Sister of Mine – Part Two

“7:15 AM. I reluctantly climb out of bed, reaching for my hoodie with one hand and turning on my iPOD with the other. The wooden floor feels cold to my bare feet, but I ignore it as I turn up my music loud enough to wake me up.

“Havilah, time to get up.” I pull the covers back and gently shake my sister’s sleeping form. Havilah pulls the covers back up, stubbornly keeping her eyes closed. I pull them back off. “Time for school, Havilah.”

Sometimes that gets her up, sometimes it doesn’t. This morning it doesn’t. I pull the covers back off and try lifting her up. She is small for an eleven year old, but lifting her is considerably more difficult than it used to be. Even though her eyes remain closed, she is obviously resisting me, much desiring the warmth and security of her blankets to the cold and unpredictable day ahead. I finally manage to pull her out of bed and stand her up. I nearly h31284_1394697880941_4815225_nave to pull her to the door, as she tries to brace her feet against the floor and remain immobile. As we near the door, she clenches the door jam with surprising strength. When I pry her tightly gripped fingers away, she lets out a cry that to an observer might sound like a mixture of pain and anguish—but I understand it as frustration. She is upset that I am taking her away from bed.

When she is fully dressed, I dab toothpaste on her brush. “Havilah, I’m gonna brush your teeth now.”
“Brushteeeee” She echoes in a high pitched voice as I start brushing her teeth. She can brush her own teeth, but she will only concentrate on a few front teeth for about three seconds.

When her teeth are done, I tell her, “Ok, go into the living room now.”
She squeals and runs down the hall into the living room. I follow her hurriedly, because I never know if she will decide to open the door and keep running down the driveway. Sitting her down on the couch, I pull her on socks and shoes, and then zip up her jacket. She insists on her coat being zipped up as far as it will go. Some mornings she refuses the hat altogether; other mornings she slyly leaves it on until my back is turned, then slips it into a hiding place with a giggle. She may be mostly uncommunicative and helpless when it comes to caring for herself, but she knows what she wants. This morning the hat comes off twice.

I give her some leftover apple pie and a banana to snack on until the bus comes. She has diabetes and her blood sugar is always dangerously low in the mornings. This morning she eats half the banana and takes a few bites of the pie. I consider that pretty good. Getting her to eat before 10am can be nearly impossible. When she sees the bus coming down the driveway, she squeals again and I quickly slip her hat and backpack on before she can protest.

“Have fun at school,” I say with a smile. I never get an answer and she never looks back as she runs toward the waiting bus. She has never showed appreciation or spontaneously said I love you. Still, I know she understands more than we give her credit for and also that she knows who I am. She may not understand family dynamics or grasp the abstract meaning of love, but she still feels it. I know she does. And I love her. My little sister is teaching me the true meaning of love; giving without expecting anything in return. It’s difficult. It’s stressful. It sometimes feels unrewarding. But it’s worth it. Love is always worth it.”

I wrote this during my freshman year of college. I was 17 years old and living at home, working a part time job while taking classes at the local community college. Most of my mornings looked like this and it was normal. I remember the day I thought that I should write it down because someday, possibly someday soon, it would no longer be a normal routine.

There is a part of me that misses it.

alabaster

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Do not silently accuse the man who sits while everyone stands, his head bowed in his lap while others gaze into the sky, his worship a solemn prayer while joyful shouts echo around him. Do not judge his silence, or criticize his tears that contrast with the smiles around him.

Do not cast glances at the woman who dances in the back of the sitting church, her body moving in the rhythms of worship while others sit in reverent awe. Do not judge her raised hands, or her voice that creates her own melody over the soft words of the chorus.

 You do not know the cost of the deep love that he cannot put to words even while others raise their voices in song. You do not know the price that was paid for the freedom to sets her free to worship His name.

You do not know the cost of the oil in the alabaster jar. 

sister of mine – part one

Written in November 2010

Last minute Thanksgiving grocery shopping trips to Wal-Mart shouldn’t include a screaming twelve year old. She sits facing me in the shopping cart with elbows over her ears in the peculiar habit she’s had since her baby years. Her legs are too long to fit completely into the cart; they are pushed up against the half & half creamer, four cans of jelled cranberry sauce and graham cracker pie crusts. I watch in partial fascination, partial dread as she tilts her head back and screams out again. People begin avoiding us as much as it’s possible to avoid another human being in Wal-Mart on Thanksgiving eve. It’s a holiday, after all.

