White-hot Forgiveness

White-hot Forgiveness

I wrote this article back in March, in the middle of the Lenten season.  It was shared here at Annesley Writers. I realized that I have not shared it here, on my personal site with you guys. 

I have this propensity to explode. When my blood pressure fluctuates, when blood doesn’t adequately pump to my brain, when my pain medications are wearing off, I am unpredictable.

The most difficult part of this issue is that I am agonizingly aware of my irrational temper-tantrums, and I live in fear of my explosions. One of my family’s biggest complaints about my struggle with my chronic illnesses (aside from my horrific memory) is that I have anger issues.

No amount of awareness of the neurological basis for this weakness can relieve me of the guilt that comes after snapping at my empathetic kids or my beloved husband.

I try to stay seated as this position helps with the blood flowing to the brain issue. I take medications to help regulate heart rate and blood pressure and to reduce the gallons of adrenaline my broken nervous system dumps into my body. These physiological interventions only work minimally.

I still fall into non-coherent, flames-shooting-out-of-ears nuclear blasts. They usually end with a humiliated chuckle, and an embarrassed muttering of, “Sorry, Mommy’s head turned into a volcano again.”

Internally, I am thrashing myself, resolving to control my temper better. Externally, I am emailing my doctor, desperately begging for some kind of medical intervention that will stabilize my labile physiology that seems to have my psychology hanging by a thread.

Cognitive decline, neurological conditions, and anger outbursts can bring even the greatest saint to her knees, and these deficits pull out the parts of me that I never want to have exposed to the light of day.

Lent seems to do the same thing, and the season of Lent this year has corresponded with a heightened awareness of my short-comings.

Hot tears, intermingled with hot bath water, Epsom salts, and essential oils, meet me in the rare moments of solitude and reflection during my Lenten morning bath times. Bathing is tricky with toddlers around, so I strategically schedule shower and bath time for early in the morning before my husband leaves for work. The tears flow more freely these days, triggered by my wrestling-matches with my volatile temper.

As my body is wrapped in the warmth and comfort of oil, magnesium, and sulfate-infused water, my spirit feels cracked and raw. I squeeze my eyes shut to find my heart hemorrhaging into this cleansing pool.  I can’t do this on my own.  I am at the end of my pathetically limited internal resources, self-sufficiency, functionality, and medical options.  My false sense of self dissolves with the salts in these purifying waters, and I ugly-cry until my fingers and toes are wrinkled and the water is luke-warm.

Lent is a time of preparation for Jesus’ cross.  We let go of something that feels important to us, and we take on spiritual disciplines that may have fallen to the wayside over the year.  We strip away the flesh in order to put on Christ.

I am so quick to judge these 40 days as tedious, but Lent, in fact, is designed to be the church’s springtime, as we pull back winter’s layers of death and rise with a spirit of repentance, embracing the full gift of forgiveness through the cross of Christ, and experience a fresh empowerment of the Holy Spirit to embody and further the Kingdom of God.

How many nights do I cuddle with my precious three-year-old daughter in her bed, whispering words of repentance into her ear? “I am so sorry that I yelled at you tonight, Baby. Mommy lost her temper again, and I was wrong.” Or how many times do I have to sit down with my husband after accusing him of something completely absurd to ask his forgiveness?

I keep asking forgiveness, and they keep forgiving.

My temper issues are only one example of a deeper condition. One thing has become certain over this Lenten season:  I am in desperate need of forgiveness and grace, every day, every hour, every minute. 

I frequently feel like Paul: I need something more! For if I know the law but still can’t keep it, and if the power of sin within me keeps sabotaging my best intentions, I obviously need help! I realize that I don’t have what it takes … Something has gone wrong deep within me and gets the better of me every time.” (Romans 7: 17-20, The Message).

My illnesses are getting the better of me. They capitalize on my weakness. This is such a hopeless feeling, except, except, I can hear a whisper…

  “Come now, let us reason together…” (Isaiah 1:18).

Lord, what reasoning do you have to offer? I whisper back. I’m a white-hot flame, ready to singe the next victim. I am lost in this chaos of a broken body and broken brain. The weight of it is smothering.

