What ideas about your identity are ingrained deeply in you? Does it feel more safe to believe the hopeless parts of you instead of the hopeful?
I’ve been thinking about the lame man in the Bible who was afraid to figure out a way to move into the water. 38 years of being paralyzed. When we read of his encounter with Jesus (who he thought was just a man suggesting he simply try), we’re conditioned to label him as crazy, lazy or simply self-pitiful and disabled by choice.
What a label, “disabled by choice”. Maybe though, disability was what he knew, how he planned his day, accepted the unfairness of his condition. So, what seems crazy was really just fear of different. Unfamiliar.
“They asked him, “Who is the man who said to you, ‘Take up your bed and walk’?” John 5:12 ESV
The man who learned to walk couldn’t really explain it. I suppose he just thought less about who and how than he was astounded to be walking. I wonder how long or if it took him a bit to feel stable, stable in his steps and the miracle that began his embrace of faith. Maybe.
I wonder if he was tempted to lay back down, in a sort of awe and uncertainty life could be this way for him.
If we’re not taught that change can be possible and that even though it might be trial and error, we might “stay on our mat” too.
This is a truth not often expressed.
It’s safer to be the person you’ve called yourself or been called (even if fragile and floundering) than to see our very own growth, to acknowledge how far we’ve come and to slowly dip our toes in the water…the truth of God loving us…until slowly, intentionally and not without moments of backward sliding, we find ourselves lighter, floating, completely and confidently immersed in our healed identity.
If the toil and trials of life have a larger tally it’s likely loss feels more dependable than gain, more believable.
Knowing we are loved because God is love and is patient with those of us who are just learning to swim without the weights of our past keeping us only frantically floating.
Waze directed my ride from Georgia to Carolina down the prettiest road, asphalt with no yellow lines dividing lanes and railroad crossings that required me stopping to look, look and look again.
I loved every bit. Give me a backroad shaded by oaks, bordered by cotton fields and slow walking men checking their mail, glancing up to wave to random travelers like me.
Churches, white, small and seemingly vacant, but who knows?
Maybe a handful of congregants still gather and seal their togetherness with “Holy, Holy, Holy”.
I’d consider joining in. I’m braver now than before, I’d have possibly invited myself in to the Sunday service and been unbothered by the inquisitive looks over me, a stranger.
On Friday, I was greeted by the women responsible for the Presbyterian Women’s Gathering. I noticed their welcome. I noticed their strong connection. I noticed them working together on their Saturday morning gathering.
Then, on Saturday morning, I joined in.
I was the speaker, the stranger needing introduction, the mysterious artist they’d been hearing about, wondering if I’d prove worth their time and worthy of my friend’s call to invite me.
I spoke, they smiled.
They listened. We communed.
So, I left feeling like a companion of these women, all of us on roads that follow Jesus, guided by wisdom, grace and a conviction to serve one another simply by the extension of a heart and hand, loving one another.
Waze told me to turn right where the road ended, saying “not maintained by the County”. I paused.
I felt fear climb up the back of my neck. Left, I thought, turn and go back the way you came.
Then left revealed a sharp curve and a steep hill and a road with yellow lines,
A sign with the words to the road I remembered.
Confidently, I continued.
Continued and believed.
Surprised by the road that led me back home.
Keeps leading me on.
“Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also. And you know the way to where I am going.” John 14:1-4 ESV
I woke with the thought, “Yet, not I, but Christ in me.” and began searching for the scripture. This is typical, it’s either a song or verse. This time a song by CityAlight. My friend texted me early another song by them. So my day started with the gift of worship.
I’ve been resting, revisiting and relishing Psalm 23 for going on three years. I could live and be led by the six verses.
Last week, as it often happens, I read verse 3 with a new clarity. I’ve been thinking/saying “God kept me for this time.” as an acknowledgment of the gift of being an artist and sharer of words.
Like most people, I can get tripped up on my own steps and I pray, less Lisa, more Jesus and little phrases like God, not glory. I gotta keep my steps in step.
Because when David wrote about restoration, he also praised the Lord for guidance and he remembered the most important truth:
This path of restoration and righteousness I am walking is for the making known the Lord’s name, not his, not mine, not yours.
Today has been the first day this week I’ve been able not to rush from my Bible to my to do list. Now, when I rise to do some things, prepare myself for obligations and the weekend, I rise lighter. I rise with a lifted spirit and a steadiness in my heart and steps.
For a time, all the books were shelved with the pages, not the spines facing forward. Another time, prompted by some sort of famous person, all the spines with titles were organized by color.
Often, I take the book covers off a new book, curious over the color chosen by the publishers. The colors are typically soft, often blue, tan or yellow.
They’re muted, not noisy.
