He is risen! (and so can we)

A motley crew. The rock band spelled it differently so I don’t think that will land me in copyright jail. It’s just really the perfect term for all of us. Jesus most trusted friends all scattered when He was arrested. Matthew 26:56 says: “Then all the disciples deserted Him and fled.” Each of us is gets to rise up this morning; we have another chance at life and a myriad of choices in one 12 hour day. 

Just getting up sometimes is hard, isn’t it? But we get to, today. And we will continue to have victories and failures, sometimes simultaneously. We will curse the driver in front of us and then apologize to God for our language and our anger flare ups. We will act like the disciples did when they gave up on Jesus. 

I went to place fresh flowers on Mom and Dad’s grave yesterday and I saw people laying on the ground next to their loved ones resting place. I saw Easter eggs scattered around graves, bottles of adult beverages (which always seems strange to me) and food. I saw sorrow. 

Then I thought of the words of the two Angels in Scripture here as described in Luke 24:

“While they were wondering about this, suddenly two men in clothes that gleamed like lightning stood beside them. In their fright the women bowed down with their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here; He is risen! Remember how He told you, while He was still with you in Galilee.” 

Why do we seek the living among the dead? It’s human nature, I guess. Why do we as a human race continue to choose things like war, addictions that wage war on our bodies and souls, death instead of life? 

But because of Jesus final victory over death, we too can rise to new life. PERMANENTLY. That is what makes Easter the most important event in human history. We have the victory because when Jesus rose from the grave He had the final word. Because of this, though our bodies may rest in the ground, our souls reside in eternal home with Jesus. 

Until the time God says enough is enough, and 1 Thessalonians 4:16 comes to pass, we rise. And because of Easter. We rise with hope! 

First Sunday of Lent

Each evening the sun’s rays hit my Mom’s sheep and birdhouse at exactly the same spot. I never planned it that way, it just happened. Sometimes the cat poses along with the sheep putting himself squarely in the portrait. More than likely he’s only following the last bit of warmth before evening.

This morning I was leafing through my Dad’s Book of Common Prayer. He had written a note over part of the Eucharist seen below:

This made me smile. I know Dad was proud of his Scottish and English heritage. Since I did my DNA a few years back I’ve found that I’m 28% Scottish. I previously thought I was more English.

I read aloud and as I did, I recalled the soft murmur of voices in the chambers of my heart and memory. I remember the sounds in the old St. John’s church when it was on Lee Street in the middle of town. I heard the soft insulated thumps of prayer kneelers going up and back down. Dust motes floating through stained glass light; I heard us saying the words of the Eucharist all at once: 

We lift them to the Lord

It is right to give Him thanks and praise

So many years later it’s as if I’m there. And there are so many other church services down through my youth, Baptist, Methodist, Non-denominational, weekend Church retreats, you name it. My folks were denomination hoppers for a while and now I’m glad they were. Because the common denominator running through them all was tradition, and community. 

More than that, it was Jesus.

I remember faces, voices from the past, too many to count. I thought again how grateful I am to have this rich heritage of Churchgoing. Those memories hold you together in all those in between times in the desert of faith when you’re trying to recapture what you’ve lost. 

What I am sad about is that I am wondering if my generation will be the last to remember the old hymns. I can still chime in with the melodies even if some of the lyrics are lost. I can see the value in churches holding fast to keeping their traditions alive. In a world that is spinning out of control, it’s comforting to know you can attend church and parts of it at least, will still ring true. Still hold to tradition.

The fundamentalist in me misses altar calls. Remember those? The closing music starts up, and the Pastor stands at the front, invitation open. Hopeful hearts pray while eternity waits. Then one courageous individual stands and scoots across knees out of the row and into the aisle. The most dramatic and personal moment in the church for me was that moment. I was fourteen. I grabbed Mom and she went with me.

And the great miracle is that as Christians, we carry this living cathedral wherever we go. Held safely in the shelter of our hearts. A turn of the key, sealed for the day of redemption. As parents, the most invaluable gift we can give our kids is something, or most importantly someone bigger than themselves.

To deal with life’s blows you need this.

In closing, join me in prayer for our war weary tear-stained world. For you, for me, and the Ukrainian people and (no doubt, many Russian people) many of whom are not in favor of what is going on.  

God of the nations, whose sovereign rule brings justice and peace, have mercy on our broken and divided world. Shed abroad Your peace in the hearts of all and banish from them the spirit that makes for war, that all races and peoples may learn to live as members of one family and in obedience to Your law, through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen

Anglican Church, Diocese of Perth. 

