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Wednesday, January 20, 2010

The Art of Communion

"Mom? Please pray for me." With that, Joe closed the car door and disappeared behind the cold exterior of brick and vinyl. The desperation in his voice was easy to discern. Of course, I have my own sense of desperation at Joe's situation. To put it plainly, this world is no place for a boy like Joe. The sophisticated and oppressive culture that is his present reality is far more burdensome than I can even fathom.

It was my birthday today. But it was also business as usual, so a large part of my day was spent transporting Joe to appointments for special services and waiting for their conclusion so I could return him to his group home. I think he felt bad that I was playing taxi driver on my special day. There were no meltdowns or outbursts that often characterize our time together. Just the whimper of an anguished soul, requesting that I call his name out to the Father. You can bet that I have, am, and will be doing that – with everything that is in me. Yet the earnest tone in his voice also reminded me that I cherish others’ prayers on his and our behalf as we journey through this living death that is so draining.

There was a time I didn’t understand why or how one would appeal to what I perceived to be an infinite and distant God on behalf of anyone or anything. Honestly, it seemed a religious practice that lacked authentic purpose (like God really needed us to help push Him into appropriate action?). I had no inclination of the privilege or power that intercession offered, at least not until I read the story of a total stranger, Scott O’Grady. Captain O’Grady was an Air Force pilot shot down by enemy aircraft in a hostile territory. He spent six days evading capture while subsisting on leaves, grass and a precious few ants until his eventual rescue. Captain O’Grady’s faith became increasingly important to him as he came face to face with the reality of his physical limitations. As his would-be captors came perilously close to discovering him, O’Grady recalled the quickening of his faith even as he became acutely aware of his grave sense of loneliness. Struggling to survive in a hostile territory, the Father reminded O’Grady of the people that were praying for him. In a flash of revelation, he understood that those prayers - from loved ones as well as from perfect strangers – weren’t suggestions to set a weak-minded god on course. They were an intentional faith based act enabling those Believers to join him there in that very place. It was his spiritual eyes that illuminated not only God’s presence, but also their presence with him. This revelation was a great source of comfort for him. It also provided for me comfort as well, as I made the leap of understanding (to the degree that my limited abilities can) the impact of our joining in the suffering and supplications of others. We were created to participate and revel in community.

Whether our prayers be simple or whether we labor as full-fledged intercessors, the art of true communion involves more than words and strong feelings. I was reminded of this when I recently encountered an elderly man whom I barely knew, at the grocery the other day. With little knowledge of anything about me or my life, he proceeded to say I should be ashamed of myself for what he determined to be a significant flaw in the way I was living out my faith. I felt disappointed that a near stranger would judge so harshly something he knew nothing about. I also felt an unsettling sense of disjointedness. This man’s actions, though his intentions were probably good, were rude and uncalled for. And even though this encounter doesn’t fit our normal perception of “prayer,” this Believing man was literally speaking a perceived “truth” about me in the presence of God. If prayer is considered a means of communication, a place where Believers ask questions, share emotions and state feelings, then I fear I had a front row seat to this man’s flawed prayer life and it was no taxi to paradise!

There’s nothing more offensive to fellowship than the tendency to assume the human heart and mind can ascertain others’ (or our own for that matter) needs and standing before God. Well-intentioned judgments fall woefully short of hearts communing in the fellowship of faith. We’ve probably all been at the giving and receiving ends of such disjointedness. True prayer and intercession come about only as we seek God’s heart on matters in earnest. The process of acquiescing to the All-Knowing One brings healing, humility and transforming power to us first, which then propels us into new and powerful ways of loving others. We're empowered to live beyond our means. To go places we wouldn't otherwise be able to go. To love beyond our fleshly capabilities.

I find it quite satisfying that Scripture reveals Christ Himself as an Intercessor. As he prepared to submit to the crucifixion, He prayed for every Believer. Not just those who were present. Not just those populating planet Earth at that moment. His prayer reached into time and stepped into every reality any of us will ever face . . . which means He’s there, waiting for us and for those who join with us in spirit and truth within our present realities. More than anything, I believe that’s what Joe longs to know. Beneath layers of worldly distraction and pain, I believe that’s what we all long to experientially know. That we abide in a living and active community inhabited by a faithful God and a people willing to commit their hearts and minds to a transforming and liberating glory.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

This Side of the Dark

I saw the darkness when no one else saw
and felt the weight of an unknown flaw
Alone I questioned, alone I groped
Yet the answers were not what I had hoped

Then the darkness set about its quest
of taking a child from his mother’s breast —
to a state of madness, a dreary place
Leaving only the slightest trace
Of the boy that I had known so well and loved so much —
A boy who might have been president or a preacher or such

Eventually others began to see
and accusations flew at me
Surely I’d done something horribly wrong
but the darkness only soldiered on

Defying explanation and resisting aid
Manic swings left me afraid
How far to the edge? How long can he last?
How much can we take in a house made of glass?
From the boy that I had known so well and love so much —
A boy who might have been president or a preacher or such

Fatigue and sorrow weigh down this weak frame
Yet I press on and with conviction proclaim
all is not lost, the darkness will end
My child will prevail, his spirit will mend

As I yearn for the boy that He knows so well and loves so much —
The boy He could have made president or a preacher or such
More than anything, I know the boy lives in the palm of His hand
where darkness will give way at His command

© 2009 Carrie B. Fisher

. . . weeping may endure for a night, but joy comes in the morning.

