I've been hard at work on a few things this week. The easiest task has been the adoption paperwork. I managed to secure a doctor, an insurance card and an appointment, so that was pretty awesome. For me, that's like... two weeks worth of productivity, right there.
Lastly, I have been noticing. I've been noticing, for example, just how frequently and how stubbornly I resist grace. That noticing- that's the hardest thing I've been doing. I'd much rather ignore it.
But I can't ignore it anymore, partly because writing a blog is so annoyingly illuminating, and partly because I have experienced the grace of God in such a powerful way that my resistance to it has only become more obvious. I don't want to blog about this process, so I haven't been blogging. But this is what's been happening.
It's like my resistance has been back lit by a flood light. A lot of old beliefs are showing up. For example, I believed that I was inherently sinful, so let me tell you, I had no confidence that I would ever be free of sin. I felt that it would be impossible for God to ever be near me for more than a brief stretch at a time, brief because only by straining all the emotional, physical strength in me, could I bring myself up to the barest standards of His holiness, until, exhausted, I dropped out and back into something displeasing to Him.
I believed that the only time I could expect to feel close to God were in the few times when I was elevated by the holy actions I was taking. When I was not doing these things, then I felt sure that sin was everywhere present and that I was somehow, in some way, always falling short, driving God away.
I could go on and on, but I already feel exhausted. It's depressing and that's why I don't want to blog about it. This is why I have this immediate first reaction whenever I feel the presence of God. I want to push Him right away, because I’m shocked that Jesus wants to be near me, almost offended by it.
I really wish I could be done with this. But on the other hand, never before have I so actively engaged these old beliefs. That's something new; that's a sign of new life.
What Jesus tells me is that I am a new creation in Him, that I live in Him, and that He loves me. Sometimes I stop and listen to Him. I think, "What? Right now? Right in this very moment?"
Always, Jesus says. Every day, all the time, freely and not for your earning it, but because you are Mine. I created you, I love you and I am responsible for you, beginning to end.
It's so hard to believe, and that is what I notice, all day long.
"Oh hey," I think. "Here I am, judging myself and making myself miserable all over again because I'm not perfect. That's painful and unfortunate."
Then I think, "Wait a minute. Here's an opportunity to take Jesus at His word. I can let go of this judgment and my own works. I can let go and just abide in Him."
So I try that, and hey, peace like a river attendeth my soul. The day expands out into Him; my life expands out into Jesus. I don't have anything to prove.
I may have blogged about this before, but when I was eighteen -after my family had left the church and before I married my first husband- I had a dream. In the dream, I was lying in a hammock with Jesus. The hammock was up high in the trees above a dense jungle, and looking up, I could see the night sky with all the bright, flaring stars.
I was curled up close to Jesus, the Son of the Living God. We were not talking, it was not necessary. Even in the dream, I knew being with Jesus was unusual and wonderful, so I was drinking it in, just being with Him. Then, without speaking, He got up and left me, leaving the hammock swaying. I remained there with my feelings hurt. I thought, how could He leave me alone? Where is He going?
I realized it didn't matter; I was going after Him. I swung my legs out of the hammock and found myself standing on the packed dirt of a jungle path. The jungle was thick, the path overgrown with briers and bushes.
Ahead of me, I could see Jesus pushing His way through the overhanging bushes. It was difficult keeping up and I kept feeling hurt that He was going on ahead of me and not waiting for me, but I didn't take my eyes off His back. He was wearing white, so I could see it through the dark.
Finally, the path opened up to this little clearing, carpeted with thick moss. There seemed to be rocks or something stuck in the moss and scattered everywhere. Jesus was kneeling there in the moss, bent over something. I went over to Him and looked down. I saw that it wasn't rocks that was stuck in the moss, it was shards of pottery. Jesus had two pieces of the pottery and He was carefully fitting the two pieces together. He was so patient and absorbed in His task.
In the way of dreams, I knew that there were thousands of shards, shards buried deep under the ground, out of sight.
I put my hand on His shoulder. "Don't bother," I told Jesus, impatiently. "It's impossible. You'll never put it back together."
Then I understood.
The shards were my heart, my spirit. It was shattered and broken and some parts were buried deep out of sight. I knew that Jesus would never stop His healing work in my life, that it would be slow and patient and He would never give up on it. As soon as I understood this, I woke up.
It was true then and it's true now. I'm still impatient and always ready to give up on myself, and Jesus just goes right on with His patient and loving work of healing my heart.
May 21, 2012
I was able to go for a walk yesterday. While I was healing, summer has flooded in and swept the last traces of spring away. I had left the house listening to music, but eventually, I had to reach up and tug the earpieces free. The sounds of symphony and soloist were cut off and I was dropped into the hush of the summer morning.
The road was hedged in by layers of living green. Strands of light lay like fingers through the trees. It was as though the light were laying bare secrets, illuminating a sacred spot that in the day lay hidden in plain sight.
