God’s Touch

touch-fb This week I had the misfortune of dealing with the healthcare system, education system, and banking systems of the United States of America, all in one day. And not one of those dealings went well. I ended the day realizing I live in a huge system where I mean exactly nothing.

I think we all realize this with the healthcare system. I’ve always had great doctors, but the doctor is the tiniest part of the system. As a diabetic who wears two medical devices, I deal with insurance and bureaucracy on a daily basis. I know what it’s like to sit on hold for an hour to speak with a human being. I know what it’s like to rush to an appointment fifteen minutes early to fill out paperwork and then sit in an office alone in paper clothes for forty-five minutes to be seen. I’ve been in the hospital, where I am nothing but a chart on the other side of a door making work for harried staff.

We are moving, and this week was our closing date. Being homeless for a month with no permanent address and no printer, we had a horrible time getting all the paperwork for our loan officer, but I did it. I was so proud of myself when I turned in that final page with a couple days to spare. What I didn’t know was that I would be receiving one last email, and it would come six hours before an important deadline. I didn’t know that email would come after my husband was at work, and while he’s at work he can’t communicate with the outside world. I had told my loan officer a dozen times that we had to do our dealings before four pm, but that didn’t matter. The system doesn’t cater to second shift. It doesn’t cater to people who take more than six hours at a time away from their email. We missed the deadline, and our closing date changed. It doesn’t matter to the loan people. They’ll still get paid. Because of the change we will live in our house for a week before our belongings can be moved, but that doesn’t matter to the bank. Why would it? We’re just money to them. We mean nothing.

Finally, I registered my son for his SAT test. He’s sixteen, but he hasn’t gotten his driver’s permit yet. And because he’s home schooled, he doesn’t have a student ID. I should have thought about that, because I sat through the forty minutes of prying questions to register him, paid my money, and then realized he doesn’t have an appropriate photo ID. I can’t access the paperwork to get an ID for another week because I messed up our house closing and we can’t see our belongings for a while. I don’t know if I will be able to get it in time, and if I don’t, it will cost me money to change the test dates. Nobody in the department of education cares about this. He means nothing to them.

All of this because we don’t quite fit the molds. No ID, wrong schedules, internet behavior that isn’t the norm, illness… In America, it pays to look like everyone else, but nobody looks just like everyone else. We all know it. Our interactions on a daily basis are cold, impersonal, ‘fair’, and broken. We don’t matter.

Enter Jesus. I’m reading the Gospels right now, and it struck me this week that Jesus was weird. He could have entered a town and waved his hand over it, healing everyone. It would have been efficient and fair. He could have required everyone to show up with an ID, at a set time, and fill out paperwork to prove they were worthy to be healed of illness. He could have limited his healing to certain deadly diseases, thus allowing him to save more people.

But what did he do? He walked among the people. He spoke with them, building rapport. He touched them, and according to the law, some of them weren’t to be touched. Some of them hadn’t been touched in ages, because the system said they weren’t worthy. They didn’t fit the mold. He didn’t blanket heal a whole group. Instead, it was always individual, all the time. Each person got to look into his eyes. Each person knew he mattered to this prophet. And everyone he touched was changed. Some he told to be quiet, but how impossible was that? They walked up to him broken, faceless, hopeless. They didn’t matter and had no hope of ever mattering. And the rabbi stopped, took time with them, touched them, treated them like individuals, and healed them.

I am always going to live in the shadows. Every day I will interact with a society that doesn’t value me. But I can be careful not to let that harden me. I can care about individual people. Once a month I help feed people, and I can smile when I fill coffee cups. I can make sure my hand brushes another hand when I take the cup or set down the plate, offering harmless human touch to souls that never feel human touch. I can look someone in the eye and speak words meant just for that person, words acknowledging that none of us fit in this system.

In a cold, fractured, faceless society, it isn’t that hard to remind a person that he or she is allowed to be different, allowed to have thoughts and feelings and emotions and needs. So often we move through our days alone and isolated, so even the tiniest bit of care and tenderness speaks volumes. And I need to remember to do that. I want to be bitter. This week I was reminded that equality and fairness really mean being treated like we’re not human. But God never does that. Jesus never did that. The Holy Spirit has to prompt us because each interaction we have is with an individual, a special creature made by a special God, one with his or her own flaws, likes, joys, tears, and it is a privilege to deal with individuals and learn about their complexities.

