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Healed and Whole

Daughter, you took a risk trusting me, and now you are healed and whole.
No one sees me slip through the crowd. I am good at being unseen; it has been the key to my survival.

For twelve years I spent everything I had, poured every ounce of hope into healing. I paid and I prayed, losing every last thing. And still I bled. For twelve years I have been weak, cursed, exiled from my neighbors, unclean.

I had heard of this Jesus, rumors of His power, the miracles that seem to fall from the sky around Him, like manna. If I could get close enough to touch Him, certainly a brush of His robe would be enough. I had heard the blind gained their sight and the lame could walk again with just a word from this Jesus invoking the power of Heaven.

I am almost close enough to touch Him. I can hear the voices of His closest, most faithful followers, men and women who dropped everything to remain at His side. He can’t possibly be a fraud, not with this many people surging around Him.

Jarius, the local religious leader, has pushed through the crowd, pushed in front of me. I shrink away, take up smaller space. From where I crouch, I hear the grief and desperation in his voice, rising above the many circling Jesus, and there is something deeply familiar in his heartbreak it cracks me in two. I stay close to the ground, my head down, bent half in pain, half with the intense need to remain unseen. If I am seen I will be cast away, shouted down because of my illness; my uncleanliness demands it.

I hear Jarius speaking of his sick daughter, his plea twisting in the air, his brokenness so different from mine yet so intimately known. Jesus has turned His attention away from the crowd, standing still and focused on Jarius as he pleads for his daughter’s life. I will not interrupt; the Healer has much more important work to do.

But then Jarius leads Jesus away, toward his home, and a new well of anguish bubbles up and over. Quickly, feverishly, I crawl closer, and Jesus pauses in mid-step as if waiting for something. Quickly, feverishly, I reach out for the hem of His robe, stained, caked with the dirt of His travels. The fabric is rough in my hands, and for barely a breath, I hold on.

It is immediate. I know. It is a memory of the Galilean sea rushing over me, this healing that throws me, flattens me, overcomes me. A heartbeat and I want to shout my gratitude, but no, I cannot. I have stolen something divine and powerful, so I slip away, just as unnoticed but irrevocably altered.

“Who touched me?”

His voice carries over the crowd. They quiet. He asks again. I am almost to the edge of the sea of bodies, almost free to disappear. They point out the size of the crowd, the absurdity of His question, but there it hangs unanswered, tethering me back. Because I fear God more than my own body, I turn back; I cannot help the trembling in my bones. Jesus has been watching me, as if He knew all along who indeed had dared.

The people part a path back to Jesus, and I drop to the ground at His feet, weighted down by what I have done, what I have claimed. I confess it all to this God-Man and to the crowd. I am on my knees before Him, my face hidden in the sand, in a deep shame that shivers and shakes over me. My neighbors, fellow villagers who have for years now skirted around me, ignored me, cast their eyes away from me – I feel their stares openly now as my confession tumbles out, darkening the dirt at His feet.

I cannot look up from the pit of my despair. I do not hear Him so much as feel Him in every cell of my body, in my very marrow, answering a longing so buried I had not recognized it before.

“Daughter,” He says to me, His touch – His own this time, not a stolen brush against the threads of His robe – burning that word, that identity into my soul. “Your faith has made you healed and whole.” He has lifted His voice for the whole crowd to hear. My faith, He tells them, has healed me.

“Live well, live blessed.”

The extravagance of Jesus is staggering. He has given me wholeness, yes, a way forward in holy healing.

But more than that, intimately more than that, He has called out my shame, my illness and my suffering, and has transformed it into something worthy, a story redeemed and redefined. I owe Him everything. Faith in this Jesus is easy; the lightness in my gut tells me I’ve been waiting my whole life to follow Him.

* * *

This season of Lent, I am pulling out some of the questions Jesus asked with the intent of digging into (some of) what he might want us to know. I want to tell these stories as if I had been there myself, as if I was the one staring dumbly at Jesus on a crowding lakeshore when he asked, “Who touched me?” found in Luke 8:40-48.

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Where Can We Buy Bread?

