How Would You Fill in the Blank?

Easter’s coming soon. But I’m not thinking about the Easter story. Not yet. Right now, I’m thinking about the story of Lazarus.

Mostly I think, because I’ve believed for a long time that resurrection is what Jesus did on Easter. But I need to grab hold rather more deeply to the idea that resurrection isn’t only what Jesus did–resurrection is who Jesus is.

I need to recapture a glimpse of what might possibly happen if Jesus showed up in certain dead pockets of my life and heart. Places where I’ve given up hope. Places where I’m angry with him that he didn’t show up in time…

If you want to read the story of Lazarus, you can find it in John chapter 11 in the Bible. But here’s how I’d start the telling of it:

Jesus has twelve guys who follow him around in all his travels. But he has other friends, too. And three of his best friends are two sisters and a brother named Mary, Martha, and Lazarus.  They live in a town called Bethany, and whenever Jesus is in Bethany, he stays at their home. It isn’t the sterile, polite sort of hospitality. It’s the sort of make-yourself-at-home feel where if refrigerators had been invented, I’m sure Martha would’ve come into her kitchen and found Jesus rummaging in the fridge at midnight for a snack. It’s the sort of comfortable relationship where they can fight in front of Jesus—and where he enters into the fray. They’re friends.

Then, crisis hits. And it hits at a juncture when Jesus is not in town. In fact, he’s not likely to be in town much, because there’s a price on his head in Judea—the region of Israel that included both Jerusalem and Bethany. He’s camped out twenty miles—a good day or two’s journey—away from Bethany.

Here’s the crisis: Lazarus gets sick. Really sick. It looks like he could die.

And Mary and Martha are so sure of Jesus’ love for them and for Lazarus—in addition to Jesus’ power to heal the sick—that they send messengers to Jesus to say to him, “Lord, the one you love is sick.” That’s all they say, but there’s a lot packed into that little sentence. You see the sisters’ devotion to Jesus—they call him “Lord.” You see how sure they are of Jesus’ devotion to them—they call Lazarus “the one you love.”

And the underlying trust in the statement is this: the fact that they don’t even ask Jesus to come to Bethany—they just assume that he will. Despite the interruption to his work. Despite the distance. Despite the fact that he’ll be heading straight into danger and the threat of his own death. Jesus loves them; of course he’ll come back. Of course he’ll heal Lazarus.

And then you’ve got what have to be a couple of the most ridiculous sounding verses in the whole Bible. Check it out:

Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. Yet when he heard that Lazarus was sick, he stayed where he was two more days. (John 11:5-6, NIV)

Tell me you don’t do a serious double take when you read that.

He stayed where he was for two more days. What?!?

So imagine. Put yourself in Mary’s shoes, Martha’s shoes. The messengers come back without Jesus—no explanation. Time passes, and between caring for Lazarus, you find yourself going to the window, looking down the road for any sign of Jesus—nothing. What are you thinking while Lazarus lies dying? What questions are you asking? Try to imagine.

And actually, we don’t have to imagine, because the Bible tells us.

By the time Jesus shows up, Lazarus has been dead and in the tomb for four days. Martha hears that Jesus has arrived and she runs out to him. The first words out of her mouth are these: “Lord…if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” (John 11:21, NIV)

In verse 32, when Jesus sends for Mary and she goes out to him, Mary says the same thing: “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” (John 11:32, NIV)

God, where were you?  

God, you could have kept this from happening—why didn’t you? 

God, how can you say you love me when you let this happen? 

Maybe it’s a little mind-blowing to think of someone having the chutzpah to ask Jesus those questions to his face. But you know what—a lot of the people in the Bible who were closest to God fired questions like this at God in the middle of their most challenging moments.

Not out of disrespect. But out of a soul that respected God enough to keep taking their questions to him even when they had no idea what he was doing. When they hated what he was doing. When they were angry and confused and grieving. They laid all their questions and emotions out before him instead of running away from him.

If Jesus were walking down the road toward your house today, and you ran out to meet him, how would you fill in the blank? What would still be alive if God had showed up when you asked him to? A person? A dream? A relationship? A piece of your heart?

How would you fill in the blank:

Lord, if you had been here, ____________________ would not have died.

Hunger Games

I finally read The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins last week, and took my son to see the movie on Saturday. The book had a compelling story and characters which kept me awake till midnight Friday night reading in bed next to my husband. The movie proved to be a satisfying adaptation of the book.

The premise of the book, though, is disturbing: Teens conscripted to fight one another to the death. In order to keep the “peace.”

It’s disturbing in the fictional world of Panem. Disturbing, too, in the non-fictional world in which we live. In our world, too, children are sacrificed at the altar of corrupt government, of corrupt war-making, of corrupt commerce, of corrupt adults.

I’m so thankful for people I know who find ways to stand up against the injustice. Over the past three years, I’ve gotten to know some local friends who raise awareness of and advocate for children who are victims of child sex trafficking–both internationally, and here in the United States. These friends are part of an organization called iEmpathize, and they do awesome work. Check them out here:

Back in 2009, I attended an Empathy Experience put on by iEmpathize. It was a powerful evening, and it propelled me into a greater awareness of this issue and a greater desire to watch for ways that I could fight the injustice alongside them.

Here’s what I wrote two weeks after that event:

The week before spring break, a couple of my students invited me to an event happening on the CU campus (University of Colorado), jointly sponsored by CU-SAMS (CU Students Against Modern Slavery) and iEmpathize, an organization that works to connect people and resources to issues of injustice (with a current focus on the issue of child sex trafficking).