Remember Me

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What do you see when you look at me? Do you see only the rumpled clothes, the spots I can’t see? The spilled food? Yes, my hands shake and my steps falter, but I have lived life and it has erased much of what I was before. If you look closer you can still see who I used to be. It takes love to remember it. The love I gave you for so many years. The love I’m still trying so hard to give.

When you are impatient and have to wait for me, remember all those years I waited for you. I waited for you to walk so that we could walk together. And we did. Our lives were a set of parallel lines that made up all the joy in my life. Everything I did was because of you, in you I found my purpose.

Remember for me when I can’t. I know it’s hard when you have to answer the same question again and again, but instead of irritation, replace it with something else. Replace it with the love that was behind my every task. Let it temper the anger that is so quick to flare up.

Remember the Birthdays I never forgot, the cakes I got up early to make, the laundry I folded, the endless meals I cooked, the alarms I set to get you up and ready for the day.

The prayers you never knew I said.

Please be patient and know that when I struggle to read directions or do a task, I am frustrated too. Do you remember the light in my eyes every time you said yes to something I suggested we go do? The hope behind it all. I think maybe my eyes only truly saw for the first time when you were born.

Remember me in my strength, not in my present physical weakness. Can you let our love run together in the same direction as it used to? I’m worn out and worn thin and my memories haunt me much of the time. That is, when I do remember.

Someday soon I will be gone, and it’s my hope that you won’t regret what you didn’t do. I certainly won’t hold you to it. The hardest thing is to learn to forgive yourself. It’s a lesson I wish I could have learned in life. I know that only with God is it remotely possible.

Now, all of my past mistakes are long forgotten and I dwell in the Light of Eternity where there is no longer anything to regret. I have greeted those who I’ve longed to see again. Here there is only Love.

I’ll wait for you here.

What’s in your cup?

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Dad called, “We just have too much,” he said, “We cleared out the shelf where we keep the coffee cups, and there’s only two of us here now…..” When I got there they were all over the table, stacked two deep. He wanted to throw them all away. There was a sense of urgency about it, like so many things he is wanting to clear out lately. I said, “Well, let’s just sort through them and see which ones you still use. We agreed that they had to keep the ones from the Ahwahnee in Yosemite. And the one to Grandpa and Grandpa from Lauryn. We narrowed it down to 5 or 6 out of 20. 

Clearing out things can be a lot like clearing out a life. An acknowledgment that an excess is no longer needed. It can be liberating but also diffused with a sense of finality. Memories are attached to things and that’s where it gets tricky. There are hoarders who have a mental condition that prevents them from throwing anything away. I guess they find a kind of comfort in all those piles of stuff. And then there is the opposite, throwing away everything and then wishing you hadn’t because you realize there is still life to be lived.

When life spirals out of control I guess you feel you must do something about the things you can control. Little things become paramount. You can’t control getting older, or change, or a ravaging disease, but you can control the things you see in the immediate space around you, so there’s a sense of haste.

I kept the best ones and took them to a local cafe where they accept everyone’s used cups. It’s a cool thing I think, like drinking out of someone’s history. I find comfort in knowing some of their coffee mugs will live on in our community. I like to think the many prayers and all the laughter shared while using those cups and the hands that held them over the years will somehow pass a little peace and grace on to the next user.

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For so many years, their home was where everyone came. There was always a knock or a hello through the screen door and the phone was always ringing. “I’ll just put on a fresh pot of coffee,” my Mom would say. Even now, I can see shining eyes, and ringing laughter over those cups. The walls hold the memories even in the silence. The winding down of life.

The Bible speaks about our bodies being living vessels. Far too many years I tried to fill it with things it was never meant to hold. The Christian life is a series of emptying and filling. Sometimes this life just empties you out. People and circumstances can leave you feeling that way. Maybe that is Jesus’ way of getting us out of the way so that He can fill us with Himself.

Jesus once had to drink from the worse cup ever. But drink He did, to the bitter dregs. He did this so that we wouldn’t  have to. Has your coffee gone cold? Are there only the bitter grounds of yesterday? Pitch it into the bushes and refill from a fresh cup of Grace today. Jesus stands ready. The campfire is warm and the coffee is hot. 

“You prepare a table before me in the Presence of my enemies, you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.” Psalm 23:5

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A World in Pause Mode

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Life has been suspended and I can’t help feeling that for once, on this day it feels right. I remember as a kid when things closed and everyone flocked to church at noon on Good Friday. I also remember being glad when it was rainy or cloudy because that also seemed right on this day of days.

