When Buttercup gets into it with the Dread Pirate Roberts before his big reveal, he shouts at her that her true love often spoke of her faithfulness before questioning if she got engaged the same hour he left. Buttercup replies Westley was dead, and that she died that day. Then, of course, the pirate reveals himself to be Westley before telling her "Death cannot stop true love, all it can do is delay it for a while." I love The Princess Bride.
But I'm gonna riff off of the faithfulness thing because my heart goes out to Buttercup who thought her true love was dead. She didn't have any reason to think otherwise. For a while Humperdink was a better alternative to suicide. Was she faithful? I don't know the future, but I know what I'm called to for today. Even when some things look dead, I put my trust in God who asks me to be faithful.
Earlier this week, alone in my room, I shouted to God, "It's been over 400 days!" Today is 425, to be exact. A lot of things have happened in those 425 days, and I'm so much closer to Jesus for the weird adventure of it all. After I shouted that sentence, I thought about how I have learned and continue to work out a lesson in faithfulness; then I prayed for the person God assigned to me, and I went to sleep.
Two days ago I was sitting at my picnic bench with Daniel and Alyssa and shouted, "Your anniversary is in two days!" Today marks a whole different counting as I celebrate 365 days from when I first celebrated the marriage of these two precious people. I had an absolute blast hanging out with Daniel and Alyssa because Alyssa is one of my absolute favorite human beings on the planet, and Daniel has won a special place in my heart too. When I realized we were coming up on their anniversary, I was quick to let them know, "I'm sleeping much better these days." These precious kids knew the night before their wedding, I'd not slept more than three hours a night for two months. It was another four months before I'd start sleeping through the night with any sense of regularity. They knew my life was being transformed by a call to prayer. While they were with me my prayer alarm went off for my student, and I paused for what has now morphed into a three person prayer for a minute that reminds me to spend more time in prayer before bed. It's a habit in faithfulness for me.
Our conversation covered a lot of ground, but I was really struck by Daniel's comment about the value of chapel during his years at RVA and BFA. "It didn't train me in theology or doctrine, but it trained me in coming together," summed up his ideas. He admitted he couldn't remember a single specific message, but he could remember the importance of gathering for worship. "Every teacher spends 45 minutes a day telling you their content is the most important thing, but once a week, you realize for 45 minutes what the most important thing actually is," he told me.
I've been involved in a lot of conversations with a lot of people about what the purpose of church is. I have a whole project on it in my class. I'm still stumped because there are layers to the answer. Church matters, I know that, but it's not empty ritual when I show up. Today I wasn't physically present at any gathering, but I participated in the liturgy via Zoom. I also call three different local gatherings on three different continents "my church." I don't participate in all their services regularly, but I participate in church faithfully. I'm even comfortable saying döner and tea with Daniel and Alyssa on Friday night was a kind of church gathering. I can't remember not spending at least some time in prayer with Alyssa anytime we hang out.
I'm more eager to look for the holy moments when the Holy Spirit shows up and call that a church gathering than I used to be. I also still think the faithfulness of a regular intentional gathering matters. There's a tension. I can see Brad Harper holding his hands out telling me to "live in the tension." Both are church; don't sacrifice either. Church services that I attend (in person or virtually) are purposeful in reading and meditating on Scripture, opening space for repentance and growth, and worship and praise of God.
Back to those impromptu moments though - because I'm still learning about how to pay attention to my body nearly eight years post paralysis. At physio this week, Anja put me on the table and did massage work on my hips and thighs, and I felt tingling in my toes. This side effect of neruopathy is increasing in frequency, and I don't take it for granted. I spent three months isolated entirely from my toes - I didn't feel anything at all below my knees for three months after my accident. I still can't control all my toes, but I no longer forget they exist entirely when I close my eyes because of the tingling that constantly reminds me of their presence. I also still have to faithfully check my feet for blisters that I can't feel forming. It's another tension that I have to live in.
This physical reality makes me all the more grateful that Anja has been my physio for seven years; she's seen the progress. When I went in this week, I said I had tight muscles in my legs after the walking I'd done this week. As she worked out the tension in the muscles, I reflected on the difference this tightness was to the cramping I regularly experienced three or four years ago. I invited the Holy Spirit in and gave thanks. Each day since my last physio session as I've gotten on the treadmill, I made my steps a faithful and intentional act of worship and thanked God for Anja's knowledge of how nerves and muscles connect to help in my long recovery process.
One note for transparency here, my faithfulness has grown through this past year, but it hasn't been an easy journey by any means. Some days I see the overwhelming joy of being called to pray or getting to walk more than I could in the hospital, but there are also many, many days where I miss sleeping through the night or I groan over the spasms that tear through my calves and make my ankles unsteady. In that spirit, I'm sharing a poem I wrote this week that shows the tension of the low spirits facing my current reality and high faith in God's good character. I shared it with Alyssa, Maggie, and Lissy who each responded with deep empathy recognizing my pain as well as their own over this year of growth they've each had. I'm sharing it with you with my arms open asking you to "live in the tension" of my faithfulness and fatigue.
When It’s October Again
This time last year I believed in miracles.
I get why Sarah did it, why she told her husband, “Sleep with Hagar,” because she was tired. It’s not because she was nearing one hundred and didn’t believe God could do miracles.
No, it’s because she saw God’s miracles pass her by.
Sure she was saved from Pharaoh and rape and her husband didn’t die, but don’t you see, she gave up asking for a child and God promised something that was too much to hope in again. It was too exhausting to see the monthly blood and know no son was coming, to watch her womb go dry and with it her dreams.
Don’t tell me to expect the extraordinary.
Don’t awaken love before it’s time, Song of Songs warns. What about when the Lord whispers secret hopes and tells you to anticipate good that never comes? That hasn’t come. Sarah gave birth to a son.
My story isn’t over yet.
Joseph’s story is long, decades fly by in short chapters, but he lived each hour between the dreams of reward and his brothers bowing down - and many of those were in prison. Lord, I hope no one told him “all things happen for a reason” while he rotted in jail. I hope he never heard “this is part of God’s plan” when he was falsely accused of rape. Sure, Joseph knew God was faithful, and we think of him as faithful too, but I just have to wonder, was there ever a night during those long years of slavery that he wondered aloud, “It’s October again?”
You said soon.
Those heroes of faith all got their reward, and I trust your character remains the same. See, I can say the right words, but are you hearing my heart? That even when I know you love me, I don’t see it in my current pain. Last year you said a miracle was coming, but now it’s October again.
This time last year I believed in miracles.