The Parable of the Pansy

A good friend brought me a huge container of pansies this spring.  I put them in the place of honor on a small table on our patio.  Because of COVID 19,  my sister did my plant-shopping this year. As pink begonias, red and white geraniums,  two beautiful gerbera daisies, purple and white petunias, impatiens and three varieties of marigold were brought to my home, I filled pot after pot.  Soon colorful plants bordered all three edges of the patio.

Eventually, the pansies were edged out to a spot toward the back of the patio because I expected them to fade away as summer progressed. But they surprised me. They kept blooming. So I watered them and thinned them and, as my husband would say, “loved on” them.

A few days ago, as I was watering all these beautiful flowers and thanking God for their existence, I was shocked to find a pert yellow pansy with purple markings standing proudly in the pot of yellow gerbera daisies. Miraculously (to me at least) the genetic material of this delicate plant had migrated at least eight feet across the patio and found a home with tall and sturdy daisies.  

Last week my husband became part the  Hospice of Holland program. We are experiencing a flurry of new regimens, new breathing treatments, changed medications, and new (and wonderful) people. He is gradually beginning to get used to the idea that he will not get better. And I am pondering how to ease into speaking about  the reality of the spiritual aspects of this new stage of life -not only for him but for myself as his caregiver.

So as I stood there marveling at the amazing experience this little pansy in my pot of daisies had undergone, it occurred to me that its life is a lovely metaphor for our experience in God’s Kingdom on earth and then in heaven.  This little pansy moved from life as a seed into a life of  sharing a home with daisies – all without understanding how or why this transition had even come about. Or caring!

It seems as if we will have a similar  experience as we breathe our last breath as humans and move to a forever life with God in heaven.  We can only imagine what it will be like.  We don’t know how we will get there.  But we can believe it will be a more beautiful and fulfilling life than we could ever dream of.  

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Who Am I When My Body Fails Me – Part 4: Someone in Danger

“Who am I when my body fails me?”  This is a question we must face when injury or illness takes its toll  on our lives. How do we respond to physical, mental, emotional stresses? How do we view God when we are weak or in pain? How do we cope with the losses we experience?  A series of posts which deals with these questions was first published in 2016.  It may be time for some of us to ask this question again – or for the first time. Individual posts in the series have been revised and will be re-posted on Tuesdays and Saturdays for several weeks. Suggestions for appropriate Scripture passages, prayer, and quotes or questions for reflection have been added.  

I am dreaming, moving in and out of terror. A huge, amorphous black shape follows me everywhere. It is punching and kicking and throwing itself at me with abandon. It is clawing and biting.  The intention is clear.  I am in danger. “Who are you?” I scream. I try fighting back, but my arms are weak and floppy, as if the muscles are on  strike. I try to run but my legs are like jello.  I yell and scream for help but no one comes. We run together through the night, chasing, escaping – a ghoulish dance. Finally I am awake and shaking.  The battle is over, at least for now.

Just as I step out of the shower, it dawns on me. The name of the black blob is Cancer. The ugly dance is a contest for my life. I am fighting but I am weak. The weapons I have been given  take all my energy.

Later that morning, I swallow my 34 pills,  head out for my chemotherapy injection, have my blood drawn, and finally see the doctor. He says, “I have good news! The blood work shows that you are experiencing an excellent response to treatment earlier than I expected. We may be able to modify the chemotherapy regime if this continues.”

My mind goes to the story of Jacob, who had two dreams. In the first, he saw a stairway to God and heard God say, “I am with you and will watch over you wherever you go, and I will bring you back to this land. I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised” (Gen 28:15). Later after a tumultuous life, Jacob has a second dream during which he wrestles with an unknown man all night. Finally, after being injured, Jacob begs to know the unshakable kingdomman’s name. The man refuses to give his name, but gives him a blessing instead (Gen. 32: 24-31).

