I am with you

During spiritual direction at the retreat at St. Meinrad’s in Indiana, I was asked to visualize being on a road with Jesus.  Where was he, in relation to me?  Then I was to imagine I found something on the road that was interesting.  Do I show it to Jesus?  Do I have to run to him to show it, or does he have to catch up?  Or do I just point to it and hope he figures it out?

I don’t normally like to spend a lot of time with these visualizations.  I usually feel very self-conscious doing play-pretend as an adult.  I’m also a little afraid that I’m going to be smacked down – that this is a trap.  It wouldn’t be the first time that a religious leader has purposely tried to make me look silly – and thus shame me into silence.

But I decided to a) be brave and trust and b) not go with my usual habit of trying to get to the good part too fast.  I’m not very good with waiting in the stillness of time that it takes for things to gel. Jesus and I are working on that.

I imagined I was walking on a dusty, rocky road, like the Camino de Santiago.  I was walking ahead, and Jesus was  behind me.  He was far enough away that conversation would have to be in gestures and shouts, but we could still see each other.

I saw a rock that was interesting and decided to wait for him to catch up to show it to him.  There were a lot of rocks on the road and I wanted to make sure he saw this specific one, because it was so different.

When he caught up with me and I showed him the rock, he smiled and said “Yes, I put that there for you to find.”

And my mind was blown.  How?  He was behind me.  But this is Jesus.  Jesus transcends time and space.  Jesus is everywhere.  He is before, behind, above, below, and within me.

Where I’d been wondering about him being behind me – aren’t I supposed to follow him, and not the other way around – he answered it.  He was behind me to watch me, to make sure I stayed on the path.  He was behind me to make sure I didn’t turn to the left or the right.  He was behind me to support me, to help me.

Years back, he had to be in front, but I watched his walk and matched my pace to his.  Now I can walk ahead and see new things.  My view is unobstructed.  I can go to new places, because he has shown me how.

The Walk isn’t about doing the same old things again.  It is a pattern, not a map.  You aren’t supposed to recreate his life, like a diorama, like a museum.  It has to be a living path.

The retreat theme was about rocks – about us being the living stones of the Church, about how even the stones would cry out if Jesus made his disciples be silent, about how we are like geodes – that being cracked open reveals our beauty.  I’d decided to take pictures of different examples of stones to meditate on, and took this one before the silent direction time.


It was only later when I was looking at my pictures again that I noticed the one almost in the center that has a cross shape, revealed inside the rock itself.


I went back to that area several times to try to find this rock, to take it home.  In a way, I’m glad I didn’t find it.  It is important to not iconize things, to not be weighed down by them.  It is the One who left me the stone in the visualization and in real life that is to be noticed.  The stone is just a symbol.  Symbols have to point to the thing – they aren’t the thing.  The trouble comes when we focus on the symbol.  That becomes idolatry.

Bonsai Betsy

I found out today that I have scoliosis. This is why the disc in my back slipped out of place last week. The bend in my back isn’t so bad that I’d noticed anything wrong before now. Now that I know, I can see the signs. The wear pattern on my shoes is a pretty good clue.

My chiropractor says I need three adjustments every week for about a month, then it will taper off and I won’t have to go as often. Even with insurance this will cost me $45 a visit. This is a lot of money, especially after all the other expenses I’ve had recently.

I’m not happy about having to spend more money right now. We’ve got money in savings but I like having more of a cushion for emergencies. I’ve got plenty of sick time and there are extra people in my department right now so I can take time for appointments. It is doable, but I’m not happy about it.

But I need my back. If my car didn’t work I could figure something out. I could get a ride to work, or I could borrow my husband’s car and he could take the bus to work. There are ways. But there is no getting around needing a spine that works correctly.

It isn’t like having crooked teeth and getting braces. Well, kind of it is. That too takes a long time and isn’t cheap, and it hurts. I had braces. I remember. But surgery isn’t recommended for what I have now, just adjustments. That alone is something to be thankful for.

