Thursday, February 09, 2012

Wine-Stained Hands

I've been thinking a lot this week about one of the most powerful encounters with Jesus that I've ever had.  I've shared in this space before about my story of healing (I share it every year on the anniversary, November 1st), and that is a pivotal moment.  But, there is one other pivotal moment.  One that I've carried inside my heart for quite a few years, choosing not to share it publicly, to protect it, and process it, and let it make itself truly at home within me.

This week I realized that I might not ever be fully at home with this experience.  That it is an experience that will probably shape me for the rest of my life.  And as I realized that, I discovered that I am ready to share it.

It feels risky, sharing this here.  I prefer to talk in generalities in this space about my life with Jesus - to talk in quiet tones about the ongoing dance that I do between the conservative church upbringing that shaped me, and the charismatic experiences that have defined the last ten years of my life or so.  It's easier to talk in generalities than to be specific about realities.  It's easier to talk in generalities that it is to risk judgement, confusion, or misunderstanding.  And yet, this week, as I reflect on that moment, and on things that have flowed from it in my life, I can't help but feel it demand to be expressed.  And so, I'm going to try.

It's no secret to those who know me even a little that I have an active dream life (waking, but particularly sleeping).  Dreams have been a part of my reality for as long as I can remember, from the earliest nightmares as a child, to the dark, earth-shattering dreams I experienced at the height of my battle with depression, to the dreams that are oddly close to reality.  When I first encountered the idea taught by charismatics that dreams are still a primary way that God speaks to his people, I was horrified.  At the time, in the throes of depression, I slept minimally, and what little sleep I had was marked by nightmares so vivid that I would wake and lay in the dark, wondering why my bed was shaking until it would hit me that the bed was shaking because of the trembling of my body due to residual fear and adrenaline.  With this as my primary experience of the dream world, I couldn't imagine why anyone would actually pray, asking God to cause them to dream!  (In fact, I remember  agreeing to pray that for one friend, since it was her specific desire, while at the same time only quasi-jokingly informing her that I thought this was an absolutely crazy request!)

And then, then God stepped in.  My moment of healing happened, and that night was marked by the first time in years where I managed six straight hours of sleep uninterrupted by either waking or nightmares.  I assumed that my years of dreaming were about to give way to years of peaceful sleep, free from dreams of any sort.

I assumed wrong.

By the fall of 2007, I was coming to a grudging acknowledgement (acceptance was still far away) that dreams, this time falling into four categories, were going to be a long-term part of my life.  I developed four categories, "god dreams," "bad pizza dreams," "processing dreams," and (for lack of a better descriptor) "demonic nightmares."  The vast majority of the dreams I was experiencing still fell into the latter three categories, and I was choosing to simply be thankful that the last category was rarer than it ever had been in my life.  I was definitely not asking Jesus for an increase of dreams of any sort, and I continued to be highly skeptical of those who celebrated their dreams as encounters with a living God.

And then, one night, that fall, in the midst of a season in which I was experiencing a myriad of new things in my walk with Jesus, I went to sleep.

You knew that was where this was going, right?  I mean, could it be going anywhere else?

I went to sleep, and dreamed the following:

I entered a room, set for a formal banquet with snowy white table linens, gorgeous china, and sparkling crystal.  People milled around, finding seats at the table, but I held back, shy - afraid even.  The only one in the room that I recognized was Jesus and I would have done anything to escape his notice.  Slowly it dawned on me that everyone was now seated, and the only seat left at the table was in the center, directly across from Jesus.  It was the opposite of the invisibility I craved.  But, knowing everyone was watching, and desperate to have their attention turn elsewhere, I quietly made my way to my seat, keeping my eyes down.  Once seated, I refused to look up, but again somehow knew that I was being watched.  This time, it was Jesus watching me.  He was clearly waiting for something, for a blessing of sorts, I thought.  Instinctively, still never looking up, I knew how to respond. I rested my elbows on the edge of the table, and tilted my wrists towards him, cupping my hands over the center of the table, and burying my face quietly against my wrists.  He took a carafe of red wine, and poured it over my hands, until it pooled and spilled over, contrasting against the sparking white linens.

