Wednesday, December 31, 2014

December 31st

December 15

Caught a cold, woke in the night with my mouth dry and hazy. Took a swallow of water from the tepid bottle and as the water soaked through the dryness, thought again of Jesus hanging on the cross for hours and His blood loss and His thirst, how He spoke of it- “I thirst.” Pity wrenched my heart.

You are water to Me, Jesus said tenderly.

“Let me be so,” I said with nothing but assenting desire. “Let me be as refreshing to You as I possibly can.”

Caught up in love indescribable these last two days, wandering around the house in a haze of love, thinking of Him in almost everything I do, lost in so much wonder over the love that I can hardly think back to it.

December 19

I told Jesus when I was caught up in it that it would be impossible for me to write about it and indeed, it is. But I can write down the prayers- which are the same as ever- that Jesus Himself lives in me, that God is the Trinity and His nature is the ground of being, so that kenosis is not so much a command or a theory as it is a state of being- that one's entire being is nothing but an expression of worship poured out, and the pouring out makes space for God pouring through like streams of living water, and this is endless and ecstasy.

In the early morning, as I was preparing to make scrambled eggs for the baby, the pain in my chest returned. The area around my heart was being compressed by deep, throbbing pain that prevented movement and that took my strength away and made it difficult to breathe. The pain was worse than ever before- intense, immediate, like someone had clamped a hand around my heart and squeezed.

I couldn’t ignore it. I made my groping way over to the cupboard, trying to breathe quietly and not turn to the fear that was pressing up all around me, and found the aspirin and took two with water, thinking in a muddled way, “I can’t die right now.”

The baby was already in her high chair, for which I was grateful, as I could not have lifted her any more. I leaned against the counter with both hands pressed against the stone and breathed ever so slowly in and ever so slowly out, breathing through the clamping pain. I was aware in a specific way of the presence of Jesus surrounding me. The veil was thin.

“Dear Jesus, don’t let me die right now. Unless it is Your will, in which case, Your will be done.” But then I thought how Merissa was still in her high chair and hadn’t had breakfast and how she needed me, how for so many years, she would need my love and presence, as would Keith, and I saw clearly how important it was that I serve them in love.

“But I haven’t finished my works of love,” I said, bewildered, seeing in a unusual way how these works were of great importance to myself and to them.

Jesus reminded me that He did not need me in the garden of the world- He had infinite resources, but He put me to work there because of the way He wove lives together in love, for our growth- to deepen in love- not because He needed us, but because He was growing us all together.

But again, I protested- “Who will care for Keith and love him and provide a sheltering home for his war torn heart with all the baggage he carries from combat? And what about Merissa? She’s already lost her birth family! She’s already had priceless things taken from her! Don’t take me from her. How could she endure another loss so great? Don’t let me die in front of my daughter! How long would she be alone before someone came?”

Before the horror of this scenario could sink in, Jesus pressed into my heart the absolute knowledge that no matter what happened to me and my family, there was nothing He could not heal, there was nothing He could not guide them through, supporting them, loving them, comforting them, and that He would do this no matter what, that Merissa and Keith would be provided for, body, soul and spirit, even if I should be taken from them right there and then.

“You will care for them, support them and heal them if I go,” I acknowledged, because the truth of it was so evident to me. “You are the One responsible. They are Yours, and I am Yours, and if it be Your will that I should die now, I know You will care for them even in those circumstances and through those circumstances and for the rest of their lives. If it be Your will that I should die now, I accept in faith.”

And Jesus assured me that even on the other side, I’d still be able to invest with love in my family, in ways I couldn’t grasp right now, but I accepted His comfort by faith and was comforted.

The pain in my chest continued intense. I kept waiting, hoping that the pain medication would kick in, but there was no relief and the only way I could manage it was to breathe as slowly as possible. It seemed like fear was pressing in on all sides- fear of the pain increasing, of losing even more strength, of not being able to breathe at all. But the pain gave me a kind of desperate single-mindedness- I had to focus myself entirely on Jesus and not look away, so the fear remained only a kind of background.

But even after working through so much, within me, I cried out, “I don’t want to die!” and I was embarrassed of this reluctance to give myself over to Jesus in that final and absolute surrender, that greatest leap of faith- one that He Himself took, handing His Spirit into the hands of His Father with perfect trust.

Again, compassion for my weakness rose up in me. My spirit can grasp something of where I am going, but my soul and my body cannot. So it was as though I took myself gently in hand and acknowledged my fear with compassion and offered my whole self to Jesus both in confession and for His help.

All through this, I kept thinking, “But I can’t be dying, because I’ve been to the doctor and she said my heart was fine. This must be an anxiety attack.” It was in part this line of thinking, in the back of my mind, that kept me from reaching for my phone and calling Keith or 911. I kept thinking how embarrassing it would be for all that fuss and bother and the flashing lights and hours in the emergency room, taking up a bed there and Keith having to leave work and all for an anxiety attack, even though the pain was so great and centered right deep in the left side of my chest.