Wild Barley

Jesus of Nazareth could draw a crowd. Even from small, scattered villages, people flocked to Him. This Jesus was a truth-teller and dealer of miracles, dynamic, charismatic, unabashed. People came for the show and stayed for the word.

There was enough truth or purpose in Jesus that I had dropped everything to follow Him as He traveled from village to village. His message never changed, but transformed into something new every time He spoke. There were the show-stopping sermons, the ones magnified over crowds of hundreds or even thousands. But there were also the stories shared with us, the twelve and His most devoted followers. There were the prayers He murmured to Abba Father, an intensely personal relationship. It felt like eavesdropping, those moments when Jesus sought solitude.

There was an energy to Jesus. A sense of urgency that hummed beneath His words and acts. The way He saw the crowds, not as a ceaseless current of strangers drawn in to Him like water on dry sand, but as if He saw every single face, heard every single heart beating. When He spoke it was as if Heaven pressed in a little closer, mysteries of our ancestors’ faith a little thinner, warmer and clearer. There was something ancient about Jesus, something timeless, the way He spoke of our God and of man and of the proximity of God to man. It was revolutionary, the attention of the Holy One toward someone like me, someone ordinary and bland, no special education or training or knowledge of this unknowable God. More still, the attention of God toward someone in the margins, otherwise forgotten, unseen, shunned.

Jesus brought God the Father closer, to the very table we sat.

Jesus’ message was so full of hope. That was a common thread of His message, no matter how many different ways He managed to tell it. And He seemed to empty Himself before the crowds, spilling truth and healing and every ounce of wisdom He could hold in His head and heart. He spoke often of the work to be done, as He gazed out across the crowds, parched and starved for His words.

* * *

On this day, He seems spent. He edges away from us, His followers, and we who have been with Him since the beginning know He sometimes seeks this seclusion, a way to replenish what He has poured out. But even as He walks away, another crowd gathers. They begin to form around Him, villagers calling out to one another to come closer, to hear this Jesus of Nazareth and all the things He has to say. The healing He performs, they tell each other, have you seen what He can do?

Some of us try to head off the crowd, to block them from getting to Jesus. Some of us try to press them back, ask them to come back later, like bodyguards of truth. But Jesus knows they are coming; He always knows. I’m sure He heard them gathering, but more than that. Sometimes I wonder if Jesus sees and hears everyone on a completely different plane, some other realm away from this dusty earth. As if He hears their need just as clearly as their feet and fidgeting coming closer.

Jesus turns back toward the crowd. The look on His face gives us permission to step back, to let them come. And they come. I watch Jesus as He watches everyone else, hundreds now, maybe even thousands, and there is something infinite and tender in His expression. I wonder how Jesus can have such compassion on people He has never seen before, but even as I wonder, I know the truth. Jesus has seen them before, every last one, in a way I will never understand but can only trust.

He speaks over the crowd, teaches them from the ancient texts, reaches out and touches them, heals them. In a sea of thousands, Jesus sees every single soul. Every single soul knows they are seen.

His message of hope and healing stretches on into evening. The sun begins to set, but no one seems eager to leave. We all know it deep in our souls; here we are standing on holy ground. Here we are closer to God in heaven, and no one wants the spell to break.

Jesus turns to His disciples, calls Philip close. “Where can we buy bread to feed all these people?”

We exchange looks. We check the crowds. No one seems to want to break it to Jesus. “We should send everyone home,” we tell Jesus, “so they may eat.”

“Even if we worked for months we wouldn’t have enough money to feed them!” Philip is the boldest of us tonight, saying what is on all of our minds. We were nothing but poor fishermen and farmers before giving it all up to follow Jesus; and now? After leaving behind our very livelihoods?

“Go out and see what food you can gather,” Jesus tells us, and so we weave through the crowd, a loaf of bread here, a small basket of fish there. As Jesus continues to teach, I am struck by the generosity of those around us. A boy hands me his own packed meal, a meager offering in the face of such an enormous crowd. No less than five thousand men, then the women and the children, reluctant to return home, not even for supper. The hunger in their guts nothing compared to the hunger in their hearts, a quenching of their very souls on this holy hill.

