Tag Archives: Bible

Ink Blots (Part 1 of 3): The Art of Focusing

Ink Blots Ink blots

It is suggested that when we are born, our visual acuity is about eighteen inches. This focal capacity is quite significant, since that is approximately the distance from a baby’s gaze (as they are cradled in someone’s arms) to the face of the one holding them. Not until a few months old, does a baby develop the ability to focus on something farther. Is there really a need to see long distance any sooner? Babies are completely dependent on another to keep them alive, fed and not alone outside of the womb – focusing on the face of someone who is ensuring their success to thrive (up close and personal) seems pretty intuitive. If you have ever held a newborn, you may be well aware of how they stare at you, as if peering into your soul. Maybe they are. Babies have been documented to prefer looking at soft lines of facial features, loving expressions and gentle emotional cadences. Every culture has been observed to care for their infants in similar manners – with sweet sing-song voices and tender glances. A stern or even apathetic facial gesture equates, for the infant, a relational disconnect has occurred. Babies will either look away to search for a more comforting focal point or initiate their own gestures directly to elicit reconnection. It may seem ironic for me, a visually impaired person, to be discussing focusing facts. Yet, whether fully sighted or not, we are all wired to focus. All of our senses have the capability to perceive things – visible and invisible. At least, our senses want to, including our “sixth sense”.

Within the womb, we were already trying to make sense of sounds and movements – what seems pleasant, harsh, safe and unsafe. Throughout our life, this interpretative art becomes either stunted or more sophisticated, influenced by environment, experiences etc. We consciously and unconsciously focus our attention on the world around us and within us to create an identity that includes not only our own self-concept but also a social construct that then dictates how we think and behave. It’s all quite complex to explain here…but then again, it can be very simple. In the 1920s, Herman Rorschach developed a tool to simplify this process of understanding who we are and how we “see’ the world. His Inkblot Test became a methodic means of determining the well-being or psychosis of someone’s mental status. Projection is one of many ways we assign meaning to life. How we see, hear, feel, taste and smell something outside ourselves can reveal dynamics occurring inside of us. Our memories of prior experiences can become relevant to current happenings. The past can persuade us to accept or dismiss something not based on its present authenticity but on our prior experiences with something else and may continue to impact future encounters. It becomes necessary to learn how to focus on the big picture as well as the scene playing out in front of us. This is easier said than done. It’s like listening to a symphony and trying to pick out each individual instrument while the song swoons along with all sorts of melodies and harmonies. What’s more important to focus on – the part or the whole? Is it even possible to focus on both “A” and “Not A” at the same time?

In this age of a gizllion buzzing signals and 24/7 access to worldwide information, ADD is inevitable. Our attention is practically sabotaged to malfunction and disengage quickly. Looking away is not only our knee jerk reaction, it is expected. Social psychologists are discovering that despite our constant bombardment of social media resources and connections, failure to thrive is not just a condition reserved for infancy anymore. Our brains and souls are looking at abstractions and charactures of life and so desperately trying to make sense of the mess we are faced with. Fatigue to keep trying sets in. We want to give up, shut down our senses altogether. We forget that we have the freedom to re-focus our attention on something/someone consistent and life giving. Amid the din of this world, God is still speaking to us, showing us visions of joy, offering us a banquet table to feast at and be held by eternal arms of love. The beauty of this kind of attention is that God knew how easily distracted humanity got a long time ago – that‘s why He sent Jesus in the form of humanity. Jesus provided our whole being with the ability to regain our focusing skill by becoming part of us. God’s Spirit now remains with us to guide, discern and redeem all that we experience. It can seem absolutely over-whelming, over-stimualting at times; but God is the ultimate resource to restore our strength to endure. When the apostle Peter walked on the water with Jesus, he began to sink when he looked away. His focus on Jesus was his life line, perceiving that it was completely because of Jesus that such miracle could occur. As Peter sank, Jesus attended to Peter immediately, hearing Peter’s cry and grabbing his hand. Now that is focus! Though we look away, God never does. And He is an arm’s reach away. He reaches for us and holds us up even when we can’t. We are no longer infants, but there is still an intimate embrace that can occur for us to know that we are cared for – “knowing”, not in the intellectual sense, but in the primitive place inside us that is looking for something/someone to trust to keep us alive and thriving.

References:

  1. Jamie dresses up as a psycho-therapist; photo by Sylvia Martinez 2002 (Halloween)
  2. Pregnancy, Childbirth and the Newborn by Penny Simkin
  3. Infant and Early Childhood Mental Health: A Comprehensive, Developmental Approach to Assessment and Intervention by Stanley Greenspan
  4. The Inkblot Test; Herman Rorschach

I See You

I see you

“Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, and in our likeness…God saw all that He had made, and it was very good.”  Genesis 1:26a, 31a

Throughout the ages, specifically since the age of Enlightenment, there has been much discussion and doubt surrounding the above statements from Genesis. Regarding its literal legitimacy, did God really speak all of creation into existence and did He really see it from some sort of ethereal perspective and evaluate its worth to be special? One may also ask, what relevance does such reality have anyway with daily life, whether or not the story of Genesis is literally or figuratively perceived? The way we see God seeing us makes or breaks our connection with all of life every day – how we value life, each other and circumstances each day. There is a legit significance to grappling with these verses in Genesis, not only in how we can come to understand our historical beginnings but also our poetic beauty, our reflective genius of the Poet Himself and what the poem will look like in the future.

