Sunday, March 31, 2013

Light in the Midst, Out Of, Despite, and Because of Dark: my Easter Day

I ask you for grace as Husband plays around with the videos I made last night. They all came out upside-down.

In the meantime, it is upside-down here in terms of weather, too. Which makes perfect sense on this Easter day.

Two thousand years ago, some thought Jesus couldn't be the true Messiah because he had just died on the cross. So, walking sadly away from Calvary, they thought the criminal whose death made the earth shake was just another dead criminal.

Still, some held out hope for their Teacher and Friend. Despite hopelessness and fear, upon hearing the news, Peter, John, and Mary ran to the stone-opened grave. The men entered to find the lone grave clothes. They were shocked, "saw and believed," yet did not understand that Jesus had truly risen (John 20:8-9).

And Mary, sweet Mary who thought the gardener had taken her Teacher someplace...Mary's eyes were opened upon Jesus' very poignant call of her name.

It amazes me that all Jesus had to do was call her by name and she could see who He truly was. It reminds me of the scales that fell off Saul's eyes. Both could see with holy vision afterward, though their "scales" were different.

I think our sky had scales today.

It was to be a cloudy day. The weather forecast said that Good Friday would be sunny and warm(er) and today, Easter, would be cloudy. I felt disappointed. Couldn't it be the other way around? Good Friday I'd be mourning. I wouldn't mind clouds. But Easter...oh, blessed we released our balloons in church and as children ran back and forth in new, fancy dresses, as the sanctuary lit up with fragrant lilies and Allelujah's, wouldn't it be appropriate for the forecast to deem that day full of sun and light?

A pause in the weather forecast for a moment.


Last night from 11:00pm-12:00am I went to the prayer vigil at my church.

Each person could sign up for a time slot and, as I explained earlier, it would be like sitting vigil beside a dying friend. Last year's prayer vigil was highly emotional for me and I awaited this with a pounding and full heart.

My hour was once again beautiful and God showed up, despite how I kept telling Him I was showing up for Him.

After an hour of writing, whispering, crying from the heart, singing, lighting candles, talking, finally it was time to rejoice.

This is my secret:

I saw Easter early.

I saw Easter last year, too. Sneaky, I know. But I was so curious as to what our sanctuary looked like.

Of course, I thought, is this okay? Can't I just take a peek?

I saw the dark narthex and, through the windows, dark seemed to sing.

Dark sang because I knew Life was there. I wanted to hear its song. 

I opened the doors. The scent of lilies filled my nose before I caught sight of the flower settings up front. I fumbled for lights and the only ones I could find were the ones up by the cross. The picture below is what I saw - unedited by any picture software ..this is the amazing light that filled the room.

Life pulsed through me. I could smell, feel, taste Life all around. Tears filled me to the brim - but not mournful tears as I'd been used to. I wanted to celebrate.

Last year, when I walked into the newly-Easter sanctuary, and I knew I was alone in the church so I sang Natalie Grant's song, "Alive" (see video later) with great passion. Last night, however, there were people in the prayer vigil room while I took my early glance at Easter so I walked around in awestruck silence.

Had I thought it would be any difference? Doesn't Easter happen every year?

Yet still, here I was, an innocent child dancing happy because Jesus Christ filled the room anew - all things new - Yes, we celebrate His resurrection and life every year, but shouldn't this be celebrated anew each year?

I was giddy. Light permeated me.

Life in the midst of darkness. Light out of darkness. Light despite darkness.

Light because of darkness.

That is Easter.

Let's return to the weather forecast.

I arrived at church early for the 9am service to practice with the Praise Team. While we rehearsed the songs for the morning, I noticed my face warm and lit, all lit up like how the prayer vigil candles lit up the night before.

It was the sun. Sun poured in the sanctuary windows.

And we sang and we proclaimed Jesus' resurrection and we prayed and we thanked God.

I thanked God all day for His upside-down Kingdom.

How the very least of us are loved, how the lowliest become kings and the most sacrificial become rich.

How the weatherman can call for clouds, but Jesus has other plans.

It's been an interesting day. I've found beautiful new music, such as this Jonathan and Emily Martin. On the web site, NoiseTrade, you can download their album for free (and tip them as you see fit, which I recommend). My favorite songs and the ones that have been on loud and repeat today are "Greatest Treasure" and "O Great Vine."

Here is Jonathan Martin giving you a preview and a bit of backstory about "Greatest Treasure."

I've worked on this blog entry all day, with my candle lit beside me and the sky holding onto that sun.

Easter day is drawing to an end and tomorrow is Monday.

No doubt we will face dark in days to come. That is guaranteed.