We make our way back to Jesus. Five loaves, two fish, boundless doubt.

Something about Jesus had at once compelled me to drop everything and follow Him. Something big and inarticulate, a weight settling on my shoulders impossible to ignore. But following Him seemed almost incidental, maybe even mutually exclusive, to the day-to-day believing Him.

We are all skeptical, watching Jesus raise the food and give thanks to the Holy One. He instructs us to hand out the broken loaves and divided fish among the groups seated and scattered along the hillside. He instructs us to give abundantly, as God the Father has given us, and even though we raise our eyebrows at His directive, we face the hungry crowd to feed them.

The people I approach are grateful, their physical hunger being met as sufficiently as their souls’ have. I try not to hesitate as I break off meal-sized pieces of bread and fish, try not to focus on how much I truly lack. These villagers help me forget, raising their eyes to the sky in blessing and thankfulness, and I move on. It isn’t until the third or so group of men, women, and children I feed that I notice my supply has not diminished. Not one bit.

I look up at the other disciples spread out among the crowds, gathered in small groups to eat, and we seem to all have come to the same conclusion at the same time. The loaves and fish in our hands are as full as when we started, though nearly half the people have been fed. Slow, slow understanding comes to me, and I am again amazed at my own short-sightedness. Jesus, all this time, bows in prayer while His audience replenishes.

I reach the edges of the crowds, the last to be fed, and I am hundreds of yards from where Jesus stands. I want to hurry back to His side, to know what just happened, to label this thing a miracle. But as soon as we return, He instructs us again to gather up whatever food is left, empty baskets in hand to collect what was beyond fulfilling to thousands.

We set at His feet the broken remains of five small barley loaves. Twelve filled baskets.

It is a miracle and a metaphor, the abundance with which the Holy One provides. A grace so sufficient, so extravagant, to carry us well beyond our need.

* * *

This season of Lent, I am pulling out some of the questions Jesus asked with the intent of digging into (some of) what he might want us to know. I want to tell these stories as if I had been there myself, as if I was the one staring dumbly at Jesus when he asked, “Where can we buy bread?” found in all four gospels, Matthew 14, Mark 6, Luke 9, and John 6.

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Jesus Asked

Recently, a core piece of my personal theology was shaken. Something I had grown up believing as uncompromising Truth-with-a-capital-T gave way to a lot more gray, and – I cannot exaggerate this – it floored me.

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Suddenly, a significant way I thought about and wrote about and consumed and even taught scripture was turned on its head. It felt like the bottom dropping out, and I wasn’t sure where I would (or even should) land.

For a few solid days, I read a lot of articles and commentary on theology (I went down so many wiki rabbit holes, you guys). I started (and then deleted) rambling, needy texts to seminary friends. I wrote angsty prayers to God in my prayer journal (He’s used to it) asking for insight.

Eventually, I revisited how exactly I had even come to this particular belief in the first place. (Probably should have led with that but, I mean, hindsight, you know?) I wondered how much of it was God-breathed truth, and how much was just a way for me to wrap my small mind around a big, puzzling, enigmatic God-in-Three.

After reading scripture and commentary and praying (uttering, really), “What have I missed all these years?” I came away with this actually uncompromising Truth: when it comes to God, we aren’t even scratching the surface.

And I think that’s what really drove my despondence. I have studied this God for over twenty years now. I have followed Him, more or less, for decades, and surely I was expert by now. People should listen to me; I know things. (Don’t worry, I’m currently in recovery of this.)

A deep sense of personal pride had been shaken; exposed, bleached clean, the dust beaten from the edges and cracks. I was long overdue for a Come-to-Jesus-ing.

And it all started with a question. Someone had asked me a pretty simple question, after I made some bold statement, my peacock feathers standing straight up, tall and solid. A question that forced me to look at this cornerstone of my theology at a different angle, and it threw me into a tailspin.

(I’m still spinning a little, but when I figure it ALL OUT I’ll let you know.)

Here’s the thing about Jesus. Jesus did a lot of things on earth, only a few of them recorded in our New Testament. In a biblical snapshot of a few-ish years, Jesus traveled and truth-told, laid holy healing hands, called simple or questionable men and women into his inner tribe. Despite his godhood, despite being the infinite and all-knowing incarnate, Jesus asked.