Dr. Carol Kaminsky has made this exploration her life’s work. As an Old Testament scholar, she has looked closely at the Hebrew text with eyes that seek to discover the truth about who God really is and who we really have been created to be. She has outlined her research and contemplation in a timeline entitled CASKET EMPTY. She begins with the (C)reation story according to Genesis. She notes how the structure of the text repeatedly details that “God said” and “God saw”. Kaminsky details how believing in a God that speaks and sees connotes a relationship has been established. More poignantly, God wants to be heard, He wants us to see how special He sees us. After all, the way we see ourselves is a reflection of how we see God – we reflect God’s image. He reserved a superscripted way of speaking and seeing us when He created us. In the first chapter of Genesis, all God had made up to the final phase, before creating humanity, was seen and declared to be “good”. As the Genesis story unfolds, God created a man from the same stuff the preceding creation was formed from; but also added something extra special – His breath. Only after creating humanity did God add “very” to how He described the goodness of what He had made. In Kaminsky exposition of the ancient words, she underscores that the Hebrew term translated “good” is the declarative equivalent to “awesome”. That means when God made us and looked at us, He said aloud that we are pretty awesome! Do we see and say out loud how beautifully awesome God is for His creative genius?

Paul Tripp recently released a new book simply entitled Awe. Because we reflect God’s likeness and He sees and calls us awesome, Tripp writes that likewise we are capable of looking back at God and declaring His awesomeness. However, we are prone to look away. Tripp notes, “Awe is everyone’s life long pursuit. Where we look for awe will shape the direction of our life. Our source of awe will control our decisions and the course of our stories.” We so easily get distracted by the things we make – even the things we make in “our image”. We displace the connection God wants to have with us to other created things. This disconnect has had gross ramifications.

Wendell Berry, author and poet, adheres to a similar life perspective of our ubiquitous significance in this world. He suggests that we have a responsibility (the ability to respond because of how we were created) to care for not only the world in which we live, but for each other as well. In doing so, we acknowledge our Creator with awe. He advocates that these two aspects of care are not mutually exclusive but actually reflect our innate make-up; it reflects our Maker. He has written many poems, essays and books that explore where and how we have honored our original intent. He also speaks boldly about where and how we have grossly dishonored our Creator and, in turn, creation. In his book, Life Is A Miracle, he doesn’t mince words about how industrialism has not brought about “progress” in revealing a better world and a better humanity. In the midst of our modern societal focus, he notes how we have deceived ourselves in thinking that industry has liberated us from antiquated ways of living – that we can see the future more clearly by building bigger buildings, larger economies and faster methods of getting “there”. He speaks openly about “the displaced person” in terms of people being replaced with objects of our own creation – not unlike what we did to God, replacing Him with objects of our own design that see or speak as we program them to. There is no relationship; at least, there is no relationship present in the way God intended.

So where do we go from here? How do we live in the reality of what was meant to be? Jesus declared while He was here on earth that He had come to “open the eyes of the blind” (Luke 4:18). He spoke these words in both a literal and metaphoric perspective. God never stopped looking at us, though He altered his assessment of our situation to be in bad shape and that is why He sent Jesus – to refocus our ability to see God again; and, in turn, see how He truly made us. I find it to be my default mode to see and declare myself a loser, a failure and complete mess. But God is so gracious to get my attention over and over to remind me that I am awesome, because He is awesome. I can see His hands still molding me. I see His creation in all its glory glorifying Him as well as groaning for Him to restore, once and for all the destruction cause by us not caring for it the way God has cared for us (Romans 8:22). So we need to keep looking for ways to care about our earth and each other in the way God envisioned; and we also need to keep looking for Jesus’ return. Can you see the seasons changing? They are declaring that the time is near…

References:

  1. Kaia; photo by Jamie Wasson 2001
  2. CASKET EMPTY by Dr. Carol Kaminsky
  3. Awe by Paul David Tripp
  4. Life Is A Miracle by Wendell Berry

It’s Not Fair

Not Fair

“Such grace is costly because it calls us to follow, and it is grace because it calls us to follow Jesus Christ. It is costly because it costs a man his life, and it is grace because it gives a man the only true life. It is costly because it condemns sin, and grace because it justifies the sinner. Above all, it is costly because it cost God the life of his Son: “ye were bought at a price,” and what has cost God much cannot be cheap for us. Above all, it is grace because God did not reckon his Son too dear a price to pay for our life, but delivered him up for us. Costly grace is the Incarnation of God.”  Dietrich Bonhoeffer

I don’t think it’s possible for any kid to make it through childhood and adolescence without voicing, at least once, the infamous assessment of life: “It’s not fair”. These three little words sum up so much. Saying this seems to be a rite of passage or developmental milestone that proves an accurate awareness has taken place of what the world is like, what we are like. This declaration of injustice seems to be further articulated by asking questions that begin with “Why?” For the average youngster, it may be as benign as asking “Why is his piece of cake bigger than mine,” or “Why can’t I stay up later?” And at some point for the conscious child, pouty faces and stomping feet accompany the experience of realizing how life is filled with disappointments and disenfranchised existence. As we grow up, we focus our attention on more intense areas of suffering and inequalities. Our outbursts of emotion can also become more intense. We wage wars to fight what’s not fair and to right the wrongs that we observe have occurred for ourselves and/or others. Is that the best way to respond?