I hope I can do better at that. Right now I want to leave the continent and never come back. I’m weary. I’m about to live in an empty house for a week, and those that made it happen don’t care and will never apologize. I feel like I’m at the mercy of a giant monstrous machine, and I can’t ever get out from under it. And all around me people feel the same. So it’s time to reach out and touch them and remind them that someone sees them, someone understands. In a way, loving people as Jesus has never been easier, because we live in a society where we’re all starved for it.

The Ugly Bride

img_4876I heard it again last week. A Christian blogger proudly announced that his focus was Jesus, and since the church was a broken mess, this person was going to honor Jesus alone. Just Me and Jesus, he said. Church isn’t for me.

I found myself imagining a conversation between two men, where one guy wants to warn the other about a bad choice for a wife. And being a novelist, imagining conversations isn’t hard. For this one, blogger dude is named Dude. And Jesus–well, he’s named Jesus. And the conversation might go something like this…

“So, man, I love you. You know that, right? I’d take a bullet for you, man. But I need to talk to you about this bride of yours. I mean, I hate to say this, but knowing who you are, and how you could have anyone you want, why would you want this bride? She’s kind of… well, she’s kind of ugly.”

“My bride is ugly?” Jesus asks. “Tell me what’s ugly about her.”

“Well,” Dude says. He’s warming up to this. Jesus wants his opinion. “Okay, sometimes she comes out with her hair a mess. Her clothes don’t always match. I mean, how simple would it be just to keep herself looking good, you know? She’s the bride of one impressive guy, right? And the way she acts… Sometimes she laughs way too loud. Her jokes can be crude. She doesn’t always say the most politically correct things.” He lowers his voice. “I’ve even noticed her scratching in public. That’s just not done. I’m just saying it might be better for you to keep looking. There are plenty of brides out there.”

“But I love this one.”

“Okay. I mean, you’re a fair guy. She must have something special, but why doesn’t she show it? People would like you a lot more if your bride wasn’t so difficult. Unpredictable. That cackling laugh, the wild hair, her inability to behave right in public…I don’t get it.”

“Have you seen her feed the poor?”

“Well, sure. And that’s good and all. But she doesn’t always feed the poor. There are still a lot of poor.”

“And have you seen her take in the orphans?”

“Of course. But there are still orphans. I’ve also seen her turn her back on orphans and poor. I’ve seen her do a lot of things I don’t agree with. You just never know what she’s going to do.”

“Regardless, she’s the most beautiful creature I’ve ever seen.”

“Man, you need to get out more,” Dude says, frustrated. Jesus just isn’t seeing it. “She can be rigid and fanatical. Or she can turn around and be blase. I don’t know how you find that beautiful.”

“Have you heard her sing?”

“Sing?” Dude is perplexed. “So what if she can sing? A lot of people can sing.”

“She sings to me. Sometimes with an organ, sometimes just with her voice, and sometimes with flutes or drums. Beautiful love songs.”

“I hate to break it, but she doesn’t have that great a voice. Nothing about this woman is spectacular in any way. I just don’t want her to hold you back or bring you down. You have a mission, right? She’s in the way.”

“Her voice is angelic. And she’s the most beautiful creature I’ve ever seen.”

“Why do you keep saying that?” Dude asks. He’s angry now. He loves this guy, but wow. Like talking to a brick. “She’s not beautiful. You asked me, so maybe I’ll ask you. What makes her beautiful?”

“You mean other than feeding the poor and holding the orphans and singing to me with the voice of an angel?”

“Um,” Dude says. This isn’t going well. “Yes. Other than that.”

“My father made her just for me.”

“What? Your father made her?”

“He put together all her parts, exactly for me. Everything I need for my mission. Everything I love. Everything I find beautiful. Her vocal cords are just for me. Her hair is for me. Her clothes are for me. And crooked toes and each finger and every part of her. In every part of her I see my father’s love for me. And he sees my love for him when I woo her, when I sing back to her, when I hold her in my arms and we dream of our future together.”

