06 December 2016

The Ironic Invitation

Last spring I attended a workshop on Biblical exposition run by the Simeon Trust. Women from all over the PNW gathered in Portland for a weekend of learning how to study and teach God's Word. I was inspired to dig deeper into God's Word by the both the instruction and my fellow attendees, awesome teachers and leaders who are further along in their walk with Christ. So like I do, I've been working on biblical exposition essays, which I plan to share here. This is my first foray into Biblical exposition for public display. I've spent a month revising and editing with invaluable theological and organizational input from my husband, Justin.
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At that time Jesus declared, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that You have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children; yes, Father, for such was Your gracious will. All things have been handed over to Me by My Father, and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal Him. Come to Me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you, and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy, and My burden is light.”                                                                  Matthew 11:25-30 ESV                                                            

            In Matthew 11:25-30, Jesus’ familiar invitation to take His yoke in verse 28 unfolds into profound hope when taken in the context of the surrounding, though often overlooked, verses. Jesus uses irony, the opposite of what is expected, to pull His listeners into His words and deepen their understanding. This passage falls into three parts based on who Jesus is addressing. First Jesus addresses the Father in praise (v25-26). Then Jesus explains His relationship to the Father to the crowd (v27). Last, Jesus specifically addresses those in the crowd who “labor and are heavy laden” (v28-30). In each section, a sharp distinction is made between what the listeners expect to be the case and what the truth actually is. The irony is a thread in the invitation of hope that Jesus is weaving.
            Jesus’s public praise of God the Father in verses 25-26 is a glimpse of the unity between God the Father and God the Son. Jesus celebrates God’s will as “well-pleasing in Your sight.” In other words, Jesus is pleased by that which pleases the Father. Jesus thinks God’s will is good; the Two are entirely united in will. What is this pleasing will? Contrary to what the crowd expected, God’s will is to hide “these things from the wise and understanding” and reveal them “to little children.”
            To understand the full extent of the irony, one has to answer “Who are these wise and understanding?” and “Who are the little children?” The earlier chapters of Matthew give this context. Chapter 11 opens with the disciples of John the Baptist asking Jesus if He is the “expected One” (11:3). Jesus answers by citing Isaiah’s description of the Messiah (11:4-6) and then chastises those in the crowd who did not believe John and subsequently Jesus Himself (11:7-19). Jesus then denounces the unrepentant in the cities where most of His mighty works had been done: Chorazin, Bathsaida, and Capernaum (11:20-24). Matthew 9 details miracle after miracle that Jesus performed in and around Capernaum (Matt 9:1, see Mark 2:1) and the persistent unbelief and accusations of the Pharisees. The Pharisees and the Sadducees were the religious leaders who the Jewish people, whom Jesus spoke to, would have viewed as the educated and godly elite. Therefore, “the wise and understanding” from whom the things of God are hidden is in part referring to the unrepentant Pharisees and Sadducees. The Pharisees expected that God would reveal the things of God to the intelligent, the educated, and renown, not the ignorant, illiterate, and the unimportant. But it was God’s good will to hide true wisdom and understanding from those who arrogantly believed themselves to be wise and learned. The Pharisees and Sadducees repeatedly refused to believe Jesus and instead criticized and challenged Him by leaning on their own understanding rather than God’s.
            The “little children” (ESV) or “infants” (NASB), can inversely be identified as those who are not the proudful Pharisees or leaders. The Pharisees believed their intelligence made them self-sufficient. However, God reveals Himself to those who are as dependent on Him as children are on their parents. A child wholly relies on its parents not only to learn but to sustain its life entirely.  Jesus fleshes out more qualifications of those to whom God has revealed these things in His invitation in verse 28.  But before that, Jesus defines what these hidden things are by explaining His unity with the Father.
Where Jesus’s praise of the Father gave a glimpse into His unity with God the Father, verse 27 lays it open. First, “all” the “things” that God the Father handed over to Jesus is exactly that, all the things. In addition to rightly praising God by calling Him “Lord of heaven and earth,” Jesus is also defining that which God has handed over to Him: heaven and earth. Jesus affirms this in Matthew 28:18 when He says, “All authority in heaven and earth has been given to Me.” The unity of God the Father and God the Son is shown by the Father giving over His absolute authority to the Son.