Since I can remember, my dad has always offered the same response to my whiny utterances of what felt unfair. He’d say something like, “Not fair? Jesus died for our sins. That’s not fair”. Huh? As a kid, I would wonder what Jesus’ death had to do with me not getting more cake or not getting to stay up later. Yet, the profound simplicity of the statement “Jesus died for our sins” had its intended impact and instilled in me as a wee lass that my life is abundantly blessed because of the mere fact that Jesus died for our sins. Who cares that I didn’t get extra cake or an extended bedtime – I didn’t get death for not following all the rules all the time! The rules (or boundaries) God put in place for life were for our benefit to protect us from what is really not fair. The worst kind of injustice was resolved on the cross; and Christ’s resurrection empowers us to help others who are overwhelmed by the injustice that sin has wrought in the world.  God’s victorious gift of grace has often quieted my restless spirit and enabled me to willingly share my blessings with others, not just materially but also mindfully. Sure, in my early years, there were plenty rolled eyes at my dad, slammed doors and huff and puff mumblings about how mean my parents were. Though, as I’ve grown up, I’ve come to an increasingly deeper appreciation of this redemptive reality – Jesus died for my sins.

The implications of this kind of redemption, knowing that Jesus died for our sins, mean all of us possess an equal existence of needing grace. When Jesus preached about the golden rule while he walked this earth, he spoke to the core of his own mission – love others the way you would want to be loved, the way you have been loved, despite whatever you’ve done or have not done to deserve it. Can I love someone even if it is unfair? More specifically, can I love life even when I don’t get what I want? It is fair to say that there is much injustice in the world, in each other’s lives, that requires us to at some point let go of what is comfortable or coveted so that the discomfort and debt of others can be relieved – to more accurately reflect the shared value we all have. This is what it means to love as Christ loved us. Easier said than done though. But, the more I can comprehend the grace God has given to me, the more I am capable to extend it to others. I wonder what the world would be like if we all lived this way – what kinds of suffering would be eradicated; what hunger would be satisfied; what wars would cease? Alas, life is filled with injustice everywhere I look – this merely means there are always opportunities for me to love. I have no excuse – I only have grace to rely on to work in me and through me to prove how we are equally and eternally loved by God.

References:

  1. It’s not fair; pen and ink drawing by Jamie Wasson 1990
  2. The Cost of Discipleship; Dietrich Bonhoeffer
  3. The Jesus I Never Knew; Phillip Yancey

I do and I will

My Family1984

“Therefore everyone who hears these words of Mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock.”  Matthew 7:24 – 25

This week my parents celebrated their 43rd wedding anniversary. They still hold hands when they walk together, and when they sit on the couch to watch TV. They still pray together while sitting at the breakfast table and after dinner, pretty much every day. They are still googly gaga in-love, not only with each other but with Jesus – to whom they credit their happily ever after status. They see love as a choice as much as a command. “Love God and love the people God puts in your life” (Matthew 22:37 – 39) has been the baseline of what I was taught and how I have chosen to live, whether I’m married or not. Though, love seems most tested and best lived out within the walls of a marriage and a family. My parents’ marriage and my family experience has been an amazing story of love…and it is still being told.

I grew up in a house that my dad built, by hand and heavy machinery. Our house was situated on a high hill that was comprised of almost solid rock. Living atop such a firm foundation helped boost feelings of safety and serenity, especially during storms. Some of my most cherished memories growing up was during a snow storm. Our house had a big picture window that offered a panoramic view of the neighborhood. Often, my family (my parents, myself, my younger and older brother) would gather by the window and simply watch it snow. There were times we lost electricity and heat; but then the portable kerosene heater was set up in the middle of the room. A tea kettle was then routinely placed on top of the portable heater, ready to whistle. The winter wind could howl all it wanted. I felt safe; and there was a palpable comfort in having my family near me. Our collective seclusion inside our humble home made us relate to one another in positive ways that we may otherwise have not. This sense of peace has become a significant solace throughout my life. It’s not just a memory. It was a privilege that has become a responsibility.

I am keenly aware that this is not every family’s experience. But it was mine. Let me be clear, my family is not perfect or even picturesque. I am fairly certain, among my parents, myself and my siblings, we have faced our unfair share of just about every difficult aspect of life. We can also easily point out each other’s faults, and at times we do (for better or for worse); but at the end of the day, we are a functional family – functioning according to faith, hope and love. Yep, we believe that the way we interact with and react to one another impacts both the unity of our family and our life pursuits. We collectively choose to love each other the way Jesus loves us – always.  My sense of security and resilience that was established in that house built on a foundation of rock became a tangible and symbolic touchstone for me to endure the storms of life. Because of this, my life’s mission is to be a lighthouse to others seeking a safe haven. I know such a place exists. I know how to build them, too. They can be hard to find and can take time to construct, especially in the darkness of life’s journey – but that means any little bit of light and effort can prove significant to see one’s way and experience respite. It is well worth the search and perseverance.

Growing up in a household that was built on a firm foundation of faith (i.e. believing God exists, is good and loves us more than we could ever imagine) was an essential part of how my parents constructed their marriage and our family. I was encouraged to pray, not as a ritual of holy living, but as a relational method of understanding what life is about. I was taught I could openly bring all my doubts and fears hope and plans to God – and He actually was listening to me and had important things to say to me as well. I learned at an early age that the Bible is not a boring book of rules, but a gracious guide for how to experience peace – within myself and with every relationship I encounter. My parents’ relationship with one another exemplified what it is to honestly communicate with grace and kindness and, at times, to unconditionally serve others without words. If you ask them what makes their marriage work so well, they will tell you – it’s about loving God first and loving each other the way God loves us. They will tell you how life is all about relationships and selflessly serving others. They will tell you that it is hard; but they will tell you that it is harder not to.

