Monthly Archives: June 2015

Restoration by Beth

God is in the business of restoration

I attended my first Collide event in the fall of 2013. This spring I attended my 5th. I can barely believe the way God has moved in my life in the months in between. Much of what’s changed has been in my own mind and heart; fresh perspective, new found hope, earnest faith. These invisible changes in me are gradually renovating my thoughts and prayers. My self-critical thoughts are becoming more kind and gentle, my prayers more honest, tender, unafraid.

Each time I attend Collide, spending the day listening to women share story and scripture, I encounter Jesus in a new way, getting to know his character and his heart better and better. These intangible changes, while no small victory for me, laid groundwork for more measurable ones too.

Since the age of five, I have seen my dad a couple times per year. I spent most of my life wondering why he didn’t love me, convinced that it was so. Over the past few years I have slowly come back into relationship with him. This past fall I ended up going to work for my step mom (now lovingly referred to as Bonus Mom or B-Mama) at their home office where I saw my dad more regularly than I had in nearly 30 years.

At my first Collide event I heard Willow speak about wounded collisions. I thought I’d understood them that day. I knew my wounds well. But as I entered into relationship with my dad, my Bonus Mom, and two sisters (the daughters he raised), I came into full understanding of how my wounds impacted my relationships. My wounds tried to tell me that there was no hope for real connection with my dad, my window of opportunity had passed. They tried to tell me that my only choice was to grin and bear it, just so I could be near him. My wounds threatened that saying anything, asking any questions, letting him know me, would be risking everything. But it hurt to put on a smile and pretend. It hurt to wonder if he just hadn’t cared all those years. It hurt to think that he hadn’t hurt too.

After months of commuting hours per day, I knew that my employment there wasn’t a good fit for my family and I had to give my notice. Fear warned me that my budding relationship with my dad and family would wilt with my last paycheck, but I desperately wanted that to be untrue. And then there was a door, an opportunity to have a difficult conversation, to invite my dad into this wounded collision and hopefully, into healing. It was a tearful talk, each of us sharing from our pain. The longer we talked, the more honestly we shared; the more we could see one another’s hearts, the less power all the years of hurting seemed to hold.

This is God’s work, He’s in the business of restoration. Restoration is the work that the Collide ministry is facilitating. It’s why I will keep going back and keep inviting everyone I know, keep digging into the stories and the teaching. There is much of this restorative work left to do in me. -Beth

 

The Huddle by Bethany Brewster

bethany

Over spring break I had the opportunity to travel to Jackson, Mississippi. We spent our time in West Jackson working with the Spencer Perkins Center. At the Perkins Center they actively work to bring racial reconciliation to the community of West Jackson. Our group got to see the impact of racial reconciliation and a taste of what it was like in the South, not even 50 years ago. We also had the chance to learn what it truly means to reconcile with one another through the grace of God.

God calls us to reconcile in radical ways. We are called to believe that reconciliation is more than forgiving one another for our wrong doings, but also building new communities and restoring life back into broken relationships.

Throughout the week I heard stories of pain and peace from both John Perkins, the director of the Spencer Perkins Center, and the community members. They opened up their hearts to us sharing about situations where they were violently oppressed throughout their lives, just because they were not white. I sat in amazement at the way God has used John Perkin’s life, and the lives of those in West Jackson, to live out what it looks like to reconcile and to truly love our neighbor. We learned about what it actually looks like to not only forgive our oppressors, but to actively seek community with them.

I was humbled when I reflected on relationships in my life that were in need of restoration. Most of them are the result of miscommunication, gossip, pride, jealousy, and most of all, a lack of priority.

Then, as usual, questions of self-doubt began to rush through my head:
-How could I be so selfish?
-How can I hold on to these grudges?
-Why haven’t I reconciled??
-My problems are so small compared to everything happening down in Jackson- how could I be so wounded by relationships that pale in comparison to the people of West Jackson?

After stewing over these questions for the next few days, I was listening to a wise woman of the community as she told us, “Pain always has an expiration date, but the promises of God do not.” At that moment it was as if a lightbulb went off in my head. I was suddenly reminded of the way that Jesus works.

I was reminded that there is no conflict too small or too large to escape the healing power of God. From the restorative work God is doing in the communities of West Jackson, to the strength God is instilling in our hearts to reconcile broken relationships.

