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There are times when you find yourself at the bloody and painful part of the gospel story. Darkness has covered the earth. Everything has been shaken. Your Savior has breathed His last. You don’t realize the temple veil has been torn in two. It starts to rain. You don’t understand the prophecies or the promises. You have no recollection that He told you He would rebuild the temple in just 3 days, and even if you did, 3 days is too long to wait.

We are not people who want to sit between Friday and Sunday. We do everything in our power to run, numb, or subdue. And yet, there were a few who did not. A few who had the courage, the compassion and the tenderness to press in.

In The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis, we read that Lucy and Susan followed Aslan to the Stone Table. At one point during their walk, it says that Aslan was so far bent over from grief that his nose rubbed the ground. He begged Lucy and Susan to bury their hands in his mane to comfort him. When he arrived at the Stone Table, he told them to leave, but they refused. After he died there, Lucy and Susan stayed to tend to his body. It was there that they saw him roar back to life. And it was then that he invited them to ride on his back as he went back to seek his revenge of the White Witch.

On that glorious resurrection Sunday, Mary ran to the tomb. She had no idea that it would be empty. She couldn’t have possibly known what the prophecies meant at the time. Perhaps Mary simply wanted to lay next to his dead body because it was better than being holed up in fear with the disciples. And Mary was the first to see the resurrected Lord. It says that she was weeping at the tomb when Jesus appeared and when He called her by name, her eyes were opened and she held onto Him and wouldn’t let Him go. Mary was honored because she pressed into her grief. She didn’t stand in her pain and make accusations. She didn’t stop believing in His goodness. She embraced her pain and was given the gift of seeing the dead raised to life.

When I was in 4th grade, I read The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe for the first time. I had no idea it was a story about the gospel of Jesus. When Aslan died, I threw the book down and could not stop sobbing. I ran into my mom’s room and buried myself into her. I said, “I can’t read this book anymore. I can’t finish it if Aslan isn’t alive.” My mom looked at me with this twinkle in her eye and said, “Emily, oh, Emily. You have to keep reading. Please, keep reading.”

It’s been His answer for everything in this season.

“Can this be true?”

Keep reading.

“Are you really in this?”

Keep reading.

“I can’t bear where this story is going.”

Keep reading.

For those of us who are in the part of the gospel between Friday and Sunday, I want to encourage you to keep reading. Take a moment to sit in the grief of the death of something or someone you love, but then keep reading. Don’t withdraw or shrink back in fear. Feel the warmth of His mane and trust that you actually bring comfort to Him when you weep. Let the grief take you further in. Because the deeper magic from before the dawn of time is just now starting to stir.

Can you feel it?

Aslan is on the move.

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Lake Naivasha, Kenya

 

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Leaning into Love

 

“Now there was reclining on Jesus’ bosom one of His disciples, whom Jesus loved.” John 13:23

Recently, over breakfast, I was talking with my 5-year-old about the last dinner that Jesus had with his friends before he was killed. When I got to the part of the story where John was leaning back on Jesus, I slid over on our bench and pulled my son into my chest and said, “This was how John was laying on Jesus.” As we sat there silently, taking the moment in, I wondered to myself, “Whom in my life do I have this type of intimacy with? Is there anyone I would lean back on so safely, so freely, so securely?” I’m not sure there is. When I was a child, it would have been my mother or father. Maybe those who are married would say their spouse, or maybe not. And yet, this is exactly the type of intimacy that Jesus calls us into.

We read that John was lying back on Jesus after Jesus washed the disciples’ feet. There’s something incredibly beautiful about the timing of this that we may miss while reading the narrative. John seemed to be so moved by this act of beauty and selflessness that he simply had to slip around the table and sit next to Jesus. Perhaps John even sensed the deep sadness in Jesus’ heart as he contemplated the next few hours that lay before him and wanted to be of comfort to Him.

It was during this moment of physical intimacy that we also see the emotional intimacy that John shared with Jesus. There was something special about John. As we see the juxtaposition of his demeanor next to Peter’s, it’s even more pronounced. While John was leaning back on Jesus, Peter prompts him, “Hey, ask him who is going to betray him.” Peter, usually so bold, lacked the inner security to probe Jesus further when it was obvious Jesus had become greatly distressed. John’s identity was firmly rooted in his belief that he was loved by God. There was nothing he had to prove. While Peter – fiery, strong, and impulsive – seemed to be constantly trying to prove to himself and everyone else that he indeed loved Jesus. In contrast, John simply wanted to be loved by Jesus.

