Thursday, August 22, 2013

Posted by Erin Posted on 10:45 AM | 2 comments

To be Lazarus

When you are so sick your system starts to shut down and the doctors don't know what to do, you send for the only One who can do something. Sometimes, I've heard, He comes. He puts mud on your blind eyes and you see. He tells you to get up and walk and your lame legs strengthen. But sometimes, He doesn't get there fast enough. Sometimes, He comes too late to heal the sick. Your lungs collapse and you gasp for a last breath. Your heart unlearns how to beat. Your brain forgets that it is in charge of keeping your body functioning. And you die.

The tomb is dark. Cold. There is no life there. Everything that had once pulsed pink with rushing blood, turns yellow-grey and shrivels into the darkness. And decay sets in. They can wrap you in a thousand layers of grave clothes and leave bushels of herbs and spices at your side, but there is no undoing decay, no stopping the smell of the rotting flesh.

But then, sometimes, from some distant place, like in a dream, you hear your name being called. And your shriveled heart beats. Buh-Bump. And then it beats again. Buh-Bump. Your brain says to your eyes, "Open." To your body, "Get up." To your feet, "Walk." And you stumble toward a light and toward the sound of weeping mingled with the sound of breath caught up in astonished anticipation. You walk toward the voice that had called your name with such authority that all the rotting reversed and your skin found your muscles which found your bones and your brain remembered and your lungs found their form and took in the air again.

And your eyes burn from the sudden light and you lose your footing a time or two, but there are people now, holding you up, helping you find the ground that is safe to put your weight on. And it's hard to make out what they are saying because they are all speaking over you. Some are speaking in the tone of a nurse, to sit, rest, drink this, eat something. Some speak with the excitement of a parade, as though something miraculous has just occurred. And slowly, clarity comes. You can hear familiar voices, some that have scolded you in the past, rejoicing over you. Some who have ignored you, now speaking with tenderness. And you begin to feel the hot, humid air on your skin as these loving-ones unwrap you from the grave clothes. It is an meticulous task...this undoing of the layers meant to keep death in. But they don't abandon you. Though it's messy and they occasionally turn away to catch their breath, they unwrap your alive-again body down to the last binding cloth. And they help you learn to walk again. They wait patiently for your feet to find their strength and your eyes to adjust to light. 

And then you remember. The thick sound of bated breath. The shouts of celebration as you came closer. You remember how the tone of weeping changed from sorrow to sudden joy. And you realize, a miracle has in fact occurred. You had died. And then your name was called and now...Now you are alive. And you look around and find that those who had wept as you lay dying, and some who could not come until the day of mourning, had not left you, even in all the excitement, to untangle your own death-binding clothes, but carefully unwound it all to set you free to live. And you see the One who called your name. He smiles at you and you know. You know. He is never too late. 

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I am Lazarus. A few years ago, I died. My faith...died. There was nothing left of it but a putrid shell where it once thrived. But then Jesus spoke my name. He said, "Erin, wake up!"  A faint beating in my chest could be felt.  And when I came out from the tomb, there was a family both familiar and foreign to welcome me. That family is Bayou City Fellowship and for the last 2 1/2 years, they have been tenderly unwrapping the lies that had bound up my dead faith. They untangled me with words of kindness, prayers of strength, shared tears, and lifted hands. They unbound me by rebuke, and by laughter, and by shared meals. And I love them for it.


Thank you. From the deepest part of my soul, thank you. 

Now, the Lord is calling me to a new place. A place I could not be more thrilled about going. On September 1st, I will be joining the youth staff at First Presbyterian Church of Kingwood. And I will be living out what I have always believed the Lord made me to do. I will walk with middle school and high school girls through life. I will pour into future leaders of worship. I will point young believers to the Kingdom work to which God has called His people. And I will speak words of kindness, prayers of strength. I will share in tears and lifted hands. I will rebuke, and laugh, and share meals. And I will love them.
photo credit: Amber Burger

But I will also deeply miss my family at Bayou City Fellowship. Oh, I will still be around, often I'm sure, but it will be different. My involvement and thus my relationship with my BCF family will change, as does everything eventually. It will be hard to not be a part of leading you all in worship. It will break my heart, though it fill me with joy, to watch from the sidelines as God continues to pour out His Spirit on you. But, I am so immeasurably grateful for these two and a half years. As Beth said at Rise earlier this month, "Church isn't about attendance. It's about attachment." And I am ever so attached to you all. To your children and your stories and your longings. To your Kingdom dreams, to your precious, precious hearts. So it will be hard to let go, even if it's just slightly. It should be hard. Whether now, or in ten years, I would want it to be hard. I pray that when God calls you out, you find it just as hard because you are just as attached. 

And know this, you are still my family. And whether I get to see you once a year, once a month, or by God's loving-kindness, every week, I will be continually thanking our Father for you. And I will be praying that He only continues to give you more of Himself in His blessedly perfect timing. Wait for Him.  

This I know, He is never too late. 

-Erin

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Posted by Erin Posted on 4:39 PM | No comments

Chosen Series: Part 11

Sweet Mary. There is just something about her that I long to imitate. We don't get to hear her speak but just a few words, the same words her sister spoke when Jesus arrived late...after their brother, Lazarus had passed away. "Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died."