Jacob’s mind must have gone back to Bethel where he turned his stone pillow into an altar in honor of God’s promise to be with him. What God has promised me is safety in his kingdom. Like Jacob, my dream has taught me that the battles on earth will continue, but the victory is won. God will do what God has promised. And I will live in awe of that grace.

REFLECTION

MULLING IT OVER:  What battle are you fighting?  Are you tired and weak and afraid? Jacob, despite a life of bravado and game playing, was always still under God’s protection. Spend some time think about or researhing GOd’s promises to be with us.  (See the Scripture suggestions below.) They all apply to each of us.  We need to claim these promises to when we are exhausted from the battle.

SCRIPTURE:  Deuteronomy 33:12; Proverbs 3:24; Proverbs 18:10; Psalm 112:7-8; Job 11: 18-19; Isaiah 43:1-2.

PRAYER:  “God Almighty, listening to Your words and responding to Your comands, I build on the rock that is Christ. Let no wind or storm shake my commitment or compromise the praise that I offer up to You in Jesus’ name. Amen (Eugene Peterson in Praying with the Psalms, September 13.)

_____

2020 Note: My multiple myeloma, while incurable, has been “controlled” for more than a year.

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Who Am I When My Body Fails Me – Part 3: From Dis-ease to Ease

Who am I when my body fails me?”  This is a question we must face when injury or illness takes its toll  on our lives. How do we respond to physical, mental, emotional stresses? How do we view God when we are weak or in pain? How do we cope with the losses we experience?  A series of posts which deals with these questions was first published in 2016.  It may be time for some of us to ask this question again – or for the first time. Individual posts in the series have been revised and will be re-posted on Tuesdays and Saturdays for several weeks. Suggestions for appropriate Scripture passages, prayer, and quotes or questions for reflection have been added.

SHIFTING PARADIGMS

Several months into my cancer diagnosis I have noticed a gradual  shift in the way I look at life. Before, I focused on the physical and emotional ease of my life. To be sure, I had some chronic health issues, but I believed that they could be managed.

Now I see myself moving into a paradigm of dis-easeOf course, when you have a serious illness, you have to more aware of what’s wrong with your body at any given moment. When your days are filled with doctor appointments, blood draws, finger pricks, chemo injections, insulin injections, and tracking prescription after prescription, it is normal to be preoccupied with illness rather than health.

However, I am discovering how easily a severely and chronically ill person can fall into the false narrative of “something is always going wrong with me”  or “I can’t be who I was before I had to deal with all these problems.”  Marketers and publishers have flooded this niche market of dis-eased people with self-help books, memoirs, specialty magazines, web-sites and apps that encourage us to think about our “issues” – real or fantasized.

FINDING A NEW PARADIGM

I knew I had to make a change when I spent a sleepless night obsessing over all the things I had to do the next day to treat or beat my dis-ease. A comment a friend made after his wife died from cancer came to mind: “Walking with my wife opened my eyes to this horrible disease that controls the body AND the mind.” My eyes are now also open to the fact an illness can take over my life. I need to do my best to assure that dis-ease does not control my body and or mind. I need a new Jesus-like narrative that will make room for the reality of illness while encouraging a healthy outlook.  I need a new paradigm.

I decided to look at the way Jesus viewed health (ease). The gospel stories seem to reveal that Jesus didn’t see any difference between a person’s physical problems and his or her mental, emotional or spiritual problems. For example, in several healing stories in the book of Matthew, Jesus seems to be concerned with the actual physical problem. He touched a man with leprosy and he was clean.” He touched Peter’s mother and the fever left. He spoke at a distance to the centurion’s servant’s illness and the servant was cured.

But a bit later in the book, Jesus comments that whether he says, “your sins are forgiven” or “get up and walk,” the result will be healing. When the disciples failed to heal a man with a demon, Jesus blamed it on their lack of faith; in other words, the healing required a spiritual component. He asked two blind men who called him as they sat by the road  what they wanted him to do for them.  It’s possible that he was willing to do sohealing Jesusmething more or different than giving them sight, but that’s what they asked for.

