“Ashes, ashes, we all fall down. Lent, ashes, and mother’s love.

Children sing it joyfully. Dancing in celebration of all the good and playful engagements that childhood is made of. On Ash Wednesday the song played and replayed in mind…

“… ashes, ashes, we all fall down.”

fireSurrender

Ash Wednesday is a reminder that from dust we came and to dust we will return. It is a reminder that the cross is at the end of dust.

We, His beloved, are at the end of dust. 

The forest fire wipes clean the growth of everything that is dead and barren, but in just a little while we see the new growth rise from the ashes. Resurrection.

If we can hold on just a little while longer, and sometimes just a little while longer yet. 

The earth doesn’t want the pain of fire. There is a surrender to the flames that are beyond its control. Beyond our control. Something greater is about to happen, but it is painful, oh so painful right now.

So Lent begins – ashes, ashes, ashes. 

We are reminded that all of life is a circle – a ring around which we play and joyfully sing…

…and the fire where we fall.

We are feeble. We are burned. It’s terrifying. Exhausting. We cry out for answers in the midst of the flames but all we get back is the crackling of the fire. Noise, chaos, confusion. We strain to listen for that still small voice…                (I Kings 19:12).

…we know you are there God. We are listening for your to speak. We are begging you to respond.

Are you weeping too? God my Father – is your son grieving? Is your Spirit moving? Is the Trinity mourning with me? What does your dance look like today?  

My friend is in the fire with her little girl. Her beloved. Claire has been struggling with life-threatening medical issues for too long.  Pain for too long. A ring of ashes without the joy. Every day in March is an anniversary of one year of hospital stays. One year of turmoil. One year of suffering

Lent ushers in a long year of ashes for Claire.

The pain and the fear are unbearable. Yet God remains silent in the midst of it all and the questions rise. The unbreakable wall between the fire and safety grows bigger. All God has to do is shout and the wall comes down.

Why don’t you shout Lord? 

Why are You silent?

Why don’t you break down the wall between death and life, winter and spring, suffering and joy?

You are in the whispers, the gentle, the consoling. We have to strain our ears to listen and the noise drowns out Your voice.

Yet, You are there in the pain. In the fire. In the suffering.

In the Love

He doesn’t shout over our fears or command over the fire – He walks in the pain, through the flames, consumes the fire.

God stills our hearts. He embraces our soul. He picks us up when we fall in the ashes. He cradles the grief, the loss, the emptiness, and the questions. 

We may not know when, or how, or always have the answers we hope for – the longed for answers…

…but we have Him. 

And he remains. Even when it feels as if he is an eternity away.

God is in the dance of pain and suffering and leading the ring of weeping. He is holding our hands with a grasp that never, ever lets go. He is breathing, and moving, and flowing through the new life that springs from destruction. It’s just a tiny indistinguishable seed among the ruins right now but it is there…

…growing, yearning, reaching for the life.

Waiting

Waiting

He is nurturing the seed and bringing life. To Him, it is already a forest full of grace and beauty, planted before we were formed – growing as we wait.

We wait for the end of times that is just the beginning of something greater. As mother’s we question and cry and suffer, and ponder…

… and Hope.

We hope with vision. We believe that what we don’t yet see is greater than we can imagine. We hope for the rains. We hope for the sun to shine. We hope for the light.

We hope for Life. 

fb_img_1488550724530God, our mother hearts wait for you. Among the ashes, we wait. 

We wait.

We love.

We surrender.

Please pray for Claire and Claire’s family. 

(Ring a Ring o’ Roses is not about the plague, that is an urban legend.)

For more on Lent and Ash Wednesday.

when the 3

He is Risen Indeed: Setting Women Free

The gospels all have slightly different versions of that glorious Resurrection morning when death was conquered once and for all. But one thing remains – the stone was rolled away from the tomb and we were set free, free, free. Women especially can rejoice in the breath of Life poured out on resurrection morning. 

tomb

Freedom

Without the cross there wouldn’t be a Resurrection and without the Resurrection there wouldn’t be a Christianity.  Without Christianity, Jesus would be just another man who lived and died, and the tomb would be something that sealed the grave of a nice but crazy man from Galilee who didn’t really deserve death. History would not have been irrevocably altered. Paul would not have spread the gospel which reached to the furthest corners of western civilizations.

Mom’s wouldn’t be teaching their little ones about the Risen Lord while they walk down dusty dirt roads, or reading the “Easter story” snuggling together on the couch before bed. Dad’s wouldn’t be complimenting their gussied up pretty girls on their way to Easter morning service, or straightening the tie of their little daddy look-a-likes.

tomb 3

Expectation

 

Easter represents a new life birthed from the freedom to love God and be loved by Him. The tombs that kept us captive in the “never-enoughs” and “too little’s” of our driven culture fall away as we live in expectation of the newness of life that God does in us, through us, and for us. 