The star quilt is the one I chose. My grandmother died and we all gathered around the cedar chest to pick a quilt from the perfectly folded pile. Three quilts came back to Carolina that day. My daughter chose a soft blue sort of willowy with a ring pattern. My son chose the largest with a spattering of vivid, I decided, story telling squares.
There’s a sweet spot on my walking road that caused me to stop long ago. Sometimes with the Labrador, often alone. The vast valley of green field bordered by forest always caught the sun going down and the weeds, grass, wildflowers seemed to be wearing halos.
I’d stop, neighbors maybe looking on and I’d capture the blue sky scattered with clouds over the splendid field.
Then someone, a young couple, decided to put a double-wide home in the space on the end.
It seemed an intrusion to pause there to think. It wasn’t the same place, the field felt somehow disgraced by the change.
But, yesterday evening, I approached the hill that curves around to the big open field. The sky reminded me of waves building, like the tide’s rhythm. I paused for a photo.
As I continued towards home, I saw a girl hurrying down our driveway. I met her. She told me she had mail that might belong to us and then asked for an egg. She told me she lives in the trailer, has a baby, a boyfriend who works too much and a mama who is sick with a second bout of cancer. Then she told me she can’t find the people who should have this handful of junk mail, coupons and such and then asked again, “Do you have an egg?” She wanted to make some cornbread.
So I gave her two eggs, told her my name and that I would pray for her mama.
And she crossed the road back to her home, the robin’s egg blue trailer in the field I loved.
And now, love again.
My star quilt is used to cover a hole in the arm of my then new loveseat. The Labrador we love beyond measure ate a chunk out of the arm as a wild and excited puppy, home alone.
So, I folded my clean quilt, beige and blank side showing to match the furniture and to disguise the damage.
The stars’ colors never showing.
This morning, I’m seeing the change, the quilt folded before bed with the star pattern showing. The colors are dancing next to the cobalt blue of a pillow and the rich green of a painting I painted and framed before I ever had the guts to use the word “artist”.
The same green of the field with tiny new pines is the same green of the grass on this painting and the moss from so much rain, a pillow for a feather I spotted walking.
I suppose I’m noticing God again after a season of just continuing towards what we all felt might soon be better.
I’m considering all the places I’ve missed in the interim and acknowledging some grace I can give myself.
Get chances to give others.
Because the places of goodness in my life hold the promise of more; even more lines, color, and interruptions that aren’t misdirections, detours or disasters.
Simply colors added to my story.
Just so pleasant, the peace of accepting them.
“The lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; indeed, I have a beautiful inheritance.” Psalm 16:6 ESV
When the peace of Jesus finds us, it is a gentle collision. “Gentle collision” is how my morning words began, hurried and half asleep.
I wrote that faith meeting fear is and will always be a gentle collision.
Loosely but never unraveled is the tether that connects us to believing.
Never dragging us along.
Nor yanking us into attention in a sort of frantic wake up call.
A walk that’s never perilous, always patient.
Like a walk together when one is the older or younger one.
Not at all like my walks alone, the walk of a stubborn and wide stride stepping, a walk either going hard and proud or walking hard and fast away from something that keeps catching up.
This is not the walk of a child who wonders. Wonders not where or how we’ll go, only wonders as she wanders.
Before Jesus spoke of the gentle way of walking, of carrying the good things or junk we’ve taken as our own, he talked about little children, about their wisdom and their understanding.
Children who have a greater grasp on the divine, a more tangible understanding.
An understanding not garnered by incessant questioning.
The wind blew our hair yesterday. The sky was periwinkle blue and the warmth of Spring landed on bare arms and freckled our faces.
“Thank you, Lord, for the breeze.” she said.
We walked together. Me, occasionally pointing out of the hills of ants and noticing the ground as we went, scanning for baby snakes that might scurry close to our toes.
She, close beside or freely ahead, “let’s dance”.
Together, gently. I fell into the rhythm of a child with steps slow with going and then resting.
Waiting and then walking.
Going and then resting.
No rush, no worry.
“At that time Jesus declared, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children;” Matthew 11:25 ESV
I handed her the yellow flowers and lifted her from behind to my back.
Shifting the weight until she laid her cheek on my back, her tiny legs belting my waist.
Then we walked together, her weight pushing me forward.
Together, we walked back home.
“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.
For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” Matthew 11:28-30 ESV
A gentle collision it is, the meeting of faith and fear, of melded together walking, of simply saying yes to the soft beckon not to walk alone.
I stepped over the circled place in the sand where we’d stopped to dance.
“Ring around the rosies, a pocket full of posies, ashes, ashes…
“And Job died, an old man, and full of days.” Job 42:17 ESV
The dark age spot on my right cheek has garnered by granddaughter’s attention. She’s announced to her mama that I need to see her doctor.
