In the Snow, Beneath the Pines

Gentle Reader,

You will notice that the variety of bodies is stunning. Just as there are different kinds of seeds, there are different kinds of bodies—humans, animals, birds, fish—each unprecedented in its form. You get a hint at the diversity of resurrection glory by looking at the diversity of bodies not only on earth but in the skies—sun, moon, stars—all these varieties of beauty and brightness. And we’re only looking at pre-resurrection “seeds”—who can imagine what the resurrection “plants” will be like!

– 1 Corinthians 13:39-41 (MSG)

I stood shivering in the cold, despite layers of clothing, my eyes, never of too much use in the darkness, scanning the yards ahead of me anyway, watching for any sign of trouble. My warm breath mingled with the frigid air, swirling clouds ascending to the treetops above. Weak lamps cast a pale yellow glow, unable to compete with the beauty of the stars above, but useful in their own way. Laughter and screaming filled my ears, never mind that they had all been instructed to be quiet. Panting and full of good cheer, a couple of teenagers fell at my feet, soaked to the skin but not seeming to mind.

I hadn’t planned to be there, in the snow, beneath the pines. Hadn’t anticipated earning a new nickname that I shall not reveal here because reasons. Hadn’t dreamed of climbing on a stage and lip syncing to “The Schuyler Sisters” with someone with whom I apparently share a brain. Hadn’t longed for sleepless nights. Hadn’t pictured myself in suddenly deep conversations. And certainly hadn’t, in any way, thought that I would be so thoroughly and completely embraced.

Drenched in love of the most wonderful variety.

All following hard on a year filled with harshness, with brokenness and rejection. I hardly know how to handle such acceptance. I’ve come to expect glares, frowns and tight-lipped whispers when I enter a room. Grown accustomed to the fear associated with knowing you’re being talked about – because you dared to disagree, because you went outside the accepted boundaries, because you aren’t perfect and wonderful and exactly what everyone wants you to be at all times. Believed that every bit of gossip and petty meanness was exactly what I deserved. Wondered if I really was that unwanted, undesirable and unloved.

So to have a group of people actually want you around… Encountering nothing but smiles and laughter…

Frightens and delights in equal measure.

Helping at a youth retreat is work, no doubt. My whole body feels it today. Neck aches from headbanging. Side of my hand throbs from pounding it on a table while shouting, “One two three four, JFK, FDR!” I’m not sure I will ever be warm again after giving my coat, scarf, gloves, snowpants and boots to people who claimed to have “packed everything!” Definitely had a moment when I thought duct-taping them all to the side of the lodge was a good idea.

But I’d do it again.

The things they said:

“You’re so fun and young, like one of us. But then we can talk to you about real stuff and that’s cool.”

“Would you pray with me for a second? There’s this thing going on…”

“You brought M&Ms? Hand ’em over!”

“Can I sit by you?”

“Ugh. Why don’t the boys shower? Their hallway smells like butt.”

“I frickin’ love you.”

“You are the prettiest!”

Makes a lady feel all bright and snuggly inside. The gooey, chewy center that she tries to hide all exposed but, for the first time in a long time, she’s okay with her tender heart beating loudly for all the world to hear. She is not trying to defend herself or be anyone other than the woman God so carefully designed and placed into this context. She wants to wrap her arms around all of them, teen attendee and adult leader alike, because she loves them so. She’s full of life, overflowing with it, and wants nothing more than to be a gracious, healing presence, soft and gentle and kind and warm. She hopes to be, empowered by the Spirit, a safe, comforting port in the storms, to provide the shelter of a listening ear and a shoulder to lean on for any and all.

For every compliment they gave, I had the joy of showering them with words of affirmation in return. I got to watch their eyes light up with wonder that someone saw good things in them, told them that they are smart and capable and a powerful force for good in the world. I got to watch them take steps, some microscopic but real, of belief. Belief in God, belief in themselves.

What a privilege that is.

Who am I, that this should be something I get to do?

I forget sometimes that this body of mine is fragiler than most. That’s the thing about walking around with an organ that’s doing it’s level best to kill you; when you get a reprieve from the pain, you feel energized and free and so you forget all the caution and warnings and go all in. I was blessed with a few hours’ release from the sharp stabs in my side. So I took all the hugs and knocking about that I could get. Then it came screaming back, a tangible reminder of my desire for resurrection wholeness, and I had to steal away for a moment to let the tears fall.

Then I kept taking the hugs and the knocking about.

It was worth gritting my teeth for them. It will always be worth gritting my teeth for them. Because they need a person, who isn’t a parent because what do parents know, to be present. To be willing to handle the discomfort in the service of true life and love.

I curl beneath a heavy blanket, dog on one side and coffee on the other. I know I have yet to truly begin processing all that I witnessed and participated in this weekend. My journal awaits, ready for the deeper notions and feelings, the things that I can’t write here but are safe before God’s eyes. It will soon come spilling out in sentences that make sense only to Him.

For now, this. Utter physical exhaustion. A glowing soul. Spirit full of love given and received. Mind entranced by thoughts of what might be next. Pessimism obliterated by optimism. Miraculous, divine and unexpected loosening of heart-knots.

Without doubt, supremely blessed.

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Five Minute Friday: Privilege

Zechariah

Gentle Reader,

The husband is ripping out the floors in our house. This means noise, dust and chaos. Last night he spent a few hours chipping away at the glue the builders haphazardly slathered on to hold down the cheap linoleum (that I will not miss in any way). Didn’t make for a good writing environment.

Right now, blessedly, there is quiet.

And exposed subflooring.

Kate says: privilege.

Go.

Blessed is the Lord, the God of Israel,
because He has visited
and provided redemption for His people.
He has raised up a horn of salvation for us
in the house of His servant David,
just as He spoke by the mouth
of His holy prophets in ancient times;
salvation from our enemies
and from the hand of those who hate us.
He has dealt mercifully with our fathers
and remembered His holy covenant—
the oath that He swore to our father Abraham.
He has given us the privilege,
since we have been rescued
from the hand of our enemies,
to serve Him without fear
in holiness and righteousness
in His presence all our days.

– Luke 1:68-75 (CSB, emphasis mine)

The priest Zechariah hadn’t been able to speak for months. At least nine of them, but probably more like twelve. He had doubted God’s messenger, the angel Gabriel. He hadn’t been able to wrap his mind around his wife, long past the age of childbearing, conceiving a son.

So he was quiet.

Life went on, as it does. I imagine he attended to his responsibilities as best he could. Elizabeth must have gotten used to his silence. Sometimes he would write things down and share them with her. But no noise. No whispered words of affection. No angry grumbling. No exclamation of wonder the first time he felt the baby kick.

Then, finally, his vocal folds begin humming again. His tongue is loosed. He breaks into song.

Zechariah knew what it was to serve God. The day he met the angel, he’d been inside the Holy of Holies. The only time in his life he’d get to slowly, reverently pull back the curtain and step into the sacred space. He was doing his duty when the Lord rock his world. Everything turned upside down.

The enemy is not always without. More often, it is within. Doubts, fears, insecurities, jealousies, lusts. Zechariah lived at a time when his people were oppressed by a foreign power. Like everyone else, I’m sure he longed for the iron bars of Rome to be broken by the Messiah, the promised King. But in those long months of quiet, I wonder if he heard God. I wonder if their relationship deepened. I wonder if Zechariah learned to look a little farther, see a little deeper.

Certainly he knew that the Lord, the Rescuer, was coming.

What a privilege that was.

Stop.

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