No One Touches Me

I was biting my lip and all I could think was, they are gonna think I’m crazy if I start crying.

I stared at words I could not read but knew by heart. A song from my own church childhood…

Lord, You are more precious than silver
Lord, You are more costly than gold
Lord, You are more beautiful than diamonds
And nothing I desire compares with You

After a couple of times through the Pastor directed the worship leader to sing the lyrics in English.  I could barely get them out.

I felt the pressing presence of Jesus. I felt the touch of His love in the unguarded purity of a warm welcome.

I hadn’t expected it.

For my Transcultural Healthcare class I needed a “field experience.” My oldest daughter and I walked into this Spanish service held where my youngest daughter attends preschool. As we walked into the lobby a man stopped immediately because, well, we looked out-of-place. He gave us a big smile as I explained why we were there and asked if it was okay for us to attend.

One hundred percent!  Do you speak Spanish?

I told him no and he walked away, seemingly on a mission.

We took a seat in the back and were greeted by smiling faces, hellos and holas. The next thing we knew Norma was introducing herself and inviting us to sit with her family. We moved with her and met more friendly faces. Before service could begin a beauty of a young woman came to sit by me. She handed me a bilingual Bible and explained she was there to interpret for us. Her name was Percy and she was Pastor’s mission for his visitors.

With my head tilted to the right and sitting more closely to a stranger than I normally would, I listened to Percy translate…various praises were shared, prayer requests and then a message about living with a pure heart before God.

When the service was over and I had thanked Pastor Javy, Percy, and Norma we made our way back to the van. I looked at my daughter and tried to explain how touched I had been. How unexpected their kindness and warmth had been.

And I finally cried.

See, I thought I would just sit in the back and observe. And even though it might be awkward, well I needed to do it so I could write this paper.

But Jesus touched my heart. He touched me. He made me see and feel within this small group of Hispanic Christians many of the things that I have grieved not experiencing in my middle class, mostly white church world.

Instead of being invisible, receiving a polite nod or smile, I was embraced.

I told my daughter through tears that if Christians treated visitors, regardless of their differences, the way we had just been treated people would come to church. They would stay in church. They might actually believe the things church people say about Jesus.

I keep thinking about a movie my family watched last Saturday night. “Risen” was about a Roman Tribune who was assigned the task of finding the body of Jesus after the resurrection. Instead of finding a corpse, the Tribune found Jesus alive and well. In one scene a group of angry people were running a leprous man off from their village. As the man stumbled and fell to the ground, Jesus got up and went over to him.

Jesus sat down on the ground beside the man and put His arms around him. Initially the man covered in skin lesions pulled away but Jesus held on to him.  And the man cried out softly, No one touches me!

No one touches me.

My goodness.

Jesus is no smiling head-nodder. He’s a hurt-embracer. A broken-life-toucher.

He gets down to the ground and puts His arms around us. It’s unexpected and awkward because we live with our guard up around people, especially church people. So when Jesus won’t let us go we squirm and try to pull away because being touched is the undoing.

The undoing of our pain, our soul’s disease and dis-ease. Being touched by Jesus is the uncovering of our pretense; our shaky control.

Jesus touched me last Sunday as I sat shoulder to shoulder with Percy. As Norma leaned into our personal space to ask about my daughter’s school and learn our story a bit. As I recognized the melody to a chorus from my childhood and struggled over the lump in my throat to sing along.

Jesus is absolutely going to touch our lives! He is going to find the ways, the hands, the words, the songs, the unexpected encounters.

He is going to get up from wherever He is when He sees you. Jesus is coming over to where you are.

Jesus will look directly into your pain, your sin, your shame, your loss. He’s not going to glance nervously or pretend it isn’t real. He is not intimidated by your life.  Jesus is not going to offer a smile and shake your hand. He’s not going to refer you to a verse or hand you a Bible. Jesus is not going to ask if you have made Him the Lord of your life before He even knows your name. He’s not going to carefully hand you a bag lunch or a twenty and invite you to His church.  He’s not going to walk away feeling good because He tried.

He’s not going to walk away at all.

Jesus is gonna get down into the dirt with you. And He’s gonna hold on to you until you believe you are loved.