Essentially the doctor is doing body-shop work on me. Essentially my body was in a very slow collision with life and gravity and possibly genetics. I need a front-end alignment on my back end. I’m a bonsai tree that hasn’t been tended properly.

I never knew I could amuse myself so much talking about my deformity.

I have a feeling that there is a punch line coming up. I have a feeling that there is a plan for all of this. I trust God. I know that everything has a reason, and everything happens because it is part of God’s plan.

I also know that sometimes we don’t get to see that reason, and sometimes we are the collateral damage.

People like resolutions. We like to know what the ending is. We like to know that the guy gets the girl and they both ride off into the sunset together. But God doesn’t work that way. God works in God’s time and in God’s ways and there is just no getting around that.

God isn’t in the storm. God is the still, small voice.

God never said this journey of life would be easy, but instead promised to always be with us.

This is really important to remember. Trusting God, loving God, serving God isn’t about everything being awesome all the time. In fact it can be pretty awful. But part of it means trusting that God is in charge, and God has a plan, and that everything will work out the way it needs to work out.

We often can’t see around the corner. We often live with uncertainty. We often don’t know what to do. So we pray, and God tells us, one instruction at a time.

Stay here. Move forward one step. Go this way. Stop. Wait. Move back one. Wait.

When Abraham started listening to that still, small voice, he did that in faith. When Noah built that ark and gathered up all the animals, he did that in faith. When Peter walked out on that water towards Jesus, he did that in faith.

This is what we do, when we walk with God. It isn’t easy. It is pretty scary sometimes. It is like walking on a tightrope, with our eyes closed, with no net.

Snake handling 1 (walks with God)

I’m going to start sharing stories of when God has called me with the hope that these stories resonate with you. I want to inspire you to be able to answer the call. It is hard to hear, and hard to understand. Perhaps we can muddle through together.

I consider this like “Post Secret” but for hearing from God. Or maybe it is like AA. I’m admitting that God talks to me. I think God talks to everybody, but they just don’t have their radio receivers tuned clearly. Maybe if I share some of what I’ve experienced you’ll realize that you have been through similar experiences. The purpose of AA is to let others know that they aren’t alone, and to give them strength on their journey. I have the same goal.

So I’ll start with this story, and add more later.

Many years ago I was walking with friends in downtown Chattanooga. It was late, probably 10 pm. We were walking to our favorite hangout, The Pickle Barrel. It was mid-November, and chilly enough for a jacket, but otherwise pleasant. This was not uncommon to walk at night in downtown Chattanooga. It was a safe town.

I caught a glimpse of a guy sitting by himself in Miller Plaza. This is an open area where bands sometimes play on the weekends. He was sitting by a fountain that had been turned off because it was winter. Something about him caught me. I felt instantly that he needed help of some sort. I told my friends that I’d catch up with them in a little bit.

It was as if there was a hand on my head and it turned me in that direction. The entire time I was walking across the street I was arguing with God. What are you doing!? I don’t know this person. It is late at night. I am a small white woman!?

Chattanooga in general was safe to walk at night, but I’d been cautioned about strangers my whole life. My parents meant well with their concerns and fears, but they themselves were ruled by their fears. Fear is what killed them, ultimately. I wasn’t rebelling against them by doing this, but I knew that I had to do something. I had to get over my trained fear and listen to that voice that compelled me onward.

As I got closer to him, and saw that he was probably 6 feet tall, maybe 140 pounds. He was pale, and had dark hair. He also had a silver ring on his wedding finger that could have been a wedding ring.

I didn’t know what to say. I didn’t have a script or training for this. I was terrified. But I felt like I didn’t have a choice in the matter. I was there already. I was looking at him, and he was looking at me.

I asked him if he was OK. He said he was. I knew he wasn’t. I kept talking with him. I wasn’t prying, and I certainly didn’t tell him that God sent me over because something was wrong. I just made light conversation.