The gentle winds of spring tickle with new life, stirring hearts that have grown cold from a long winter of where’s, and why’s, and how long’s. The stone is rolled away from the dead and barren of the I wants into the Living Spirit of  Your’e Enough. 

We witness lambs frolicking in joy and think about our Suffering Lamb, slain and Risen to breathe joy into our steps. 

The rolling away of the stone is an important element of the Resurrection story. The rolling away of the stone reveals that there is nothing of human flesh in the Resurrection story . It is the power of God from the cross to the grave, to eternity. The power of the Resurrection gives us life, but the rolling away of the stone exemplifies God’s setting us free to live that Kingdom life. 

In Christ’s Resurrected Freedom we witness –

Lent Love 1

Deliverance

God didn’t raise Him up and then say, “OK Son, I have gotten you this far. Now you are going to have to do some hard work to get free of the burden. Oops, sorry, my bad.” 

God removed the stone so that His resurrected Son, the God-Man, could walk freely into His new position of authority.

Winter often lasts for many years, sometimes a lifetime for the never-enoughs. They simply can’t move the stone leaving their deliverance ever so close, but behind impenetrable rock.

They can see it, touch it, feel the nuances of every groove with their fingertips, even smell the spring breeze flowing between the cracks, tempting them with thoughts of what if, but the stone barring the exit from the tomb is just too heavy to push completely out of the way. 

The stone rolled against Jesus tomb most likely weighed one to two tons. The stone was usually set at an incline that sloped down from the sides to the center,making it easier to close, but nearly impossible to open.  It was positioned on the outside of the opening to the tomb with no way to roll it away from the inside. It was too  heavy for a couple of women to roll away.

“When the Sabbath was past, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices, so that they might go and anoint him.  And very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen, they went to the tomb.  And they were saying to one another, ‘Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance of the tomb?’ And looking up, they saw that the stone had been rolled back—it was very large. And entering the tomb, they saw a young man sitting on the right side, dressed in a white robe, and they were alarmed” (Mark 16:1-5). 

Take a good look at that picture, close your eyes and think about it. It is a dark place, cold, without sunshine. Thoughts begin to swirl with word like,  hopeless… weak… trapped… suffocating… impossible… never… abandoned…  I would freak out locked in there! 

A never-enough cannot roll away stones. 

Oh, dear sweet never-enoughs, we don’t have to. You don’t need to freak out over the darkness or difficulties. It doesn’t matter if you are without strength, feeling trapped, or left alone. There is a God who rolled away the stone. We not only get to walk from the tomb delivered, but we get to skip out in the loving embrace of Joy. Like lambs in springtime we have been set free. 

Freedom. Expectation. Deliverance.

“But I am just a woman…” 

So were they.

And he said to them, “Do not be alarmed. You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has risen; he is not here. See the place where they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going before you to Galilee. (Mark 16:6-7). 

The very first who were given the task of telling the Good News were women. The very first Evangelists were women!  No stone placed in front of us is too big for God to move when He sends us into His service.

Into Holy Love.

” Now after the Sabbath, toward the dawn of the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb. And behold, there was a great earthquake, for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven and came and rolled back the stone… He is not here, for he has risen… Then go quickly and tell his disciples that he has risen from the dead… So they departed quickly from the tomb with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples… Then Jesus said to them, Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee, and there they will see me” (Matthew 28, selected portions).

When Christ rose from the dead setting us free from the tombs of our minds and hearts he also us free to go.  We were commissioned by the Risen Lord into His purposes from the first moments. Now, pay attention that at that time, in that historic period, women were completely oppressed. The words of women were not respected so that even Jesus disciples who learned at His feet alongside women doubted the truth of their story. In Jesus speaking to them says something important – He said women were equally as important in spreading the gospel message.

Why do you think Jesus told women first? He could have waited. He set a precedent of freedom from gender oppression first at the tomb! He is Risen daughters, you are free!

Minds are free. Hearts are free. Lives are free. 

Bear with me as you read all the gospel accounts. We aren’t called just once into spreading the Good News to both men and women, but in all four gospel accounts. 

“He is not here, but has risen… Now it was Mary Magdalene and Joanna and Mary the mother of James and the other women with them who told these things to the apostles, but these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them” (Luke 24). 

“Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?’ Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, ‘Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.’Jesus said to her, “Mary.’ She turned and said to him in Aramaic,“Rabboni!’ (which means Teacher). Jesus said to her, “Do not cling to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’ Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”   (John 20: 15-18).

Freedom. Expectation. Deliverance. 

Power. 

Fear not. God has moved the stone. 

