive to life...even Glioblastoma Multiforme tumors .. have been ultimately, eternally defeated. But, for now as we continue in this place and this time … in between the two comings of Christ … where we continue to “work out our salvation” and we join together to declare what we believe:

I believe in one God, the Father Almighty,
maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible;
And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only begotten Son of God,
begotten of his Father before all worlds,
God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God,
begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father;
by whom all things were made;
who for us men and for our salvation came down from heaven,
and was incarnate by the Holy Ghost of the Virgin Mary,
and was made man;
and was crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate;
he suffered and was buried; and the third day he rose again
according to the Scriptures, and ascended into heaven,
and sitteth on the right hand of the Father;
and he shall come again, with glory, to judge both the quick and the dead;
whose kingdom shall have no end.
And I believe in the Holy Ghost the Lord, and Giver of Life,
who proceedeth from the Father [and the Son];
who with the Father and the Son together is worshipped and glorified;
who spake by the Prophets.
And I believe one holy Catholic and Apostolic Church;
I acknowledge one baptism for the remission of sins;
and I look for the resurrection of the dead,
and the life of the world to come. AMEN.
The Nicene Creed

Monday, February 28, 2011

The Next Step

Since my brother Rick's diagnosis of a Glioblastoma Mutiforme just a few weeks ago, followed very quickly by surgery, then some time to begin recovery, yet at the same time traveling for consultations with radiologists and oncologists, we have all felt like we have been on a wild roller coaster. None of us will ever be the same. Something of this magnitude bears down on the host and all those he loves and who love him. I cannot begin to imagine what it is like for him.

Today they signed consent papers, giving Duke Medical Center the right to shoot beams of radiation into his brain. They made a mask that he will wear that will immobilize his head during treatments. They did an MRI to map out their strategy of attack. Next week they will begin a methodical attack on any hidden tumor cells that remain. Each weekday for more than six weeks he will put on the mask and place his brilliant brain into the hands of the team of doctor, nurses, technicians, and the very sophisticated machinery found at the Preston Robert Tisch Tumor Center. The Tumor Center's mantra is "There is Hope" . We are all wearing bracelets and hats and shirts bearing the name of the Tumor Center. We have formed a team for a fundraising 5K. We want to hope. We are practicing.

Today was hard for Rick. The reality of what comes next became a little clearer and a day in the cloistered Tumor Center drained him of precious energy. This part of the journey will likely lack the height and depth of these last few weeks. The crowds that met us along the road to Duke have gone back to their routines and their families. They will check in and they will bring food and they will pray when they think of Rick but they are not required to stay. And even we, his "blood kin" siblings, his children, and his adoring wife cannot go into the inner place he must go and yield with a faith that he cannot manufacture. But, we will be there and we will be the cloud of witnesses, we will stand in the gap. Rick will be surrounded.

My sister and I have been trying each day to send out a short email to family members to encourage us all to remain prayerfully focused. It was my turn today and I boldly looked at the the mystery of Hope. I had been up in the middle of the night and picked up a book left behind from one of the previous visits to my house by my brother. I read the first few chapters of The Anatomy of Hope in which the author, Jerome Groopman, Md. tells of the first years of his training as a physician when he struggled to find a way to learn from and with his patients ways to incorporate and encourage hope in the face of serious illness. Today, I wanted to share something profound with my family about Hope, but words would not come. The challenge to come to intimately know Hope is before me. I cannot say what Hope looks like or feels like or what actions will be stirred by Hope in the days and weeks and months and years to come. Surely, Hope is greater than my heart. So, I posted a few images of the word itself and added a video of Stuart Townend singing There is a Hope.

by Stuart Townend and Mark Edwards
Copyright (c) 2007 Thankyou Music.

There is a hope that burns within my heart,
That gives me strength for ev'ry passing day;
a glimpse of glory now revealed in meager part,
Yet drives all doubt away:
I stand in Christ, with sins forgiv'n;
and Christ in me, the hope of heav'n!
My highest calling and my deepest joy,
to make His will my home.

There is a hope that lifts my weary head,
A consolation strong against despair,
That when the world has plunged me in its deepest pit,
I find the Savior there!
Through present sufferings, future's fear,
He whispers, "Courage!" in my ear.
For I am safe in everlasting arms,
And they will lead me home.

There is a hope that stands the test of time,
That lifts my eyes beyond the beckoning grave,
To see the matchless beauty of a day divine
When I behold His face!
When sufferings cease and sorrows die,
and every longing satisfied,
then joy unspeakable
will flood my soul,
For I am truly home.

We will choose to believe in Hope even though we may not feel it or see it. 

