Anniversaries remind us of where we have come from and where we are headed.
Five years ago, I was recovering from a polar vortex which had pushed it’s cold breath into my family’s landscape. As many hid within the warm confines of a home, we felt the cold air penetrate our walls. The icicles appeared as frozen fingers clutching our family with its sting.
Unexpectedly a family friend, young and healthy, passed away in her sleep from a heart attack. The reality of traveling lightly on this earth smacked our souls.
My husband’s beloved grandmother was diagnosed with cancer. Our 97 year old matriarch whose resilience to previous injuries and illness made us believe she would always rally, actually passed from this life. Her impact on our lives and others around her left a festering wound.
His aunt, with whom we were very close, died from a stroke. As we grieved once again, my younger son recognized the ways funeral had become a part of our rhythm. One more good-bye. Could we sustain one more fierce blow?
One day, my husband announced that his job might be eliminated in a corporate buy out. After a week sitting in the frozen tundra, we received an answer. As it turned out, he remained employed but his company family no longer resembled what he had known.
Learning how to respond to a Polar Vortex
Five years later the polar vortex blew in again. However, this time, we found ourselves on the other side of the last one. We experienced some small stings of the weather that surrounded our landscape and our lives. But this time, we knew that we pushed through the last ones. We recognized the need to not face this chill alone. We need the warmth from huddling with others in prayer and accepting their help to keep walking toward spring. Toward a season of new life.
We are still thawing out. The brain and body don’t easily forget the sting of frostbite. A bit of fear at the thought of experiencing it again remains. Truthfully, a bit of the sting of the warming period permeates my body. My senses are heightened at the sound of an ambulance, when my son is out of my sight, and at the presence of a symptom in one of children which appears to indicate a recurrence of the previous affliction.
But I can’t live in fear. So I remember that summer arrived this year as it did five years ago and the three others in between. I soak in the sun during this season of rebirth. I find comfort knowing that regardless of the season, I am held and loved by God who sees me. (Genesis 16:13).
The temptation to peek beckons me. How can I live in the tension of an unfolding story?
Whenever, I read a book, I am drawn into a new place.. The pages introduce me to new characters whose lives speak into mine. Their world challenges me to evaluate the mores of my own. I become immersed in a life outside my actual one; at times, I wish desperately that I could talk with these new friends with whom I connect. Maybe someday I will.
Regardless, I develop empathy for their struggles. How can I leave them in situations of uncertainty? Will they seek restoration for themselves and others? What if they make choices that are not in their best interest? Being present in the middle of the story and sitting in it is often uncomfortable.
I learned that I can’t necessarily control how the story ends. My story or others’ stories. Certainly I have choices that affect the unfolding of events in my life as well as the lives of others. We are connected. But I don’t always get a peek into how those “middle of the story” conflicts in the plot will resolve. That’s hard. But I know that God is redeeming those moments even if I can’t see it.
As tempting as it is to turn the page to the end, I recognize that won’t really resolve anything. I will miss all that the author reveals in the uncomfortable details of the “middle.” I won’t be privy to the dimensions of a character’s humanity and how it plays a key role in other elements of the story-not just the ending. I need to sit with every part.
So, I’ve learned to resist peeking at the ending. I don’t want to miss the beauty that can still be found in the hard, uncomfortable middle moments. In pages or in reality.
“Then Jesus[b] said, “There was a man who had two sons. 12 The younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of the property that will belong to me.’ So he divided his property between them. 13 A few days later the younger son gathered all he had and traveled to a distant country, and there he squandered his property in dissolute living. 14 When he had spent everything, a severe famine took place throughout that country, and he began to be in need. 15 So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed the pigs. 16 He would gladly have filled himself with[c] the pods that the pigs were eating; and no one gave him anything. 17 But when he came to himself he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired hands have bread enough and to spare, but here I am dying of hunger! 18 I will get up and go to my father, and I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; 19 I am no longer worthy to be called your son; treat me like one of your hired hands.”’ Luke 15:11-19
The story is familiar …at least in my mind. It seeps into my mind and heart through the filter of my contemporary Western European context. Still, I am pointed to God’s character: forgiveness granted unconditionally..As the “prodigal, I recognize the implications of my trespasses to my Father and others by my choosing distance. As the older brother, I am jealous by a Father who loves the rebel sibling with the same intensity as one who strives for obedience..
Last year, I realized I was missing something.