Dude coughs. This guy has it bad, and he realizes he might have said the wrong thing here. It probably isn’t a great idea to anger someone so powerful.

“Fine,” he says, panic giving way to anger. “Fine. Your father gave you a gift that’s average at best. You want everyone to know you through that woman? Really? It’s the best either of you can do? That’s fine, but I don’t want any part of it. You and I can be friends, but she has to stay out of it.”

“I don’t think that will work,” Jesus says. He shrugs. “She’s everything. I don’t have room left for anyone else. But if you talk to her, spend time with her, get to know her, I think you’ll see. Look at her the way I do. See my father in her, when she feeds a homeless man a sandwich, when she holds a door for an elderly man, when she sings a song off key with a sparkle in her eye. See my love for my father when she compliments a harried waitress or holds a victim of violence or mows her neighbor’s grass when he’s ill.”

Dude hangs his head. Jesus’ bride embarrasses him. She might have Jesus duped, but he knows the truth, that she’s not classy enough for Jesus, not sophisticated, prone to fits of anger. But what can he say?

Jesus smiles. “I know what you’re thinking. But if I only accepted perfection, I couldn’t be your friend, either. I love her. She is and always will be the most beautiful creature I’ve ever seen. And I would easily take a bullet for her. Already have, in fact. And the scars I wear–they just remind me that while her songs are off key and her hair can be wild and sometimes she makes no sense to the world, she is mine. And I am hers, all she needs, all she wants, all she loves.”

—-

I feel sad for the blogger who thinks he’s doing Jesus and Christianity a favor by maligning the bride Jesus loves, the bride for whom Jesus wears scars, the bride that signifies such eternal, omnipotent love. I hope that man spends some time getting to know the bride, even with her unpredictable behavior and mismatched clothes. Even when she scratches in public.

Because regardless of anything else, Jesus loves her. She is the most beautiful creature he has ever seen. One day all will see her vibrant beauty, and the flaws of this world will fall away. And wow, that’s a scene I can’t wait to see.

 

 

 

The Gift of Presence

men silhouette in the fogI had a rough week. This week we moved our belongings into a storage unit, ourselves and two dogs into my son’s house (an investment that needs a lot of work he is just beginning to tackle), and we finalized the sale of our house.

The problem was that my husband woke up at one in the morning on moving day with an optical migraine. Actually, it was a stomach bug, which we found out a couple days later when I got it, but it presented as a migraine with vomiting and blinding pain. We were a little behind in the packing, but we had plenty of time to do it before the movers came. Except, of course, that he was asleep or being sick, and I was alone. (It was also my birthday, which just allowed me to feel whinier and sorrier for myself than I should have.)

The week didn’t improve much after that day. We were behind in everything, because my husband continued to feel terrible, and then I got sick, too. Being a diabetic, I don’t handle stomach bugs well, and I ended up in the hospital for a few hours for some IV fluids. We were both exhausted.

My church jumped in to help. We have a contractor in our body, and he helped us with a last-minute repair we needed to finish before closing. And the church also paid for a maid service to do the final cleaning, since neither my husband nor I had the energy to do that ourselves.

Now, here’s where this blog needs to tread lightly, because I’m about to complain. Sort of. I was ecstatic about the help offered to us last week. I was. We had a need, and they jumped in and solved the problem. However, I had another need, and that one went unmet. Not because of any deficiency in my church, but because this is the culture we live in.

You see, the day we moved, I wasn’t ready. My husband wasn’t around to help me make the final decisions of what to store and what to take to my son’s house. I felt utterly alone. And the entire time, I kept hoping God would send someone to make it better. I needed the physical presence of a human body to tell me, in an audible voice, that it was all going to be okay.

That body never arrived. For the entire week, when I went back to the house to pack or went to the storage unit, I did it alone. The big reason for this was that I never asked. I asked for help, and some people did offer to come and help, only the maid service was paid for and took care of the physical help I needed. Nobody offered to come and be emotional support, and I didn’t know how to ask for that, especially while we were healing from a crazy contagious stomach bug. I probably should have accepted the offers for help and simply used the time to sit and talk and refresh at a nearby coffee shop. But I never quite got the courage to say I’m alone and I just sold my house and my husband is sick and I’m not sure I did the right thing and I need a body to show up and help me not go crazy this week.