Jesus doesn’t stop there but continues to explain His intimate unity with God as “no one knows the Son except for the Father; and no one knows the Father except for the Son…” The prophet Isaiah tells us that our human thoughts are not God’s thoughts, nor are His ways our ways; they are as far apart as the heavens from the earth and the east from the west (Isaiah 55:8-9). The crowd then would expect that no one at all could know God. Yet the Son knows the Father and the Father knows the Son. Their thoughts and ways are one in the same. In Paul’s letter to the Colossians, he explains that the hidden mystery of God is that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God. Jesus Christ is entirely God, for in Jesus the fullness of God was pleased to dwell (Col 1:19). When Jesus says that only the Father knows the Son and only the Son knows the Father, He is both expressing His very nature as divine and His deep intimacy with God the Father.
            Jesus doesn’t stop there either! He adds “and anyone to whom the Son wills to reveal Him.” This clause contains two outstanding elements. First, “anyone” is without any qualification in itself. This means anyone: not just the educated or elite but the ordinary, the unknown, the poor, or the sinner. The only qualification is that the Son wills the person to know the Father. Essentially, Jesus, having been given all authority on heaven and earth, can choose anyone! It is the very essence of unmerited, undeserved, unimaginable grace. This is good news for anyone who has ever been told they are disqualified from relationship with God because who their parents are, how much money they make, how much education they have, where they grew up, or how anyone else has judged them. Anyone can include us, the criminal, the barista, the man sleeping in the bus stop, and our friends and family whom we desperately will to know God. The second breathtaking component of this clause is that those whom Christ wills know the Father. Those whom Christ chooses can know the Father just as He Himself as the Son knows the Father. Indeed, those who Christ wills become sons of God (Luke 20:36). This is why Jesus prayed before His death that He would be in us as the Father is in Him so that we are brought to complete unity (John 17:23). Not only does Jesus have this robust intimacy with God the Father but He also wills “anyone” to have that same intimacy with God as well. This is the climax of why Jesus is explaining His relationship to the Father: Through Jesus Christ, anyone can know God the Father.
            In verse 25, we learned that the Father’s good will is to reveal the things of God to little children. In verse 27 we learn that the Son’s good will is to reveal the Father.  Since the Son’s will and the Father’s will are the same, as shown by Jesus’s praise of the Father, then those whom Jesus invites to learn from Him in verse 28 are the same as the “little children.” Who is it then that Jesus wills to reveal the Father; who are these little children? They are the weary, the burdened, the exhausted, the weak.
            In the gospel of Matthew, Jesus began His teachings with the Sermon on the Mount, which begins with the Beatitudes: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for they will inherit the Kingdom of God. Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be satisfied” (Matthew 5:3, 5,6). The weary and heavy-laden are those who toil trying to appease the law and additional stipulations stacked upon it by the Pharisees to fight their sin so that they may know God. The exhausted and burden are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, but continually find they come up short both with the Pharisees and God’s commands. The laborers are those who know their sin stands between them and God and realize they are dependent on God’s grace rather than their own attempts to clean themselves. Like David in Psalm 51, they see that nothing they can do can fully atone for their sin and thus rely on God’s unfailing love so that He has mercy on them. They are those who the “wise and understanding” deem unable to know God. And they are those whom Christ invites to Himself to find rest.
            However, Jesus doesn’t offer the laborers lemonade or a recliner, He offers them a yoke that oxen would use to plow fields. The ironic invitation bids the questions: How can a yoke be restful?
            Yokes appear often in both the old and new testament. As an agricultural society, the Jewish people would easily relate to such an image as being yoked. The crowd would have known that when two oxen are yoked together, they must travel the same path and do the same work. To take up Christ’s yoke is to commit to doing as He does and walking the path He walks. In doing so one learns from Christ. No one wants to be bound to violent criminal. No one wants a teacher who is abusive. Jesus reassures His hearers that He is not these things. One can yoke themselves to Christ because He is “gentle and humble in heart.” Christ also clarifies that He isn’t speaking of physical rest but spiritual by adding, “rest for your souls” in verse 29.
