It is Time.

wine

Well, we’ve recently introduced Ellie to the Lion King. Such a great Disney movie that I remember seeing with my Grandmother and my sister when we went to visit her one summer in California. I remember how good it felt to sit in a freezing cold theater at midday in the desert where she lives only to leave and be warmed by both the hot air and the lingering images of Simba winning back his seat as King of the animal kingdom.  Its a warm memory as I prepare to go see them both again next weekend! I have really missed them both.

Andy and I have found ourselves quoting lines from the Lion King here and there. Lets be honest…I don’t think there was a child of the 80s who didn’t have that movie memorized. We both love the moment when Rafiki, the monkey priest, realizes that Simba is alive and he heads off to find him. In a thick Afrikaner accent he yells: “It is time!”

This line came to mind this weekend when reading about Jesus first miracle, turning water into wine. It struck me how Mary might have been more pivotal in this moment than I’ve ever given her credit for. I wonder if she was encouraging Jesus, telling him before he’d possibly grasped it himself, that he was ready to embody the kingdom. 

“Embodiment” is my new favorite word these days. I think because I’ve spent far too much time in my own head. I’ve finally entered a season where my head and heart feel at least loosely connected…and let me tell you, its lovely! I feel more like a whole person, and in that way its making me feel like a more fruitful person too.

Several years ago I found myself over-taxed with evening commitments. I had two church activities each week outside of Sunday services and was about to take on a third and realized I’d have to neglect some aspects of rest and/or physical fitness if I was going to hold all these balls in the air. It took about one week for me to realize I’d have to give up an evening bible study in order to stay connected to the other activities I felt committed to. The choice was logical if not a bit of a bummer. I really enjoyed our time with friends at the Duke house. But Andy agreed that he would continue going to those studies on his own while I took that evening to go to the university gym with a friend who I’d not spent much time with over the last couple of years (due to a literal lack of available time!).

Folks, those evenings were so much FUN! We would hit the elliptical and talk about any number of things. I’d been so steeped in a search for God’s presence through a really difficult season that I was literally oozing Jesus out of every pore of me. I couldn’t get enough of the fact that He not only promised to meet me but was also actually meeting me in the details of my life and helping me get through them in one way or another. I couldn’t help but share that with my friend who has a similar temperament as I do. Tiffany is as lacking in tolerance for frustration as I am and so she and I would talk throughout about how we were approaching different snags in life. Sometimes after our workouts we’d crack open a bible and see what there was to be said in there. I don’t think it was anything earth shattering. Mostly we just laughed and yelled “Bullsh**!” to the air as we considered what Jesus would say today about the viruses in her petri dishes at her lab and the poverty in the neighborhoods I was trying to work in. It was all just a lot of fun. (Tiff, if you’re reading…I really miss you!)

Looking back on that time is so funny to me. I had to quit a bible study to work out with my friend and I think I got more spirituality out of the workout than I would have at the study. To be fair, I needed a history of bible studies to talk intelligently about how God works. I don’t want to throw the Bible study baby out with the bath water. I do think we can become spiritually or intellectually bloated if we are not careful. There comes a time when we have to integrate what we’ve learned with our lives or we’ll get too fat to move. Which would be sad, as we were created to move…and move freely.

Which brings me back to Mary and Jesus at the wedding. I wonder if Jesus took a minute to get oriented to his ministry. He’d just been baptized and he clearly knew his mission to reconcile people to God (see verse 4 in John 2.) But maybe he needed a little help with his next step in the process. Maybe he needed Mary to say: “You’re ready. Show them what the kingdom of God is like. Give them some wine.”

I love that Mary didn’t have to say anything back to Jesus when he responded to her. He’d realize in due time what he needed to do and she knew that he’d make the next right step. By my reading, she appears to shrug off his response and instead tells the caterers: “Do whatever he tells you.”

Which could be the greatest line to a follower of God I’ve ever heard. “Do whatever He tells you.” 

God is not silent. He’s patient, and he’ll wait for us to decide if we want to partner with him, but he is not silent. Better still, he is not unaware of the fact that between this moment and our final breaths we might just run out of wine and find ourselves in a bit of a pickle, wondering what to do next.