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Sifting

Sun rays filtered by foliage
Light bouncing off new green
I sit and stare

I think how like the sun
You find your way through the dense thicket
Of my heart
Lies and lives and misconceptions
Misrepresentations
Your love and presence
Cannot be denied

I keep sifting

Through perfect pics
And politics
Through projected perfection
And pretense

I keep sifting

Through religious talk
And empty proclamations of love
Through traditions and routines
And harsh realities

I keep sifting

For you

To hear what you say to me
To see what you show to me
To let go of what you’ve taken from me
To never get to know why and still trust you

I keep sifting

So I might be in your presence
Kneel at your feet
My heavy head on your lap
Your gentle hand
On my head
Hearing your voice
You speak a blessing
A promise
Reassurance

There is nothing that can separate you from my love
I will never leave you, never forsake you

So I keep sifting

Through disappointment
And blame
Through expectations
And zeal
Through days and months
And years

I keep sifting

Alert for genuine encounters with you

I recognize your Love
I recognize the gift of your presence
I recognize this chance
Transparent, to be with you

You are far more than a label, a creed, a tradition or a moral code
You are far more than my politics, my worldview, my passion or my need to be right

You are so much more than all of the words I could ever string together
I want to really see you
Except sometimes it’s hard to find you
Inside all the noise

You are more than we could ever package, reproduce or legislate
You are a beautiful surprise and not so complicated, after all

I simply cannot make you fit into my pocket
You gently decline to be led by my agenda
I cannot find you in the places I want to go

Because there you still are

With the woman at the well
Feeding the thousands
Raising the dead
Walking on water
Healing the blind
Cleansing the lepers
Around the table with outcasts
Reclining, embracing, speaking truth
Bleeding out my freedom

So I just keep sifting
Through it all
For you

Spending Grace

What kind of Christian are you? 

Recently this question was asked of me, I believe rhetorically, but never-the-less I gave it some thought.

It’s easy to say what kind of Christian I should be, but what kind of Christian I actually am?  That’s a whole other thing.  It didn’t take long for an answer to rise to the surface of my heart.

I’m the very human, sometimes sloppy but always convinced kind.

Of this.

We, though, are going to love–love and be loved.  First we were loved, now we love.  He loved us first.  1 John 4:19 the message

Like all humans, I crave love and acceptance.  I crave safe places where I can be vulnerable.  I spent a great deal of my nearly forty years trying to earn those things.  I kept trying to give away what I didn’t have.  Kept demanding from others what was never their responsibility to give me.

I knew in my head God loved me.  I knew all of it.  All the church in me, all the Sundays and notes and back-pats defined me.  But I clearly did not believe, in my core, the truth of it.  I had not bumped up against grace, so stringless.  Had not yet truly rested my weary, over-thinking head on His knee.  Never had I pressed paused on my striving.  Never had I shut my ears to other broken humans telling me I should be like Jesus instead of to just be with Jesus.

Being with Jesus…was not talking about Him, writing a blog about Him, reading books about Him, or telling others about Him.  Sometimes the path to Jesus is littered with church notes, five point plans, teaching tapes and good intentions.

Six years ago I stood by a window in my living room, looking out into my cul-de-sac.  I was grasping and afraid.  I wanted to control things and people and circumstances that did not belong to me so that I could feel better.  I will always remember the way He confronted my pride and the invitation He slipped into my heart that day.

Come be loved.

Uncertain but sick to death of towing the religious line without the promised results, I went.

To swing on my porch.  To sit at my kitchen table.  To stand at my windows.  I had no idea what I was doing.  All my life I tried to relate to Jesus by doing things I thought were right and avoiding things I thought were wrong. I only knew the currency of performance and following instructions.

I had no idea how to just do nothing. 

Smile…the best, most life-changing nothing I ever did.

I was spending grace.  Blowing through it like a hole in my pocket.  Completely myself and saying my whole heart aloud to Him.  I hid nothing.  Unrehearsed.  Unfiltered.  Untimed.

Finally I came undone.  Finally I had something authentic to give away.

Because He loved me, first.  Gave to me, first. 

I’m still sloppy some days…some years, even.  Sometimes I’m a well run dry.

But no matter what I’m convinced I’m loved.  And I’m always invited.

Come be loved by me.  Sit with me.  Talk with me.  Let me whisper into your world.  Let me fill every empty space.  Let me heal every hurt.  Let me give purpose to every regret.  Let me unlock the chains.  Lift the weights.  Time to put aside your agenda.  Give back your accolades.  Cease striving.

First we were loved, now we love.  

 

 

 

 

Bridges

A tiny bit of a woman. So small I could fit her in my pocket.