But what is beautiful about Jesus is that we are new in Him and He gives new mercies every morning (2 Corinthians 5:17 and Lamentations 3:22-23) and, when we love, believe, and follow the Christ...

the Monday after Easter isn't just another day.

Do listen to "Alive" by Natalie Grant. Watch the accompanying video, too. It is from the docudrama about Jesus by Olive Branch Media.  I am fascinated by the depiction of Jesus. No doubt the actor chosen will surprise you - for he does not look like the "normal" Jesus usually depicted. I love how they reenact this very much. I pray the music and video, both, minister to you, give you hope and a cause to celebrate and declare, "He is alive!"

Happy Easter, friends. I have truly enjoyed getting a chance to write on my blog with more frequency this week. I'm grateful to God for providing me with such time and opportunity. I do not know what the future holds in terms of time. I might not be able to continue writing here with great frequency. As seen, my blog ebbs and flows a bit. Though I would like more consistency, God calls me to focus on my husband and children more than my blogging pursuits. I know, however, that God will use my writing to glorify Him in whatever way He sees fit. In the meantime, I thank you, dear friend, for stopping by for a bit and taking in my words, thoughts, and heart. 

Have a blessed Easter and every day that follows.

He is Risen, Indeed! The First of Many Words to You Today

Video blogs...

that was what I was up to last night as I waited to go to my hour-long prayer vigil at church, to sit by Jesus as one might sit by a dying friend. The prayer vigil is a Saturday-before-Easter tradition that I've done for two years now. Last night was one of my most holy experiences...and I had a very different yet equally holy time last night as I sat, prayed, talked, wrote, from 11:00pm to 12:00am this morning - intentionally choosing that cross-over time to the first morning hours of Easter morning.

Before that, though, I recorded some video blogs I hope to share later today and in days to come.

They came out... get this.... accidentally upside-down.

Husband said he might be able to run it through his software and fix them.

How fitting, once I get over the upsetness of possibility having the videos ruined.

This Kingdom of God is upside-down, isn't it.

Jesus has risen, my friends.

Jesus is risen, He is risen, indeed.

Happy Easter!!

Saturday, March 30, 2013

The Waiting Game

It's Saturday, the day of waiting. Are you observing it?

I went to my church for my prayer vigil that I signed up for and I entered expecting to find the sanctuary how we had left it Friday night: black cloth draped over the cross where a crown of thorns laid around the vertical plank of wood. Black cloth draped over the altar and podium, all reminders to us of Jesus' earthly death. I expected to sit in the front pew and look upon this blackness and meditate on what it all meant - for me, for the world.

To my surprise, however, I entered the sanctuary and color exploded into my vision. There were lilies and all sorts of flowers all over the place! There were new cloths laid out: white, brightly and maternally-hand-stitched cloths.

Part of me felt disappointed that my first view of this celebration wasn't on the actual Easter morning, but how wonderful to walk into that quiet sanctuary, to be solitary and prayerful, and be greeted by such beauty. I knelt down at the front and gazed at the flowers. I looked at the candles and realized they weren't lit. That means something, I noted to myself. Perhaps the Light of Christ will be lit, to me, only on Easter morning. Right now, the flowers were displayed, but the candles were not lit.

Still the time of waiting.

And now, a word about our Good Friday service. It was so remarkable and full of awe and mystery.

The altar was stripped, Pastor and his wife dressed in black. We first sang, "Ah, Holy Jesus," which was a familiar hymn to me which I sang with much passion.

In that hymn, the line, "I crucified thee," hit me hard in the chest.

After the Old Testament reading, we sang "Beneath the Cross of Jesus:"

Then came the Nails of Passion. This was a new part of the Good Friday service to me. By the way, this service was a Good Friday Tenebrae (Darkness) Service. 

First - Nail of Betrayal. Verses from the Book of Matthew were read telling of Judas' betrayal and then a prayer said. Then two candles were extinguished and a nail driven into a piece of wood. The sound of the hammer against the nail was a harsh reminder of the truth and reality of two thousand years ago.

Second - The Nail of Denial. Again, Matthew verses were read, telling of Peter's denial. Again, two candles snuffed out and three hits the nail.

7 year old huddled close, knowing what was to happen (we had talked to the 12 and 7 year old earlier - the 4 year old was being babysat). I held her close as the nails drove into my mind.

Then we sang "O Sacred Head, Now Wounded:"

Third - The Nail of Jealousy
Matthew read, candles extinguished, nail driven.

Fourth - The Nail of Indifference
Told of Pontius Pilate's indifference toward Jesus. Candles out, nail driven.

Five - The Nail of Mockery
The crowds yelled and shouted, mocking Jesus. Candles out, nail driven. Lights are going out now, the room gets darker.

