Sunday, April 24, 2011

Practice Resurrection

Late last fall I attended a funeral, and then a Jason Upton concert, both of which seem appropriate to talk about on this day that we celebrate Christ's resurrection.  Together, the two events formed the backbone of a theme the Lord was speaking over my life.  Practice resurrection.  Expect it.  Long for it.  Find it in each day.

I attended the concert just days after the funeral, and together they have shaped my heart.  And now, months later, on the day we celebrate resurrection, those words are burning within me again, and I want to share some of them.

Following the concert, I wrote in my journal:

At one point during the concert as Jason spoke and sang, I found myself frantically grabbing for a notebook and pen I'd tossed in my purse on the off chance I'd need it.  I was giving up on making reminder notes to myself in my phone, and went for the notebook.

He told a funny story of being at Bible camp as a kid, and there having been "rapture practice."  And we all laughed as we pictured it and he acted it out.  He switched gears, though, and told us that we should be practicing resurrection.


Interesting words in a week where I'd been to a funeral where I was invited to do just that.

Jason wasn't talking about that so much, as talking about a continual process of being born again.  Being made new.

The notes I frantically scribbled in my notebook as he spoke read as follows, "Practice resurrection.  Don't be afraid of the valley - He'll walk with you there.  He has things for you in the valley.  Psalm 23 is not a death song, but a resurrection song."

It was sort of the theme of the evening, and it capitalized on a theme God has been speaking to my heart in the last few days again.

There is life in the moments that feel like death.

There is priceless value in the things that seem most horribly worthless.

God is present in the most simple things.  Look and listen for him there.

The concert came only days after the funeral, providing words to a theme that began in a place of grief.  It was the funeral for Nolan and Faye's mom.  Both long time friends of mine, I'd been praying with them for months as their mom battled cancer, and now I found myself sitting at her funeral.  It was an event that I will never forget, one that I was privileged to attend, and one that has shaped my life in the months following.

After it was over, I wrote the following:

When was the last time you went to a funeral where you were invited to practice resurrection?  Not just sit there and be grateful for the hope of future resurrection in the midst of the grief you were feeling - the knowledge that you will see the person again, someday, but to actually practice - to speak to a corpse, to a casket, and say "Wake up."

I went to a funeral like that yesterday.

It was nearing the end of the service, and my friend Nolan rose to speak.  To share his memories of his mother.  And he was brilliant.  Articulate and funny.  He managed to address each of his siblings in a special way, reminding them of the ways their mom had expressed her love for them.  He encompassed her personality in ways that those who knew her well described as "to a tee".  And then he shared something she'd written - talking about the fact that she was vacillating as her health grew weaker.  That in some moments she could picture her tumor shrinking away, and their life as a family continuing on.  And, that in other moments, she dreamt of walking in heaven with her mother.  And that both seemed to be appealing options, but if she had her preference, she'd rather stay here.

And then Nolan began to read the story of Jesus raising Lazarus from the grave, and my breath caught.  "Surely, he wouldn't!" 

He had shared some profound thoughts by email as his mom was dying, and just days before she passed away, he'd sent an email talking about the fact that after a year of praying for healing, he'd been asking God if he was going to learn how to raise the dead before he learned how to carry healing.

And my breath caught as he stood there and read one of the stories in scripture that has meant so much to me these last several years.  Jesus bringing life where there was nothing but death.  So many conversations and moments of prayer had stemmed from that story.

And I was frozen in that moment, unable to think of anything but a whispered desperate prayer, "Oh Lord, do something, be present here, because if he commands her to rise, and she doesn't, this is going to be the most painful place for his family to exist in."

To Nolan's credit, he handled it beautifully.  He finished the story, and talked about the fact that his mom had loved Jesus and believed his words.  He told us about Jesus telling his disciples, "go and do likewise."  About Jesus' command to "Heal the sick, raise the dead, and cast out demons."  And then he invited us to practice - to participate in one of Jesus' commands.  To say with him, on the count of three, "In Jesus name, Marilyn, wake up!"  And we did.

