Troubled Waters

Water is already rare and extraordinary in the desert. But these waters were even more so. These waters were said to be holy. These waters, they said, fed by unseen springs beneath the desert, were stirred every so often by God’s own angel. A messenger of Heaven sent to spread holy healing. Superstition or legend or miracle, it was all the same. It was sacred hope, the very last wisp of it for the many crowded around its edges.

It had been nearly forty years – almost his whole life – of total paralysis. We aren’t told how he got to the pools of Bethesda, only that he had made it there. Maybe his family brought him, his last resort, maybe out of pity or charity or even good riddance. Regardless, he made it as far as the pools’ edges, folded into the desperate crowds anxious for healing.

The air was thick with broken bodies, each pressing closer through pain to the water’s edge, relief, hope just a stirring away. How long this man waited is unclear, irrelevant. He was as close as he could get, close enough to see the water, to smell it, this promise of wholeness. But he was alone, no one to help him slide into the pools, not one person who knew his name, willing to bring him the last few precious feet to the healing waters. He was ill for so long. Cursed, he was taught, suffering from crippling sin, his unmoving body so close, so still, still broken. Unable to reach out on his own accord for the health he believed was inches from his grasp.

His heart must have broken a hundred different ways, hope and wholeness shimmering just a few staggered steps away. There was nothing – not one thing – he could do to cross those last few feet into the healing pools.

So he, with everyone else, would wait. Every last one of them holding breaths against the pain, waiting for the waters to stir; any other time it was just water. But when the waters stirred, something sacred was happening. Healing was happening.

This man, his whole life dependent on the charity of others, would wait for the unseen angel to trouble the waters. There wasn’t anything else he could do, anywhere else he could be. So he would wait, staring into the pools as if he, a mere man, could bend the will of angels, of God Himself.

And then the waters would stir. Maybe slowly at first, barely a ripple, hardly noticed. Or maybe all at once, the huge heavenly host churning the pools into waves. The man would see it – how could he miss it? His every last hope pinned on the moment the waters so much as sighed differently. Even the subtlest flicker across the waters he would catch. This man was here because he could not control his own body, this dead weight. But maybe, because he wanted it desperately enough, because his mind and heart and soul felt ready to burst with longing…maybe he could move himself just enough to fall into the bubbling waters.

Maybe some days he came close. Maybe he thought he felt a muscle twitch in response. Maybe he called out to those around him to take him with them as they slipped into the rolling waters. But then the waters would still. The healing hour had come and gone. Those who had made it would rise up whole somehow, their brokenness restored. No doubt this man witnessed hope and relief on the other side, breaking the surface of the now-calm waters, smooth as glass.

A hundred different heartbreaks, a hundred missed-out hopes.

Maybe this man held fast, clutching the far-off chance he’d one day reach into the waters. Maybe this man had long given up, yet remained by the pools because he had no choice. He might have been there days or weeks or months or even years. Who could know any one man’s story lost in the endless press of desperate people?

However long he waited on the outskirts of hope, we do know the day everything changed.

On that day, this man, his life consumed and defined by his brokenness, was approached by Jesus. Jesus, God in the flesh, divine authority wrapped in human skin with the holy power to heal with just a word or a touch or a slather of mud, approaches.

I try to imagine how Jesus must have felt, surrounded by such extravagant suffering, such tailspins of last resorts and final breaths.

Jesus, His good, good heart beating bold for every broken one gathered around the miracle pools, leans down to this man, overlooked by everyone else, forgotten, unseen, and Jesus knows. Jesus knows his story, his illness, his desperation, all forty years of it. This man, lying flat and unmoving mere inches from the healing waters, and Jesus, Lord of all, Son of God, sacred healer, asks, “Do you want to get well?”

What a question to ask this man, or anyone journeying to Bethesda, for that matter.

Do you want to get well?

I know this Jesus. I know the infinite tenderness He poured onto the suffering, the broken and weary. I can hear the exquisite gentleness in His question to this man, one man out of dozens or hundreds.

Maybe the man knew Jesus’ reputation. Maybe he had just hoped this stranger, in His kindness, would help him into the waters. This man encountered Jesus in the flesh, face to face, asking him, inviting him, to wholeness. Jesus asked a simple, loaded question, packed to bursting with life-changing, life-giving meaning. You and I know Jesus was offering this man so much more than the ability to walk again. You and I know the offer was for complete wellness, for restoration, a reconciled relationship with God Himself.