Six - The Nail of Ridicule
Scornful words said. Darkness. Final nail driven.

We sang the beautiful song, "Were You There," which has become a definite favorite of mine.

And 7 year old started recognizing the song a little and sang the part, "tremble....tremble...tremble"and hearing her little voice sing just broke my heart and lifted it right up into the heavens. Oh, my girl. My God-loving, God-asking, God-praying girl.

Then Pastor Matt and his wife each took turns reading Jesus' last words.

Pastor read, in a heart-wrenching voice, Eloi Eloi lama sabachthani? (Father, Father, why have you forsaken me?)
Tears fell. Heart opened. Wounds opened. I saw my wounds on his body.

Bells tolled.

The Christ candle was removed.

And we said the Lord's Prayer in darkness as rain poured heavy on the roof and left in silence.

Why is Good Friday called "Good?" We all asked this in the car on the way home.

On this Saturday, I wish you a Happy Holy Saturday, day of waiting, day of wondering and hoping.

We know now that Jesus rose again. Keep that hope strong throughout your life. He would want you to.

A repost from the archives. 

Friday, March 29, 2013

Good Friday in Song

I have an ache in my heart as it nears Good Friday service. I long to talk to you. I long to talk to you about Jesus and the horrible beautiful cross that he died in order to save us.

I am singing songs today - haunting songs that ring in my heart around the Lenten season. I want to share two  with you.

"Lead Me to the Cross"

Savior I come
Quiet my soul remember
Redemptions hill
Where Your blood was spilled
For my ransom
Everything I once held dear
I count it all as lost

Lead me to the cross
Where Your love poured out
Bring me to my knees
Lord I lay me down
Rid me of myself
I belong to You
Lead me, lead me to the cross

You were as I
Tempted and trialed
You are
Te word became flesh
Bore my sin and death
Now you're risen

To your heart
To your heart
Lead me to your heart
Lead me to your heart

Rid me of myself, Lord. I so truly belong to you.

And because I also love the old, traditional hymns, this is one that breaks me every time.

"Were You There"

Were you there when they crucified my Lord?
Were you there when they crucified my Lord?
Oh, sometimes it causes me to tremble, tremble, tremble.
Were you there when they crucified my Lord?

Were you there when they nailed him to the tree?
Were you there when they nailed him to the tree?
Oh, sometimes it causes me to tremble, tremble, tremble.
Were you there when they nailed him to the tree?

Were you there when they laid him in the tomb?
Were you there when they laid him in the tomb?
Oh, sometimes it causes me to tremble, tremble, tremble.
Were you there when they laid him in the tomb?

Were you there when God raised him from the tomb?
Were you there when God raised him from the tomb?
Oh, sometimes it causes me to tremble, tremble, tremble.
Were you there when God raised him from the tomb?

Lord, I'm trembling tonight.
Let me bear witness to You.
Let us all bear witness to this day's events.

Superglued and Broken: 5 Minute Friday

And on a rare day where I get to publish more than one blog entry in one 24 hour period, here is my Five Minute Friday as I write, unedited, for five minutes, about a topic given by Lisa Jo Baker, the Gypsy Mama. 

The topic is:

Broken are our lives when someone we love dies and broken are our lives when we come away from one family and cleave to our husband and his family. That was my case. In the Bible it says to say goodbye to the family you grew up in and cleave to your husband and to procreate. Broken was my heart, sometimes is my heart, that we cannot procreate, cannot birth a whole new being combined of his and my heart, DNA, love. So much of me broken. Or so I think.

Those 2 and a half years ago when I came to Jesus and gave my life to him, I felt so much of my broken rise above me and rest in his hands, pieced together by the only one who can do such a thing. So often had I looked to men, to food, to tarot readings, to astrology, to knives, scissors, soap operas, pills, to piece me back together again. Finally, here, I had found the One True Thing. The Ultimate Superglue.

I remember Miss G and I talking about the verse that says "Lord, you have given me my portion and my cup. My lot is secure" and we discussed what "secure" meant and after telling her my definition, she said "oh, it means superglued. I'm superglued to Jesus!"

So while it is tempting to get caught up on being broken, easy to see our lives as fragmented by busy schedules and needy children and drama on all fronts, I really think it all comes down to being superglued to Jesus. Just like my 8 year old-at-the-time said.

Jesus loves the little children.

Spring has broken through the snow

The Paradox of the Season

Husband's birthday is today - on Good Friday.

It's been interesting, this paradox. Celebrating the man I love's birthday on the day I remember Christ dying.