Jesus taught and healed and called…and asked.

So this season of Lent, I’ll be pulling out some of the questions Jesus asked with the intent of digging into (some of) what he might want us to know. I want to tell these stories as if I had been there myself, as if I was the one staring dumbly at Jesus when he asked, “Who?” and “What?” and “Where?”

On this side of history, with records of Jesus’ birth and life and death and resurrection in our back pockets, we at least have a fuller picture, a little deeper insight to his seemingly simple questions.

When Jesus asked, I figure we should lean a little closer to the answer.

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Ash Wednesday : Where Are You?

09_ash_crossOn this day, I will walk up to the altar of my home church. With ashes from last year’s triumphant palm branches and anointing oil pressed from olives, my pastor will trace a cross on my forehead and remind me of the dust from whence I came, and of the dust to which I will return. I will bow my head and close my eyes as the lights dim, aware and somber, reminded of the Garden and of creation and of the ache to return. I will remember, a muscle memory from my ancient past, the God-breathed Spirit in my soul awakening to the longing, the question: Where are you?

* * *

The breeze is cool, welcoming, perfect. It is Eden in the evening, the spoken-into-existence sun setting over the created horizon. My skin tingles raw; leaves and soil and the very breeze that whispered in the Garden is rough, prickling and shivering over me. I am naked, afraid, the nakedness nothing new, but the fear all at once awakened and alive, famished.

He calls for me: Where are you? 

God the Creator, knower of all things, asks a question for the first time in human history.

Where are you?

I am hidden in the Garden, a place of perfection created with beauty and completion in mind, a home to walk side-by-side with God-in-Three, the Holy of Holies Trinity, arms swinging wide to take it all in, the wonder and magnificence of an infinite God poured out into finite things, reaching trees and wild animals and expansive skies.

I am cowering beneath fig leaves, thorns in my bared side, as I hear His continuous call. I want to respond as I once was, eyes fixed only on the identity God gave me when He formed me, when He first breathed eternity into me.

But everything has changed.

Where are you? 

As if He doesn’t know, as if He truly cannot see me His image-bearer anymore, stained as I am with disobedience and disbelief in His goodness. I show myself, heavy as lead, admit my fear and my bareness, my reason for hiding.

His next words are more questions, more invitations to explain myself.

Who told me I was naked?

Did I eat from the tree?

What have I done?

Only God knows the depth of my betrayal, the permanence of my mistrust, the legacy of it all born in my belly and inherited by the cursed earth itself.

I am nothing more than clay breathed alive by Life and Love Himself, my Spirit-soul still eternal, trapped within a crumbling-back-to-dust body.

* * *

This evening I, descended from disobedience and exile from Eden, will sit in my pew with an ashen cross rubbed against my skin, and I will listen for the question stirring among the Garden breeze.

Where are you?

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A Prayer for Your Passion

“As the time drew near for Him to ascend to Heaven, Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem.”
– Luke 9.51

My God, there are hardly the words for this little verse. “Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem.” There is so much power packed into this single line of Scripture, so much purpose in less than 140 characters. I want to understand what Jesus was going through; I want to ask for help in feeling what He felt. But, oh, that feels like a dangerous prayer.

The intensity of His journey, the necessity of it borne from this overwhelming, overtaking love. I try to imagine how consuming Your love must be for this broken creation. I try to put words — any words, all the words, the most eloquent words I have — to this image of drowning in Your love, floundering, unable to even see the bottom, much less touch my toes to it. What a small way our small minds can quantify such love.

O God, I want to experience Your love in such a way that it fills my lungs and swells my heart and steals my breath. I want to be so full of You that Your love pours out of me, gushing from my fingertips and over this parched land.

These few words tucked quietly in the gospel of Luke moves me in such profound, unaired ways.

Your Word is already so full of Your deliberate plan to rescue us and redeem us, to turn Your creation back to You, to reconcile this world with what You envision it to be.