“But while he was still far off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion; he ran and put his arms around him and kissed him. 21 Then the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’[d](Luke 15:20-21)
N.T. Wright in his book, The Lord and His Prayer, brings this perspective: “…in Jesus’ world, the more senior you were in a community, the less likely you were even to walk fast. It shows a lack of dignity, of gravitas.
So when Jesus told a story about a man running, this was designed to have the same effect on his audience, if, say the Prime Minister were to show up for the state opening of Parliament wearing a bathing costume. It’s a total loss of dignity.”
And when we discover why this man is running, the effect is even more shocking. This man is running to greet someone: someone who has put a curse on him, who has brought disgrace on the whole family.”
Well, now ….what do I do with that?
God’s character is not intimidated by lack of reverence. God’s character is not intimidated by the extreme nature of the sin. God’s character is not waiting to respond until we have done “our part.”
God already begins running toward us before we have acknowledged our trespasses. Distance is not a means of separation.
Jesus tells us “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who sin against us.” I admit I have struggled with the nuances of this this new Kingdom. How could God run toward me in such a posture of embrace? What does that imply for the way I “do likewise” as an image bearer and disciple to my human “siblings?”
God’s character penetrates the distance between us. I pray for a heart and a posture that becomes a vessel of pouring that truth into others.
Not in the nostalgic “children’s songs about-Jonah and the whale” kind of way. Not even in the Veggie tales version of the account (and I love their story telling.) But in the hard no- sugar coating- what- obedience- to -God involves kind of way. Sometimes the temptation to be swallowed up in the belly of a big fish seems enticing.
“One day long ago, God’s Word came to Jonah, Amittai’s son: “Up on your feet and on your way to the big city of Nineveh! Preach to them. They’re in a bad way and I can’t ignore it any longer.”3 But Jonah got up and went the other direction to Tarshish, running away from God. He went down to the port of Joppa and found a ship headed for Tarshish. He paid the fare and went on board, joining those going to Tarshish—as far away from God as he could get.”
The human tendency is to run from the source of fear. The discomfort creeps in and pulses through my veins. My heartbeat becomes an unrecognized rhythm-frantically trying to keep up with the racing thoughts running through the brain.
Jonah’s solution lacked logic but that’s what happens when you resort to the story in your head. Jonah ran not just from Ninevah but from God. The problem is, we can tune out God but God doesn’t tune out us. God is well aware of the bigger story.”
God has a way of showing me the implications of resorting to my own head stories. For Jonah, a storm erupted. And the consequence wasn’t known only to him.
“At that, the men were frightened, really frightened, and said, “What on earth have you done!” As Jonah talked, the sailors realized that he was running away from God.11 They said to him, “What are we going to do with you—to get rid of this storm?” By this time the sea was wild, totally out of control.12 Jonah said, “Throw me overboard, into the sea. Then the storm will stop. It’s all my fault. I’m the cause of the storm. Get rid of me and you’ll get rid of the storm.” Jonah 1:10-12″
God’s purposes for us aren’t just for our benefit. Yes, we may broaden our understanding of God’s character . We may be reminded once again that God sees us and our ability to trust in our Creator and Sustainer is renewed. But we also are sacred vessels of heavenly interaction with each other. Our willingness (or lack of) to follow divine leading directly impacts others.
Whoa! That’s worthy of reflection. How many times have I unknowingly benefited from a word, an attitude, or an action that was a result of someone else’s obedience. What if that person had chosen to jump on a ship going the other direction instead?
I think of all the times, I’ve wanted to jump on that other ship. When suddenly being asked to take on roles of immense responsibility for someone’s health within an unfamiliar environment. When feeling betrayed by those I trusted yet having to continue to cross their paths in community. When realizing I am surrounded by loud, intimidating voices of neighbors who see life differently. When entering a new workplace with new lingo and protocols.
I have no idea how God has spoken in those circumstances. Maybe I said or did something that affirmed to a hospital employee that God saw them. Even through tears. Maybe in my pain over broken relationships, I recognized our common broken nature. Maybe my voice raised in my community challenged someone to listen to a new perspective or liberated someone else to share theirs. Maybe my vulnerability led someone else to bare their soul.
Maybe I don’t always see the reason for going to Ninevah. But God is well aware of the bigger story. Just as Jonah eventually surrendered his fears, so must I. Because I can try to tune out God but God won’t tune out me. Or the people who are part of my “Ninevah” journey.