Last night, at the end of the Maundy Thursday service, they ceremoniously stripped the altar as Pastor sang, in the same haunting melody as Ash Wednesday's Psalm 51, Psalm 22. And the ladies in prim and beautiful dresses, white gloves on their hands especially for this, took the candles, the cup and plate we had just used for the Lord's Supper, the altar cloths - they took everything off as the sanctuary lights turned off.  A firm lump rose in my throat and tears rolled down.

It has now begun, I felt deep in my bones. We enter the space of suffering and sadness and the why's and how-did-this-happen's. We hear Jesus' words, "Remember me" and as Good Friday fades to evening we think about him beseeching his Father, "My God, why have You forsaken me?"

Yesterday as I stood around the enormous cross which stands on a neighbor's land here in town, hand-in-hand with other believers wanting to usher God into the moment, wanting to thank God for the gift of His Son, wanting to pray for the church and everyone on this earth, I looked up as the sun shone on the stained wood, the two nails holding the pieces together - large nails - and I realized I had never been this close to such a cross. I could feel its pulse. I could feel its story of the Cross long ago.

The Pastor who led the prayer mentioned something that threw me for a headspin. He said that no one has ever or will ever suffer as much as Jesus did on that cross. Things certainly fell into perspective.

I love Good Friday because it gives me time to truly reflect on all Christ has done for me.

If I had it my way I'd have the entire day to just sit in the sun and read God's Word and journal and sing.

As it turns out, God had different plans for me this Good Friday.

I tried to make Husband's Good Friday Birthday an enjoyable one. I managed to handle the squabbles between 9 yr old Miss G and 6 yr old Mr. A. - they are getting at each other's throats more and more. I did not yell at all; I chose grace over anger.

Husband came home to presents and streamers. We had a good time.

Then the kids went off in different directions and I sat down to blog.

And in that time, while Husband takes a much-deserved nap, Miss G and Mr. A have come in three times declaring war and tattling on each other.

I have handled it all, so far, without yelling.

Then Miss G, who is ripening in opinions and attitude, announces that she can't help but hit her brother; she just gets so mad that she can't control it.

Oh, we've been through this before, child. I've been teaching you an emotional vocabulary since I met you at age four and a half. I gave you that Dora squeezie ball back then to hold when anger filled you to the brim and then we transitioned to a feelings poster and now, here we are in present day, with me asking you about your day and you releasing emotion after emotion.

So how did we get to today - how, apparently, it is okay for you to wallop your brother because you can't control it and oh, I just don't understand it and you just can't explain it, and you spin around in a huff and scream at me.

My heart pierces and I feel a sharp ache. I'm losing my little girl.

I calmly tell her that she has every ability to control her anger. She knows this. But she will not believe it. She sees her sister making excuses and falling into the victim time and time again and I worry for all of them, all of these kids who have seen such trauma and such suffering and I wonder if I can ever lead them to Jesus which makes me think

maybe Jesus needs to lead them to Jesus. 

I tell Miss G that I love her and I know she knows, though it's hard, she can choose not to hit or fight.

And I leave her room because I can see it is getting to be information-overload and I close the door behind her, feeling her seething anger, hearing the bursts of tears beginning.

And I can't do much but pray.

I want this Good Friday to be good.

I want our family to love each other and for us to get along.

Can't they see that?

Don't they know what this day means? What Christ did for them?

There is grace for them, I hear in my head. And I call you to show them such grace.

Oh God, it is so hard. I want to yell instead of love. I want to cry instead of pray.

But it is in my control, isn't it. Praying instead of crying. Loving instead of yelling. Just like she can choose not to hit I can choose not to sink into despair.

Hold me up, Lord. I've been pondering how we can hold you up on the cross; I think, secretly, I've been wondering if there could have been anything we could have done to save you from such suffering.

But I remember you are God-Man and you chose this, you knew this would happen. It is written...

You have not asked me to save you, Lord. Do I really think that? Is that why Good Friday pierces me so much this year? How mistaken I am.

You have called me to serve others. You've called me to serve these children. And I try, Lord, I try.

So what if it is about the paradox? A birthday on Christ's death day. Teaching her not to yell when I want to scream in despair. Running to you and proclaiming my need of you the day when you were nailed to the worst death imaginable.

This season is all paradox, upside-down. Then again, so is the Kingdom of God.

We are called to love the least of us; taught that you loved us when we were yet sinners; picked up time and time again if we just call out to you.

The paradox of this season is not lost on me.

The hard which can hurt can be the biggest blessing.

But the blessing might not come right away.

Miss G won't walk out of her room and tell me, "I get it now. Thank you so much for explaining it. I understand and I love you so much for leading me to the Lord."

Mr. A won't open his door with a big smile and say, "whining and tattling is so beyond me."

Miss A, the eldest, won't walk upstairs and hug me with tears, thanking me for loving her despite her hating me.