This line of thinking- that this must be an anxiety attack- finally rose up into the front of my mind, just at the point when I thought I had come to terms, as best I could, with surrendering my life. Then I was confused, wondering why I had had all those intense moments of understanding, and hearing Jesus as He reassured me, if this wasn't really my time to go.

I didn't get an answer then about that, but I remembered, with a sudden clarity, that my body had suffered the repeated violence of sexual abuse, in silence and in helplessness and in shame, for years.

This filled me again with compassion. I saw how the trauma of that abuse would be stored away in myself and how this pain in my heart and shortness of breath was a way of releasing that stored up shock and pain, of giving belated expression to it.

“Of course,” I said to myself, gently. “Of course I feel this way. I’m so sorry that happened to me. It was not my fault. It’s okay that I feel this way right now; I understand this response. Let it come out through, let it come out through. That abuse is not happening now, it will never happen again; I am safe. It is safe to give expression to the trauma and to release it.”

And as I said this, understanding opened up deeper, like a shaft of light striking down through- how much Jesus had suffered- how when on the cross, He found it very difficult to breathe and could only breathe shallowly because of the intense pain of crucifixion, and how He had also suffered helplessness, violence and shame, and how my suffering and His suffering were like a living connection between us. This connection was like a window into some of the deepest chambers of His heart, and His into mine.

I saw there was something more that I could do with my suffering- there was a way in which I could frame it that was more powerful than any that I had yet discovered. I had thanked Jesus for the insight and compassion that the suffering had given me, and I had thanked Him for the strength to heal. I had thanked Him for the way in which He has been and will gloriously redeem the suffering, and how much beauty it will be, in the light of His work in my heart- because He has given me a glimpse of what that will look like, in the end.

But standing in the kitchen gripped with pain that surged through my body in the wake of abuse, I knew the most powerful act of gratitude would be to thank Him for how I could know in my heart what it felt like in His.

I knew it wasn’t His will that I should have suffered as I did, but I knew that by turning it to a gift and thanking Him for it, I was transforming it from dark to light- taking all the dark power out of it, turning it against itself.

The presence of Jesus had been all around me and suffusing me, but as this insight shot down through my spirit, I could see that He was standing close to me, bending down protectively, and I saw on His face a look of tenderness and grief and love that was beyond description, as if His heart were breaking.

I leaned forward and threw my arms around His shoulders and clung to Him, and we were caught up in love without words, hearts wide open to that living connection of shared suffering. I wanted to put my understanding into words and offer it to Jesus before that illuminating shaft of light faded, and I lost the ability to see so clearly.

“Thank You,” I whispered into His ear. It was a strange feeling. It was as if Jesus and I were in some clear, quiet center in the midst of moving chaos, as if life around us receded into miniature pictures. Then I pulled all the links of understanding up through, like beads of light that went all the way into what had been dark and pulled it up into light, each link growing brighter, so bright it was hard for my mind to hold it all at once- the bright edges of light kept slipping through into something beyond me. “Thank You for the gift of knowing Your suffering in this way,” I breathed, giving Him in one moment, with thanksgiving, all my pain, grief and brokenness that had become an incandescent outpouring past what I could see, and yet tender as a murmuring voice, like catching someone's eye across the room and knowing in one glance their heart, and loving them so much it makes your breath catch.

Jesus’ love was cascading into my heart in a tumbling current intense, tender and passionate and there were no words, as if the love were overtaking the words, or breaking them apart, and this love broke open into knowledge and I knew absolutely that in the end, no matter what I suffered here, I would see Jesus and be with Him and be loved by Him for eternity and there was nothing to fear. He was mine even now, but then, I would be able to know and to comprehend and to love and to relate to Him in the fullness of sight and presence.

I understood why Paul had said:

“So we have no reason to despair. Despite the fact that our outer humanity is falling apart and decaying, our inner humanity is breathing in new life every day. You see, the short-lived pains of this life are creating for us an eternal glory that does not compare to anything we know here. So we do not set our sights on the things we can see with our eyes. All of that is fleeting; it will eventually fade away. Instead, we focus on the things we cannot see, which live on and on.”

-II Corinthians 4:16-18

Then the bright clarity began to fade and I lost sight of all the vivid connections, but I remembered the conclusion- that the suffering was a gift and that I wanted to share His, that sharing in His suffering was an incredible privilege worth all that it cost. I didn't know how I knew this, I just remembering knowing it.

As the pain continued, I simply handed it over as a kind of request:

“Let me share in Your suffering. Let this be a way that I can share in Your suffering. Please grant me the privilege of knowing some of Your pain. Please let me share that with You. Let me know Your heart of suffering through this pain. I accept. I accept this. Please let me carry some of Your pain.”