I died for this too. I died for you, with all of your struggles and all of your illnesses. I beat death for you too, Megan, my beloved child.

My tearful bath time comes to a close, I cannot lament any longer, and I feel a sense of closure, or exhaustion, as I rise to face the day.  Pandora switches songs as I wrap my diseased body in a towel.  God sings the second verse like a fresh breath of life.  I laugh out loud with the joy that only can come in the morning following a long night of weeping:

When Satan tempts me to despair,

And tells me of the guilt within,

Upward I look and see Him there,

Who made an end to all my sin.

Because the sinless Savior died

My sinful soul is counted free

For God the just is satisfied

To look on Him and pardon me.”

(Before the Throne of God Above, Charitee Lees Bancroft, 1841)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Looking for Easter

Looking for Easter

 

“Calvary is Judo. The enemy’s own power is used to defeat him. Satan’s craftily orchestrated plot, rolled along according to plan by his agents Judas, Pilate, Herod, and Caiaphas, culminated in the death of God. And this very event, Satan’s conclusion, was God’s premise. Satan’s end was God’s means. “

Peter Kreeft, 1986

I am on my second Lenten season of reading through Bread and Wine, an incredible collection of writings by ancient and modern Christian writers, philosophers, activists, theologians, and leaders.  I am in love with my mornings of directed readings.  The book is broken up into six sections:  Invitation,  Temptation, Passion,  Crucifixion, Resurrection, and New Life.  It has 72 articles, and I am slightly behind because I usually marinate on one article a day.  72>40, so I need to step it up, but I feel that I am drinking from a fire hydrant as I soak up the wisdom of those who know a heck of a lot more than I do.

The quote is an excerpt from today’s reading, and I have always found something wonderfully exhilarating about what Kreeft terms “Christian Judo.”  Jesus remarkably used the enemy’s power against him, in that he willingly stepped in as the passover Lamb, wielding the keys to the kingdom.  This is the hope that surfaces when it seems that all hope is lost.  This is the shift that I had the privilege of experiencing in the heart of my three-year-old as we watched Aslan willingly lie down on the stone table as the ice queen slaughtered him in the Disney rendition of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.   I told my daughter ahead of time not to worry, that Aslan would come back to life and “save the day.”  She can watch any movie as long as she knows that the good guy will save the day in the end.  Can’t we all?

In the depth of the dark night of Aslan’s slaughter, as Lucy and Susan were weeping into the shaved, cooling skin of their murdered beloved Aslan,  Lily sought reassurance. “Mommy, you said that he would save the day.  When will he? Are you sure?”

I responded, “Wait for the sun to rise, sweetie.  The stone table will break, and he will be alive again to save the day.”

Her anticipation was palpable.  My daughter was longing for Aslan to cancel out the evil magic that had rendered him the lamb to be slaughtered on Edmund’s behalf.

We both exhaled sighs of elation and relief as we saw Aslan’s profile rise over the stone tablet with the rising sun.  This was Lily’s first portrait of kingdom judo.  And this is the beginning of perfect love casting out fear for my three-year-old.

The enemy’s power is used to defeat him. Not only is the enemy defeated, but his own efforts to destroy us are thrown back in his face as the means by which our redemption is made possible.   Only God can do that. It is the greatest twist in the history of time. The death that the enemy thought would undo all of God’s plan was actually the death that opened up the opportunity for death to be crushed and turned on it’s head. This is the fragrant essence of hope. This is why we hope. In our seasons of death, we rejoice, because we know kingdom Judo. God’s secret weapon, His trump card, is always safe in His hand, and He will play it when the enemy is finished with all of his moves and thinks arrogantly that he has won the game.

This sickness, these shortcomings, and these areas of brokenness are indeed the undoing of me. And in this undoing, I am made whole because the ends becomes the means to God’s redemptive, overarching stunning plan of life destroying death. We don’t have all the answers, but we have the final answer. Life wins. Death dies. The love that surrenders to death actually releases the power that dethrones death. No fear is needed. Fear is negated and made obsolete.