            In Jeremiah 27, a striking parallel to Jesus’ yoke is found in the prophet literally wearing a yoke. Jeremiah appears before the king and elders urging them to yoke themselves to God’s chosen servant, Nebuchadnezzar. God declares through Jeremiah: “It is I who by My great power and My outstretched arm have made the earth, with the men and animals that are on the earth, and I give it to whomever it seems right to Me. Now I have given all these lands into the hand of Nebuchadnezzar, the king of Babylon, My servant, and I have given him also the beasts of the field to serve him. All the nations shall serve him…” (Jeremiah 27:5-7). God the Father more profoundly handed over all things in heaven and earth to Jesus, the Son, as He had given Nebuchadnezzar authority over the lands and the people of Israel. However, the king and leaders of Jeremiah’s time refused to listen and in their pride chose to believe the false prophets and rely on their own strength. The Pharisees and the Sadducees rejected Jesus just as the educated and elite rejected Jeremiah in his day. In contrast to Nebuchadnezzar, Jesus is “gentle and lowly in heart.” Instead of carrying away the people from God’s presence in exile as Nebuchadnezzar’s yoke did, Jesus offers a yoke that carries the weary into the knowledge of God.
            Such a yoke is restful because Jesus’s invitation is a promise to share the burden, which stands in contrast to the heavy burdens the Pharisees and leaders laid on the people. The leaders didn’t lift a finger to carry the load they heaped on the people (Luke 11:46). Jesus, however, gives one rest by carrying the load of fulfilling the law Himself. Yoked to Him, one can learn to know God and be as intimate with God as Christ is.
            Jesus describes His yoke as “easy” and His burden as “light.” Again, some irony creeps in. Jesus tells His disciples in Luke 14 to count the cost of being His disciple; one must “bear his own cross” (v27). Even in the Beatitudes, Jesus says “blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake” and “blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on My account” (Matthew 5:10, 11). Crosses and persecution do not seem “easy” and “light.” So is Jesus contradicting Himself? Certainly not. His yoke and burden are easy and light because He carries the load. Yoking oneself to Christ means having faith in His work on one’s behalf, trusting Christ’s atoning sacrifice of Himself on the cross as payment and ransom for one’s sins and relying on Christ’s righteousness alone.
Because Christ carried the load, Paul proclaimed that he “can do all things” (Phil 4:13). Paul’s confidence is not from his “righteousness that comes from the law” (Phil 3:9) or his wisdom and intelligence, which he considers “garbage” (Phil 3:8). Paul’s righteousness comes “from God through faith in Jesus Christ” (Phil 3:9). Peter similarly writes that his readers rejoice though “grieved by various trails” (1 Peter 1:6). They can rejoice in the midst of suffering because they have “a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead” (1 Peter 1:3). Jesus isn’t promising a cake walk or a comfortable, apathetic life; He’s promising to carry the load of the law and the burden of sin. Taking on the yoke of faith in Christ frees us to set down the burden of the law of sin and death.
The Greek for “easy” in verse 30 can be translated as “comfortable,” but it more often appears in the New Testament as “good” or “kind.” This same word can also be rendered as “useful.” “Light” in the Greek is the opposite of heavy; and can also be used for “agile” or “quick.” Instead of reading verse 30 as “My yoke is comfy and My burden is like a feather,” substituting the synonyms gives a different, more robust picture: “For My yoke is fruitful and My burden buoyant.” Jesus’s useful yoke contrasts the futile precepts of the Pharisees. His “good” yoke is the antithesis of the Pharisees’ superfluous and empty regulations. One becomes productive in the pursuit of knowing God under the kind guidance and work of Christ as opposed to the Sisyphean tasks of the Pharisees. A burden that is quick and agile gives the image of a frolicking mountain goat rather than weighed down ox. Jesus is inviting the weary to “take off that which hinders and the sin that entangles" (Hebrews 12:1) by removing the yoke of the Pharisees and taking His “light” burden to run the race with ease and agility. Rather than offering a list of impossible tasks or a sofa and unlimited Netflix, Jesus invites us to put on His lightweight running shoes and go to work with Him.
Jesus’s offer echoes back further still. Beyond rest from the extraneous rules of the Pharisees, beyond the statues of the Law given to Moses, beyond the short comings that each of us when we’re honest with ourselves know exist within ourselves, Jesus’s invitation addresses where the problem of sin began. After Adam had taken and eaten the fruit and then tried to hide it from God, the holy and just God rightly cursed Adam, “Because you listened to the voice of your wife and have eaten of the tree which I commanded you, ‘You shall not eat of it,’ cursed is the ground because of you; in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life; thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you; and you shall eat of the plants of the field” (Gen. 3:17-18). The Israelites were so familiar with yokes and farming because ever since Adam, man was cursed to labor until weary just to eat. Our sin reaps fruitless toil, but Jesus offers rest. Because of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection, we can have rest from religious requirements, rest from vainly striving for perfection, rest from tyranny of brokenness, and rest from the rule of the sin within. In taking Christ’s yoke, we take rest from rebellion against God and learn to walk in the ways of our Creator.

