Choosing life again and again

It’s been three days and at night I can still hear, “Move your arms like Henry….” and “Dorothy, Dorothy…..would you like to dance with me.” And that’s okay because at 13 she still loves the Wiggles. I love that they are not afraid to include “Away in a Manger” and call it Christmas. She has a mad crush on Murray Wiggle who she says is her boyfriend. He might be a Grandpa by now in real life and no longer on the show, but she doesn’t know and I would never tell her. I want to cry when I hear the songs because I miss her.

We got to celebrate my Mom’s 87th Birthday wearing clown noses during the Birthday song and lit a cake made from scratch by a dear friend who whispered “Do you think she would mind the Dinosaurs on it?” I said no, she’d love it. She did.

We also got to attend church, Mom and Dad and my brother and I on Palm Sunday, something we hadn’t done together in a long while. That was a blessing.

As with every family visit, there are people left out and things that go awry. Some things don’t go as planned. Mom’s heartbeat was erratic and she was not feeling well some of the time. Dad’s knee was flaring up and I went with him to the Doctor to get a shot and it was better by the end of the week.

There was talk of a “last trip” here or there. They talked too much like the best of their life is over and at 86 and 87 I guess that’s normal but I’m not ready to lose them. There was a moment when my Dad and I walked into Barnes and Noble together where it felt like old times and I wanted to sit there in that moment for a while.

Earlier today in the laundry room, I folded the gloves I took to the snow. I remembered her laughter as she threw snowballs at me and at her Dad. And I remembered my Dad and I, wedged in the backseat started laughing at my seatbelt that was stuck. That was like old times too. We always got in trouble in church for laughing. It strikes me that laughter is one of the things that has kept us all from losing our sanity over deaths and goodbyes and sickness and aging and everything in between. Laughter is one of the things in this life that will follow us to the next, thankfully.

As I write this, I hear it come down just now. The thing I was praying for this morning when I saw the cloudy skies. Just a little sprinkle, I said. Just a little pitter-patter on the roof. And now I have it. Healing for me, rain is. It says that God is still in control, He still cares enough to water the earth and so I have renewed assurance He still cares for us all.

Each day gives us a choice. At every turn in this life there are moments that breathe life and moments that have the foul smell of death. They reside side by side like the wheat and the tares. Each day there are moments bursting with life and moments that threaten to choke it right out of us.

The Bible says, “Today I have given you the choice between life and death, between blessings and curses. Now I call on heaven and earth to witness the choice you make. Oh, that you would choose life, so that you and your descendants might live!” I want to continue to choose life.

I also want to choose love. “Help me Lord to try to see beyond what’s on the surface. Help me to see people how You see them so I can love them better.”

People (and life) will try to steal our joy, but the joy God gives us is eternal and comes from somewhere deeper and older than we know or understand. It was there before all things were set in the act of creation. That joy is real and it’s our gift at redemption. He gives us back what was always meant for us in the first place.

Thank you God for the brief time at the beach. When I am there somehow I get the assurance that things will be okay. They really will.

 

 

A morning like this…….

My future belongs to Him

Sitting in the dark this morning, I imagine what it might have been like; a morning much like this one. Maybe the stars were still out as they started on their way to the garden tomb, moving quietly with their little bundles of materials and spices up the path.

We all start the day a little like them, don’t we? With a mix of trepidation and grief and a little hope mixed in that what He said was really true. I sat in the quiet this morning, in the dark, the stars still visible and the Holy pink of dawn just starting to color the sky.

Sitting there, I imagined the little Holy processional……I heard the crunch of feet on the rocky pathway. I saw each head bowed down in sadness, watching the path as pink dawn just began to touch the earth with Holy light.

I imagine they heard the first bird too, just as I did, singing of hope despite everything. He always does. I continued to sit, and wait. I needed to start my day, I needed to get going. Still I sat. Some things are more important. I think of this world as it is today, the Miracle has already happened.  Still only part of the world has truly grasped it.

The women rounded the corner and as they did, the earth rumbled and shook. The guards struck dumb as beings of impossible light sat on the stone and said those words that lit Heaven and Earth with all the hope we will ever need:

“He is not here, for He has risen, just as He said. Come, see the place where He was lying.

In fear and trembling and joy, they ran back to tell the others. Their little bundles were useless, for now they carried something far more important, tangible hope. And we’ve been running back to try to tell the others ever since. Sometimes we don’t tell it right, and sometimes we don’t live it right, but we’re still trying.

Some still don’t want to hear it. And there are times we fall prey ourselves to the same conspiracies that started way back then. We get sucked under by everything we see and hear and forget the living hope we still have. But it’s still there. Because He’s still here.

At that very hour after His resurrection the stories swirled, and conspiracies were cooked up. The stories have been swirling ever since except now they swirl faster and even more furiously. Back then they invented a big lie and as the Bible puts it, “a very large sum of money” was changed hands and the rest is history.

Stories, lies and large amounts of money. Sounds like our modern politics. Some things just never change.

As for me, I know the truth. I’m throwing my useless bundle of death to the side and embracing Hope. Time to get this day going.

 

 

 

Easters I remember……….

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Posing in our Sunday Easter best in the backyard…………The joy of patent-leather yellow shoes to go with the most beautiful dress I had ever seen…….The year my Mom thought the washer was a good place to hide my basket……..and Easter showers when all the ladies in their finery had to dash from curb to church holding their hats and clutching their raincoats……..and Daffodils, heads bent low from the wetness and the vivid green of the grass when the sun finally came out.

I remember……so excited the cousins were coming to visit…..and my Grandmother boiling eggs in her large pot, fretting about how many cracked……and egg dye making stains on the towel, and finally, seeing who could do the ugliest egg after dipping from one color to the next. I remember the year we hoped and prayed for a joyous sermon, only to get “Ashes, ashes, we all fall down”……and Aimee at the organ and “Up from the grave He arose……”

And I can still see my Grandmother’s dining room table and the giant Easter bunny cookie she always made, scotched taped from the back because it always broke. And the jelly beans she places around it, along with the grass.

I remember holding hands and singing “Morning has broken………” at my Aunt’s Methodist church sunrise service. I remember wonderful Easter dramas and over the top excitement because “so and so” said they would come to church. Especially the one year Jesus disappeared and we still don’t know how they did it.

And the year in Arizona when we saw the mother duck leading her ducklings on the way to church on an impossibly beautiful morning. Every Easter, I remember these things.

Every Easter, I feel the hope all over again.

The Watcher on the Wall

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It was early, and the rooster had yet to announce the start of the new day. He was busy watching the commotion from his sentry spot on the wall. He ruffled his feathers against the cold.

The animals were restless, there was some evil afoot and they seemed to sense it. Donkey was tethered to a nearby post and moved about uneasily shifting her feet. She gave a toss of her head toward the mob of people who were moving through the street. It was quite a large crowd and there were soldiers and religious leaders, and lots of shouting and jostling. Being pushed ahead of them was a poor man. His hands were tied and he was bruised and battered.

Donkey shivered but not from the cold. She knew that man. He was the one to whom she had lent her colt just the week before. And down below stood one of the two gentleman who came to ask her master. He was standing nearby warming his hands by the fire. He seemed nervous, looking this way and that.

She brayed loudly and said, “Something is not right here rooster, that man they have there is innocent. He is a good man, a kind man. For when they asked for my colt they didn’t separate us, they led us both together. And He was ever so gentle with my baby. He is a King, I tell you!”

Rooster fluffed himself up, proudly. “Yea…..how well I know. My grandfather was one who was in the manger the night he was born. There were angels and signs in the Heavens. Oh what a glorious night that was. He watched from the rafters as the wee one was born and he saw the shepherds when they came into the stable, faces still alight with what they had just seen and heard. He crowed the dawn in on that day alright, and what a day it was.”

But this activity down below was quite a new development. He prided himself on knowing things first, but this was unexpected and it wounded his pride greatly.

Donkey said, “Don’t fret rooster. I have heard that you have yet to play a part in this drama.”

Rooster puffed himself up even bigger than he already was. “Yes, of course, as it should be. After all, this bloodline is royalty.” Speaking of his own. “It’s only fitting since my grandfather was the one to usher in the King the first time and I should be the one to usher in His Kingship the second time.”

“But this…..this doesn’t seem to be going well. I really should bring in the dawn of this new day, but it isn’t right, I tell you. I am used to crowing good news, and this is not good news at all, that He should be bound and dragged from place to place like a common criminal. Don’t they know who He is?”

Immediately down below, they heard someone question the gentlemen who was one of His friends:

“You also were with Jesus of Galilee,” she said. But he denied it before them all. “I don’t know what you’re talking about,” he said.

Then he went out to the gateway, where another servant girl saw him and said to the people there, “This fellow was with Jesus of Nazareth.”

He denied it again, with an oath: “I don’t know the man!”

After a little while, those standing there went up to Peter and said, “Surely you are one of them; your accent gives you away.”

Then he began to call down curses, and he swore to them, “I don’t know the man!”

At this Rooster could hold it in no longer, he crowed loud and long. “Nooooo……he crowed. It’s not sooooo…..” He thought his poor rooster heart would break with the sorrow of it all. He thought of how proud he was that his family had always had a part, however small, in ushering in the Good News. Now this. He would be remembered all throughout history as the rooster that crowed in disaster. He hung his head in sadness and shame. He didn’t feel like crowing anymore.

The animals watched sadly as the man called Peter fled behind a wall and wept bitterly.

Donkey hung her head, and she felt the deep sorrow that is unique to the animal kingdom alone. For they remember who made them……it’s only the human species that seems to forget.

But Rooster would soon be redeemed though he didn’t know it at the time.

For Easter was coming and he would be ready.

 

 

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: Into the Desert

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Then Jesus, being filled with the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit into the wilderness,  being tempted for forty days by the devil. And in those days He ate nothing, and afterward, when they had ended, He was hungry. Luke 4:1-2

Growing up in the Baptist Church, we didn’t celebrate or think much about Lent. That was for Catholics or Episcopalians. In recent years, I have grown to appreciate the beauty and wisdom of Lent, those 40 days leading up to Easter. I don’t necessarily “give anything up” it’s more like scouring out a little space in my soul that says, “These days are different, significant……set apart, pay attention to what the Holy Spirit might be preparing you for.” Like a Spiritual yield sign if you will.

At any rate, I will be doing something I have never done before on this blog. I am going to really, really try to post something each of the 40 days leading up to Easter.

Don’t worry, the readings will be short and the intent will be to lead us all closer to the Cross, right along with Jesus.  I don’t know about you, but I have felt like I have been in and out of the wilderness ever since January 4. Thankfully, I have companions in it and for that I am extremely thankful. What’s your wilderness today? Be comforted, God is walking with you.

It is necessary that at the beginning of this fast, the Lord should show Himself to us in His mercy. The purpose of Lent is not so much expiation, to satisfy the divine justice, as a preparation to rejoice in His love. And this preparation consists in receiving the gift of His mercy—a gift which we receive in so far as we open our hearts to it, casting out what cannot remain in the same room with mercy.

Now one of the things we must cast out first of all is fear. Fear narrows the little entrance of our heart. It shrinks up our capacity to love. It freezes up our power to give ourselves. If we were terrified of God as a terrible judge, we would not confidently await His mercy, or approach Him trustfully in prayer. Our peace, our joy in Lent are a guarantee of grace.

And in laying upon us the light cross of ashes, the Church desires to take off our shoulders all other heavy burdens—the crushing load of worry and guilt, the dead weight of our own self-love. We should not take upon ourselves a “burden” of penance and stagger into Lent as if we were Atlas, carrying the whole world on his shoulders. Thomas Merton, an excerpt from his essay, “Ash Wednesday.”

Forty lashes (plus or minus one)

 

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I headed out to my car on break after barely being able to keep my eyes open at my station. I intended to pray a bit, and read a bit, and then hopefully catch 40 winks plus or minus one. The weather for once was cooperating. It had clouded up and I was happy with that. I never like it when it’s bright and sunny on Good Friday. It just doesn’t seem right.

I cranked the seat back and opened the sunroof and to my delight, a few drops of rain, teeny cold and precious drops hit me. I listened as it lightly pelted the car. As I lay there I thought of what I had read earlier……what Jesus went through on the day He died for me. Before He was even crucified.

He got 40 lashes minus one. This was the traditional number, and yet professional killers don’t always use much discretion.There would have been not one, but two Roman legionaries, one on either side, according to my historical sources, who were specially trained to inflict extreme physical suffering without actually causing death. These weren’t just any lashes.

After Jesus was made to kneel, His wrists were bound to the “scourging post.” The wood handled “whip” had three leather straps around 3 feet long, The whipping was so painful that many times people had seizures, threw up or lost consciousness due to blood loss. The bits of bone and metal attached tore through flesh and exposed muscle and inner organs.

There was no pause between blows, and after this Jesus would have been in physical shock.

And yet even that wasn’t enough for them. A crude purple robe was laid over His open wounds which probably reached down to His calves, and a crown of thorns dug into His already bruised and battered face. Normally He would have had to carry the 50-70 pound cross beam to His own crucifixion but He was too badly beaten for that.

As the soldiers led him away, they seized Simon from Cyrene, who was on his way in from the country, and put the cross on him and made him carry it behind Jesus. Luke 23:26

Those who saw “The Passion of the Christ” might have thought that Mel Gibson was laying on the gore a bit thick, but those who have researched the subject know that it was bad, so bad that people could barely look on Jesus as He was led down to Golgotha.

Just as there were many who were appalled at him — his appearance was so disfigured beyond that of any human being and his form marred beyond human likeness–Isaiah 52:14

As I lay there in the car with my eyes wide open, thinking about all Jesus went through for us, I wondered if maybe it isn’t necessary or healthy to dwell on this part. After all, it happened, it’s done. Jesus is glorified, resurrected and in His rightful place back home with His Father in glory.

And yet, I can’t not think about it. And each year, I am aghast and apalled all over again at how terrible and how wonderful it is. I marvel at a God who would go to such lengths to save me.

I marvel at a God who loves me so much it kills Him.