images

I’m sitting 30,000 feet above the earth as I write this. I was elated when the American Airlines flight attendant poured my plastic, clear cup mostly full of ice and one quarter full of ginger ale and then, to my delight, passed over the entire can full of sugary goodness for me to enjoy. What an indulgence. I don’t normally drink soda, but my guilty pleasure is a nice, cold ginger ale, and I only drink them when I’m in the air, flying above the stretches of green and blue below. The distance between myself and the earth as I soar across the darkened North American sky creates a real sense of daredevil-ness, so I delight myself to one ginger ale. (Maybe this feeling is why my sister is becoming a pilot). I watch the dissolved carbon dioxide in my sugary elixir bubble up to the top like the joy I feel within myself. I rejoice in this feeling, because it may be fleeting, and I want to hold on as long as I can.

I’m convinced life is a series of catching the bubbles of joy, laughter, and happiness when they rise within us. They may be fleeting, but simply indulging in the goodness of life can bring them back.

I was reminded this past Sunday of an image I had a few weeks ago, in the midst of my medical school interview season. I was at Ethos church one Sunday when we were given some extra time to reflect and spend time in prayer and communion with God. In a moment of desperation to hear from God, I was given a powerful image that still lingers with me.

Last year I had a dream that I was in a small, wooden sailboat that had a beautiful orange and red sail that carried me through a little lake. The water was peaceful and calm and a dark, deep shade of blue. As I went along easily in this beautiful little serenity, I looked up to see – not physically see more than simply understand – that God was pulling my sailboat along the river. That he was the grand designer of all the adventures in my life, even the simple and mundane. Even the exotic and chaotic, he was the grandeur creator. I tucked this image away in my heart to grasp onto when I felt like I was aimlessly sailing my boat into the uncharted sea; someone greater than me already knows both the path and the destination.

Later that year, in the spring or summer of this year, I had another vision that I was walking through a series of wooden rooms with variously sized doors and windows. Except that it wasn’t really me more than I was just a set of big feet (it sounds strange) but it became clear that the purpose was for me to hone into these feet, the manifestation of our physical foundation. The things that carry us from place to place. In this image, I looked down to see God holding, gently, the tops of my feet as he picked up each one and set back down through the house of rooms and doors. Some doors we came to were closed, but I would glance over to see an open window filling with sunshine – and God brought me to that closed door for a reason. Had I walked through it, I would have never seen the beauty coming through the window. I continue to see this image of an omnipotent, kind God leading me gently and thoughtfully through the maze that is my life.

Finally, I had a vision within the last few months of another God moment. This one perhaps more connected to my feelings at the time. Early this year in the semester, I was dealing with some unwanted questioning about my life. I felt misplaced and out-of-order. I grappled with these feelings for a few weeks, always wondering where they came from and why I felt so odd and unfamiliar to even myself (the Queen of Self-Reflection!), but I did. I felt, maybe depressed? Maybe anxious? Maybe fearful of my uncertain future? Maybe scared of leaving a place like Belmont and the routine of my life? Who knows. I carried these thoughts with me into church one Sunday. As I sat in prayer, a time I’m so thankful Ethos gives us to have, I had a vision of myself standing along the edge of a beach. I was all alone, no one else was on the beach except me – desolate for miles to come. The vast ocean lay before me, always active while simultaneously calm. The stretch of shore expanded behind me. I thought to my previous images, and expectantly, I looked up and down the beach to see Jesus walking toward me or looking for me or something. But to my surprise – I saw nothing. No spirit. No person. Not a single movement. I stared ahead toward the ocean, thinking to myself, God, where are you? I expected him to show up. But then I looked down and saw the constant crashing of the ocean waves against my fragile human legs. The waves continued on, constantly washing across my feet, removing the remnants of sand that lingered from before, and immediately I heard, “Mary, I am the ocean. Constantly washing you anew. I’m always here, even in places you don’t expect me to be.” God painted this beautiful image in my head, and I rolled up the canvas to carry with me forever.