“Oh Jesus, what you went through so that we could have forever with You. When the shadow of the cross fell it reached all the way to Heaven and even silenced the Angels. They had never seen the Father hide His face from the Son. Ever. But that day was unlike any other day that will ever happen again.”

This shutdown has not been without benefit, in every adverse situation the good arises like a sweet perfume. The weeds grow along with the seeds, it’s just that the weeds are visible right away. But the good seeds are working their magic down below where we can’t see.  I believe we will have a lasting benefit from this time.

We will remember the quiet times, the books we read. The times spent talking, learning new games, getting to know each other again. Maybe all this family time, cooking and eating together, stretching our imaginations and praying more will have a lasting effect. Not to mention going a little bit crazy. 

What I’ve been learning from all this is what I have taken for granted, the simple little things. I have always been a person who has been intentional about not doing this and yet, I have realized that to some extent, I have. Who ever thought hugging someone we love would feel like a luxury, a risk, something forbidden.

Each morning. I have tried to go outside at first light and celebrate a little resurrection. I close my eyes and concentrate on all the noises I hear. It’s a blessing to have these mornings at home. Not having to get ready for anything. Downtime. Then there’s the downside.

Honestly some days it feels a little bit like the shadow of death is hovering all around us. Seeing loved ones only from a distance. Not being able to go, to help, to do. So close, so far away.

I’m thankful I have had someone (thank you E) to laugh and cry with during all this. It’s been a blessing to help those in our circle who are alone. 

I’m reminded in Scripture that this is only a light and momentary affliction. The other side of eternity stretches much further than we can see right now, but it’s still there, waiting for us. Because of the horrible, awfulness Jesus went through for us. Because He loves us.

The Trinity worked a beautiful plan my friends, and we can all partake of it. This pandemic will pass, but what will not pass is the empty tomb. It stands open and glowing with hope. Today we remember how our Savior was battered and bloody beyond recognition but on Sunday we remember how Satan was defeated.

Death has indeed lost its sting. Again. Thanks be to God.

I Choose Happy

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That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat by the lake. Such large crowds gathered around him that he got into a boat and sat in it, while all the people stood on the shore. Then he told them many things in parables, saying: A farmer went out to sow his seed……” Matt. 13: 1-3

There is a little kitchen towel I have. It used to be very bright orange and sunny yellow. Because of my old bug yellow will always be a happy color for me. On it are printed the words, “Choose Happy.” Lately there have been things pressing in on me. School starting again, the future, the transitory nature of where we are living, Mom’s illness.

And currently we are facing a homeless/drug element in our town. Transients are camping by the river and there are pictures of feces and you name it on the shore. They clean it up periodically and then they all come back. That has made me extremely upset and restricted my activities on the river this summer. I’ve been wondering why the environmentalists so prevalent in our state are not coming out of the woodwork on this issue. I feel robbed. Cheated.

The thief (Satan) comes only in order to steal and to kill and to destroy. I have come that they (we) may have life and have it in abundance. John 10:10

Everything in this world was set in motion and created by God. Perfectly in balance. The effects of sin have tarnished it. The evidence is all around us. Jesus came to counteract the eternal result of that destruction.  He also makes it possible to supersede all the negativity around us and still embrace life, and beauty, and hope and joy. We don’t have to let the world steal it. It is a choice we have.

It was with that attitude I awoke yesterday morning with a defiant stubbornness to  “Choose Happy.” I shook out the towel from the cabinet, hung it up and claimed Jesus promise. I took it into my heart and prayed it as a mantra all day. And you know what? My attitude changed.

This morning I walked down to the river and saw the magnificent beauty that was there all along. A gift of joy returned. I choose life. I choose gratitude for where we are now. I choose thankfulness for the beautiful message my Mom left me on the phone. That she loves me and glad that I am her daughter.

You see, when I read the parable of the sower and the soil today I realized that while the seed started out good, it was the conditions of the ground it fell into that varied. Each day we are given a choice and each day we live for Christ the choice can only be life. Because He died and rose again to give it to us.

It’s an old old story, but one I never get tired of telling.

Be at peace with your life my friends. He’s got this. He’s got you.

Of Dads and Grandpas

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“What marvelous love the Father has extended to us! Just look at it–we’re called children of God! That’s who we really are. But that’s also why the world doesn’t recognize us or take us seriously, because it has no idea who He is or what He is up to.” 1 John 3:1 MSG

God loves families. That’s why He found it necessary and important to start one. He certainly didn’t need us. It’s hard for us to imagine what it must have been like before the creation, but we know it was a perfect union. Father, Son and Holy Spirit…..They could have gone on that way forever.

