Any Time at All

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Gentle Reader,

Interrupting what is apparently going to be a series on the sisterhood of suffering (I often don’t know exactly what will develop when I begin writing something) to share some thoughts on motherhood.

What?, you think. She knows she doesn’t have kids, right?

Jen Wilkin writes:

Just as my biological children needed me to train them in self-control, industriousness, and obedience, so also do young believers in the church need those who are more mature to train them in godliness. Every believing woman who grows to maturity becomes, in her time, a spiritual mother to those following behind, whether she ever becomes a mom in physical terms. She fulfills that most basic calling of motherhood: nurturing the helpless and weak to maturity and strength. She helps the young believer to nurse on the pure milk of the Word, faithfully teaching basic doctrine and modeling the fruit of the Spirit. She sacrificially makes herself available, like the mother of a newborn infant, allowing her schedule and personal needs to be inconvenienced for the sake of caring for the spiritually young and vulnerable. And she understands the work to be not a trial but a sacred duty, finding deep delight in wobbly first steps of faithfulness and stuttered first words of truth. (emphasis mine)

My beloved youths chose to participate in 30 hours of fasting over the weekend, a fact that led to me being awake for 36-plus hours. For someone who loves sleep as much as I do, that was the real sacrifice. Not the logging off of all social media and leaving my phone in my backpack. Not the shunning of food (though I did come to realize how much I love coffee…and Nutella…and cheese [which I shouldn’t eat]…and all carbs). Keeping my bleary eyes open to make sure they were safe, not fainting, or fighting with each other – so hard. Part of me wanted to say, “Do whatever you want. Just don’t burn the church down,” and then find some quiet spot for a long nap.

But I’d do it again. No question.

There are not sufficient words to describe how lovely it is to watch them begin to process big concepts like compassion and justice. So many despise teenagers, find them annoying and basically useless. That many couldn’t be more wrong.

They got up very early on Saturday morning and (mostly) cheerfully served breakfast – that they would not eat – to homeless people. They want to go back and do it again.

They walked around a downtown section of our city, choosing to be bold and brave enough to approach strangers, to ask them for a bit of their stories and to offer prayer. Most of them were rejected. A few experienced the elation of being received. They want to go back and do it again.

They really had no idea that they go to school with people who don’t have food at home, or even a home at all. They want to do something about that.

They sat in silence on the beach for over half an hour, reading their Bibles, journaling, or contemplating nature. The majority said this was their favorite activity; they never have time for quiet. Some of them heard the Spirit’s whisper for the first time. The wonder on their faces…

They got hangry, like really hangry, but banded together and encouraged each other to see it through to the end, even as they made dinner together, a dinner that they would not taste-test (but turned out pretty dang good).

They served each other Communion.

…a motherless church is as tragic as a motherless home. Guiding the spiritually young to maturity is not solely the job of the vocational pastor, the elder, or the Sunday school teacher. The church needs mothers to care for the family of God. We must rise to our responsibility, eagerly searching for whom the Lord would have us nurture. There is no barrenness among believing women. Through the gospel, all become mothers in their maturity. And unlike biological motherhood, spiritual motherhood holds the potential for hundreds, even thousands of descendants. Older women in the faith, do you recognize the vital importance of your influence and example? Whom could you make room for in your life to guide toward maturity? Who needs the hard-earned wisdom you hold? Spiritual babies need help to open God’s Word, to live at peace with God and others, to be lights in dark places. Babies need mothers. (emphasis mine)

They really are “my beloved youths.” The affection that pounds in my heart is deep and real. I am their Cougar, their Sexy Grandma, their Second Momma. (Nope, I won’t explain the first two, because you definitely had to be there). I love listening to them, joking with them, being around them. I can hardly contain myself as they take those wobbly steps of faith.

So will I stay up all night, holding a young lady as she sobs?

Any time at all.

None of us needs ever to question our usefulness in the household of God. We have only to draw the next searching fledgling under our wing.

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Five Minute Friday: Practice

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Gentle Reader,

I’m actually writing this on time. And I even got to pop in and chat for just a second. Wild.