I think our task, whether we are well or ill, is to see ourselves as whole beings, surrendered to our Healer. Jesus didn’t see those he healed as separate parts:  physical, emotional, mental, spiritual. He saw them (and us) as potentially integrated, congruent (meaning harmonious, all parts fitting together) beings – like himself. Therefore he could approach them (and us) from any direction, any aspect of our being, to accomplish  healing.

I recently read a quote from Gretl Ehrlich from A Match to the Heart, an author and book I have never heard of but will look for immediately.  She says:

“Takashi, the farmer-monk from southern Japan, said, ‘You have always been so strong. Now it is time to learn about being weak. This is necessary for you.’ How could I grow strong by becoming weak, I asked. What he was asking for was balance. Health cannot be accomplished any other way. I pondered the dampening of this forceful energy which had always welled up inside me. How does one do such a thing and not ask for death in the process? But that was the point: I didn’t have to do anything. There was still a lot I had to learn about getting well.”

Ehrlich is teaching us that we need to dampen our “forceful energy” to accommodate and balance the inevitability of illness and death. I think what she is talking about is a life of ease.  I am excited to again focus on being a whole person whose healing does not mean a remission from cancer but an obedient surrender of every part of who I am to my Creator.

REFLECTION

MULLING IT OVER:  Are you or someone you focused more on dis-ease than wellness? How can you shift your paradigm?  How can you view your doctor and hospital visits, medical tests and mediations as God’s blessing for your renewed health rather than as inconvenient or painful intrusions in your life?

SCRIPTURE:  Matthew 9:1-8; Isaiah 53:5

PRAYER:  “Take, Lord, and receive my liberty, my memory, my understanding, and my entire will.  All I have and call my own, whatever I have or hold, You have given me.  I return it all to You and surrender it wholly to be governed by Your will. Give me only your Love and Your grace and I am rich enough and ask for nothing more” (St. Ignatius of Loyola from Spiritual Exercises).

THOUGHT:  “My presence is always with you, but I am very present in times of stress . . . During stressful times, your heart may race and your adrenaline level may soar.  These physiological changes can block your awareness of my Presence.  So it’s vital at such times to remind yourself:  ‘Jesus is here with me; in fact He is very present with me in this hard situation.’  Then, take some slow, deep breaths so you can relax enough to connect with Me and draw strength from Me” (Sara Young from Jesus Today).

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Who Am I When My Body Fails Me? – Part 2: A Beloved Child of God

“Who am I when my body fails me?”  This is a question we must face when injury or illness takes its toll  on our lives. How do we respond to physical, mental, emotional stresses? How do we view God when we are weak or in pain? How do we cope with the losses we experience?  A series of posts which deals with these questions was first published in 2016.  It may be time for some of us to ask this question again – or for the first time. Individual posts in the series have been revised and will be re-posted on Tuesdays and Saturdays for several weeks. Suggestions for appropriate Scripture passages, prayer, and quotes or questions for reflection have been added.

It seems as if the tests will never end. A lab technician fills nine tubes with blood and it is determined that, among other things, that an antibody named “IgA” is running amok in my blood. More blood tests show a worsening of kidney function. A full spinal x-ray shows no bone damage. Another blood test finds too much calcium in my blood. A full body x-ray shows no bone damage. Increasing pain and numbness in my hands and arms along with hip and leg pain add new dimensions to the diagnosis. A bone marrow biopsy proves that cancer has invaded my plasma cells. We finally have found the probable cause of two blood clots and kidney issues in the past 10 months. I have multiple myeloma, a cancer of the blood that is treatable  – but incurable.

Who am I when my body fails me?  I am a learner. I visit website after website. I ask my new doctor question after question.  I talk to the pharmacist and the chemotherapy nurse about potent new medications. I then become a messenger and an educator trying to explain to many what I barely understand myself.