But because God is such a creator and a giver, He decided to spin out galaxies, and planets and stars and angels in the blackness of eternal space. And then, out of His vast storehouse of love He created all the animals and this home of ours, and us. I wonder…….I’ve always wondered, how much time passed in that perfect fellowship.

How many walks and talks were taken in the cool of the evening before it all went south? Before we decided to listen to the cleverly woven lies that turned God-perfection on its ear. I wonder.

Families are messy and God knew that. Even the angels argued amongst themselves about who was greatest. He created us at great risk, but He felt the risk was worth it. We were worth it. And we fell, as He knew we would in time. Since that time we have never stopped falling. Thankfully, He has never stopped trying to get us back.

When my Dad was a kid, my Grandpa left the family. After my Grandma passed away he remarried. My Dad and Grandpa did some bridge building through the years. As a result I have good memories of him. I passed the house on my walk just the other day. I remembered Christmas at the Elks Lodge and going through his box of rocks and staring at his geodes in the lit up cabinet. And ice-cream socials at the Methodist Church and picnics at the lake. 

I never knew my Grandpa on my Mom’s side but I hope he is one of the first people I meet in Heaven. We lost him to cancer when I was only two. I have a dim memory of him holding me up to his grapevines. He loved roses, and he had a cat named Fritz and he called me his “blond-haired angel” in German. I always wonder if when he held me he was thinking of Annie, his 4 year old daughter who was accidentally shot and killed by a neighbor boy. My Grandma never built that bridge of forgiveness back to him for leaving the gun out. My Mom heard him say quietly one day, “She has never forgiven me.”

I like to think of the three of them together in Heaven, all forgiven, all forgotten.

Sometimes the most important thing in life and also the hardest is to build a bridge back to someone who has hurt us. It’s a huge risk, and it’s scary and most times we don’t know what the outcome will be. It’s exactly what God did with Jesus. It cost Him everything, but to get us back he felt it was worth it.

It’s what good Dads do. 

The Shroud of Grace

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Yesterday I awoke to a gloriously foggy morning. I am one of those that can’t resist bundling up and chasing it as it shrouds and swallows up everything and fills the air with silence. I joyfully walked down to the river to find 3 misty ghost like figures floating on top of the water; their fishing poles angled hopefully. Every now and again I would hear the plop as they recasted their lines, their hushed voices echoing across the water,

Further down I saw 2 ducks making a v-line barely visible through the misty air. I only heard a flock of Canadian geese honking above. I shot a few pictures with my camera and then decided to venture on down to the lake. My Sunday peace was only disturbed when my camera wouldn’t focus on a particular shot and I had to ask forgiveness for my foul words.

I wasn’t enjoying communion with fellow believers and yet I was at church. I have always found God in the fog, for two very emotional moments of my life happened in the fog long ago. The first was when I was driving around grief-stricken, my eyes blurred with tears after the loss of my husband.  I turned a corner and through the fog, I saw hopeful little candles in each window of a charming little cottage. Something about it gripped me and at once my spirit was calmed and brightened. It was God’s  way of letting me know I was going to make it.

The other time, I was alone in my room. Everyone had left and “Oh Holy Night” was playing on my record player (yes, it was that long ago) All I can say is that the Holy Spirit came to me in that room and I can remember every detail. In that room God came to me and revealed the awful, beautiful truth of what Jesus did to save me, us.

Wherever you find yourself this Christmas let me tell you that there is hope. I can say this with perfect confidence and clarity because there is simply nothing you or I are going through that is bigger than God. I know this. Jesus came so that we could always have real hope to fall back on in the darkest times of our lives.

Allow me to close with a quote from a wonderful book I read by Beldan C. Lane as he went through his own journey through the valley of the Shadow of Alzheimer’s in the nursing home with his Mom:

I met a woman by the elevator each day whose mouth was always open wide, as if uttering a silent scream. In a bed down the hall lay a scarcely recognizable body, twisted by crippling arthritis–a man or woman I’d never met. Another woman cried out every few moments, desperately calling for help in an “emergency” that never ebbed. Who were these people?