Many years ago, I lost a baby. It was a different time, when more women stayed home and community had different meaning. At one point, a friend simply sat on the bed with me and talked for hours, and another one brought a bucket and cleaners and cleaned my house. I had no idea how vital both of them were to my healing. And in my head, I think I wanted to experience something similar last week. But I don’t have that kind of support system now. It’s a different world, and I haven’t been careful about creating a net in this world.

I was feeling guilty about this desire for emotional support, because people did help me. The cleaning service was a life saver. But that deeper need, the need not to feel alone… Yeah. And I can say this without feeling too bad, because I know that, had the tables been turned, I wouldn’t have shown up, either. We were sick with something that turned out to be super contagious. My son and son-in-law moved us on their own time, and the only time they had was a Sunday morning, when I should have been in church, so my community was in worship and had no idea I was a wreck at home.  My friends have jobs or small children. Not like everyone can simply drop everything and show up to hold my hand because I’m feeling a little stress about a move–something that was my crazy idea to start with.

I was feeling guilty about my desire until I started to think about the book of Acts. Several times Paul thanks a church for sending someone to strengthen him. The financial gifts from the churches were delivered by human bodies who then offered comfort and friendship. Physical human companionship is valuable, even here in the digital age when we can handle almost every task without ever having a face-to-face human encounter.

This isn’t meant to be a complaint about the people in my life. Instead, it was an eye opener for me. I work from home writing and teaching my son. I have a very relaxed schedule. If someone is in need, I have very few excuses not to show up. And now I realize just how vital simple presence can be. So, I need to be more open to the promptings of the Spirit to get in the car and physically show up when someone might need comfort and friendship. Not everyone has a schedule that lets them do that. And being the backward person that I am, I’m not completely thrilled to write this, because I easily convince myself I can’t help, that I would be a burden, that I have nothing to offer. It is much more comfortable to make excuses and stay home than it is to show up.

It was a hard lesson to learn. And I’m not excited that I learned it. But if I’m going to love the people God put in my life, that means sometimes I have to sacrifice what’s comfortable and simply show up and let the Spirit use me in whatever ways He wants. Because nobody in the body of Christ should ever feel completely alone.

 

An Unglamorous Word

I wrote a post this week sort of tearing down the American idea of goals and resolutions, or at least questioning it. And now I’m going to participate in one of those very things. So, bear with me. I might not always make much sense.

A lot of people like to choose a word for the year. I wasn’t going to do that this year. I was simply going to let this year happen without a specific word or thought or Bible verse guiding me. Not that I’m opposed to that idea–I often do it myself. Last year my verse was Jeremiah 6:16 This is what the Lord says: “Stand at the crossroads and look; ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is, and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls.

This year, the word came to me in the middle of the night, a long night when I was feeling sick because diabetes and I were warring, and I was losing. I felt terrible. And while I was awake, I was worrying. About where to live. What to do with a few hard relationships. Aching for lost family members. And all the while, feeling that somehow I needed to fix all of it, that if I was just better/smarter/kinder/wiser, everything and everyone in my world would be happy, God-loving, and ready for anything.

I didn’t get a magical, beautiful word. I’ve had friends choose lovely words like Pursued, Loved, Princess. Nope. Mine isn’t like that. I’ve seen people’s words become the tip of an iceburg of change. But my word didn’t seem to be a life-changing word. It’s just a word. Maybe it was just in my head because I was sick and miserable. But I suspect it’s deeper. And although it’s at the bottom of the list of glamorous words, for this year it’s mine.

Regardless. Yep. That’s it. Regardless. On its own, it’s not much. You might need a little context, so here it is.

In school, I was an A student. It’s a great way to win approval. As an adult, winning approval comes through different means. A good job, well behaved kids, important church positions. All of us work to do well in things that we do. And knowing we’re succeeding–tell me it doesn’t feel good.

God doesn’t hate us for doing a thing well. He says those who are faithful with little will be given much. It’s okay to be successful at something. It’s okay to work hard as though working for God Himself, because we’re working for God Himself.