The event at CU was an “Empathy Experience,” an interactive silent vigil/exhibit set up to connect people to the issue of child sex trafficking.  As soon as I got the invitation, I felt a strong urge to attend, and made arrangements to do so.  Here’s why:

I agree that child sex trafficking is one of the darkest, most horrific injustices in the world today.  And I believe the issue must be brought out into the open and stopped–that WE NEED TO STOP IT.

Beyond that, as a survivor of childhood sexual abuse, I have tasted a slice of what it means to be wounded in that deep place of the heart.  Thankfully, I have also tasted a slice of what it means to be rescued and to walk through (and keep walking through) healing in that arena.  And as I grow more secure in that, I begin to feel a deepening burden for others who in some way have been sexually victimized, and a growing curiosity about what part God might want me to play in being a force for justice and compassion and healing in that dark, dark arena.

And beyond that, I felt an affinity with the idea that iEmpathize invites people into a multi-sensory, interactive experience that integrates art–and artifacts–with the statistics in a way that creates a personal connection with the children impacted by sex trafficking.  I’m an artist and a communicator–I get that.

So, I attended the Empathy Experience.  I joined others in silently walking the path through a room that brought us face to face with the reality of what is being done to so, so many innocent children.

I worked for ten years as part of a team that strived to communicate truth creatively, interactively, through various artistic media.  With that background, I say this:  the Empathy Experience was very well done.  It professionally presented the reality of child sex trafficking in a way that was simple, artistic, and powerful.  The displays were neither graphic nor offensive–by which I mean to say:  the crimes are highly offensive, the display itself was not.  The display was simple, straightforward, honest, which left the offense where it belongs–on the offenders.  There was no preaching, no one talking during the experience.  The only words were on little placards next to the artifacts, paragraphs to describe what I was looking at.  Or simple statistics flashed on a screen.  There was no one telling me what I ought to think or feel.  There was merely(!) the gift of space and time provided for me to look at the reality of what is happening and to allow my heart to respond.

I do not know how other hearts responded to the Empathy Experience, but my heart was breaking at the things I saw.  The photo you see with this entry is but one example.  Here is a piece of what is printed on the placard:

“These sandals were found at the entrance of a brothel… 90% of the children in this neighborhood have been sold for sex at least once and the children victimized are as young as six years old…”

Those sandals were made for feet smaller than those of my seven-year-old daughter.  I somehow managed not to let my inward churning spill out into actual tears or sobs.

But why?

There are things in this world that ought to be cried about.  Injustices in this world that ought to awaken in us a hot, hot anger at the injustice and a deep, deep burden for the victims…

I’m still, two weeks later, mulling over my experience…  Empathy is one thing–a very, very good thing.  But engaging is another, and I need to consider how to engage…

What injustices that you see in the world most capture your heart? In what ways have you moved from empathy to engagement?

To the Boy who Rides his Unicycle to School

I drive by lots of kids on bikes every day as I take my daughter to school. I’m careful to give them wide berth as I pass, but other than that, they barely register in my mind.

And then there’s you. Riding your unicycle. 

Riding your unicycle.

You wear jeans and jacket and helmet and backpack, like all the other kids cycling to school. Except that they do it on two wheels, you on one.

The first time I saw you, I did a double take. Needed to make sure my eyes were communicating properly to my brain. Since then, I see you and I smile. Sometimes I laugh. Not at you–never at you. But I do laugh, joy chuckling out of me at the sheer unexpectedness of your studious face, of your arms balance-checking, of your legs pumping the pedals of that one wheel up the hill to the school. 

The sight of you each morning injects a hopeful tenacity into my soul.

With admirable seriousness, you achieve the preposterous. On every good-weather day available to you.


When God Doesn’t Show Up

It’s been a crazy long day. Jesus and his disciples get in a boat, and Jesus directs his friends to head across the sea of Galilee. Now Jesus is super tired. So as soon as he’s in the boat, he crashes. He’s fast asleep. So soundly is he sleeping, in fact, that he doesn’t wake up even when the water starts getting choppy. Even when the winds start whipping about and a huge storm hits the lake. Even when the sky opens up and the rain starts pouring down. The disciples, many of them experienced fishermen, are doing everything they can just to keep the boat from sinking, and I’m sure in between every stroke of the oar, they’re cutting their eyes over to where Jesus is sleeping, wondering why in the world he… And as wave after wave hits, their panic grows. They start wondering if this has been more than a long day–maybe it’s their last day. Their fear rises up inside them, and so does their frustration. Their anger. Their doubts. 

Isn’t that our story right now, many of us?

We’re in the boat with Jesus, but the storm’s hitting hard right now. Sickness. Broken relationships. Money struggles. Unexpected events that threaten to turn your world upside down. 

And there’s no sign that it’s going to stop. And in the middle of the storm you’re doing everything you can. Every single thing you can think of to try. And Jesus, it seems, is doing nothing. 

What happens inside of you when you’re doing everything you know to do, and it feels like God’s not showing up?

Do you cry out to him in your confusion and fear and anger? Are you open with God about your feelings? Do you keep your mouth shut and keep rowing, shoving those feelings aside? Do you get all passive-aggressive with Jesus, and roll your eyes and glare at him all the time you’re rowing the boat? Do you start looking for another boat to jump into? 

In the storm story in Mark chapter 4, the disciples try to handle their fear and frustration on their own for a while. But eventually, they take it to Jesus. They wake him up and ask the question we all want to ask sometimes: “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?”

The answer of course is yes.

And in this particular case, Jesus calms the storm.

What’s more challenging is to believe that the answer is still yes when Jesus doesn’t calm the storm. To believe that it is good and right to keep going to him then. To believe that he can still be trusted. Even when it feels like he’s asleep. Even when you’ve got hard things to say to him. Even when you’re mad as hell about the storm that’s raging in your life and in your soul. Even then.

Even when you wait for God. And he doesn’t show up.