I do believe every day offers us opportunities to experience and express love. For some, it is less familiar to know how and where to start. And for some reason, I was born into a family where practical demonstrations of love were a daily occurrence. How we talked to each other, who we invited into our home, what we did with our time, where we invested our money and energy revolved around proving that love (Jesus) is the cornerstone that upholds the reality that the same grace be extended to everyone – no matter what’s happened. This legacy has served me well and has compelled me to pursue the professional work I do. If we are honest about life, we all have experienced moments of defeat – unable to keep fighting, keep hoping for something better. We need someone to fight with us, for us. Psalm 23 is filled from beginning to end with how God provides victorious support. As a Jesus follower and child of God, I believe He does this for me and, likewise, calls me to do the same for others. Sure, I have made a career of helping people find rest, healing, reassurance that they are not alone in the dark, that they can have courage and find sustenance to keep going; but the living I have chosen to make was cultivated a long time ago in a home built by my parents. They insist that love (the Lord) holds the blueprints and utilizes whomever is willing to help be part of building an eternal kingdom. All are welcomed to be part of God’s family!

References:

1.      The People I Love; drawing by Jamie Wasson 1984 (age 7)

2.      Instruments in the Hands of the Redeemer by Paul Tripp

3.      George Mueller by Faith Bailey (An Orphanage Built by Prayer)

Jewelry Box

Jewelry Box

“But those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary.; they will walk and not be faint.”  Isaiah 40:31

At times, we falter in seeing ourselves the way God sees us. We deny our identity and capacity by remaining static in a world wherein we were meant to soar…perhaps the following poem sums up how you, as I, can easily shut down. In that stillness, listen closely and hear God speak to you.

I close my body up,

Whenever you’re around.

The way you look at me

Makes my eyes hit the ground.

I will not let myself see any reason why you want me.

I’m a fallen angel.

My brain’s a commuter train.

My heart’s a station stop.

Big ideas roll down town,

And then off they drop.

I know it’s okay to be shy, but I feel like I’ve become a lie –

I’m a fallen angel.

All that I want, all I really want is something

More than a sensual sting…

What I want, what I really really want is a spiritual fling.

But oh well,

I’m a fallen angel.

But you say,

“It’s okay, it’s okay, it’s okay,

It’s okay.

Turn your eyes towards the sky.”

You again say,

“It’s okay it’s okay, it’s okay,

Open up your wings and fly,

Because you’re an angel, a beautiful angel.”

Reference:s

  1. Self Portrait; painting by Jamie Wasson 1994
  2. Jewelry Box; poem by Jamie Wasson 2008

The Rest of Our Life

Blossom2

“He’s got rest for the weary, peace for the confused, renewal for all the hearts that have been bruised. He’s got directions for the lost, faith for unbelief. He’s got every little thing you need.”  Greg and Rebecca Sparks

I was with a dear friend many moons ago, discussing a very difficult transition period she was going through at the time. She was saying goodbye to a long and challenging season of her life, trying to find hope to pursue something else (something healthier). I empathized with her heartache. She commented to me, “I just wish I knew what the rest of my life looked like.” We sat in silence for a few moments – her words resonated with me in a way that I did not expect. I repeated her hopeful words in my head, as my own hope too, “I wish I knew…the rest”. Then I said aloud to her, “Yes, we need to know what The Rest looks like”. At first, she didn’t understand my juxtaposition of her plea; but as we dialogued, we both soon came to a deeper place of peace in considering what “rest” really means.

The Rest of our life can certainly mean “the remainder or what’s next”. But if you read Psalm 23 from beginning to end, there is an ever present sense of being throughout the poetic text. I’d like to think that Psalm 23 (probably the most quoted psalm during significant and seminal moments) offers us the best summary of what The Rest of our life can look like. The reality of rest can also refer to “being restored, recovering strength, ceasing to work”. How often do we allow ourselves to reference “the rest of our life” in this way? How often do we allow the Lord to lead us – instead of our own attempts to rush ahead or even run back to what was before now. We can, in our own strength and stubbornness, try so hard to make things turn out the way we want them to. The first line of the epic psalm details, “The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want” (Psalm 23:1). From the get-go, there is a sense of contentment and peace because of another’s provision. The psalmist, David, defines line after line of how God’s guidance and presence is with him through every season of life. Whatever occurs throughout life, David describes how God provides opportunities to rest, to be refreshed, to be strengthened, encouraged and to stop trying so hard. There is something so liberating in living in such reality – The Rest of my life can be found here and now. During any moment of a hectic or difficult day, I can find rest; I can have peace about where I am, who I am. I can take a deep breath (or two or three) and smile.

David ends his psalm by emphatically declaring “Surely, goodness and mercy will follow me all the days of my life…forever” (Psalm 23:6). The essence of rest is meant to be good. Yet, sometimes we find ourselves in a compromised place, as the result of our own mis-steps; we need a time out to regroup. That is when rest mercifully redirects us to find our footing again. As I so often declare, we are alive and loved and not alone…because the Lord is our Shepherd. What more do we want? The rest of life’s journey is best discovered walking along side of Jesus.

References:

  1. Blossom #2; fresco finger painting by Jamie Wasson 2012
  2. Res by Greg and Rebecca Sparks
  3. Life of the Beloved by Henri Nouwen

Blood, Sweat and Tears (Part 3)

“Planet Earth looks blue and there’s nothing I can do.”  David Bowie’s Major Tom

I listened to a podcast by Paul David Tripp recently. He spoke about our identity. He noted how “tears reveal what our hearts care about most deeply”. I’ve cried countless tears throughout my lifetime – about all sorts of things: boo-boos, broken hearts, defeats, victories, comedic timings and joyous moments, to name a few themes. The synthesis of these themes is that I’m aware (or feel like) something good or bad is happening. Tears are proof that we are cognizant of what is going on around us and inside us. When we feel heightened moments of pain/hurt, fear, sadness, love, joy, relief, grief, anger, exhaustion etc., tears emerge as well. Tears also protect outside harmful materials from invading our eye space – like dust, bugs, allergens and noxious gases. Our eyes must always stay a bit teary to guard against dry eyes, which can be detrimental to our vision. Tears manage worlds inside and out, and specialize in cleansing our bodies and souls. If we don’t cry (or produce tears), we are not healthy human beings.