I was reminded that we are loved by a God that we cannot put into a box. That being said, in order to truly love our neighbor, reconciliation is necessary. How are we supposed to build a community that is focused on Christ if we are unable to reconcile with our friends, coworkers, and loved ones?

Jesus has not called us to like our neighbor, but to love them. By that I am saying that we are not necessarily called to get along with everyone, or be everyone’s best friend. If that were true there would definitely be more than 24 hours in a day.

Although we are not called to mesh with every personality, we are called to honor each other. These concepts were brought to life during church one morning in Jackson as we explored the concept of “the huddle.” The pastor, Big John, had us imagine ourselves at a football game. The team comes out onto the field, they huddle for about 30 seconds, and then they play the game. Sometimes there are victorious moments of triumph, but also moments of defeat, both of which make a good game.

The next question Big John posed was: what if they just stayed in the huddle? We would be furious. We paid to come see a game and all that we’re getting now is a group of people standing around?

In the same way, Christians use the Church as our huddle. Instead of being Sunday morning Christians that absorb information and then go on with our daily lives unchanged, we have the opportunity to break from the huddle and go out into the world to play the game. I don’t mean putting on the uniform, and then standing on the sidelines, but to truly dig into what it means to actively reconcile and love our neighbor.

Jesus paid to see us play, so let’s give Him a good game.- Bethany

Who Do You Say That I Am? by Anna Joy Walker

Anna Joy so honestly invites us into her story of allowing others to name her and what it has looked like to instead allow Christ to name her. I appreciate her wisdom, her challenge and her practice in renaming herself. I hope you enjoy her thoughts and find new names for yourself while reading them…- Willow 

anna joy

But who do you say that I am? Jesus asked this question. So do I. So do we all. Every day of our existence we wrestle with getting this question answered. We keep hearing this and that about the source of our identity, acceptance being found in those stupid social media notifications. And yet, here we are, the most lonely and most directionless generation. The heart betrays. Here I am, a grown woman, with a pretty good sense of herself, and yet, still looking, still hoping to hear something, to feel something outside what I reflect back to myself in rote.

Robert McGee talks about being defined by the voice outside of us. Original design is that we hear the Father’s voice speaking to us and we are upright, side by side with “the Other” receiving our identity from His voice. In the fall, we abdicated our rights and began bending toward “the Other” to give us identity. This was an original part of the curse, “and He said to Woman, you will have desire for your husband and He will rule over you…” There is this bending posture in that picture. Here we are thousands of years later, still bending, still our desire bends toward that voice outside of us, looking for our value, our worth, our identity.

Now, when Peter answered Jesus, “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God”; Jesus, recognizing the voice of His Father in Peter, responded with His own blessing and declaration of Peter’s identity. And Jesus answered Him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” Not only does He name Peter, but He declares and blesses an attribute of Himself in him. It’s not just an attribute of Jesus, but one of the foundational identities of the Trinity… the revelation that Jesus was the anointed, coming, promised Messiah of God, better than that, He was his Son! He has given us the keys of the kingdom of heaven and we have a role to play in bringing that kingdom to the earth! What a powerful moment. To be all at once formed and filled at His Voice.

There is all sorts of naming going on in the New Testament. Jesus meets and names several of his disciples, giving them identity before they even understand what it means. He becomes the voice outside of them. The world had named them “fisherman”, “Men of Galilee” basically, calling them hicks and ignoramuses. Jesus spoke with the “broad” accent of Galilee. It’s how the people recognized Peter when he was denying Jesus on the night of the Passion. But Jesus named them, “Man in whom there is no Guile” (Nathanial), “I no longer call you servants, but I call you friends.”

Jesus was despised and rejected; a man of sorrows, acquainted with grief. Jesus would have had a lot of pain and hurt because he grew up as a bastard. Everyone in his village would have known that Mary was pregnant out of wedlock, and He would have grown up as an outcast because of his sordid beginnings. Jesus would have sat for hours, hearing what his Father in heaven declared over Him. We have to wonder about those 30 years of silence. His heart being formed by the voice of His Father. When He heard it at His baptism, He wasn’t shocked; He had heard it before, “beloved Son, in whom I well pleased…” But those around Him had never heard such a thing. A dirty, rough Galilean, with a hick accent calling God, “Abba”! This was revolutionary! When we have the opportunity to name God, or God names an attribute of Himself to us, we get to carry that revelation to a broken and dying world.