I scan the aisles. Maneuvering the bulky cart that weighs 95 more pounds than it should, I turn the corner and snatch a cracker box off the shelf. Mozzarella and sun-dried tomato, store brand. Who knows what kind of carbs are in this cardboard; it’ll probably send her blood sugar sky-high, but right now, I need her to be quiet. I’m beginning to envy her screams. It must be somewhat satisfying, sister of mine, airing your feelings out loud in the middle of the snacks aisle. At least people don’t give you annoyed looks—those are coming my way instead. Eat your crackers and just try to hold all that frustration and over-stimulation in until we get out to the car.

When we do reach the car, she immediately calms down. I start the engine and the slightly static sounds of Christmas fill the vehicle; 101.7 FM—the self-proclaimed 24/7 holiday music station. We pull out into traffic and I relax a little. We have fifteen minutes before home and the high pitched crying screams that are almost sure to ensue. Why, I wonder, is transitioning from place to place so difficult for my sister?

She was diagnosed with autism and other developmental delays when I was nine. Early intervention and therapy quickly followed. I sat at the pull-out desk and worked math problems while my three year old sister learned to walk behind a Fisher-Price push toy. Around and around the room she staggered, with the push toy in front and her therapist behind. Then came the preschool and kindergarten years, where she watched videos and made thanksgiving turkeys with her handprint. Every afternoon, I ran down the long driveway to get her off the school bus. Back then, it was a regular bus. At night, she’d sing Jesus Loves Me incessantly. She didn’t know all the words and her voice was garbled, but she was saying something out loud and we were thrilled. She really loved that song. When she screamed in the doctor’s office, he tried to calm her down by singing Twinkle Twinkle Little Star. I watched silently and thought that he had no idea. She doesn’t care about the stars, but she knows Jesus loves her. Jesus loves everyone, even if they’re different or can’t talk and maybe still need to be fed like a baby even though they’re seven years old.

When we moved, she didn’t know we were doing it for her. She didn’t know that we were doing it so she would be able to attend a special autism school and learn to communicate, to take care of herself, to be able to look at one of us in the eyes and say I love you. Those were the hard years, the years that we saw so much progress in some areas, and yet so little in others. She can feed herself now but we still need to dress her. She can use flash cards and simple phrases to say what she wants but she won’t tell us what we want so desperately to hear.

Now she has a school aid and rides the short bus home. She loves school and the fifth grade and I sometimes wonder if she knows more than we realize. If she understands the conversations that take place around her and the subtle changes in our moods. Does she empathize with our tears, laugh with our joys, and know that we love her? Sometimes she looks us in the eye and giggles at some mysterious joke; other times, she ignores us, preferring her video to human contact. Patriotic songs sung and signed in American Sign Language. It’s the same movie constantly and every time she laughs and squeals as if she’s hearing Yankee Doodle for the first time.

We’re home. I pull into the driveway and wait for the predictable screaming, but it doesn’t happen. I open the back door and unbuckle my silent sister, coaxing her out of the comfortable seat. We go into the kitchen and I pull out the black box. She pushes it across the table. She is obviously communicating her feelings and I sympathize with her. But I know medical information that she doesn’t and even though she tenses, I pull out a test strip and prick her finger. It’s only a small drop of blood, but it tells me enough information. Your blood sugar is high tonight, sister of mine. It must have been the crackers. I pull out the injection pen and prime it. It’s yellow and blue, with cute stick figures; a needle for children. It’s sad, that diabetes and children have to be even put into the same sentence. I inject her with the life-giving insulin and she responds with a tiny whimper. It’s the most she ever complains, yet we do this process more than three times a day.

She was diagnosed when I was seventeen. Her eyes were getting larger and body getting smaller. She didn’t want anything to eat, but she craved liquids. She got off the bus and tried to drink out of a mud puddle. We gave her a full cup of water, but she dumped all of it but a few drops and after sipping them, handed us the cup to refill. Is it the autism that prohibits her from drinking out of a full cup? She goes in one morning for an examination. Hyperglycemia. She could die, my father says with a solemn voice and serious eyes. She could die and somehow I feel as if it’s my fault. I spend the day in my room, crying and praying. Trying to imagine life without this sister of mine. Repenting for the times I resented her screaming and autistic behaviors.

She didn’t die. Four days later, she came home with a fuller body and new instructions for life; insulin injections several times a day, regular blood checks, a balanced diet. Of course she couldn’t give herself injections, so we became her pancreas. The thought of putting a needle into anyone, particularly my helpless sister, at first filled me with terror. Dear God, we already struggle with her daily care, now we must do this as well?