Psalm 30:5 NIV

Even in darkness light dawns for the upright, for the gracious and compassionate and righteous man.

Psalm 112:4 NIV

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

ready, set, live

A song for a my sweet daughter.

If you'd like to hear it, go here: http://apps.burst-dev.com/music/player.php?upload=124150&from_share=1&challenge=595695440

from child’s play to this day -- I see before me
a pleasant surprise -- like a sunrise

though you’re troubled at times -- by life’s loaded questions,
don’t leave faith behind while you make up your mind

learning to live

so go on and live, tho just visiting here;
three, two, one go – you’re ready I know

seek and you’ll find the part that is yours
one step at a time, even when you must climb

ready, set, live

life’s no longer a game – so don’t let it cheat you
have no fear – you belong here

the places you’ll go -- when faith is your guide
more than pretend, there’s no end

when you’re learning to live

so go on and live, tho just visiting here;
three, two, one go – you’re ready I know
seek and you’ll find the part that is yours
one step at a time, even when you must climb

ready, set, live

be willing to risk when people go fishing,
wanting to know you

take a chance – run and dance
through the things that grow you

live like someone loves you – oh you know its true . . .

so live, tho just visiting here;
three, two, one go – you’re ready I know

seek and you’ll find the part that is yours
one step at a time, even when you must climb --

ready, set, live
© 2009 Carrie B. Fisher

Monday, April 13, 2009

Choosing to Live

A friend's daughter recently experienced losing her boyfriend. It seems his interest in her was replaced by something or someone else. Understandably, my friend is going through the emotions that most mothers would under such circumstances. She grieves the loss of innocence. Her daughter was a young lady who had trusted easily. Would she ever be able to enter into a relationship without calculating the possibility of risk because of this breakup?

Unexpected questions occurred to me as I listened to my friend. Can we ever really choose to trust if we don't know the risk of a broken trust? For that matter, can we choose to love if we haven't felt the sting of loss? Can we choose to forgive if we have not experienced the angst of someone's sin against us?

I'm not trying to suggest that we aren't capable of such things if we haven't experienced emotional losses. As an example, when I became a mother, I was immediately engulfed by the emotions that are natural for new mothers. It didn't take losing a child to love the way a mother just naturally loves. Nevertheless, something powerful happens when we choose to risk in spite of broken promises, wounded memories, and long lost loves -- the kinds of things known not only to the intellect, but also to a pierced heart.

In the Scriptures, Paul taught that above all, three things hang around and just sort of continue to present themselves as possibilities to us: faith, hope and love. Interestingly enough, preceding that proclamation, he explained the futility of livng without them. Any good we could ever hope to achieve without these virtues, Paul warns is just emptiness manifesting in all its futility.

It begs the question, why would anyone choose to live in the throes of futility. Could it be because of the risk of choosing to believe? Choosing to hope? Choosing to give and receive love? Jesus warns us that trouble will come. But why must it come? The answer to this question is far more than my brain can wrap itself around. However, I am growing more certain that pain gives us the opportunity to choose. A heart broken is a heart that chooses. Sometimes the offense drives our hearts into a period of cold and harsh hibernation. Often we've made these choices long before our conscious minds can even understand there has been an offense. Sadly, in our oblivious state the essence of who we are is often rendered impotent of divine oomph.

The broken can also choose to trust. That scorned heart can embrace forgiveness. That lonely soul can determine to be loved, and to love in return. These are the possibilities that lead us out of futility and darkness and into the quality of life that so easily escapes us. Because of Christ, each and every troublesome offense comes bundled together with a lifeline to choose. When He submitted Himself to the Cross, He also submitted Himself to the Resurrection. His actions permanently removed the sting of death. Not just of physical death – but also the kind of death our hearts endure with each rejection, every offense, all of the trouble this world serves up.

God could have done it differently. Perhaps, if He was a bit insecure about being able to handle our pain, I imagine He could have worked it out fairy tale style with everyone living happily ever after. Yet as King David laments, we are certain to endure seasons of tears, though our joy will eventually come.