            The Pharisees thought they knew God, and puffed up with their status and education, they piled restrictions and regulations upon the people that in no way brought the people closer to God but rather exiled and enslaved them. Conversely, Jesus offers rest for the weary by sharing His yoke with them and teaching them who the Father is. The Pharisees self-professed wisdom and intelligence did not entitle them to know God, rather their pride prevented them from seeing the things of God. God the Father and God the Son did not choose those who thought they were smart or had it all figured out, but rather those who recognized their need for help, who recognized that no matter how hard they tried to fulfill the law they were still sinful and therefore as dependent as babies on God for hope and salvation. Christ invitation still stands for us today: “Come to Me all who labor under the oppression of sin and are weighed down by trying to fix yourselves through religious rules, and I will give you rest…For My yoke is useful and good and My burden is freeing and light.”

04 November 2016

On Waiting

Twenty-five years. Twenty-five years is how long Abraham waited for You to give him Isaac. In those 25 years, Abraham took matters into his own hands. He took Hagar to make a son not of the promise. He not once but twice gave up Sarah, the promised mother, to other men. And then one day after 2 dozen years of waiting came an unexpected visit, a renewed promise, and a laugh.

"Is anything too hard for the LORD? At the appointed time, I will return to you, about this time next year, and Sarah shall have a son."

I'd laugh too. After waiting over two decades, after being barren my entire life, after having my husband conceive a son with another woman - at my bidding! - to prove that the infertility lied with me alone, after my period left taking with it all hope of ever being a mother, to then be told I would yet conceive -- I'd laugh too.

Justin and I have been "in the process" of becoming foster parents since the September before last. In May 2015, I felt You convict me that the time was at hand for us to pursue adoption, which we had talked about for years in the abstract. So in September 2015 we took the necessary trainings and started the paperwork. We got all the prerequisites in by Dec. 30, 2015, which at the time felt frustratingly late. With the ball in the state's court, we went round and round, rewriting paperwork, resubmitting forms, redoing trainings when at last we received the foster license in July 2016, seven months after we initially submitted our application, two months shy of a full year after we started.

But I was an emotional mess.  When we got the green light from the state, I stalled. I still hadn't known if I even wanted to be a parent. We started the process because I knew I was supposed to be a mother, but I didn't know if I actually wanted to be a mom. 

And then I did. In August, after a week wandering in the wilderness of the Olympic Peninsula, I at last had the clarity of mind for the choice before me, and I chose that I wanted to be a mom. I'm still scared of the actual logistics, the drudgery of day to day, the potential for heartache, and the certain sacrifice. I still fear the realities of parenting, but I choose to believe the greater reality that You are good. I choose to trust You are good. Because You say that being a parent is good, then I choose to trust You and to believe that being a mom will be good despite my fears. I arrived at this resolution near August 23rd 2016 (give or take a day or two) on our eighth wedding anniversary -- nearly the anniversary of when we began the process to become foster parents.

All that was left was for Justin to be local, for Justin's job not to take him away each week but for him to be home full time. This process too began in the fall of 2015, when in October Justin first told his boss/mentor/friend that we wanted to have children and that meant Justin had to be local.

It's November 3rd, 2016. Justin has had this same conversation practically every month ever since. In the drama of the license, the chaos of my confused feelings about parenting, his job did not seem like a big deal.