Simon Peter was following Jesus, and so was another disciple. Now that disciple was known to the high priest, and entered with Jesus into the court of the high priest, but Peter was standing at the door outside. So the other disciple, who was known to the high priest, went out and spoke to the doorkeeper, and brought Peter in.” John 18:15-16

Again, it’s easy to miss something vital in the narrative here if we don’t stop to ponder what was actually happening. John was desperate to be with Jesus. Entering into the court of the High Priest was not easy. There was most likely a scuffle, a heated conversation, a desperation in John’s spirit, “I have to be with my friend. Ask the High Priest. He knows me. Tell him it’s John. I have to come in. I will not let Jesus go in by Himself.” In this same moment, we see Peter, scared for his life, denying that he even knew Jesus.

Because John knew how deeply loved he was by Jesus, he was trusted by Jesus. We see this as John was the only disciple who remained with Jesus to the end, and in turn, Jesus trusted him to take care of his mother. In this moment, Jesus was saying to him, “You truly are my brother. Take care of our mother.”

When I read these things, I’m reminded that we can truly bring comfort to Jesus as we walk in friendship with Him. Furthermore, when we allow ourselves to bask in the knowledge that we are known and loved by Him deeply, we possess a deep security that allows us to lie back on the chest of Jesus, to ask Him things that others are afraid to ask, and to follow Him into dangerous places. 

There are many things that can keep us from this type of intimacy with Jesus, but we must remember that the veil has been torn. Innocent blood was spilled. Death is now working backwards*. We now have hope and this hope is what takes us into His presence. As we spend time meaningfully connecting with Him through prayer, meditation, and the washing of the Word daily, these things are slowly removed. Our walls come down. We receive truth that transforms. Our wounds are healed and we can slowly recline back on the chest of Jesus, like a child, like a son or daughter, freely, without shame.

This is what I was trying to instill in my son the other morning as I recounted this part of the Easter story. As he leaned back into me, I imagined leaning back on the chest of Jesus and I said, “This is exactly what you can do with Jesus, son. You can lean right back onto Him like this and ask Him anything you want to. This is the kind of relationship we get to have with Him. This is what we are celebrating on Easter, this leaning into love.”

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*A reference to C.S. Lewis’ The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.

 

 

Pursuing Wholeness: Entering the Withholding Room

In this writing series, I will take questions people have asked me recently and share some of my answers in hope that it will bring peace and healing to a broader community of individuals who are desperate for wholeness.

In a recent post, I wrote when we do not pursue wholeness, our hearts are like homes with rooms boarded up. We are unable to experience true intimacy. Often times, we cannot even identify these rooms, and desperately need the Counselor to lead us into them.  Someone asked me recently, “Which room has been the hardest for you to enter?”

For me, that room was the Withholding Room. This room possessed some of the most painful contents in my entire home. Unfulfilled promises. Unspoken dreams. Intense disappointment. Hope deferred. Wounds that made me unable to truly rejoice with others. A tangle of lies that kept me from believing God is good.

The contents of this room were rotting my soul, destroying my faith, and keeping me from truly experiencing the kindness and mercy that are promised to pursue me all the days of my life.

Everyone is familiar with these places of unbelief in the goodness of God, where what we want does not align with what He has given us. The missionary, miles away from her family, mourning every holiday, surrounded by strangers in a strange land, struggling with maintaining her vision. Wondering in her heart, “Doesn’t God want my children to be close to their grandparents? To spend the weekends and holidays surrounded by their cousins? For me to have the comfort of my precious sisters and mom on a daily basis?”

Or, the single mother, spread thin by the daily demands of working and taking care of children, wondering, “Wouldn’t God want me to have a godly husband, someone who can pray with me at the end of the day when my spirit is weary? Someone who can pick my children up from Sunday School so I can actually receive prayer at the end of the service?”

Sometimes the pain comes from His saying, “Of course I want your soul to be satisfied, but in a different way.”  And we grow bitter and scream, “I don’t want it that way!  I want what I want.  How could your way be better than what I just described to you?”

Our Withholding Room is a dangerous place because we begin doubting that He loves us and actually gives good gifts.  It’s a place that is much like the Garden of Eden where the enemy starts saying, “Did God really say that?  How can you be sure?”  The words of the crafty serpent pierce our hearts and choke out the truth.

Instead of facing our rotten theology, we put all of our dreams and desires into a room, board it up, and continue singing our songs about His grace being enough. But on the inside, we begin to treat prophecies with contempt.