She’s reached the age of noticing, good things, flaws and unspoken thoughts too.
Last week, I saw a little boy I first met in 2019. He remembered me. He announced to his mama, big sister and me, “She looks older!”
We laughed at his precocious behavior and I came back with “Well, I’ve been through some stuff…you know…Covid!”
Then we all just nodded towards one another and got back to the reason I was there, a family adopting this sweet and observant sibling.
A trip through my phone’s photos confirmed my aging. But, also how the world gone awry because of pandemic changed other things too.
Look back, see if your face and others’ seemed to see things differently back then.
2017, 2018 and ‘19 early.
Less vacant expressions as now, less steely clinched jaws in posing, less uncertainty in linking arms in photos and less open and freely given embraces.
More hesitance, more lost eyes seeking something, what…
Less of need to tout your faith that was bigger than fear. More sure of sure footing and solid faith.
So much more sure, it was less necessary to announce it. I suppose I should say what’s clear, these words are realizations of myself.
Someone will know maybe upon reading this. Was Job sitting in a pile of sorrowful ash-covered questions the entire book of the Bible marked by his name?
Job, a man who honored God was the chosen soldier of faith to see if he’d surrender the battle or hold on unwaveringly to his relationship with Holy God and faith.
Stricken by the trial and test, his life gone awry.
His wife told him give up and die; his friends hung with him for a bit until saying clearly it’s you that’s wrong.
“And they sat with him on the ground seven days and seven nights, and no one spoke a word to him, for they saw that his suffering was very great.” Job 2:13 ESV
I wonder if he just kept sitting, unable to stand when his friends became devoid of empathy, questioned his plight.
“But now it has come to you, and you are impatient; it touches you, and you are dismayed. Is not your fear of God your confidence, and the integrity of your ways your hope?” Job 4:5-6 ESV
Monday was a dark blue day, I named it. By evening the blue lifted.
Tuesday, before breakfast, we baked a promised cherry pie and then “skipped to my Lou my darlin’” together.
Something’s happening, last month it was chocolate meringue. Little things, joyously small, sweeter than the cliche’, I’m doing them, I’ve decided.
Baby steps towards allowing joy, being less afraid something or some world event will snatch it away.
My wondering over the trials of Job came as we set out barefooted. The ground was cool and my granddaughter ran way ahead, stopping here and there to gather sticks.
I’m a lover of his story, longing to understand more is the pull of me towards my Bible. I’ll not find details of when he found the strength to stand up, but I can still wonder and I can allow his struggle and recovery to help me recover.
How long was his lamenting conversation with God and was his rising again gradual or all of a sudden…were his feet weak and prone to wobbling or was his recovery smooth and sudden?
I told my cousin yesterday, I feel like we’re all in recovery and we’re apt to slip ups, prone to dismay. We need to say so, if just to ourselves and wait, watch and know the fog will lift, we will see clearly how to walk again.
I’m growing, but not fully grown. I’m walking with strong stride and steady steps, but still not able to walk on my own.
We wound our soft sticks together into an oval, twisted the knotty vines and tangled branches. I carried hers and she, mine.
Laid them on the counter among the flattened wildflowers from our pockets and we drank lemonade on the porch steps together.
Singing a silly sweet song and talking to the crows
This world is not my home, I’m just a passin’ through and you belong among the wildflowers, Lou, Lou skip to my Lou
became our Tuesday song.
“I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted.” Job 42:2 ESV
I found two feathers walking yesterday and then a third. The first pair were mostly grey and I held tightly to them as I walked. No pockets in my clothes, I held on, clutching them gently. I rounded the corner to the steep hill and decided to drop them, said a prayer of 3 words, “art and writing” and walked on.
Walking on as I decided against more hills, I let my feet take me towards home. I glanced down in the grassy border and spotted the third feather, a white one. Pristine and soft as velvet, I gathered it up. It was pure and undamaged in a way I’d never seen. I walked on home with great wonder over the assurance that my 3 word prayer had been heard.
I added the feather to my collection, cherishing the words of victory and the promises of Jesus.
Shortly after, a friend I hadn’t spoken to in many months called to say she had an opportunity for me to speak to a group of women in October. “Would I pray about it?” she asked. Two thoughts linger, there’s that open door and I am willing, not sure fully able, but willing. A third, October gives me even more time for courage, grace and healing, God’s wise provision.
“All who are victorious will be clothed in white. I will never erase their names from the Book of Life, but I will announce before my Father and his angels that they are mine.” Revelation 3:5 NLT
What we see as too damaged or defeated in our hopes to keep moving forward, God sees as victory for us, a peaceful one.
I pray you keep pursuing this peace or that you seek it if you never have. I pray for you my prayer for me.
Lord, help me keep walking towards you, towards peace. Help me to remember I am yours.