The hard which can hurt and then turn blessing-like might come years later - or even wait until eternity in Heaven.

What I know, Lord, is that you watch us all. You promise each of us eternal life in return for giving our life to you. And for all that you've done - in life and in death - how you conquered death - how you gave us hope in the darkest hours - after all that you've done, I'm going to take your paradox and hold it in my hand, drink from it like a pool of living water, and keep on moving through this life.

Once again, I seem to be living this stuff out so much more than in years past. It gets harder, but I know, because of you, Lord, I grow stronger.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

When You Need it To Be Well

It is Well With My Soul
written by Horatio G. Spafford, 1873
music by Phillip P. Bliss, 1876

When peace like a river attendeth my way
When sorrows like sea billows roll;
Whatever my lot, Thou has taught me to say,
It is well, it is well, with my soul.

It is well, with my soul,
It is well, it is well, with my soul.

Though Satan should buffet, though trials should come,
Let this blest assurance control,
That Christ has regarded my helpless estate,
And hath shed His own blood for my soul.
My sin, oh, the bliss of this glorious thought!
My sin, not in part but the whole,
Is nailed to the cross, and I bear it no more,
Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul!
For me, be it Christ, be it Christ hence to live:
If Jordan above me shall roll,
No pang shall be mine, for in death as in life
Thou wilt whisper Thy peace to my soul.
But, Lord, 'tis for Thee, for Thy coming we wait,
The sky, not the grave, is our goal;
Oh, trump of the angel! Oh, voice of the Lord!
Blessed hope, blessed rest of my soul!
And Lord, haste the day when my faith shall be sight,
The clouds be rolled back as a scroll;
The trump shall resound, and the Lord shall descend,
Even so, it is well with my soul. 

*   *   *   *   *

The Lord has spoken to me through a new song. For the longest time, the verse and various versions in song of "Be Still and Know I Am God" followed me around like a parent's gentle, yet insistent, nudge. I pondered the verse, sang the songs, even wrote my own song to the consumed me. 

Now God has put the hymn, "It Is Well with My Soul," on my heart and I am turning my attention to it and what God wants it to mean to me - and possibly to you. 

The story behind the song is miraculous in itself. The maker of this video on youtube does a beautiful job of explaining it. 

When I read the story in my comforting, soft-leather-bound book, "Then Sings My Soul" by Robert J. Morgan, this evening, my eyes filled with tears. What tragedy befell that man and look what he wrote. 

"Saved alone," his wife cabled to him after his four daughters had perished in a shipwreck. "What shall I do?"

There are so many things Horatio Spafford could have done. Can you imagine? He could have torn his hair out and grieved so deeply that he gave up on life completely. He had lost his only son at the age of 4 and now, years later, he had lost his 4 daughters. All of his children, gone. His wife, a rare survivor of the shipwreck, on the other side of the Atlantic asking him, "what shall I do?"

"Horatio Spafford immediately booked passage to join his wife. En route, on a cold December night, the captain called him aside and said, 'I believe we are now passing over the place where the Ville da Havre went down.' Spafford went to his cabin but found it hard to sleep. He said to himself, 'It is well; the will of God be done.' He later wrote his famous hymn based on those words."
 ~ from "Then Sings My Soul" by Robert J. Morgan.

And then, as the video on youtube tells us, Haratio Spafford and his wife went on to spread the Gospel in Jerusalem to Jews and Muslims. This was in the late 1800s. Amazing. 

The way I feel tonight - it is so not  well in my soul. 

I thought about what that phrase means and I narrowed it down to this: 

It is well with my soul = I am content trusting God completely with my past, present, and future. 

It is well with my soul means that I cannot try to control my circumstances or people in my life. 

It is well with my soul means that I cannot impose my own will on other people. 

It is well with my soul means ...

that I must be still and know He is God. 

Oh, God, how circular this all is! It's like a dance of verses and song and whispers from You during these dark, sad nights...

It is so often not well with my soul, but then again...I'm one of the people who needs to sing those words the most - and believe them. 

My soul can only become well through trusting by faith. 

So although what I see is pain right now

"So we fix our eyes not on what is seen,"

I must believe that God is working behind the scenes on what is unseen

"but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary and what is unseen is eternal."
~ 2 Corinthians 4:18

because God promises me an eternal future and I know, I know deep deep down...

when I fix my eyes on Him

all is well. 

And sometimes that is all you need. 

What Lent Taught Me Over Easter Vacation

I openly blubber around Lent. I don't just blubber about anything, I get highly emotional when it comes to the suffering Jesus endured and chose to endure in order to save us all.

