Resurrection in the Desert

There was a chill in the air this morning that sparked a feeling of being awakened to new life. It conjured all kinds of memories of fall and the holidays and warm socks and pumpkin pie and sugar cookies at Christmas, and Bach playing while fire-colored leaves twist and fall like rain to the earth. There were a few days earlier this fall where it was chilly, but we knew those times were flukes fashioned to tease us, because we still had a few triple digits to come after.

Now, however, the chill and the hope are real because we know that the monstrous heat is gone, having released its death grip on us until next year.

While most of America turned their clocks back, our clocks remained steadfastly fixed where they were. Arizona is one of a few rebel states that doesn’t participate in daylight savings time. There is a little self-satisfied pride that comes with this I think. A kind of thumbing our nose at everyone else, because it’s the one little independence we still have to separate us from the status quo. Maybe that’s just me.

 This morning I walked in the dark with a sweatshirt, a welcome change. Fall here means that life begins again. Winter visitors come back and spruce up their yards and repairs are made to bicycles and fireplaces and BBQ’s alike spark to life. Everyone comes outside.

Advent feels closer. Even saying it conjures peace. Soon I will put my little Christmas tree in the shop so I can have my quiet time with its cheery brightness sparkling from the little shelf where it shines to remind me of when Christ came near, when He touched down on this earth so long ago. And how He prays for me from the depths of the unapproachable Light of Heaven even at this moment.

Yes. It’s good, this time of year.

We Arizonans know it maybe more than most.

I turned Christmas music on today but it felt like betraying Thanksgiving, so I settled for some David Nevue on Pandora. It fit.

When your cup of sacrifice feels like it’s overflowing

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Sometimes it seems like your cup of sacrifice is overflowing. You want to hold your hand tightly over the cup, never mind that it’s spilling down your arm. You want to say, “When….when……enough already! Those who are caregivers, feel this. They live it daily. I see it. Everyday I see a daughter’s love overflow in terms of sacrifice. In terms of love that hurts.

I see the Walgreen’s bag and I think all these thoughts. I think that most people don’t know the backstory, but God does. He always does. I take the Lay’s potato chips and the Snickers and the coke and put them in their places until her next visit to her Mom in Room 8.

I see that bag and think of all it represents…….I think of about 100 bags just like that over the past two years since her Mom has been in the Alzheimer’s facility and I think of all the in-between years leading up to it. A best friend knows.

The back story. We all have one. Hers was a difficult childhood. I guess you could say that her Mom was pretty much emotionally and many times physically not available. Chicken-scratch poor and married at 17, she was ill-equipped for parenting. She says, “Mom did the best she knew how.” But when best is sorely lacking you grow up with some scars.

You see, her Mom didn’t deal in emotion. You learn early not to cry, to stifle emotion when you’re told “Crying never solves anything.” So you bury, and submerge, and try harder to not mess up, since everything you do is watched with a critical eye and nothing you do ever seems to measure up.

When all the good you do is passed over and the one mistake is brought out into the limelight, you learn to keep trying for that golden ticket of praise that never comes.

But that didn’t put a damper on the bright spark of your personality. Living with a mean brother meant there was always chaos. Yelling and screaming were the norm. It was a fight or flight existence. So you went out and got to know all the neighbors. Did their lawns almost from the time you could walk.

And all along, you dreamed of somewhere quiet, somewhere safe. A refuge to call your own.

Later in life you stepped in front of your older brother when he thought it was okay to start beating his wife and kids, and even his own Mother. You took the blows for that, then your Mom got mad because she couldn’t understand why you didn’t want to pick him up from jail.

When you were 17, before you graduated, they left for overseas and didn’t come back for 13 years. You took care of the bills and the house and the yard, and then got kicked out when your Mom said you had to make way for abusive brother and new wife to move in. After all, he had a family.

You moved into the condo they left trashed and then he had the nerve to ask for rent.

And then there was the money your folks borrowed for the house you both lived in, the settlement money from the terrible accident that broke your back. After the house was sold you never saw that money.

For years you walked around with all that past, until the day you went to that river and held it under along with a lot of other things. You finally found that quiet place of peace in the person of Jesus. Your Mom was there and your Dad too, wondering why anyone would be crazy enough to be baptized in a river. But they were there.