We can exhale the fear of death’s finality when we see the cresting of our King on Sunday morning as He pulls out His trump card,  His deeper magic, and says, “See?  I hold the keys to life and death.  Why were you afraid, beloved?”

And I sigh with my daughter, able to freely take a deep breath for the first time, releasing it in trust of a Lord who breathes life into death, into me.

Longing For Sunday

I write from my bed in a dark room flat on my back. I write on Good Friday, and I beg my husband to tell me why in the world Jesus had to be in the grave for so long. Thursday, Friday, and Saturday of Holy Week feel interminable. Jesus, what did you do for all of that time in the grave? My husband says he thinks that it is so no one would question the fact that He was indeed dead. He wasn’t just partly dead or mostly dead. But still…

Is that not what suffering feels like? Never-ending. Why does the night stretch on and on and on, Lord? Where is the light of the morning you promised? Will it ever come? Will light ever shine again? Is there hope? And yet….there’s hope in the questioning.  

Please hasten, Sunday. Please don’t ache so agonizingly, Friday and Saturday.  But you come, and you linger, every year. 24-hour segments strung together, like a pain that no anesthesia can quell. 

At this point, 2000 years later, I am so glad that it is simply a symbolic darkness, that really, He is risen and has been, and death knows its fate. He’s not in that grave. And yet it still stings, doesn’t it? The remembrance; The silence and solemn nature of Maundy Thursday and Good Friday services. Oh, we long for comfort, joy, resurrection. We are meant to. We were created with the longing. These are the three days of the year when the longing is most profound, and when I torture my husband with unanswerable questions regarding Jesus’ battle with death and time in the grave. 

Jesus, I’m so sorry. I’m so desperately sorry that you suffered and died. I’m so much more sorry that within your heart you took on the brokenness, sorrow, and falleness of humanity. I cannot fathom the bone-crushing weight of the sin of the world. Or the knowledge that you would have to carry it to the most dehumanizing and agonizing death. 

I rest in your love and grace as I grieve your death today. And I long for Sunday. 

Ash Wednesday

I enter the Lenten journey this year weak, broken, and sick. How appropriate for this season. How much of my sickness is sin-sickness? Well, I suppose that in a way, it all is. It all originated from the fall, did it not? Whether it is the result of a broken body, my own fallen heart and mind, or the falleness of others. 

I am not alone. This who will attend Ash Wednesday service tonight will weep too.  We will face our death-curse with denial or grief, or we will probably approach it with some cocktail of the two.  Some in attendance will see physical death within the year. We bear the weight of the absence of many lost this year. The rest-EVERY ONE OF US- will see it eventually.

And we ache because in our hollow, we feel a drum-beat reverberation of immortality long-ago lost. Certainly not in this lifetime: we were born into ashes. With broken chromosomal patterns, genetic codes, brain chemistries, and heart valves. But the ache is felt all the way down Adam’s family tree. 

But what is a longing if it is not reminiscent of something once-possessed?  A deeper, fuller, more complete, endless life? An unburdened, unbroken body, not marred by decay and disease? There is, indeed, a life-code designed to hack into and destroy the death-code.  There was and is a second Adam, the Word, present from the beginning, before our prototype. He was not plan b, but He was plan Alpha and Omega. The only plan necessary, omniscient. He is no afterthought or clean-up crew. 

Our prototype was created, and He fell, and our creator knowingly carried with Him the life-code, already woven into Adam’s own genetic code. This is the deep magic that would out-smart and over-power the code of sin and death. 

We grieve, we long, and we know that Easter counts for EVERYTHING. 