Saturday, February 12, 2011

When the Enemy Invades

My brother was discharged from Duke University Medical Center today. Just 2 days ago, Dr. Allan Friedman , world renown neurosurgeon at the Preston Robert Tisch Brain Tumor Center, removed a robin’s egg sized primary glioblastoma from his right temporal lobe. Rick’s life, his life with his wife Deborah and our lives as his sisters, children, nieces, nephews, and friends will hereafter be changed.

We as a family are familiar with the roller coaster ride on which cancer takes you. We all walked with our father through 15 months of cancer diagnosis, chemotherapy and radiation. We each found our way through. We found ourselves shifting priorities and trimming out what was not so important to make room for time to be together. That was the best thing we did in those months. And the blessings, though mixed with sorrow were constant.

And now, surprising us, is another invasion by this enemy. Just a couple of weeks ago my brother, Rick had 3 small seizures within an 8 hour period. Urged by he wife and 3 sisters he reluctantly went to his primary physician. Next came the MRI that revealed the “bad boy” tumor behind his right eye. The radiologist was not encouraging at all. The news went out to family and my husband and I got a good friend on the inside at Duke Medical Center to help open the door for an appointment with Dr. Friedman. Two days after his appointment the tumor was removed. After less than 24 hours in ICU and another night in a regular room, he is now sitting in my livingroom by the fireplace. Another couple of days hanging close by Duke and then he will return home to Charlotte.

The night before surgery the siblings pose for a picture. Rick has our father's prayer shawl around his shoulders. the "markers" on Rick's head will help guide the surgeon to the tumor.

Monday, January 24, 2011

The Kingdom of Heaven is within you
The Kingdom of Heaven has come
The Kingdom of Heaven is near

The Kingdom of Heaven is like:

a mustard seed…the smallest, yet…the largest

a merchant looking for fine pearls

yeast worked all through

a treasure hidden in a field...found…all sold to have

a net let down…caught all kinds of fish

a king who canceled the debt

Seek first the Kingdom

The Kingdom of God does not come with careful observation

My Kingdom is not of this world

The Kingdom of God is not a matter of eating or drinking

but of righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit


The Kingdom of heaven comes and it has already come. This Kingdom is not of this world. It is otherly…radically different yet in the midst of and bearing resemblance to what is already. Christ the King came and turned all upside down and rightside up. He came to redeem and set free and restore and make new. He came to break down walls that divide and unite the forces that are opposed. In the Kingdom of God, “the infant will play near the hole of the cobra, and the young child will put his hand into the viper’s nest .” The Kingdom of God is the Kingdom where Spirit and Truth reign.


As often as possible, I escape to our lake house to sit on the porch. The view has not really changed in the 40+ years since my parents first bought the lot on Lake Norman, yet everything has changed.  I sat there once again recently and followed the paths of two hawks as they allowed the thermals to lift them effortlessly in the air. I long to find myself so attuned to the Kingdom within and without that I can, like those hawks, move upward without self’s lone struggle. Later, I sat with my siblings and we talked about our families and our memories of the years spent coming to the Lake. We felt the net about us…the net of love…the net of devotion…the net of life. The Life God created for us to live is the will of the King and His Kingdom.


Time is not restrictive. The King has come and continues to come, and will come… mysteriously, penetrating, altering, growing something new and precious out of what was shut up tight, buried deep, and insignificantly small. It has been from the beginning yet begins now, in each moment, it has been and shall be…forevermore. In the Kingdom, what was is no more, forgiven, the debt canceled, and we rise up on the thermals of the ruling force of the Creator.


We sat at the dining room table talking. I had that strong sense that the Kingdom had broken into our lives. All I could think of was how BIG it felt. I’d experienced this before. I knew it would not be easy to permit this invasion into my life, yet at the same time I knew I would be a fool not to. I knew that it was like a treasure found and worthy of the sacrifice required to obtain it. The Kingdom is like a merchant looking for fine pearls. I was focusing on the pearls. I was not thinking, at the time, that pearls are only found by raking the muck at the bottom of the ocean and prying open that which is tightly shut up. Little did I know what would be asked of me.


We ask with Christ for the Kingdom to come…for the will of God to be done. Instinctively we know that that is what we were created for. The Kingdom is the power of God in the life of His Son through the gift of the Spirit. We ask, we plead for this Kingdom to come, to be our Kingdom. Then the Spirit blows, unseen, yet felt and experienced, stirring up that which had been unmoved. The Kingdom penetrates like yeast and changes the mix. The Kingdom is hidden in a field and requires a great sacrifice to obtain. It is not what we imagined. It is different yet demands our souls. How do we enter? How do we see and hear and live in the Kingdom while at the same time living in this place that  is so demanding of our senses and minds and bodies.