All these years later, I watch you give your Mom back her dignity day after day. You replace incorrectly matched shoes, and 2 extra pair of underwear. You cut her hair and nails.

You learned a long time ago that the best way to heal is by making peace with the past.

Please know this. This post of mine is by no means meant to downgrade or disrespect your Mom, in fact, the opposite is true. For in light of everything else, there is one very important thing which she did incredibly right. She had you.

She had you even when they recommended an abortion. She had you, even though she was sick and they gave her those terrible drugs, even with all the risk,  she still said yes to having you, to giving you life. And for that, I will be eternally grateful; for that she gets my praise.

As your best friend for 26 years now, I stand in awe and amazement at how you have lived your life all these years. How you have lived out your faith by taking care of your family and putting yourself last too many times to count.

I watched as you sacrificed by taking a lower paying job so you could be nearer your Mom and have more time to take care of her. You took that job and made it into a ministry of love for the kids you drive to school every day.

So this is for you Elaine, because you never give yourself credit, I will. It’s what best friends are for.

I dedicate this post to sacrifice in all its many forms. We have a duty, those of us who write, to tell the back stories. All those who died 14 years ago today had back stories too, and we must keep those stories alive for their children and grandchildren and all of us who remain. And to Jesus Christ who paid the ultimate price so that we all might live.

A Soul at Rest

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O Lord, my heart is not proud, nor my eyes haughty;
Nor do I involve myself in great matters,
Or in things too difficult for me.
Surely I have composed and quieted my soul;
Like a weaned child rests against his mother,
My soul is like a weaned child within me.
O Israel, hope in the Lord
From this time forth and forever.

Psalm 131

It’s a wonderful thing to think about isn’t it? That our soul can be completely quieted by resting in the Lord, as rested as a weaned child. I love when I stumble on a verse I either haven’t read in a long time, or don’t remember reading at all. It’s like it opens up a brand new vista just when I need it most. This morning, I asked for a word because I had nothing and then after prayer the words flowed out without me even trying.

Jesus said,  Or what man is there among you who, when his son asks for a loaf, will give him a stone?

Yes, indeed. This morning was a gift, as I sat outside in the breeze I quieted my soul by noticing little things……a dried leaf skittering across the ground. The sound of the little bee wind chime which has a delicate sound that the big clanging buoy bell tries its best to drown out. A hummingbird chirp was coming from somewhere but I never saw it. When the world is turned down and the soul is quieted, you can hear these things.

Last night I went out and gazed at the bright wedge of moon and thought that faith in God is very much like that moon without anything shining on it. We know it’s up there but only when the sun is shining on it do we see it. Every day I see faith living itself out in the land where the shadow of death hangs.

I see the man who comes preaching and singing to Joyce’s care home. What a tough crowd, half of them have their heads down on the table. But He is doing what God calls him to do, and I don’t know how he does it week after week but he does. And with joy too.

I see Elaine having to change her Mom’s clothes, a thing that horrifies them both but they do what they have to do. And I don’t know how she does it, but she does. Faith living itself out no matter what, because like that moon, we can’t see Him but we know He’s there and there is hope because He lives and He’s with us, every step we take however painful.

Right now I am reading a wonderful book I  found called “The Green Desert” a silent retreat. It’s written by Rita Winters. She quit her high stress advertising job and went on a 3 week retreat in the Sonoran desert. I highly recommend it. As I read her descriptions of the desert I know so well, I thought how blessed I have been to have lived here in this Hermitage I call my home for 8 years now.

The desert speaks to you if you let it. It teaches you what no other place can, it speaks of lonely sun-scorched places and turns the quiet up in your soul. The death in the landscape all around you, the severity of it all makes it that much more beautiful when it surprises you with life. Powerful resurrected life that has the power to take your breath away.

And it gives you the sense at night when you look up at all those stars amidst the shadow of those towering sentinels, the Saquaros, that they are bearing witness to something older and bigger than you.

