The Lion Roared

Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight. Luke 24:31, NRSV

Hours, days, weeks in the hospital blurred into one long anxiety. Pain. Fatigue. Helplessness. Abandonment. Despair. Negative emotions swam through my mind and curdled my thinking…what was left of it.  My brain had no more room.  Too many tests, too long before diagnosis, longer still until treatment. I. Was. Done.

Where was the peace that passes understanding?  Where was the intimacy I normally felt and practiced?  Where was my Advocate? Where was Immanuel, God WITH us?

I paused.

Well, where was He?  It hadn’t occurred to me to look.

Aslan. Lion of Judah, my Shield, my Defender… I waited, wondering what it would feel like to have a Lion defending me.  Would he roar? Would he attack “them”– all those people and infections and reactions hurting me?  Not a mythical lion, but the Lion of Judah, who promised to be with me always.   What would He do?

He stood at the foot of my bed and He roared.

Wait! Was that an impression from God or was I making this up?  I looked up, startled that my imagination had enough strength to function.  “Lord, is that YOU?” I asked.

He roared again–at the illness, the reactions, the complications, the doctors who frightened me, the CT scans that radiated me.  He looked at me with concern, and roared again and again and again.  “Lo, I am with you always,” surfaced in my mind.

He was holding back the things that would harm.  He was standing up for me when I couldn’t even walk. He was keeping the enemy from killing, maiming and destroying.  He was my Advocate, and he would not be thwarted.

“But Lord,” I thought, focusing on the foot-of-the-bed Lion, “what do I do with this deep alone-ness, this abandonment, this pain and despair?  You’re not taking it away, you’re not filling the hole, you’re roaring.  What do I do with this?”

And then there was a Lioness, beside the bed, licking, washing, pulling me toward her.  I imagined fur, and the strong body for me to lean against.  She purred, cleaned, rubbed.  I could almost feel her breath.  This was not a theoretical “with,” but a Jesus out to prove something.  He was roaring to protect, but He was nestling to nurture.  He would care and hold and shelter.  He would provide what the doctors and nurses and caring friends could not.

For three weeks He roared and nurtured, until I came home. For another three weeks, He purred and held me, through even more procedures and pain.  My hunger for Him grew even as He reassured me. I learned to wake up and lean into those secure arms.

Until one day, just eight weeks after the hospital post-surgery nightmare, the picture in my mind was gone.  “Lord?”  I looked around, hoping I would find the reassuring image and His reassuring breath.  But no, I didn’t need it any more.  I could still lean on Him, I could still be with Him, and I could still hear the roar.  Like the encouragement of a parent long-gone, the comfort was inside me.  I’d internalized the picture and the voice, and the trauma was over.

Where is the Lion of Judah roaring for you?  Is He nurturing, caring? Or fighting and protecting? Has He remained? Or has He vanished just as you recognized His care?

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Immanuel, God With Us: — How “With” is “With?”

read Seal Your Mouths by Brooke Rosemary, Flickr.com_-photos-indigotimbre-46141712_412e856dc9_o

“Seal Your Mouths” by Brooke Rosemary, Flickr.com_/photos/indigotimbre/46141712_412e856dc9_o.jpg

The dentist’s chair was the last place I wanted to be. A piddling annoyance for many, the dentist represented far more trauma for me. Vivid pictures swirled in my mind of childhood cavity-fillings without anesthesia, and the more recent “time-I-almost-died-in-the-hospital”: a near-fatal bacterial infection had invaded my system after a broken tooth and a six-month cleaning.

Four years later, I was still terrified.

I cringed in the chair and tried, hard, to imagine Jesus near me. Anywhere near me. Even in the same building. In that moment, no amount of “with” seemed enough, and nothing convinced me – not Scripture, not worship songs, not frantic prayer, nor even hand-holding by a concerned dental technician.

Immanuel, God “with” us, just didn’t cut it, and I sputtered in exasperation.   Exactly how “WITH” was “with?”

The drill whined, and I clenched my jaw, my fingers, and my toes. Eyes wide, my mind went into overdrive, forcing facts into the front of my brain.

“OK Jesus, where are you?” I forced a deep breath, and tried imagining somewhere Jesus might be. Not just a distant force, I reminded myself, but someONE right here in the room. Someone strong and protecting.

What if Jesus was really THERE, in the room, at the end of the long chair…

…wiggling my almost-numb toes.