We enter the world already disabled by the “issue” of sin. Though sin’s power has been broken by the King Himself, the impact of sin continues to hinder. This is the reality of the world where the wheat and the tares grow up in the same field, where the good fish and the bad fish swim in the same waters. What we hear in the teachings of Christ is that the Kingdom is like a net and is let down and catches “all kinds of fish”. The Kingdom of King Jesus is BIG, encompassing all. How then do we learn to enter in and dwell under the rule of this King that rode on a donkey and ate His last meal hidden with a few friends in an upper room? How do we submit to the rule of a King who seems foolish, even crazy, to the masses and confuses his intimate disciples with His words about dying? How do we overcome our own desires to be the ruler of ourselves and instead sell all we have to obtain a treasure that is buried within and can only be discovered by following a King through death?


       “Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the Kingdom of heaven.” (Matt. 5:3)

“In this strange calculous of grace, recognizing and admitting our poverty is the prerequisite for entering the Kingdom of God. We are trained throughout our lives to hide the awareness of our own inadequacy from ourselves and others. To enter the Kingdom, we must come out of hiding, and admit before God and others who we are. We are resourceless. Our poverty is absolute and abject. We can neither turn to our material successes and assets, our personal accomplishments and virtue, or to our spiritual piety.”          -Di Anna Paulk


The Kingdom of heaven drew me in and penetrated my life like yeast worked into dough. The King called me to submit to His Lordship more than 30 years ago. His net dropped down and captured me. The treasure called me to sell all. I had no idea what I was in for. I had no idea what His Kingdom would be like.  I was enraptured by the love I felt. All I wanted was to be with Him and His people. I sang the Lord’s Prayer, lustily, at the top of my lungs in response to the call that pried my fingers off my own heart and called me up out of my seat. I held hands with others called out of their own kingdoms and with whom I now stood in Gaither Chapel on the side of the mountain in Montreat, NC. If I had known enough to see through that state of spiritual bliss that He would take me seriously and take my life and ruthlessly begin to expose my state of poverty and transform and transfigure me, I might have declined the invitation.

Entering the Kingdom was like conceiving and bearing children. As a potential parent I was possessed by this great desire to be a part of creation. I entered in on a huge wave of instinct and desire without having a clue as to what cost would be required of me to birth a new life and bring it up in the fear and admonition of the Lord. To enter the Kingdom is to allow the King to replace your rule. The King enters your life and you give your all to Him. A new life is born. You are filled with joy, enraptured by the newness, the light of the new day. The old dies. Nothing will ever be quite the same again.


I stood in the sanctuary of a chapel in Valle Crucis, NC with tears running down my face and confusion and fear filling my soul, when I heard the Lord speak quietly to me, “This will take you deeper.” I did not want to go deeper. I wanted to stop hurting. But, now, several years later, I can see a little clearer. I have, through the pain, given birth to new life out of the death of the old. Through it all, the net of the Kingdom has remained about us and the will of the Father is being done. The pain is fading in my memory as poverty is leading me through a doorway to blessedness.


In the years since the conceiving and bearing of that spiritual “child”, I have experienced much more than I thought I would. I have had the old rooted out of my soul. My desperate state of poverty was exposed and I have experienced the radical transforming power of the cross. I have been challenged to trust in a King not of this world and whose ways are beyond my ability to search out. I have been pushed out of my old ways of thinking and have stepped into a kingdom in which Truth and Righteousness are a Person and I must choose each day to trust. I must choose to believe in the One greater than this created body. I must choose to trust in a King that forgives my anger and heals the wounds from years past. I must choose to trust that His Word and His rule are good. I must choose to believe that His love is enough… Enough to define this life…enough to give meaning to the suffering….enough to bridge the impasses between man and woman, parent and child, friend and friend, light and darkness, heaven and earth.


It is the goal of this life in the Kingdom that called to me first in Gaither Chapel in Montreat,  through the years on the porch over looking Lake Norman, and years later in the chapel in Valle Crucis. It is the Kingdom that calls us to come out of our hiding places to admit to the King and to others who we really are…To be real, to be honest, to confess, to respond. It is only in responding to the call and allowing ourselves to confess the reality of our poverty that we can know the safety of the net of the kingdom.


The net that fell about my good friend and me at her dining room table is the same net that surrounds my children and my extended family and the family of God that draws alongside. More than not, this Kingdom that we ask to come is not what we may have thought it would be like. But, it is in the Kingdom that we come to understand the King and give up our fears and find our longings satisfied. It is in the Kingdom that we begin to live as the ones created by the living Word. Truly, the Kingdom is worth the sacrifice we make to enter in. And it is in the submission to the King’s radical rule that life as it is in heaven is possible on earth.


                  “Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done…on earth as it is in heaven.”