I think Lent is one of the few, if not the only, time where it is "acceptable" for me to feel like I can blubber at church. It seems appropriate at funerals, but I've found that when I get choked up at Lent mid-week services, especially Good Friday's service, I don't find myself trying to swallow the tears. I let them fall. I don't seem to be...ashamed.

So do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord or of me his prisoner. Rather, join with me in suffering for the gospel, by the power of God."
~ 2 Timothy 1:8

In fact, as Holy Week begins, I find myself reflecting more and more on the sacrifice Jesus made to save us sinners. Today, two days before Maundy Thursday, the evening Jesus and disciples shared the Last Supper, I feel my grief increasing and my heartache swelling. And before our family goes to the Good Friday service, I'm going to tell our children that I will be openly crying and to not be afraid or worry about me. They know me as highly emotional anyway, but I am going to say that I am not ashamed of the passion and sadness I feel over what Christ has done for us.

Your stepmama is gonna sob, kids. That's just the truth.

And yet..things happen in life, tragedies strike, and I scurry to a private room to shed tears. Someone hurts my heart and I swallow the pain until I can release it in the car on the way to work. Always private, always alone. Why the shame?

It is unfathomable to imagine what agony Christ suffered for us all - we who are foolish, prideful, selfish, and ungrateful. For me, Lent is a time to reflect on Christ's journey to the cross and to witness His hunched-over, burdened walk to Calvary.

But it's easy to get caught up in the horror of what happened. I find myself wanting to fall to my knees in agony and just stay there, devastated, begging His forgiveness. But Lent is about more than falling down and remaining prostrate out of guilt. It has to be.

So perhaps Lent can teach us about Life.

Perhaps Lent allows us to boldly grieve and then experience the Truth that followed the Tragedy

which is the Resurrection.

Following the horrible, beautiful Good Friday (and then the waiting-in-the-middle-Saturday) came Easter Sunday, the day of resurrection, new life, our salvation, His grace. And in Life, perhaps we are to boldly claim our emotions...

yet know that there, too, can be a resurrection.

Amdist the sadness of  Lent there is Easter, so in Life and Life's own pain, there, too, is, redemption, resurrection, new life, salvation, and grace. So what if Lent, besides asking us to remember Jesus' sacrifice on the cross, is a call to be brave about our human feelings?

It takes courage to feel the hard stuff. I teach my kids that all the time. I'm working on that, in particular, with my middle stepchild now. Just because it's hard doesn't mean it's bad or that you ought to give up. It will grow and mold you into someone better.

Lent teaches me to boldly feel my pain, not be ashamed, and to carry that out in my daily life. To not hide behind a mask of Okayness and Holding It Together for the sake of looks. There is a time and a place for everything, When I think how Lent teaches us to hope in the face of death, I think God teaches us to hope amidst the pain of Life - and that hope is in Jesus.

So whether you are a blubberer like me or whether you prefer to observe and reflect in a more subtle way (either is fine), there is grace and healing for you.

All the joy and happiness found in Jesus' resurrection can be found by those who believe Jesus can resurrect them as well.

Resurrection requires a death. In our case, it is a death to the self and a surrendering to God.

We can have Easter every day.

"But in our time something new has been added. What Moses and the prophets witnessed to all those years has happened. The God-setting-things-right that we read about has become Jesus-setting-things-right for us. And not only for us, but for everyone who believes in him. For there is no difference between us and them in this. Since we’ve compiled this long and sorry record as sinners (both us and them) and proved that we are utterly incapable of living the glorious lives God wills for us, God did it for us. Out of sheer generosity he put us in right standing with himself. A pure gift. He got us out of the mess we’re in and restored us to where he always wanted us to be. And he did it by means of Jesus Christ."
~ Romans 3:21-24 (The Message)

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Finding Grace While Living Lent

My church had a fabulous congregational-wide journey called "Unbinding the Heart," which is part of the "Unbinding the Gospel" series found over at . It is a journey that consists of small groups gathering, praying together, and talking about how their church as well as each individual can have a deeper relationship with God.

I joined this journey, but it definitely did not become the destination I thought I was journeying toward.

Pastor told me this would be "right up my alley." He told me back at Christmas that we were doing this Lent study that was very "me-ish" and I'd love it. All through the Christmas season I awaited Lent like it was Christmas Day. Odd thought, isn't it.

When it came time to start the 40-day journey of "Unbinding the Heart," I found myself in a very stressful time of year. Or of life. I'm not sure because I feel like we've been racing through life at crisis-intervention-speed for the past two years. All I know is that things felt like they were colliding once I started meeting on Saturdays for one hour in my small group.