 

 

 

 

Holy Love in the Philippines

As we enter into the weekend, please consider how selfless servants in developing countries spend their Holy Week, and may we learn from them as we read the words of Filipino volunteer, Bryan Mattilano,

Holy 5” Compassionate Reach International , together with my family and the Barangay [Village] Health Workers (BHW), initiated feeding operations in our barangay beginning] Holy Thursday.

As Christ dined with His apostles to initiate the Eucharist, we may also share His Body and Blood as we serve the least of our brethren with compassion, especially those who are victims of calamities.”

Holy Week11

Thursday: Supper of Salvation

Day 1 “There were 192 identified malnourished children in the barangay, and 163 of them participated in the feeding program. All the children were weighed and the height was measured. The MUAC strip (Mid Upper Arm Circumference) was also used to determine how malnourished each child is.

Holy 2

The menu was composed of rice, chicken adobo, egg, vegetables, and hot milk.

Holy 3

The Barangay Health Workers (BHW) identified each of the malnourished children in every purok (sections of the barangay), getting the weight, height and the MUAC measurements, for the locations of the feeding, and follow-up home visitations.

Holy 6

From 163 respondents, 103 of them (63%) are already at risk for becoming malnourished, while 38 children (23%), were identified as malnourished. Only 22 children, (less than 13%) were in normal ranges for nutritional adequacy.

Holy 1This malnutrition is due to scarcity of resources: sufficient food, water, sanitation, and hygiene, brought about by the devastation of Super-typhoon Yolanda, in November of 2014.

San Jose, Dulag, Philippines

San Jose, Dulag, Philippines 1/2014

The super-typhoon also destroyed the local crops, rerouted water sources, killed coconut trees, and negatively affected the landscape and other resources in this fishing and farming community.

IMG_0489

The feeding operation was just on time with the Holy Thursday as Christ dines with His apostles to initiate the Eucharist.

Holy Week 9

May we also share His Body and Blood as we serve the least of our brethren with compassion, especially those who are victims of calamities.

Holy 4

More than anybody who are most vulnerable are the children…. ” 

Holy Week 10

PLEASE NOTE:   Filipino volunteer Bryan Mattilano, is a professor at the University in Tacloban.

Bryan grew up in San Jose, and his parents and family still reside in the village (barangay). San Jose is a 40 minute commute by jeepney or other public transportation from Tacloban. This work of great love and compassion, is done by Bryan, his family, and other volunteers, without pay, and during their “vacation” times.

Bryan, Chp Jamie 1

Bryan and Chp. Jamie – January of 2014, providing trauma support for the local population, and trauma training for the teachers of the elementary school.

Please consider becoming a sponsor of the feeding initiative in San Jose so we can continue to help rebuild lives, while caring for the least of these.

Compassionate Reach is a volunteer organization.  100% of donations go towards helping the poor, needy, and traumatized victims of disasters.

For more information email:  jamie@compassionatereach.org  and go to our website.

Thank you on behalf of San Jose and the volunteers of Compassionate Reach International. 

Contact us to find out how you can train as trauma chaplains, and/ or volunteer for mission outreach and disaster response, with Compassionate Reach International.

The Face of Jesus in the Philippines; Holy Love

As we enter into the weekend, please consider how selfless servants in developing countries spend their Holy Week, and may we learn from them as we read the words of Filipino volunteer, Bryan Mattilano,

Holy 5” Compassionate Reach International , together with my family and the Barangay [Village] Health Workers (BHW), initiated feeding operations in our barangay beginning] Holy Thursday.

As Christ dined with His apostles to initiate the Eucharist, we may also share His Body and Blood as we serve the least of our brethren with compassion, especially those who are victims of calamities.”

Holy Week11

Thursday: Supper of Salvation

Day 1 “There were 192 identified malnourished children in the barangay, and 163 of them participated in the feeding program. All the children were weighed and the height was measured. The MUAC strip (Mid Upper Arm Circumference) was also used to determine how malnourished each child is.

Holy 2

The menu was composed of rice, chicken adobo, egg, vegetables, and hot milk.

Holy 3

The Barangay Health Workers (BHW) identified each of the malnourished children in every purok (sections of the barangay), getting the weight, height and the MUAC measurements, for the locations of the feeding, and follow-up home visitations.

Holy 6

From 163 respondents, 103 of them (63%) are already at risk for becoming malnourished, while 38 children (23%), were identified as malnourished. Only 22 children, (less than 13%) were in normal ranges for nutritional adequacy.

Holy 1This malnutrition is due to scarcity of resources: sufficient food, water, sanitation, and hygiene, brought about by the devastation of Super-typhoon Yolanda, in November of 2014.

San Jose, Dulag, Philippines

San Jose, Dulag, Philippines 1/2014

The super-typhoon also destroyed the local crops, rerouted water sources, killed coconut trees, and negatively affected the landscape and other resources in this fishing and farming community.

