Restoration for the Weary

IMG_9718 (2)While we anticipate the restoration of living things outside our windows, we revel in the reality that Jesus restored all things that were broken, winter-bound, and frozen in the icy grip of sin and separation. His resurrection accomplished in one breathtaking stroke a restoration of all that God originally called good.

Though it’s April when you’re reading this, and hopefully turning to spring where you are, I’m writing during the last days of winter. This morning, I got stuck in my driveway three times trying to get my daughter to her train. We have two feet of snow out there (more or less), and I’m longing for the beach I sat on last week in Puerto Rico, doing nothing but listening to the waves and wading out in them to snorkel for yellow-striped fish and elusive sea turtles.

I unashamedly admit I need that kind of restoration in the middle of winter. Winter in Chicago is not for the weak.

Lately, I’ve been seeking restoration more often.

I loved being back at The Glorious Table this month and sharing this message of restoration and encouragement when Easter time isn’t all the joy we expect it to be. Please jump over there to read the rest.

It’s Gonna Stink

It takes courage to let Jesus roll away the stones we_ve carefully placed in front of the smelly messes of our lives.

Garbage in, but mostly out

There is an ongoing struggle in our house. My husband sincerely believes that the garbage needs to go out on Thursday night, the night before the garbage truck comes. This is logical to him. He likes logic and, more than logic, he likes to know when things are going to happen. He is a total creature of habit.

I, on the other hand, have a different viewpoint on when the garbage needs to head outside. When it’s full. Or, worse, when it stinks.

Some times of year, it can really stink.

I like my schedules, but if something stinks, it needs to go, regardless of whether the city has scheduled its demise that day or not.

He has habits; I have reactions.

So there is another part of the story we started last week that piques my interest. And my nose.

After Jesus goes to Lazarus’ tomb, the conversation between him and Martha that we began last week continues.

When Jesus saw her weeping and saw the other people wailing with her, a deep anger welled up within him, and he was deeply troubled. “Where have you put him?” he asked them.

They told him, “Lord, come and see.”Then Jesus wept.The people who were standing nearby said, “See how much he loved him!”But some said, “This man healed a blind man. Couldn’t he have kept Lazarus from dying?”

Jesus was still angry as he arrived at the tomb, a cave with a stone rolled across its entrance.“Roll the stone aside,” Jesus told them.

But Martha, the dead man’s sister, protested, “Lord, he has been dead for four days. The smell will be terrible.”

Jesus responded, “Didn’t I tell you that you would see God’s glory if you believe?” So they rolled the stone aside. Then Jesus looked up to heaven and said, “Father, thank you for hearing me. You always hear me, but I said it out loud for the sake of all these people standing here, so that they will believe you sent me.” 

Then Jesus shouted, “Lazarus, come out!”And the dead man came out, his hands and feet bound in graveclothes, his face wrapped in a headcloth. Jesus told them, “Unwrap him and let him go!” (John 11.33-44)

Jesus is the resurrection and the life. That means that there is nothing in our lives that is so dead Jesus cannot resurrect it. Not any big deaths in our lives, and not the small deaths either.

Nothing.

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Nothing is too dead for resurrection.

  • Not financial issues
  • Not child issues
  • Not job issues
  • Not relationship issues
  • Not sin issues
    Not medical issues

Nothing is too dead for resurrection.

But here’s the thing. Sometimes, we have to bury those things before Jesus can resurrect them. And sometimes? They will stink.

Jesus asks Martha if she believes who he is—the resurrection and the life. His real question, though, is this—Do you trust me? No matter what happens, do you trust me with your brother’s life—and yours?

We cling to those things that need resurrection, don’t we?

We know the marriage needs intervention, but we’re comfortable, at least, in our dysfunction. We don’t want to give our inch. What if he takes a mile? What if the immense work of changing the way we interact doesn’t change anything? What if we open up something that vomits all over us and never, ever goes back into its safe can?

