Category Archives: following Christ

Planting a Lasting Legacy

At times, the most extravagant beauty is found in simplicity. The brilliance radiated by a single firefly. The intricate, colorful design adorning one tropical fish. A single rose. “Simple” allows one to hone in and marvel at the craftsmanship.

My thoughts of simple beauty and nature naturally gravitate to memories of my husband’s grandfather Elmer. No middle name. Just Elmer. He was a quiet man with an unassuming presence. His favorite attire consisted of a t-shirt and jeans. Inside resided a large heart and a giant faith. He found blessing in his Creator, whose hand shaped his purposes as well as the bounty of fruitful things that dot our surrounding landscape. Gardening was his passion. Summers brought a harvest from a large garden and the surrounding rose bushes that framed it.  Read more here: https://redbudwritersguild.com/simple-beauty-planted-a-lasting-legacy/

Advertisements

The “Fourth Word” of Jesus: Accepting the Paradox of Feeling Abandoned Yet Beloved

 

This moment for Jesus is a far cry from the one on the mountain. There, he stood with his three closest friends- Peter, James and John. There, God’s presence was affirmed in the bright cloud which appeared overhead. There, God’s voice proclaimed publicly once again, This is my Son, the Beloved;

Now, God’s presence does not appear in such a tangible form. God’s voice is silent. No public affirmation of his identity. No reminder that he is God’s beloved.

Instead, he is surrounded by the noise of dehmanizing voices mocking him. Alone. Most of his closest friends have left him in the valley. Jesus is left in anguish, physically, emotionally, and spiritually. Seemingly alone; yet surrounded by a crowd.

And like a child whose parent is in the room but not within sight, a cry erupts from his gut.

Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” My God, My God, Why have you forsaken me?

Eloi. Not Abba.

Hours earlier, Jesus began the descent into desperation. The predictions of betrayal began to materialize. The road ahead of him began to appear. He needed his human companions the most-to touch, to pray, to weep, to simply stay awake and offer presence. But they failed his expectations. “And going a little farther, he threw himself on the ground and prayed that, if it were possible, the hour might pass from him. He said, “Abba, Father...(Mark 14:35). Abba-The word is recorded only three times in the N.T. The nuance is undoubtedly familial. Jesus still reaches out to the one he knows without a doubt sees him and will comfort him.

But, on the cross, something has changed. Eloi. Not Abba.

According to Father Brown, In his essay, “Jesus’ Death Cry,” if we accept that Jesus in the garden could still call the Father Abba, then we should accept this cry as“screamed protest against abandonment wrenched from an utterly forlorn Jesus who now is so isolated and estranged that he no longer uses ‘Father’ language but speaks as the humblest servant.”

The familial bond is strained.

Is it possible to feel both abandonment and connection at the same time?

Jesus, in his gutteral cries points to the answer. Although it appears to us to be a breathless wail signifying betrayal, his words speak of hope.

Jesus recites the beginning of Psalm 22:one that begins, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Jesus and anyone else familiar with this Psalm would have known it moves toward hope. as is evidenced by the turn in its middle:

he did not hide his face from me,but heard when I cried to him.”  (verse 24)

The whole prayer of lament was ingrained in his mind and in his spirit-even if his lips never finished pouring it out.

Though no voice bellows from a bright cloud above, though the darkness intensifies, though life literally drains from his body, Jesus still knows God is there. His cry tells us that there is still relationship-even if it changed.

Author Aubrey Sampson, in her book The Louder Song writes,“What kind of God do we have? He is not a passive, distant, deistic God, but an incarnate God. A God who reveals his withness in our darkest hours. An Immanuel God, a God who is transcendent over all creation but imminent with his people.”

Jesus’ cry punches us in the gut not only because we compassionately feel his pain, we have tasted it as well.

Like Jesus, we are Beloved. And that identity will hold hope for us when nothing else can.

This post was originally delivered as part of the “Seven Last Words” of Jesus on April 19, 2019 at Hope Covenant Church, Orland Park, IL. You can find the whole service here: http://orlandhope.org/media/103139-2824999-1838960/seven-last-words?fbclid=IwAR3LcjIRcv8UqUOtpF7Sbb0O94uZE82S-Fw8vxZLEgwEG9bjqYlHkbsZCvE

When God’s Provision Looks Like Coriander Seeds

How quickly we forget.

