Friday, April 14, 2017

From Death to Life- My Easter Story

This is my favorite week of the year.  Liturgically,  it is known as Holy Week.  It all begins with Palm Sunday and ends with Resurrection Sunday, what we all call Easter.  Even as a girl, Easter was the biggest holy-day of the calendar year. New dress and shoes and tights.  Egg hunts.  Church breakfast after sunrise service. And while most Sundays I was just distracting myself with coloring or my imagination during the sermon, Easter was the one week that I paid attention. It was the week the pastor brought the message of Jesus in a big way.  I would tingle with excitement over his words.

I grew up and I rejected God, though.  I still believed in him,  I probably even went to Easter service and felt some stirrings inside, but I was not a follower of Jesus. In February of 1999, though, my brother started bugging me to go to church with him.  "This place is different," he said.  He bothered me enough that I finally agreed to get out of bed one Sunday morning and go.

Walking into that church, which didn't look like a church, I immediately knew something was different.  It wasn't just the informality of dress, or the lack of pews.  I sensed that people wanted to be there. When the worship music began, to a full band, it was easy to join in and sing- and sing, they did. They raised their hands in worship.  It seemed to me an alternate universe compared to the churches I had grown up in- and yet, it was also familiar. I remembered how to find books in my Bible. I had heard some of these songs here and there. I had heard the Bible passage many times. The strangest thing was this:

A young man I had grown up going to church with was passing by and my brother stopped him. This kid, he and his brothers had gone wild and crazy in high school. They had gotten into drugs and had a punk band. I had heard the rumors.  All three of these guys were in church.  My brother asked this youngest one, "Have you decided if you're joining the army or not?" And his reply? " I don't know, man. Whatever the Lord wants. Whatever the Lord wants."

This blew me away.  Left me speechless.  I had never heard anyone talk this way, let alone an eighteen year old.  Whatever the Lord wants?  What is that?! What about what you want?

The teaching from the Bible was different, too.  The pastor taught with power and excitement. I could tell he knew his stuff and I liked that.  What he said was interesting. And I was compelled to come back to this alternate church universe. I went again that night. And from then on, I kept going Sunday morning and Sunday night. I sometimes went by myself.  Each time, I was getting more and more convinced in my heart that I needed Jesus. And I really, really wanted him, too.  There was this incredible balance of conviction of my sin, but also the depth of God's love for me. That Easter Sunday, April 4th, 1999, I left the service having made my final decision. I was following Jesus. No turning back.

Perhaps that's why, still, this time of year means so much to me.  I look back over my life and see the Lord's fingerprints in so many ways. He was drawing me to himself, luring me, wooing me, stirring in my empty heart and making me long for him.  I tried to fulfill that longing in so many other ways, but when I found the real Lover of my Soul, I was all in.  Not that I didn't fail and mess up and still look back over my shoulder now and then, but he always gave me the power to turn back around and follow him.  My life today is what it is because of Jesus. Plain and simple.

This time of year, especially in Maine, we start to see the dead things around us come alive. Spring is so glorious and so appreciated after the long, cold winter.  I love that Easter happens at this time of year.  Because that is what Easter is all about- the dead being raised to life!  First, Jesus was crucified and died.  But then on the third day, he rose from the grave.  And because of that, he can bring us who are spiritually dead to life!  I have experienced this first-hand and when I go back to those months when I was falling in love with Jesus and to that Easter Sunday when I decided to wholeheartedly follow him, I truly can weep.  Not out of lingering shame or sadness, but out of incredible, awe-filled joy.  He loved me as I was.  He was wooing me my whole life. He never gave up on me even when I rejected him. And when I finally responded, his arms were wide open.  That is love like I had never known.

I turned eighteen this year.  So spiritually speaking, I'm an adult now?  Laughable.  I have not forgotten what it was like to be "reborn".  This is a song I love, one that takes me back and reminds me of how I came alive eighteen years ago as a twenty-year-old.

What was I waiting for?
I came alive when I let go.
All I had was a broken heart,
then he held me in his arms.

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Called to Obscurity

I creep out of bed early each morning, so as not to wake the little munchkin lying beside me in bed.  I crave some solitude the first few moments of each day, some time to read my Bible and sip my coffee leisurely with just the crackle of the wood fire going.  As I tiptoed down the stairs this morning just after six o'clock, I whispered a prayer. "Just a half an hour Lord, please!"  As I rounded the corner, the sliding glass doors came in to view, along with the most breathtaking bright pink sunrise in a thick stripe behind the tree line.  It stopped me in my tracks and I blessed the Lord for it, the words of an old song in my mind, "And I think to myself, what a wonderful world."

Truthfully, the world isn't always wonderful.  The past few weeks have been particularly dark for some people we know and love dearly.  We've had our own challenges, too.  A bright pink sunrise painted across the sky is obviously beautiful. Death and heart sorrow and disease, not so much.

Today, in my Bible reading (and I got more than that requested half hour!), Psalm 50 said several times that God desires our thanks. 

 "What I want instead (of your sacrifices) is your true thanks to God." vs 14. 

 "But giving thanks is a sacrifice that truly honors me." vs 23

Over in Mark 13, another chapter I read, several times Jesus reminds us he is coming soon.

"You can be sure that his return is very near, right at the door."

"And since you don't know when they will happen, stay alert and keep watch."

