Eagerly Desired

I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you. (Luke 22:14)

Jesus is huddled in an upper room, about to share his last Passover on earth with the ones he’d called, the ones he dearly loved.

They reclined.  Got comfortable. Ate and drank.

They talked and listened.

They didn’t understand everything that their Savior was telling them, they even bickered about it.

But still

He longed for these moments with them.

He had his heart set on spending time together on this night.

He wanted them there.

Every one of them.

Even the one who would deny before morning.

Even the one who would betray him to death.

We talk a lot about different groups of folks having (or not having) a seat at the table.

About power and privilege and having a voice.

These are important conversations, no doubt.

I believe Jesus was a sweeper of the edges, an advocate for the marginalized.

I believe he toppled ethnocentric, patriarchal expectations.

And I believe he welcomes us all to the table.

Friend, you are welcome.

More than that, you are eagerly desired.

Come.

Come get comfortable, come eat and drink.

Come listen and ask and argue, even when you don’t understand everything.

We, too, are the called ones, the ones dearly loved.

Jesus eagerly desires to spend these moments with us.

With you.

Whether or not the world tells you that you have a seat, you are welcome, of this I am sure.

Come.

Come to the table.

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Restless

I’ve been feeling itchy lately.

My heart is restless

Like I can’t quite settle into a routine and I want to change all the things.

Summer does this to me sometimes.

Unmoors me a little and gives me just enough time to imagine all the ways that another path might be better.  Easier. More fulfilling.

Let your eyes look straight ahead; fix your gaze directly before you

(Proverbs 4:25)

It’s these words that my heart snatches onto last week, a seed of thought sown, but not sprouted enough to spill out onto the page.

I think about Peter, stepping out of the boat to follow Jesus, his eyes looking straight ahead, his gaze fixed.  

I imagine him tuning out the distractions for just one second, his friends in the boat yelling for caution and him plugging his ears as he locks eyes with Jesus.

Undeterred, focused, he does the impossible if only for a few steps.

Once upon a time, twice upon a time actually, I’ve felt that kind of focus in my own life, an absolute crystal-clear conviction that I was right where I was supposed to be.  Both of those were hard seasons. Seasons of faith-stretching and exhaustion and impossible questions and confronting messiness.

One was a season in full-time ministry.

The other was a season in foster care (which, to be honest, is also pretty much full time ministry).

It was very clear when it was time to move on from both into more ordinary seasons.

I’m back there again.

Feeling all ordinary and a little bored.

And wondering a little what it means to keep my gaze fixed on Jesus as I make pancakes and run around after my kids at the playground.

I’m holding a Tiny One this morning, her arms wrapped around my neck as I sing

From my mother’s womb, You have chosen me, Love has called my name.

I’ve been born again, into your family.  Your love flows through my veins.

Suddenly I’m all choked up.  I sing these words not just for myself.

But for this Tiny One.  

And for my kiddos who have know too much, too soon.

Whose struggles I hide to protect their privacy.  And also to try to convince you that adoption is good.  That foster adoption is good. That transracial adoption is good.  That single-parent adoption is good.

And they are.

But they are also harder than I want to admit.

Even lots of years later.

But today this is what it means to fix my gaze, of that I am certain.

To let Love flow through my veins.  

To be quiet enough to let the Little Ones, my little ones, hear love calling their name.

To embrace my identity as beloved, as child.  And to speak that identity over the Little Ones. One thousand times, in one thousand ways.

Even while I’m making pancakes.

Lost and Found

I’m running about a week behind with life right now.

Which, considering the ridiculous expectations I put on myself is not too bad. (Can I get an amen?)

In any case, love has been the theme of the week.

Everywhere… in church, on the radio, in the books that I’m reading.  It’s all about love.

Relentless, pursuing love.

These words have been knocking around in my head

How can I be lost when you have called me found?

And they take me back in a second to the time Jesus gave me an ultimatum.

I was young and had grown up in church.

I’d heard the truth all my life, felt it for myself once upon a time and made a little girl’s confession of faith.

And then came my angsty adolescence.