But these particular words draw so much hope from me, such gratitude and shame, all at the same time, honest emotions for once that twist in my gut. Something expands in my chest, leaving me breathless and doubled over, and I think, why haven’t I been hearing this? Why haven’t I been paying closer attention?

Jesus, there was nothing unknown to You. You knew the plan. You knew the cost. As the man You fully were, You fully became, how terrifying it must have been, the knowing. How You must have dreaded every dusty step closer to the cross, every sunset one more day spent. To weep blood from Your brow in desperation for what was to come, the burden pressing heavy and hard against Your back and driving You to Your knees. I can only pretend to imagine the tightness in Your chest, the knot in Your stomach, Your heart and pulse pounding out a desperate rhythm, “Take this cup; Thy will be done.”

But as the Christ, the Holy Son of God who was there from the beginning, whose hands shaped the formless void, You witnessed our downfall, You wept as we split wide the chasm between Heaven and Earth, all the while knowing the price of our redemption, all the while knowing You would willingly pay it.

How clearly this verse shows us Your passion, Your purpose. How real and how near is Your spirit, Your will and Your want for us. You offered Yourself up and into the greedy hands of the very ones You longed to draw back in. We didn’t understand; how could we? How could these dry and dying bones even recognize the life abundant You were pouring out over us, reviving us?

You set Your feet toward Jerusalem, Your eyes to the cross. You never once wavered but spilled as much of Yourself along the way — Your love, Your healing, Your mercy and grace and Your call for us to do the same — until all that was left was a final breath: “It is finished.”

What is left to say but a whisper, “My God, my God.”

What a journey, Jesus, the descent into Your darkest hour on this earth, all so we wouldn’t have to go too. You invite us along, to follow You, not into despair or dread or to our rightfully earned deaths, but to follow You back to the kingdom of Heaven, back to God Himself.

I would walk that journey to Jerusalem with you, if I could, if only to squeeze Your hand and promise I’ll do better, to be better, so can we just call the whole thing off?

But You died so we wouldn’t have to, not really, not fully.

Jesus, how passionately You died for my disobedience; help me to live as passionately for Your love.

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God’s Reality

“My dear children, let’s not just talk about love; let’s practice real love.
This is the only way we’ll know we’re living truly, living in God’s reality.”
1 John 3.18 (MSG)

So I tend to make the season of Lent a very private one. (Could you tell? #sarcasm #OMGshetalkstoomuch)

Not that I don’t talk or reflect or write about what I’m reading and learning and praying over. But that I tend to make the focus just Jesus and me. The necessity of Jesus’ life and death in contrast to my utter depravity and desperate need for rescue. Jesus’ holy perfection and my hearty disobedience. His eternal life, my ashes.

I don’t usually leave a whole lot of room in my head and my heart for much else to that story; it’s hard enough swallowing just how ridiculous the gap is between God and me.

But as introspective and inward-focusing as Lent can be, as it was designed to be, it’s only part of a much greater story.

When I intended to sit in silence this season, to step back from all the words I like to string together, to shut my mouth so God could speak, I don’t know what I was expecting really — probably not to hear from Him so clearly.

But how often God surprises me. Not by being full of truth and wisdom and eloquence and love and all of these things with the utmost tenderness. But that God would be all of these things to me. Specifically me. Who am I to not just witness but to experience His truth and wisdom and eloquence and love and quiet, powerful, moving tenderness, and in such a personal, real way?

I can believe and trust in God’s love for the world; God is love — so He loves. He so loves this world and I understand that because of everything I have seen Him do in and for it. It’s a corporate love for His creation, a cradling of the whole world in His hands.

But maybe if He’s asking me to stop seeing my sin as the general, generic sinfulness of mankind, then maybe He’s asking me to do the same for His love.

*          *          *

I love people. I love people’s stories, I love hearing about their lives, I love discovering what makes them tick. I’ve been getting in trouble since Kindergarten for socializing because you guys, I love people. (#ENFJ #letsbebestfriends)

But I know I don’t love every single person I come across. Sometimes there are people I don’t even really like. But more often and more tragically, there are people I don’t even really see. And that might be the saddest thing of all. As much as I think I love people, I do not live or operate or even subscribe to God’s reality.