This post was written for the Five Minute Friday Writing Community. Come join us! https://fiveminutefriday.com/ (*Disclaimer: I sometimes go a bit over the time limit 😉 )
” Jesus answered them, “Do you finally believe? In fact, you’re about to make a run for it—saving your own skins and abandoning me. But I’m not abandoned. The Father is with me. I’ve told you all this so that trusting me, you will be unshakable and assured, deeply at peace. In this godless world you will continue to experience difficulties. But take heart! I’ve conquered the world.” John 16:31-33
I grab onto that last phrase with as much strength as I can muster. My body absorbs the overwhelming noise of the world right now. I seek to center myself; to find solitude and refuge in its midst. Sometimes, I long to escape. I wish, “Couldn’t this side of Heaven be Heaven?”
But life with Jesus begins here. The Kingdom unfolds here. And with that comes the aches and pains of restoration. It resembles a body that isn’t yet whole wrestling with the hope held out for what could be attained.
Jesus didn’t bait and switch. He tells it like it is. “In this godless world you will continue to experience difficulties.” But the wrestling isn’t exclusively contained to an “us” and “them” narrative. Sin has a way of creeping into all of humanity. Even those who profess to follow him. When not acknowledged, it leads to decisions that benefit self in the short term rather than wholeness to self and your neighbor in the long term. Sometimes, the noise of self righteousness hurts my ears the most. From others as well as myself.
I am blessed when I glimpse into the window of a restored world with all it’s splendor: celebrations, new birth, beauty, unity in the hard places, empathy, complete healing, and the putting on love for another regardless of the cost to self.
In the meantime, I hold on to the hope Jesus professes: “But take heart! I’ve conquered the world.” I need the reminder that I’m not left to navigate through this place of in-between by myself.
One thing can become both life giving and life draining depending on how we see it.
Summer is my favorite season. I long for the more relaxed schedule, the warmth of the air kissing my skin, and opportunities to engage with the beauty of vibrantly colored landscape dotting views. Living in the Great Lakes region, leaves one restless in those midwinter months. The long, cold, often icy days of hunkering down inside leave me holding on to a vision of sunny, carefree moments. The countdown to summer begins in March.
Yet, every May, I find myself tempted to cram as much into my summer months as possible. I justify it by recognizing that the busy schedules of the school year and the inclement weather make it hard to fit in excursions, connections with friends, and bucket list items.
But recently, I have learned to listen to God speak into the liturgy of my life. I haven’t felt renewed. In fact, I sometimes feel obligated to obey an agenda set by me that isn’t completely life giving. Why?
I have been convicted that many of the spaces that become filled in my days are a result of the little voice in my head that yearns for identity in my self induced “should” list rather than in my Creator. The items on my agenda are things that, in themselves, are life giving. But are they life giving to me right now?
Emily P. Freeman’s words in her book, “The Next Right Thing,” spoke into my struggle: “If you feel more like a robot with a to-do list in your hand than an artist with wonder in your eyes, stop. Close your eyes, open one hand in your lap, and put the other in your heart, and ask yourself, What am I longing for in this moment? What is life giving?”
So, this summer will look different for me. My goals have changed. As tempting as it is to fill my schedule with “shoulds,” I am leaving space. It’s a sign of surrender. It means things may get left “undone.” Connecting with some of my friends will have to wait. But I’m learning to be at peace with that and rest in God’s presence rather than my own. The path to renewal means recognizing when I need to move out of my own way.
This post is written for the Five Minute Friday Writing Community. Come join us! https://fiveminutefriday.com/
We pass by a lot of Holy ground without knowing it.
One year ago, my family took a road trip. That trip involved celebrating my daughter’s graduation from a home school program and that ceremony that took place was a sacred moment. Cedarcrest College in Pennsylvania will always be Holy ground to our family.
Later, we decided to travel to Washington D.C. There are plenty of places in that landscape that mark significant moments in history. As we ran toward our lunch destination in a cold rain, my eyes caught the sign protruding from a building a block away. “Ford Theater.” Literally, I stopped. President Lincoln and I share a birthday so I have always held an interest in him. I recognized this spot. It’s where his life ended. The moment felt surreal as I realized that I stood on the same space as feet long ago when the announcement regarding his shooting took place.
A life transitioned in that space. Despite our gap in generations, I was connected to those who stood there in 1865 and everyone in between. It was hallowed ground known by it’s associated name.
