“Can I pray?” I asked, and he responded immediately and silently, sticking his right palm up to grip mine across the hospital bed. The light blue patterned smock thing, that does nothing for comfort or fashion, was not long enough to hide all the tubes and pipes coming out of his hand. Or his other arm, or all along the sides of the bed. I hate seeing medical equipment on people, probably because I have a problem with the idea of items needed to be attached to you for survival. Dependency is a difficult subject for me.
We clasped our hands together and prayed.
In January, I got my first black eye.
So much of life, my life, probably yours, just doesn’t make sense. It doesn’t line up. But I had been at an indoor play room thing and ran into a underground bunker, overshot, and dove into a wall of metal sheeting. My blue bruise and cut cheek were so satisfying. I deserved this blackened eye and this ice pack. It made sense.
There’s something spiritual about physical touch. God’s physical life is beginning to make more and more sense to me. I believe that God came down as a physical being, God WITH us, and He experienced pain and humanity, and He loved us, deeply, physically, unto physical death.
Scripture says God “has been manifested through the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus, who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel.”
He died a physical death and lived a new physical life for us, and now we get to walk in that. He abolishes our broken bodies and gives us light and life. His temple is not just a building. It’s our physical bodies right now. And so physical acts are spiritual acts too. We lay hands on each other, not just out of sympathy, but because of power. There is power in the Spirit, and there is power in our physical acts toward each other that resonate in the spiritual realms.
So it makes sense to me that what people often call “spiritual war” often takes place on physical realms. Like in my body, right now, or my friend’s spine, or your __(fill in the blank). The more medical things do not make sense, the more tumors pop up chaotically, the more autoimmune diseases shout lies in my endocrine system, we get to speak the Kingdom of Grace and Truth and Holy Reason.
So as our surgeons take the knives to tumors, we lay our hands deeply, pressing over my pancreas, gripping across hospital beds. We speak against the glucose receptors doing a bad job and hear that friends get discharged faster than they were supposed to, walking out God’s newness. Let’s address things physically and spiritually, let’s speak the reality of God’s physical gift over our physical selves.
This has been a year of tears for me.
I went into this year with many expectations. My second full year in California, where I would finally have a grasp on my location, community, church. Where the map in my head would be correct and I would no longer need google maps. When I’ve had made friends that know I love last minute plans, and they love making them. Maybe I’d restart potluck mondays, or have a work-out buddy.
Instead I’ve been to the hospital twice this year, ruining my life-long average pretty significantly. Even the dog went to the hospital this year. I now have an endocrinologist. I didn’t even know what those were before. For 28.75 years, I have never thrown up on the side of the road (neon green, at that), and my body went and ruined that record too. I’ve never experienced this level of visceral, physical pain before.
A few weeks ago my pastor asked, “Does your vision of Jesus have teeth?” As in, can what you understand and picture of your Lord sustain you? Can it lead you into battle, can it win in a fight, can it grind itself deeply in the physical realm, not just mental and emotional?
I thought about that question as I spoke with a friend who also experienced invisible loss this year. Our new normals are filled with daily reminders of a life we no longer have. It aches to think of how–for right now in broken little earth–we operate in both hope and hurt.
So much about my body has changed this year. But I’ve also begun to have a new understanding of Jesus as Emmanuel– “God with us.” He is not abstract. He is not distant. He came to earth as physical, humble, willing to be in the mess and grossness of life with me. with us. He is present, and his teeth are entrenched, biting lies sharply and tearing them into unrecognizable pieces.
I woke up this morning feeling inexplicably sad.
So I laid in my bed, curled, trying to figure out why. This is the closest I’ve gotten: My heart hurts that we live in a place where death is somehow the solution to death.
“Are you sure? This is embarrassing. This is embarrassing for you, isn’t it? You don’t have to. I’m embarrassed.”
We walked across a drive-through lane and another parking lot as he continued, and I tried to figure out if he was actually embarrassed, or if he wanted me to just give him money so he could leave.
“Please, this is so embarrassing. You don’t have to do this. Can we, can I, I mean, can we at least pretend we know each other?”
“We don’t need to pretend,” I said firmly. I stuck out my right hand, which still felt shaky from wisdom-teeth medication. “I would like to get to know you. My name’s Jess. And I’m not embarrassed of you at all.”
“Cary,” he said, taking my hand. “Cary.”
So we went in, and he ordered a #1 combo, with two sides of mashed potatoes and gravy, and I ordered cookies that came 3 for $1. Joe, the cashier, smiled at us, and you could see the calculations in his head, as I slid over the $20, and Cary insisted he had the two cents so I could get even bills back.
We sat in a booth, and I nibbled at the cookies while Cary scarfed, sporking potatoes into his mouth and hungrily ripping apart a biscuit. He slowed down to gulp water. He told me where he was from, what Ohio was like. He’s handsome, with salt and pepper hair and eyes that water, a pack of Marlboroughs in his denim shirt pocket. He thought the Florida economy would be better and told me he drinks to gain courage to ask people for help, that only 1 out every 40 or so people actually bother giving him food because they assume he wants drugs or alcohol. He used to drive semis. He’s been jobless for one year, homeless for six months.