When we have the courage to open this room and lean into the pain and disappointment, we are taken from the Garden of Eden into the Garden of Gethsemane. We walk out of the separation from God and into the embrace of the Suffering Savior.   We find a man who is a perfect God, clothed in skin. A man who was single. A man separated from his family. Alone and betrayed by his friends. Overwhelmed with grief. Sweating blood and groaning. Begging for the cup to be taken from him. Desperately trying to bring his friends into his heartache, but only finding His Father. It’s in our embrace of this solitary place that we are taken from isolation into the true comfort of a God who is intimately familiar with our every longing. It’s in this place we begin to honestly realize all our pain and disappointment were worth it to experience this type of comfort. We become people who pass through deserts and make them a spring, people who carry in our hearts the pathways to Zion.

Holy Week: The Brilliant Crescendo of the Gospel Story

Rome, Italy
Rome, Italy

As I poured through the Scriptures surrounding Jesus’ death on quiet mornings this week, I was stunned by the variety of evocative events that preceded it. Hidden in the final words of Jesus’ life on earth, we find vibrant details depicting the vast spectrum of His emotions and the intimate moments spent with those whom He loved. The final chapters are written in a simple, forthright way, devoid of projections that could come off as emotionally manipulative. It’s in this understated storytelling that the reader has one of three responses that C.S. Lewis poignantly captured: Jesus was a liar, a madman, or the Son of God. For those who believe He is the Son of God, Holy Week is the brilliant crescendo of the gospel story, on which our entire hope rests.

Cinque Terre, Italy
Cinque Terre, Italy

As I read words about this Jesus, my Jesus, on whom my entire hope rests, I was struck by my Savior’s sheer humanity. I don’t often think of Jesus as having skin or needs, or desiring comfort from a few close friends. I don’t often imagine what it would be like to have been with Him the final moments while He suffered, before He gave up His life and breathed His last.

But you, Jesus, our long-awaited King, were clothed in skin. You were ushered through Jerusalem and praised by the very people who would demand your death only six days later. You knew the waywardness of our fragile hearts. You stood over the city and wept your holy tears, longing to gather us into your arms, but we were not willing.

And then that woman came to you boldly and extravagantly. She was the only one who understood who you were. Kneeling down, she poured her best out on you without reserve.  Her tears and kisses covered your feet and the fragrance of brokenness permeated the room.

Later, you sat around the table for one final meal with your dearest friends. One leaned back on your chest. And Judas was there, too, with pockets full of silver. His hand brushing yours as you dipped your bread into the cup. You and your disciples, your voices joined in unison, echoed through the upper room as you sang a hymn and then left for the Garden.

Was the melody still running through your head as you walked to the Mount of Olives? Were those words fresh on your heart as you knelt in the dirt? Was your hand still burning from the sting of your betrayer? Could you smell the fragrance of the oil that she poured on your head? Was there anything that comforted you in your hour of distress?

Your disciples knelt down, sleepy from wine and you fell face down to contend with your Father. You wanted this cup to be taken from you. The sweat poured down your face and thrice you begged your friends to wake up, to kneel with you, to carry your suffering, to sit with you through the dark night of the soul, but they just couldn’t do it. Eventually, the soldiers surrounded you. A kiss. Peter tried to come to your rescue, but he had missed the moment when you needed him most.  And now, it was time to drink the cup.

Everyone scattered, except for one, who followed close behind you. The one who had been leaning on you throughout dinner. The one who was there to take care of your mother.  The one who knew he was loved was there until the end.

And then your eyes turned to look at Peter, to look straight into him after he said he didn’t know you. Peter dropped your gaze, turned and wept bitterly.

Pilate washed his hands and ignored the portentous dreams of his wife. He let the people carry you off, your head crowned with thorns, because the people demanded a murderer’s release instead of your own.

When you died, the temple curtain was torn in two. Saints emerged from their graves and walked around the city. Your mother wept. One of the soldiers recognized you as the Coming King and said, “Surely, He must have been the Son of God!” Your body was placed in a tomb. Judas threw the silver coins back into the temple.

And when the third day came, the women rushed to your grave before daybreak. But it was empty.  You met them on the road and called them by name.  They threw themselves down at your feet. They clung to you. Because you, Son of God, were fully resurrected in glory.

Kyrenia Castle, Cyprus
Kyrenia Castle, Cyprus

Pursuing Wholeness: Opening Wide the Locked Doors of the Heart

In this writing series, I will take questions that people have asked me recently and share some of my answers in hope that it will bring peace and healing to a broader community of individuals who are desperate for wholeness.