Letting Jesus roll the stones out from in front of our messy marriage will stink, and we know it. But if we don’t bury what’s comfortable, we’ll never know the resurrection to what’s beautiful.

We know our relationship with our kids is tenuous, but listening and learning is hard. Believing the worst of them is impossible. Believing the worst of ourselves is uncomfortable. Learning boundaries and giving freedom threaten to break us in shards.

It stinks when we struggle with those we love most. But if we don’t bury what we have, he can’t raise it to what it could be.

We know we need to change some things for our health, or we need to accept that parts of the way we’d like to look or be are not going to happen this side of resurrection bodies. (I do not want to accept that.) Learning to live with physical limitations (not to mention saggy boobs) stinks.

But if I don’t bury my need to look and feel 35, how is he going to resurrect what is and make it what it can be? (Also, if I don’t bury my need to binge eat macarons and chocolate.) 

We know He’s calling us to something more, higher, deeper—in faith, in work, in calling, in hope. But taking the steps toward that means burying what is for the dream of what might be.

It takes courage to let Jesus roll away the stones we’ve carefully placed in front of the smelly messes of our lives.

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Oh, but look what can come walking out of the tomb if we let him.

Resurrection. Life. Renewal. Restoration.

All the fullness of life.

Do you know why “This Is Me” became the runaway hit song from Greatest Showman? Because we all know the feeling of hiding our mess. We know what it’s like to be afraid of revealing all that we are, the good, bad, and ugly, to a critical world.

We all long for the resurrection and life, not just in the future, but now, right now, in our mess today. It’s just that sometimes, we don’t long for it enough. At least, not enough to bury what is and let Jesus handle the smell.

Martha looks him in the eye. She knows it’s going to stink. She’s never experienced an actual resurrection before. It’s got to be frightening. She buckles in, nods her head, and says, “Yes, Lord. I believe.”

Blessed is she who has not seen and yet believes.

Little Atheists

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I was an avowed atheist when I was six.

Our parents dutifully sent my sister (8) and me off to Sunday school every week (well, semi-dutifully) with a quarter in our right fist and shiny shoes on our feet to see what we could learn. We didn’t go to the church service afterward, and no one came with us. I have only hazy memories of a blue flannel Jesus and some woman telling me he was good.

One afternoon, my sister and I rode our bicycles in circles around the garage, and she told me all about the things she had learned—how Jesus loved her and died for her and rose again.

I told her it was all baloney.

I didn’t believe a word of it. I have no idea how I was so certain of that at six, but I suspect that I figured my parents must not really have believed or they would have gone with us. Also, blue flannel Jesus was terribly boring. Also, I probably didn’t like that my big sister knew more than I did.

It all seemed pretty clear at six.

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Who knew that, long after I’d quit walking up the street to that little Presbyterian church, God had plans to capture me with his love anyway? Little atheists don’t know as much as they think.

Last year, we explored here  a series of questions God asks. Today, because Easter and all. we’re going to look at a seemingly straightforward one:

Do you believe this?

Backstory: Jesus receives a message that his dear friend, Lazarus, is deathly ill. His sisters Martha and Mary, also his dear friends, are looking for him to come set things right. They trust him to show up big for them—but he doesn’t. In fact, Jesus chooses to wait a few days before setting off to see his friend—days he knows are precious.

When Jesus arrived at Bethany, he was told that Lazarus had already been in his grave for four days. Bethany was only a few miles down the road from Jerusalem, and many of the people had come to console Martha and Mary in their loss. When Martha got word that Jesus was coming, she went to meet him. But Mary stayed in the house.Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if only you had been here, my brother would not have died.But even now I know that God will give you whatever you ask.”

Jesus told her, “Your brother will rise again.” “Yes,” Martha said, “he will rise when everyone else rises, at the last day.”