IMG_0489

The feeding operation was just on time with the Holy Thursday as Christ dines with His apostles to initiate the Eucharist.

Holy Week 9

May we also share His Body and Blood as we serve the least of our brethren with compassion, especially those who are victims of calamities.

Holy 4

More than anybody who are most vulnerable are the children…. ” 

Holy Week 10

PLEASE NOTE:   Filipino volunteer Bryan Mattilano, is a professor at the University in Tacloban.

Bryan grew up in San Jose, and his parents and family still reside in the village (barangay). San Jose is a 40 minute commute by jeepney or other public transportation from Tacloban. This work of great love and compassion, is done by Bryan, his family, and other volunteers, without pay, and during their “vacation” times.

Bryan, Chp Jamie 1

Bryan and Chp. Jamie – January of 2014, providing trauma support for the local population, and trauma training for the teachers of the elementary school.

Please consider becoming a sponsor of the feeding initiative in San Jose so we can continue to help rebuild lives, while caring for the least of these.

Compassionate Reach is a volunteer organization.  100% of donations go towards helping the poor, needy, and traumatized victims of disasters.

For more information email:  jamie@compassionatereach.org  and go to our website.

Thank you on behalf of San Jose and the volunteers of Compassionate Reach International. 

Contact us to find out how you can train as trauma chaplains, and/ or volunteer for mission outreach and disaster response, with Compassionate Reach International.

Lenten Longings – God’s Will in the Moment

He rode into Jerusalem on an donkey. He knew exactly how the short remainder of His life was going to play out. Like a soldier facing a dangerous mission with the possibility of dying; only for Him death was not a possibility but a definite end to His journey. A life lived specifically to suffer, A life lived specifically to die. A life lived to love. A life lived in God’s will.

As vast and numerous as the stars in the sky are the moments we live in the presence of God.

Lenten Longings stars

I missed the last few Lenten services as the realities of this world caught me. First I was away tending to our recent family crisis, then as of Tuesday night I’ve been sick- some weird kind of stomach bug, headache, funky, illness that I seem to be recovering from, then a few hours later I’m back to feeling awful. Most of the time I can’t put my glasses on to read or work without feeling almost immediately sick again. Too much movement also makes me feel weird so I move and sit…move and sit… Needless to say, I have not gotten much done.

I have always thought of God’s will for my life in the grand scheme, the big picture things that effect my destiny. That is how God sees it as He is not caught in the time warp I am. I wrongly assumed I should look through His lens for many years. As I have longed to know His will for my life, I didn’t stop to consider that I was already in His will. I thought of God’s will in my life as the things that I needed to do, the places I should or should not be, the house to buy, the car to drive, where the kids (or I) should go to college, should I go back to college, what should I do with the ministry, should we go on vacation, how to handle our finances (or lack of) what is God’s will for my life...

I pray for God’s will in my children’s lives.

Without ceasing. It is tough to see God in the pain and choices at times, but He’s there.

It isn’t that these things aren’t important and are all a part of God’s will, but they are the big picture, and not the moment by moment presence of God’s will in our lives.

Our lives are a symphony played note by note.

Lenten Longins Sam cello

God’s will isn’t about the things we do, but about who we are. It’s about who will become as we live each moment. It is in the destiny He is fulfilling every nano-second. Every breath.

1 Sam.16:7 reads, “But the LORD said to Samuel, “Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The LORD does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.”  

When Jesus was crucified we were given eternal life with Him, not reserved for the day we die, but in an ever present relationship through the Holy Spirit. When he bore our sins and sicknesses on the cross, he bore the past, present, and future – all of the ways, all of the times, all of the places, and all of the events where we would miss the mark and sin. As fallen humanity, corrupted through Adam, every moment we breathe is a moment we sin.

Yet every moment we breathe is a moment in HIs presence.

“Is there anyplace I can go to avoid your Spirit?
    to be out of your sight?
If I climb to the sky, you’re there!
    If I go underground, you’re there!
If I flew on morning’s wings
    to the far western horizon,
You’d find me in a minute—
    you’re already there waiting!: Ps. 139:7-11

You are already waiting for me God? No matter where I go you are there.

He is always present – never out of reach, in the same room, and He never shuts the door.

We do, when we wrongly believe He has.

Lenten Longings door

We live in an eternal moment with an eternal God. 

It takes courage to live in the moment. It takes courage to face an unknown future. It’s not the same kind of courage that Jesus faced as he approached Jerusalem, a soldier must face going into combat, or a person diagnosed with a fatal illness must embrace. It is not the same courage that says “yes” Jesus when the answer means death.

It is the courage that says in this moment. God is all that matters. In this moment, God is with me. In this moment, I am perfectly loved. In this moment, I am in His will simply by being in His presence.