And the disillusioning reality that church was made up of messy, broken people who didn’t always have the best of intentions.

I felt hurt.  And mad.

And I spent almost a whole year locked in my bedroom, scribbling furiously in journals that I probably should burn.

I wasn’t running from God in any outward way.

But there, locked in my anger and isolation, I wanted to make life all about me.

All about how mad I was.  How betrayed I felt.

And Jesus gave me space to be mad (and so, bless them, did my parents– so sorry about that, guys.  So sorry!).

Until one day, right there in my locked bedroom, Jesus spoke as clearly as I’ve ever heard anything.

Enough.  Choose me or walk away.

Right here.  Right now.

Knees on the ground, head in my hands, the answer came without hesitation.

Lord, where else would I go?  You have the words of eternal life.  I believe and know that you are the Holy One of God. (John 6:68-69)

Friends, I was never lost to the God of the universe.  All the while through my angst and isolation, he was pursuing me, loving me.

All the while since I was formed in my mama’s body.  All the while since I made a little girl’s confession of faith, he was pursuing me, loving me.

All the while since, through the soaring joys and the crushing defeats, through the moments of clarity and the fog of not-so-sure, through one hundred thousand ordinary, unremarkable moments, he’s been pursuing me, loving me.

And you too, dear one.

You have never been lost to the God of the universe.  You have not run too far.  You have not fallen too hard.  You have not hidden too well.

Tonight and always, dear one, he is pursuing you.

Tonight and always, dear one, he is loving you.

The Ministry of Paying Attention

Pray in the Spirit on all occasions

These words lodged in my heart at the beginning of Lent this year and they haven’t let me go.

So I started what I called a “prayer experiment.”

Intentionally holding people in prayer without a specific request in mind,

Just waiting and listening.

Sometimes the words come fast and passionately.

Sometimes not at all.

Sometimes they seem a perfect fit for situations I know about.

And sometimes I’m praying hard for healing and I don’t know why.

It’s a learning process, this experiment.

I’m learning that the Holy Spirit does, indeed, help me in my weakness.

And that listening can be exhausting.

And that my motives aren’t always completely pure.

And that I better be ready to do hard things when I step into the listening space.

And I’m learning the power of paying attention.

I don’t have words to wrap around this idea in quite the way I’d like.

But here’s what I know.

Learning to pray in the Spirit means paying attention.

Maybe not listening harder, but listening differently.

Listening with a heart that sees divine fingerprints inside brokenness and hears a heart’s cry to be loved inside pain.

Maybe not seeing better, but seeing differently.

Seeing with a heart that can hold faith and fear, belief and doubt in tension.

A heart that is honest and hopeful.

I know people who have done this well for a long time.

I am not one of those people.

I like to blame this on my introversion.  Or my task-orientation.

I want to pay attention, but people are so needy.  So exhausting.

And yet, the words, the Spirit won’t leave me alone.

Calling out my selfishness and fear for what they are, they pulse and throb still.

Keep on praying for all the Lord’s people.

I want to skip to the end.

To the part where I’ve exercised my listening muscles and this comes easier, more naturally (is that a thing?).

But I’m not there yet.

Here I am so clumsy and unsure of myself.

Never quite sure if this new way of seeing and hearing is just for me or if I’m supposed to spew some prayer words at you right here and now.

Here I am so clumsy and unsure of myself.

And yet so hungry to grow, because I know this is holy work, sacred work

This ministry of paying attention.

Before the Miracle

Far be it from me to not believe

even when my eyes can’t see.

And this mountain that’s in front of me

will be thrown into the depths of the sea.

We sing about moving mountains this morning.

About keeping our eyes on Jesus.

And here he is.

A crowd clamoring about, they’ve heard he’s healed the sick

Or seen if for themselves and they seek him out, needy.

Hungry.  (John 6)

The Bread of Life turns and asks his friends where they will get enough bread for everyone.

And we chuckle because we know how the rest of the story goes.

But I can feel Philip’s panic.

And Andrew’s floundering attempt to bring what they could find to Jesus.

They were just learning about this Bread.

I doubt I would have done any better.

And Jesus takes the bread, the tiny offering of a child.