Jesus told her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Anyone who believes in me will live, even after dying. Everyone who lives in me and believes in me will never ever die. Do you believe this, Martha?” “Yes, Lord,” she told him. “I have always believed you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one who has come into the world from God.” (John 11.17-27)

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I’ve always loved this story, because it displays raw emotion mixed with real faith. Martha grieves—real grief, real tears. Real terror, because with her brother gone, who was going to take care of her and her sister? She knew what happened to two young women alone in that world. Her emotions ran out of her like spring rain swelling a waterfall. She is hurt, scared, grief-stricken, and confused.

Confused that the one she knew could help her didn’t come. She knew it—look at her words. 

“Lord, if only you had been here, my brother would not have died.”

She is too painfully aware that Jesus could have chosen to come, and she might not be in this despair. She is aware of something too many of the disciples don’t seem to be. Jesus is Lord of life and death itself.

She knows this.

This is why her response is so incredible to me. She knows he could have, she knows he didn’t, but she still chooses to believe.

Jesus’ response is perfect.

“I am the resurrection and the life. Anyone who believes in me will live, even after dying. Everyone who lives in me and believes in me will never ever die. Do you believe this, Martha?”

Do you believe this?

Jesus could not ask this question at a worse time. This is not a philosophical question for Martha. Everything is in her heart and her eyes. Her world is shattered. If there is a resurrection and a life, and if this man is in charge of it, it has to mean more in this moment than an “I’ll fly away” Hallmark special effect someday in the clouds.

It has to mean something now.

Why? Because he asks her this question before he does anything.

Her brother has not yet been raised from the dead. Jesus has shown no hurry to do so, or apparent interest. Yet he’s asking her if she believes right now, in her grief, in her heartache and horror, before she ever sees her brother unwind those graveclothes from around his face.

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She’s known him for years. This family has the ease of old friends. The question is, does she really know him? Does she know him well enough? Has she studied his life, looked at his heart, listened to his words enough to really believe, even in this impossible moment?

That’s what he asks all of us, isn’t it? Have you studied me? Not about me, but me? Have you learned my heartbeat? Do you know what makes me joyful and what gives me sorrow? Do you understand what I am capable of? If you do, do you believe I am the resurrection and the life?

Now. Before I do anything in your life to prove it.

He’s asking her for a personal trust. He wants a relationship that can weather the storms ahead. He needs Martha to believe him no matter what happens, not for him, but for her.

If Lazarus had remained dead—if Jesus had chosen not to raise hm back to life—would Martha’s answer have been the same?

“Yes, Lord. I have always believed you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one who has come into the world from God.”

Blessed is she who has not seen and yet believes.

Even when we don’t see, do we know enough of who he is to believe?

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I am the resurrection and the life.

I am the raising up.

I am the Not Dead.

I am death you don’t win.

I am the death where is your sting?

I am the “no one can stop me from raising myself or you.” Raising you to and from all manner of things. If you believe before you see.

That’s been hard for some of us in this season. With news of people murdered while worshiping, children slaughtered while learning, white supremacists marching, and babies stolen from their terrified parents, it’s just hard some days to remind myself that I follow a God who proved there is no situation he cannot resurrect.

But I do believe this.

In fact, in light of the insanity that surrounds us, believing he is in control of all things not being dead is the only theology that makes any sense at all. (And my friend, we all have theology. It doesn’t matter if we believe Jesus is baloney—we still have one.)

Unlike my six-year-old self, I do believe this. It’s all there is to believe in a world that needs hope. It’s the only thing that can bring our deaths out of the grave and unwrap them before our eyes.

Because They Promised

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This woman. She’s been my mom for over thirty years. I’ve called her mom since the day I married her son. Easier, I suppose, since I no longer had one. We’ve been very different people for those thirty-some years, except in our mutual fierce love of our children. I know she didn’t understand me in the beginning or, really, for quite a while.

But she loved me. It didn’t matter. Honestly, when your son marries a 23-year-old who knows a lot about Shakespeare but not about life, you can assume she won’t even understand herself for a good many years.