Years of living made it hard for her to walk so we help her shuffle to the bedside. I offer her a chair but she looks at me with hopeful eyes and whispers, I want to give her a kiss.

Here is where the numbers on monitors, test results and skilled care become background noise. Where my heart catches because I know what this means and I’m humbled to bear witness.

I bring down the side rail and secure so many tubes, lines and machines. I stand back and watch this elderly woman hover over her grown child and then kiss her face. I’m not sure of the words she whispers but oh I feel them blow across my heart.

Love and grief.  And probably good bye.

I am a stranger. A bystander in this world of hope and despair in which they have been plunged. I discover within myself this fluidity of grace that only Creator can give. A juxtaposition of detachment and empathy enables me to gently lead them into the depths of sadness.

Like a guard of understanding I stand at attention, close by as the doctor explains the grim prognosis. They turn away and tears fall.  He tells them he will be happy to be wrong and that he is sorry. But grief and loss are breaking open and no one can respond to him. I move forward and nod, unspoken medical jargon meaning I’ve got this.

When I was a younger nurse I would have let the turbulence of this moment push me to offer platitudes. In my naivete I believed I could defuse suffering but now I understand only the presence of God carries a mother, a daughter, a brother and a best sister through the pain of loss. There is only the moving through it, never the escaping.

They are beginning their good bye.

I bring Kleenex. I bring answers to questions.  I bring another chair. And as grief spills out I bring a cup water.

As I fill the waxy cups I think about Jesus.

Jesus, this is all I can do right now.

I cannot bring the miracle they need. I cannot bring back yesterday.

But I can bring a cup of water. And I can stay inside the pain with them.

When shock and grief momentarily subside they stumble out together, this band of broken hearts. And now I am alone with her, this woman in the prime of her life losing her life.

They say she is funny and kind.

This morning I think about her. I wonder if she made it through the night. I think about her family…her frail mother’s kiss, her daughter’s graceful composure, her sister’s open grief…and I ask Creator to comfort them all with His presence.

Sometimes in life we want to fix situations and people, we want to rescue and diffuse. We want to do more than we are able and it’s frustrating. We feel like we should do more. The fact is only God can do the miraculous, only He can change hearts and lives and outcomes.

Maybe hugs, kleenex and cups of water are simply bridges people cross to keep from drowning in their deepest grief.

Inky Pages

Sometimes the quiet is the loudest.

Sometimes a Bible can say so many things before you even open it.

Yesterday morning I considered mine as it sat on the table in the quiet of my kitchen. This fading, scratched up Message paraphrase I’ve had for I don’t know how long. It’s dear to me in a way no Bible I’ve owned has ever been. I look over and it means more to me than really I can say. And at times it says more than I really want to hear.

In practical terms its simply a book with pages and ink. But in terms of living it holds potential for life and death. Thin, inky pages telling us all the things Creator means for us to know. Things that sustain us, remake us, unfold and surprise us.  The things that rescue us.

Jesus, no matter the question, is the answer. Yet I’m afraid it’s just a Michael W. Smith song until we hit a wall in life that breaks us apart…until we find ourselves completely lost and helpless. Until we have absolutely run out of answers and plans and opinions we are simply not needy enough.

Marriage made me needy. Regret broke me. Miscarriages of justice and babies confused me. I strained against the pain because I thought I couldn’t handle it, and because I mistakenly thought spiritual prowess meant a strong front. But sinking into the truth of myself, of my life, brought grace, comfort and power I never would have known otherwise. My shiny, plum-colored Bible earned it’s scratchy fade along those broken roads.

I finally heard the voice of His Spirit when there was nothing left for me to say.

I finally felt the nearness of Jesus when I was all alone.

I finally learned new things when I admitted I knew nothing, really.

I finally understood joy and peace when I gave up merely pretending to have it.

I finally liked myself when I discovered He liked me already.

When I look at my Bible lying on the table I see we have a history. I know the pages are full of Love. I know the ways of Jesus in my life happened inside and I can never forget.

But I don’t want to write about a memory. 

So I sit down at my table and read these words.

Yeast, too, is a small thing, but it works its way through a whole batch of bread dough pretty fast.  So get rid of this “yeast.”  Our true identity is flat and plain, not puffed up with the wrong kind of ingredient.  1 Corinthians 5, the message

Creator confronts, divides and winnows.  He reveals the diagnosis and then provides the cure.  Intimacy with Jesus is no small thing. The yeast of life we all contend with…pride, fear, shame…spreads quickly and before we know it we are puffed up with the wrong ingredient.