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Photo taken by Emily George in Kyrenia, Cypress

When talking with people about pursuing wholeness, I have often used the illustration of the heart being a home, filled with rooms that are either open or closed to the host and/or her guests. Henri Nouwen touched on these themes very eloquently and profoundly in his book Reaching Out. People who do not walk in wholeness have entire rooms of their home that never see the light of day. Often times the host cannot even remember the exact description of the contents; she simply associates those rooms with painful memories, shame, and fear. Instead of venturing inside, throwing back the curtains, and allowing in fresh light, the host passes by these rooms, often feeling a visceral reaction at the mere thought of even placing her hand on the door. As a result, true hospitality towards others cannot emerge. Intimacy cannot exist. The guests can enter, but only so far. Certain rooms are off limits. Subjects must be avoided. The host is fragmented, so is unable to present a truly compassionate and hospitable place to rest, both for herself and her loved ones.

Photo taken by Emily George in Rome, Italy
Photo taken by Emily George in Rome, Italy

Pursuing inner wholeness is courageously placing the hand on the door, pushing it open, and turning the lights on inside the secret rooms. It’s taking time to explore the intricacies of what lies inside, deliberately and bravely. It’s a commitment to solitude, or intentional loneliness, so that the fullest self can emerge.

Henri Nouwen writes, “To live a spiritual life we must first find the courage to enter into the desert of our loneliness and to change it by gentle and persistent efforts into a garden of solitude. The movement from loneliness to solitude, however, is the beginning of any spiritual life because it is the movement from the restless senses to the restful spirit, from the outward-reaching cravings to the inward-reaching search, from the fearful clinging to the fearless play.”

Once these rooms are opened, the host can present her entire home to her guests, even if the contents of the rooms are not in order. Friends and loved ones are welcome inside and can explore the space without boundaries built from fear. There is no fearful clinging, as Nouwen said, but fearless play. The ability of the host to present her whole glorious self to her guests, without fear or shame, is the essence of true intimacy. In return, this allows her guests to find an authentic place to rest so they can enter into their own healing.

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Back porch, Morning Star Farms

Someone recently asked me, “How do I even find these rooms? I’ve avoided them for so long; I’m not even sure where they are anymore.”

A space must be carved out for the Counselor to show you. He knows your house intimately. He knows what is concealed in your rooms. He’s the one who whispers, “Come away by yourself to a desolate place and rest awhile.” It’s in solitude that the boarded up spaces of the heart are revealed. It’s in desolate places that rest, instead of restlessness, is discovered. Pain and disappointment may be found there, but there also is the Healer, for He dwells in broken places, and gives beauty for ashes.

Pursuing Wholeness: Lessons on How to Remove Arrows Properly

In this writing series, I will take questions that people have asked me over the past few months in person or via email and share some of my answers in hope that it will bring peace and healing to a broader community of individuals who are desperate for wholeness.

“Dear Emily, I’ve had a fear in dating/ marriage that I won’t be enough for the person that I’m with and so I just wanted to see if you’d found any ways of combating comparison to other women in that area and what truth you might claim instead. Love, M.”

Dear M,

You touched on two very important issues with your question: not feeling like you’re “enough” and also combating comparison. Feelings of inadequacy and comparison are some of the very things that are destroying us as women. Both are symptoms of deeper areas of deceit.  And those deceitful places have to be unveiled. This is often times a very painful process; however, your freedom is worth the price in the end.

There was a time in my life where I was very controlled by both feelings of inadequacy and comparison.   I started pursuing inner healing around all the circumstances that were leading to these feelings. I wasn’t exactly sure how to start this process, so I called upon my village. A trusted friend, one who walked in wholeness, spent some time praying with me.  Together, we asked God how to pursue this healing (ie: with a professional counselor, with a prayer partner, or just with the Holy Spirit). After this intentional listening time, both of us felt strongly that this process could be done on my own, with the help of the Holy Spirit.

Independently and prayerfully, I began this journey with the Holy Spirit as my Counselor.  I would spend hours laid out before the Lord, bravely allowing Him to plunge me into the depths, into the secret places of my pain.

While on this journey, He led me back to the Garden of Eden. As I studied the roots of human deception and devoured His written Word, I started uncovering the lies in my own heart.  I saw with new eyes how my desire to be loved and known intimately could never be satisfied without knowing the perfect love of Jesus.