Our sympathetic nervous systems respond to events, emotions and our mind’s interpretations of it all in a holistic effort to keep us safe, secure and sensible. Our blood, sweat and tears are a team of messengers that communicate with our conscious brains about our present state of being. Who am I? Who are we? Tears continue to baffle even the best experts, because of their mysterious solidarity to show up during both joyful and sorrowful moments. Practically speaking, tears seem to sum up that we are connected to what matters…or we want to be. Our internal capacity to deal with life on our own has its limit, and when too much life wells up inside, our eyes well up and the overflow spills out. Social psychologists have suggested that tears signal to others that we, ourselves, are in need of another’s solidarity – either to celebrate an aspect of life or mourn it. We cry because we care – others cry with us because they care about us. Is it that simple?

The shortest verse in the whole Bible is found in the Gospel of John, and it’s all about Jesus’ tears. John didn’t originally scribe his gospel verse by verse, but as a continuous narrative. Scribes over the centuries sought to make it easier for us to navigate the Scriptures, so they divided thoughts and stories into chapter and verse. Something about John’s observation of Jesus crying caught their attention, too. John documented that Jesus wept, as he stood by his friend Lazarus’ tomb. John 11:35 simply reads “Jesus wept”. Talk about solidarity – Jesus cried, as did others that day over the loss of a dear loved one. Research suggests that women cry five times more than men in an average year. I have to admit that when I see a man cry, it immediately gets my attention in a way that deeply moves me – something must really matter for them to emote in such a way. It obviously impacted the people who stood with Jesus by Laz’s grave. They commented to each other, “See how he loved him!” (John 11:36). But was that the only reason why Jesus wept? When Jesus saw Lazarus’ sister, Martha, by his grave, Jesus assured her that her brother would live again. Martha didn’t get his meaning. It seems Jesus wept, not just because Laz died, but because humanity doesn’t get how loved we are by God and how we can love each other (and life itself) the same way God loves. I confess, I cry most about not feeling loved and feeling like life is too hard, and isn’t turning out the way I had hoped.

Ed Underwood, a pastor and cancer survivor, details his understanding of how God loves us in his book, When God Breaks Your Heart. Lying in a hospital bed, Underwood doubted if God was there with him as he anticipated his death. But then he re-read the story of Jesus resurrecting Lazarus with new perspective. In the story, Martha and her sister Mary sent for Jesus to come heal their brother who had become very ill. Jesus received their message and seemed to dismiss their dire call for help. Even his disciples were confused by his seemingly indifference to the crisis. They urged him to act fast or else Lazarus would surely die. Jesus purposefully waited for a few days to pass, ensuring Lazarus’ death, and then responded to the sisters’ request. When Martha heard Jesus was on his way, she rushed to meet him and angrily accused him of not coming soon enough. She emphasized to Jesus that ‘if only’ he had come sooner (John 11:21). Mary didn’t even bother accompanying her sister to confront Jesus. She stayed home (John 11:28); I’m sure clutching a box of ancient Kleenex, overwhelmed by grief. Underwood writes that he deeply struggled with the same emotional and intellectual experience as Martha and Mary did. However, reviewing the Biblical story in full brought Underwood a new and profound comfort. Underwood defines how ‘comfort’ literally breaks down to mean “come forth”.  He underscores that these are the exact words Jesus declared outside of Lazarus’ tomb, after Jesus first ordered the grave seal to be broken (John 11:43 KJV). Martha winced at breaking the tomb’s seal and reminded Jesus that doing so would release a bad stench since Laz had been dead a few days (John11:39). Thanks, Martha, for pointing out the obvious – death stinks. Do we need to be reminded of that?  The answer is yes. Does God? The answer is no. God was already aware of this fact. That was the reason why He came to earth in the first place. When the seal of Jesus’ own tomb was broken, God completely removed the stench of death. His resurrection is the best thing to cry about. Jesus proved Himself Lord over life and death.

In Dan Allender’s book The Cry of the Soul, he strategically provides insight into how our emotions (and tears) don’t just reveal what is going on in our own hearts, but also reveals God’s heart for us. He writes, “God’s passion is to rig the world so that we are compelled to deal with whatever blocks us from being like His glorious Son.” Our tears are like a bridge that allows love to flow in a two way direction – not simply between me and someone else here on earth but between me and the God of the universe. God sees every tear that falls. Whatever the reason, each one matters. The psalmist David wrote “You keep my tears in Your bottle” (Psalm 56:8b). Why would God do that? Because everything about us means something to God. Our lives matter.