Scripture explicitly states that God is profoundly moved by our tears, so it isn’t a lack of compassion or concern that keeps Him from placing a divine ban on all heart attacks. We are left to assume then, that our tears must be important. Our choosing is important. Our hearts are important. This is, after all, the redemptive work that Christ made possible. The choice to live -- not just some day far away when we reach our heavenly home, but here and now. The choice to be the glorious men and women that God made us to be. King David cried out for God to reveal any damaging choices he might be holding in his heart. Why? Because he knew the futile existence that comes about by a heart that fails to choose these healing virtues.

The pain of this world can seem almost unbearable at times. Yet when the choice is made to continue to live life through the lens of redemption, we also receive a head start to the glorious rest of our lives. Instead of the sting of death, we are filled with the power of hope and faith and love. And we're reminded that we are truly alive.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Second Chances

I've recently had the pleasure of becoming reacquainted with some old friends. In many ways, it feels like a homecoming. The beautiful thing is, we’re discovering a depth of friendship we never had before. Life has been good to so many of these friends. Not that time has been without its share of loss and disappointment. Some of them bear heavy burdens. Most all of them realize they don’t have everything figured out. Yet in the midst of the brokenness, there is this ever-present sense of hope, humility, and strength. You know what I’ve discovered? They’ve become far more attractive and enjoyable than I remember them being before.

I’ve known and been a part of many broken relationships in my life. The kind that drain the life right out of you. I’ve had to understand that I am a physical, mental, emotional and spiritual creature, and that I need to nurture each of these entities of my life. As a matter of fact, I am quite needy, with all of these dimensions and facets making up my inner self. Yet neither friends nor my own striving can fulfill all that my soul requires. Jacob realized this as he wrestled with God at the place he called Peniel. So he refused to loosen his grip in that battle to experientially know God's love -- the kind that does not fail nor abandon nor reject. That was the blessing he sought over a life that up til then had been filled with emptiness. He had lived long enough, and wrong enough to realize that these things and more importantly, his place with God was worth fighting for.

God created us to love one another, bear with one another, and sharpen one another. Yet more times than not, we fall pitifully short in our ability to give and receive this type of interdependent connectedness. It won’t always be so. With these renewed friendships, I am enjoying a season of second chances. It hasn’t been without acknowledgment of losses along the way. Yet this is a beautiful glimpse of what God has in store for us as we grow to relate in a rightful manner to God, to ourselves, and to one another. The gifts of life and love are God’s prized gifts to all of us. Gifts we are desperate to receive. Gifts that we are able to share, once we truly have them ourselves.

I’m thrilled to be connecting with these dear friends. It feels like we’ve entered into something glorious and eternal. And that it’s not too late for second chances.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Anything But This

It’s easy to believe that when God is “in” something, there is a certain flow to the process. For instance, I recently read of a couple who wanted to purchase a larger home. When their current home failed to sell, their realtor suggested a “house swap” with the owners of the home they were looking to buy. Even though this process is often a complicated one, on this occasion the swap was a cinch. The happy swappers explained that they were Christians, and had prayed that if God wanted them to have the house, He would work out all the details.

I once heard an exuberant young coach proclaim God’s favor on him as the reason for his success as he prepared his unheralded team to play in the final four of the NCAA men’s basketball tournament.

I fear that too often, we mortals in our limited ability to perceive the divine, link earthly successes to our spiritual standing. Though I believe there is merit to belief in God’s favor and blessings, is it possible that we are prone to misinterpret many of life’s twists and turns, and what they mean on the grander scale of our eternal development?

We live at a time, and in a society that aspires to be most “kingdomlike.” With the advent of technology, we "lords" can know many things at the touch of a button (omniscience). We can reach most places within a few hours at most (omnipresence). If we need more money, we get a loan. No longer do we wait for the growing season to have fresh produce, we just purchase imported (infinitude). We’ve explored space, conquered diseases, and administered peace (sovereignty). The underlying message is that we can be anyone or do anything we want (self-sufficiency). But this is a false reality that we are reminded of on occasion, when the unexpected happens. Yet because of this cultural mindset, it is easy to compare God’s ways with these humanistic likenesses that are most familiar. The results of this tendency are very damaging. False pride, unfair and harsh judgment of those who don't experience tangible successes are two easy yet subtle dangers.

Even more cruel, it can leave some with the assumption that they have been rejected or abandoned, leaving them feeling hopeless and confused. That’s where I was for much of my life. You might say I was suffering from severe faith deprivation – I knew about God, knew that I should “be different” because of the life giving qualities of my salvation, but frankly, I wasn’t experiencing anything but my own self-perpetuated misery. A lonely place.