I was still standing at the counter and several times I had lifted my hands up, partly as a physical gesture of surrender and acceptance and partly to ease the pain, but I felt an increased desire to extend my arms out to each side. I wrestled with this urge for a moment or two, feeling ridiculous and grandiose in an embarrassing way, and not wanting to do it.

I remembered that there was no one there to see me but Merissa, who was still contentedly eating Cheerios, so I surrendered to the desire and extended my arms out to each side as though physically acknowledging the cross.

As I did this, the pain went away completely. I stood there, feeling an incongruous mixture of foolishness and relief, and knowing myself to be present before Jesus.

When I lowered my arms, the pain flowed back in, but I accepted this and began moving slowly around the kitchen, breathing slowly, creeping along the counter with both hands, but feeling at peace with the pain, by faith sharing it with Jesus and doing each thing slowly, as an offering of love. My sight became hazy at the edges and I was dizzy and light headed, but I was able to do everything I needed to do.

Then the pain began to ease and with it, the rest of the clarity and intensity of sight and purpose that it had given me, but if the pain comes again, I will remember how to hold it and how to offer it, and what I would like to request through it- always more of Jesus.

The whole rest of the day, I was physically and emotionally exhausted and unable to understand what had happened and so I put it all away to think about later, because I didn’t have any more energy to think that deeply or to be that present. In fact, I was cranky and short tempered and this made me angry at myself and ashamed, after the brightness of before. But I tried each time to be compassionate with myself and to lean my exhausted, cranky self on Jesus.

So also. I wrote that poem and suffered agonies before I even posted it, thinking “What am I saying? What is wrong with me, that this stuff comes out? Where do I come up with this stuff? Why can’t my poetry be elegantly simple and intellectual and appealing?”

And each time clinging to Jesus by faith and praying again and again, “Let me honor You. Please let my words honor You,” and “Give discernment to me, your servant,” and “The Lord is my Shepherd,” because Jesus gently directs me along the path, and “Cleanse the thoughts of my heart by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit that I might perfectly love you and worthily magnify your holy Name,” and “Into Your hands, Your will be done, Thee I adore."

Then trying to put the whole thing aside, and managing, for a short while, until the agony returned- the agony of not being enough, of writing about things so far beyond myself I’ve no idea why I’m being asked to try and compose them and knowing my talent wasn’t up to the task, and fell far short, and being afraid of being an embarrassment to Jesus, and then having to pray all the prayers all over again.

Then Jesus said to me that no words could ever be enough to capture or fully describe what I was trying to write about, and this was such a relief to remember, because of course that is true, and then He pointed out that almost every line was His own words, either directly or indirectly, by pointing back to it, and so how could I go wrong doing that?

So I continued, doggedly, to work on my poem which I knew was simply not good enough and never would be and yet He was asking me to share it, so what I must do is to simply do the best I can out of love, even if the result is very humbling, and to be obedient in faith.

December 21

I turned the calendar page and the verse was:

"I cry out to God Most High, to God who will fulfill his purpose for me."
-Psalm 57:2

December 23

Caught up in prayer rising up out of my heart, again and again, as these lessons I have learned sink deeper into who I am:

“Let me be so absorbed in You that I am all in Your Holy Spirit and You all in me. Let me be saturated by You,” I prayed to Jesus, when I was with Him, as a request and almost like an expression of worship. “Let me love You as You love. Teach me to love You as You do in the Trinity. Let me be like the Holy Spirit and take joy in revealing You.”

I keep laying my open hands down because they are heavy with surrender and I can't hold them up. “I accept,” I tell Jesus, understanding now more fully. “I accept what You are asking me to do. I will not withhold myself, even though I am ridiculously not enough. I will offer myself and all that I have to You and I will give away what You ask me to give. I will be obedient in faith and accept this humbling and I will offer You all the that I have and I know the Holy Spirit will help me to honor You. Without Him, I cannot. Holy Spirit, help me to honor Jesus by my words. Take what little I have and bring it to life for His sake. You love to lift Him up and that is also the desire of my heart, so come through me and teach me and guide me and enable me so to honor Jesus that others are drawn to Him in love and freedom and joy and life.”


Since we have been acquitted and made right through faith, we are able to experience true and lasting peace with God through our Lord Jesus, the Anointed One, the Liberating King.  Jesus leads us into a place of radical grace where we are able to celebrate the hope of experiencing God’s glory. And that’s not all. We also celebrate in seasons of suffering because we know that when we suffer we develop endurance, which shapes our characters. When our characters are refined, we learn what it means to hope and anticipate God’s goodness. And hope will never fail to satisfy our deepest need because the Holy Spirit that was given to us has flooded our hearts with God’s love."

Romans 1:1-5, Voice