References:

  1. Sense and Sensibility, motion picture 1995
  2. Major Tom by David Bowie
  3. Who Is Worthy? Podcast/sermon by Paul David Tripp
  4. Why we cry Blog post by Dr. Nick Knight
  5. When God Breaks Your Heart by Ed Underwood
  6. The Cry of the Soul by Dan Allender

Blood, Sweat and Tears (Part 2)

Wood carving

“Maycomb was an old town, but it was a tired old town when I first knew it. In rainy weather the streets turned to red slop; grass grew on the sidewalks, the courthouse sagged in the square. Somehow it was hotter then: a black dog suffered on a summers day; bony mules hitched to Hoover carts flicked flies in the sweltering shade of the live oaks on the square. Men’s stiff collars wilted by nine in the morning. Ladies bathed before noon, after their three-o’clock naps, and by nightfall were like soft teacakes with frostings of sweat and sweet talcum.” To Kill A Mockingbird

I first read To Kill A Mockingbird in ninth grade, as so many ninth graders do. Something about the first lines of this renowned novel, noted above, captivated my attention immediately. Harper Lee painted such vivid word pictures of the reality of sweat. Her words have lingered in my ears and mind’s eye, much like humidity hangs on the skin and soul on a steamy summer day. I have never forgotten that introduction. The way Lee’s words foreshadowed her book’s strenuous tale of human struggle deeply impacted me. I have thought of these lines often throughout my life. Incidentally, when my best efforts to remain calm and cool are futile and sweat takes over my appearance and attitude, I remember her vivid depiction of southern climate. I’ve never been to Alabama nor Louisiana or even Mississippi. There’s always been something illusive to me about the deep south – the way people have had to manage not only unbearable hot temps but brutal hot topics. As a northern ninth grader, I wondered how people in the midst of such oppressive heat still made a daily effort to press their collars and powder their cheeks, knowing it would all come undone at some point during the day. Sweat seemed an enemy and any effort was fighting a losing battle. Why bother? Yet, as an adult, my perspective on sweat has changed to welcome it as a companion to help me overcome the mundane as well as more serious challenges of life.

Even as recent as the other night while walking along a river path near my house, it was insufferably hot and the sweat quickly formed a shiny sheen on my skin’s surface. I wiped the hair away from my brow more than a few times, which kept sticking to my face like pasted threads. I felt ugly and depressed, but then the wind started gently blowing and I quickly felt amazing. As the wind touched my wet skin, I felt a cooling effect and even had a chill or two. That wind was such a gift, but I also receive sweat as its own gift – wind and sweat work together to cool me down. There are many reasons why we sweat, but it all boils down to our body’s cooling and cathartic attempts to keep us alive and well. Our pores open and release moisture that is evaporated by the air, cooling us down when we get overheated. Hormones can also be included in our sweat, as our body’s method to release and regulate emotional and/or inner-physical intensity. Sweat is a signal for us to understand what is happening inside of us and around us. It’s a metabolic miracle. It certainly doesn’t feel good to sweat; but it can tangibly clue us in to how we definitively don’t feel good inside or that something around us is not okay. It signals for us to respond accordingly, to find ways to either weather the storm or improve conditions.

Sweat can also be the palpable proof that something good is happening in us and around us. When I exercise or perform manual labor, I often sweat a lot (TMI, I know, but it’s reality. Thank God for deodorant, showers and clean clothes!). As sweat pours out of my pores, I feel like it proves I am accomplishing something. I want to believe that hard work pays off – that as I toil day in and day out, my efforts are not in vain. Sweat can offer me the satisfaction that I am working towards something; or at the very least, it offers me an opportunity to evaluate whether or not my work is leading me in a beneficial direction. My body may be telling me that I am exerting too much energy and it is, in fact, time to rest, catch my breath and refresh resources to either carry on the same course or change trajectories altogether. Contemplation is its own worthwhile effort, though it is not easy work. Just as any hot day or labor intensive task exhausts me, so can considering how my efforts are empowering or dis-empowering myself and others. I need help to discern and confirm this process. The Holy Spirit is a sacred wind that restoratively blows across my weary and worn soul, especially when I feel the heat of life’s stressors.

At the end of Jesus’ journey here on earth, He promised that the Holy Spirit would come to “guide us to all truth” (John 16:13). Throughout all Scripture, the Holy spirit is defined as a “Counselor” and “Comforter”. This description is most meaningful to me. As a licensed professional counselor, I and my colleagues often ask “who counsels the counselor?” When I am sweating it out, overwhelmed by difficult or puzzling situations, the Holy Spirit counsels me.  Initially, He simply says “I counsel you…even during the night” (Psalm 16:7). Such declaration quiets my restless soul. During the day or, especially, as I toss and turn at night, He says, “Be still and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10a). There are other times when words seem nebulous and He simply grieves with me and places my exhausted heart on secure rock to find rest and joy (Psalm 40:2, Romans 8:26). God, indeed, is my breath of fresh air. Every time I feel the temperature rise, He revives and refreshes me. In my restored state, I am better equipped to help others who are, themselves, in need of refreshment. I can point the fan towards them, and pour them a tall glass of sweet tea to sip while they rest. Many times, they are the ones, inspired by the Spirit, to offer me a rejuvenating cup of cheer. The best is when I can share such sustenance with someone. Then, no matter how oppressive things get, we can lift our glasses together to celebrate that we are alive, loved and not alone.

References:

  1. Wood carving sculpture in process by Jamie Wasson 2013
  2. To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee
  3. Human Biology by Starr & McMillan
  4. Forgotten God by Francis Chan

Blood, Sweat and Tears (Part 1)

“Reach out your hand if your cup be empty. If your cup be full may it be again. Let it be known there is a fountain that was not made by the hands of men. There is a road, no simple highway. Between the dawn and the dark of night, and if you go no one may follow. That path is for your steps alone.”  The Grateful Dead

The Franklin Institute in Philadelphia has a one-of-a-kind exhibit that offers a larger than life model of the heart. It’s one of my favorite things at the museum – it invites you to walk through the whole heart, experiencing the inner workings of how blood flows. There are narrow steps that lead you up and down and all around through atriums and ventricles to playfully act out how blood is oxygenated and pumped in and out of the heart to the rest of the body. “The Giant Heart” is one of the features in the vascular exhibit, which is its own grand gallery in the museum. It’s like a romper room of real deal cardio-activities. You can crawl through arteries, or see how blocked arteries do, in fact, inhibit passage because they are filled with various amounts of plaque. It’s quite sobering. You can also step on a giant scale attached to a giant flask that fills with red liquid to display, based on weight, how much blood is coursing through your veins. It’s all so mesmerizing. Blood is a remarkable thing. I’ve stood on that scale more than a few times over the years and watched the flask fill up, topping off at about four and a half liters or so;  and I’ve realized I have little clue about what is really going on inside me at any given moment.