Mind you, I was excited. I yearned to get to know people more personally at my church. I yearned to make some friends in this tiny town of mine. We moved here two and a half years ago, but I still feel very new and out of place. And besides, I was excited to delve into the book that accompanied this journey because it had homework.

I was excited to have faith homework. Yes, if I had my way, I'd go back to school - divinity school if I could really dream - and I'd study the Bible day and night and talk theology and faith and God-passion 24/7. However, God has placed me in this family, in this town, in this job, in this place of life.

"Lord, you alone are my portion and my cup; you make my lot secure." ~ Psalm 16:5

So while I couldn't go to divinity school or even to the local cafe to read and write all day long, I could attend a small group one hour per week and do this prayer journal daily and read a chapter a week. I thought I could. I knew I could. This was "up my alley."


I had no idea how much grace had to be given. Before given, it had to be realized. Then accepted. How much grace our Lord has!

We often don't realize the amount of grace God gives until after we learn the hard lesson. 

So weeks went by and I did go the small group meetings on each Saturday (I missed one due to family business), but for the life of me I couldn't do the very things that made this so exciting and fun and "up my alley" and "me-ish."

I couldn't do what made me me.

I couldn't find time to read the chapters. I couldn't find time to take notes. I didn't read each daily prayer exercise.

Who was this person I had become? Why was I not enjoying this group? What was holding me back? I would join the five or six other people on Saturdays and they'd each be going through their own struggle and we'd all pray about it and talk about it.

How could I tell them that my problem was this journey? That I wasn't journeying on this journey with them?

It finally came out at the second to last group. I had it pent up in me for so long: this anger at myself, this disappointment that I was not getting everything I could out of this group. Why was I not getting this?

Those words, well-intentioned yet haunting, kept ringing in my ears: "but this is so 'you.'"

This 40-day journey during Lent, one of my favorite times of the year...Lent...when I want to delve into Christ's journey to the cross...when I want to meditate on what sacrifice and love and commitment mean...when I want to feel so much closer to God as I watched His Son carry that ugly beautiful punishment on His back - all for us - I wanted to be getting so much more out of it all.

I wanted to live for the King. I wanted to live every day breathing every breath, speaking every word, singing every song for the Lord.

On that day I burst into tears with my small group and finally confessed to my not-doing-it-right and my anger at this not being me-ish at...

the group said the very thing Pastor told me many times in emails responding to my cries for help:

"There is grace for you."

They spoke of grace and how we don't need to do it all right or do it the same way. It's okay, they said. It's okay.

And I thought about what I had been doing the past 40 days.

We had a huge crisis with one of our children and had to attend to that, more intensely than usual, for about a week. I was going through my usual but always-forgotten-about-Season Affective Disorder. Husband and I were having marital issues and trying to lean more on God for understanding. I was lonely for friendship. I was insanely busy helping Miss G with her 3rd grade homework (along with Husband) and I think she actually had 3 huge projects going on at the same time and is still at the point of needing one-on-one help with homework. The youngest, Mr. A, began acting out in Kindergarten (my shy, sweet little boy?) and I needn't go into the eldest's problems. Additionally, a close family member had significant surgery which threw me out of whack and into much fear. My own physical ailments continued to plague me.

And through it all? I still prayed. I tried my best to attend Lenten services on Wednesday nights. I prayed more. I sang. I went to Praise Team rehearsals and also practiced for our big concert in April. I went to work meetings and to therapy sessions and worked my tail off talking with insurance people and mental health professionals trying to help a family member in need. And I prayed more. I kept praying.

I never stopped praying and I didn't exactly change my mode of praying, either. I realize now that it's a wonder that with all that chaos and busyness that I didn't lessen in prayer. That I didn't get "too busy" for God. Because that can happen all too easily.

But I didn't forget God. I talked with Him every single day. I even cried out to Him about my frustration with this Unbinding journey I didn't think I was joining.

I almost quit and threw in the towel. Husband confronted me and told me I had over-committed myself. The family needed me. The family missed me. I felt torn and angry and confused. But I took it to God.

Show me where I have filled my spirit up with anything other than You, Lord.

I asked God to reveal to me what I needed to keep and what I needed to let go.

The answer was surprising.

I stuck with Unbinding. I took out my Wednesday night Lenten worship. I continued to help with homework and facilitate emails with teachers and therapists, but I let go a little. Okay, I let go a lot. I recalled my first Holy Week and Easter as a Christian and how I rejoiced in all the revelations and amen-azing moments I had:

2011 Easter-related blog entries:
In Preparation
The Waiting Game
Darkness Comes
He Has Risen Indeed
Not Like a Birthday

How prolific I was that year! How many books I read on Lent and Easter, how many devotionals I did!

But this year? I couldn't even do my homework.