"So keep a sharp lookout! For you do not know when the homeowner will return... Don't let him find you sleeping when he arrives without warning... Watch for his return !" vs 35-37

I often wonder, how should we live in these dark days?  I see the signs all around me that our world is falling apart, that Jesus really could return at any moment.  And I tend to feel  so helpless and useless when I consider this.  Who am I saving?  Who am I pulling from the fires of hell?  The world out there is lost and dying, and I spend most of my days never even leaving my home.  Often, my only engagement with the real world is via Facebook (and, boy, that can bring you down and remind you of the total depravity of man).  I do feel insignificant most days and long to be a light to the world.

Recently, another passage from Mark ministered to me.  In Mark 9, vs 30 and 31, it says "Jesus tried to avoid all publicity in order to spend more time with his disciples and teach them."  For 30 years, Jesus lived an obscure life in a little village of unknown people. He was a carpenter.  He cared for his widowed mother, went to weddings and funerals, celebrated the holy days, all of it as a regular guy, no fanfare, no miracles, no glowing head signifying his Deity.  And even after he began his earthly ministry, even with only three years to teach and perform miracles and healings and tell the good news of the Kingdom, he still tried to avoid his paparazzi.  It was important to him to get away and be alone with his disciples, the twelve guys that would carry the message of the gospel long after he ascended to heaven.  He wasn't about the Jesus Show, all the outward manifestations of his power and glory.  He was about people.  Teaching.  Discipling. Being faithful to train up the ones he was given.

This blesses me.  I've got my own little brood of disciples and more and more I realize how little time I have left with my oldest one.   Five and a half years at home, and then he may be gone.  The others will trickle out of the house, too, and this is good.  But it sobers me.  As I think of watching and waiting for Jesus and the possibility of his return at any hour, and wonder what on earth I am doing for his kingdom as I live in obscurity within my own four walls, I am heartened as I look at the life of my Savior.  I realize that my life is following a similar pattern.  The needs outside my walls are pressing, but this is the work I have been called to do right now: get away with my little disciples and teach them.

We have recently been laying all our commitments out on the table and taking each one to the chopping block, so to speak.  This is hard, as we do many good things.  There are many things we are not sure of, but there are a few callings we are positive of.  And one of them is to disciple our children.  The Lord has called us away from some of the good things we have been doing in order to minister to our family better.  It is what he has called us to do for now, as we watch and wait for his return.  Even to us, it seems a little counter intuitive to leave some ministries behind, but he continues to confirm it to us.

And back to Psalm 50, and giving thanks.  As I watch and wait, maybe the simple, but perfect, answer on how to live is to be continually thankful.   Even that can be a sacrifice and offering for it does not always come easily.  How do we thank him for broken relationships and death and illness? For war and prejudice and evil?   These things, like no other, certainly make me thankful that he is returning soon.  But how do I thank him for the banana thrown on the floor (again) and the bickering among my children?  I'm not always sure in the moment, but as I look back on my years as a mom, I see that even in these frustrations, something beautiful has grown.  I have learned to loose my hold on "perfection" because it is not here yet.  It belongs to another time and place.

For now, I am called to a holy life of little but great things, and to a life of thanksgiving through it all. No great blog following or teaching ministry or book deal.  But when I finally hear those little feet hit the floor and come thumping downstairs, and that little voice calling my name, whether I got my half hour or not, I know the sweetness of obscurity.  And I do give thanks for it.

Photo note: These photographs were sent to me recently, on Baby B's second birthday, by my girl Sara, taken back in October.

Monday, January 16, 2017

Today's Soundtrack: Crazy Normal (or Crazy and Normal)

Christmas is over.  It was very nice, a little more calm with fewer gifts.  I was able to enjoy it more and savor the faces of my little ones.  Josh did a stellar job as usual choosing my gifts, though he did not stick to the one gift rule we (I) imposed this year. He says my standards are too strict. How can I fault him for spoiling me?

It's a strange thing to wake up the day after Christmas to a mess of boxes and shreds of paper still scattered on the floor.  To still need to make breakfast and dinner.  Life returns to normal rather quickly, though the bonus of this week is that my husband is on vacation.   I got up early, he slept in.  I savored my morning quiet with my giant cup of coffee and then started working on the Christmas gift leftovers.  Kiddos were sleeping in and then lounging about on their new devices.  We didn't even plug in the tree.  We are fading back into normalcy.

But there is something really wonderful about that.  I like schedules, routine, normalcy. Being able to count on my kind of coffee in the morning and the water pressure in my shower.  I like making menus and lists of things we need at the grocery store.  I like our hum-drum, routine days as much as I like our holidays.

In all the Christmas gift wrapping, I noticed we had a severe shortage of gift bags.  We had some giant ones, but very few in the small to medium range.  And planner that I am, one of my burning desires the day after Christmas was to hit up the 50% off sales somewhere and stock up on bags for next year. Yes. I am one of those people.

As timing would have it, in life in general and the day in particular, we have a responsible 13 year-old son and a little guy who was just going down for his nap.  So it was the perfect opportunity to turn this holiday clearance shopping spree into a date.  We even stopped at Starbucks for a coffee, which made the date official.

Josh is one of those rare guys that enjoys shopping. In fact, he once told me that his favorite thing to do with me is go shopping because we always find silly or crazy things to laugh at. We just have a good time together, no matter what we do. I love that our conversations don't get interrupted on these dates.   We are goofballs and take silly selfies that nobody ever sees (except our best friends in Florida who get these via text). We just love spending time together, even if that time is spent at a department store buying toilet paper and gift bags for next year.

I say this often, but it's true.  When we said "I do",  I didn't realize I was marrying my best friend.  Sure, I love the romantic moments, but I just love spending our everyday days together, too.

Currently on our life's soundtrack is this totally relatable song.  If you've never heard Ben Rector, you are missing out.  All of his songs are a treat.  This is a favorite, one for those of us who live crazy, normal lives.