May your boat sail on, footsteps continue on, and waves carry on, washing you anew every day.

 

rebirth

 “Then Jesus went with his disciples to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to them, ‘Sit here while I go over there and pray.’ He took Peter and the two sons of Zebedee along with him, and he began to be sorrowful and troubled. Then he said to them, ‘My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me.’

Going a little farther, he fell with his face to the ground and prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.’” — Matthew 26:36-39

When I was little, Easter was when we made “Easter trees” by clamping string into plastic eggs and hanging them outside. I remember picking out the perfect Easter dress for church and waking to a basket full of chocolate goodies and a new springtime piece of clothing. I remember – with a little competitive love – the exciting egg hunts and relaxing Sunday afternoon meal at my grandparents’ house. Easter has always had a bright, enlivening aura around it – the promise of a fresh breath of air, a happy season as the dawn of spring is carried in on Easter’s arrival. Easter brings new life. As a child I never understood why, but as I get older I understand more.

The image of Jesus in Matthew 26:36-39 is not filled with sunshine, flowers, and pastel colored eggs. He isn’t rejoicing at the promise of new life for us; Jesus mourns his own death. This is one of my favorite images of Jesus, not because he is filled with sorrow and grief, but because it shows him experiencing feelings that are innately human and worldly. How many times have we, collectively as humans, felt “overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death”? At some point in our lives, we will feel the overwhelming, crippling grief that Jesus felt in the garden of Gethsemane. Maybe it will be the day our parents pass away, or when one of our friends gets a bad diagnosis, or when we feel immensely desolate. I’m not being cynical, but I am being realistic. We will likely experience these feelings in our lives.

This is the very reason why I love this image of Jesus. He was vulnerable, pained with the situation he was facing. How hopeless I would feel if I thought I had to go my whole life trying to live up to a Christlike figure that never felt the pain and sorrow of loss. Instead of viewing our own tragedies in conflict with the existence of a powerful, loving God, we should view them like Jesus did: painful, harrowing, but never the end of the story.

Jesus cried out to his Father to take the cup, to remove the tragic death he was about to encounter. I think we can learn so much from Jesus in this moment. First, it is okay to feel the heartbreaking reality of life’s circumstances. Jesus didn’t fake a bold, invincibility toward God. He accepted with humility his desperation and faced God with vulnerability and truth. Secondly, Jesus didn’t run from the Father. He didn’t try to evade God by turning to worldly promises. He turned toward God and prayed to Him. The realness of Jesus in this moment gives me hope that when I face hurt, tribulations, and defeat in this life, my response does not have to be trivialized; I don’t have to display false courage. While He is offering a behavioral response to difficult situations (if you can even call what Jesus was about to encounter difficult), He includes a didactic moment, too. That is, when times get tough (which they invariably will), the first place to go is to God. God will always meet us in prayer, even when we’re angry, unfaithful, and devastated.

While all of this seems sad and dark, there is indeed light that returns the vitality, beauty, and promise of new beginnings that Easter is known for. Jesus didn’t stop in this moment to lament indefinitely. He gets up and recognizes His fate – to save a world of sinners. He confidently says to his capturers in a scripture I love:

“Do you think I cannot call on my Father, and he will at once put at my disposal more than twelve legions of angels? But how then would the Scriptures be fulfilled that say it must happen in this way?” – Matthew 26:53-54

Jesus knew the implications of His crucifixion. He could have called on the Heavens and saved Himself from the pain He would encounter. But He didn’t. He embraced God’s will for His life and died to save the very man who hung him on the cross. It is a beautiful, overwhelming, incomprehensible love that he displayed for us.

Easter still has to me the excitement and fun that I remember as a child. I still love a good egg hunt and an elegant dress for church. I cherish getting together with my family and taking special time to remember why we celebrate this season of pastel-colored eggs and whimsical decorations. Now though, Easter is so much more than this. Yes, while the springtime flowers and sunny days are revitalizing, the promises that Jesus fulfilled on the cross will always be the most life-giving, hope-renewing, and beautiful treasures that I, and we, will ever receive.