Scripture attests to the ancient Jewish practice of naming land after the way God’s presence was experienced there.
“She (Hagar)answered God by name, praying to the God who spoke to her, “You’re the God who sees me! “Yes! He saw me; and then I saw him!” 14 That’s how that desert spring got named “God-Alive-Sees-Me Spring.” That spring is still there, between Kadesh and Bered.” (Gen 16:13-14) “Abraham named that place God-Yireh (God-Sees-to-It). That’s where we get the saying, “On the mountain of God, he sees to it.” (Gen.22:14) Jacob named the place Peniel (God’s Face) because, he said, “I saw God face-to-face and lived to tell the story!” (Gen 32:30)
What if we started naming our places of transformation? How would that remind us of God’s character and the hope that is held despite what took place at various “land marks?”
As we make our way from one point to another, perhaps we can learn to see our view differently. May we remember that Heaven may have intersected the soil where we tread; either for us or someone else. “Remove your sandals. You’re standing on Holy Ground.”
What are you naming your sacred places? This post is written for the Five Minute Friday Writing Community. Come join us! https://fiveminutefriday.com/
There’s a good reason why we call the rhythms that form our days “practices. Place these words on your hearts. Get them deep inside you. Tie them on your hands and foreheads as a reminder. Teach them to your children. Talk about them wherever you are, sitting at home or walking in the street; talk about them from the time you get up in the morning until you fall into bed at night. Inscribe them on the doorposts and gates of your cities so that you’ll live a long time, and your children with you, on the soil that God promised to give your ancestors for as long as there is a sky over the Earth. Deut. 11:18-21
These words aren’t to be taken lightly. God was (and still is) in the business of making things new. For the Israelites, their approaching residence in a new place would bear witness to a God who is living, active, and Holy. The only way for future generations to connect to that truth is through parents inscribing God’s word not just on their doorposts but on their children’s hearts.
Pointing to God’s character comes through the daily practices of our lives. Everything we do, should be sharing how our stories fit into God’s story. But it’s not all about the intentional “feel good” moments of interaction. There’s a good reason why we call the rhythms that form our days “practices.”
Teaching still happens in our mess ups. Sometimes those are the most profound lessons we can share.
How do we respond when someone says something that hurts us?
Where do we turn when life encounters an unexpected turn?
Do they see us cry?
How do we show our need for help?
Do they see us acknowledge when we made sinful choices and seek forgiveness?
Your Mother’s Day gathering may or may not have met your expectations. Perhaps tempers flared, arguments erupted, and words of regret were uttered.
Take heed: God is still speaking through your life. All of it. There is a reason we call our rhythms practices. This post was written for the Five Minute Friday Writing Community: Come join us! https://fiveminutefriday.com/
Often, Jesus’s hands did the talking. They beckon us to pay attention.
Those hands. Vessels of creating, healing, comfort and validation
Those hands. Tools of force necessary to flip tables of sin and convict.
Those hands. Offered physical restoration to an enemy? 45-46 He got up from prayer, went back to the disciples and found them asleep, drugged by grief. He said, “What business do you have sleeping? Get up. Pray so you won’t give in to temptation.” 47-48 No sooner were the words out of his mouth than a crowd showed up, Judas, the one from the Twelve, in the lead. He came right up to Jesus to kiss him. Jesus said, “Judas, you would betray the Son of Man with a kiss?” 49-50 When those with him saw what was happening, they said, “Master, shall we fight?” One of them took a swing at the Chief Priest’s servant and cut off his right ear. 51 Jesus said, “Let them be. Even in this.” Then, touching the servant’s ear, he healed him. (Luke 22)
Who does that?
His hands still spoke for the Kingdom of Heaven when he was being bound by powers of an earthly one.
But at that moment, he didn’t seek to restore himself. He sought to restore someone else.
Even his disciples were unprepared for what his hands said to the Chief Priest’s servant in this dark and vulnerable place.
While they were focused on death, He was focused on life. Jesus touched the ear of an enemy and had the last word.
The implications are not lost on me. How does the language of his hands speak to the ways I seek to interact with those in my path? Do my hands clench up quickly in a position ready to destroy or do I keep them open as a position of offering myself as a vessel of Jesus’s touch?
May Jesus mold my hands into the posture of his. This post is written for the Five Minute Friday Writing Community. Come join us!https://fiveminutefriday.com/