Now it’s a year later and as I put the cap back onto the needle, I hardly think about what I’m doing. It’s become a, while not necessarily pleasant, tolerable routine. She dimples when she sees that I am putting the instruments away. Let’s go lie down and listen to music and giggle with each other about nothing. It’s what sisters do. I follow her down the hallway into the bedroom, where she jumps onto her bed and waits while I select her favorite CD and put the volume where she likes it. She watches while I pull out my laptop and check Facebook. She sings along with the music. Jesus Loves Me. It’s off-key, but she and Jesus hear nothing but beauty. Happy Thanksgiving Eve, sister of mine. You have given me so much to be thankful for and when I look back at my childhood, I see how you colored the pages of my life story with your innocence and affectionate heart. It makes me smile. You annoy me at least three times every day, sometimes more, but maybe those moments of irritation make the moments of affection so much more wondrous and precious. I think all these things and she listens to music and thinks her own things, and together we simply live and breathe and love.

Thoughts about this Friendship with Jesus

There is something about hearing people’s stories and walking with them through their pain that causes you to question everything you know to be true. The Lord has taken me on my own journey of finding healing and wholeness here working in a rehabilitation program, but I have also learned that I am so damn lucky. Of course, the truth is that luck had nothing to do with my life. The reality is, though, the same God that purposefully placed some of us into families that, for all their dysfunction and brokenness, loved Jesus and were relatively stable, also placed some of us into families that really shouldn’t even be categorized under that description. The same God that knew some of us before we were even conceived in our Christian mother’s womb knew some of us before we were conceived in the most difficult circumstances. I first came on staff here as a nineteen year old with a newly minted degree in General Studies and the awareness that I was walking into what the Lord had told me would be a wilderness. I had been through enough of my own struggles to know that there wasn’t necessarily a simple answer for every question, but I think I assumed that there at least was an answer—even if it wasn’t easy or simple. Over two years later, I am not sure if there are even answers to every question. At least not on this side of heaven. I’m inclined to think that when I see Jesus, it won’t matter because His beauty will be all-consuming and all I will be able to do, or even want to do, will be worship.

But right now, we only see glimpses of that beauty and those questions do matter. They matter because they are only asked when something doesn’t make sense or cannot be explained. They matter because the motive for our asking those tough questions either moves us towards or away from the Lord.  I have spent much time listening to people’s questions and asking questions of my own. I have spent collective hours sitting before the Lord with tears streaming down my face, admitting to Him that I have questions, that I don’t fully trust Him, that the longer I walk with Him, the more unsteady my faith feels. And I am so grateful, because I am realizing that in the doubting and unsteadiness, He is actually planting my roots deep in Him. When my faith feels unsteady, I learn to hold onto the Steadfast. When my questions don’t have answers, I learn to trust the Answer.

I don’t have the answers for these women. I can only walk with them, cry with them, and point them to Jesus. Not because Jesus will provide all the answers, immediately comfort all wounds, or fill all their heart holes. But because Jesus simply is. He is the Steadfast, He is the Answer, He is the Healer, Comforter, Savior, Redeemer.

We are the sinners unable to worship. We are the men and women wearing nothing but shame. We are the lepers having to hear our own voices pronounce our filthiness for everyone to hear. We are the people standing on the dim side of the glass, seeing only glimpses of a Glory that we long to fully know. We are the beggar children wanting to kiss the face of the King.

He is the I Am.

This I Am, this God who simply IS – He knows us. He knows us in a way that is both terrifying and intimate. Our clothing of choice is transparent and He sees our shame and we tremble. We are not worthy. We are not holy. We are dying of sin and we bear the smell and marks of it. Sin is not so much an action as it is a state of being. Shame is not defined by the things that we do; it is in our very nature. Salvation is not altered by the shape of the sin that it crucifies. Redemption is messy and beautiful regardless of whether it takes place in a grave or a church.

I once had a dream in which I saw Jesus. He was standing several feet away, wearing a white robe, and His arms were open. I wish I could remember His face. I saw it in the dream, but I have never been able to clearly recall it, and perhaps I never saw it clearly. He smiled and beckoned to me and I went to Him. When His arms folded around me, I fit completely into them. I was hidden and safe. I had never before, and have not since, experienced the feeling of peace and security that filled me in that moment.

