From Invincible to Vulnerable

“Every time I look up at the sky I want to pray,” said Reuben as we stood in the morning dark at the bus stop.

His mop of hair still bore evidence of pillow-smoosh.  There was a tired raspiness in his voice.  His backpack weighed on his little shoulders.  He turns seven this week, him in his little Spiderman shoes and fleece jacket that is showing a bit more wrist than I was aware of.  Children grow whenever you aren’t watching.

I looked at my son, and I thought, “Whenever I look at my children I want to pray.”  Or at least I feel the urge to, feel the necessity of doing so.

“Maybe that’s why God didn’t have me die when I broke my head in Chile.  So I could pray.”

It takes a few seconds for me to remember how to breathe.  “He has great plans for you, Reuben, and He was merciful to me too, to not make me lose my dear son.”

He came close, so close that all I could see of him was wild blonde hair and a backpack on the horizon of his head.  “I wouldn’t have gotten to know Henri.  I wouldn’t have gotten to go to school.”  He weighed what he would have missed.  I weighed it too and found it unbearable to think of; how different our family would be without him.

“It should make you a bit more careful, you know, knowing how close you came.  You often do dangerous things,” I couldn’t help but say, appealing to this rare moment when he might question his perceived invincibility.  “Yeah,” he said and gave me a half smile.

Let me tell you how Reuben makes friends.  We go to a park and I see him scanning the assembled children.  Targeting the oldest and tallest among them, he goes and climbs to the highest point on the playground, shouts for their attention, and proceeds to jump off.  Wins a crowd every time.  He then dashes off yelling, “Come on!”  And they do.  I even overheard one older kid saying to his friend, “Let’s go with him, he does dangerous stuff.”

He’s seven and he has a ceramic plate in his head, has had stitches under his chin, and right now has a slowly healing broken pinky (because he keeps jamming it and re-injuring it).  His most treasured possession is his pocket knife.  He longs for the day when I’ll let him use my chef’s knife instead of the smaller paring ones.  He has an unnerving tendency of walking right down the middle of the road when we go on walks, just naturally drifting there whenever I blink.  I almost lost him once, and it seems he is bent on keeping up the suspense.

Oh yes, when I look at my children I want to pray.IMG_4654He’s seven on Friday, but yesterday he was born.reuben reuben4reuben2I know.  I know I can’t stop him from living life Reuben-style.  No matter what it does to my blood pressure, nor how many gray hairs it causes to sprout on my head.  reuben1

And truly, he does come by it honest.  The thrill of speed, of adventure, and yes, of danger.  Though I’m now less of a soaring hawk than a protective hen, in my childhood I had a distinct and thorough joy of riding hands-free on my bicycle (likely right down the middle of the road), of skiing as fast as I could straight down a black diamond slope, of throwing the throttle wide open on our four wheeler, delighting in the weightlessness I’d feel as my light frame would lift out of the seat when I hit a bump, being held in place only by my fingertips on the handles.  I lived the myth of invincibility with rigor, and fortunately for my health but not for growing in wisdom, with little consequence.  Oh, God’s mercy.

So I see it; the way our invincibility grows as we do into vulnerability.  As we see and experience tragedies, as we are hurt physically and emotionally, as we find that loving might mean losing.  As we become parents and find that our hearts no longer reside safe within our chests, but walk about on little legs that rush to danger.

So, I cannot get over what God did.

IMG_0004A little garden tomb we made during Lent, putting candles on the stepping stones and reading a devotional together each evening leading up to Good Friday, when we sealed up the tomb with a small clay caterpillar inside, wrapped in a cloth.  Easter morning the tomb was empty, the cloth neatly folded, and a butterfly rested in the tree symbolizing His resurrection.

God sent His Son knowing He would die a painful death out of love for us.  That is astounding.  Jesus went from being invincible truly to truly vulnerable.  For us.  I realize that as potent as my love feels, as thick and wide, it is a pale love compared to the Father’s.  Protective love has nothing on sacrificial love.

“Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”  -John 15:13

“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.”  -John 10:11

I hold these thoughts in my heart as the morning light pours into the living room, as my baby within kicks and turns and Henrik snores softly in his playpen.  As I plan a party to celebrate my Reuben and his seven years of life.  I hold this awe that God, the only one to enjoy true invincibility, became vulnerable, became hurtable, and mortal.  From all-powerful to all-dependent on a human mother.  Astounding.

If I could I would put a protective bubble around my son, so nothing could harm him, so I would not have to experience the soul anguish of losing him.  But my love is weaker than God’s.  So much weaker.  He gave the son He delighted in to redeem us, His rebellious and unruly creations.  He lavishes love on the unlovely.  He at great cost extends us mercy.  May we awake to that marvel, may we be astounded.

Not Quite Prostrate

“I’m going to have to lay down.”

My husband’s eyes went wide, anticipating perhaps a bit of embarrassment for us both if I did so, right in the middle of the church service.  I weighed my options:  one, go to a back pew (assuming there was one empty) and lay down there with the risk that someone would be alarmed by the pregnant lady stretched out alone and would feel the need to intervene, two, go find somewhere in the lobby to lay down with the risk that someone would be even more greatly alarmed to find a pregnant lady on the floor, or three, stretch out right beside my husband on the pew and hope that any alarm would be mitigated by the proximity (and calm) of said husband.

See, I couldn’t breathe.

Standing or sitting there was an unbearable tightness across my chest, something I had woken up to, a small and closed-in feeling in my lungs.  Breathless.  I had to stretch out.  Now.  So I did.  And the sermon floated over me and I drew truth and air in.  I love to worship laid out prostrate, but this was not quite that, this was more a desperate flop, a bid for air.

It’s a vulnerable feeling, to be pregnant.  There are bodily discomforts which can strip one of the ability to walk well, to eat normally, to sleep soundly, to make it more than an hour without needing a restroom. There are fears about delivery, about the health of the baby, about whether the pain will swallow one whole.  Most of all, though, it is the inherent vulnerability of loving.  I have growing just under my skin a soul that I would die for, that I have surging waves of love for, and that is by no means guaranteed to me.  Maybe that is what miscarriage does to a mother’s heart.  Two cups are put before me, one bitter and one sweet, and I’m not told which one I’ll have to drink.  I wrap my arms around my swollen belly, I curl around that life.

We’re all vulnerable, though, aren’t we?  If we didn’t feel that way with our friends and family going through cancers of all sorts, or divorce, or other tragedies, the news would certainly fill in the gap with some harrowing concern.  I feel it each time the bus pulls away from the curb bearing three of my dear children away, away from my gaze and my protective arms to shield them from dangers, moral and material.  We are vulnerable, flesh and blood creatures, so easily snuffed out, so infinitely valuable.

“For in him we live and move and have our being.’ As some of your own poets have said, ‘We are his offspring.'”

-Acts 17:28

Each breath, each contraction of the heart, each blink of the eye, each message sent zipping from nerve to brain, all of it held, by Him.  Enabled by Him.  And He is not a god of guarantees.  He doesn’t give us a contract for a long and healthy life, He gives us the invitation to love, for however long we are here, vulnerably like He does.

“In his hand is the life of every creature and the breath of all mankind.”  -Job 12:10

Knowing our shared fragility, let us be unafraid to lay down, to be seen as in need, to be found vulnerable.  Let’s not be embarrassed.  Sometimes you just have to breathe.  And that can’t always be done sitting or standing respectably.  We have to set aside pride to find needed relief.  And laying down?  It’s so close to laying prostrate, so close to fully-laid-out worship and reverence and surrender.  In a fire you need to crawl below the smoke to find air.  In the spiritual walk, you’ll need at times to go low, to be humbled, to be seen on your belly and gasping.  Even our Lord found that place as he awaited the tortures to come on the cross.

“And going a little farther he fell on his face and prayed, saying, ‘My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.'”

-Matthew 26:39

And do you know the miracle of it?  When you do lay down?  There and then you find the hands reached out in concern, there you find the prayers whispered over you, there you find the church at it’s best.  You find God in the caring of the assembled Body.  And also? You help others find the floor.  To find a way down where the air is, where the healing is.  They feel the soul-deep permission to admit their needs and their weaknesses.

I could stand for the closing song.  My lungs had been filled and the tightness had eased and I could sing again.