There is grace for the moment, in every moment.

When we live in grace, we live in God’s will, and He is all we need.

I am only longing for one thing right now. I hope the longing never changes.

Your will for my life God, is simply You.

Lenten Losses (Wk.4 – 5)

I missed the last two Wednesdays of the community Lenten services. I did not miss God who reveals Himself the most clearly during suffering.

The blood was dripping down from the open wounds in His hands. My name was scribbled clearly across the palms. An image from God to remind me that His blood was shed for me – that his suffering was my suffering. It brought such a joyful reminder at that time, about two months ago, when I was thanking Him for loving me. Last week after walking through a fire destroyed home – an event that never should have happened, I asked him to show me how much He loves them. I saw the palms of his hands with the names of my daughter and grandsons. Each name was painstakingly written across His palms, reminding me again of how He brings resurrection out of the ashes of Lent – the ashes of suffering.

David’s name was written too – I can see them all written clearly. The names of the people I love most in the world who have been called to this dark place of humanity to wander the desert of grief.  C.S. Lewis said, “No one ever told me that grief felt so like fear.”  Why didn’t I understand before how much fear also feels like grief?

The desert is full of mirages; places where you think you see a glimmer of hope; but it just dissipates as you move towards the wavering vision in a twisting, tormenting, torturing play. Yet, it is a glimmer of hope none-the-less, so you move slowly forward, always believing that the cool refreshing waters may lie just beyond the horizon.

lenten losses 2Fires, losses, deaths, uncertainty  – feelings of insanity that grasp your mind as they flutter through from one side to the other. Pounding headaches, confusion. Tears.

Lots of tears.

The overwhelming emotions of love – in pain. The Gethsemane moments when a loved one cries out, “Why have you forsake me?”  And I cry out, “why have you forsake them?”

This was the best Lent of my adult life. The first Lent I have celebrated in thirty-five years, and full of the richness I have missed. It’s been a year and a half of resting in God’s love and finding Him in the places I never really dared to look- inside myself. In finding the inner peace of the living Spirit, the outer Presence became my living, breathing reality.

Hidden places. Quiet places.

I have realized in the last two weeks that the only thing I value in this life anymore is God, and people – mostly the people I love.

The past is a distant memory – the Christ is my present reality.

Some of the scars still remain, some wounds remain partially opened. Healing is a process. The process takes longer when you don’t have a reprieve – a time to catch your breath before the next stretch of sand looms before you. David hasn’t even stopped to look at the sand marked “death of sister” for dealing with “love of family.”

He hasn’t had time to stop and see Jesus is writing in the sand, “I love you. I am here.”

The human side of me – the flesh, still wills for things of this world, comforts, vacations (Oh how Dave and I long for a real vacation), a more stress free life, that Dave didn’t have to work so hard, ministry finances to do His work …but it is the people who matter. It is for love of people we strive.

It is also the people – the relationships that cause the most pain. Things can be replaced, things don’t reject or get rejected, things are without depth, love, or interest. Selfless loves takes the nails in the place of someone else. It is not a thing, but a Person.

lenten losses 3Selfless love is excruciating and more often mistaken for something that it isn’t, rather than accepted for what it is. It is called words like insanity, hypocrisy, heresy, and blasphemy.

This Lent will be remembered for losses, but it will mostly be remembered for the people – the ones who Jesus would call “friend,” who stepped forward to help, email, call, text, or donate.

Not the friends, acquaintances, or community I expected, or that I was even hoping for (in my own hope of relationships I deemed should matter), but in the ones who were moved with compassion despite my church affiliation, friendship status, or the reason for this trial. Some of the people who expressed love know us by reputation, by ministry, by how we have helped others, or simply because they know one of our “great” kids.

I am thankful for the ones who prayed.

Churches who don’t even know us, but took time in their service or small groups to petition God on the behalf of our family. I am indebted to the body of Christ who rose up to be the hands and feet of God. Individuals who gave of their precious time to lift us before the Father in worship and petition.

There is always a lifting up. There is always a resurrection.

Death must always come first. Some individuals run from death, avoid it, are deceived by it, or fail to recognize it. They stay busy talking and doing. They want to pray it away, confess it away, scorn it, or fear it.

There are always hidden treasures buried in the dark places of death, but they have to be embraced to be realized.

This I have learned.

This I trust.

I’ll lead you to buried treasures,
    secret caches of valuables—
Confirmations that it is, in fact, I, God,
    the God of Israel, who calls you by your name…
I am God, the only God there is.
    Besides me there are no real gods…
I’m the one who armed you for this work,
    though you don’t even know me,
So that everyone, from east to west, will know
    that I have no god-rivals.
    I am God, the only God there is.”
Isaiah 45:2-6  The Message. 