I don’t want to live puffed up with offense, insecurity, fear, and selfishness.

I believe everything I truly need, everything I hope for, lies just behind my shattered pride.  On the other side of humble and transparent.  Every life-altering thing I  know of Jesus has come with a deflation of my opinions, my way, my rights.  Jesus has never let me down when I trust Him with everything I’m afraid I can’t control.  Has never left me empty when I pour myself out.  Has never left me sin-sick when I confess my need for grace.

He never leaves me broken but always welcomes me that way. 

And so I open my Bible, these inky pages that reveal and cure me if only I say yes.

Jesus,  make me flat and plain so you can build what you want of me. 

Sanctuary

I guess the open road has become my sanctuary.

Highways 95, 40 and 42. Miles driven while my girls sleep or all alone in a messy van.

Still longing for Prince of Peace. Needing Peace Be Still.

I swipe and tap until Kim Walker-Smith’s familiar voice fills the quiet. Can’t hold my love back from you…can’t hold my love back from you…I gotta sing…Sing my love to you, Jesus…

Inside my heart He does the thing only Jesus can do. I remember singing this song with abandon and joy and a kind of peace that cannot be manufactured.

Worship made me well.

There is nothing to compare with the presence and love of Jesus in my life–no matter how I look away.

Perhaps 2015 was a year of hiding for you, too. Maybe you sit on a pew or show up to serve but you don’t really trust people, don’t trust what you thought you knew about how it all works.  Perhaps you don’t trust Jesus anymore.

Except you can’t move on because you miss Him.

If so, may I encourage you?  We don’t need to have it all figured out. We don’t need to have our emotions in proper working order, have all bad habits put neatly away or have unearthed every issue for resolution before we come into the sanctuary – the refuge – of His love.

I have wasted so much time exalting my failings, as well as the failings of others, instead of Jesus.  Magnified every wrong and slight against me instead of the One who can heal me.   Allowed myself the luxury of suffering, let my pain and angst poison the atmosphere of my home, rather than lean on the purchase of His suffering.

I would go to church but resist His presence.  I did not want to see Jesus, hear Jesus, deal with Jesus.

Except over and over and over, as I drive,  He draws me out. With all my polluted thinking, hardened attitudes, sinful choices and desperate attempts at perfection He’s still loving me fiercely. Relentlessly. Waiting to make me well again.

Jesus is our medicine.   And the time we spend being loved by Him is what heals us.

I taste a bit of joy on the tip of my singing tongue. Hope erupts. Disappointment and doubt fade. Apprehension recedes. Pride cracks open and my bitterness spills out.

Oh this peculiar place where absolute abandon to the truth is welcome! Where our deepest realities are known and understood. Where the crumbly pieces we offer are gladly received. Where distance is closed in a whisper…in a shuddering sigh…in a song.

See, I keep breaking and spilling.  And He keeps mending and filling.

The sacrifice you desire is a broken spirit.  You will not reject a broken and repentant heart, O God.Psalm 51:17 NLT

 

Cave Dwellers

Sunday words about David.  The many years between anointed shepherd boy and King of Israel…the wanderings, the running, the hiding in caves.

Cave dweller.  So clearly whispered to my heart.

I caught a glimpse of myself.  Standing at the entrance of my cave, squinting against the light of day as I peered out.  Jesus beside me as if He had walked with me, from inside, to face the light.

In heart-darkness He is still with us because He lives within us.

We think we have to find our way to Him.  Review the ways we could and should try to get back to Him.

Except Jesus never left me.  Unspeakably amazed, I find Jesus inside my cave.  I find compassion unparalleled.   Love so organic, so intrinsic.  Because I thought I was alone, really.

My disappointment with people and aspects of church-world oozed into disappointment with God.  The margins were so unclear.  I could not efficiently sift the imperfections of human influence from the pristine faithfulness of the Lord.

Sometimes there is a wilderness.  A weariness from the elements, wondering why in the world God, if He loves us, lets the sun beat down with no relief.

Why this diagnosis?  Why this bank statement?  Why this rejection?  Why the injustice?  The hypocrisy?  Why can’t I do better?  Be different?  Why can’t other people do better and be different?  Why do I have to deal with this?

So maybe we quit dealing and crawl inside the nearest hide-away.