I see it now, how we were taking the situation into our own hands. As if we said to You, "Ok, God, You take care of Jen's crazy and the mess of bureaucracy, and we'll take care of Justin's job." Justin getting a local job just didn't seem nearly as insurmountable as the state's reluctance or my neuroses. And yet, it has arisen as that last stubborn linchpin.

Like a makeshift barrier composed of small separate pieces holding back a great pressing force, where as each piece is removed they come away with little effort at first but as the number decreases the pressure on each individual increases such that the antepenultimate and penultimate resist so much more so than the initial pieces. At last when just one piece remains to hold all the rushing, waiting, whirling, and charging bearing down upon it and the exhaustion from removing all the other increasingly resistant pieces sets in, the entire work seems most likely to be abandoned because the single piece that remains to be removed seems the most impossible.

Not to mention the mental fatigue, the diminishing hope, that nagging fear that "what if?" What if it's not the last one? What if this piece is wrestled loose just to reveal another piece even more if possible impossible to remove! What if Justin lands that perfect - or even mildly satisfactory - position in Seattle and there's yet another unseen barrier to us having children? What if beyond these two months of waiting since I decided I want to be a mom, and these three months since getting the foster license, these 14 months since we started the process, and these 18 months since the initial conviction is yet 24 more years of waiting?

There's no formula. I used to think there was. "God works through folks under the age of 25 to do mighty works!" Jeremiah, Josiah, David - You prefer to use youth. Such a formula added great anxiety around not being accomplished and not having made a remarkable impact in the world for You by the time I turned 22, or by the time I turned 25, or by the time I hopelessly turned 30. But there is no formula. You used Josiah, and You called Abram when he was 75 years old. You began Your nation through him when he was 100 years old, when Sarah was 90. 

But I'm now middle-aged. The phrase itself causes indigestion, let alone the indigestion that comes from a middle aged body. You use the young; You use the old; but I'm neither. I'm in the middle. Do You use the middle age? 

Jesus. Jesus was 30 years old when He began His earthly ministry. Peter, Paul, and the other disciples were the middle-aged out of which You built Your church. No formula exists because You don't use any metric of age or ability for whether You use one person or another for Your good work. 

You give children to the barren because it confirms that this child exists solely because You willed this child to live. You waited 25 years for a barren woman to go through menopause before placing a child in her womb just as Christ waited to go to Bethany for Lazarus to have 4 days in the grave. Lazarus was way past sleeping off a cold; he had begun to decay! Sarah was well past barren; she had completely stopped having a period. You and You alone sparked life where there was none. In the absence of everything You spoke it all into being. And when Jesus' body had been crucified and pierced, His final breath exhaled, His consciousness along with His heart stopped, and His spirit departed -- nothing remained. 

Jesus was dead. Then at dawn of the third day, out of nothing Jesus rose. In the absence of a pulse, in the absence of blood, in the absence of thought, in the absence of a soul, there You came. In the absence of everything, there You were.

Sarah conceived Isaac at 90. At 91 she nursed him. She watched him grow as she too continued to age, and in her old age her watery eyes steadily stared at the departing figures of her husband and son off to make a sacrifice to the Lord. And those same aged eyes watched them return. The child whom she thought could never be, whom she received out of nothing, she received back from the dead. In her sight this child grew to be a man of 36 years old. Yet she closed her eyes in death before she watched him marry and saw her grandchildren. Sarah waited 25 years, and her entire marriage before that, to have a child, and then she waited 37 more to die, "in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from a far."

It's a false hope, thinking that only if Justin had a job in Seattle all would be swell. To think I'd have no need for faith in the midst of uncertainty if Justin punched in at 8 and punched out at 5 with only a short commute between him and our family. It's a false hope, already dismissed by Christ's words, "for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble." There undoubtedly will be another pressure point when this piece of Justin's job is removed, even if children were to pour into our home. There will always be reason to worry, a reason to wait while I'm here -- for I still won't be completely with You. And this is now the tension I'm learning to hold. These are the cords I now grasp. With one hand, the yearning for the new heaven and the new earth and unhindered communion with You, knowing and seeing all as I see You face to Face; and with the other contentment to be present in the present so to not waste the time I have now while I wait. 