And he gives thanks.

Eucharisteo.

A pocket of sacred space, of breathing gratitude.

And everyone eats and has enough.

Friends, did you see what preceded the miracle?

Gratitude.

I don’t know about you, but there are a few miracles I’m praying for in my own little world right now.

Mountains that seem too big.

Crowds that look too hungry.

I feel like I’ve been banging down the doors of heaven for release, for deliverance.

But this week, I’m going to take a step back.

Take a moment to remember that my resources are too small.

Laughably puny.

But my resources in the hands of a gracious, almighty and all-sufficient God are a completely different story.

This week, I’m going to leave a pocket of sacred space, of breathing gratitude.

This week, I am going to give thanks before the miracle.

Don’t be afraid. Just believe.

Friends, our God is in the business of bringing the dead back to life.

All through the Old Testament and in the life of Jesus, we see this again and again.

This, in fact, is the crux of the gospel message.

Jesus died so that we could live.

His invitation is not to make us better, but to breathe life into our dead souls.

There’s a story I read this week and it’s been knocking around in my head ever since.

I can’t shake the feeling that it’s not just for me.

It’s about a guy called Jairus.

His daughter is sick and he knows that Jesus can help, so he seeks him out. (Mark 5)

Jesus responds with compassion and starts the journey toward the sick little girl, but the crowd presses in, needy to a soul, and the trip takes longer than it might have.

Along the way, messengers bring word that the little girl has died.  Why bother Jesus any more?

And it’s these words that resonate hard for me this week.

The bringer-of-life, not too late but just on time, says to the devastated dad

Don’t be afraid.  Just believe.

And proceeds to breathe life into what was dead.

Friends, some of us have sought Jesus out and invited him to come, but along the way we feel like he’s gotten caught up in other things.  Bigger things, maybe.

And, like the messengers, someone or some circumstance or maybe the cynical voice inside our own heads has told us to give up.

On that dream.

On that spark of passion.

On that God-given desire.

On that gift lying dormant.

On that healing.

Let it go, the liar whispers, it’s dead.  Why bother Jesus any more?

Friends, he is just that– a liar.

Plug your ears to those words.

And hear the bringer-of-life, not too late but just on time whisper to your heart.

Don’t be afraid.  Just believe.

Our God is in the business of breathing life into what is dead.

And he wants to do that for some of us this week.

To rekindle that dream, to ignite that passion, to explode that desire into reality for his glory, to use that gift to speak life, to move us along on our journey toward wholeness.

It’s not too late.

You’re not too old.  Or too broken. Or too messy.  Or too cynical.

Our bringer-of-life is right on time.

Good Friday

Looking around on Good Friday, I want to see myself here.

Here in this ancient story.

Here in these words I’ve heard since before I was born.

Growing up in church, it’s easy to let this story, these words slide right on by

Assuming that we’ve heard it all before.

But though the story is old,

The Spirit is here, always here.

Breathing new life.

Speaking powerful truth still.

If we will pay attention.

Tonight I lock eyes with the thief on the cross.

And I see my story here too.

It’s a familiarity my younger self would have denied.

But not tonight.

My penalty is just, fair.

I’m getting what I deserve.

And right beside me, suffering the same penalty,

God wrapped in flesh.

Not deity identifying with humanity in some theoretical sense.

But a real, living, breathing God-man looking into my eyes.

Suffering with me.

Speaking words of life even as his breathing becomes heavy, his pain unbearable.

We do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses

No. Our high priest suffers with us.

He feels our pain because he is here.

And he promises redemption.

Not in some far-off, theoretical sense.

But now.

Today.

This is my story too.

A church-baby, never much of a rebel in any outward sense.

A pastor’s kid, living life in a fishbowl.

Some people say (to my face) that I don’t need much saving.

They are dead wrong.

When we lock eyes, I know without a doubt my desperate need for a Savior.

My desperate need to be spared what I deserve.

My heart-cry for redemption

Not in some far-off, theoretical sense.

But now.

Today.

I look into the eyes of the One speaking life even here.

Even in the darkest moments.

And I fall again on grace.