To live a cave dweller’s life…

Today I let the girls break out the Christmas movies.  As Leighton watched The Grinch I thought about the ending.  How even in isolation love still found him.  When Grinch’s heart began to thaw and expand He cried out.  Coming out of the cave, heart-thaw, brings an ambush of feelings with it.

Any fellow cave dwellers out there today?  May I encourage you?

Jesus walks with us to the edge as many times as it takes.  Stands by patiently.  Slips His hand around ours as Love pounds and pulsates into our cold places.  Squirming discomfort.  Thawing means no more living numb.

Regardless of what awaits outside the cave Jesus is unchanging.  He is our safest place.

A David Psalm:
You’re my cave to hide in,
my cliff to climb.
Be my safe leader,
be my true mountain guide.
Free me from hidden traps;
I want to hide in you.
I’ve put my life in your hands.
You won’t drop me,
you’ll never let me down.
–Psalm 31:3-5, the message

Near Rainy Dark

God makes his people strong.
God gives his people peace.
–Psalm 29:11 the message

Tattered book open on my sticky kitchen table as I watch the rain, fading fire colors of Autumn and two pesky squirrels.

I open my Bible at church but otherwise it sits on my nightstand.  Within my heart dwell resentments.  Unanswered questions.  Fears, even.  I live between the pull and tension of meeting expectations and a raw hunger for authenticity.  I resent the former and so I hide from the latter.

Even in the muck I sometimes feel His presence.  I may have determined myself impenetrable but I do believe He laughs.  Presses my heart until I’m uncovered and vulnerable.  And I don’t want to cry.  Don’t want to feel the sweet, searing pain of release as pressure and poison give way to Love.

Wrinkled pages open and my heart scatters over the Word.  Breaks against the truth.

(Shouldn’t the confusion have cleared by now?  Shouldn’t my spiritual act be together by now?)

My great juxtaposition…

I love Jesus very deeply because I’ve lived so loved by Him and yet truly I’m angry so I now refuse to live loved.

I cannot merely go through the motions.  And I cannot pretend.  And I just will not serve myself up in pretense to others.  If there is one thing I believe I know it’s that Jesus only deals in truths.

The rain comes down.  Leighton wants to play and I tell her in a little while.  She asks, Why do you need to read your Bible, mama?

Because mama needs help, I answer.

I need to swim the river of peace.  Taste the fruit of His Spirit. 

I stubbornly attempt to produce certain results in my life all at a loss.

There just is no peace apart from Him.  No lasting measure of joy outside of Him.  No wisdom away from Him.  No security, no healing, no freedom.

Fading red leaves barely hanging on outside my window.  They shake and tremble as rain and wind assault but refuse to let go.  Winter is around the corner and the leaves need to fall.  Finish dying their pungent death.

Sometimes you have to give up trying so hard to be what you are not.  Give up holding on so hard to yesterday.  Finish dying to your rights, your viewpoint, your hurts, yourself.

I open up the Psalms.  David is my favorite.  And the words He let spill lend me the encouragement I need to let loose my own truths.  I whisper to my God of the many crispy places in my life.  My helplessness.  My exhaustion.  I read David-words and say honest things and my feelings, like the wind and rain, begin to assault me.

Except there is this.

God makes his people strong.  God gives his people peace.

Here is the falling away.  The letting go.  The fade.

My every attempt at managing, controlling, preserving and protecting is futile.  He lets wind and rain blow against me.  I want rest but refuse to let go and come out of the storm.  But it doesn’t work that way.  It doesn’t work my way.

Peace and stability, internal rest, come with the falling.  The letting go of producing.  Acceptance of surrender to the ways of Jesus.

Sometimes it’s frightening and so we stubbornly hold on to ways that produce unhealthy results.

In this near rainy dark comes the inclination to write.  I open up my laptop and life because I cannot be the only one who needs encouragement.  Cannot be the only one who loves Jesus but secretly —  or not so secretly  — is provoked by many things.  Not the only one who let disappointment and confusion breed until bitterness was born.  Not the only one trying so hard to produce things in my life that only God can give.

Not the only one who simply needs His help.

Who wants to let go.

Jesus,  for those with weary hearts, tired minds and upset souls will you help us to let go…help us to feel your love and presence in ways that make us want to trust you more…help us each day take just a baby step toward surrendering control to you…and as we do please make us strong and give us peace as you promised.