God has named Himself to me, “I AM with you.” That is a personal revelation of God in my life, though it seems like everything points to it not being true. But here I am stuck with His voice in my head, “I am with you.” Period. No ifs, ands, or buts. Just, “I am with you”. There’s no negotiation in that. No way for me to discount Him being there. And yet, I find myself spinning my wheels, denying the reality that has more substance than my personal experience. This season of my life has been hard. I have, admittedly, hated it. But in these moments, I am reminded that He is with me. That is the whole point of Him bringing me back to the shores of my birth. In this place where abandonment set in, He is with me. In this place of original rejection, He is with me. Where I was unnamed and unmade, He is with me, naming me, remaking me. He is out to prove a point to me. To fill what He has formed with his saying, “I am with you.”

Nothing feels right, nothing fits, and it’s all awkward and frustrating. I have walked into the wilderness, being led by Holy Spirit, and the only thing I have to nourish, to sustain me in this season are those words from my Father to me. And then there are those days where I refuse this heavenly manna, weeks sometimes go by, until I am stretched thin across my soul’s bones and dying of thirst, and when I cannot run to another distraction I hear that voice again. “I am with you”. Whispers deep, blood begins flowing into limbs again, warming me from the center, watering me, feeding me. Oh God. Why must I have such profound amnesia all the time? Why do I wait until the last threads are unwinding, when you are singing over me? “You deliver me because you delight in me.” This orphaned spirit in me still alive and kicking, trying to convince me of the power of the Fall, when the Power of the Resurrection is in my bones.

Small thinking, emaciated dreams, powerless to change. Here is where I come back to the beginning. I come to the end, which was intended to be my beginning. The finished work of Christ, my foundation. The same Spirit that raised Him from the dead, living in me, sealing me, as a down payment of my inheritance. If the fullness of the Holy Spirit is the down payment of my inheritance, then what the heck is the rest of it? This is why knowing your name, hearing your Father’s voice of love and joy over you is so important. If we don’t know what He declares over us, there is this huge sucking noise coming from our soul’s original design to be named by a voice outside of us. Who is doing the naming? Whose voice are you hearing above the rest? Do you believe the lies of: “I’m not worthy”; “I am alone”; “I am a failure”; “I am unlovable”?

Join me in taking a risk, and coming to a good Father. Sitting down with Him and asking Him, “Abba, who do you say that I am? What are your thoughts about me? What are your dreams for my life?” If Abba is too hard, picture a smiling Jesus, warm eyes, happy heart. I guarantee you that what you will hear will blow your socks off. Write down what you hear. It could be a small whisper, or a great joyful shout! Just remember, He loves you! It’s the motivation of everything He does toward us, His unrelenting, wild love.

I practice a “stream of conscience” style when I write the Voice of the Father. I don’t allow my negative thinking. I just put pen to paper and write, letting whatever comes out, come out. That might be scary for you, you can ask for scriptures or promises from the Word. But take a risk, put pen to paper and ask. Do this, do it regularly as practice, it might change everything for you, it did for me! – Anna Joy Walker

A tribute and a lesson: live letting go

hands-compassion

I held her left hand in my hands. I massaged the lotion into her palm and out onto each finger. They had shriveled and were now folded and curled in due to lack of use. These were the hands that cooked our Holiday ham and quilted our babies first blankies. These were the hands that crafted with the grandchildren and brought food to the food bank for thirty years. These were the hands that nurtured her sons and loved her husband. These were the hands that drove to cub scouts and baseball and football practices. These were the hands that held her husband’s for over fifty some years.

Her nails had grown around and down the bend of her fingertips and her cuticle had taken over her nail bed. Her hands couldn’t straighten nor wave nor do much of anything necessary or practical. She had lost all use, not just of her hands, but other faculties as well. I stood there at the side of that bed and I held each feeler, hoping as I pressed in and and pushed down, the muscles and joints and tendons would come back to life, back to use, back to driving and riding bikes and hugging and cooking family favorites. I looked out the window for just a moment watching the grandkids playing outside. They found fun and life in a patch of grass right outside this place that dimmed such things. I could hear them laugh through the glass and so could she. She loved them dearly and had invested a great deal of her life into them. I imagined all she wanted to do was jump out of the bed and go play.

“I am ready to say goodbye,” she said. I was sure I heard her incorrectly. It was getting harder to hear what she was saying these days. Her speech had slurred and she rarely spoke.