Every single person is an eternal soul known and loved and forgiven by God. I can talk all day about how that’s true despite my own behavior dismissing that, and it won’t make it any more (or less) true.

But maybe if I practice love — real love, God’s love, His personal, intimate, interested, transforming love — His reality will be so much clearer in this dark and desperate world. His voice will be that much louder, much more prevalent than any other noise I make with all my other useless chatter.

That’s what Jesus did; He brought the kingdom of God that much closer to us, to where we were squandering and drowning in our own broken selves. He peeled back the veil and said, “Would you look at how My Father loves you? How He sees you?”

No. Not quite. Not fully.

But I want to, and I want to help you see, too.

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Heirlooms of Our Faith

“Do you think the Scriptures have no meaning? They say that God is passionate that the Spirit He has placed within us should be faithful to Him. And he gives grace generously.”
– James 4.5-6

I sort of hate when the Bible asks me questions so boldly: do I think the Scriptures have no meaning? I don’t dare say yes, but do I approach His Word with the reverence and respect it commands? Maybe one day.

Be Still, and Know that I am God (Psalm 46:10)

Maybe because I’ve been paying more attention, trying to tune an ear to God and an ear to His people, I have heard a lot of flippant things said about the holy texts recently. That the Bible is outdated and irrelevant, that it ties the Church down and restricts her, how, sure, it is a beautiful book of our history and lovely metaphors for our lives, but see how far we’ve come? Such enlightened speak makes me scoff and disagree and go get my poster paints for a picket sign.

No. I do not think the Scriptures have no meaning.

But.

(There is always, always a “but” when you ask God to change you.)

But I know I don’t rest and rely on His life- and hope-giving words. Wait, let me back up. The Bible — indeed full of history and visions and prophecies fulfilled, directives and instructions and examples of loving well — is His Word; it isn’t The Word. The Bible gives life and restores hope, but not like Jesus, The Word Made Flesh. #theologyorsomething

So if Jesus is the visible image of the invisible God, then the Bible is the language of that image. The Scriptures give words and structure and plot lines to a very big and uncontainable God. Snippets, to be sure; the Bible has a beginning and an end describing a God who is eternal and infinite.

The Bible gives us a hearty glimpse. It shows us the saints and sinners who have gone before, how they saw and heard and learned about the same God breathing life into us now, how God moved in and interacted with His creation, how this earth has experienced Him.

It is His story and it is how we came to be invited into it.

This story — a collection of thousands of stories about one God — digs deeper. It invites us to dig deeper, to bury ourselves in the articulated God. These words — ancient things passed down from generation to generation, spoken and written and translated into words we all can use, through time and across the world — are the heirlooms of our faith.

This holy text, scrolls of wisdom and life and truth, tell us of a God intimately interested in our world. Passionate, this particular text says. Faithful and generous. And to think how unable our most eloquent speech is to fully describe Him.

I love the words, obviously (have you met me?). I love having the ability to be precise about what stirs my heart, to move my fingers across the page or my lips around syllables, and just like that, you know how I feel; suddenly, I am known.

That God would give us the words to describe (sort of) His goodness (to a degree), that He would shrink down (enough) to fit into language like so loved the world, and slow to anger, and leads me by still waters.

Not only do we have a way to see God, a way to name Him and speak of Him and to Him. We also have His own Spirit. What a generous God, to make Himself knowable in our limited language; to make Himself visible in the life and death of the Christ; to make Himself small enough to fit inside us, His Spirit residing in us, making room to hear the Spirit in each other, to hear and respond to the available God who craves our awareness.

I believe the Scriptures are Spirit-breathed, divinely inspired. But I have to come clean about how little time and attention I give them. The clearest, most straightforward way to know God and I barely give them a second thought.

But God’s got that covered too. When I am forgetful and distracted, when I choose a hundred other things above God, when I do actually think, despite myself, Scripture might possibly have no real meaning, no relevance to my modern, busy life, His grace is given generously.

What an extravagant God, to provide every way to wrap my simple mind around as much of Him as I can manage, and then the grace for when I squander that.

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