I can only hope that God will use my life and experiences, and the lives of my children for His glory and for His purposes. It’s what the scriptures teach us – it’s what we believe. I will choose to trust that He is continuing to arm me for His work – the work of shedding light into the darkness of suffering. I will trust He is changing me by His work and will.

I have handed the lives of my children to Him, and though He may slay me, I will also trust in His wisdom and His ways for them.

I will trust He is forming light in my own heart and banishing the God rivals of this world that distract me from loving Him and loving others.

lenten losses 4Love hurts, but the losses make the resurrection more visible, more powerful, and more promising. Without death, there can be no resurrection.

 

(Note: On 3/7 one of our daughters who is six months pregnant lost everything in a house fire, escaping just in time with her two children. The greatest loss is her dreams – wrapped up in the painful and avoidable reason and cause of the fire. Some dreams that are lost can never be, and should never be replaced. In the midst of of that situation, my husband was notified of the death of his sister –  Lenten losses.

 

Lenten Love (Wk 3)

Suffering comes in many sizes, ages, shapes, weights, degrees, educations, and cultures.  He doesn’t play favorites or care about our economic or social status. It doesn’t matter if we are religious – or if we shake our fist at the sky in derision. Often he visits without notice and leaves abruptly; sometimes he chooses to stay with us for a long duration. Suffering is the great equalizer.

Suffering masks the presence of what is real. 

Lent LoveIn the movie the Matrix, Morpheus explains to Neo,

“Let me tell you why you’re here. You’re here because you know something. What you know you can’t explain, but you feel it. You’ve felt it your entire life, that there’s something wrong with the world. You don’t know what it is, but it’s there, like a splinter in your mind, driving you mad… You can feel it when you go to work… when you go to church…when you pay your taxes. It is the world that has been pulled over your eyes to blind you from the truth.”

To blind us from the truth of God’s love.

There isn’t a cure for suffering, because once you walk alongside him, he changes you forever; but there is an antidote – “something that prevents or counteracts injurious or unwanted effects.”

lent love 6Love

The other night someone asked me what I do, and after discussing family and school, my ministry as a chaplain came up. I mentioned how it is beyond words for me to describe what happens when a person finds hope and healing in their suffering. This led the conversation onto a theological path that I had no intentions of following. Sometimes once we get a foot on that path, it is difficult to change the direction.

The person I was speaking to said they had never experienced suffering. I chose not to tell my story. The simplest of explanations were irrelevant as I found myself staying focused on the One who rescued me. Past theological perspectives swirled quietly around and tried to pull me down into an abyss of PTSD, judgement, and questions of “Why?” The thoughts and images fought for a place in my mind as I smiled attentively, and listened to the voice the Holy Spirit resounding more loudly, “It is finished. That includes you. Never ever forget His great love.”

Ten years ago it would have crippled me. Seven years ago I would have continue to chase the demons of why God had purposed to drive me through the tunnels of suffering which led to death, confusion, chaos, and hopelessness. Five years ago I would have rambled my defense, all the while hearing the fragmented voices of judgment questioning if I had done something horribly wrong – wondering if there was something horribly wrong with me. 

Lent Love 1I did do something horribly wrong – I made a horribly wrong choices which led to death.  But Jesus did something incredibly right which led to redemptive life.

God’s love is the antidote to the “unwanted effects” of suffering.

God is love. 

When someone is walking with suffering, Love takes them by the hand and leads the way through the murky depths. Love bandages the wounds and feeds the soul. Theology gets replaced by mercy, doctrine is put aside for compassionate acts, self-ambition is buried, and the law is drowned by the fountains of grace.

Lent love 2

“Just then a religion scholar stood up with a question to test Jesus. ‘Teacher, what do I need to do to get eternal life?’

He answered, ‘What’s written in God’s Law? How do you interpret it?’

He said, “That you love the Lord your God with all your passion and prayer and muscle and intelligence—and that you love your neighbor as well as you do yourself.”

‘Good answer!’ said Jesus. ‘Do it and you’ll live.’

Looking for a loophole, he asked, ‘And just how would you define ‘neighbor’?’

Jesus answered by telling a story. ‘There was once a man traveling from Jerusalem to Jericho. On the way he was attacked by robbers. They took his clothes, beat him up, and went off leaving him half-dead. Luckily, a priest was on his way down the same road, but when he saw him he angled across to the other side. Then a Levite religious man showed up; he also avoided the injured man.

A Samaritan traveling the road came on him. When he saw the man’s condition, his heart went out to him. He gave him first aid, disinfecting and bandaging his wounds. Then he lifted him onto his donkey, led him to an inn, and made him comfortable. In the morning he took out two silver coins and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, ‘Take good care of him. If it costs any more, put it on my bill—I’ll pay you on my way back.’

