My world changed forever the first time I laid my eyes on my child. More importantly, my heart changed forever the first time I laid my eyes on them. From the moment I saw them, I knew something that I would never be able to “un-know,” the anchoring feeling and experience of unconditional love.
It’s a love that’s hard to explain with words. It’s a love that doesn’t lessen even if I am hurt, angry, sad, weary, panicked, exhausted, confused, frustrated, afraid or despairing. Nothing is able to fully quench it.
It’s a love that doesn’t increase just because I’m grateful, happy, rested, proud, peaceful, hopeful, confident, content, or optimistic. It’s a love that dwells in the secret, sacred space of my heart that’s reserved just for this one person, my child.
The experience of this inescapable kind of love for my now mostly grownups gives me a powerful, albeit limited glimpse into God’s unconditional love for me.
Nothing is able to make God’s love expand or diminish in any way. It’s steady and enduring, permanent and unfailing. This continuing peek into God’s heart for me (and thankfully for them) has the power to radically change me in only all the best ways. It’s a mighty force that brings life and healing the way nothing else can. For me and for them.
“May your roots go down deep into the soil of God’s marvelous love. May you have the power to grasp how WIDE, how LONG, how HIGH and how DEEP His love really is. May you experience the love of Christ, which far surpasses mere knowledge. It will fill you with the richest experience of God’s presence in your life, completely filled and flooded with God Himself.” (Ephesians 3:17-19)
“We work out our faith with these other broken men and women around us in the pews.” (Tish Harrison Warren)
Dear Church of the Ascension,
I have visited your church two times. My husband and I live in New Jersey, but he works in Pittsburgh three days a week and has an apartment in the Strip District, not very far from you. About once a month, I make the reverse commute and we spend the weekend in Pittsburgh, a city I have come to love and enjoy beyond what I thought possible.
It’s on these weekends that we have walked through your bright red door, been greeted by your people, sat in your pews, listened to your choir, watched your children gather at the feet of your rectors, opened the scriptures, kneeled in prayer and shared bread and wine. It’s on these weekends that we have been outsiders peeking in on how you navigate this complex world of “church” in the new millennium.
I have some confessions to make to you this Palm Sunday morning, a day where I will be entering into the doors of another church, one where my view is from the inside out, not the outside in, one where we’ve loved and served for many years, one that is also maneuvering the mosaic of “church” in 2019.
Back to my confessions.
Today, I confess that I only visited your church because I was mildly obsessed with Tish Harrison Warren, having soaked up her book, Liturgy of the Ordinary, not only once at a cursory level, but in depth with my women’s group. When I found out that she had moved to Pittsburgh and was a writer in residence only a mile away from my husband’s apartment, I was determined to visit you. I felt a little like the paparazzi, as I recorded her talk with the children, received communion from her and talked her ear off as she was greeting parishioners. It was not my finest moment, but as she reminds me in her book, we are all “limping to redemption,” and I am included in the “all.”
Today, I confess that something changed inside of me that first day. I wanted to come back. Not just because of Tish, although her talks that day fed my soul the love that it so longed for, but because as I watched and wondered about this community that “practiced” very differently than what I am used to, it seemed kind and gracious, filled with love for those on the inside and those on the outside (me included), the kind of love Jesus talks about every chance He gets.
Today, I confess that I came back with my husband, this time my motivation not to see Tish (I didn’t even see her that day), but to be filled again with this love you have to share. I confess that as I sat there, tears welled in my eyes as the message of God’s love for me was communicated from beginning to end, almost as if it was a calculated move on your part. Here is just a glimpse of the words that leapt from the white booklet and the hymnal I held in my hands:
We started here…
“O love that will not let me go, I rest my weary soul in thee.”
“Come down, O Love Divine, seek thou this soul of mine.”
“What wondrous love is this, O my soul, O my soul,
What wondrous love is this that caused the Lord of bliss
to lay aside His crown for my soul, for my soul,
to lay aside His crown for my soul.”
“Jesu, my love, my joy, my rest, Thy perfect love close in my breast…”
The middle was filled with this:
And we ended here… “O the deep, deep love of Jesus, vast, unmeasured, boundless, free!
Rolling as a mighty ocean in its fullness over me!
Underneath me, all around me, is the current of Thy love
Leading onward, leading homeward to Thy glorious rest above!”