But there is grace. There is grace in not doing homework and grace in not meeting up with the prayer partner for hours over coffee and hushed tones. There is grace for not filling out every blank space in the book.

I still prayed. I still followed God and read the Word and knelt in the presence of the Lord. I wasn't blogging or journaling or doing writing of any kind. I wasn't sharing exciting revelations with others. I wasn't reading and finishing books on Lent. I didn't even get to consistently follow my favorite blogs like I normally would.

Instead, I served my family and tried to care for myself as well as for them. My family - these three kids and my husband - this is the ministry God has called me to have, these four people He has called me to serve right here, right now.

And so that first Wednesday Lenten worship I did not attend, we had "church" had home and didn't even plan it. Miss G and I were making a Spring-themed wreath and we ended up, somehow, talking about Heaven and Hell. It had been a while since my curious 9-year-old stepdaughter asked any God-questions, but here she sat with tears streaming down her cheeks confessing things to me that squeezed her heart so much she dared to whisper that she didn't think God would let her into Heaven.

And so the Holy Spirit filled me (as well as my own mothering nature) and I spoke Truth to that young girl so passionately that you would have thought I was doing the evangelizing the "Unbinding the Heart" book talked about. I told my girl that once she believed in Jesus and loved and followed Him that she was a new creation - her old self was gone, her past sins wiped clean, and she became a new creation. I spoke of God's perfect love and how God can see directly into the very center of her heart so He knows her truest feelings. I spoke the Truth that she needed to hear that night. If I hadn't sacrificed going to service that night, I would have missed ministering to my growing-up-girl in an intensely necessary way.

I was living Lent. Not reading or writing about it. I was living Lent. Look at the ELCA web site and what they say Lent is: basically,  prayer, sacrifice (fasting or adding something), and service.

I think about what Lent has looked like this year and I see that I have not done as much meditating as in years prior, but I have lived it. I have prayed and I have made sacrifices for my family and I have served them in ways deeper than any time before.

God was having me live Lent this year instead of blogging, reading, and talking about it.

This is not to say that I got the "living Lent" aspect all "right" and perfect. I still made mistakes just like I made mistakes with the Unbinding the Heart journey. But we are human and, in Christ, there is grace.

So as I continue to pray and seek love, forgiveness, grace, I continue to watch Jesus as he stumbles under the weight of that horrible, terrible cross, as He endures more pain than I can ever imagine, as He absorbs all of our failed church activities and missed appointments, our snapping at our kids and yelling at our spouses. I watch Jesus die for you and for me and I think - I must think - about what that truly means.

Living Lent has brought me to new realizations this year.

Maybe I have grown in faith this season, without even realizing.

Friday, March 1, 2013

Can't Speak Will Walk

I am weary and burdened and I go to Him. There is not much I can say that will or can begin to explain these days to you.

Instead, I continue to walk these days toward Lent, continue to walk alongside Jesus just as He walks alongside me.

Imagine: asking Jesus to walk with you when His own disciples, His best friends, would not stay awake to keep vigil.

I walk.

I do not speak.

I just walk
and remember.

5 Minute Fridays: Ordinary Chips

It's fifteen minutes until Saturday morning which means I can still do....


Where, for five unedited minutes, I write my heart out on a specified word suggested by the gypsy mama over here. 

Today's word is:



Saturdays aren't days we think of as ordinary. Usually, people do special things on Saturdays. For me, as a kid, I woke up at my dad's house on Saturdays. Cocoa Krispies and chocolate milk. Mom would never had let me have such a morning feast of chocolaty goodness. But Dad would. We'd pig out on pizza and popcorn Friday nights, watch "Full House," "Perfect Strangers," and I'd wake up to cartoons on Saturday mornings with the breakfast of champions. Saturdays were not ordinary for me - not only because of my meal, but because Dad and I always did fun things, such as going to the zoo or to Kiddieland or over to Lyn, my future stepmom's house, or ... well, I seem to remember a lot of TV-watching. But that was special, too: I'd lie on my dad's side, the two of us like a stack of chips, and I the smaller one as he propped his head up with his elbow. It's just how we watched TV.

My daddy's tomorrow, Saturday, will not be ordinary. He will be getting his kidneys hydrated in preparation for some tests so that he can get some more tests and then a procedure and then perhaps he will be health....ier. So I pray these five minutes - and many more - I pray to my Heavenly Father, my Abba, I pray that my earthly father, my Dadoo, would find health and rest and peace and wholeness. I pray that we would have many more ordinary and non-ordinary, unique days together. So I guess, after these five minutes, I wrote about what was not ordinary, rather than what is ordinary...but that's just where my mind wanted to go this night.


linking up with Lisa Jo