We exchanged phone numbers and parted for the evening. It was months later that he told me that he was going to kill himself that night.

It was because I came up to him and distracted him that he didn’t.

This story has stayed with me for over half my life.

I still feel that pull to go up to strangers and ask them if they are OK. I still don’t know what to say or do. I don’t always go up to them. I wait to see if the pull is really there or if I’m just imagining it.

I don’t want to seem crazy.

It isn’t normal in our society to go up to strangers and talk to them. We are told not to. We are cautioned daily about how dangerous it is.

And then I remember this story. Normally we are told we might die if we go talk to strangers. Yet in this story, the stranger would have died if I hadn’t gone up to him.

It was a weird feeling, this pull. It was as if I had no say in the matter. I was as if I was a puppet. It was kind of unpleasant. It certainly was going counter to anything I’d been told by my parents or priests.

Yet it is everything.

We are told that if we are acting in accordance in the will of God, we are safe.

This is what snake handlers do. You know, the ones you’ve heard about in rural parts of the South or in the mountains of North Carolina. The ones who use snakes as part of their worship service.

They take their lead from the words of Jesus in Mark 16:17-18 “17 And these signs will accompany those who believe: In My name they will drive out demons; they will speak in new languages; 18 they will pick up snakes; if they should drink anything deadly, it will never harm them; they will lay hands on the sick, and they will get well.” And also these words from Jesus in Luke 10:19 “19 Look, I have given you the authority to trample on snakes and scorpions and over all the power of the enemy; nothing will ever harm you.”

I want to take that bravery out into the streets, into the market place. I want to take that and make it useful.

Snake handling done for the sake of snake handling is pointless.

But I also say communion for the sake of communion is pointless.

They both might make you feel closer to God. They both might make you feel connected, and may remind you of your covenant with God.

But they don’t mean anything if you can’t or won’t take that energy outside.

I don’t do this a lot. I saw a guy yesterday at my doctor’s office that I felt a small pull toward. I thought – what should I do? I walked out of the foyer, and I stopped for a moment, standing a few feet from the doors. I waited for the pull again. I waited for the hand on my head, directing me back.

It didn’t come. I don’t know if I missed it, or if it wasn’t something that I HAD to do.

I don’t know. I’ve not found books on this. I’ve not found a teacher.

Perhaps the experience itself is the teacher. Perhaps I need to just let God guide me through this. Sometimes this walk of faith feels like walking in darkness, with tiny pools of light to guide me. When I’m brave enough to step forward into the pool of light, another lights up before me. I don’t know where I’m headed, but I trust who is leading me.

I test everything. Does it feel crazy? That isn’t enough. Look at Moses – he talked to a burning bush. Look at Mary – she talked to angels who told her she was going to bring forth the Messiah.

Am I being asked to do something dangerous? That isn’t enough. Look at Peter – he walked on water. Look at Abraham – he was asked to sacrifice his son.

It is totally crazy to follow God. No wonder non-Christians feel like we are zombies. We pray about everything, asking God for guidance. We don’t rely on our own knowledge, because we realize that it isn’t enough. We are trying to tap into a bigger source. We aren’t lessening ourselves, we are plugging into Source. We are trying to upgrade from a 110 to a 220. We are trying to upgrade from a water hose to a garden hose. But it is hard, and confusing, and weird because there aren’t that many guides on this.

Here’s a test – is it for me? Or is it for others? Who will benefit from this action? If it is selfish, then run away. If it is self-less, then run towards it. If you are serving others, you are safe. Now, this doesn’t mean that nothing “bad” will happen – but it means that if it does, then it is also part of God’s will.

Confusing? Sure. But the Bible is full of stories that are confusing and yet many of us use them as the basis for our faith. I’m just bold enough to think there is some truth in these stories, and that it applies to us, right here and right now.