Those memories of God’s miraculous intervention in our lives seem to run away in our most desperate moments. Anne VosKamp, in her book “The Broken Way,” terms it soul amnesia.

When our feet feel as if they are floating on a cloud, the words of gratefulness for God’s provision can’t come fast enough. Our eyes, wide and stunned, once again capture the image of divine intervention that we vow to never forget.

The scripture attesting to the faithfulness of a God who intimately knows the number of hairs on our heads, knit us together in the womb, is all knowing of the the dark places of our hearts, and promises to never abandon us  speak in a concert of voices in the mind.

Life is good.

But then it takes a turn.

How quickly we forget. Apparently, it’s a part of our DNA.

Then the foreign rabble who were traveling with the Israelites began to crave the good things of Egypt. And the people of Israel also began to complain. “Oh, for some meat!” they exclaimed. “We remember the fish we used to eat for free in Egypt. And we had all the cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions, and garlic we wanted. But now our appetites are gone. All we ever see is this manna!”  Numbers 11:4-6

It’s so easy to read the narratives of the Israelites and judge. How could they forget what they experienced? 

“Then the Egyptians—all of Pharaoh’s horses, chariots, and charioteers—chased them into the middle of the sea. But just before dawn the Lord looked down on the Egyptian army from the pillar of fire and cloud, and he threw their forces into total confusion.  He twisted[b] their chariot wheels, making their chariots difficult to drive. ” Exodus 14:23-24

Even those who didn’t have a relationship with God were stunned. “Let’s get out of here—away from these Israelites!” the Egyptians shouted. “The Lord is fighting for them against Egypt!”” Exodus 14:25

And then, just as they approached the Red Sea, God unleashed more special effects: they walked through the sea. Think about that one. THEY WALKED THROUGH the SEA! They continued on their journey of liberation. Life was good.

Until it wasn’t. At least it appeared that way.

The riffraff among the people had a craving and soon they had the People of Israel whining, “Why can’t we have meat? We ate fish in Egypt—and got it free!—to say nothing of the cucumbers and melons, the leeks and onions and garlic. But nothing tastes good out here; all we get is manna, manna, manna.  Manna was a seedlike substance with a shiny appearance like resin.”  Numbers 11:4-7

The truth is, their food was never that great in Egypt. The previous menu was not not much different from the new one. So what changed?

Their expectations.

In Egypt, they felt crushed under oppression. Literally. They pleaded for God to hear them. Both cries for deliverance and hunger arose from the gut. And Heaven descended down to deliver them from both. When God gave them a vision for something better, they held expectations for how that would unfold.

But it didn’t happen the way they expected. In the midst, they took their focus off the  Provider and focused on the provision.  And that’s not where sufficiency is ultimately found.

As I read their narratives once again, I see myself in their story. The hands of Heaven have reached into my circumstances to rescue me too. Despite the fact that I am surrounded by burning bushes on a daily basis, I forget that I matter to a Great God. One who, as a friend described, “sometimes shows us his goodness and sometimes shows us his glory.”

God’s provision for me doesn’t always fit my expectations. It isn’t always flashy or announced with fanfare. Sometimes, it resembles Coriander seeds. And often, like the Israelites, my response is, “What is that?

“When the layer of dew had lifted, there on the wilderness ground was a fine flaky something, fine as frost on the ground. The Israelites took one look and said to one another, man-hu (What is it?). They had no idea what it was.” Exodus 16:14

It isn’t at all what I expected. It isn’t my version of fulfillment. Conjuring up words of gratefulness from my heart through my lips takes longer than it should. But I need to remember that God hears the cries for deliverance and “hunger” arising from my gut. And will give my bread to satiate my needs. It just may look different than I expected.

“So Moses told them, “It’s the bread God has given you to eat.” Exodus 16:15

Maybe eventually, like the Israelites, I will get exactly what I hoped. But in the meantime, I pray for a spirit of contentment; to recognize that sometimes God’s provision looks like Coriander seeds. And that is sufficient because God is.

 

 

 

 

 

Holding on to a Generational Deep Hope in our Brokenness

The wounds cut deep; both physically and figuratively.

Fourteen Decembers ago, I fell down the stairs. People sometimes talk about traumatic events as experienced through a surreal slow motion reality at the time. That would perfectly describe how it played out for me.