**Before I go any further, let me just insert a little disclaimer. It may very well be that I am projecting my own experiences onto Mary and Martha. I do not know how they spoke these words; I can only imagine, knowing that I have spoken similar words from different places within myself.**

So, as I believe Martha's statement of Jesus' bad timing came from a place of rigid if-then practicality, Mary's comes from a place of desperation. John 11:32 tells us that she knelt at His feet. It tells us she was weeping. John even tells us that the others who were at the house followed her. Why did they not stay with Martha? I get the sense that Mary is just more raw with her emotions. Perhaps Martha gives off the "I've got it together" vibe, while Mary walks through life with her heart on her sleeve. (Perhaps she had been told a time or two that she was too sensitive.) But Mary doesn't follow up her "Where were you?" statement with a declaration of figured-out faith. She doesn't say anything more. She only weeps.

Oh, and I know that place well. Sure, I've had my fair share of Martha moments, proclaiming my unwavering faith as if I were nailing garlic above my doorways to keep out the vampires. But these Mary moments...I know these too. And you do as well, I'm sure. Those moments when you know God is the only one who can do anything about your circumstances, when you run to Him for help because you KNOW He cares, but all you are met with is silence and time and pain. And when you can at last see Him dimly through your tears, all you can muster is a broken "Why didn't you come?" Oh my friends. Such ache lives in these moments. Even now, though I am not currently in such a season, I am welling up with a familiar sorrow for my younger self who felt this desperation many times, and for those of you who are walking in it now. Why would Jesus wait? How is it good to let pain go on longer? I don't know. I wish I could explain it. For you and me both. I wish there was an obvious, tangible explanation. One that fits the canyons of agony better than the blessedly true, yet horribly bathetic answers of God's sovereignty. We toss statements of God's perfect timing and higher ways to each other as though they are fairy dust that will erase the carvings of the heart-wounds. God's sovereignty is not a bandaid for covering but an ointment for healing pain...ointment cannot be slapped on, it must be applied with care and even then healing takes time.

Mary, at Jesus' dusty feet, weeps and pours out her sorrow and desperation. And John tells us, Jesus' response to Mary is different than to Martha. He doesn't offer a statement of Truth or ask if she believes something her mortality cannot grasp. No. John says He was "greatly disturbed and deeply moved." Jesus asks to be taken to Lazarus' grave. And Jesus weeps. Isn't that just the most beautiful and tender reality? The desperate sobs of one He loves deeply moves the heart of the only one who has the power to change reality.

Sweet Mary. There is just something about her. These desperate words are the only ones we hear from her, but this is not the only time we see her. There are two more times we see the lives of Mary and Jesus intersecting. Both times, just as in this moment, we find Mary at the feet of Jesus.  Again, Jesus comes to their house and Mary again, with her heart on her sleeve is exposing her emotions to whomever might be around. Picture it. All the guests have arrived and are gathered around the table. Martha is scurrying about bringing out all the elements of the meal she's been slaving over all day. Lazarus is talking shop with the guys. And Mary, having quietly slipped away for a moment, returns with her most precious perfume that has been stored in a gorgeous alabaster jar. Slowly the attention turns to her and the room goes silent as everyone wonders what she might be up to. (I imagine Peter to be the last one to realize he is laughing loudly at Andrew's joke while the rest of the room has become silent. You are so awkward, Peter.) Without a word, she walks over to Jesus, kneels at His feet, shatters the top of the jar and proceeds to pour out all of her costly perfume on His feet. 
But she doesn't stop there. According to John, she lets her hair down, which according to Dr. Constable's study notes on soniclight.com, was something only "loose" women did. But, Dr. Constable says, "Evidently, Mary's love for Jesus overrode her sense of propriety. " I love that. I would definitely say that's true in what we've seen of her. And, I believe it's true of the next place we find her.

Jesus has come to visit the siblings yet again. Martha, is once more busied by the hustle and bustle of hostessing. And absolutely indignant that Mary is not helping as she should, being the other woman of the house. But, Mary is not concerned with her "duties" or "place" as a woman. She is concerned with being with Jesus. She sits at His feet, enjoying the time she has with Him. I googled images of this scene and the results seem very odd to me. None of them seem to have taken into account the character of Jesus or Mary or their other interactions. In most of the paintings, Jesus looks very stern or at least straight-laced. And Mary looks almost bored or at best, attempting to be invisible. But this is not how I picture this scene. No, we have already seen that Mary is not all that concerned with blending into the background, nor is she afraid to express her emotions. And Jesus certainly has stern moments, but not with Mary. He is always so tender with her. I just am convinced that they were probably sharing stories and laughing together. Or perhaps He was teaching and she was interjecting with so many curious questions. Either way, it certainly mustn't have been a cold interaction as the artists have painted it to be. 

Mary. Always at the feet of Jesus. Never concerned with the thoughts of onlookers. Just herself, in all her despair, in all her lavish love, in all of her comfort. There she is. She is in you. You may not believe me, but she is. I know it. Let her teach you to be fully at peace with yourself in the presence of the Savior. Let her lead you to His feet. 

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Questions for today:
1. Which moment at Jesus' feet strikes a chord with you today?
2. Does Mary's unabashed emotional displays make you uncomfortable? Why do you think that is?
3. Do you allow the "onlookers" to affect your interactions with Jesus? 
4. When was the last time you felt at perfect peace with who you are in the presence of God?


Happy Journey!
Erin