Everything softly breathed in the cool air. Everything was full of this expectancy, this certain wonder. I felt as though I had wandered into the heart of an ancient truth, something that happened every year for as long as there was a world.
It was just life, reaching out, unfurling, growing, little tendrils of roots reaching down through the soil and thin leaves expanding out into the sun, everywhere. It's so still, pervasive, and sure of itself.
I read this on facebook:
I am so afraid to open my clenched fists!
Who will I be when I have nothing left to hold on to?
Who will I be when I stand before you with empty hands?
Please help me to gradually open my hands
... and to discover that I am not what I own,
but what you want to give me.
And what you want to give me is love,
unconditional, everlasting love.
-Fr Henri Nouwen
"Bless the Lord who is my rock...
He is my loving ally and my fortress,
my tower of safety, my deliverer.
He stands before me as a shield,
and I take refuge in Him."
-Psalm 144:1-2 NLT
May 24, 2012
My calendar reads:
"Oh, bless the Lord, all you servants of the Lord, you who serve as night watchmen in the house of the Lord. Lift up your hands in holiness, and bless the Lord." Psalm 134:1-2 NLT
That's just to prove that I don't always get a verse that is somehow incredibly illustrative of my current spiritual or emotional state, though that does happen ridiculously often.
Though I do somehow feel like a night watchmen at the moment, and that it is two o'clock in the morning, and I'm exhausted and the night is dense and heavy. On the night shift, the hour between two and three were the worst.
On the printer that does not work because it is out of ink, there is a stack of papers that our adoption agency sent over. There are three sample print pamphlets of other families to show us the best way to showcase our home, hobbies, family and life and instructions for the video that we will take.
There is an inch thick pile of papers detailing every little piece of the Home Study necessary before we can even begin thinking about marketing.
Because that's what we're doing; we're marketing ourselves. I never thought of adoption this way before. What happens is, the birth mother sees our pamphlet or our video, and connects emotionally with us. She can't connect if she can't see our life.
So we have to spread it out as if it were a sort of buffet: Here is the pool! Behold, the neighborhood park, the grill, Jenny cooking, Keith working in garage, both kissing! How cute. Imagine child here.
That's how it works. I feel cynical about this, in case you hadn't noticed.
I keep telling myself that this is the real world; this is how it works, and this is just part of the process. Who cares how our birth mother finds us? She needs us and we need her. When we meet, it will be right. So go with it! Put together that pamphlet!
At one o'clock, I must meet Keith somewhere in downtown Columbus to get our fingerprints taken. It's part of the process of getting a criminal background check for Georgia.
I feel exhausted. I forget, for long periods of time, that somewhere behind all this tangle of paperwork there is a child. It's just a human story after all. It's real people meeting, their lives joined and wound together afterward by one little human life.
It's a small and powerful illustration of how all our lives are bound up together. If we lift up our hands in the middle of the night, feeling foolish and exhausted, we might end up catching someone just before they hit the ground.
June 4, 2012
I keep thinking of this dream I had a few days ago. Even though, annoyingly, I have forgotten most of it, the little that I do remember lingers on in my mind.
In the dream, I was hanging out with Jesus. We were doing all sorts of stuff together. "Doing life together," I guess the phrase would be. The best part, the part that held the intensity, was His demeanor. Jesus was just so natural, and loving, and meek, and fun, and spontaneous. He was the best companion, ever.
He was about as far away from a stiff, formal person one can imagine. Whatever Jesus was doing, He was loving it. He was curious about everything. I loved just being with Him; it didn't matter what we were doing. I wanted always to be around Him. We were sort of in a group, though the details of that are fuzzy.
In the course of the dream, we were standing on a bridge, waiting in line for something- I don't know what. There was a woman ahead of us on in the line, and she was curious about Jesus. At that particular moment, Jesus happened to be kneeling down and holding on to the railing. I couldn't tell if He was fascinated by the ravine, or just something on the wooden planks of the bridge. I was used to Him being this way- caught up in the moment, in the details, and uninterested in His appearance. He had too much joy to be bothered. He was too comfortable His own skin.
I was talking to the woman about Jesus. I was telling her about His story- how He came down to be among us, and died, rose again, and returned to His Father. As I was telling the story, I was very much caught up in His emotions throughout this process- especially the agony He had gone through. My voice was hushed, even, as I was talking. I kept my hand comfortingly on His back the entire time, as though the touch could make hearing the story and remembering it easier on Him.
The woman seemed very impressed by this story and her eyes grew wide. She looked down at Jesus, who was still kneeling down between us, looking off somewhere in the distance. Then she looked up at me, puzzled.
"Is He the real Jesus?" she asked me, doubtfully.
I knew what was throwing her off- it was His unconventional behavior. That, combined with His meekness and the almost unnerving quality of His innocence, was just not adding up for her. She was expecting someone else- someone high and lofty and formal and fierce.
I knew He could be that way, those attritubes was all a part of Him. He just wasn't choosing to be that way, at the moment. For a second, I myself wavered. It was a little bit embarrassing to be associated with Jesus when He was acting that way. But I couldn't abandon Jesus. I loved Him too much, even if He was sort of acting like a crazy person.