And that is why I can only point people towards Jesus. This life is hard, families are dysfunctional, and Satan has come to steal, kill and destroy. I have learned that focusing on that death only creates questions and fuels doubt. Focusing on the healing only breeds frustration and disillusionment. Focusing on the pat answers and carefully-explained faith only leads to confusion and an inability to ever fully walk in truth. But focusing on Jesus leads to a joy in the sorrow and healing in the pain, because a relationship with Him is the only real thing that is lasting and substantial.

And so we walk with Him. We become the dead sleepers that He wakes with the promise that He will shine on us. We become the men and women that He clothes. We become the slaves that enter the throne room and are granted a royal status. We become the lepers who are transformed by His touch. We become the priests worshiping at His feet. He redeems our lives. We are dead to sin and alive to Christ. We are no longer hiding, but we are hidden in Him.

This friendship with Jesus becomes part of our story.

To be honest, I still find myself asking those tough questions. Though there may be no answers that my finite human mind can comprehend, I can see His work in the hearts of the men and women here – sometimes in the quietest and smallest of ways. He is breaking up the fallow ground in hard hearts and stony souls. Those that choose to keep asking honest questions rather than allowing the questions to turn into statements of bitterness and defeat, find themselves constantly reaching for Him, crying “more, Lord, more.”

I have the immense privilege of walking with these residents through the over-turned soil and softened mud, watching as He plants new seeds and gently reworks their root systems. Yes, there are many days that I struggle with doubt and sadness. There is a sorrow that comes with asking questions with people. But I am also filled with a deep joy because I know both the Gardener and the soil of these hearts. There are so many things I don’t understand and probably never will, but knowing Jesus is enough. Jesus is worthy of it all—He is worthy of the sorrow, He is worthy of the trust in the midst of questions.

I wish there was a way I could neatly wrap up these thoughts, but I’m still living them. Maybe someday I will be able to summarize my faith and the how and why behind life’s pain more succinctly. At the moment, though, I am not meant to find meaning or solutions. I’m simply called to point people towards Jesus, inviting them to walk with me as I walk with Jesus.

shout-out

What do you get when you cross a charismatic Christian, an earthy hippie and a conservative homemaker who loves a good adventure?

The answer comes in the form of a woman standing barely 5’2, dressed in a conservative dress and sneakers, with her olive-complexioned face browned by the sun and her eyes sparkling with joy and warmth. This woman effortlessly steps over unspoken stereotypes and mixes denominational and cultural differences with an ease and warmth.

She is friends with dozens of Christians from different backgrounds and beliefs, but manages to unite them with their one purpose of glorifying Jesus. Her own beliefs about Christianity reflect the stories in the book of Acts. Her faith is simple and substantial—rooted in a Love that captured her heart and healed her deepest wounds. God is her friend and she carries that responsibility with a joyful solemnity. Where He leads her, she will follow, treating it as an exciting adventure in which her role is to speak and do what He is speaking and doing. Her adventures with Him have taken her to England, Alaska and North Dakota—but also to the next-door neighbor and the local Wal-Mart.

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“Praying is coming into agreement with God,” she says, “And He can’t steer a parked car.”

Her car is not parked. She is constantly discovering new and fresh delights on her treasure hunt with the Lord. It is the glory of the Lord to conceal a matter and it is the glory of this woman to seek it out. Her shelves are covered with tactical rocks, keys, and scraps of paper—simple treasures that represent the more important ones that He has burned into her heart.

Her life has not been easy or full of delight. It has been years of walking and stumbling through a wilderness. I walked with her and sometimes God seemed more of a Mystery than a Might, more of a Hider than a Revealer. But like in the story of Much-Afraid, the Shepherd was always closer than we imagined. Sometimes He came in the hardest times and told us stories about Himself and about how He was healing her. I didn’t learn about the Ways the Lord Works after He had worked and the healing was complete. The learning came with the process—slow and painful and steady. She told us things that He spoke to her only hours after He had spoken and before we saw the fruition.   Sometimes when she talks about those wilderness years, now in this oasis time, I hear regret and sorrow in her voice. She told me that she was sorry, once, that I was there for some of the years that the locusts wasted. But I learned to follow Jesus in the wilderness by following my mom. I learned that He laughs, that He has inside jokes with us, and that He speaks hard truth that burns our ears and incinerates the barriers around our hearts.

She is not perfect. At times in my teenage years, I expected perfection and resented her humanity. But I am grateful for the imperfection because it allowed me to see, and to still see, a beautiful and messy Redemption. I don’t know a Middle-Class American God because I grew up with a God that sat in our mobile home and told us stories about Himself. I don’t know a comfortable Jesus because I grew up with a Jesus that walked through the discomfort. I don’t know a passive Holy Spirit because I grew up with a Holy Spirit that was constantly moving and active.