What? The surprising image popped into my brain. He was wiggling my toes, loosening my tension, changing my view and jostling me out of my terror. I giggled silently as the picture gradually emerged and I realized how stiff I was. I flexed my hands, my fingers, my ankles. In my mental picture, Jesus smiled as I wiggled each limb, reassuring me that this was no dangerous visit. I would not die, the pain would not defeat me, and the fear could leave.

Somehow, I couldn’t be scared and grateful at the same time. (That much is objectively true: anxiety and fear both emanate from the same part of the brain, I’m told). I breathed, and stopped chomping vice-like on my physician’s hands.

Christmas was long-gone, but Immanuel was apparently still very much “with.” He didn’t come to leave us alone, but to stay amid our darkness, our fears and instabilities, our joys and blessings, and our anger and pain. He is huggingly close, holding our hands and our hearts and overcoming all manner of evil.

Immanuel, God WITH us. It’s not just for Christmas any more.

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January Christmas Trees

My Christmas trees came the other day.

Yes,  I know this is the middle of January, but after-Christmas sales being what they are, our small artificial forest arrived in two very large boxes.

Why, you ask?  The lighted-reindeer herd had been ailing. Their next-door  lawn-ornament friends disappeared in a large moving van one day, along with the garden gnomes.  The gardener drove away, not to be seen again, and our reindeer have not glowed since.  Poor deer, they are resting from their ten-year labors, replaced by orphaned synthetic clearance-rack firs.

We had to try the trees inside, of course.  Five, destined for various lawns, settled in for  testing, by the kitchen island. Several  “Part C” and two “Part B” fit nicely, but one “Part A” lay lonely on the counter. Are not all “Parts A” the same?  I shook my head. That puzzle would wait. The largest tree assembled easily and  we escorted it upstairs to the second floor hallway.

“My friend is coming and I want her to see the last reminders of our Christmas,” I rationalized, putting the “special ornaments’ on spindly branches aching for adornment.  Silver and china and jasperware, the “real” tree ditched my precious orbs from its drying , drooping limbs;  surely this conifer would not despise such antique memory-holders.

Every morning, I startle.  My out-of-place January fir with its porcelain-nativity ornament stops me.  Christmas trees are for December, or perhaps Epiphany, not cold, gray almost-Valentine’s Days. Mid-step I wonder at the symbol unintentionally dropped in my upstairs hall.

The nativity works nicely in December, but I stumble over the Incarnation in January.

At first, I grumble, lurching to avoid branches on my way down the stairs.  Then, remembering, I talk to Jesus.  No longer a baby, He is still startlingly with me. On the way down the stairs, I monologue about my out-of-control schedule.  In the hallway, I’m complaining. By the kitchen, I’m appreciating His company, and by the car, I’m happy for His help with the day.

Later, in my office, I’m not so compliant, but the point remains. The fir is doing its work to re-orient my days. We rearrange our lives for December trees, but Jesus likes to do that every day.  Perhaps I will let my tree stay until Easter.

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Immanuel: God With Us

image courtesy david bowman davidbowmanart.com

“All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” (which means “God with us”). Matthew 1:22-23, quoting Isaiah 7:14

He comes.
And He stays with us.
Not as a visitor some cold Christmas Eve in a feed-trough of hay.
But as a Friend near to our arms and hearts,
Sitting beside us by the fire,
A fire of homeless night finger-warming,
Or a fire of granite-hearth living space,
He comes and stays,
Sharing our joys and our pains,
Our homelessness and our nestled-ness.
He comes and delights in us,
He comes to share with us,
He comes to listen,
He comes to impart.

He loves,
He encourages,
He welcomes,
He comforts.
And He stays,
Near,
Arm-around-our-shoulders close.

He is here.

In our fear,
In our hope;
In our desperation,
In our delight;
In our despair,
In our overcoming;
In our suffering,
In our exultation;
In our so-near-we-can-feel-His-heartbeat,
In our so-cold-our-fingertips-and-hearts-are-numb.

In our bitter memories,
In our best imaginations.

In our days of chemo,
In our days of promotion;
In our days of foreclosure,
In our days of dreams-come-true;
In our days of dark almost-dying,
In our days of magical wonder.

In our nights of longing,
In our nights of dreaming;
In our nights of babes in pain,
In our nights of overjoy.

He comes.
He stays.
He calls.
He heals.
He holds.
He understands.
He strengthens.
He redeems.
He celebrates.

Above all,
He comes and does not leave.
Ever.
Forever.

Immanuel,
God with us.
Finally.
Forever.

Blessed Christmas-tide-and-forever friend,
Welcome, Jesus.
And thank You.

Merry Christmas!
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