Monday, October 31, 2011

Do This in Remembrance

Since this time last week, I have been engaged in some type of activity outside of my normal routine, and with the exception of two evenings last week, these activities carried me away from home. I am grateful, and I have had some wonderful days, and grace has abounded.

But man, am I tired.

My body has basically stopped believing it will be getting sleep, and its cues are a little off. So while I down my kava tea and wait for that stuff to take hold, I thought I'd share a little something from my day.

The subject is Communion. In 1998, I entered a period of doubt and confusion regarding my faith - particularly regarding my security as a believer. It was horrendous. But it was when I learned what it is to draw near to the heart of God. It was when I fell in love with His Word. It was when He began to lovingly show me how my mind works, and how the Spirit works, and how the two work together. And what to do when they do not. During this time, I didn't take Communion. I didn't feel it was right for a person to take of the Body and the Blood when she wasn't even sure if she was covered. Also, I rarely had the opportunity to take Communion. Springs on Singers tours and summers spent away doing mission work meant no church home for me. When the opportunity would present itself, I would sit in somber silence and meditation - usually confusing - glued to my seat, afraid to sin against the Body and the Blood with my doubtful hands.

Then I went to China. It was 2001. There was one state-approved church that we could safely attend, and on the Sunday we went, you guessed it - they took Communion. After the singing and the sermon, the bread and juice were passed around, and the pastor invited the congregation to pray, meditate, then eat and drink when they each were each ready. An older Chinese woman sat alone, in the center of the third pew from the front. She gingerly cupped the bread in her hands and rocked back and forth, weeping and praying, an endless stream of Mandarin. I was transfixed. I was certain that whatever she was saying had to be among the most eloquent of prayers uttered. I was in awe at the profundity of this moment, and I knew that if I could understand her words, I would never forget them...I would never forget her, this frail Chinese woman, weeping and praying over the Body and the Blood.

So I leaned forward, and I asked our translator, seated in front of me, what she was saying. She turned, looked at me, and said: "She is saying 'thank you.'" "What else?" I asked. "Nothing else," she replied, "only 'thank you.'" I sat back, stunned. The woman literally had not stopped speaking for minutes on end. And she had so much to say. For every sin forgiven, a thank you. For every grace received, thank you. For every breath, for every new mercy, for every gift: thank you. Thank you, thank you, thank you. Gan xie. Shi fen gan ji.

After returning to the States, opportunities to take Communion were still rare, and when they presented themselves, I still held back. And then I wandered from the Lord. Heartbreakingly, foolishly, wandered. And I stopped going to church altogether. He drew me back to Him, and even in the midst of great pain, all was light and life. Through bitter tears, my eyes saw the depth of His grace, the breadth of His compassion. And one Sunday in April of 2006, I was invited to share in Communion at the church I'd just begun attending. It would be the first time since China that I had participated. As I sat there, cracker and juice in hand, I thought about the Chinese woman. I thought about the years since that day in China, the years that the locusts ate. And I wept. Only these tears were not as bitter. They were grateful. And all I could manage, the only words my lips wanted to form were: thank You. Oh, thank You.

This morning, we took Communion. Considering the schedule I've kept lately, and the issues I've been dealing with, I was concerned about partaking. I never want to be distracted in is, after all, an act of remembering. And how can you remember something when you can't get your mind to be quiet? But I stood anyway, took the bread and the juice, and returned to my seat. And I began to pray. Rather, I closed my eyes and tried to pray. I was instantly overwhelmed. Guilt, shame and accusation tried to elbow their way into my mind. Feelings of inadequacy, of condemnation, even fear. But the thing about physical exhaustion is
that it makes it so much easier to get to the place where you throw up your hands and yell help!!! to the heavens. The moment I did, the Spirit brought to mind the Chinese woman and the simplicity with which she approached the sacrament. So I ate, and I drank, and I simply said thank You. And you know, the miracle of gratitude is in its growing more gratitude. One simple thank You became the act of remembering, of communing, of believing. And before I knew it, I couldn't think of anything but thanks.

And so I do not lose heart. I am hard-pressed, but I am not crushed. And though outwardly I waste away, yet inwardly He renews me day by day. And in the act of gratitude, He allows me to glimpse some of that far-outweighing eternal glory.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Behold the Manner of Love

It was a Sunday. I’d behaved terribly. Pouted. Shrugged shoulders. Sulked. In the words of my mother, showed my rear. The fallout was evident before I really knew what had happened, and then I spent the next six hours…processing.

How was I so foolish, so reckless? How did I miss that first sign of Temper raising her ugly head to fight? Fearing the worst, and knowing it to be plausible, I geared up. Running shoes. Ponytail. Pullover. As I headed into the street, the thought occurred to me: music. I need music. So I went back and began again.

Setting out, my playlist was tailor-made. Songs of security, comfort, protection. Songs of grace, forgiveness. Songs of hope for those times when the world comes crashing down around your ears, and you hear every last piece of rubble topple, fall and settle into dusty place on the ground. My exhausted soul soared. It’s the weary joy, the faith of saying – this may be really difficult, but I refuse to despair because I know better.

Really, how could I not know better? How could I possibly even skim over the chapters of my history and believe anything other than the Father’s grace and protection over my days? And so I ran. And I prayed. I cried and sang and pushed myself to go as far as I could until I the pain in my lungs finally overpowered the desperate ache in my chest.

I came to rest on the half-finished deck at Mom and Charlie’s house. Mom had been asking for the deck for a while, so Charlie began to build as soon as the weather got cooler. For some reason, it felt like the right place to land, so I sat and was still. I prayed for more hope, for a unique word spoken into this mess I’d created.

I looked around me at the tools, boards and scraps scattered about the patio. The work was about half done, but Charlie’s design was clear – boards running diagonal from brick to post, one level, fenced in with two openings here and there. Already, it was beautiful because you could tell how it was going to turn out – you could see what he had in mind. And so I was lost in thought when the song began. You make beautiful things, You make beautiful things out of the dust. I brushed sawdust from my pants, hugged my knees to my chest and thought, Indeed. It was the word I'd prayed for, the hope I needed in that moment.

Not long after, the storm passed. My broken spirit gave way to a whole new brand of humility, contrition. Through no skill of my own, I found the words to say what I felt, what needed to be said to mend the fence. And even now, when the hope that gleamed uncontrollably just days ago is faintly flickering and threatening to disappear, I go back to the deck and I sit. The work is almost finished. Just a few more boards, a few more nails. I imagine by this time next weekend, the tools will be gone, the sawdust will have been swept away, and the memory of wood, metal, dust and chaos will begin to be replaced by memories of evenings spent outside in crisp air, taking in the beauty.

And I will remember the greatness of the love the Father has given unto us, that we should be called the children of God. That we are His workmanship, created in His image. That He is the ultimate Craftsman, and that my soul full well knows that His works are wonderful.

I will trust Him.

What He has built already is beautiful beyond words. Years ago, I wouldn’t have dared hoped for this restoration of dignity, for this setting of feet in such a spacious place, for the continuation of anything but sorrow, much less the beginning of a good work in me. I know that He will be faithful to complete it.

I know that He will be faithful. Tonight, and for always, that is enough.