So we do whatever he tells us. We read the scriptures if we can’t sense his voice. We remember anew that we’re witnesses to a paradoxical kingdom where the good wine is saved for last. And we realize like Jesus that there’s no time and place like our present situation to reflect what he, and Mary for that matter, are trying to say:

It is time.

 

When the master of the feast tasted the water now become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the master of the feast called the bridegroom and said to him, “Everyone serves the good wine first, and when people have drunk freely, then the poor wine. But you have kept the good wine until now.” This, the first of his signs, Jesus did at Cana in Galilee, and manifested his glory. And his disciples believed in him.” John 2:10-11

 

Dr. King and Me

martin-luther-king-jr-

Today, Atlanta is celebrating the 50th anniversary of the funeral procession of Martin Luther King, Jr. I love this city, I really do. I spent Friday afternoon with my kid at the Carter center and then considered last night how I might join a march with the King family on the anniversary of his death (sadly, sickness and rain kept us home). I’m remembering that this city is a place where so many good things have started (with King). And continued (with Carter, among others).

I found myself wondering along with the nation the other day what Dr. King’s death accomplished, if anything. I don’t know that I am qualified to answer that question. I should probably ask my black friends for their opinions. I do think Dr. King and I have some things in common. We both have dreams for better lives. We both believe that this can happen in response to the invitation of God in his work where “every valley shall be exalted [and], every hill and mountain shall be made low (to quote King, who quotes scripture).”

I remember the exact day in my college career when I realized I wanted something different. I had decided on a business degree because it was the logical choice for someone who would graduate with student loans. I sat in a downstairs classroom of the Sellinger Business School as my professor passed out slips of paper that had a company name on it. We had split into groups and would prepare a marketing plan for the company that we were assigned at random. My company?

Gillette Razors.

Now…I love me a good razor. I am personally glad that there are people in the world who work at the factories that make them. I suppose I’m even grateful that someone markets those razors to my local grocer so I can buy them with ease when I need them.  But I’d be lying to say that on that day my heart didn’t sink. After 17 years of school I found it somewhat demoralizing to realize that I might just finish it all to go sell razor blades. Not when I knew that there were people not one mile down the road from the classroom I sat in that would walk past our campus and consider attendance at a school like mine an impossibility. A literal dream scenario.

My momentary exasperation would eventually lead to hope as I learned just how badly the not-for-profit world needs people with business degrees. I’ve ended up putting it to good use in my career. Yet that day may have just been the moment when my life would take a turn that I didn’t expect. It didn’t totally connect with me that the desire to do kingdom work often comes with a cost.  For King it was the ultimate cost of his life. For us, its been a much slower march to certain goals than I had ever anticipated.

A surprising thing about life, for me, has been how hard it is to go after what you want. As children, people will ask us what we want to be when we grow up and we’ll say “a doctor!” or “a firefighter!” or “a ballerina!” not realizing that the process required to do those things and still keep food on the table can be incredibly difficult. People will tell you, as they told me, that it all requires sacrifice and I will agree wholeheartedly with them until the moment comes for me to actually give up on something. Even if just for a a bit more time. Its then that I start to get suspicious that I’ve been led into a bait and switch, though that couldn’t be further from the truth. I have been told all my life that I can go after what I want AND i have been told that it would require sacrifice. I just never really understood what that really meant until those two realities came together.

Which brings me to my weekend and a dream that I had. This weekend I pretty much busted at the seams as I realized that some things that I’ve wanted for our family are just taking longer to realize than I ever imagined that they would. Sometimes it feels like your dreams are just getting lost in the shuffle and you lose your cool. Sometimes, to my absolute surprise, I make certain desires ultimate things without even realizing it. I’ve put them there because the culture I’m surrounded by has put them there and told me that I’ll be able to say “I’ve made it” once I check off these boxes.

Which brings me to a dream I had on Saturday night. I dreamed that my sister was getting married. Kristin was beside herself that she was heading down the aisle. She couldn’t wait to get married and I, as her matron of honor, was just as excited for her. The only problem with this wedding day was that little things kept going wrong before the ceremony could start. I was supposed to hold onto the engagement ring and I had somehow misplaced it. Kristin’s dress had torn and she was forced to wear a black t-shirt on top with her bridal gown’s skirt on the bottom.