I hold this tension to take hold of the peace that comes from knowing such a future exists and is secure and will surely come. I need not be anxious in the present moment because I can rely on Your strength and Your promise that one day I will no longer need to hold the tension. One day "I will know fully, even as I have been fully known."

Yet how to be content while I wait? How can I nurture this longing for more and be satisfied with right now?

Hope. Hope in that which "neither moth nor rust destroys and thieves do not break in and steal." Hope in that which is not temporary so to be free to just enjoy that which is, not fearing its loss. Hope in Your steadfast love that never ceases and Your mercies that never come to an end. So when the temporary things do fall away, my hope does not depart with them. Hope in that day when I will see Your Face and "death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things will have passed."

Until that day, oh help me, Lord, place my hope in You alone and to wait the incomparably small amount of time for the good gifts that will last an incomparably small amount of time in light of the greater gift and the infinite length of eternity with You.

19 October 2016

Turning Thirty

The constant drip gave way to a steady stream off the corner of the tattered tarp suspended above my sore body. Everything felt damp: my sleeping bag, my clothes, and most certainly my mood. Suddenly, a shrill squeaking interrupted the rain’s drumming and my miserable thoughts. A squirrel stationed itself a couple feet away, brandished its sopping deflated tail by twitching it rapidly above its head, and yipped repeatedly at me through the rain. It seemed as irate about my existence as I did. 
It was the final day of a compulsory week-long wilderness excursion. But before I could retreat to the dry indoors I had to endure a 24-hour solo day, intended for seeking God in seclusion with prayer and fasting. However, I wasn’t praying. I was too upset with God for the rain, for my exhaustion, for the mess of my life in the woods and in the wake of my freshman year of college. I had all but abandoned the rules-based faith of my high school self and was clamoring down a broad road away from God’s Word. Praying and bible-reading were not on my mind, rodents and rain were. Desperately lonely, ridden with guilt, and unsure of my future, I didn’t know how on earth I’d survive the day alone. Eventually, the squirrel relented; the time passed; and I left the forest. I took away only one resolution from the day: I’d never willing seek solitude in the wet woods again.
I languished in anger and regret on that rainy day the summer before I turned 20 because my life looked nothing at all like I wanted. This existential crisis seemed to have come a decade early. Sitcoms had taught me such disillusionment was reserved for turning thirty. I had watched on Friends Rachel breakdown over not crossing off from her list of life goals being married and having children by the time she turned 30. Phoebe likewise despairs when she failed to finish all her objectives. Monica responds by getting drunk and declaring, “I turned thirty today and I can do anything I want because I’m a grown-up.” Ross buys a sports car to assure himself he is still young. To console Rachel, Ross rips two candles from her cake to say she still has time. Time to attain something, anything to prove her life isn’t being wasted. Such typifications taught me that thirty was to be scorned if one hadn’t secured actualization by this birthday.
Despite the rocky start to my twenties, I nevertheless naively determined that I would not succumb to such anxieties by reaching thirty accomplished, renown and grown-up. My plan was simple: complete one easy to fulfill goal that inspired awe and silenced doubt by the close of my twenties. Inspired by JD on Scrubs hilariously failing to complete a triathlon on his 30th birthday, I decided to do what he couldn’t. The farthest I had run was 3 or so miles when I hatched this plan, but I figured I had a decade to pull off an iron man.

