Five Minute Friday: Share

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Gentle Reader,

Kate and the whole hashtaggy gang. We: share.

Go.

This prompt is almost too perfect, because I’ve had something to share all day long.

I took the above picture at work. We use the “inprocess” labels to designate items that are…drumroll…in processing. They aren’t complete yet.

Usually I tuck these little labels into books without a second thought. But today my eyes were glued to that word. Inprocess. Incomplete.

“…the God who started this great work in you [will] keep at it and bring it to a flourishing finish on the very day Christ Jesus appears.” – Philippians 1:6 (MSG)

I need to know that. I need to hear that. I need those words to soak into my very marrow. God is not finished with me. I haven’t out-sinned His grace and love. He isn’t going to chuck me into the garbage bin. He’s not going to walk away.

This is my great hope. This is the anchor of my life. God is real, He is here and He is working in, on, around and through me. He will smooth all the rough edges and remove everything that is not of Him. The work began in repentance and continues on the narrow way. It will never be finished this side of Eternity – and that is beautiful.

God is not finished with you, either. No matter who you are or where you are.

Stop.

Grace and peace along the way.

 

But Christmas

Gentle Reader,

Advent is my favorite season on the church calendar. I love reading the ancient prophecies about the Messiah. I love seeing how God arranged every little detail just so. I love thinking about the squalling baby, God in Flesh. I wonder how Mary felt. How Joseph felt. How the shepherds felt. How God the Father felt. I hope there was a Canaan dog in the stable, one who adopted the new little family, because every baby needs a dog to grow up with.

The extravagant grace of Christmas moves me.

That grace stands in marked contrast to recent events. Contentious mid-term elections. Riots in Ferguson. An ever-widening gap between the “haves” and the “have nots.” And in my own world, a truck in need of major repairs, a newly-finicky water heater that my husband and father spent yesterday fixing and upcoming surgery.

How do we make sense of it all?

This time every year my mind recalls the words of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. Whatever his theological convictions (some assert that he adhered to the heresy of Unitarianism, others that he belonged to no specific sect or stream, still others that he was a born-again evangelical), Longfellow nevertheless wrestled with the meeting of grace and harshness. In the midst of the Civil War, he wrote:

I heard the bells on Christmas Day
Their old, familiar carols play,
And wild and sweet
The words repeat
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

And thought how, as the day had come,
The belfries of all Christendom
Had rolled along
The unbroken song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

Till ringing, singing on its way,
The world revolved from night to day,
A voice, a chime,
A chant sublime
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

Then from each black, accursed mouth
The cannon thundered in the South,
And with the sound
The carols drowned
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

It was as if an earthquake rent
The hearth-stones of a continent,
And made forlorn
The households born
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

And in despair I bowed my head;
“There is no peace on earth,” I said;
“For hate is strong,
And mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!”

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
“God is not dead, nor doth He sleep;
The Wrong shall fail,
The Right prevail,
With peace on earth, good-will to men.

Whatever his beliefs, Longfellow highlights the tension that a Christian walks in. We have lasting peace in a world where peace is but a hiccup between wars. We experience abiding love in a world where love dries up without warning. We are the reconciled in a world of broken relationships. We live in the reality of the right and the reality of the wrong.

There are times when we are tempted to despair. When the darkness grows and seems to touch everything. When we wonder if it really will turn out right in the end.

But Christmas.

But the first, bewildered cry of the Holy Infant.

The wrong shall fail. The right prevail.

Grace and peace along the way.

When Nothing Else Could Help

Gentle Reader,

My mind can’t make anything compute right now. It’s totally, completely bizarre to me that normal life continues on when I’ve got this major thing happening. I wake up, I go to work, I spend time with friends and family. On Saturday, I got to go shopping with my mom and I got to see a play. I plan menus and make grocery lists. (Well, okay, I assist Chris in those tasks). I empty the dishwasher and fold laundry.

And all the while I’m thinking about the thing.

My surgeon called Friday afternoon and told me that no biopsy is necessary. He is confident that the tumor is benign and wants to proceed with removal. One of the schedulers from his office is supposed to call me this afternoon or tomorrow. I’ll have dates and timelines. It’ll be 3-5 days in December. Days of pain pumps and refusing to eat Jell-O.

The tumor – a dear friend and her daughters helped me name it: Skolops (the Greek for “thorn in the flesh” as found in 2 Corinthians 12:7) “Boobies” McFartstein; we were feeling silly that day – is hanging out way up high, near my right lung, so it’s a challenging procedure. They’ll slice me open and use this spatula-like thing to hoist my ribs out of the way. They’ll take out some healthy liver along with Skolops and the area he’s affected. Then they’ll sew me back together, wrap me up tightly and send me off to a room reeking of disinfectant.

The freaking out began Saturday night.

I started dwelling. This is rarely a good thing, especially in the wee, dark hours. Everything seems bleak and hopeless.

What if it turns out to be cancer after all? What if I have to have a second surgery? What if something goes wrong and I die on the operating table? What if I can’t handle the pain? What if I’m in the hospital longer than expected? What if we can’t pay our bills? What if we lose the house? What if I’m not up to going back to work when I’m supposed to? What if I fall when I’m at home by myself and can’t get to the phone?

Even after examining all the questions rationally, I still feel scared. And sad. Being scared makes sense to me because we’re all scared of the unknown and of things we can’t control. But I don’t understand the sad. I don’t understand why I want to cry. Why I am crying as I write this.

So when we sang these words at church yesterday, my conviction that God is intimately involved in our lives deepened, because they were words I desperately needed to hear. He soothes us in our wailing before we even know to ask for it:

“Love lifted me! Love lifted me!
When nothing else could help
Love lifted me!
Love lifted me! Love lifted me!
When nothing else could help
Love lifted me!” – James Rowe & Howard Smith

The hymn is centered on salvation, how it is Jesus alone who can make us right. That is so beautifully true, but, right now, the words bring something else to my mind:

“…the Master of the sea, heard my despairing cry,
From the waters lifted me, now safe am I.”

Like Peter, I chose to step out of the boat. I chose to trust rather than fear those long six months ago. I have struggled to keep my eyes on Christ. The waves have grown higher and the sky darker. The lightning flashes and the thunder rolls. Everything is amplified and so frightening. I take in the surroundings and lose sight of His face.

I slip beneath the water.

He is there immediately. He lifts me with complete ease.

He asks me the same question He asked the apostle: “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” (Matthew 14:31)

There is no anger in His voice. The question is not meant to push me toward self-loathing. It is a reminder. Jesus has never failed me. Not once. He is with me now. He will be with me in the operating room. He will hold my head in His lap and speak peace into the secret places of my heart, the places only He and I know about. He will be there when the anesthesia wears off and I’m hit with the first, intense, vomit-inducing wave of pain. As the lines of the children’s prayer affirm, He will “watch and keep me.”

Whatever comes, Love will lift me.

Grace and peace along the way.