Kneeling by her bed and crying last week, I listened to her soft voice, almost inaudible from dehydration, tell me those things we seem to only tell when we know we have limited time to speak them. I heard, “You’re one of my girls. You’re my daughter.” And I will treasure those words for as long as I have my own breath.

She deserves her loved ones around her, fiercely protecting her this time, and she has them. Children and grandchildren, being the loving humans she taught them to be. I see her nearest granddaughter drop by regularly, her grandson sitting at her side whispering kind words. I watch my own daughters paint her toenails, hold her hands, and caress her hair.

I am undone by this.

It’s the hard work of 85 years to have family like that. There is a legacy that will remain a thing of beauty long after breaths are taken and heartbeats cease.

I’ve never walked with someone at the end of life. I’ve lost a lot of people. Both parents and two sisters. But they all were there one moment and gone the next. No preparation. No ability to say all the things that need to be said and hear all the things that need to be heard. No time to process all the feelings that come with this downhill walk, and no choice in whether you want to make it.

I do want to.

I had this discussion with my daughter recently about our two cats that passed. One quickly and with no warning, the other with a diagnosis a few months before. Which was worse, saying a sudden, unwanted goodbye, or dragging through the daily hurt of watching it happen and being helpless? We mourned out kitties—we loved them so, and two in quick succession was too much. We both knew we were talking about more than the cats. We both agreed warning was better.

Yet we don’t know how to take this slow walk down the hill, a quicker walk than we had hoped, really. We don’t know when to laugh, when to cry, and we’re figuring out that both are OK, and they happen when they happen. We hate the tug-of-war between our lives here, jobs that demand us, lives that need living, and our longing to be there, sharing every minute we can. We don’t how to dance that choreography, and we realize no one does.

And what of this man? He’s walked beside her for over sixty years. When I tell him he’s a good man and a great husband, he merely says, “Well, it was all in those vows.” Indeed it was, but I’ve seldom seen anyone live his promises so well. He knows that a man’s promise is where his character is determined. But I don’t think he’s thought that—he’s simply done it.

I know this is supposed to be a series on young peoples’ voices. But these words needed to be said. Maybe these words need to be said to young people, not by them. I know marriage isn’t so popular anymore. I know suspicion of institutions leave the next generation wondering if it’s worth the risk. Commitment is frightening, and there are no guarantees. If there’s anything we have taught the next generation, it’s that they should always demand guarantees. Never try anything that isn’t sure to succeed.

Silly us. Why? That was such a foolish lesson. These are the lessons we needed to teach. The lessons of time. Long-haul belief in the family you’ve created. Faith that others will cling to after you’re gone. Love regardless of comprehension. Commitment to people who change, hurt, and confuse you, because they’re your people, and we keep hold of our peoples’ hands. Even, especially, when they have no idea where they’re going.

I’m glad she knows well where’s she’s going.

Men who delicately wipe their spouse’s forehead and hold her hand and walk with her through the pain of loss. Because they promised to. 

If only we had taught you that, rather than “success.” Because that right there is what success looks like. Like my mom and dad.

Practicing What We Preach

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Sunday morning, I didn’t have a sermon. That wasn’t planned. Perhaps you noticed that the following morning, I didn’t have a blog either.

Let’s let me recap.

Monday

My husband stayed home from work with the stomach flu. I spent the day in a combination of caring for him and living in mortal fear that I could not escape this doom. (So far, I have.) Also, Monday was snowpocalypse. So there’s that.

Tuesday

while routinely driving my daughter to the train station for work, we got in an accident. A very young driver, probably in a hurry and certainly not paying attention, turned left and slammed into my driver door and fender. Hard. I walked away with a broken arm, and more importantly, both my daughter and the young woman were unharmed. Unfortunately, my beautiful, far too young, metallic peacock, best-beloved car did not fare as well. Sally Ride is no more.

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Wednesday

No one went to work, except the doctor who casted my arm, as all of Chicago hibernated in the deep freeze.