Awakened for Easter

Stepping into the Lenten Season nearly 40 days ago, I had no idea that I was in for the spiritual ride of my life. An awakening. Somehow this year, a new life has sprung forth into my liturgical calendar. I started Lent as I usually do, with a Facebook fast, making a bit more space for God in my fringe moments when both babies are napping, or nursing the littlest one, or preparing to drift off into my own much-coveted sleep. Somehow, this Facebook fast (partial fast) opened up doors for massive healing (disruption and excruciating pain). I look back on this season of Lent, and instead of seeing about 6 weeks, I feel like I am peering back at 16 long months. I guess that it started with increased reading (not really writing, which was the plan all along). I read fictions for fun, Spiritual development, The Book of Common Prayer, Memoirs, and Devotionals. I got acquainted with the practice of Examen, a Jesuit tradition, started by Saint Ignatius, which rocked my world. I took time out for a prayer retreat for women in our church, which turned out to be a trauma-stirring trigger-fest that was ironically exactly what I needed. I was challenged with my anorexia recovery, which is evidently not as strong as I blindly believed it to be. I gained a new wonderful Spiritual big sister, who is willing to walk beside me on my emotional and spiritual healing path. Finally, I broke off ties with my parents. Note: This last one is the most life-changing.
What in the world is God up to? This really all happens when you clear out a little space for him in your down time? He has been here all along, prodding, talking, comforting, opening up doors, but I have been walking along with blinders.
God, give me the discipline to continue to be open to your Spirit every day of my life. You are so heavily entwined in the mundane tasks of life. You have been here all along, and I have missed you. Help me not to miss you as I drive my children to play group, or lay in bed next to my husband, or push the double-stroller over the bumpy cement of the park, or sit in my dietician’s office, or participate in the Lord’s Supper tonight at our Maundy Thursday service at Church. Each moment drips with the richness of your Spirit. Please allow me the discipline to soak it up.
As we come to the table tonight to commemorate the Lord’s last supper with His disciples, I don’t want to simply go through the motions. I want to anticipate His presence because I know for a fact that He will be there, and He IS there, waiting for me. He is washing our feet, our KING stoops down to wash our feet. I want to really truly show up for Him.

Two Under Two and Sanity

I am curled up on the couch, studying the baby monitor. One child is asleep in our bedroom. The toddler is chatting with her line up of animals in her crib. She’s been there for an hour and has yet to fall asleep. Nap time is sacred. It is my writing/reading time. When the children refuse naps, I teeter on the edge of insanity, and usually make a desperate, possibly angry call to the pastor husband. We (toddler, baby, and mommy) do the nap time dance. Sleep issues with one baby are difficult enough, but put two into the mix, and you race back and forth between rooms, evaluating which child is the most critically distressed. Two to three times a week, they both sleep soundly for a solid two to three hours, and I all but weep with joy and gratitude. The other days, I tenuously cling to the thin threads of sanity. I need time to pray, time to read, and time to write. I need time to be me, alone. Me stripped of the mother duties, just for an hour or so. I need to remember what makes me tick, what gives me joy, and what makes my heart throb, with the awareness that my family of course is central in my life.

Balance with babies and tots is so difficult, scratch that, nearly impossible. If you have difficulty asking for help, balance is even closer to completely impossible. Add extreme sleep deprivation to the mix, and I spend most of my days longing for just a few moments of clarity. Mostly, my life is like looking through a pair of glasses that have 18 layers of grime caked on them and trying to remember what the world looked like with clean lenses.

And now lent. Prayers for God to reveal His face in my crazy world. Emptying myself so that He can fill me more with Him. What have I to empty? Can my hazy consciousness even process a deeper awareness of His presence? I guess that this liturgical year, I am praying for a miracle. I am praying for God to strip me of my stubborn self-sufficiency and unwillingness to “burden” anyone with my stuff. I need help. I need support. I need my family and friends. With two children under two, I need extra help. Being in recovery from a long term eating disorder, PTSD, anxiety and depression, I need help. It is okay to ask for it. It is okay to come to the end of myself. I acknowledge that my own power has limits, and community exists for a reason. We were created as communal creatures, and we, especially moms, were never meant to go through life self-sufficiently.

I would say that one of my greatest struggles with two tiny ones is figuring out how to carry them into places. Do you pull out your huge, bulky double-stroller to get into church, or do you try to haul a 25 pound carrier with infant in one arm and a 23 pound toddler who doesn’t yet understand “hold my hand” in the other? I am a wimp, so the second option is akin to running an ultra-marathon in my book. The third option is to take the nursery workers up on their offer and call their cell phones when I pull up to the church. They are happy to come out and help carry a baby. Why is it so difficult to simply allow people to help me? Instead, I strive to do it all on my own and slowly (or not-so-slowly) lose my sanity and sense of self. Then everyone suffers.