Yet a couple months out from the infamous birthday, I still couldn’t find a triathlon that fit into my schedule, let alone 140.6 miles of swimming, biking, and running. I had lost four triathlon seasons to earning a Masters of Arts in linguistics. I spent another season traveling with my husband across country on a motorcycle to celebrate paying off our student loans. Now in the months leading up to thirty, any training was interrupted by finally getting a half-sleeve tattoo, which I had been designing and researching since I was 21. Alas, procrastination had robbed me of sprinting through the ribbon by thirty. 
If being a triathlete was out, perhaps I could still celebrate with some grandiose party or treating myself to an awe-inspiring vacation. Maybe I’d host a Gatsby style gala in my honor or take a cruise to Antartica. I reassured myself that I still had several months and didn’t need to figure it out just then, putting off thoughts of thirty just as I had for the past decade. However, indecision turned to mourning that I would not do or accomplish anything substantial to mark this occasion.
I had imagined that turning thirty would be this glorious rite of passage into adulthood. With fanfare and confetti, I’d walk into my thirties as acclaimed and well on my way to exquisitely executing my well defined life goals. Yet I spent the final year of my twenties unemployed, still trying to figure out what I wanted to be when I grew up. No prestigious career, no peer accolades, no glory of elite achievement. Rachel’s lament and JD’s folly now hit an unfunny chord. I too had come to believe that 30 was the due date for proof of adulthood. But I was arriving at 30 not only without a triathlon medal but wholly unprepared and overwhelmed. Therefore, at 11PM on my thirtieth birthday eve, I frantically googled ideas for how to celebrate the next day. 

On September 19th, 1986 Rich Lawrence rushed his wife, Sharon, to the hospital a couple of blocks from their home in Monroeville, PA. She had a gone into labor with excruciating pain and a fever of 100.8 degrees. Her third trimester had been riddled with illness and premature labors, but this time there was no stalling. Dismayed, Rich followed as they hurried Sharon into the operating room for an emergency C-section. For over an hour, the surgeon struggled to free the infant. At last, I was born, silent, hind first, and covered in meconium. I let out a brief, weak cry before the doctors rushed me out of the surgical room with none of the usual ceremonies. In the critical care nursery, they told my father I was having breathing problems and was in critical condition; they advised him to make final plans. Immediately he called our priest to the hospital so that I could be baptized before I died. With the aid of a nurse and a vile of water, Father Whalon and my dad baptized me by sprinkling three drops of sterile water on the only part of my body not covered in sensors and tubes, my left knee. Within an hour of my baptism, I made an astonishing complete recovery. Word of the miracle baby spread throughout the pediatric unit, and over the next week staff from across the hospital would drop in to see me in my father’s arms. My mom’s recovery was much slower. She had begun hemorrhaging after surgery, stopped breathing, and received the last rites from Father Whalon. After a week on a respirator and three transfusions, she took breaths on her own and held her baby girl for the first time. I had been unable to do anything to help myself, but God in His mercy and compassion saved me on that day 30 years ago.

God continued to watch over me when I played, rebelled or suffered as a child. When in the depression of my preteens I sought to end the life He had preserved, He graciously spared me again. When at 14 I fully understood the cost of my sin was death, God saved my soul by showing me Christ had died in my place.  When at 19 I abandoned His Word, He brought me back. When my father passed away, He sustained me. When we moved across the country, He guided us and provided for us. When the IBS I had struggled with all my life threatened to undo me, He fully healed me of all my digestive issues. Indeed, every year of my life, every breath I have breathed, is because of Him who loves me and gave up His Son for my sake. God alone deserved to be celebrated at my arrival to thirty.

Yet You are He who took me from the womb;
You made me trust You at my mother's breasts.
On You was I cast from my birth,
and from my mother's womb You have been my God.
Psalm 22:9-10

At 8AM on my thirtieth birthday, I embarked in our mud splattered Subaru to the Central Cascade Mountains for a solo hike. The wipers swept steadily across the windshield parting the persistent precipitation. The deluge didn’t let up as I climbed the trail turned stream from the water run off. When at last I reached my destination of the forest fire lookout, it was shut-up for the winter offering no shelter to the downpour. Dense fog hid any vistas, and soaked surfaces left no where to rest. Not even a squirrel stirred on the solitary summit as tiny beads of hail fell in the brisk wind. 

Rather than disappointment or regret, a calmness came over my soul. God kindly convicted me that I had spent so much time fretting over what I had not accomplished that I had lost sight of Him who accomplished it all. In the gale, He tenderly reminded me of dangers, toils, and snares He had brought me safely through thus far. He called to my mind how Christ became man, lived the perfect life I could not, died the death I deserved, and rose from the grave in victory over sin and death. In light of all that He had done, I could only pour out my praise, singing loudly against the thick mist. As we communed, the rain thoroughly drenched me. Once soaked through, any fear of being wet was removed and I was able to joyfully abandon myself to jumping in puddles and delighting in the day.