There’s a whole metropolis and countryside underneath my skin’s surface. All sorts of things are moving and grooving along highways, byways and rural roads; and I’m hardly aware of it. My heart is always at work, ensuring vitality from my head to my toes. It occurs involuntarily. It has to. It’s too important for me to be consciously in charge of it. I wouldn’t be able to think about anything else. There are times when I do (and need to) become conscious of my heart’s activity. During physical and/or situational stressors, my heart can start racing or pounding the pavement at an unsustainable or arrhythmic pace. I need to voluntarily respond with mindful repose (and possible cardiac consultation) to resume cruise control. My body’s vascular system has miraculous ways of not only clueing me in to step up and take action, but also calming me down to reconsider how to best continue the journey. Deep breaths are the first steps to refuel my heart with fresh perspective to carry on. My lungs assist my heart to do this; however, there are moments when I must metaphorically reach for the oxygen mask dangling in front of me to restore body and soul homeostasis. It’s like there’s this cardio-community inside me (and around me) that is always cheering me on, whether I’m aware of it or not. “Take heart” is more than a cliché to me. It implies that there is a force inside me (around me) that keeps me going, despite how stuck or shut down I feel. Am I willing to accept this reality? How consciously connected I am with this life force inside me (surrounding me) directly influences how intentionally grateful I am to be alive and to cheer others on to love their life as well. The writer of Hebrews in the New Testament summed it up similarly in this way:

“Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. For consider Him who has endured such hostility by sinners against Himself, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.” (Hebrews 12:1-3)

A professor in grad school once challenged my class to consider why women seem most attuned and willing to acknowledge heart issues. We speculated about a mother’s need to provide nurturing support for her children. “Think more primitively”, he said. We discussed aspects of birth, then pregnancy and still he shook his head, noting not all women experience such things. He provocatively prompted us to consider every woman’s forced relationship with herself every month. Ironically, a man helped me understand how menstruation is a primitive process that involuntarily volunteers me to attentively and compassionately relate to life. Not just physically but mentally and emotionally, as a woman, I have to consciously contend with waiting, timing, discomfort, catharsis, clean-up and resolution. I don’t mean to be crass in discussing this, but to underscore how life is constantly proving itself to be something that is capable of enduring, overcoming and thriving throughout the journey. Men are not excluded from connecting to life with compassionate notions – although this may be one of the notable reasons why God provided Adam a “suitable helpmate” in designing Eve (Genesis 2:18). Eve was formed from Adam’s rib, a bone closest to the heart (Genesis 2:21). There is a heart-to-heart connection among all of us. If we go deep enough, we will find it. Our internal and external functions do not always run smoothly and, at times, are more dysfunctional than we’d like to admit or deal with. We need help. I recently worked with a birth client who lost a large amount of blood during delivery that caused her blood pressure and platelets to drop to dangerous levels. She received a transfusion of one and a half pints of blood, which help a bit; but soon after that intervention, another transfusion was required to ensure healthy equilibrium. She received an additional two pints, which significantly stabilized her status. The Red Cross diligently facilitates blood drives to ready reserves for just such purposes. Hmmm, I know another cross that provided a much needed soul transfusion to ensure that we could keep living and loving.

For eons, the symbolic relevance of the heart has signified an emotional and/or spiritual reality that exists inside us and between us. The true essence of a person has often been believed to dwell in a person’s heart. When renown Scottish medical missionary, Dr. David Livingstone, died in 1873 in Africa, the African nationals buried his heart there before sending his body back to Britain for formal burial. Dr. Livingstone had dedicated his life to serve the African people. They were keenly aware of how much he loved them, so they wanted to keep his heart near them. This may seem gruesome, but it is a tangible tale of how we experience life, specifically love. Whether we will it or not, our hearts are designed to perpetuate life and even love. Our hearts are as scientific as they are sacred. They are part of an essential network, inside and out, that motivates us onward to keep going and even enjoy the ride. And we do not trek this journey alone. I find comfort in being part of this collective effort.

 

References:

  1. The Bloodmobile by They Might Be Giants (video featured at the Franklin Institute)
  2. Ripple by The Grateful Dead
  3. Visit the Franklin Institute Science Museum
  4. Human Biology by Starr & McMillan
  5. Lost Women of the Bible by Carolyn Custis-James
  6. How to donate blood
  7. History of Dr. David Livingstone

Sand Angels

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“It has always been a happy thought to me that the creek runs on all night, new every minute, whether I wish it or know it or care, as a closed book on a shelf continues to whisper to itself its own inexhaustible tale. So many things have been shown so to me on these banks, so much light has illumined me by reflection here where the water comes down, that I can hardly believe that this grace never flags, that the pouring from ever-renewable sources is endless, impartial, and free.”  Annie Dillard

Years ago, along the northern coast of California, I laid on the sand in my sweatshirt and jeans. I stared at the sky. I then closed my eyes and inhaled the salt air and listened to the ocean’s roar. It was bliss. Anyone who has been to the west coast knows the majesty of my meaning. I laid quietly for a while, absorbing the moment in all its glory; then shouted to my friend standing nearby.