What do you think? Which of the three became a neighbor to the man attacked by robbers?’

The one who treated him kindly,’ the religion scholar responded.

Jesus said, ‘Go and do the same.”’                    Luke 10:25-37 The Message

lent love 7

We can only reveal to others what we have embraced for ourselves.

It was three o’clock in the afternoon one day last week, and I hadn’t eaten yet. I knew there was little in the house so I drove through a food chain to pick up soup and salad for myself, and a brownie for my son who had just joined me. As I left the take out window and rounded a corner, he was there holding a sign, “Homeless.” I stopped next to him and prompted my son to ask him, “Have you eaten yet?” He said he hadn’t. We quickly handed him the bag of hot soup, salad, and a water bottle and he replied, “Thank you. God bless you.” As we pulled away I looked at Sam and laughed, “Darn, I’m hungry.” Immediately the Lord spoke to my heart and I said, “Sam, it was so easy to give him a bag of food, but what we didn’t do was give him our love. If we see him again, we need to take the time to invite him inside the restaurant for a meal, and learn about his life.”

lent love 4Dave was waiting in line at a Piano guys concert with Sam, birthday gifts to the two of them from our daughter, when he gave his last ten dollars to homeless vet to catch the train. As he watched him walk away, he questioned if they could have done more.

We only lived a portion of the Good Samaritan’s love. It was within my means to walk beside the homeless man, and possibly bandage some wounds. Even if just for a brief moment. What would it have meant instead of ten dollars, to drive him to N.Y.C. and in doing so, maybe change a life by an act of Love.

Last night in a powerful Lenten message of love and suffering, my brother in Christ gave an example, “Ever notice how everyone who gets a flat tire can laugh about it a week or a month later? She shorter the distance between the flat and the laugh, the healthier the body, the keener the mind, the stronger the spirit.”  He expounded upon the love of God expressed to others in their suffering. He has been there, and love won.

We are called to stop and help with the heavy burdens of life’s tires, not to drive by and call a tow truck, or even hand out tools. We are to help restore the laugh.

lenten 5The words of others from varying backgrounds – justice, judgment, forgiveness, or deliverance no longer hold any ground over the actions of Love. What a powerful, irreversible, and life changing moment takes root when the love of God and others, provides the antidote. The unwanted effects of suffering become the channel by which our own love is deepened, restored, and extended to others.

Paul said in Romans 11:33,

 “Have you ever come on anything quite like this extravagant generosity of God, this deep, deep wisdom? It’s way over our heads. We’ll never figure it out.”  

Is there anyone around who can explain God?
Anyone smart enough to tell him what to do?
Anyone who has done him such a huge favor
    that God has to ask his advice?
Everything comes from him;
Everything happens through him;
Everything ends up in him.
Always glory! Always praise!
    Yes. Yes. Yes.”

I learned during my conversations the other night that flat tires no longer phase me. My laugh comes within hours, even moments.

Love is winning.

God grant us the grace to love.

Lent as Listening (Week 2)

He spoke about suffering. Putting aside the theological debates surrounding the “problem of pain,” “why bad things happen to good people,” and “sovereignty,” to speak about the One who knows suffering intimately. He knew that those who were not yet acquainted with grief wouldn’t understand the message. He spoke from his heart.

There will always be individuals who never really know grief, choosing to quote it away with religious platitudes, or push it deep under the surface where it can’t be revealed, felt, or understood. A “new creation” means the past is over. Deal with it. 

Jesus gardenI held back the tears as I listened to his words. I know the place he spoke from, not just from my story, but from the thousands of others whose pain I now share. Afterwards I spoke to another minister of the Good News, whose kindness and remembrance of me touched my heart. Later, I shared with him and his wife the deep healing I have experienced in the past year, admitting I had almost given up believing I would be completely free of symptoms of PTSD. Free from anger. Free to love.

Healed.

I left for the first time in three years thinking perhaps I was finding a home in this community, as I have found my home rooted firmly in the unconditional love of Christ. Finally settled in a church with people who dare to love deeply, and are learning to risk wildly; and in Christian community of fellow ministers I can connect with under the cross of Christ. People who listen to the story of pain and redemption woven deeply into the lives of others; fragile humanity who endeavors to feel the souls of those they meet.  People who understand that relationships take work – in truth.

Listening people. 

Last week I spoke to one of my daughters who shared about an important relationship – a future relative – who doesn’t care to listen to her when she speaks. If she begins to share who she is, desiring to develop a relationship based on truth, the other person immediately preaches, lectures, and attempts to convince her of her need to change her thinking, and the error of her ways. She no longer tries to have a relationship with this person, settling instead for superficiality and shallow, non-redemptive words.

