Saturday, October 6, 2012

A Snake in Our Midst

What do you do when things feel out of control or you believe you are powerless or too weak to make any difference in a given situation? What is your response when you have been given a burden to carry or a responsibility to fulfill but feel you have no instructions or resources that will equip you? How do you react when the reality is you are in over your head?

In the same week, I heard two of my most favorite people say, "I don't know what to do. I am paralyzed."

About the same time, I had a dream about being in charge of a large group of middle-schoolers. I was told I was to take them on a hike, but I had no instructions about where, no plan, no map. I didn't even know their names. They took off as a scattered, chaotic, frenzied, and seemingly uncontrollable mass. In their midst, I saw a large snake weaving in and out of the group. Anxious about their safety, I spent the rest of the dream trying to find a telephone so I could call 911. My cellphone in my pocket was dirty and useless (let's interpret that). As it turned out the snake was not a threat. I just assumed it was. And the dream ended in a rather anticlimactic way.

We each have our "normal" way of responding to crises, weighty responsibilities, losses, and fearful situations. I tend toward isolation and almost manic efforts to make it all make sense. I close myself off with my journal, pen, highlighters, bible, hymnal, and youtube. I listen to music, I read, and I write and copy readings onto page after page after page. Then I reread, highlight, and search for meaning and direction. Rarely, have I ever been disappointed. It works for me. It is time intensive but eventually assumptions of danger and fear of not knowing the way always give way to some conviction that I am, and the ones I intercede for, are spiritually secure in Christ and the way to go will be revealed one step at the time. That's my way of allowing Christ in and His way of transforming me over and over. What is yours?

My husband wrote these worship notes for this Sunday's bulletin and he shared them with me after he heard me listening to a great song by Stuart Townend: Christ in Me. See, I have been of late in my place of isolation and Stuart Townend has had a lot to say. It was a song that kept coming to mind and so I kept listening and praying it. We will sing this song on Sunday. And, I will likely add these notes to my journal. They go like this:

“Be holy in all that you do, for it is written, ‘Be holy, for I the Lord am holy.’”  Peter is quoting Leviticus (where this thought appears numerous times) when he includes this command in 1:16.  How do we begin to understand it?  As a (hopefully) good Trinitarian, I offer three thoughts: (1) Begin by reversing the phrase – “I the Lord am holy.”  It is fundamental to His “otherness”, at the core of “My ways are not your ways.…”  He is; we aren’t.  It is this staggering difference that we affirm as we sing “Holy, Holy, Holy…early in the morning our songs shall rise to thee.”  But He calls us to holiness?  How?  (2) Read Leviticus.  It is certainly one of the least-examined portions of Scripture, so full of page after page of “do this but certainly don’t do that”.  What that book tells me is that God has not asked us to simply be nice or use good manners; such is not the path to holiness.  Leviticus is a great example of God pointing us in the right direction, providing instruction in fleshed-out Godliness.  Instead of waiting for “inner holiness” to shape our external behaviors, we can adopt “behavioral holiness”.  It is akin to a phrase my wife has used: in challenging times, she chooses to practice believing.  But as good as that is, the external only takes you so far.  Aren’t we supposed to act out of hearts transformed, overflowing with gratitude, with (as Peter puts it) “reverent fear”?  So, (3) God provides the means to move towards holiness: “O Spirit of God, come down, let mercy and grace abound; my passionate prayer shall be, Christ in me.”  As we come to the Table, we take Him in, we “feed upon Him by faith with thanksgiving,” the “Lamb without blemish or defect”, “Christ in you, the hope of glory”.  And we sing our prayer of aspiration:

Spirit of beauty and holiness, come refine with fire from above,
‘Til I am cast in Your righteousness and I love the things that You love.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

The Mystery of Healing Brokenness

Sometimes things pile up on themselves. Several events, too monumental to process quickly or orderly...each needing months or years to be heal or restored, but happening nearly simultaneously, result in a sense of being weighed down and almost paralyzed. The response of my psyche is a mixture of intense reactive self preservation and manic movement toward renewal and a deep deep weariness that makes everything seem to be moving in slow motion through a fog. I suspect it is instinctive and normal and not to be ridiculed but instead accepted and learned from.

I have a sense of being washed out. My broken foot that will take months to heal; a cavernous, emptied space in my psyche left by my brother's death after 18 months of brain surgery, radiation, chemotherapy, gamma knife procedures, and countless MRIs; and then a flood of emotion coursing through my heart as three very close to me find themselves in a place of brokenness have all worn away my defenses and left me vulnerable and fragile.

Normally my dreams serve as a wake up call, revealing what I may not have been able to see and thus giving me direction and a focus that help me find my way. But, the dreams I have had lately are more confirmations of what has been all too obvious. First came several dreams in which my brother was still alive, yet still dying.  I would wake feeling the grief afresh of losing him and having lost him. Then, I dreamed I had a washed out place on a tooth and was told I needed a "specialist" to fix it. And just the other night I dreamed the walls of my bedroom had been damaged by a torrential downpour. The drywall was saturated and would all need to be replaced and half the floor had been splintered beyond repair and would need to be replaced as well..

Fortunately, and for this I am grateful, I have been inspired, energized, and moved to seek the "Specialist". I seek solace in my God who first sought after me. I know that healing will come as I spend time within His counseling chamber. I listen, I pour out my soul's content. I confess. I plead. I claim, declare, and pronounce what I hear to be true. I practice believing and so put to the side for a time the doubts and discouragements. I look at the object lessons I am given.

I have been seeing and contemplating the lesson my broken foot has to teach me regarding the process of healing brokenness. When I first broke my foot, I didn't understand how bad it was. I was led to believe by the emergicare physician that it was not such a big deal. But, when I saw the specialist, the truth began to be revealed. Even looking at the Xray and being told it was a bad break and would need to be immobilized didn't convinced me entirely. At the time, I thought of it only as a blessing in disguise that would allow me a month to spend with my brother. Returning for another Xray after my brother's funeral opened my eyes and my understanding: The break was more like a crushing blow causing a huge gap that would need to be filled in with new bone. Growing new bone is a miracle that can not be rushed. You have to submit to the process.

My foot was put in a cast. No movement, no weight bearing for 6 weeks. Then came a walking boot, but walking would be limited by the pain still present. Then there was the issue of the pain and stiffness that was caused by the immobilization. That hard cast that was put there to protect the bone and give it a chance to begin healing caused muscle atrophy, slowed blood flow, and shortened, weakened, and hardened connective tissue. There is always a ripple affect of brokenness. Brokenness is never simple and often things seem to get worse before they begin to get better. After 8 weeks, there seemed to be little to no healing visible by the Xray. But the doctor believes there is a strong matrix of callous forming and on that framework calcium will be deposited and bone formed to fill in the space. There is a hope of new growth/new bone/new union...a new foundation on which to stand.

As I have answered His kind invitation and spent time with God, my Specialist, the doctor of my soul, I have been reminded of His ways, His creating out of nothing, rebuilding what has been crushed, restoring what has been washed away, renewing what has ruined. I know the reality that it is His heart's desire and His will that the brokenness we now endure be filled in with His very Self. In understanding him, even if only in part, there is hope. For He is our Hope. And hope will allow me to believe. And believing will make sense of what cannot be seen. In the end He will fill in the gap. His end is nothing short of reconciliation in which the two broken ends are joined in Him.

I believe. Please help my unbelief.