I recounted the story later, amazed at how well that moment had been handled.  Struck by it.

A day later, it is rattling around inside of me and touching raw spaces.

I don't have faith.

I talked with Nolan after the service, and he still genuinely believed she might sit up.  Not in a way that denied the fact that his mom had passed away a week ago, but in a way that said, "Yes, Jesus I believe you can and will do big things."

I don't have faith, and I couldn't figure out why this was so rattling.

A day later, I'm beginning to understand.

I'm in the midst of some hard days.  Days of slogging through battle after battle.  Days of walking out a very painful process of healing.

Eleven days from now I will celebrate five years depression free.  Five years since a crazy late night encounter with God.

And I'm reminded today, as I ponder a friend's faith in a God who can and will raise the dead, of the questions I was asking five years ago.

I wrote about it last year, on the fourth anniversary of that moment of healing:

There was so much hurt in each of our lives, and in those days we were talking a lot about believing in a God who is real and active, and who longs to bring healing and freedom, but we couldn't quite manage to move our conversations past the theoretical, to the point of really praying together and caring for each other... I'd stopped saying much to God quite a while before that. It didn't seem to make much difference, and to be honest, at the time it seemed that if I prayed, or sought prayer from others, things got worse, not better. That night, after watching and seeing all the things that weren't said, I was angry, and as I drove I yelled at God - this from a person who quite admittedly rarely prayed anymore.

I so vividly remember that moment of realization.  That moment of understanding that we couldn't translate our intellectual assent into faith.  Into faith that propelled action.  That all we were doing was talking.

The next day God "showed up" in my life.  It sounds crass to say it like that, as if he'd been absent somehow.  He hadn't.  But that day he made his presence known in a new way.  I saw and heard and experienced.  I walked into a divine appointment that I wasn't expecting, and I left it free from the depression that had dogged my steps for nearly seven years.  I left it stunned and overwhelmed by this God who had made himself known.  And thankful.  So thankful.  I left it healed.

It's been nearly five years.  Today I'm surrounded by a group of friends who believes.  I'm making practical steps towards healing.  I'm getting help.  I'm making choices.  I'm talking to God.

But my faith is waning.  After a year in which my life has deconstructed itself, where nothing looks like what I'd expected or planned, where I'm living in limbo, I'm aware that my faith is flagging.

I'm again in that place of desperation and anger towards God that I felt that night before healing came.

Mostly, these days, I pray with desperation, but little belief.  "Intervene in my housing, let me get into school, provide work, bring healing."  All things I intellectually believe my God is capable of.  I've seen him do far greater things than these in the five years since that night of healing.  And yet, today, today I pray with desperation and very little expectation.

And it's that lack of expectation that is causing the rattling echoes of yesterday's funeral.

Because I struggle mightily to pray with expectation, and still trust, whether or not my expectations are met, that the God who met me five years ago with healing is the God who doesn't change.  The God who tells us that he is the same, yesterday, today, and tomorrow.  It's a challenge for me, in the moment, to trust that God.  To trust that he controls even this, and that he holds and guards me when it feels as if I'm walking through the darkest night.  To wait with hope and expectation, and be willing for those expectations to be dashed.

And so I'm challenged by my friend Nolan, and his invitation to participate in resurrection. 

And I'm challenged to expect big things, but to still trust in a God whose ways are sometimes hidden and mysterious, and whose ways may not look at all like what I want or expect.

And today, months later, with a life that is still somewhat in pieces, I continue to be struck by that invitation to participate in resurrection.  It moves me.  It has become the theme of my days - practice resurrection.  Invite healing, life, rebirth, new and fresh things to come.  No waiting for them.  Not just a future hope, but also a present reality.

Nolan, I'm thankful for that step of faith you took that day.  I'm thankful that you invited God to work.  I wish for you and Faye and your family that your mom had risen that day, and I'm praying for you all, often.  Please know, though, that God is using her life and death even still.  

Happy Easter everyone.  May you practice resurrection today.