You recognize there is another side to it all and you can sense it. Beyond the blackness, beyond space there is a ring of light so brilliant we aren’t prepared to see it yet. Our eyes are still too attuned to this world, but just the same they are there. The crowd of witnesses the Bible talks about is there. And just today I realized I didn’t have to question if they can see us, because a witness sees who and what it’s witnessing.

And like the moon, like God, just because we can’t see them unless the light is shining on them, doesn’t mean they aren’t there.

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The Art of Resting

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There remains, then, a Sabbath-rest for the people of God;  for anyone who enters God’s rest also rests from their works, just as God did from his. Let us, therefore, make every effort to enter that rest, so that no one will perish by following their example of disobedience. Hebrews 4:9-11

This morning I have been reflecting on just what it means to have a “Sabbath rest.” Jesus did many “works” of healing on the Sabbath. He also walked many miles on Sabbath days. He didn’t follow the traditional Jewish Shabbat of not lifting a finger and he was sharply criticized for not “honoring” it the way the Jewish religious community thought He should. But honor it He did. Each Sunday, we celebrate all over again that He rose from the dead on that day. I can’t think of a better way to honor the Sabbath.

Each person must decide in their heart how best to do that by looking at the examples found in Scripture. Some people decide not to shop or go to stores. For me, it’s more important that I spend some quiet time reflecting, and resting my mind (and body) thinking about what it all means. To carve out a special day is a Holy thing. It’s a way of saying, “This day is different from all the rest.”

It’s hard sometimes to slow the mind down. Harder for some than others. One way to do this is by refusing to think about the task list I have set up for the next day. Another of my favorite ways is by taking a walk. When we went on our recent road trip, I took a walk one morning on a meandering path along the beach. All along the way, someone had left some memorial stones. If I had been distracted I might have missed them but I am so glad I didn’t. It was a Holy walk.

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Jesus is, in fact our very own Sabbath rest. Without Him, there is no rest. He is rest personified.

Happy Holy day to you all…….leave your burdens outside the door. Still your mind and know that you are part of a miracle.

The world is outside……many voices clamoring for attention and the headlines all seem to be screaming. But……the Lord of the Sabbath is still here.

 “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” Matthew 11:28-30

What Matters Most

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This week at work was a challenge. People had emergencies and had to leave midweek, and some were on vacations. All told, we were stretched thin. Another lady and myself toiled at our workstations for three 12 hour shifts with only a few short breaks. By the time I finished last night, my mind was still spinning like a top. I was so eager to get out I left my scarf behind which I never do.

I was so locked into myself at work I barely talked, barely joked. I felt more robot than human. But on the way home last night……There was sky, and cool breeze, and a hint of rain. I drove by restaurants and people were spilling out onto the sidewalks and patios, seated at tables with their drinks and food, casually talking, laughing. Being people.

One of the moments I was able to step out in the fresh air during the week, one of the things I thought about was that life is tragically unbalanced. We have slivers of time outside, in God’s beautiful creation and big chunks of time in artificial surroundings with artificial light and artificial air sucking the life out of us. And I think if we were honest, somehow we all sense we are under a curse. That things are not as they should be.

And the thing is? I can’t get the previous 36 hours back. But I can change how I do things. I can redeem the time I have left, however much of it there is. We say life is short, but do we believe it? Yesterday a card was circulated for a man we work with who lost his year old Grandson to drowning. Time………moments, years we always think we will have more of.

The older I get, the more I realize that there are only a couple of things we really need to learn before we leave this place, and none of the schools of higher learning can teach it. It’s that behind every beautiful mountain vista, every glorious sunset on the beach, every bend in the road, there have been the people standing next to me that matter even more.  As I look back on all the most wonderful moments of my life, there was someone standing next to me with eyes alight, saying, “Will you look at that!” And if it happened that there was no one standing right next to me, I always knew God was.

Even in tragedy and deepest sadness there were moments of hope against hope, laughter  that leaked through. Right after I lost my husband and we were all gathered together at my brother’s house doling out Xanax so we could sleep. Someone said they had more than someone else and we all had a giggling fit through our tears.

Of all the lessons God wants us to get before we leave this place is that the people matter more than anything. And even before that, that God is a people too. and if we get Him wrong, nothing else matters. I guess another way to say it, since God is love is that if we get Love wrong, we get everything else wrong.