Thursday

We took our ailing middle cat to the vet, hoping that she could offer us some treatment. Instead, she offered us a lot of medication that we could try at home, but cautioned us that he would almost certainly die. In fact, it became traumatically clear during the course of the treatment there that we would have to relieve his suffering immediately, and our dear Pippin would not be coming home with us.

It’s hard to dictate those sentences (since I can’t type right now given said casted arm) because just saying the words is making me cry. This is not the cat that was diagnosed in December with cancer-–yet he also had the same disease, under the radar, hiding it well, just like a cat/middle child. We expect still to say goodbye to #1 cat very soon as well. Merry and Pippin will both be gone-–the fellowship will be no more. I’m not good at pet goodbyes. Who is?

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None of us felt quite certain we should even get out of bed on

Friday

Was it the same old week, or was it a brand-new month? I didn’t have long to wait for the answer. That morning, I came downstairs to a loud roaring sound in my hallway and water gushing all over the floor. Have you ever simultaneously panicked, laughed, and cried? It’s pretty strange.

This all comes barely a week after we got the text that my mother-in-law would refuse treatment for her cancer and go into hospice. We expected her to make that decision—it was the right and best thing for her. That doesn’t mean the final choice isn’t devastating.

There are many things you cannot do without water. Also, there’re many things you cannot do without your dominant hand.

I couldn’t do anything.

I couldn’t even wash my grapes for lunch. So I sat here wondering if the next item in the series of unfortunate events would be my death by listeria. Do grapes carry listeria? I don’t know. I just know that I was eating dirty grapes, and I could taste the dirtiness, and that nothing was right in this world.

(Also, I came to the realization that I should never audition for one of those survival shows. When all of the plumbers said they couldn’t make it out for two or three days, my first response was not,” What must we do to cook and clean and survive for three days?” It was,” Where is the nearest hotel with a hot tub?”)

I never imagined I would stand in front of a group of people and tell them I hadn’t done my job. I never imagined that I would just blow off my blog for a week. I like my image as a fighter. I like people to know I will just power through and get the job done.

Except I couldn’t. The words wouldn’t come, even had I had 10 minutes not punctuated by calls from insurance adjusters or other emergencies.

And that is okay.

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Photo by chuttersnap on Unsplash

You see, I preach and write a lot about letting go of perfectionism and expectations. I know how dangerous they are–I let them control my life for far too long. They still lurk in the shadows, because that is who I am. Hello, enneagram 5. My highest need is to appear competent.

Yet this is not what I teach others. Our Word of the year for 2019 at church is Peace. My personal word is Restore. Right now, I feel like January pretty much failed me on that one. But I know the One who can and will restore all things, and I know that sometimes before restoration comes death. This is not what I had suspected or planned, but if that is what it takes, then I will wait expectantly for his restoration.

Restoration Requires Death

Sometimes, we are forced to practice what we preach. Sometimes, that takes the form of telling people that we couldn’t do what they expected us to do. Sometimes, it means telling the truth about what we are capable of handling. Sometimes, it requires us to lean hard on the arms of the one who tells us we don’t have to do every thing and in fact, we can’t do anything without him.

Maybe that’s a different kind of restoration and peace. It doesn’t look like I expected it to. But Jesus told me to be a peacemaker–-and if that means that I lay down my idol of competence so that others do not feel they have to take it up, then I am grateful to make that kind of peace in someone else’s life.

Jesus restores. We have evidence. This hasn’t been the wonder and amazement that I thought restoration would be. It’s been the tearing away before the healing.

God loves me when I’m not competent. God loves me when I cannot do what I believe I should be able to do. God loves me when I stand in front of a group people and say, “I’ve got nothing.” Fortunately, so do they.

God loves you. Full stop. There is no qualifier. I pray for peace and restoration for you today. I know how much you might need it.

Pulling Weeds: Being Thankful for Real Community

Guest blogging today is Sarah May. Sarah writes about seeing happiness in the most unlikely of situations and how we can bring that happiness to grieving people.
Sarah is a 20-something trying to navigate the world with a little help from Jesus and little bit of sarcasm. For more from Sarah visit http://www.mycompletemayhem.net.