Who am I when my body fails me? I have always been planner; keeping track of my husband’s surgeries and multiple tests and appointments has always been my job.  Now I am a master planner, adding my appointments with two doctors and more lab tests and a weekly treatment session at the hematologist’s office. I am also the coordinator of transportation and chauffeur because my husband no longer drives.

Whom am I when my body fails me?  Someone who takes afternoon naps.  Someone who schedules multiple pills all through the day every day.  Someone who regularly pokes fingers to determine blood sugar counts and pokes thighs to administer insulin will now will add major weekly chemotherapy injections. Someone who has to learn to manage side effects of new medications:   The very strong dose of steroids will increase my  blood sugar. This new pill will prevent nausea. This other pill will fight off shingles: the side effect that comes with the new pill. 

Who am I when my body fails me?  I am a beloved child of a God who takes great delight in me. A God who calms me with his love and who rejoices over me with singing (Zephaniah 3: 17). I am someone who lives in the unshakable kingdom of God; no matter what happens to me, I am safe. I am someone whose greatest joy is living among others as a wounded wisdom is healed painhealer, and I recognize that this disease is another training session for that calling. I am someone who has had life-long experience with overcoming spiritual and emotional battles with the strong arm of God always holding me up. Now those arms will be wrapped around me as I struggle physically.

Centuries ago, the Israelites were hemmed in between the sea and the approaching Egyptian chariots.  They panicked!  Then Moses said, “The Lord will fight for you; you only need be still” (Exodus 14:14). Later in their history, the Israelites no longer trust the prophets that God sent to rule them; they want a king. Samuel, very upset at their lack of faith, recounts how God has guided them and protected them in the past.  To prove God’s power, Samuel advises, “Now then, stand still and see this great thing the Lord is about to do before your eyes” (I Samuel 12:16). He calls upon God to send thunder and rain. And it thunders and rains.

 I don’t believe that God causes cancer or any other bad thing.  And there is much I can do to fight this cancer.  But God’s message for the Israelites and for us is clear. We are to be still and stand still. This battle against our failing bodies is not our fight. The battle will reveal God’s power. But ultimately my life is in God’s hand. I will be the winner of the battle, no matter how or when it ends.

REFLECTION

Mull it Over:  Do you feel like God’s beloved child? Do you hear God singing over you? If not, how did you lose your way? What can you do to regain your belief in the goodness of God the Father? Do you trust that if you “be still” and “stand still,” God will fight your bat-tles?  If not, test the promise.  Be still and stand still and see what God does.

Prayer:  “I refuse, O God, to live feafully or cautiously. I name my fears one by one and turn the over to You, and find them simply trivial when set alongside your majesty.  I will live in Your light and salvation, through Jesus Christ. Amen” (Eugene Peterson in Praying with the Psalms, February 16).

Thought:  “Although the world is full of suffering, it is also full of the overcoming of it” (Helen Keller).

 

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Who am I When my Body Fails Me? – Part 1: Honing Down to Our Essence

Who am I when my body fails me?”  This is a question we must face when injury or illness takes its toll  on our lives. How do we respond to physical, mental, emotional stresses? How do we view God when we are weak or in pain? How do we cope with the losses we experience?  A series of posts which deals with these questions was first published in 2016.  It may be time for some of us to ask this question again – or for the first time. Individual posts in the series have been revised and will be re-posted on Tuesdays and Saturdays for several weeks. Suggestions for appropriate Scripture passages, prayer, and quotes or questions for reflection have been added.

After my second retirement some years ago, I had to work through the question, “Who am I when I am not what I used to do?  In other words who am I when I am no longer a Director of Spiritual Formation – a ministry leader, a boss, a curriculum planner, a teacher,  a writer, etc.  I had to let go of 40 years of finding my value in those roles (and others ) and find my value in the eyes of God.  It was quite a journey.