And yet, God then turns around and offers us life and love for no reason at all. And lately I’ve been struggling with that one. It goes against all the rules. All I have to do is…nothing. And God can love me. I find over and over and over that I try to be worthy in some way or another. And when I fail, I worry. Maybe He’s not going to want me now. I failed. I wish I could change things about my decisions, my parenting, just about every aspect of my life. I would do better. I really would.

Then in Romans 5:8 Paul writes But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

Or put it another way: Jill, regardless of anything you’ve said or done, any failure or success or judgment, I love you. My son died for you when you were a hot mess, because I love you just that much.

Regardless. He doesn’t regard any of it, not when He determines to love me. It sounds like total nonsense, but there it is, not nonsense at all.

I think I’ve posted a million times how much I want to believe this. And I do, but I don’t live like I do. I don’t act like I do. So. Maybe this year I can make this word and this verse and this thought my mantra. He loves me regardless. In spite of myself, He loves me. Before I ever did one thing right, Jesus died for me.

Regardless. That’s how God loves me. I don’t get it. I  don’t always live it. But at the same time, I’m staking everything on its truth, because try as I might, I sure can’t get to Him and secure His love on my own. I fail every single time. Maybe this will be the year I will finally relax and trust and stop trying.

On Failing 2017 Ten Hours In

file0001417654154(My musings at 10 am New Year’s Day.) It’s that time of year again. January shows up, and we infuse everything with special meaning. Time to wipe the slate clean, start new, make goals. And I admit some years I do exactly that. I take January 1 to have some kind of mythical, spiritual power, and if I treat it right, I can secure happiness and joy for the next 364 days.

Except this year it started wrong. January 1 is a Sunday, and my family is skipping church. I had a terrible blood sugar night, and I felt nauseated all night, and I can’t make myself leave the house yet, not without feeling icky. And my husband, who’s been fighting something for weeks, is asleep. This is miraculous, and no way am I going to wake him up. Unless the house is burning down or zombies come, I’m not messing with him.

Also, we’ve been packing and house hunting, and I haven’t given even five seconds of thought to the year ahead. Nothing. Currently I’m living a life unexamined and unplanned, simply moving one day to the next.

So. Does this mean my year is shot? Have I started a trend that will bring down our family before the year is over? I doubt it.

God likes rhythm. Seasons, days, years–He made those. He gives us rhythms of work and rest. Ecclesiastes points out the rhythms of life more than most, with times to heal and kill and grow and reap. So there’s something to be said for awareness of the rhythms of the world around us, of aging times and growing times and all those other times. And it makes sense that the first of the year is a great time to reflect and think and look to the future.

But this is America. We’re the place that takes good things and goes crazy with them. I don’t believe a bad Monday means the week will be ruined. Or a bad morning kills the whole day. I’ve never been good at goals, not like those people who have everything planned, specific and measured and weighed. Seems God can take my bad Mondays and finish with an amazing Friday. A harsh winter can lead to a mild summer. And a goal–He seems to delight in upending my goals and substituting His own, and usually they look like chaos until that final moment when it all comes together and something beautiful happens.

If you have no goals this January, it’s okay. I have one. We sold our house a few weeks ago, and we haven’t bought another one. So my goal in 2017 is to end it not homeless. Pretty basic goal. I don’t have any specific spiritual goals, because last year I failed. I think I’ll just read the Bible and ask God to put together some direction and goals. I want to sell more books, and I have a few goals there, but honestly what I think will work always falls short, and things I never even considered will suddenly encourage people to buy for reasons that make no sense to me.

Sure, it’s good to have goals. The Bible talks about planning before doing. But I think this year my goals will be small. They’ll be flexible. They’ll be general. And while I wait for Him to put meat on the bones of my hopes and dreams and goals, I want to learn patience and trust. Trust most of all. Sometimes goals are a way of avoiding trusting God. At least they are for me. I struggle to trust God more than any other struggle. So maybe I do have a spiritual goal, but I haven’t the slightest clue how to make that happen. No actionable steps (ooh, I struggle with that word.) Just a vague notion that I’m failing and only He can bring victory. Clearly I won’t be writing a seminar on setting goals this year.

Okay, God, your work is cut out for you. Be my goals. Be my plans. And all You wish to do for and through me–do all of it for and through me.