Whether it was deliberately planned by your leadership, God knew what I needed that day, my heart was more open to receiving the love and goodness of God, or ALL of those in sweet combination, my “outsider” self felt beautifully connected to you and your people, and especially to the loving heart of God.
Today, my last confession is one of thanks to you. Thank you for being a beacon in the middle of my beloved adopted city of Pittsburgh. Thank you for giving this outsider a place of belonging. Tish reminds me in her book that “God loves and delights in the people in the pews around me and dares me to find beauty in them.” I have found the beauty in you. Your beauty is one that has given me inspiration for my inquisitive mind, daring hope as an anchor for my soul, but most of all, deep, deep love for my longing heart, a beautiful and firm foundation that I carry with me into this Holy Week ahead. Thank you. We shout HOSANNA (“Come Save Us!”) together today!
“This is my Son, Whom I love. In Him I am well-pleased.” (God the Father)
How do you wake up each morning? Slowly, stunned and disoriented? In a panic, your heart racing? Do you set an alarm and jump out of bed or hit the snooze button over and over? Do your thoughts feel dull or does your mind immediately race to all that you have to accomplish? No matter how it happens, there seems to be a tiny window between being fully asleep and fully awake, those brief moments (or even seconds) when it’s somewhat in the middle of the two. Experts call it hypnopompia (which roughly means “to lead out of sleep”) or liminal space. It’s the precious time before you’ve accomplishedanything.
To be honest, the very first thing I’ve done for a long time is reach for my phone. After all, the “EstherGizer Bunny” has much to achieve and I can check my emails, weather, social media, to-do list and FitBit sleep status right away (I actually have to sleep correctly too…what are we coming to?). I can start my day on the right foot, alert and organized. I can even check off some of those pressing tasks on my to-do list with my pillow still under my head. I have no time for this liminal space. It’s no wonder I wake up with heart racing and in a panic. Who wouldn’t?
Until about a month ago. I started to read Tish Harrison Warren’s book, Liturgy of the Ordinary. She speaks of these fleeting, fuzzy moments upon waking. “Whether we’re children or heads of state, we sit in our pajamas for a moment, yawning, with messy hair and bad breath, unproductive, groping toward the day.” We have yet to do anything. Who are we in those moments? Who am I in that space, without my never-ending to-do list and my hope to “get-‘er-done?”
Tish brings me back to the story of Jesus Himself. A gentle reminder. He lived 30 years as a regular guy in a regular town in a regular job. No one would say His life was earth-shattering. 10/11ths of His life on our spinning globe are barely recorded. Certainly not much of any import. And at the end of three decades and before his “big three years,” as He was being baptized, a simple dove flew over Him…DON’T MISS THIS…and the voice of His Father shouted words of APPROVAL over Him, “This is my Son, Whom I love. With Him, I am well-pleased.” This was all before what many would deem “world-changing.”
He was APPROVED of and loved before He ACCOMPLISHED anything.
This beautiful and hard-to-soak-in new idea is redeeming my hypnopompic time. I spoke with a friend who sets an alarm clock 20 minutes before the “real” one goes off so that she can spend that cozy, quiet space resting in the notion that she is completely loved and approved of by God before she earns anything. Amazing! It’s all the same for Jesus, my friend and FOR ME!
I am APPROVED of and loved before I ACCOMPLISH anything!
So tomorrow morning (and hopefully all the mornings after that…or at least more of them) before you get your head together, before you check your phone and respond to some urgent request, before you shower and primp, and before you head into your day’s activities where you will accomplish many things, take those fleeting, fuzzy moments (and hopefully I will too) receiving God’s unending and unchanging love and APPROVAL for you.
Soon enough, you will be about your morning. Brushing your teeth. Checking your phone. Helping loved ones out the door. Putting a load of endless laundry in. Heading off to your endeavors. Your day will be filled with all kinds of earning: your paycheck, your friends’ approval, your spot in the grocery store line, your promotion, even your own standards.
As we wake with messy hair and bad breath, let’s “lead ourselves out of sleep” with the gentle, loving approval God wants to pour over us as we start our day.
“Let the morning bring me word of your unfailing love, for I have placed my trust in you. Show me the way to go, for to you I entrust my life.” (Psalm 143:8)
From my heart to yours.
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