Now I am working through a new question, “Who am I when my body fails me?” The person who could work as hard as was needed for as long as it took now needs to rest while walking to the mail box. The person who couldn’t wait to rake the yard and clean up flower beds now looks out at the patio and dreads watering the plants. The person who was pretty much in charge of her body is a slave to numbers:  blood pressure, triglycerides, blood sugar, thyroid and kidney function, light chains and abnormal proteins – all of which seem to have banded together in rebellion.

I heard a psychologist who works in an Alzheimer unit tell the story of a woman who visited her husband Joe daily.  Every time she came, she asked him, “Do you know who I am?” And he would shake his head and say, “No.” Observing this ritual, the doctor pulled the wife aside and suggested that she no longer ask that question  Being queried, he said, was causing anxiety for her husband.  When she visited the next day, the wife came in, sat by the bed and undaunted and asked, “Do you know who I am?”  Joe looked at her for a long time and then replied, “I don’t know who you are, but I know I love you.”

This sweet story gives us a clue to who we are “when our body fails us.” Everything Joe had been before Alzheimer’s disease was melting away, including his memory of relationships.  At least that’s what his wife thought.  But the essence of Joe was unquenched; he could still offer and receive love, intimacy, and connection. So it seems we are still who we were even when we can’t understand how.

Life is, I think, all about honing down to our essence.  When we distill water, the pure is discovered and the junk and contaminants are left behind.  So it is with our lives. To use another metaphor, the refiner’s fire does its work; only the core of our being remains.  That core or flame is the breath of God in us. Perhaps the process of letting go and relinquishing when our body fails us is necessary so that we carry only our essence into the presence of God.

FOR REFLECTION

Scripture:  Psalm 2: 4-5

Prayer: “O God, even as Abraham ‘set out, not knowing where he was going’ and arrived at the land of promise by your Guidance, so I would make my way believing in Your promises and guided by Your commands, looking to Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of my faith” (Eugene Peterson, Praying with the Psalms, February 120.

Thought:  “Courage is resistance to fear, mastery of fear, not absence of fear.”

Coming Next:   Who am I When My Body Fails Me – Part 2:  A Beloved Child of God

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Going Deeper with God – Luke 14:27

Eugene Peterson’s book Eat this Book teaches us to chew on a passage of scripture, digest it, and then put it to use in practical ways. Our Christian fathers and mothers called this process Lectio Divina.  (This post was first published on July 6, 2016.)

Jesus said, “Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot by my disciple” (Luke 14:27).

The Scripture passages below are about people who counted the cost of following Jesus. Some counted and still surrendered their lives; others counted and walked away.  What do we do when faced with the cost of following Jesus?

COUNTING THE COST OF NON-DISCIPLESHIP

Dallas Willard writes that we count the cost of discipleship but often forget that “the cost of non-discipleship” is greater than the price we might pay to walk with Jesus. “Non-discipleship costs abiding peace; a life penetrated throughout by love, faith that sees everything in the light of God, overriding governance for good, hopefulness that stands firm in the most discouraging of circumstances, power to do what is right . . . . in short, non-discipleship costs you exactly the abundance of life Jesus said he came to bring” (Dallas Willard in The Great Omission).

CHEWING

For each of these passages, read daily to learn what the main character was lamenting (mourning or weeping over) or what he had to celebrate – or both. What did he have to lose because of his non-discipleship? What did he have to gain by his discipleship? What would/did the church gain by his discipleship?

Day One        The rich young man  (Mark  10:17-22)

Day Two:       A man walking with Jesus (Luke 9: 57-62)

Day Three:    Peter   (John 13: 1-30; John 18:1-11 )

Day Four:      Judas   (John 18: 15-18 and 25-27;  Matthew 26:14-16;  Matt. 27: 1-10)

Day Five:       Paul ( Acts 9)

DIGESTING

♥   Start out every day with the prayer that God will show you something to lament about.   Ask to be shown what you to can do about the situation.discipleship 2

♥ End every day with the prayer that God will show you something to celebrate.  Ask to be shown how you can share the joy. 