I mentioned that people react this way from their own defenses, out of their own pain and fear. I apologized for behaving this way myself during her childhood. Mostly I listened. Why is it more important for the church in this country to do – to speak, rather than to be. Why are we as Christ followers as competitive as the world we live in? Do we hear His words to be in the world but not of it?

 People are more interested in defending their beliefs than listening to another’s pain. 

jesus washing feetJesus humbly washed the feet of the ones He loved, even to the one who would betray Him to death. Perhaps when someone opens their mouth to speak, we need to pick up the towel and bowl as He did and humble ourselves by listening.

If we listen to the story of another – their beliefs, their pain – we have to admit that some things in the cosmos simply don’t make sense. Maybe we don’t have all the answers. Maybe God is slightly bigger than our understanding of temporal things. We have to acknowledge that if bad things can happen to them, then perhaps they could happen to us. We have to accept that what is theoretical in our lives could very well become experiential. It requires humility to embrace the opinion of another, rather than  defend the truth we think we know.

We need to be attentive in listening, learning, and finding the Sacred in the lives of others, rather than focusing on theological differences.

There is no greater story in a person’s life than the one that rings of redemption. Without the suffering of Christ, we would not have been redeemed by Him. If we were to sit at His feet right now, would we be more interested in speaking to Him about the reasons for His suffering, or which of our beliefs held the most theological truth? Would it really matter if our lives had been played as chess pieces or as a result of our own choices? Or would we lean into His suffering and embrace Him, experiencing the pain, joy, and redemption that we hold common?

As I approached my home last night I began to weep uncontrollably. I sat in my car in the driveway, and for a moment I was taken back to the trauma of my son’s death, the brutality of pain, and the wounds of my soul. I leaned deeply into the grief as I leaned deeply into Christ. I felt the warmth of His blood as it poured down and covered me. I experienced the embrace of  His resurrected joy. I no longer ask Him why.

It no longer matters.

Just as Peter taught in last night’s message, it wasn’t my theology that held me in that moment of pain – it was the presence of Christ and His wounds. We have been given an opportunity to hold others in their pain as we listen and bow before the One who makes all wounds equal.

May God help us to be better listeners this Lenten season as our own healing pours forth as a balm upon others.

It is by His wounds we are made whole.

 

Lent as Unifying

When I saw them standing upfront in their robes, placing the sign of the cross with ashes upon the foreheads of those kneeling before them, I was transported back thirty-five years to my last Ash Wednesday service as a practicing Catholic. Evangelicals aren’t known for celebrating the season of Lent, yet in recent years there has been an increase in Lenten practices. There seems to be a few reasons for this, but many people attest to finding the need for some tradition in a country that is global, instant, and quickly losing touch with the past.

lent-purpleLent is meant to mirror the season of Passover and the 40 days are representative of the time that Jesus spent in the Wilderness, and Moses in the desert. It expands 46 days with Sundays padded in as feast days, when individuals can rest from their weekly fast.

At this past Wednesday’s service I was accompanied by Dave, who having been raised in a Baptist home had never experienced an Ash Wednesday service.  The service we attended was a uniting of the local Ecumenical clergy, as well as my own faith tradition and some other “evangelicals” all part of this pastors group I have embraced.

Some noted theologians are against the idea of evangelicals embracing aspects of Catholicism, stating that it is a smorgasbord of pick and choose  liberality, i.e. celebrate Lent, throw out infant baptism, celebrate Ash Wednesday, throw out transubstantiation. With a critical eye, I can understand this kind of thinking and yet, I believe this is more as a point of commonality rather than opposition. I believe this can enhance the evangelicals thinking about what they are picking and choosing and open up the possibilities of different doctrines as just that – doctrines – not the identifying basis for a fellowship under the Lordship of Jesus Christ.

For David, his first Ash Wednesday was both “educational” and put him in touch with “church history.” He felt connected to the Universal Church in knowing that roughly a minimum of 1.5 billion worldwide would also take the sign of the cross on their foreheads to be reminded that it is from dust we have come, and to dust we will return. As for me, I was put back in touch with the God of my youth, who was not so different from the God I now worship – except now I have a richness of history and a deeper relationship based on knowledge and understanding that was lacking in my past.

I for one am very glad that I am being reunited with a theological, liturgical, and historical depth to my Christian faith in unity with others who are revering Jesus as Lord of Lord and King of Kings.

This seems like another opportunity to remember the words of Christ in Mark 9:39-41,

“But Jesus said, “Do not hinder him, for there is no one who will perform a miracle in My name, and be able soon afterward to speak evil of Me. For he who is not against us is for us. “For whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because of your name as followers of Christ, truly I say to you, he will not lose his reward.”

They will know us by our love. David and I are both looking forward to this Wednesday’s Lenten service with anticipation.