Having come back late from a church meeting, I longed for rest. Having just snuggled into my cozy layers of protection for my body , I was awakened by the high pitched voice of my toddler from the top of the stairs son beckoning me. Our bedroom was in the basement in the not completely renovated lower level (read that as concrete stairs), I was concerned about his possible fall. In my half asleep state, I climbed up to grab him and bring him down.

However, as I held him in my arms and attempted to take the trek back down, I realized quickly that something went wrong. Fear erupted as I felt my foot hit air when it should have made an immediate connection with cold cement. In what seemed like a few minutes (but was likely  a few seconds), I scrambled to make sense of what was happening and how to resolve it. Fearing that my son would hit the cement floor, I turned my body to soften the hit.

Fortunately, he did not sustain injury. I did.

My  broken shoulder commenced a nine month journey into waiting-for physical and emotional restoration. Truthfully, it was painful at times. Waiting for something for which you long but in which you have little control is hard.

It turns out, I also realized that my spirit was in need of attention. I’m not good at waiting. Trusting in God’s character rather than grabbing toward my tendency to a always be in control challenged me.

As I reflected on my experience that happened during Advent, the connections were not lost on me.

Waiting. Longing. Envisioning.

The Israelites knew a bit about these things. The hope of a Messiah. A King. A Deliverer, A Restorer was held up generations deep. God’s promises were embraced as the prophecies were repeated. Hope dangled in front of them as they witnessed God’s presence reminding them that they were never forgotten; through word and action.

But lifetimes went by. Unexpected twists and turns to the vision they held in their minds threatened to detour them toward discouragement.

When will fulfillment take place?

Waiting for something for which you long but in which you have little control is hard. It reminds us of our humanity; broken in body, mind, and spirit. True restoration can only originate from Heaven.

So we hold on to hope-one that is generational deep.

Waiting. Longing. Envisioning.

My shoulder is not completely healed. I lost cartilage that can never be replaced. The amount of movement is limited. I can’t do a backstroke very well but I can live with that. Jesus meets me in my brokenness yet I know that these moments are blips on the journey. Experiencing the fulfillment promised in Jesus will take a lifetime.  Actually more than that.

“Know this with all your heart, with everything in you, that not one detail has failed of all the good things God, your God, promised you. It has all happened. Nothing’s left undone—not so much as a word.”  Joshua 23:14

This post is written for the Five Minute Friday Writing Community. Come Join Us! http://fiveminutefriday.com/

 

Photo by Ben White on Unsplash

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When My Son’s Teacher Reminded Me of What Matters

I anticipated a quick overview of my son’s academic progress. My husband and I arrived for the annual parent teacher conferences for our youngest. In my mind, an audio of the expected conversation played in my head.

We could have skipped the conference but in person connections with people that profoundly influence your child are important to us. They can offer insight into our children that, we, as parents may miss.

I anticipated hearing about his grades. Isn’t that the main agenda for conferences? He is a sophomore. For him, academic success as measured by public educational standards comes somewhat easy for him

I anticipated hearing that he is well behaved. His personality is such that he thrives in structure and has a natural desire to be helpful in whatever environment in which he finds himself.

What I didn’t anticipate was the teacher’s next comment. The words penetrated my soul. Truthfully, the impact hit so hard, my breath struggled to continue it’s rhythm.

“Your child is a wonderful human being.”

These words.Liberating. Life giving. Gratitude worthy.

As parents, we give our best efforts to raise a human being who becomes a productive member of society. We strive to model and cultivate the imago dei in our children.

But life is unpredictable. Factors outside of our control threaten our best intentions. And we hope and pray that our kids will endure and in some way, their life will make a mark in this world.

I anticipated hearing about academic progress. But I walked out thankful for something else. Regardless of whether or not our kids achieve high academic status, pursue a non collegiate route or obtain admission into their dream school, blessing others transforms our world.

In the end, isn’t that what matters?

It’s the Little Things

 

It’s the little things

Peering into his room and recognizing what’s missing

It’s the little things

Turning to his “place” on the couch and no one is there

It’s the little things

Finding myself laughing alone at a funny video

It’s the little things

Setting the table for four instead of five

It’s the little things

Hearing his brother realize the empty state of their bedroom

It’s the little things

Our family now fitting in the first two rows of seats in the van

It’s the little things

No longer hearing his voice cut the silence; in laughter or arguments

People ask me how I feel now that my child is out of the house. It’s a big adjustment that grows from little things.

 

photo credit: Adam Birkett @unsplash

Who is He? Encountering Jesus Through the Eyes of the Woman in Luke 8


The moments of that day still linger in my mind. Some memories find themselves woven into your senses. Sounds, words, and smells quickly remind me of the events that transpired.
At times, I catch myself pushing back tinges of fear as I watch my daughter rest. Is she only sleeping?

How did deep despair and overflowing hope meet in one day? I can never forget watching my daughter’s life slip away before my eyes. And realizing I was helpless to stop it. 

I had comforted friends in their grief after losing a child. My heart broke with theirs. They bore a pain that appeared inconsolable. At least by anything on this earth. I, too questioned how one walks forward when one feels such deep despair. But the initial sting to my soul as I shared in their pain eventually diminished.

Until the day I watched my daughter’s life gradually flow out of her body. Her breathing labored; the color of her skin reflecting life flowing through her seemed to fade lighter. Watching your child suffer draws out a fierce desire for control that previously lied dormant.
How can a mother not save her own child?

News about her illness spread. My friends sat with me as I had with others. But it was different being on the other side. We prayed for God to grant healing. People tried to sustain my body with food. But I couldn’t eat. Worry had consumed my appetite. My concern wasn’t for me. It was for her. I had never tasted desperation like this.

Someone save her!

In the midst of keeping watch over my daughter, the commotion outside caught my attention. As scheduled, Jesus had arrived in our town as was expected. But, in the midst of my crisis, I had forgotten about it. I wasn’t quite sure what I believed about his identity. However, stories of his healing touch were many. The timing was ironic. Perhaps he could do something. It appeared hope was out of our hands.

Jesus, save her!

Jairus quickly ran to find him. I was certain that Jairus’ position would assure a prompt response from Jesus. But it didn’t. In fact, he didn’t come right away. And neither did Jairus.
Although my friends surrounded me, I felt abandoned. By my husband. By Jesus.
What was more important than healing a child?

My child took her last breath. While we waited. The devastation erupted out of my soul. My body felt numb. I remember pinching myself to make sure this wasn’t a bad dream. The tears began welling; eventually flooding into a forceful stream down my face. A loud high pitched wail made its way up through my body and out my mouth.

Never had I felt such despair.

As the world appeared to spin around me, someone ran out to tell Jairus. After what seemed to be a long time, he entered. My mind struggled with what to do. Part of me wanted to collapse in his arms. Yet, I felt betrayed. I watched my child die without him. But I paused when I realized he not arrived alone. A few others accompanied him; including Jesus.

Did he not hear that our daughter had died?

I won’t lie. Anger began building in my heart as I spotted him. I felt betrayed. Why was our daughter not worthy of healing? What reason did he have for showing up after her death?
But then Jesus spoke. With an authority and a calmness I had not witnessed in anyone else.

“Stop Wailing,” he commanded. I did not understand. We were grieving. Yet, his voice beckoned obedience.
He continued. “She is not dead. She is asleep.” His words made no sense. How were we supposed to believe that she was only sleeping?

Nothing could have prepared me for what happened next. He walked over to her and took her hand. The same limp one I had held. And he commanded her to get up. I stared in amazement at what I witnessed. Her eyes opened, and she stood up!
He not only healed her, he defeated death!

Who is he?

I grabbed her hand. The one that had felt clammy and lacked any presence of life earlier. This time her fingers, warm with the blood pulsing through them, bent around mine. I watched her breathe; her chest rising up and down. My girl was alive!

How do you grasp that reality?

I couldn’t save my own child. Jesus did. I think all of us felt a taste of that restoration. I couldn’t wait to tell others what I experienced. However, Jesus quickly ordered us not to share. It didn’t make sense.

But earlier he didn’t make sense either. Yet he spoke and acted with an authority that commanded trust. It was unlike anything I have seen on this earth. Jesus saved. But not in the way I expected—there is more to this mysterious man than my senses could explain. I saw, I heard, and I long to understand this miracle I just witnessed.
This post is inspired by the account found in Luke 8:40-56.