Ultimately, how we perceive Him will determine where we spend the rest of eternity in that place where the curse is lifted forever. And sorrow and sighing are only a distant memory.

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“No perfect people allowed.”

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I took a sabbatical from church. I really hadn’t intended to, it just worked out that way. I had a church I loved and then the Pastor retired, after that everything seemed to fall apart. It was like a corporate take-over. One service after we got out I asked Elaine, “Did we just go to church?” It felt like speed church, kind of like speed dating. Fifteen minutes and you’re out the door. The new Pastor was perfect, and so was his wife. I remember she had some fabulously expensive red pumps. Their kids looked perfect too. And the services were scripted and programmed, no room for error. No room for the Holy Spirit either.

There was no prayer, no invitation at the end, I felt like God’s Spirit had checked out.

Then we went to another “Mega-church.”  It was a pretty large congregation but we liked what we heard from the pulpit and the Pastor was a really humble regular guy. We were just on the brink of joining and the same thing happened all over again. The Church lost its lease and the building was sold. The Pastor was given a back-seat, and it was another corporate take-over. Signs were changed out front and the whole church was restructured and made over (there was nothing wrong with it the way it was). The first thing I noticed when I walked in were the flat-screens playing a football game. I was disgusted.

After that, we stayed home on Sundays. Sometimes, we went hiking and had church on the mountain. It was really kind of liberating in a way. After about a year though, we knew we had to start another search. Something wasn’t right. Church has been a part of my life for as long as I can remember. It set the tone for the week. But I still wasn’t ready to go just for the sake of going.

Each day on the way to work I pass this particular church. The sign out front is the first thing I noticed about it. It said, “No perfect people allowed.” I told Elaine, “I think I could probably go there.” We tried it and we liked what we heard, the message was straight out of the Bible, and it was quite possibly the best sermon on “prejudice” I have ever heard. It was a breath of fresh air. There was also a cool-looking woman in funky dress on stage playing an electric violin which I loved.

When the Pastor and his wife served us communion they spoke words of love over us and looked us in the eye. And at the end of the service there were prayer warriors in front at  for anyone who needed it. There was what I had missed. The spoken Word and the Resurrection power of a changed life, and the hopeful probability that you would walk out differently than when you walked in. That’s church.

That’s home.

And it’s good to be back.

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 44: Hope beyond Maundy Thursday

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It was just a spot of yellow I saw from a distance. It drew me into the clearing and I paused, admiring it for blooming there all alone, with no crowd to see it, no fellow companions like those I saw earlier planted in huge clusters along the path. But it bloomed anyway and it made me feel like I was witnessing something tragic and brave and heroic. But I saw it. It showed me that it’s never a waste to bloom no matter where you are.

It’s the last day of Lent and I will never forget these posts. When I prayed, and waited, He never failed to supply the words. Every….. single……time.

But now it’s Maundy Thursday and I am empty. And sad. I feel like I am in that dark little room with Jesus and the disciples right after it all went sour. Right after Judas left and Jesus just informed them that they would all leave Him before the night was out.

Sometimes it’s hard to hope in Heaven when it seems so far away. Sometimes there are just days where you’re stuck in the sadness of Maundy Thursday and life seems like a big tangled ball of twine that’s impossible to manage. I ache for everyone I care about and I can do nothing to make all their situations better. And yet I know this too shall pass.

The sun will rise tomorrow and we will be one day closer to Resurrection. And God fixing everyone and everything once and for all. But until then, there are plenty of things to be thankful for.

I hear my Mom’s voice in my head telling me, “The birds are still singing, Lori” and that makes me want to cry.

I remember the old Indian man in the movie, “Little Big Man” who decided that it was a good day to die.He goes up to the mountain, spreads his blanket and lays down and closes his eyes, face to the sky. You think maybe he did die, but then rain starts to fall and his eyes blink.

He rolls up his blanket and goes home. It may not be a good day to die, but somedays, it’s okay to cry for awhile, then roll up your blanket and go home.

I wait for the LORD, my whole being waits, and in his word I put my hope.” Psalm 62:5

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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.