Friday, September 18, 2015

A Barren Woman

(This post is quite long, more like two or three chapters in a book than a blog post, so I have marked them in parts I, II and III.)

Five years ago, on November 1, 2010
Keith and I were up in Indiana this weekend and as we were driving it struck me that we had been there exactly one year ago. It all came back, the shorn, golden tilt of farmed hillsides, the black shadows stretching further east, away from the setting sun and the few shards of copper leaves that rimmed the trees.

I thought again how it felt to set out from Colorado, to head East across the state into the flatland, everything around us brown, tawny and still, the grass lands and the rolling hills mirroring the endless sky above.

I keep waking up, as it were, into a greater understanding of life's inherent difficulty and imperfection, but it's no longer traumatizing to realize how much suffering life holds. I don't rebel against it or hide from it as I used to.

Instead, I feel this sense of peace. I feel like a tree that's lost limbs, been partially burned, but has its roots deep into the earth and its branches all spread to the sky. God calls us into life not because life is perfect and not because we are perfect, but because we are meant to grow.

We don't have to grovel or punish ourselves or push ourselves. We don't have to shy away from our failures and imperfections. We can trust that in all things, God will call us out deeper- to encourage growth, to bring us out further and further into the light.

That is what He has been doing in my life of late. Of this whole year, in fact. This whole year has been one of intense, sometimes downright agonizing growth. I've been called to grow up in a whole new way.

And I did not want to. I did not want to give up my illusions, the beautiful fantasy that life could be perfect, perfectly fulfilling in itself. I was incredible angry at God. Why would God do that to us, to any of us? It isn't fair, it wasn't right. We strive and strive and strive and yet get knocked down again. Now I see the beauty.

Last year, when I looked ahead, I took for granted that by this time I would certainly be either pregnant or the mother of an infant. I did not grant any weight to the idea that neither might be true. I just projected this longing into the future, maybe as a way to guard myself from the truth, the truth that I can’t control the future.

We were up in Indiana to receive a truck being delivered to Keith's brother on the same day that his wife was in the hospital delivering their second girl. I walked into the house and saw on the table a breast pump and in the living room a bassinet, newly constructed, standing silent witness to what was happening in a hospital right then.

I felt juvenile and gauche; I felt like a small girl that has her nose to the window of some warmly mysterious and richly natural room that she knows she will never be invited into, an experience that will never be a part of her life.

I feel like those fields, rough corn stubble making a golden haze across a gentle valley, half in the sun and half in shadow, but quiet and still. I feel inside me a reassuring weight, a strong ballast; God calls me into life to grow. He calls me out from the things of childhood into adulthood, not because life is safe, but because my spirit longs to expand through the suffering into what is real. It's what I was created to express, I am a living expression of the nature of God; that nature that creates and pours forth new life through the suffering and redeems the dark.

Four years ago, on December 25, 2011
This part of the hymn keeps going through my mind: my Jesus, I love Thee; I know Thou art mine. For Thee, all the follies of sin I resign.

But right now, I find pride, self-reliance and self-righteousness much harder to resign. So I sang to Jesus: For Thee, all the follies of self-righteousness I resign, and I felt His delight at my small joke.

He was close to me all day today, starting in the morning when I got an eyelash in my eye. I was completely stressed out anyway, worried that I wouldn’t be on time and make everyone else late to church, so my anxiety reached an unbearable point and I cried out to Him.

And Jesus put His arm around my shoulders and held me close and I became quiet and calm. And the eyelash came out.

I thought, Oh my goodness. I just called upon God concerning an eyelash. And, He answered me. I would venture to say that there is nothing He is not involved in and concerned with.

Even when I woke and had to get moving so quickly that I didn't even have a moment to rest in Jesus, I felt all flustered and sent Him a quick, half garbled apology and I felt Him right beside me. He said, I'm here. All though the anxiety- ridden getting ready for church, I felt Him touch me to calm me down and center me. Just do the next thing, He kept saying. One thing at a time. Trust Me.

"One two three," I said to Jesus, in relief- because saying it centers me back into acceptance of the present task of love.

I came down, and I was not late and there were cinnamon rolls and fruit salad for breakfast and everything was fine. And I adored Jesus. The whole trip to the church, I rested in His love and I worshiped and adored Him.

In church, my emotions moved between grief, joy and exhaustion. I had forgotten how much emphasis the church places on doing things and not on being, on relationship. It seemed strange to me. It was like taking a core sample of an entire landmass and saying, all the date in this core sample is what we know and do, when the entire landmass is their home and belongs to them.

It made me think of this passage:
"So don’t boast about following a particular human leader. For everything belongs to you— whether Paul or Apollos or Peter, or the world, or life and death, or the present and the future. Everything belongs to you, and you belong to Christ, and Christ belongs to God.
-I Corinthians 3:21-23

During the service, everything happened so quickly that there was no time to ponder or consider and everything had to do with the surface. Guilt was employed as a motivator for behavior at every turn.

Every time I thought about how this imperfect and incomplete knowledge will fall off of us in eternity, and how brightly we will shine and how completely we will love and be loved, living entirely in the compassion and knowledge and the love of God, I felt comforted.

In the meantime, some people just seem to prefer to live in these small containers. But I have hope- everyone grows at their own rate and in their own path, and Jesus cares deeply about and is involved in their faith and their relationship to Him.

Later, I heard or read something and I thought, oh, how will I convey enough love to this person to heal them?

And Jesus said, I do that. That is what I do.

I said, "Right! Of course, that is what You do. What do I do?"

You are a mirror, He said.

I thought, oh my goodness! Of course. I mirror His love and what I see in Him to other people. The better I see Him, the better I can reflect Him. The better and deeper I let Him love me, the brighter will be the love that I can reflect.

But it's His work in the heart of the person that matters the most. Jesus doesn't need a mirror, He just likes to use one if I'm available for the work, because it's good for me.

December 26, 2011

So we are home.

On Christmas, I learned that my sister in law is pregnant again. It’s an unexpected pregnancy, and my other sister in law just recently gave birth to her second after ten years. The house of my parents in law was a jumble of babies and pregnancies and small children underfoot and Christmas decorations.

I didn’t talk to Jesus about this for a long while, trying to prevent myself from being angry at Him. I didn’t want to go through all that right then, but when I was upstairs wrapping presents, I was able to speak to Him.

"Why?" I asked Jesus. "Why are You making me a barren woman?"

His response was layered and hard to grasp. It was as though He were saying that I wasn't barren in the spiritual sense. It was almost as though He were saying that I was full of His life instead. But I still don't understand that, and it seemed so weird.

When Jesus begins to teach me something, I usually have a hard time grasping it at first. He always returns to the idea, again and again, to explain and expound on the original lesson. He does this in many different ways, and sooner or later I get it, so I didn’t worry too much about not understanding it right then.

But the one part I truly understood was that He was with me; I had Jesus. This caused me so much joy that my spirit went up in flames.

"You, You, You!" I cried, with joy. "I choose You, every time, over everything. Let my life be what it must and let me have You. So be it."

When I returned to the living room, my pain had been consumed by comfort and joy. I took my little nephew and rocked him in my arms and smelled his delicious baby smell and just enjoyed the little guy.

But he was suffering with a cold! So tiny and already suffering. It didn't seem right. I reached out for Christ, without words, and I felt both the baby and myself enveloped in His love. I felt Jesus standing behind me, His arms around myself and my nephew. We were bathed in love and peace.

I understood that right in that moment; Jesus was with that little baby, suffering with him, just as Jesus had always been with me in mine. Jesus did not hold Himself aloof, but entered into it so that He can transform it. His cross encompasses everything and His resurrection always has the last word.

I thought about how Jesus Himself was born human- was as helpless and humble as an infant. To be honest, I couldn't actually wrap my mind around it. I think there can be no greater courage or love and humility than His.

We stopped by Keith's mother's house in the morning before getting on the interstate.

His mother is a kindred spirit, and I had the pleasure of talking out loud about the things I normally simply write about. I have two mothers with whom I can actually talk out loud about my inner life.

When she hugged me goodbye, she squeezed me tight and prayed a blessing, half under her breath. I didn't catch what she was saying, but as she prayed, I felt my spirit flare up. So did hers.

She pulled an arm's length away and looked at me, her eyes shining. "The Lord is using you, sister," she said, with a grin.

I felt unexpectedly and hugely shy, and ducked my head. It was as though a veil had been lifted, and she had a glimpse of something that normally is seen only by Christ, because it belongs only to Him. My spirit is all liquid warm and flares up easily like that because I'm held in His arms all the time; my spirit belongs to Him. He delights in me, He actually tells me so. He carries me under the shadow of His wings. I am the apple of His eye and His dove hidden in the rock.

The entire trip back down to Georgia, I felt His love poured out on me. Half way down, we stopped for an early dinner and I was idly reading through the psalms, and I found this:

"As for me, I shall behold Your face in righteousness;
I will be satisfied with Your likeness when I awake."
Psalm 17:15

December 27, 2011
(Note on Facebook, written to my mother)

I have to write about something so astonishing that just happened. So, I'm pretty sure it was on the trip home that it began. I was talking with Jesus like I normally do. He was with me closely that entire time, just flooding me with His love and care of me.

Jesus held me in His arms and cradled my head against His shoulder. I felt as if I were cradled deep down within layers- layers of light and even of wings curved around me and it was as though I were tucked deep, deep in with Him, safe and sound and cherished. He kept taking my face in His hands.

I remembered how at first, this perception of His presence and His love had shocked me and I had kept turning away, but He kept returning. Now I accept Jesus with joy and faith. I have no idea why He’s like this with me, but I accept.

It was so moving that I frequently found myself on the verge of tears. Especially when this one song came on:

I remember how it used to feel
Ridin' down ol' two mile hill
Tennis shoes up on the handlebars
Payin' no mind to them passin' cars
No doubts no fears
Just like when you are here

No chains, no strings
No fences, no walls
No net, just you
To catch me when I fall
Look heart, no hands

Took a little time to get up to speed
To find the confidence and strength I'd need
To just let go and reach for the sky
You know, sometimes it felt I could fly
No doubts, no fears
Just like when you are here

It doesn't take much
Just a smile of a touch
And I'm a kid again
I can almost feel that wind
-Randy Travis, Look Heart, No Hands

And I was sitting there in the car, just overwhelmed by love, tears tricking down my cheek- my heart was so full. At one point, I cried out to Jesus, “No more love! I’m only a mortal girl; I can’t hold anymore love, my heart is going to burst! I can’t hold anymore!”

Then, later on, I was thinking about a picture I'd seen on a Bible, of Jesus knocking at the door. I thought about how dolorous Jesus looked in that picture, how calm and pale and somehow almost disinterested.

He said in my heart, that is not who I am. He said this with tender humor. He didn’t mind the picture, not one bit. He was just letting me know that it did not capture who He truly was.

I said, “Yes, Jesus.”

I remembered how the verse read, Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with them and they with Me.

The verse lingered with me. I thought, surely there’s no way He’s not in with me, after everything lately! But still, it kept lingering in my mind, so finally, I said, with joyful abandon, okay, sure, I’ll ask Him in. I surely want Him in, if He isn’t in already and it can’t hurt to invite Him many times. I would love to eat with Him.

So I threw the arms of my spirit wide open with love and joy and I said, “Come, come, come!”

And He filled my spirit like fire; it took my breath away. For a moment, I felt myself absolutely filled and flooded with Him. I relished this sensation and marveled and then it faded peacefully away, and I was as I normally am.

That night, I was talking with Jesus as I normally do, and I was thinking about how certain things were sacred. And I remembered that I was sacred, because I was the temple of the Holy Spirit.

So I said to Him with a kind of childlike joy, “I’m sacred!” And I imagined myself as a building, with columns and doors and walls.

And He said with loving humor and with love, you’re no building to Me, and He reached out and pulled me into His arms.

And I felt as if His presence became more intense, as though it had more force and density and it was as though there was a veil in my mind and I kept wanting to hide behind the veil.

And Jesus kept gently asking me to let it go and finally I said, okay, and tore the veil away and I was confronted with the overwhelming reality that I was talking to Jesus.

To Jesus. To God. To the Son of God. This knowledge that went through me like fire. I was terrified. It was an awe-filled terror. I couldn’t speak. I was completely overwhelmed.

The holy terror was so great that I started to recite the Lord’s Prayer, but as soon as I said, “Our Father,” peace began to spread out from my spirit and it calmed me. But the awe, in the incredible awe was still all through me.

I just couldn’t speak. Finally, I said His name, I said, “Jesus, Jesus!” And I felt His answering joy and love like flames flare up all through me, from my spirit outward. I could physically feel the rush of the energy all through me like a burning fire, but without any pain.

I said, "It’s really You! You’re Jesus! You’re the Son of the Living God! You’re Jesus who was crucified! The first born of all creation. You're my Redeemer and my Creator!”

And each time, I felt His affirmation like fire in my soul and washing over my whole self. When Jesus spoke, His voice was so strong in my spirit that it was as if they had weight.

I said: You’re really here!

And Jesus said, I’ve been here all along.

I said, that’s true! Oh my goodness, it’s been You!

Jesus said, I’ve been with you your entire life.

I said, Yes, You have. You’ve shown me that. I know that now.

Jesus said, I’ve been your Friend and Shepherd and Counselor, I'm the One speaking to you and teaching you and comforting you.

I said, Yes! oh my goodness. Oh my goodness.

Jesus said, You’re the girl that longed so desperately to follow along with Me like one of My apostles.

I heard the loving smile in His voice, I felt His love and awareness of me, of my whole life- and I remembered feeling that, so many times in my life. Not because I wanted to be an apostle- heavens no. But just because I so longed to be that close to Jesus.

Oh, I was so abashed- just, so shy. I said, oh my goodness, yes that was me. I did want that.

I was so overwhelmed that I couldn’t speak. I kept trying to speak, to speak of my love and my adoration and my need and my longing and I couldn’t. It was so much that it was as though it were lodged in my throat by the sheer size of it.

Finally, I got it out. I cried out, in my spirit, “I’ve longed for You! I’ve been longing for You all my life!” It poured out of me and my spirit went up in flames all over again.

I said to Jesus, in a garbled kind of prayer, please don’t leave me, please don’t ever leave me.

I felt Him smile. He said, we’ve been through this already. He said it was such tender love.

Awe swept over me all over again. "We have,” I said with awe. “You did teach me about that.”

I remembered Him saying, I will never leave you nor forsake you and awe swept over me again. I said to Him, “You said that! It was You that said that to them.”

He said lovingly, I said that to you.

(Obviously, I remembered this incorrectly and misquoted Jesus, to Jesus, which was something that I didn’t realize until a few days later, when I was so abashed I thought I was going to curl up on the floor and wither away slowly, but it was only then that I realized the extent of His lovingkindness in correcting me- done in such a reassuring way that I didn’t even know I was being corrected.)

I said, excitedly, “I’ve been reading all Your words.”

He said tenderly, I know you have.

Then later, I whispered to Jesus, “But I’m so afraid now I’ll lose that trusting closeness that I had with You before, when I knew You through that veil.”

In response, He took me by the shoulders, pulled me close to Him and kissed my face. Fire went through me all over again, to such a degree that I could not speak, move or breathe; there was nothing but the rushing and the power of that fire, and it ebbed away slowly.

Okay, but it did not end there. I was still confused about the fear, because perfect love casts out fear, so why was I afraid? I thought, how can that be?

So Jesus brought to my mind all these verses and situations when other people had been afraid and trembling before God- it's a normal human response. Abraham felt a holy terror, Gideon did, David wrote about it in the psalms. Even just the sight of an angel can fill a human with holy fear.

I understood then about "the fear of the Lord." It's not a dread, it's a holy awe that fills a person's entire being. It's part of knowing that one is in the presence of God. It's part of knowing with absolute certainty that He exists, that He is. I think that must be why the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom- because the fear of the Lord is to know absolutely that He exists, and that He alone is God. It doesn't mean dread or horror or shame. I didn't feel any of those things. It's not a dark fear.

Then I longed and longed to leave this brokenness and to go home. But I pulled myself from the longing. I felt Jesus close by, and loving me, as I worked through the longing.

I said, I willingly accept being here. Being here is good for my spirit. I will learn so many wonderful things. It won't be long- it will be for just a moment in the light of eternity, and then I get to go home, and with such a wealth of knowledge and depth of soul!

I'll be pulled and deepened and I will grow into knowledge of Jesus. Then, when I return home, I'll be full of good things, things which bring the Father honor! I'll do this because Jesus does it through me. All I have to do is stay abiding in Jesus and He produces all the lovely fruits.

It won't be long. It's okay. Jesus has me safe and sound. He'll get me through safe and sound. All the dross will get burned away, I won't carry it forever.

When I woke in the morning, I was still stunned by everything that I had moved through the night before. I lay in bed for a while, letting my spirit adjust to everything.

Jesus was there, filling my spirit with His quiet love and peace. I felt His presence as I normally do. I lay back and rested in it. Then I got up and opened the French doors and stared at the sky. It was all full of white and gold clouds and layered sun shining through on the eastern horizon.

Wonder flamed up in my soul all over again, to think that Jesus, Jesus Himself, was with me.