I Hope They’re Weeds

IMG_8765Killing weeds is never fun. It may be cathartic if you’ve had a rough day, but no one jumps at the chance to weed the garden. It’s just not pleasant. I recently found myself cleaning the yard and killing weeds with my trusty bottle of Round Up and like most mindless task, I found myself thinking about life while I sprayed roundup on what I hope were weeds.

Cancer’s New Normal

You see, the weeds in my yard are two and half years old. I know this because that’s how long it’s been since our yard received some serious love. The weeds were symbolic of our lives going through cancer and then grief. When you enter the world of life with cancer, your new normal does not involve yard work, or home repairs. It involves clinics, hospital stays, trying to not fall behind at work, and chick-fil-a more than once a week.
After a year and half of our new life with cancer, we lost our new normal life and entered the world of grief. Grief exhaustion from the past year and half collided, and the energy to do anything outside of the normal means of living was just to overwhelming. For every weed, a new emotion.
When we first entered the world of cancer, people were quick to help without us asking. Food was delivered; a group showed up to finish some home projects and clean the yard. We were and are thankful for this. It helped make the transition easier. Then the rain fell and the garden grew. Yard work was never anywhere near the top of the to do list.

Smiling in Grief

Grief is terribly isolating. However, if you go the other side of the world, you will find a group of women who smile the biggest smiles you have ever seen. These women are either widows or they were left by their husbands. Due to the culture and the legal marriage age of 15, they have limited skills to earn a living and mouths to feed. These women have banded together and are supported by the community. They learn job skills as they go through life together. Not because it’s fun or church organized. They have to. To put food on the table and educate their children in hopes of a better future one day.
If you are ever blessed to meet a group of these women, I hope they rip your heart out in the best of ways. I have met these women, and they are full of more life and love for the Lord than anyone I have ever met. In meeting them all, I wanted to do was cry with an overwhelming emotion I cannot explain, but I couldn’t cry because a short 4’5″ woman with missing teeth grabbed me by the arm singing with the biggest smile on her face. Soon after, I found myself in the dancing circle singing and dancing.
I couldn’t cry; they were just too happy and I didn’t want to rob them of this joy. These women in this community, who had nothing, were so very happy. This is where happiness is in its purist form. Living life and supporting one another because it’s what they must do to live. It wasn’t about a monthly to do at the church or a biannual event. It wasn’t a way to feel like they had served the Lord and filled up their Jesus tank.

Good Deeds vs Good Neighbors

My family has been on the receiving end of these church groups and good deed quota filling events. But here I am, killing those same weeds. While my yard has been cleaned up and repairs fixed, those weeds grew back, because cancer and grief aren’t a one-time thing. They are a lifetime thing. While everyone is quick to help once or twice, few are willing to walk this path; for those few who have we are so very thankful.

While my dad was sick and in the months following his passing a neighbor would push his lawn mower down the street to our house and cut our grass. He wouldn’t ask or say “Call if you need anything.” He just did. Friends that call and say “I’m a minute from your house and coming to visit”–Those are God’s people. The small group of people whom I would call my parents’ true friends, who showed up to clean and organize our garage without motive or invite. And this tiny group, even though my Dad no longer gets to join them on their Friday night Mexican dinners, still always invites my mom.

I am often asked “Hey, how’s your mom?”. I have decided I will no longer answer this question. I am not my mom, and I cannot tell you how she is doing. If you want to know, call her, message her, stop by the house and find out for yourself.

I once had a fortune cookie tell me “Joy shared is doubled, sorrow shared is halved.” This cannot be more true.
This phase of life has taught me to help other without asking and to listen when a friend needs to talk. I can’t fix the world, or anything any one else is going through. But I can listen.

In short, if you find yourself wanting to share God’s love with someone in need,  please do, but be prepared to pull up the weeds when they regrow.