♥ Make an agreement with a friend to discuss weekly how non-discipleship is affecting the abundance Jesus promised to bring you.  What would the world have to gain by your discipleship in this time of a pandemic, Presidential corruption, and racial unrest?

MORE FOOD FOR THOUGHT 

“When disaster hits, the sovereign God is present and active, even when things seem out of control. Yet this is a truth that we cannot embody in abstractions or easy clichés: we embody it by joining with the suffering in praying with the psalmists—joining the Spirit and Jesus Christ in hopeful lament. This is God’s world, but it’s also not the way things are supposed to be. In hope, we look forward to when God’s loving and perfect rule in Christ will come in its fullness. But until then, we both hope and lament.

When we come to the suffering, we should not act like Job’s friends who falsely presume to know God’s reasons—“It’s just the way that God wanted it to be,” or “God’s just suffering along with you—he can’t do anything about it.” No. God is almighty and loving, and yet terrible things happen. We don’t know why. But we do know where to direct our trust: toward God’s own promises, for we are not our own, but by God’s promise and action—in life and in death, we belong to our faithful Savior, Jesus Christ” (Todd Billings in Rejoicing in Lament: Wrestling with Incurable Cancer and Life in Christ).

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Random Thoughts – 2

I seem to have little energy for creative thought these days. Hopefully that energy will return on Nov. 3 when we have elected Joe Biden, an honest, decent, compassionate man who does have the skill to function as president, to the role of president.

But I can still read! And often the creative writing of others can provide jumping off points for a few words of my own. So here are a few more “random thoughts.”

Frederick Buechner is one of my very favorite writers.  Usually I read Biblical material that he makes come alive, complete with sarcasm and witticisms – and beautiful wisdom. The following quote is from Brendan, one of his novels, but it still brings us beautiful wisdom:

Pushing down hard with his fists on the table-top [Gildas] heaved himself up to where he was standing. For the first time we saw he [was missing] one leg. It was gone from the knee joint down. He was hopping sideways to reach for his stick in the corner when he lost his balance. He would have fallen in a heap if Brendan hadn’t leapt forward and caught him. ‘I’m as crippled as the dark world,’ Gildas said. ‘If it comes to that, which one of us isn’t, my dear?’  Brendan said, “We was cripples all of us.” For a moment or two there was no sound but the bees. ‘To lend each other a hand when we’re falling,’ Brendan said. ‘Perhaps that’s the only work that matters in the end.’”

“To lend each other a hand when we’re falling. Perhaps that’s the only work that matters in the end. This is the lesson for our time. All of my anxiety and anger about the lies and corruption of the current administration can be countered by my lending a hand to another who is falling –  especially when that person is my husband.

♥  ♥  ♥  ♥  ♥

Matthew Scogin, President of Hope College in Holland, Michigan has written: Most of the time when we use the word hope, we’re basically using it as a weak desire, a wish, like, ‘I hope the weather is good tomorrow.  .  . .’ But that’s not the way that the Bible uses the word.  The way the Bible uses the word is based on a confident expectation that something good is going to happen. We know that the future is going to be better than the present; the Bible promises it.” 

Hope College, my alma mater, has done a remarkable job preparing for the students to return this fall safely.  Students, teachers, administrators, and staff were all sent a saliva test for COVID -19 and they couldn’t return to campus if they didn’t send it back.  A plan for testing 1% of the students everyday is in place. Students who test positive will be quarantined on campus – not sent home bring the virus to yet another community. A team of science professors who have been testing the waters in the Holland community for years, will now look for signs of the virus in the water.  This will give advance warning that the disease is on campus.