Onward, before the benadryl kicks in. So much sinus pressure. Stupid allergies.

Kate says: practice.

Go.

I drop to my knees, grateful for the thick yoga mat beneath me. Sweat drips from my brow, dotting my forearms. Again I wonder why I am awake earlier than I want to be. Why I am putting my body through the torture of physical activity. A disgustingly chipper voice encourages me to get back into plank position. With a heavy breath, I plant my hands on the mat and press my toes onto the slides.

Pull legs into a crouching position. Push out into a straight line. Use abdominal muscles to make the movement. Press down on the slides, legs out into a v-shape. Back into a line. In again.

Arms shake. Core tight. Legs ache. Lips tremble.

They say that fitness is a journey, not a destination. It’s all about the practice. About being better than you were yesterday. One more rep, a little heavier weight.

So, too, I think with our faith.

The Kingdom is then, in eternity, a place for us to look forward to with hope. But it’s also now. Right here. Inside you and me. We are called to a different way of living. Different ethics, different perspective. We get to participate in the beautiful, difficult work of sanctification. We get to show the world what it is to live for and with Jesus.

We don’t always get it right. Sometimes we fall to the mat and wonder why we even try.

In those moments, in the sweat, in the pain, in the weariness, the Spirit says: Get back up.

Stop.

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Sisters: Someone Else

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Gentle Reader,

While He was going, the crowds were nearly crushing Him. A woman suffering from bleeding for twelve years, who had spent all she had on doctors and yet could not be healed by any, approached from behind and touched the end of His robe. Instantly her bleeding stopped.

“Who touched me?” Jesus asked.

When they all denied it, Peter said, “Master, the crowds are hemming You in and pressing against You.”

“Someone did touch Me,” said Jesus. “I know that power has gone out from Me.” When the woman saw that she was discovered, she came trembling and fell down before Him. In the presence of all the people, she declared the reason she had touched Him and how she was instantly healed. “Daughter,” he said to her, “your faith has saved you. Go in peace.”

– Luke 8:42b-48 (CSB, emphasis mine)

Jesus is on His way to save someone. A little girl, twelve years old. Her father begs Him to do it. The Savior is compassionate. Loving. He turns toward the house. His feet begin to take the path that will lead Him to her side.

Jesus is always on His way to save someone.

The saving doesn’t always look the same.

The question we all have: Why did so-and-so get healed but this other person didn’t? We don’t understand why one is snatched from cancer’s grip while another is crushed by it. Makes no sense. God hears our prayers, we are told. We believe it. So why, why, does He sometimes say “no?”

Why does He seemingly go out of His way to save her, to heal him, while others are left reaching for His robe?

I can’t answer that. Nobody can, and anyone who says otherwise is probably trying to sell you something.

This where we see life and death holding hands. This is where we are confronted by our lack of control, by our inability to place all experiences and people into neat and tidy boxes. This is where we learn to say, through gritted teeth, “…even if not, He is good.”

Is He? Is He really good as He walks toward the little girl? Is He really good in letting the woman follow? After all, He is God. Incarnate here, wrapped in frail flesh, but still God. He knows her. Knows her pain. Knows her deep loneliness. Why does He not stop and hep her first? Look her in the eyes? Hold her?

I did throw a glass across the kitchen once. To my annoyance, it bounced instead of breaking. I threw it again. That time, the crack, the splintering. Shards fell from the wall, scattering across the floor, throwing rainbows onto the ceiling as they caught the afternoon sunlight. A flash of beauty in brokenness.

And I thought, “I really understand very little.”

What if the God who is outside of time and therefore not bound by its strictures really does know everything, and better than us? What if “why?” is not the question, but “what?”

As Jesus walks, He opens up space for faith exercised in the midst of suffering. This weak woman, likely anemic after years of constant bleeding, is drawn to Him. Imagine her. She takes a breath. A deep one. Musters up the bit of energy she has and presses her way through the crowd. Weaving between the bodies. She crouches. Shaking hand reaches out, into the space He has left for her.

And it’s not about the healing, though that matters. Not about her body, though God cares for it.

It’s about her soul.

Not the “why?” of her suffering, but the “what?” of her faith. The Person.