There was a turning point for me. After years of hearing nothing from those heartfelt “are You there?” cries, I finally heard Him answer. It didn’t change anything, yet it changed everything. I wasn’t alone, had not been rejected, and there was something to hope for. Why He allowed me to live so long questioning that, I can’t really say.

The first few months and even years of my newfound faith found me eagerly waiting. Surely success and respect awaited me, now that I'd experienced this positive change. I was a child of the King, subject to all kinds of blessing. For a while, whenever it rained, no matter how long or how hard, I never got wet! If I needed to be out, the rain would mysteriously dissipate only to restart with a vengeance as soon as I was back inside. This only fueled my confidence. God was on my side! What could go wrong?

What could go wrong? There are some residents up in heaven, living in the Faith Hall of Fame sector, who could give unimaginable answers to such a question. Torturous living conditions. Brutal treatment. Harsh judgment. (Before their heavenly ascent.) And they aren’t alone. Throughout the course of history, Believers have cried out in faith for relief and deliverance for any number of great difficulties, only to suffer heart wrenching silence. Jesus Himself, in the Garden of Gethsemane, cried out to the Father He knew and loved so well, “anything but this!” Yet He still trudged the path of the Via Dolorosa on His way to Calvary.

My own heart wrenching anything but this has left me desperate. In the form of a prayer, it spills into the room -- mysteriously frittering away into the walls and ceiling -- leaving me exhausted and lying in a heap. Sometimes, life feels inexpressibly hard, and the answers that we desperately hope for seem absent. However, there is no futility here. The rain may come, and the chill of that rain may seep into my very bones. Yet it cannot change the truth.

Somewhere along the way, faith has enabled me to rely less on my physical senses. The experiential knowledge of God's love and faithfulness has soothed a gaping wound in me. But that love doesn't always make itself obvious in the midst of the anythings. God has something in mind for us, something far greater than we, in our finite condition can conceive of. There's no mistaking -- finite and fleeting things are enjoyable. But God is developing within me an appetite for things that are more satisfying and enduring: the knowledge that nothing comes to me that hasn't been filtered by His hand, the peace of knowing that God is for me and He will never leave me alone, and the understanding that the best is yet to come. Armed with these truths, I can do anything -- even this.

Friday, February 20, 2009

The Unforgotten One

As the due date for our second child inched closer, I wondered, would I have another boy or a girl. Just like my family of origin, I envisioned raising my own son and daughter. Two years into raising my baby boy, all seemed well. Yet as I pondered raising a girl, feelings of insecurity settled over my rapidly expanding frame. Was I woman enough to raise a daughter? Translation: could I see to it that she would never feel insecure, abandoned, or rejected?

A few months later in a dimly lit hospital room, I had my girl. Insecurities be damned, I would rise to the challenge -- I had a daughter now, and she needed me. We named her Georgia, a family name. Those first few days were spent memorizing the sights and sounds of this new little life.

Over time, euphoric feelings gave way to the reality of new routines and challenges. Our family would grow to accommodate another addition. It wasn’t a person; rather, it was the disease of mental illness enveloping my son. Of course it could have been anything -- addictions, a broken home, death, violent crime, unemployment, or any number of devastating matters that impact individuals and families on a daily basis. For us, it was this.

And so it was, the son who first held the mantle of firstborn, would lose his grip, in many ways. And the one who was born a baby sister would take on that mantle. I can't begin to explain what a complex and delicate process this has been. Yet within the transformation I have discovered two strong and courageous souls who, by God's grace, continue to persevere in trying circumstances.

In the midst of the constant insanity that is our life, there is still that girl – the one I longed to have, the one I had so feared failing. Just a few short months from now, my baby will leave the nest. Time, playing out in slow motion, yet also passing at breakneck speed, has produced quite a gem. Georgia has grown to be a special young woman. It’s not that I feel she is superior to others. The Creator’s knack for producing incredible individuals is unquestionable. It’s just that I have so enjoyed watching this particular one grow and evolve into such a person of substance.

Eighteen years ago, I aspired to give Georgia a perfect life. I loved her instantly because she was my child. Today I must confess, I didn’t get it all right. But my love and admiration for this daughter of mine has grown – partly because that’s what happens to a mother’s heart. But right alongside of that, in the midst of a chaotic and challenged environment, I discovered a young woman who embraces change, disappointment and uncertainty. It wasn’t the life I envisioned for her, but evidently God did.

Did she feel forgotten when we were running on fumes? Does she feel overlooked when exasperation overrides my best intentions? This daughter I had, God is still making. Every twist and turn is worthy. More and more, I’ve become a spectator. And the image that is becoming ever clearer is spectacular and eternal.

I’ve gained an appreciation for even the difficulties of life, because it is in these places that grace, forgiveness and redemption are most deeply felt. These gifts are far greater than anything I could have ever given. They, along with my love, are always there for the taking.