Lamb Hugs

Earlier this summer I wrote a blog post about returning from a trip to Texas with my husband, Nick. While we were in our home state we spent the night with Nick’s family in Houston. We then jumped in our rental car and met my parents for brunch in the tiny town of Hearne as we drove to Waco. In Waco we spent the night with our good friends. All of this travel and quality time with people we love—and consumption of a lot of good Mexican food—happened so we could go to the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship General Assembly in Dallas.

My first blog piece about this was all upbeat and optimistic. What I didn’t realize—as is very often the case with me—was that I had a lot of pain simmering just below the surface as I wrote.

The day after I posted that blog, I was a wreck. I woke up exhausted, got super annoyed that my perfectly timed and planned morning was now hopeless, and was just generally overwhelmed by the day.

Every Wednesday night since November or so, I have driven to downtown Charlottesville, crossed my fingers for a free parking spot (and often had to scramble down to the parking garage and pay at the last minute), walked past the highly contested Robert E. Lee statue (which is sometimes covered with a tarp…sometimes not…), and pulled open the heavy doors to The Haven, a day shelter for people experiencing homelessness in our community. It’s a beautiful building, an old church. The sanctuary is gorgeous and I try to stick my head in there whenever I can and breathe in the remains of worship and community gatherings that linger in the air.

Adriana, my Spiritual Director, greets me at the door and leads me either upstairs or down the hall and we begin our time in silence as we begin to notice God. That’s really the whole point of the Spiritual Direction session, to consider the question, “where do you notice God?”

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This particular night, I am wary of showing up. I know I am just barely hanging on and I’m not sure why. I am apprehensive because I often cry my way through sessions when I enter like this. Often, what is just simmering beneath the surface is actually very deep wounds that have been poked and prodded by the week. I enter our space at The Haven and brace myself. I try to hold it off, try to keep God from getting into the things I’m trying to hold in place. Adriana asks where I would like to go tonight. I say I’m drained and don’t really know. She suggests we turn to Scripture.

Isaiah 40. She reads it probably 15 or 20 times throughout the hour. Sometimes I speak up about what I hear between her reading. Sometimes she hands me a question to consider as I listen. Where is the invitation here? Why this text? It begins with “comfort” and ends with an image of God hugging lambs to his chest and leading their mothers to safe places.

I am in pain because last week in Houston, then Hearne, then Waco, then Dallas, I was with people who really, really know me. Who see me. Who understand me. Who know how to listen. Who know how to ask the right questions. Who value what I bring to the table. I am in pain because I was reminded that I am lonely here in Charlottesville. Now, the tears come.

I know I’m being invited to receive God’s comfort. I know I’m supposed to be a lamb gathered up into the arms of God and gently carried wherever God might go. But…

Somehow we end with grace. Frustrating grace. Adriana, tenderly, tells me again that I need to learn how to extend grace to myself. I feel devastated by her kind, true words. I don’t know how to do this. I’ve tried. I can’t do it. I cry some more. The hour is over.

. . .

I walk to my car, where it is parked just on the other side of the now uncovered statue.

I drive to Chik-fil-a to buy my first peach milkshake of the summer, and then, I just keep driving. I make a wide, hour-long circle out of Charlottesville, out of Albemarle, through Green, through Gordonsville, and finally head back to Charlottesville.

It’s beautifully pastoral. I can’t see the sky like I can in Texas, but I believe the farmland of Virginia—with the mountains as their background—is the most classically beautiful scene in the world. It’s the picture I always drew with crayons as a kid. It’s where I’ve always imagined myself. I just didn’t realize it was here that I was imagining.

It takes me about halfway into my circle before I bring myself to talk to God. I say I want to trust, but I don’t. I say I want to accept grace, but I can’t.

Somewhere small within me, I know that I’m not supposed to try. I can relax and just be—that’s actually the only way to experience grace.

I drive some more.

I wonder aloud to God… Does God care about me as much as I believe God cares about the children ripped from their families in our detention centers? Does God care about me as much I believe God cares about people suffering in hard relationships? Does God care about me as much as I believe God cares about my neighbors?

I make it home right as the sky opens up and the thunder and lightning bellow and crack.

I duck my head inside my shell for the rest of the night. I poke out once to try to explain to Nick why my session was so hard, why I spent the night driving around in the country, but I suddenly feel too exposed and misunderstood so I turtle up, take a melatonin, and go to bed.

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The next morning, I open back up to 2 Corinthians. I read chapter 6, verses 1-13 over and over and over aloud:

Companions as we are in this work with you, we beg you, please don’t squander one bit of this marvelous life God has given us. God reminds us,

I heard your call in the nick of time;

The day you needed me, I was there to help.

Well, now is the right time to listen, the day to be helped. Don’t put it off; don’t frustrate God’s work by showing up late, throwing a question mark over everything we’re doing. Our work as God’s servants gets validated—or not—in the details. People are watching us as we stay at our post, alertly, unswervingly . . . in hard times, tough times, bad times; when we’re beaten up, jailed, and mobbed; working hard, working late, working without eating; with pure heart, clear head, steady hand; in gentleness, holiness, and honest love; when we’re telling the truth, and when God’s showing his power; when we’re doing our best setting things right; when we’re praised, and when we’re blamed; slandered, and honored; true to our word, though distrusted; ignored by the world, but recognized by God; terrifically alive, though rumored to be dead; beaten within an inch of our lives, but refusing to die; immersed in tears, yet always filled with deep joy; living on handouts, yet enriching many; having nothing, having it all.

Dear, dear Corinthians, I can’t tell you how much I long for you to enter this wide-open, spacious life. We didn’t fence you in. The smallness you feel comes from within you. Your lives aren’t small, but you’re living them in a small way. I’m speaking as plainly as I can and with great affection. Open up your lives. Live openly and expansively!

♦♦♦

I heard your call in the nick of time;
The day you needed me, I was there to help.

We didn’t fence you in. The smallness you feel comes from within you. Your lives aren’t small, but you’re living them in a small way.

God had a word for me through this text—in particular through the italicized words above. I invite you to read these 13 verses over and over again. Maybe God has a word there for you, too.

Liz Andrasi Deere is a Texan living in Charlottesville, Virginia with her husband and puppy. She loves food, trees, travel, and practicing hospitality—both offering and receiving it. Liz graduated from Truett Seminary with her Master of Divinity and is a freelance writer and editor. She shares some of her writing each week on her blog Lamplight Stories.

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