Surrender, the 2020 word

At the start of the year, the Holy Spirit whispered “surrender” to my stubborn heart as I prayed for a word to guide my year, my 2020. It seemed silly to me. I had, after all, been slowly learning to unfurl my fingers and hold my plans more loosely, finding tight grips only on God’s promises. I had given up my images of community and embraced the ones I found myself in. I had let go of what my romantic life (or lack thereof) should look like. I had released my plans for career to the Lord’s will. I had given up fighting with God about where to live and what to do and decided to let the Good Shepherd lead me, knowing He knows each stone on which I stumble on the winding mountain paths and the ways through dark valley forests. But, surrender the word was and so surrender I would continue to try to do.

Enter 2020, which began with emergency dental surgery and pay issues that left me in pain and stressed about money. A whirlwind interview process that led me to agree to do a thing I had told God years earlier that I did not want to do. January, February, surrender was the name of the game. And then March came and chaos came with it. As the world began to wrestle with a pandemic that changed everything, as my roommate relationships twisted and some broke apart, as I was kept far from my family, my church, my people, left without closure as my friends moved away permanently, working a job I did not love from my kitchen table at midnight, and watching every plan and dream I had had for the coming year fall away unceremoniously, I surrendered. I walked laps along the river repeating “the Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing” and baked bread while my mind wandered, and cried on the phone with my friends and read prayers for God to meet me over my morning coffee, and surrendered and surrendered and surrendered pretty much everything about what I thought life should look like.

I’m a planner but what is one to do what plans A through F are no longer possible? You surrender to the Mighty King and ask Him to tell you what to do. You delight in the right now, in the work and rest that belong to today and you actually (for real this time!?) start to learn that your life is not your own. You remember that He makes beautiful things out of human brokenness and a world turned upside down, that you are not wandering wild, that the Creator of your soul knows your disappointments even when you pretend you’re hiding them well. You surrender. And you do so with, admittedly, much more childish stomping and whining and “but why-ing” than this blog post might suggest. I surrendered to more school though I had asserted fiercely it was the last thing I wanted this year. I surrendered to cancelled family visits and having to commit to another year in a city my feet were itching to run away from. As the year went on, I had to learn to once again surrender to the Lord’s ultimate goodness and justice and mercy as I grieved the loss of another friend, as I struggled to figure out who I am in this changed world, as I realized that I might have to give up more years of dreams, more years of living where I want to live, more months of relationships that include hugs and dinner parties.

I remember sitting on my porch in early April as the rain poured down, talking on the phone with a dear friend (who is now my roommate, what a gift) and remarking that for all my surrendering of plans, I was grateful for peace in knowing that my obedience in making them (prayerfully and often in surrender too) had not been in vain. Surrender to the Lord’s will is often less about the thing we are giving up or taking on and much more about trusting Him who made us, who is remaking us, and who is making all things new in our small and precious lives and in the bold and dramatic and beautiful and heart wrenching story of humanity. Surrender is an invitation to remember that I am me and God is God and He is faithful no matter what my life and circumstances look like. Jesus is a patient teacher when I am slow to learn and a dear friend in strange times such as these and He knows what it is to surrender to the Father. I am grateful for Jesus’ friendship this year.

And you know, surrender brings a freedom to see the beauty in what is otherwise deep sadness. This year has been hard, there is literally no way around that. It has been wrought with disappointment and sadness and hurt and longing for what is not, and cannot, be right now. But it has also been a year of thinking big thoughts and of friendship and forgiveness and of learning how to suffer small things for the good of other people. It has brought me long runs and longer bike rides, phone calls and walks with friends, book clubs and bread baking and jobs and new schools, new ways of celebrating holidays with the people in closest proximity to me. It has brought me roommates and pen pals and morning prayers and reminders that there is joy to be found in the mundane. It has brought me more quiet, more slowness, more crying that makes the laughter sweeter. It has made me long more to see Gods kingdom come. It’s made me pray more earnestly for the Kingdom to come, for God’s will to be, for earth to become more like heaven. And that longing, in this year and in this Advent season, is a gift. Surrender is a gift. 2020 is a gift, that I did not ask for and still don’t quite know what to do with. But living this life is a gift, even when it is hard. For that, I will praise the Lord. My soul will keep learning the art of surrender.

Week 7

Today I sat on the porch while it rained and I tried to focus on my work. Instead I was distracted and, my eyes weary from staring at the screen, I spent much of the day looking out over my neighbourhood cocooned in grey clouds. I listened to the drops hit the roof in an irregular rhythm and observed how vibrantly green the moss on the tree out front looked, in contrast to the gloomy sky. I watched the people go by. The two small children in classic yellow raincoats who passed around lunchtime, walking slowly as if their feet were heavy weights. The tinnier one spun in a half circle, bent over to examine some small treasure in the grass of my lawn, then stood up again to ask the wet and tired looking father how much farther to home. I watched pairs of friends marching two by two, separated too, by two meters…usually. Runners going full speed and runners clearly out of steam passed by, the sound of their feet catching my attention, pulling my eyes away from the report I was attempting to read. A cute boy with too-long hair hanging wet in his eyes, walked his dog by our house twice in the span of three hours. A friend stopped by to drop off a borrowed dish on the porch and called my name. The UPS man got confused about where to drop the (then damp) brown packages he carried and I watched him as he paced up and down the street until he sorted it out. The birds sang brightly all day, despite the constant drizzle. Around 3pm, the neighbour came out onto his porch for a while and we both waved, then sat in silence. All afternoon, I got up to make tea more than was necessary. I was restless; the weather and the street were too.

Today was Thursday, nearly the end of week 7 working from home during the COVID-19 lockdown. Week 7 of working from the worn-out yellow porch seat with a blanket over my legs and a cup of tea beside me, or from my bed with the covers pulled up, or from the floor in the corner of my bedroom, my legs crossed under me like a kindergartener. Week 7 of sitting on my couch with my laptop, trying not to be distracted by my roommates chattering over morning coffee, while I cross my fingers that the network connects easily and I can check my email without issue. Week 7 of daily Zoom calls, week 7 of missing chatting with colleagues in the bathroom and in the hallways. Week 7 of unsettledness, of an anxiety in my chest that comes and goes without warning. Week 7 of seeing the same walls and faces on an endless loop. Week 7 of dress shirts with pyjama bottoms, of sundresses while it snows, of lipstick as my only makeup, of not changing out of my yoga pants post morning flow, because I’m not going anywhere anyways. Week 7 of candles on my desk, sleeping until 8am, playing music and having a dance party at lunch time; it isn’t all bad. Week 7 of uncertainty about what comes next: where will I live, what will I do, how do I pray into this? Week 7 of working with choppy wifi and no printed documents for this paper and pen gal, week 7 of too much time staring at the light of my computer. Week 7 and I feel like I never know what day it is. Week 7…and I am tired. 

So today I watched the rain come down and I drank my tea and I tried to work, bit by bit. I accepted that this was Thursday of week 7 and that it was raining and that my brain, like the world, was moving a little bit slower than normal. Today I tried to work but really I just watched and listened and remembered that the world, while slowed, is still moving. It is raining and the moss is growing and the children are learning and the people are talking and the runners are running and cute boys are dog-walking and the UPS man is delivering  and the neighbour is waving from his porch. We are still living, still pressing forward albeit at a slower pace, day by day, in the sunshine and the in the rain. And we will be ok. It is week 7 and today I had to remind myself many times that we will be ok. 

Communion

Two weeks ago, on a damp and drizzly weekday, I went for an angry walk. My heart pounded and I walked quickly to convince myself that my rapid pulse was from the physical exertion and not my temper. I knew that the actual situation that had triggered my fury, which I can usually keep in check, would be resolved. But I also knew there was a lot of “feeling” I had been avoiding actually “feeling”.  My emotions had been piling up; I needed to get away from my house and take some time to process and pray. 

Three weeks had passed since the World Health Organization had declared a global pandemic and I had whiplash from how quickly life was changing, sometimes hour to hour. Three weeks in and I felt unseen. I felt unheard. And if I am honest, I felt like God was screwing with us all. As my plans in the short and long term seemed to be quickly slipping away in the wake of COVID-19, I wondered what else I would be giving up in what felt like the most whack Lent of my life. My house was in week two of a self-imposed quarantine but I knew that even at that end of our 14 day period, not much would change. Social distancing and self-isolation would not (and will not) be ending anytime soon. And I felt real damn angry about it. I felt exiled. More than ever before I could relate to the Israelites, wandering in the desert when the promised land had seemed so close. A little dramatic but hey, what else is new? 

That afternoon, I soaked my socks walking in mud puddles along the river bank, yelled across the water at God. I yelled and walked and prayed until my anger had burned itself off, leaving only a smokey sadness. 

As I turned towards home, it started to rain again, hard. And for some reason, I started thinking about church. I thought of how no one would be there that coming Sunday, nor Easter Sunday quickly approaching. I thought of the empty pews and darkened sanctuary, of the elderly folks struggling to figure out live streams with crackly internet connections. Most of all, I thought of how much I have come to cherish taking communion each week; I am often brought to tears by the honour of confessing and repenting, of accepting and resting in grace, of coming to the Father’s table with my community each week. I thought of how cared for I feel when the pastor gives the absolution to the congregation. Of how my mind, body, soul and spirit are being formed each week in the kneeling and the sipping and the chewing and the praying. Of how I can no longer drink red wine without remembering Jesus. Of how that moment of breaking bread is sometimes sorrowful and sometimes joyful and always communal. And as the rain came down so hard it hurt when it hit my skin, I started to cry. Not cute tears running down my cheeks but true sobs with my head thrown back, making me look like a cartoon character. Can you picture it? The pouring rain and then me, walking down the street audibly and evidently crying without even trying to hide it. Did I mention I can be dramatic? To be fair, I figured anyone who saw me would understand that these days, you sometimes need a good cry.

I couldn’t help but deeply feel the sorrow of being kept from gathering with other members of the Body. And while I knew deep in my soul that the Church is living and moving and united by the Holy Spirit, the more I learn about faith, the more I have become convinced that it is not a solitary activity. As I walked through my neighbourhood, I tried to get it together but every-time I thought I had done it, I would think of not being able to take communion with my church on Resurrection Sunday and start crying all over again. This year I have been learning that there is power in the liturgy: in the gathering and the singing, in the reading of the Word in public, in of the Prayers of the People and in the passing of the peace. I mourned losing that and I cried all the way home. On and off over the last couple weeks I have cried about the Body of Christ being scattered and separated, even as I studied the Bible on Zoom with friends, worshiped in my living room with a piano and a beat tapped out on the door frame, took communion with peach juice and rice cakes. There is so much grace in this season but I missed my church. 

But today, gathering or no gathering we celebrated the Resurrection of Jesus. Our Jesus is victorious. He reigns and is King over all. He is not contained by the grave and he is not restrained by social distancing. He is in the liturgy and in the prayers I can’t put words too, in the many walks around the block, in the tears and the loss and in the work from home. Today was Easter Sunday. And while it did not look as I had hoped, this weekend was one of the most beautiful I have lived in recent memory. Over the last couple of days I have prayed with members of my Bible study over Zoom. I have danced and sung in the lineup to go into the grocery store. I have baked 16 loaves of bread with my housemates (flour and sugar and eggs multiplying, loaned and passed on from neighbours). I have walked through my neighbourhood with my housemates delivering the bread to people we love; friends and family in Christ, our community, our Church. 

This morning, I got up and read the gospel accounts of Jesus’ glorious resurrection, on my rooftop as the sun rose. The birds were in full chorus, a woodpecker providing a beat behind the melody. I stood with my socks damp again, this time from the dew, and rolled my eyes, laughing at John calling himself the one who Jesus loved. He makes a point of saying that he ran faster than Peter to get to the tomb first. I’m not sure why that is important but hey, how bold and beautiful that John is so secure in his relationship with His Lord that he declares that himself the one that Jesus loved. May I be such dear friends with Jesus that I do not doubt his love for me.

After sunrise I crawled into bed, fell back asleep while still rereading the gospel of John, smiling and remembering Monday night Bible studies spent digging deeply into the disciple’s words and his thesis that Jesus is the light of the world, come to bring us into relationship with the Father. Later, my housemates and I feasted on strawberries and banana pancakes, strong brewed coffee and the sight of pink tulips in full bloom. I doodled lavender and greenery on cards for our friends as we watched the livestream service from my Pentecostal church in Barrie. So different from my Anglican church in Ottawa, today it felt like a hug from home and a reminder of the beautiful and diverse expressions of the Church. 

In the afternoon, we went door to door giving out the bread we had baked and braided and tied with blue ribbon, chatting with our friends from the sidewalk. When we got home my mom had sent us huge platters of shawarma and our house got to eat together for the second time in one day, a rare occasion. We talked and ate and praised the Lord. After dinner, I laughed for two hours straight on a Zoom call with my mom and sister, aunts and uncles and cousins. We drank wine, watched the aunties try to figure out the app and talked over each other so no one knew what anyone was saying. It was just like a real Kelly party and it made my soul sing with gratitude. As the sun was setting, my roommates and I went for one last walk, singing in the streets as we took cupcakes to our friend Aidan and my cousins Ben and Luke. 

We ended the day in our living room. And we raised our voices in worship to the King of Kings. We praised the name of Jesus because there is nothing else to do on a day like today, so full of joy and community, even from a distance. We drank wine and ate fresh bread and reminded each other that He is risen,  taking communion, in community. And while there was still a part of me that mourned not being in church and walking out the liturgy, the Lord was so generous in the joy of this Easter. It was one I want to remember the feeling of for years to come. 

The Church is alive and well friends.The Church is laughing and crying and coming together, meeting on Zoom and eating shawarma sitting on the living room floor in sweatpants and Easter dresses. She is yelling love across the street and in Instagram stories. The Church is dancing today as She remembers that Jesus is alive. On this Easter I am reminded that death and loss get their sting but hope and resurrection get the final word. Isolation and scattering may feel like long stretches of Good Fridays and Silent Saturdays but we are Resurrection people; hope wins. And wow, what a party it will be when this season ends and we can hug our loved ones and worship together again! 

Praise God from whom all blessings flow. Jesus is risen. He is working in this crazy season in ways I do not claim to understand. But I know that all is well and all will be well. Because Jesus is risen. He is risen indeed. 

“Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us. You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” – Romans 5:3-8