They represented the God from whom I repeatedly flee. Hidden in the grave-clothes of death, this God remains unavailable to me in my anxious denial of aging and pain. He is good news only to those who are broken. But to them he’s the Lion of the Tribe of Judah, lurking in the shadows beyond the nurses desk, promising life in the presence of death. The Solace of Fierce Landscapes, Beldan C. Lane

This is the paradox of the message of Christmas. Innocent life with a bitter twist at the end but that ultimately gives us Glorious freedom from that same death. Sometimes I think this is why we rush to buy and give during this season. We know there is something about Christmas that is joy but we can’t quite place our finger on it. We do our hopeful best to be cheerful and join in only to find ourselves worn out from the effort.

That’s because the Gift He gives us is so much bigger than everything else in this world. It’s Himself. We are free, all of us this Christmas. We have to only reach out and accept the gracious offer He gives.

Merry Christmas from my Prayer Closet. May His peace find you today, and every day.

The Perfect Day

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Ever feel like you think you know how God felt when He created everything and said that it was good? Despite everything, hope is that one eternal thing that God put in the backdrop of His creation that will never go away. It’s the thing that keeps us going even though we know that this world is broken and innumerable bad things will happen on every given day, but so will (even more) good things.

It’s that little chink of light that seeps through the soul when everything feels black and you’re feeling your lowest but still decide to go on a walk or clean the garage and somehow when it’s done you feel better. And it even applies to nature. The other day I noticed this little teeny tiny spiderweb. It was a perfect creation only about 3 inches wide. That day it was windy and when I looked again it was gone. Yet, the next morning I looked again and it was back, perfectly formed once again.

Saturdays now are my golden days full of promise. Not having to go anywhere in the morning is a treasured luxury. I can read in the mornings with a third cup of coffee from the Keurig which feels almost forbidden. This Saturday was one of those days that I agreed with God that everything was very good. The air was clear and the trees were waving their leaves across the sky and the river was high and it was calling me. It seemed better than a walk. So we went and it was like a hike and I was soaked. It felt so good. We made it to the trestle and waited for the train to cross.

We met a nice lady and talked all the way downstream back home. And of course the World Series is on and the fact that we can watch Baseball is something that just made everything better. It was a perfect day. Mom came over for a bit and that was good, I think she enjoyed a change of scenery.

While we were out on the river I pulled up an old John Denver song that always bubbles up through my soul on these green nature days. I sang along and Elaine recorded me. I still haven’t listened to it. But I just had to sing. It was that kind of a day.

Susan Boyle did a song awhile back on her first CD. A perfect day. Give it a listen. And it was. A perfect day. I can honestly appreciate these days when they come because I remember when I felt myself at the bottom of a black hole, an abyss of depression that I never thought would lift. But it did, eventually. And it was a miracle. And if you want to know if they still happen, look at me friends.

I’m not sure how to wrap this up so I won’t. I’ll just leave it here. Know that it’s worth it. Everything is. Because He said it was good, and it still is. No matter the circumstance you are facing. My God already went the distance. Knew the grief none of us will ever know. Left Heaven to come here so that we might grab his Hand and find hope and Home.

 

 

God wants to “friend” you

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O Lord, you have searched me and you know me. You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thought from afar. You discern my going out and my lying down; you are familiar with all my ways…….Psalm 139:1-3

“I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his masters business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything I have learned from my Father I have made known to you.” John 15:15

This morning I was sitting in the half-light of dawn when I said a simple prayer:

Thank you Lord for being the kind of God who wants to know his people, his creation intimately. Thank you for being the kind of God who wants to walk with His people in the cool of the day. Amen

We made these packets for the kids last year to take home. Each one was filled with the things they had done throughout the year. I imagine God making a book like that for me, cause that’s the kind of God He is. Sometimes I ask Him if He still loves me despite the fact that I know I disappoint Him in some way every day. The answer always whispers back quietly in the dark, “Yes, I do.”

Jesus stepped up to step down for us and all we have to do is say yes to His sacrifice. To give Him back our lives for better or worse. Jesus was the One who said the yes to who will give this woman, this man in marriage for life. The One whose yes involved the most unspeakable and wonderful sacrifice.

A good parent never stops loving their kid no matter what they do. Yes, their hearts are crushed and broken when they disappoint, but only because they love them so much and they don’t want them to go through the same mistakes and heartache they went through.

I have been reading and rereading Psalm 139 and I don’t think there is any clearer picture in Scripture of how God loves us and longs to know us and have us know Him. It gives me great comfort to know that God’s love goes the distance with us to the end.

That’s what I have today folks. It’s my gift to you from God.

Your eyes saw my unformed body…..All the days ordained for me were written in your book before even one of them came to be……Psalm 139: