Lent Day #43: “I have seen the Lord”

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I think it’s a strike of genius for director Franco Zeffirelli to have cast “Mrs. Robinson” as Mary of Magdala in 1977’s “Jesus of Nazareth.” For those of you youngsters, Anne Bancroft played the older (married) woman who Dustin Hoffman had an affair with in “The Graduate.” Later he goes on to date (and then marry) her daughter who was played by the lovely Katherine Ross. As I was praying and pondering what the Lord would have me post today. All I got was one phrase:

“I have seen the Lord.”

Immediately, I saw Anne Bancroft’s beatific expression in my mind, she so brilliantly played the part as only she could. I have often thought of why Jesus picked Mary of Magdala as the first person to see Him after he rose from the grave. I imagine her hurrying up the path with the other women, sorrow still so fresh upon her soul.

When they came to the tomb and found the stone rolled away, Mary immediately ran and found Peter and John and after they saw the empty tomb, they believed but went home. Mary though, stayed at the tomb and wept. Because she stayed, she was rewarded by an angel visitation and then, Jesus Himself.

I wonder how many times we just go home too soon and miss the miracle?

Last night we had a visit with a neighbor and the topic rolled around (as it does so often) to religion. He felt like many people do, that religions are basically all the same and that the three main religions, Muslim, Judaism, and Christianity all worship the same God so the differences are just technicalities. Those weren’t his own words, I am paraphrasing. After identifying that we were Christian we talked about the Bible and he said what so many people say. All those books were imperfect because they were written by a bunch of men who generated their own opinions and bias into it.

I didn’t want to get in a big long debate so I just said, “To me, what makes Christianity stand out from all the rest is that it’s a relationship with a living God who wanted to come down and relate to His people on a personal level. All the others are man trying to find God. And it’s changed lives, transformations in my own life and other lives I have seen.”

I guess what I was trying to say was that like Mary Magdalene at the tomb, “I have seen (and experienced) the Lord!”

I guess that’s what it all comes down to. I have felt the same joy and wonder and excitement Mary did when she came face to face with Jesus and realized her life would never ever be the same. And I have seen it in others too.

That’s our hope, with it we have everything, without it, no matter how much we have in this life, it will never be enough.

Lent Day 19: I could never capture it all……

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How can I ever capture what today was? It was joy, tears, memories, laughter and stories all wrapped up in a wonderful day that I can’t fully capture here. Bobby and I took a walk along the Concho River this morning that runs by the Hotel and got a little snatch of nature while listening to the birds. Elaine, Bobby (Elaine’s brother) and I picked up their cousin Gerry…..after that the laughter just kind of continued throughout the day. I won’t even try to explain it. I don’t think I could fully do it justice, maybe someday I will try for now I am simply played out.

We did end up visiting Mt. Carmel Hermitage Monastery and also Our Lady of Grace Monastery, both courtesy of Gerry Dupree. The day started with own ceremony of bringing Vernon Curtis Dupree back to his homeland and beloved Texas which he loved. It was a privilege to be able to take part in this journey and final stop for him until that final Resurrection Day of the Lord which is our hope.

All in all, it was a day that will live in all of our memories because it was full of some of the very best this life has to offer, a few tears, many memories and much more laughter to hold it all together.

My words are few tonight, I am still full of voices and stories that are far too colorful for me to capture here…………but I leave you with a few words from the vestibule at Our Lady of Grace Monastery:

God of Love, through this Lenten journey, purify my desires to serve you. Free me from an temptations to judge others, to place myself above others. Please let me surrender even my impatience with others, that with your love and your grace, I might be less and less absorbed with myself, and more and more full of the desire to follow you. in laying down my life according to Your purpose.

And thank you Lord, for the dear lady who came graciously out when she saw our car and let me in to see the beautiful church……I felt an immediate kinship.

Thank you Bobby (who walked the stations of the cross with me) and Elaine who drove us miles to get there, and to Gerry for showing us these treasures. I love you all……….

Lent Day #9: What was I thinking?

The Wildness of God

I don’t remember consciously making the decision to do a post for each of the 40 days of Lent, it just sort of happened. Somehow I think there is a lesson for me in it. And maybe for someone else as well. I am discovering just how weak the flesh can be, (as if I didn’t know before.)

On Day 9, I find my mind wandering. And this morning out of nowhere, I found myself thinking very uncharitable thoughts about someone sitting just a few feet away. I had to pray a prayer of confession before 6:30 in the morning. For the co-workers who might read this, don’t even speculate. It was all me, not them.

We’re all human, after all. The Spirit is willing but the flesh always talks back.

As I sit here writing  this, I have to stop and think because my mind is growing fuzzy. Is this the 9th or 10th day of Lent? I had to consult Google.  I feel myself losing focus. I wonder, how did Jesus feel on the 9th day?

I think, “This is crazy. Do I really want to go on with this? Is anyone reading?”  You know how someone with hundreds of followers will post something on Facebook, something innocuous like, “I had fried fish for dinner last night.” And all of a sudden, they have 120 comments. Oh yes, my flesh was talking back like crazy this morning.

Then it was like I felt a quiet tap on the shoulder (God has such a sense of humor) “How’s the lesson going?” He said. I had to smile.

And yes, this is only the 9th day. All of a sudden, I am reminded of why I am doing this. And it has nothing to do vanity or popularity, or shares, or comments. It’s all about what God wants to teach me with this small task.

And as we walk this 40 day road toward the cross together, friends. It’s about what we can all teach each other.

“The noonday devil of the Christian life is the temptation to lose the inner self while preserving the shell of edifying behavior. Suddenly I discover that I am ministering to AIDS victims to enhance my resume. I find I renounced ice cream for Lent to lose five excess pounds… I have fallen victim to what T.S. Eliot calls the greatest sin: to do the right thing for the wrong reason.”  Brennan Manning

Photo: Google images

There remains a Sabbath rest……….

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“There remains therefore a Sabbath rest for the people of God. For the One who has entered His rest has Himself also rested from His works, as God did from His.” Hebrews 4:9,10

The chair creaked as I settled into it in the dim light of early morning. The first line of my prayer was a grateful sigh. There are times when sighs can be prayers. The end of the week once more and I wondered again at how I got here so fast. Settling into sabbath…..I gazed down the trail of years, wondered and wandered along the halls of my memories.

As I wandered, images and sounds came softly, floating over and through and then emotions along with them following close behind. “A Mighty Fortress” was the theme song of the little claymation cartoon I used to watch on Sunday mornings before church, Davy and Goliath.

I hear the echo of our voices in the upper room where we had children’s church and then after, Sunday lunch at Helwigs, Chicken on a Bun. And my Grandma sighing out loud and crinkling her Reeds wrappers while the Pastor is speaking, and my Mom being so embarrassed.

I remembered the way the light slanted the shadows as we walked to Sunday evening service on warm summer nights. And there was choir practice and the rustle of robes coming off hangers and the silence right after we all stood as one and waited for those first notes from the piano.

Service upon service……all through the years. All through the denominations, each one I loved in different ways. I hear the rustling of onion-skin pages as we all found our places as one. I find myself sometimes missing those days before iPads and iPhones in church.

As the candle flickers in the corner, these are the Holy gifts I unwrap one by one.

And someday, I will unwrap these days too.

This is Sabbath rest right here and now.

Spiritual Misfit (no book giveaway, I’m keeping mine thank you!)

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After all, that’s what grace is, isn’t it? The ultimate do-over. The infinite second chance. God gives us another chance, and another and another. Day in and day out. He works with us, he works through us, he does not give up on us. Michelle DeRusha

Michelle DeRusha dared to ask one question and it turns out that one question, “Why Not Believe?” was all God needed to crack a window of hope in her soul and launch her on a spiritual quest that ultimately found her surrounded by God’s love and grace.

I was deeply touched by the humility, honesty and laugh out loud humor that I found on every page of this book.  If I ever met Michelle personally, I would want to hug her just for the Cheezit story alone!

Growing up Protestant in the Evangelical Church of the 1970’s Jesus Generation,  my experiences were a bit different from Michelle’s. God was not distant for me, in fact He seemed to be everywhere I turned. You might not think of California as having its own Bible Belt, but it did. In my hometown there was just about a church on every corner and we went every Sunday, sometimes Sunday nights as well. I have early memories of talking to God like some kids talk to imaginary friends. I even had a glow in the dark plastic Jesus that I kept on my windowsill. There was something reassuring about that florescent glow.

I honestly don’t remember a time in my life when I had a serious doubt about whether God existed or if He heard my prayers. I also know that it’s nothing short of a miracle of His grace, surely not as a result of anything I ever did right. My doubts came cloaked in the form of fear. Fear of what would happen if I really let go and let God. I was the kid clinging to the side of the swimming pool even as my Dad held out his arms saying, “I am here to catch you, just let go!”

The church I grew up in was a bit on the restrictive side. Deep down, I always felt like I didn’t quite fit with what I perceived to be the “Baptist Mold” I saw others conforming to. I didn’t go to Church camp because secretly, I was afraid. In my head there was this social performance meter going on and I was convinced that if I went, I would fail some sort of test. I might have really enjoyed it, but now I will never know.

Every now and then, I went to certain “youth gatherings” and I always dreaded when the awful games would start. The ones that were supposed to be fun. I will never forget the one where we all lined up, boy-girl-boy-girl each with a tooth-pick between our trembling lips, passing life-savers from mouth to mouth. I was mortified. To a girl who was extremely self-conscious about her bad complexion it was traumatic. The life-saver was red, even all these years later I still remember that, and that the boy’s shaky upper lip was covered in blond whiskers.

The Pastor of our church didn’t believe in clapping or applause after a good musical performance, or talk, or anything, and the older members clearly were not comfortable with any of the new modern translations of the Bible, for them Jesus spoke in the King James version only. I do believe if He had shown up in the middle of our service, they would have wanted Him to shower, shave and change into a suit.

What I loved most about Spiritual Misfit, is the way Michelle relates the story. I felt like I was right there with her on the plains of Nebraska, and in seeing her, I recognized myself. I saw again how He blesses us when we are not afraid to ask Him the questions, when we crack the door of our heart open just enough. Just enough, is all He needs. Augustine said that to search for God is to have found God. I think there is some truth to that.

It goes without saying that I heartily recommend this book. As I finished, I found myself kneeling by my bedside in tears, wrapped in His grace, I thanked Him for being with me on my own journey and for being with Michelle on hers. I thought of all the times I have failed Him, stumbled, fallen, left the trail, flailed in the middle of the pool, only to see Him right there waiting where I left off.

And with a smile and an arm around my shoulders, He says, “Welcome back my child,” And we set out again.

 

Jesus with a cane

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“Let’s turn down this street,” she said, “I want to show you someone’s house and I won’t even have to tell you which one it is.” First of all, I need to preface this by saying the lady is of German descent. Now, I was raised in a town pretty made up of Germans from North Dakota and one of their characteristics was extreme cleanliness. In the days before all the water restrictions they would hose their driveways and sidewalks until they glistened. That goes for the garage too. I am pretty sure some of these people watched out the window for stray leaves that never had a chance to land on the perfectly sculpted lawns.

Anyway, I digress and she was right. I picked out the house right away. Nary a rock out-of-place. (Not many lawns here)

On the way home, we passed a man leaning on a cane talking on a cell phone. Before I go any further, I must tell you that my friend is like a dolphin when it comes to finding people who need help. She has a built-in radar for people and situations that others just never take the time to see. I can’t tell you how many times we have been to the store and she asks me, “Did you see that lady? She looks confused, I think she might have lost her car.”

My answer is usually, “Let’s do another loop around the lot. We’ll see if she finds it, or him, or whatever it is she lost.”

So last night she said, “Should I ask him if he’s alright?” I said, “Well, he was talking to someone on a cell phone.” We drove back by and she asked him if he was okay. He said, “Well, I was trying to decide whether to go to Home Depot, I have something I need to fix on my house. I am okay right now.”

She drove off, but uneasily. By this time it was getting dark, and me, the ever observant one, was still not getting why she was so conflicted about leaving. After all, he had a cell phone and we could hear the other person talking to him. As we drove down the road a ways, she said, “That street is no place for a blind person to be after dark.”

Me: “He’s BLIND???”

Her: “Yeaaaaa. That’s what the white cane with the red tip means.”

Me: “Ohhhhhh, no wonder you were worried!”

Her: “Did you think I was just stalking him?”

Then it struck us funny. By this time, he was tap, tap, tapping down Broadway at a pretty good clip. I had looked up the non-emergency police number and the dispatcher said they would send someone right out. We sat at a stop sign while we waited, holding our breath at the light while he crossed. Around 6 minutes later the police came and pulled over next to him. We watched as the cop helped the man into the back seat.

We proceeded to follow them to Wal-Mart where we stopped to talk to the patrolman that picked him up. He was very nice and explained that the guy wanted to buy some door-knobs for his house which he was trying to fix up. And he thanked us for calling them.

As we drove off, we wondered out loud how someone blind would go about repairs on a house.

She said, “What if that man were Jesus?”

I said, “That means that I flunked the test and you passed.”

She said, “No, you passed too because you did the right thing, that is after you figured out he was blind.”

Personally, I think she is cutting me some slack there, I should have noticed right away that he was blind, except my stomach was growling and my mind was fixated on the fish tacos waiting at home.

For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’

“Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’ 

“The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’

When you don’t fit in and it’s okay

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I grew up in a church that was somewhat legalistic. I didn’t think much of it until the first time I went to an Assembly of God church where people clapped and raised their hands, and not just shoulder height, all the way up! It was like a whole new world opened up to me. You see, in our church we weren’t even encouraged to clap. I am not sure what’s wrong with clapping. Maybe they thought it would lead to other outward expressions and then God forbid where would you draw the line? There has to be some control after all. Otherwise you might have people jumping over pews and rolling in the aisles.

I say that tongue in cheek, but looking back I always felt somewhat restricted there. One false move and you might be visited by two men in dark suits. I will never forget the time we had an outstanding musical performance and someone must have forgotten the rule because there was a burst of applause. It started strong, but then the Pastor raised his hand in admonition……”No, no clapping please.” The people (us) being properly chastened, it quickly died down.

I remember never quite fitting in. Don’t get me wrong. I have many good memories of church and I am thankful, so thankful my Mom insisted we go. I have to say, I got a wonderful Scriptural foundational knowledge there. People that love the Lord with all their hearts still go there. And yet, when I got out. I remember feeling a profound sense of freedom that I had never had before and it was a little bit of Heaven.

My joy was no longer contained……I felt like a balloon taking flight for the first time. I could feel totally comfortable lifting my hands to the sky, or equally comfortable going down to the altar and planting my face to the indoor outdoor carpeted step. I finally felt I could express my joy over being forgiven, being redeemed properly.

I have taken part in all different types of church services, and I am glad I have. I consider myself  bit of a church mutt. I have been immersed in liturgy and felt extremely moved by its beauty. I have been to services where people felt totally free to kick off their shoes and dance in the aisle. And what I have come away with is this:

There is no right way or wrong way to praise God and as soon as you start making people believe they have to do worship a certain way, then you are excluding those who don’t quite fit your mold.

There is room, my friends. Room for all of our individuality at the Cross. And as long a congregation is true to Scripture, it’s all good. Just because I lift my hands in church doesn’t mean someone else has to. Their hearts might be bursting with praise within. God knows hearts. He knows each thought, each feeling, He hears whispered praise as well as praise that shouts to the sky.

He is big enough to contain it all.