Every time I open my Bible, every time I pray, every time I speak to or focus on or serve my God, He leans down, leans close, and with soul-stunning tenderness asks me, “Beloved, do you want to get well?”

 

When Jesus saw him lying there and learned that he had been in this condition for a long time, He asked him, “Do you want to get well?” -John 5.6

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Begin, Again

Thank God for beginnings. Thank God for milestones and brand new calendars to draw our focus and intention.

I get that each new year is mostly an illusion, a mental trick to living better lives. I can totally get behind the reasoning that Every Day is the Best Day to Start Something New. Resolutions are SO last year, I MEAN, COME ON.

It’s a kindness, really, this symbolic start-over, a way to bracket all we wish to leave behind and begin, again.

Beginnings are fun. Beginnings are powerful, filled to overflowing with meaning and potential and rose-colored glasses. Thank you, God, for beginnings.

*****

Two of my favorite chunks of pure-poetry scripture start with, “In the beginning…”

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth…

In the beginning was the Word…

Even though we, in our humanness, tend to timestamp everything, I, in my faithfulness, believe “in the beginning” is only the very best way our minds can absorb an infinite God. We assign a beginning to the story, all the while knowing we’ve dropped into existence somewhere near the end of it. We collect dozens of histories and letters and testimonies to compile a clear enough picture of a God radically bigger than any frame we hold up. God looms larger than what we can fit in our brains and hearts and hopes. He bleeds onto the next page and the next and the next, described in words we haven’t even invented yet, divine groanings only heaven comprehends. God did not begin.

*****

It’s tough — impossible, actually — to understand the depth of God’s all-knowledge, to wrap my small mind around God’s intimate awareness of every. single. detail. He is a grandiose God, extravagant in His interest and grace, His infinite attention drawn to me, and to you, so individually and completely it stuns the soul.

It’s a kindness to have the ear and the heart of this endless (and beginningless) God, my life and hopes and dreams a breath against the eternal, and the invitation He gives me to begin all over again.

It’s a kindness, all over again, to be made new.

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The Others

I’m still processing the election results. I’m still in mourning. I hear the calls for unity and graciousness in defeat and to keep moving forward, to keep fighting the good fight. And I promise you I will get there.

But for now I am bone-weary, on the literal verge of tears or nausea – or both – every second of the day. Anything could tip the balance; everything will. A text or several from my dearly beloveds checking in on me and on each other; a corporate lamenting with acquaintances the shock of it all; a wordless, heavy-sighed hug.

The best way for me to digest this is to write. I need to shout into the void why this particular election and outcome felt deeply personal, and deeply wounding. I want you to understand.

I am a woman of color. And let me be very clear in qualifying those labels: I am a woman, but a dual-income middle class one. A real-life, SUV-driving, church-volunteering soccer mom, raised in a loving, secure home with plenty to eat, drink, and wear. My husband and I work hard at decent jobs every day to earn our livelihood; we live responsibly, ethically, charitably, BUT we both received a leg up from the word go, standing on the shoulders of our hard-working, white-collar, college-educated parents.

I was taught by my parents that my femaleness was not a hindrance or an obstacle to overcome; it was merely biology.

And my color has always been a source of cultural pride and ancient rooted heritage. Outside the walls of my home, I was a person of a different ethnicity, but one that was more a curiosity than a danger, one less threatening and less threatened. As a woman of color, I somehow ended up with a corner-store privilege other women and people of color only hope for.

But here is where I need you to hear me. If not to understand, then at least to know. To acknowledge my story, even if you don’t care to buy it.

Growing up in Alabama, I learned pretty quickly all about my Otherness. Every year each school had to take a census based on gender, age, ethnicity, even household income. And every year I checked a box literally labeled, “Other.” I was not White; I was not Black. For years, those were the only choices I was given before having to label myself, “Other.” It was a small thing but damaging nonetheless, particularly to a young girl just trying to fit in somewhere.

As an Asian, I was called many things, out of ignorance or jest or both. A very short list of the more creative nicknames about my brown skin, given to me by my white friends: Kiwi; Wheat Bread; Ethnic Kim. One classmate in fifth grade refused to call me anything other than Connie Chung. She wasn’t the only famous woman of color I was compared to, not because I mirrored their success or talent, but solely based on my approximate resemblance to them. There was also Kristi Yamaguchi, Margaret Cho, Mulan. Not one of these women are Filipina.

One particularly heartbreaking reminder of my Otherness came when a boy I went on a blind date with turned down a second one because I wasn’t white and his mom would flip out. His hard pass didn’t break my heart; his racism did. Surely he was just not interested, but to use racism as a valid reason in this century?

Ever since junior high, my loud, outgoing personality attracted this same wry observation more times than I can count: aren’t you Asian women supposed to be quiet/meek/submissive?

To this person of color the lesson was clear: I don’t behave the way I should; alternately, lighten up, it’s just a joke.

My father taught me from an early age to work hard and right and bold, to fight for every inch, and to deserve every inch I won. Not just because hard work is something to be admired, but because there are plenty of people who can’t wait to watch us fail. Because there is very little room for error when you’re a minority.

As a person of color navigating a very white south, I learned to laugh at the jokes and to make some myself, to thicken my brown skin, to stay alert to and aware of my Otherness, lest I forget I don’t really belong here.

As a woman, I have fought the same battles nearly every woman in this country has fought, regardless of color or station or class. I have never been sexually assaulted (thank you, Jesus), but I have been sexually harassed. I have been catcalled. I have been pressured or guilted into catering to a man’s will, physical or otherwise; I have been dismissed or name-called when I would not. I was told, presumably complimented, by a male coworker, when I was eight months pregnant (and married), he would still definitely, “hit that.” I have been told, as a young girl figuring out what exactly to do with my body, “modest is hottest,” and to not be a “stumbling block” for my “brothers in Christ.” That my femininity and virginity were my greatest attributes, my most honorable offerings to the world of men.

Hear this: this is a daily reality for women everywhere. Every woman knows what it feels like for a man to determine her worth, every woman knows what it feels like to lose a piece of herself, her spot, her value at the rough hands of male privilege.

Hillary Clinton’s emotional concession speech is a speech we women know well. It’s the same speech we have given ourselves and our daughters time and time again, loss after heart-wrenching loss. Her speech was all of us taking it on the chin while knowing our work and worth was not quite enough, may never quite be enough, played out on the grandest stage.

Outside the warm walls of my home and family, I was taught this world is not built to be kind to women, and every battle will be hard-fought and barely-won, in constant danger of slipping from our fingers if we so much as breathe too heavily.

To this woman the lesson was clear: I don’t own my own inconvenient body; alternately, who am I to want to take up equal space in this world?

This week my country scrutinized a more qualified, more experienced career politician who just happened to be a woman, and gave her job to a man whose entire career and campaign were built on exploiting and bullying the marginalized, the minority, the perceived weak. My country saw a politician whose missteps overshadowed the good, hard work she had accomplished and found her less electable than a man with no political experience and buckets of gross misjudgment, the very embodiment of white male privilege who spoke and behaved from that privileged place irresponsibly, condescendingly, hatefully toward women, people of color, Muslims, LGBTQ, the disabled…in other words, toward us the Others.

Half – HALF – of my voting neighbors and fellow Americans weighed their options and decided this man was preferable to that woman. A flawed woman blamed for everything from her appearance to her husband’s infidelity, but a woman more qualified, more compassionate, more experienced, more proven.

To this Other the lesson is clear: today, in 2016, we are not meant to feel safe in our own skin.

Alternately?

We will always be the Others.

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To Change the World with My Own Two Feet

Daniel Ogle and I met when he was the associate pastor of my home church. He’s since moved on to another church, but we try to stay connected via texts written in sarcasm font. We both love snark and words and American Pickers and Jesus (not necessarily in that order). Also, coffee. (Always coffee.)

He asked me to write something over on his real estate and I said, “OF COURSE!” and then took like, two weeks to send him something. It’s fine, we’re cool.

So if you want to read what I Google-Doc’ed him, land here; be sure to stay awhile, because his words are so good, y’all. I’ve met Jesus more times than I can count through Ogle.

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The Day I Tore

Prologue:
I was born into a soccer-loving family. I grew up on the soccer fields, first as a spectator at my brother’s games, and then as a player: small and clumsy but fast and fearless.

It took a few years – I was not naturally gifted like my brother – but I started making the cuts. First, in sixth grade onto our YMCA’s first-year premier team, then in seventh grade as one of three girls on the coed junior high team, then in eighth grade on a travel team that won tournaments across the southeast. (The coach of that team was the highest-ranked coach in the state and moved on to coaching a professional indoor team the following season.)

By my senior year in high school, I was selected as one of three female All-State student-athletes representing my school in the sport of soccer. (There was a banquet and everything.)

My soccer-related injuries in all those years were: numerous face balls, a broken toe or two, sore ankles and knees, and six tight stitches just below my knee from running into a metal bench on a water break. (A cute senior on the boys’ soccer team wrapped my leg in his white tee-shirt to staunch the bleeding. Someone should probably make a rom-com about this.)

I worked hard to become the player I wanted to be, a fast right midfielder with the full 90 minutes of endurance in me and a strong kick to set up goal after goal. Guys, I am 100% bragging right now.

I love and have loved this game my whole life.

Chapter One and Only:
I picked the game back up in my twenties, joining an adult league with some co-workers, mostly to get back into shape and fall back in love with the game. A few weeks into the season I found out I was pregnant with my daughter, so I quit.

Nearly seven years later, I joined the same league again, different team, higher age bracket, worse shape, but still crazy about the game. I had grown antsy on the sidelines all over again watching my kids play, wishing I could be out there running the midfield and setting up the offense.

My first game in almost a decade went all right, all things considered – for the first twenty minutes. By then I was ready for an inhaler (I don’t have asthma), and to just go home and cry myself to loser sleep (even though my team had won).

The second game, however, went a little differently.

My endurance was still a joke, but the strategy of the game was starting to come back to me. I still had my speed (for an EXPLOSIVE ten seconds or so), and I knew where to play to space and managed to get a few decent touches in. (Guys, I am 100% bragging right now.)

About thirty minutes into the first half, one of our strikers dropped the ball back to me. It looked like it had a weird spin on it, so I backed off to let it bounce. I was wide open, and a quick glance up the field showed lots of open space for our front guys to make a fast break, if only I could get a good kick past their defense.

So I stepped off the pass to line up my kick. I was near the sideline, so when I stepped backward on my left leg and heard a loud pop, I thought I had accidentally stepped on some ice near someone’s water bottle or cooler. Cleats on crushed ice, that was the sound I heard in my head and that still makes my skin crawl.

For a split second, I turned around to apologize or excuse myself, but then immediately felt the fire racing up my left leg. I fell to the ground, wondering what the H just happened. I couldn’t process it. Did I pull something? Did I step on something? Did my ankle guard crack somehow? What was that popping sound?

Turns out it was me, the popping sound loud enough that nearby players heard it, wondering if I had stepped on a rock or somehow knocked my cleats together. It was a sudden pain, an intensity I had never, ever felt before, like someone had lit me on fire from the bottom of my heel to the top of my calf. Two teammates had to carry me off the field, and I nearly burst into tears when someone tried to pull off my cleat.

They finally got my cleat and my sock and my shin guard off, and I remember apologizing profusely because I hadn’t gotten a pedicure in MONTHS. Someone stuck my foot in a cooler full of ice, someone else’s sweet kid offered me his seat and ran to fill my water bottle back up, everyone was kind and attentive and assured me when I apologized over and over in embarrassment.

By the end of the game, I still couldn’t bear any weight on my left foot, but the pain had subsided. Teammates, opponents, neighbors, my husband and kiddos – it was a collective effort to get me to the car and then home, certain ice and rest and painkillers would do the trick.

It wasn’t until the next morning when I went to the doctor that I found out my Achilles’ tendon had ruptured in two, and the sickening pop that still nauseates me every time I think about it is precisely what that sounds like, and the fire shooting up my leg was the tendon ends unraveling as they came apart. (You’re welcome.)

There were some speculations, of course, sideline diagnostics, some WebMD site-trolling, but I figured it didn’t hurt badly enough or long enough to be anything serious. And I wasn’t playing NEARLY hard enough to tear something. PUH-LEASE. This is weekend soccer with a bunch of over-30-year-olds.

GUYS. Did you know weekend athletes over the age of 30 are EXACTLY the people who will tear their Achilles’ tendon?

Epilogue, In Pictures:

image

Youthful Innocence


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Wizened Reality


image

Friends Tell It Like It Is


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FAT FOOT


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It Has A Name

The Beginning.
(Of a 10ish-week road to recovery, a road that probably doesn’t lead back to the soccer fields any time soon.)

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Good Friday: The Darkness Gathering

I’ve heard the story a thousand times. It never gets old, even as it never changes. Every time I hear it, I know how the story ends. I know that third day miracle, the impossible making believers around the world and throughout the centuries.

I still hold my breath between John 18 and John 20, my heart skipping beats in my chest. Every year I settle deeper into Good Friday, into the bone-breaking, veil-tearing darkness gathering. I close my eyes and try to feel what those first disciples felt, their very lives, their every breaths staked on the man hoisted upon that cross.

I know so well my own darkness, my own bleeding need for saving. I know the twisted bitterness sitting cold and hard in my gut, the slash of the whip and the drive of the hammer my own doing. I let the darkness in me loose, clutching this part of the story because this is the part of greatest tragedy, of greatest recognition.

The created world, favored by a creative and attentive God, suddenly godless. Suddenly without the hope that lingered in the back of our minds, at the tug of our hearts. This dark Good Friday a hitch in our throats, every fear, every demon clawing to get out, to spread its ink over this godless world. My own darkness home here.

I settle in. I listen to the earth groaning for salvation, to the wailing of defeat. I cannot look to the end of the story, to the prophetic words and the hope-filled promises, not yet. I need to let my darkness do its deed; I need to know my part.

I need to know it is finished.

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Maundy Thursday: This is Our Cup

The words are familiar to me, to many of us who believe in Jesus Christ, the Son of God.

This is my body, broken for you.
This is my blood, poured out for you.

When I am most aware, I whisper those aching words with reverence, the weight of them pressed against the inside of my cheek and held there. I take the bread solemnly, the silence echoing louder than betrayal.

The words of Jesus at the Last Supper often hold heavy for the Church, whether Communion is a weekly ritual or reserved for the holiest of occasions. The Church sits quietly, stilled, as the bread is raised and broken, the wine poured and blessed.

We hear those words again, some of the very last words of Jesus, Son of Man, and we hold our breaths in remembrance of Him.

During this ritual, we feel the holiness. Somehow, a few words, a couple of poetic sentences that surely made little sense to the men who heard them first, spoken with a heavy, hopeful heart centuries ago still manage to capture us, steady our attention.

If we close our eyes and open our hearts, if we really focus, tilting an ear to Heaven, we can hear these words of Jesus. We can hear his hands breaking the loaf into pieces, hear the sound of wine splashing into an empty cup. We might even hear the desperation in Jesus’ voice.

His time is near. It must be done. He watches as bread and wine — his body and blood — are given out to the twelve he has chosen. Men who bicker, men who falter, men who just don’t get it, not yet.

I can picture Jesus watching, looking around the table at his closest friends. His last supper, his final feast with his most devoted followers. Unassuming men he chose, not because of power or influence, but because of their simple faith. He called; they came.

And his body and blood, broken and poured out, entrusted to these twelve men and for the whole world.

What an image, just as powerful yet more subtle than the image of the cross. Around this table, with bread crumbs in his palm, a wrenching reminder of what is in store, Jesus could still turn back. No doubt this last supper sounds like bones breaking, like blood and water pouring out. The bread tastes dry in his mouth, the wine bitter enough to bring tears. And only Jesus knows it, feels it, tastes it, gets it.

Now, today, on this side of the Crucifixion and impossible Resurrection, we get it, at least a little. As his Church that understands the meaning of that last supper, as his people who celebrate and remember Jesus’ words, we break the bread and we pour the wine and we invite those whose reverence still settles them in their pews and draws them to the altar. To come, to dip the bread in the wine, to partake in the holy feast, the New Covenant. To know and trust and remember his broken body, his blood poured out.

It is a ritual well-known and cherished by the Church, a pointed understanding of what Jesus was truly offering when he offered his disciples the broken bread and shared cup.

The body of Christ, broken for you. The blood of Christ, poured out for you. For me. For the whole world still unaware, still wondering if there’s more.

What a beautiful, tragic night that was in our faith history.

And what a call for us the Church to follow Jesus, to share in his brokenness, to be the new body of Christ so willing to pour out and down and into the cracks of this hurting world.

We are the Church. And this is our cup.

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