And then I woke.

There's something else I should mention.  At that stage in my life I'd never tasted wine.  I feared alcohol, having seen it's affects on the lives of some I loved.  And knowing that my own personality tended to extremes, and to addiction, in fear I'd made a choice to abstain.  It was beyond odd that wine would be a defining characteristic in my dream.

When I woke, I felt baffled.  I was astounded to have encountered Jesus in a dream (something that has never happened before or since), but was confused by the sequence of events, by the wine.

As the day went on, I puzzled over the dream, wondering at it's meaning.  A few lines from a song recorded by Steve Bell stood out in my heart and played through my thoughts:

Come back to me
with all your heart
Don't let fear keep us apart...
long have I waited for
your coming home to me
and living deeply our new life

I puzzled over the connection of the song to what I had dreamed.  Years later I see the lyrics as a description of the invitation being offered to me as I settled into my place across from Jesus.

That same day, as was often the case, I was listening to a sermon as I walked home from the train.  On that particular day, I wasn't paying very close attention as I walked, thinking instead about the dream, and the events of the day.  It suddenly occurred to me that the pastor speaking (I think it was Rob Bell) was talking about wine!  Odd, and timely.  I started paying attention just in time to hear the pastor speak the following:  "Wine is about the shalom of God, the wholeness of God, the healing of God."

I tuned the sermon back out as I began talking to Jesus, my words spilling over each other in their haste.  "Did you pour your shalom over my hands last night?  Did you pour your wholeness and healing over me, until it overflowed?"

Years later, that is the question I'm still asking.  Months after the dream, while I was in Malta, I asked someone to pour wine over my hands in reality, needing to experience in waking what I had known in sleeping.  That moment in Malta was four years ago this week, and both the dream and that time in a Maltese field have continued to work on my heart.

A view of Maltese fields taken from the walls of Mdina
When I read this post about healing earlier this week, I found myself again pondering that dream that I've quietly held all these years, telling very few, and pondering the ways it has worked in my heart since then.  I found myself thinking again in new ways about what it means that one night, in a dream, Jesus invited me out of fear, and blessed me, pouring his shalom over my hands until they overflowed.  I still ask that question of Jesus, "what does it mean that you poured this out on me?"  And I still find different answers on a regular basis.  I find partial answers in the moments when my heart travels as I pray, and in the moments my hands begin to burn as I lay them on someone and ask for healing.  I keep walking, journeying, asking questions.  I study healing, and sometimes I despair, finding it hard to believe that it is something Jesus desires.  And yet, in those moments, I close my eyes and feel the wine in the dreaming, splashing onto my hands.  I picture the color of the wine staining my skin as it overflowed my hands in Malta, spilling onto the soft, dark dirt on which I stood.  And I am reminded that however it looks, this is a moment that changed and will continue to change me, and that Jesus is constantly pouring out his shalom, his healing, his wholeness on this earth, and simply asking me to be a vessel for that, to notice and point it out.


christianne said...

Wow, Lisa. To speak any words in response to this seems unholy, for this is holy ground. And yet I do want to at least speak acknowledgment and honor, to tell you I have read this, and it moved me deeply, and I'm thankful for this gift of being seen, of being invited to sit across from Jesus, of being invited into a deeply profound and personal moment, of being blessed with wine that overflows in shalom all over you.


Anonymous said...

Glad you decided to share this story - I was thinking you were alluding to this on the FB post talking about your Thursday post.

Love to you, friend!

lois said...

I love this journeying, Lisa. Blessings. Lois

Lisa said...

Thanks ladies for joining me in this telling of one of my most personal and holy moments. Love and blessings to all of you!

Anonymous said...

Wow, Lisa! Thanks for sharing your story. I'm excited how God will lead you on in healing...
Love from Germany!

Amy Nabors said...

Wow. What a beautiful experience in your healing journey. Thank you for sharing it.

Lisa said...

Thanks Johanna and Amy!