What He will do.

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Sisters: We Few, We Not-Always-Happy Few, We Band of Sufferers

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Gentle Reader,

Apologies to the Bard, to King Henry V, and to St. Crispin.

While He was going, the crowds were nearly crushing Him. A woman suffering from bleeding for twelve years, who had spent all she had on doctors and yet could not be healed by any, approached from behind and touched the end of His robe. Instantly her bleeding stopped.

“Who touched me?” Jesus asked.

When they all denied it, Peter said, “Master, the crowds are hemming You in and pressing against You.”

“Someone did touch Me,” said Jesus. “I know that power has gone out from Me.” When the woman saw that she was discovered, she came trembling and fell down before Him. In the presence of all the people, she declared the reason she had touched Him and how she was instantly healed. “Daughter,” he said to her, “your faith has saved you. Go in peace.”

– Luke 8:42b-48 (CSB, emphasis mine)

What is it like to be sick?, you wonder. I know you wonder, because some of you are brave enough to ask. The asking is not offensive. I’d rather an honest query than the silence of judgment or speculation. After all, the words “liver disease” automatically conjure up images of bottles, needles and pills (never mind that equal damage can be caused through poor diet). Surely I must have some awfully scandalous activity in my past.

Not that kind of scandalous. Plenty of rebellion, but no drugs. Plenty of late nights, but no drunkenness. (The few times I did set out to get hammered, I just got sick after a few drinks. And that, I recognize as Jesus, protecting me from my own stupidity, maybe shaking His head or rolling His eyes as He did so. Lovingly, of course). The breakdown of my body is, simply, the result of losing the genetic lottery in a world gone haywire. I am a walking, talking testimony to the truth of Genesis 3.

It sucks.

Yeah, I know. I’m supposed to suffer well. To be an example of courage, endurance, faith, and resilience.

I want to be courageous. I want to endure. I want to have faith. I want to be resilient.

But as I look at my arm, bruise growing darker because the good phlebotomist was off his game today but I had to get the tests done anyway, I want to throw a glass across the room. Watch it explode into pieces too small and jagged to reassemble. Then I want to throw another. And another. I want to hear the satisfying clangs and pings of destruction, a destruction that I cause, as a destruction that I do not cause, and have no control over, rages within.

What is it like to be sick? 

It’s tension. All the time, always. Wanting to take a deep breath unencumbered by the constant pain my side, the pain that trails up to my collar bone and down to my hip, the pain centered beneath my ribs. I hate my liver, if it’s possible to hate an organ. It’s piece of crap. I want a new one.

Except, I don’t. Even though I’ll probably have to get a new one someday. And that means more slicing and dicing, more long scars across my abdomen, and whole lot of pharmaceuticals.

It’s being old before my time. Sort of, because I will throw myself into whatever activities I can with as much energy as I possess until that’s no longer an option. But the white streak in my hair, the one that started with the shock of surgery, grows. Spreads. I don’t mind it, on an aesthetic level, because I can’t be bothered to stress out that much about my hair, which always does whatever it wants to do anyway, but on another level, it’s a reminder.

Along with the aching joints. And the constantly itching skin. And the eyes that betray my weariness, every time.

It’s that woman, so tired, so scared, sneaking up behind Jesus and brushing His robe with her fingers. In that action, it’s as if she says, “Don’t look at me. Don’t notice me. Nothing else has worked. I’m desperate. Maybe this will help. Maybe it won’t. I’ve heard about this Jesus guy. I don’t know what else to do. God, please let this work.”

I get her.

Separated by centuries and cultures, we are nevertheless sisters.

This passage is not a promise. It does not contain a magic formula. Faith in Christ does not equal an absence of trouble. I’ve told you this before, but I’ll keep telling you as long as I have breath, because, even those who intentionally battle against prosperity non-gospel ideas are influenced by them. We can’t make it compute in our minds that salvation of the soul, restoration of the mind, and renewal of the heart often, maybe even always, makes no change in our physical state.

Because the end is the same for us all.

What is this passage then? What is the point?

Sit with those questions for now.

Settle in with the discomfort of life and death joining hands.

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