I put my head up, my shoulders square. "I know He is," I declared, sort of breathlessly.
And as I said that, I felt this rush of fear pass over me, followed by a inner quietness, a stillness. At the same time, everything in the dream became crystal clear, as though someone had adjusted the focus on a camera.
In that moment of bright clarity, Jesus looked up at me from where He was kneeling. For the first time in the dream, there was this intensity and a sure and unquestioned authority in His gaze. His eyes held this sort of fierce life, but perfectly still. It was sort of like getting kicked in the gut, but in a good way. It took my breath away.
Then the dream changed, and I knew we were in heaven, Jesus and I. Only it looked more like a lobby or something. Everyone was waiting in these lines; there were four or more lines.
Even though people were waiting, the atmosphere was friendly and easy going. People were talking, but it wasn't loud or rowdy. They all appeared to know each other. Everyone was very much an individual, all dressed differently, in different colors and styles. There were men and women, and people of different ages and races.
There was a woman in the front and center of the room. She would reach her hand into this container and draw out a name and that person would be next, but next for what, I didn't know. Where Jesus and I were, the lines were pretty long, so He took me by the hand and led me around to the side of the room. Those lines thinned out, all of a sudden, and there were only two people waiting, one of them was an older man with a receding hair line and a brown sweater.
Jesus went forward and put His name in, or took a ticket, or whatever one did, and then we waited in the line behind the elderly fellow. We could see the woman when she pulled out Jesus' ticket. She reached into the container, unfurled the paper and then her face went perfectly still.
I realized then that Jesus didn't really have to wait in line at all, and that normally His name never came up there, and that He was just being playful.
"Oh my," the woman said, with this sort of breathless delight. "We have Someone from the Deep Heavens," she said, reverently.
Jesus turned and looked at me. His eyes were dancing, all crinkled up at the corners with merriment.
Then I woke up.
When I woke up, of course I thought about Jesus kneeling down and drawing in the dust and appearing as though He was not paying attention, and being called a crazy person, or demon possessed, and doing things that even His disciples did not understand.
And now that I've written it all down, no wonder it's been lingering! Goodness. I really wish I could remember all of it. What stays with me is just the joy of being with Him. He was just so wonderful to be around.
June 6, 2012 unpublished
I keep thinking about that dream, even though there's a lot of other things going right now. But, no matter what I am doing, my mind keeps returning to it, wondering about it. It was just a dream, but it stirred up all my other memories and impressions and experiences of Jesus.
For example, I remembered, again, all the times He was so good humored with me. I remember being surprised at that, at the beginning. Now I can't imagine Him without that aspect. He has such a satisfying sense of humor.
I always thought that Jesus was innocent because He never sinned. It didn't occur to me that innocence might also be a part of who He is, His identity. It puts a whole new perspective on the words- the Lamb of God.
How is it possible for God to know everything and yet have the innocence of a child? It seems impossible. But it makes me think of this passage:
"Love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up; does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil; does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things."
- I Corinthians 13:4-7
I never thought before that the passage could be describing God, even though I knew that God is love. But now I know. The level of innocence and certainty required to know all things, and yet to continue to believe and to hope all things- it's beyond my ability to understand.
I used to think that if a person managed to personify this passage, they'd be some untouchable paragon of virtue, some shiny statue of perfection. I didn't consider that the One personifying this passage would be meek, humble, spontaneous, natural and gentle- easily bruised, even. Completely open hearted and with no shred of false dignity.
But it also made me understand, in a new way, the sort of murderous rage that Jesus must have evoked in evil. I'm sure He didn't even have to open His mouth. His light alone must have been extraordinary offensive, intolerable and inexplicable to the dark.
It makes me think of what He said to His brothers: The world cannot be expected to hate you, but it hates Me, because I show it that its deeds are evil. I'll bet He showed this simply by being who He was. Jesus was so far outside the world’s equations of power and tit for tat and manipulation that He must have just enraged them. He was simply not a part of their system. He couldn't be bought or made to see sense, or silenced.
That dream also made me think about how it would be if one had nothing to prove. Jesus has nothing to prove. He is absolutely confident. He has all authority in heaven and earth, without any shred of arrogance. That kind of freedom is almost impossible to imagine. It makes me think in a different way how He said, if the Son sets you free, you are free indeed.
It makes me think about how He did not think equality with God was a thing to be grasped, and all the things He freely gave up and humbled Himself and became like us in every aspect, but without sin. Maybe before, I thought He did this sort of grimly, like a task that had to be done. But I tend to think otherwise, now. I don't think He was ever grasping to begin with.
I think that when He describes Himself as meek and humble of heart, it's so far outside the expectations of who God is, that we haven't even begun to understand what that means.
"You will show me the way of life, granting me the joy of Your presence and the pleasures of living with You forever."
-Psalm 16:11 NLT