Jesus is her Friend and now He is my Friend. Following Him means embracing friendship with the Holy One. I learned how to follow Jesus because my mom followed Jesus.

And I am really grateful.

because I practice self-preservation

How often I attempt to sabotage our friendship.

I have two friendships, actually. The first one, the one with my needs, is sometimes the most precious one to my heart.

I know my needs. I know them by heart. I know my need to get well, to drink more water, to take better care of myself when I am sick. I know my need for security, to know that I am able to financially provide for myself, to know I am doing a good job at everything I do. I know my need for love, to know that I can dare to love others authentically and deeply because they love me authentically and deeply.

I am well acquainted with my needs. We are good friends and this is not the friendship that I sabotage. Instead I put forth desperate efforts to ensure that this particular friendship, this deep relationship between my needs and I, will be well-protected.

My other friendship really only exists to help me keep my need friendship alive.

Because Jesus can meet my needs. God can fill the hole in my heart. The story of redemption becomes a Wal-Mart for my soul. I carefully pick the items that will best help soothe my hurts and protect my needs. My friendship with God becomes a vehicle to happiness.

And this friendship, this one with the holy Wal-Mart, becomes the one that I try to sabotage.

Because when my needs aren’t met and I am sitting in the corner counting my losses, and my hurts aren’t bandaged and I am left picking at the scabs, I realize that I have been in friendship with the wrong Jesus. This hole in my heart was not filled by God. I think in some ways that it has grown ever bigger, with more needs and more discontentments and longing…so much longing…for a grace that I cannot accept.

I realize that I have been protecting my friendship with my needs by forming a friendship with a band-aid.

And I realize that friendships with band-aids never work because eventually that band-aid will turn brown from the old blood still seeping through it. I will pull it off my skin and I will throw it away. The garbage will go to the place where garbage goes and someday it will be burned. And my friendship will be nothing more than ashes.

But then this GodMan reminds my heart that He was never a band-aid and my broken heart that is still weeping over my disintegrated friendship realizes that my true friendship with Him is not sabotaged. I realize that I can never destroy this friendship because He is a person and a friendship goes both ways. I remember that I don’t always like Him. I remember that sometimes He demands everything. I remember that He does not fit comfortably and that is why I choose to forget Him and focus my affections on the band-aid.

But then I remember that sometimes He laughs with me and we share inside jokes and secrets that only come from those deep friendships. I remember that He gave all. I remember that He is so beautiful and holy and that I can laugh and dance and worship in His presence and He changes me so that I don’t need band-aids.

I remember that I love because He loves first. He will never let me sabotage our friendship. When I try to create new versions of our friendship that involves band-aids and meeting my needs; He reminds me that every time I do this, I always end up wanting that friendship to end.

The friendship with my needs becomes less important because I am satisfied with the friendship with my God.

knowing the contradiction of Him

My love for You has taken the form of striving, working to gain Your affection, running to catch Your love, pleading to hear Your voice.

My heart needs to be in the place of abiding, delighting in Your affection, resting in Your love, listening for Your voice.

 I serve and strive to the point of exhaustion. When I begin to feel Your love, I rationalize it away. But without Your steady arms, I would fall. Without intimacy, my life becomes a religious game rather than a genuine relationship with You.

 You are the God who is jealous for me.

You redeemed Israel and saved me.

You thundered to the prophets and whispered to me.

You are just and yet so kind.

 My intimacy with You does not diminish Your righteousness. Your eyes that watch the universe also know my inner being. I’ve struggled to reconcile my own experience of knowing You with Your judgements and authority that can sometimes make You feel distant and unknownable. But I can’t explain in logical human terms what it is like to be loved by the God of the ages. I can’t explain the comfort in the Name of Jesus. 

 My heart is filled to its very depths with a desperation to know this Holy One. I see glimpses of myself in the woman weeping at His feet, the man dropping his nets at the sound of His voice. I hear my cry in Moses’ plea to “show me Your glory.” I want what they had, what they knew. I want His friendship.

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Exodus 33: 15-23

“Then Moses said to Him, “If Your Presence does not go with us, do not send us up from here…show me Your glory.”

And the LORD said, “I will cause all my goodness to pass in front of you, and I will proclaim My Name, the LORD, in your presence. I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion. But you cannot see My Face, for no one may see Me and live.”

Then the LORD said, “There is a place near Me where you may stand on a rock. When My glory passes by, I will put you in a cleft in the rock and cover you with My hand until I have passed by.”