This season, I suppose, that as I try to strip off the unnecessary, I will let God fill me with community. I will open myself up to the aid of others who would so much love to enter into our lives anyway.

Ash Wednesday

I drop the kids off at the nursery. Miraculously, the toddler is distracted long enough for me to slip out. The baby loves the nursery, so there is no push-back from him. My husband, the pastor, is dressed in purple. This morning, he was debating between black and purple. I helped him choose purple, because the poor man’s black pants were too faded for his new black shirt. Ash Wednesday. This is my first experience of having the ashes placed on my head. This is my husband’s first experience of administering the ashes. I enter the sanctuary alone, a bit lost without tots in my arms or clinging to my legs. Being a pastor’s wife, you get used to sitting alone during the services. A girl in the mom’s group makes room for me to slide in beside her. “This is my first Ash Wednesday service,” she says. “Mine too,” I respond with a bit of an internal sigh. Maybe I’m not entirely alone. A third friend slides in beside us. We smile apologetically to the other occupants of the pew who are having to shift again. I feel a sense of sisterhood. This is a first since my husband and I moved to this state three years ago. Three years is a long time to be lonely.
I see my husband up front. I appreciate our decision on the purple shirt. He looks very “Eastery.” Black would have been too somber. But, then again, it is Ash Wednesday. “Ashes to ashes, dust to dust.” It would have also been appropriate. I reflect on the beheading of the 21 Egyptian Christians. Interestingly enough, I finished reading The Book Thief last night also. This has been a week of extreme awareness of mortality. Still, I go into the service blindly. I am told that this is the senior pastor’s least favorite service. I can’t seem to understand why. It is important to come face-to-face with our own sinfulness, right? To see that we are only mortal, in need of a Savior. He must just be a little too optimistic, I assume. Too feel-good.
I am not sure at what point I am blind-sided by the power of the awareness of death, but it hits me like a two-by-four over the head. I stare at the stain glass image of Christ above the altar. My eyes swim as my heart sinks. I will die. My children will die. My husband will die. One day, every single soul in this sanctuary will be taken from these bodies. My children, both under the age of two, will face death because of this stupid broken, fallen world that we live in. Eventually, this planet will cycle through its current population of humans to host a new population, who think, like we do, that they are invincible.
We stand up to sing a hymn. Dang it, where are the tissues in this sanctuary? We sing “What Wondrous Love is This,” one of my favorites. My spirit hovers over the line that says, “And when from death I’m free, I’ll sing on.” I am perplexed by this word choice. Obviously, the writer is speaking of eternity after death, but he refers to this as freedom from death. And then my heart leaps with epiphany at this realization: In death, and only in death, we are to be liberated from death. And this is the work of the Cross. The Cross, that in 40 days we will celebrate, will open up the opportunity for us to find freedom from the death that we face tonight, this Ash Wednesday. I am terrified of death. Terrified to the point that it can become a preoccupation, an obsession. But within this gem of a hymn, I find a grounds for liberation from this fear. I can find freedom from my fear of death within death itself, for death is what will usher me into eternity. It is there, that I will indeed sing on, unfettered by the earthly power of death. My mom-companions and I approach the front of the church for the ashes. I am horrified at myself, the pastor’s wife, ugly-crying all the way up the main aisle of the sanctuary. I allow the youth pastor to rub the ashes on my forehead, my first ashy cross, and I make my way to my seat. My companions dab their eyes, and I ask for a tissue. We sit there, ugly-crying together, taking in this strange ceremony that holds up a magnifying glass to something that no one really wants to think about. But it is not simply for the sake of making us look willy-nilly at the fact that we will all die and that we all sin. No, we will go from dust to dust, but from dust, we will ascend to glory, where we will no longer be haunted by the shadowy fingers of the grave. We come to this service with the awareness of the victory that has been won, and in hope of the ultimate victory to come. Death will meet its demise, and we will sing on of His Wondrous love. I look up to my husband and smile, once again glad that we opted for the purple over the black.