“What was that you said?” I asked feeling internally nervous that I might be about to have this kind of conversation. I hoped I had heard her wrong. We were all pushing towards getting better, beating this, getting the procedure that would take all this pain and inability away and we could go back to the way it was.

She said “I am ready to say goodbye. I am ready to go be with Jesus.” She began to breathe the words I hope I can say one day. All the pokes and prods, all the doctors visits, all the medicine, all the pain, all the hope of recovery and hope lost, had finally spoken. She was done. I saw it in her. I looked in her eyes and she told me herself. The hands with which I grasped had now let go. They were no longer holding on to a doctor’s maybe or a surgery promising help. These hands were no longer holding onto earthly redemption. They weren’t holding onto a vacation planned or a mortgage to be paid. They weren’t holding onto a retirement not yet lived or summer gatherings with friends. They weren’t holding onto to getting rid of wrinkles. They weren’t holding onto a picture of how she wanted her life to be. They weren’t holding onto all that she had worked for.

They, as if each finger one by one had been pried open, had let go. There was nothing they were gripping or grasping or holding onto so tightly that was going to find her kicking and screaming and having a fit because things weren’t going her way. There was nothing she was grabbing that was keeping her from the way of God’s bend and will. There was nothing that she needed in those hands other than what she had.

And what she had was Jesus’ hand and it was like, in that room, I saw His hand in hers. She was holding His promise to grasp her hand as she walks into another realm, a paradise, a perfect place. One where her hands will spring back into working order. “She will drive again down the streets of heaven” as my daughter Bella says, because grandma so missed driving to visit the kids. She will be living until we, who love her, get there. She will whip up her favorite raisin sauce and sew quilts in colors we have yet to see. She will raise her hands in some kind of uninhibited praise out of reverence for where she finds herself and it won’t be in a bed with wounds and empty promises of getting healing. She will be fully whole and she will have His Hand forevermore in hers.

She had let go and none of us had. Perhaps the most difficult thing about dying is the peeling back of each finger, the unclenching of your fist and what you hold in your hands. Our entire lives we have been holding onto what we care about that is here, right in front of us. We hold onto dreams of how we want our lives to go. We hold onto people that we dearly love. We hold onto property that we have built up and tended to. We hold onto our favorite books and our ability to hike and sing and travel. We hold onto marriage and romance. We hold onto cars and jewelry and status and titles.

There are many things you clench in your fist even now, if you are anything like me.

My dear Anna Marie taught me something, many things, but something about life and now death. Live letting go. Live with hands bent toward God’s way and will. Don’t go out fighting. There is a time to fight and then there is a time to, with all grace, let go. When that day comes, the letting go will come more peacefully and with gentleness if you have lived a lifetime that leans into this letting go. Clench little. Hold in your fist, His will, not things. Hope in more than what you can see or hold with your hands. Grab onto only what you have been handed, and at that, carry whatever it is with gratitude and know it’s only passing. One day it will slip right through your fingers.

Jesus said “Whoever finds their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for my sake will find it.”

That day she looked up at me and told me she was ready to go, she was finding her life. I saw a peace in her that I hope I have on my death bed and every day until then. All the prayers, all the “God” talk, all the scripture readings, all the Sundays in a pew, all those messages of hope in God and faith in Heaven, will they find me at peace, unclenched? Her ability to unclench when her loved ones hadn’t, came out of the rootedness of her lifelong trust and faith in who God promises to be. Those spiritual teachings were no longer words, they had to be more, they were her reality as she chose it. God’s hand was in hers and it was walking her elsewhere.

I last saw her on Mother’s Day. I rubbed her hands and moved to her feet as well. The kids sat with her and told knock knock jokes and shared stories. She smiled. She always smiled. The one thing everyone remembers is her smile. It could have been a rainy, no good, very bad day and she would smile. She could have had the flu or the turkey could have burnt on Thanksgiving and she would have smiled. Her mouth peaked open every time someone walked into a room. It was like it couldn’t help it. My daughter has been waking up every night crying, missing grandma’s smile. She asked us to let go and we asked for more time because we were holding on.

I am told, the nurse walked into her room a few evenings later and this dear, faithful, selfless woman that my family loved, she smiled, closed her eyes and took her last breath. She let go and is now holding onto Him who lasts forever, that which never perishes nor slips through your fingers. We now, are slowly unclenching…looking for the peace she found, both for now in our grief and as we continue to live, finding ourselves trying to hold on too tightly to what we cannot keep.