“Meredith, look at me!” I started dragging my arms and legs back and forth in the sand. “Sand angels!”, I voiced. I slowly got up to examine my imprint, trying not to disturb its form. Little did I know, this self-impression would come to exemplify how I understand myself. I am equal parts dirt and divine. We all are. Being human is nothing less/nothing more than living in the strange superimposed reality of these two distinctive identities co-existing, not as a duo but as a union. We spotlight our focus on one part more than the other at times; but such tunnel vision dismisses the value of how these two unified forces work together to make us truly human.

Ever since I was a little girl, I have loved being by and in water. My name, Jamie Lynn, is actually Gaelic for “laying by a pond/lake”. I guess I’ve lived up to my name. Creeks, rivers and lakes (and, yes, even chlorine pools) are cherished places to me, but the ocean holds the deepest part of my heart. I have often considered how I relate to God the same way I relate to the ocean. For starters, I respect the ocean with great reverence. I’m a pretty good swimmer, but rarely will I go deeper than my waist or shoulders when swimming amid the surf. I am keenly aware that I am not the dominant species in such domain – maybe I’ve seen Jaws one too many times. I have, however, been caught in a rip tide and it was a frightening experience. The ocean has powers that require respect. The bravest and best of sailors will admit that. The beauty and scandal the ocean possesses compels us to contend with how its waters have empowered us to travel the world around and, yet, surrenders us to the fact that we are not in charge of it. This is so humbling to me. Fortunately, the ocean is as predictable as it is unpredictable. The tides ebb and flow like clockwork. I find solace in this consistency. It is also comforting to me to consider how, despite my inland existence, the tides tick tock do not depend on me to be there to perpetuate their rhythm.

I live by the Atlantic Ocean and have spent countless hours there, but while I lay by the edge of the Pacific, I found myself extra-overwhelmed by its grandeur. After all, the deepest part of the world’s waters is found within the Pacific’s perimeters. Have they ever located the bottom of the Marina Trench? If they have, we are still not capable of personally going there yet. How do I fathom that kind of depth? I become equally overwhelmed with considering God’s omniscience and eternal existence. Sometimes it all feels too far-fetched. My puny brain can’t comprehend it in a way that feels palpable or even personal. Though as I lay in the sand that day in California listening to the waves crash, I heard another sound like gentle rippling water. I later realized the sound was coming from an area along the edge of the tide that hugged an alcove of the beach. I walked over to the shallow water and noticed how the sea softly lapped along the shore. The loud surf resounded only a few yards away from this serene space. It was all the same sea. The ocean has depths I will never fully comprehend but it is accessible just the same – inviting me to enter as I am able. I stepped into the cold Pacific surf and smiled. “God is here”, I thought. He created the grand seascape that humbles me as well as the gentle spirited shore that beckons me to participate in its reality.

I don’t want to solely perceive God as a fierce force, but to also celebrate how He speaks in whispers – beseeching me to lean in close to hear Him. Whether along the Atlantic or the Pacific coast, I love witnessing the splendor of being by the sea and observing how the horizon signifies a vastness all its own; and yet, within my affection of this, I cower at feeling any shared worth. I can easily feel like an insignificant spec of dirt on this big ball of dirt we call Earth. But that’s just it – I’m made of earth as well as ethereal elements. Humanity is a unique blend of both the land we stand on and the God who put us here. When God formed humanity out of soil, He also “breathed” His own essence into such earthen vessel (Genesis 2:7). I am capable of grasping aspects of the Deep because I possess God’s capacity. This synthesis is more than how bio-psychologists define our relationship with the world around us/within us or how Buddhists conceptualize our shared identity with all things; it is a holistic and personal identity. I may be limited by time and space (and even disability) but I am able to respond to/relate to the everlasting and ubiquitous God of the universe. He formed an intertwined connection with me because He fashioned me to reflect His likeness. How He is strong, I can be strong; how He loves, I can love; how He cares, I can care. I can pray “Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:10) and know He will answer this prayer because He has put heaven inside of me here on earth. He wants me to willingly participate in this reality, in the relationship He has revealed, not just when I’m at the ocean – but anywhere I am.

A few weeks after returning from that California trip, I sat at an outdoor café in the city. Somehow being surrounded by the concrete jungle and not the seascape, God felt less present. Everything I saw was manmade – buildings that stretched skyward, cars and bikes speeding by, the sound of horns and engines, the smells of, well, manmade stuff. I watched people bustle by me, talking on their manmade cell phones. I thought, “God, where are you? How can I hear You here?” I missed the ocean. I found myself staring at an ornamental facade on a building across the street – made from formed concrete. Then I smiled the same way I had at the ocean. Concrete is made from sand. This manmade creation was simply a reflection of God’s capacity to create. I looked at the people around me and realized their sandy angelic existence proves that God was there and still being heard. Anywhere there is a person empowered, God is providing strength; anywhere there is a person loved, God is loving them; and anywhere there is a person taking the time to care, God is caring through them.

References:

  1. Jamie examines the sand and sea, Montara Beach CA; photo by Meredith McGlinchey-Gordon 2007
  2. Pilgrim at Tinker Creek by Annie Dillard
  3. About Bio-psychology
  4. If You Meet the Buddha On the Road, Kill Him!: The Pilgrimage of Psychotherapy Patients by Sheldon Kopp
  5. The Weight of Glory; by C.S. Lewis
  6. Interior Castle by St. Teresa of Avila