It seems to me that all these measures (and more) are the result of the Biblical understanding expressed by the college president that “the future is going to be better than the present.”  We all need a clear and honest view understanding of what is going on in our world.  We need to acknowledge:

  • the scientific data surrounding both of climate change and the pandemic
  • the economic stressors that affect how we all live
  • the harm that black and brown people have experienced and the diminishment they have felt for centuries,
  • the ineffectiveness and corruption of our political system, led by our president

But we won’t be in any shape in the long run to help fix these problems if we don’t believe in the deepest places of  our hearts and souls that the future is going to be better than the present and that the Owner of the future will help us make the present better.

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Random Thoughts

“We tend to run around trying to solve the problems of our world while anxiously avoiding confrontation with that reality wherein our problems find their deepest roots: our own selves. In many ways we are like the busy executive who walks up to a precious flower and says: ‘What for God’s sake are you doing here? Can’t you get busy somehow?”’and then finds the flower’s response incomprehensible: ‘I am sorry, but I am just here to be beautiful.’ How can we also come to this wisdom of the flower that being is more important than doing?” Henri Nouwen).

COVID 19 has changed almost everything about our lives. Schedules are disrupted, plans are canceled, emotions are swirling.  For several months, we have had to remake how we handle life and/or deal with constant anxiety.

This came home to me  recently when a friend said she was excited about having her whole family home in a few days but concerned because she wasn’t feeling up to “doing” for everyone. So when I read Henri Nouwen’s story of a flower who was criticized for just “being” what she was meant to be – beautiful,- I sent it to her immediately.  I suggested a spiritual discipline to help her get through the week without fretting about what  other people were doing that she “should” be doing.  I suggested that she pick a beautiful flower and put it in her bedroom. Then when she was tired or in pain, she could retreat to her bedroom, gaze at the flower that was doing nothing but being beautiful, and remind herself that it’s okay to just “be” for a while.  

I believe that many people whose modus operandi is doing,  serving, and taking care of everything can use the COVID pandemic as a teaching tool.  Let’s take some of our open blocks of time to sit back and just be. As Nouwen says, often our  running around solving the world’s problem happens because we are trying to avoid  the inner work of confronting our own motivations and needs.  Perhaps now we have time for being and becoming.

♥    ♥    ♥    ♥    ♥

Today I read a blog by Melissa Strek in the Reformed Journal describing an experience her professor chose for their last class on “dialogue across differences.  Her professor invited the students to lie on the floor,  close their eyes, feel their breath in their bodies, and notice where their flesh made contact with the ground beneath them. Then he said, “Imagine that as you lay here, you discover that your skin has a zipper. You discover that your skin can be removed. Imagine yourself – gently, slowly – unzipping your skin, from head to toe. You remove it, leave it here on the ground, and walk away from it.  What would you feel?”

Slowly, a handful of students of color shared their experience – feelings of liberation, and relief, of overwhelming sorrow for all they’d endured, of being honored and humanized, of excitement at the possibility of being seen for who they really are.

The author timidly shared how she felt. “I felt desperate walking away from my skin, wanting to jump right back into it because it protects me. It allows me to be automatically taken seriously and causes everyone to assume the best of me. I wanted to zip back into my skin because it keeps me safe and doesn’t require me to change and shields me from consequences; it amplifies all the good things about me and drowns out the bad things.”

More of us should try this very revealing exercise. Here are some things I thought of:

1.  If we didn’t have skin color to define us, how would we relate to others?

2.  How much does my white skin protect me in 202o?

3.  How much does my husband’s very black skin put him in danger?

4. What are the things that lie beneath our skin that we are happy to hide?  Here are some things my skin covers up:  a critical spirit, fears and anxiety,  thoughts of not being treated fairly – the list goes on.  I have worked on eliminating these unChristlike attitudes, but right now I surely wouldn’t want everyone to see the real me all the time. 

5. How can we “fix” the things that lie beneath our skin so that we can be as open to others as if we had no separating skin?

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