Over and over things would happen that were culturally problematic though I suppose not functionally so. You don’t technically need an engagement ring to get married. You can in fact get married in a torn black t-shirt and a white skirt, though perhaps you’ll be thought odd. Over and over in the dream I would finally get up the courage to break the news to my sister about the problem at hand and each time she would laugh and figure out a work around. Each time she would remind me that she just wanted to walk down the aisle and nothing could really get in the way of her excitement over that.

No sooner would I start to laugh ever so hesitantly with Kristin who could have cared less would someone pull me aside and say: “you’re not really going to let her walk down the aisle without her engagement ring, are you?” or, “We can’t start the wedding until she has a new gown. You can’t go down the aisle in a t-shirt!”

Then the dream ended. Ellie woke us up in a coughing fit. Kind of happy about that though…this is one that I want to remember. I believe what the scriptures tell us – this life is preparation for a wedding feast. Genesis starts with a wedding and ends with a wedding celebration and I’ve put all my eggs in that basket. Everything that’s beautiful in the world points to this if you have eyes to see it. The relationship between a husband and a wife. The relationship between a child and her parent. The relationship between us and our environment. The relationship between our work and our world. They are all, at their best, mini outworkings of a world and a people that are preparing for a time when the barriers between God and man are broken down for good. The best wedding you’ve ever attended.

So when my sister was excited to walk down the aisle, regardless of the particulars of how that ceremony itself would play out, she was responding to the call of her life. She was saying: “I don’t care how this all plays out. I just want to walk towards the love of my life!”

While I should have been celebrating and laughing with her I found myself pulled by a culture that said I wasn’t doing it right. Which is kind of ridiculous if you think about it. I’ve never been to the same wedding twice. Which is to say, everyone has a different path down the aisle. So what do we do when we recognize we’re being pulled from the celebration? For good or for ill, here’s what I did:

I intentionally reflected on it all and found myself thankful for the grace to see that I was torn. The night prior I had been certain that I was right as I hammered home a new plan of action for us all and you couldn’t have told me otherwise. But this dream set me straight. I apologized to God (and to Andy!) for believing that he was intentionally withholding from me. Then I couldn’t help but marvel at the fact that God would allow difficulty in my life to expose what keeps me from the expectation of the best things for us. Lastly, I asked for the faith to believe that he is already working to provide the next piece of the puzzle that is a part of our journey.

Martin Luther King, Jr. was ultimately killed for daring to dream of and speak for a better world. I wish like hell it didn’t take his death to shake us awake. Yet 40 plus years after his death I sat in a classroom one Tuesday before college graduation and realized I wanted to be a part of the feast that he, and the scriptures he tried to live by, were inviting us into. This didn’t happen in a vacuum. It came after learning about him over and over again and going on trip after trip to engage with folks who’ve had different American experiences than I. I ultimately realized I could go get a corporate job that probably paid really well but left me spiritually empty or I could hold out for a position that stirred up my heart for more partnership with God. The jobs that have pulled that out of me the most have been my roles at Habitat for Humanity and my role as a mom.

I don’t think this leap was insignificant. Taking a position that makes $30,000 a year so that economically distressed individuals can become first time homeowners is not necessarily the best investment of a 17 year private school education. At least if we’re just looking at the numbers. Staying at home with a child is even less so! But at Habitat and in this season with Ellie I see echoes of what the feast will be like in ways that I’m certain I would not have seen as a corporate marketing executive. People who were unjustly kept from opportunities for home ownership finally had the barriers removed. Seemingly insignificant things are inviting great wonder again. While my hopes for the future are taking longer to come to fruition I find that the difficulty makes their eventual appearance that much sweeter. So today I remember the dream of Martin Luther King, Jr. and am encouraged by the city I live in to keep figuring out ways to live out his vision. He was not a perfect man but I know this one thing about him: he tried to show up peacefully and make space for everyone to sit at the table. I hope to follow his lead.

The full text of Dr. King’s speech is here. I can’t recommend reading it enough!