It was difficult opening these dark, unredeemed places.  There were many areas where I thought I was healed, but in reality, these wounds had not healed properly. I began studying weapons of warfare, specifically arrows, as they are referenced most often in the Bible as a way the enemy wounds us. Arrows are much more deadly if they are not removed properly.  Matter of fact, it’s better not to remove them at all if you can’t do it the right way.  The Holy Spirit had to break into these improperly healed places and tear them open again.  And the process was much more deadly. I experienced pain that I didn’t even experience when the wounds were originally inflicted upon me.

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While in the in the bowels of Scripture, new life started coursing through me. I was able to clearly hear who I was in Him and receive His truths in a new way.  I began praying an extremely powerful prayer from Song of Songs 8:10, asking God to make me as one who has fully embraced how He has made me. Someone who has a quiet confidence in my identity. One who has found peace in His eyes. And He did it, but not without a cost. We overcome by His Blood and the Word of our testimony. Our testimony comes with a price, but in return, we receive a love that is fiercer than the grave.

Now, by the grace of God, I do not experience feelings of inadequacy or comparison to the degree that I did before. Occasionally, they creep up again, but the roots are gone. The foundation is not there, so the process of releasing these feelings from my mind and heart is much simpler. Now I am free to breathe easy in my own skin and honor the God-given beauty I see in those around me.

M, my prayer is that you would seek out a trusted person from your village to listen with you to the Holy Spirit, to discern what your path of healing will look like. I am confident you will walk in freedom from these things and will be able to offer your whole lovely self to those around you, without fear or shame.

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A Letter to Mr. Mandela

Mandela

Dear Mr. Mandela,

I am so sorry that it has taken me this long to write.  I’ve intended to write you for ages and I am sorry that it took a glimpse of your mortality to remind me that I must seize this moment and not put it off any longer.

Mr. Mandela, when I read your book six years ago, I could not put it down.  I was completely mesmerized by your story and your heart.  I would read your words on the bus to and from work, frustrated by the lack of privacy that public transportation offered; trying unsuccessfully to hide my tears as they fell freely onto the pages.  I was moved by the mere fact that you existed – a man so wholeheartedly and single-mindedly devoted to a cause that it would enable him to lead an entire revolution from behind bars.  You, who were not free in the natural, had the ability to set others free because you knew where freedom existed in the first place.  And you held to this ideal even though it was rejected for years, and is still often rejected today.

“As a leader, one must sometimes take actions that are unpopular, or whose results will not be known for years to come.  There are victories whose glory lies only in the fact that they are known to those who win them.  This is particularly true of prison, where one must find consolation in being true to one’s ideals, even if no one else knows of it.  Even in prison, I was assured that I would survive, for any man or institution that tries to rob me of my dignity will lose because I will not part with it at any price or under any pressure.”

You humbly acknowledged that your strength did not come solely from some secret place within yourself, but that it poured forth from the strength of the collective identity that you had with your fellow man.  You wrote:

“It would be very hard, if not impossible, for one man alone to resist.  I do not know that I could have done it had I been alone.  But the authorities’ greatest mistake was keeping us together, for together our determination was reinforced.  We supported each other and gained strength from each other.  Whatever we knew, whatever we learned, we shared, and by sharing we multiplied whatever courage we had individually.”

Mr. Mandela, the profundity of your legacy is staggering.  It leaves me speechless, breathless, hungry, full of wonder and hope.  In order to lead a revolution of freedom, re-designing human thought, you had to know the life of a prisoner and the mind of the enemy who put you in chains.  Your entire platform of change was built on not only your vision, but your solidarity with those whom you were trying to set free.

“Freedom is indivisible; the chains on any one of my people were the chains on all of them, the chains on all of my people were the chains on me.”

Mr. Mandela, I’m so sorry that you are sick and that your tired body is finally giving out.  I’m sorry that I can’t sit by your bedside and sing you songs to usher you in to the other side, where you will finally shed this skin and be clothed in radiance.  And even now, I am weeping while writing this.  My heart is broken that I will never get to look into your warrior eyes and hug you and whisper words of gratitude.  But, I am confident that you are passing over peacefully and without fear.  You lived well.  You wasted yourself for the sake of others.  You achieved true vengeance over your enemies by bringing the fullness of life to those who were oppressed.  You sacrificed being a father to your own children in order to be a father to an entire nation.  I am honored to have lived on this earth while you walked and laughed and bled and wept.  Someday, I will visit Robben Island and touch the walls of your cell and cry and remember everything you did for our people and the price you paid to do it well.

May you go in peace,

Emily R. George