Just before meeting Cary, I had sat with my dog for a few hours at Starbucks, reading and journaling, flipping through the gospels and what they say about death and three men on crosses and the King of the Jews. I didn’t think Jesus claimed “It is Finished” for me to be sitting around at Starbucks with my tall toffee nut latte with whipped cream. So I left.
Cary had approached me on my walk home. We sat for an hour and talked, and he thanked me for the food, but angrily refused prayer when I offered.
“I believe in God. I believe in Jesus, and I believe that He is the only way to God, but are you familiar with Job? I’m the modern Job. And I’m being tested. I’ve been tested for six months. He hasn’t stopped. No, I don’t want prayer.”
There are some hard partnerships that happen when we believe in the power of Christ.
For example, my church moved to downtown. That meant that we needed to willingly embrace and engage with the homeless community that lived there. In my case, on this day, Cary, even though it was a hard and sad conversation. On other days, a woman who was kicked out of her home by her mother. And on still other days, other people, all of whom are worthy of being engaged and loved.
If we are “pro-life” then we must be pro-adoption.
If we believe in forgiveness, than we cannot trust in the death penalty.
The chance to live a full, meaningful, glorifying life, because of Jesus Christ’s death, is His gift to us.
I’m from Boston. The bombing was two blocks from my house. I sat around the airport, the weekend after Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was caught in a boat, listening as my fellow passengers “just needed to get out of here.” There was exhaustion and confusion, comradery even, and hatred. We hated death. We hated bombers, people who think they have the right to cause death for any reason– a strong-willed, bent older brother, or a religious cause, or whatever.
So I’m so sad. I’m so tired and sad because it feels a little like we have the right, as jury, to cause death too. I now believe in forgiveness. I now believe that trusting in hope is okay. So to think that we can compile death onto death and feel that emotions are solved, that justice is served with more death, feels wrong.
There has only been one death that solves death.
he leaned back in his chair, scowling slightly. not at me, but at the fact that we were surrounded by friends, all yelling at him to make a decision on where to go dancing and he was thinking about me and her.
“look,” he said. paused, sighed. then reaching into his pocket, he pulled out his wallet and unfolded two bills.
“give these to her. i don’t even know what’s happening. but i can’t be a total dick and go party when someone’s whole life is getting screwed.”
“it’s your birthday,” i said, smiling a little shakily. “please party.”
“whatever. i’m a dick.” he said, and then pulled his wallet out and took out two more bills and pushed them into my hand.
my hands had felt really small those few days. small as i moved boxes into her temporary home. small as i carried her sweet child away from her husband. small as i read to this toddler, flipping through some of my childhood books that i gave and never saw again. small as i laid a palm on her and prayed, secretly looking for bruises. small as i handed her the fold of four bills and told her someone she didn’t know had wanted to help.
she burst into tears, clutching the only cash she had in the world. he had locked her phone and her bank account, and she only had me, a stranger she had met 7 hours before, and her son.
my palms felt small, small and useless. sometimes they still feel that way, as i sit in places of not knowing but needing to act. my hands are tangible, and they can be expressions of love. but they also have rashes. and they are small, and sometimes weak, and tonight i don’t know what else to do but lay in a posture of surrender with my palms up, willing.
We lifted it, clunky, bulky, heavy, towards the door, and I looked at the snow covered expanse we still had to cross, along with a few steps. The piece was ungainly, almost as tall as me, with nowhere to lock my arms onto.
“I’m not strong enough to do this,” I said.
He looked at me.
“Like, I don’t think I actually have the physical strength to lift this,” I said, trying new words.
When I was a tween, I once threw a fit on the staircase because my brother always helped my father lift furniture up into our apartment. My parents, wanting to protect me, would ask me to hold the door open, or worse, step out of the way. I wanted to help, but I wasn’t physically capable. They were thoughtful, and I was petulant, grumpy, hormonal and unrightfully confident.
And then at some point, I switched from mentally-invincible to aware. One of my team leader often says, “Reality is our friend.” I want to push him away when he says that. I want to fly and lift massive objects and cause locked hearts to burst open and tears to stop and babies to breath again.
I’m plunging into new things, jumping off rocks and scaring my parents and scraping my knees as I dive into a unknown waters. On my good days I’m enjoying it too, which is slightly different from where I was last year. I want to be faithful to the one who knows me and never be afraid, to trust His sweetness as I try out this campus ministry thing, this west coast life, this time without family and few friends (again, again, again). My only continuity is that the sun rises everyday even if I cannot see it, God is still good and worthy of glory even if I cannot feel it, and there’s probably a Starbucks around the corner even when I don’t want it.