Easter is Over

Jesus died for love of us.
Jesus beat death for love of us.

He is risen, He is risen indeed.

Easter is over … yet your season of grief may continue.
I’m sorry. Life is hard, and there are so many occasions for grief.

Jesus longs to turn our wailing into dancing, to swap our mourning clothes for radiant joy. But he doesn’t wave his hands over us and zap the grief like a bug in an electric trap. Sometimes we have to move slowly through the sorrow.

The good news? He is in the sorrow with you.

We are Easter people, but sometimes we walk through the valley of shadows. Still, he doesn’t leave us alone in the dark.

Jesus is sad with you.

That simple sentence was an earth-shaking revelation for me when I found myself in a season of sorrow. Jesus wasn’t just sad about what I had gone through, what I was feeling and experiencing as a result of the mess. He wasn’t just sad for me.

He was sad *with* me. He held me and wept with me. He walked with me and listened to me. We sat silently together. We walked and talked some more. It was healing. He walked me back into joy, though we put a lot of miles on a few pairs of shoes before we arrived.

Something I learned along the way: it’s okay to find, or create, a small bright spot of joy in the midst of pain. It doesn’t betray your experience, and it might be just the thing you need.

Sit outside. Look at pictures that remind you of joy. Listen to music. Pet your dog. Wash your face. Write or draw or paint. Read a book. Eat chocolate. Do one small joyful act every day. It will help. It will remind you that you’re not alone and that this season will pass. Because it will.

Tulips image by shannynkm from Pixabay

“I am Pleased…”

When was the last time you experienced God’s pleasure?

Yesterday I slipped outside to enjoy a few minutes of late afternoon solitude before dinner. I parked myself under the trees that shade our deck and opened the Ritual phone app I downloaded months ago but hadn’t yet explored. I was delighted to find a short lectio divina meditation specifically for Monday of Holy Week.

Lectio divina is a form of listening to and meditating on the Bible. If you’ve used a Headspace or Calm story meditation, it’s similar, but with God’s Word at its focus. You listen for a word or phrase that jumps out at you, something to chew on over time.

The leader read from Isaiah 42:1-7 while I gazed at the tall, strong trees. The phrase that offered itself to me: “I am pleased…” [note: other translations substitute delight for pleased]

I’ve been pondering Holy Week and Jesus’ decision to walk toward Jerusalem, as he must have known full well the painful events ahead. The betrayal and torturous execution awaiting him. He walked toward Jerusalem anyway … for love of us.

This week is hard, sad, painful. We know Easter is coming, but it’s not here yet. We can’t skip the grief for want of glory.

So God’s message of pleasure in me, his pleasure to be with me, surprised me. It wasn’t a message of suffering, for which I had been primed by the choice of a passage commonly referred to as “The Suffering Servant.” It wasn’t a message of conviction for the wrongs I’ve committed or the rights I haven’t. To the contrary, I received a message of delight in who I am and in our time together.

As the leader read the passage again, and again, I alternately watched the sunlight weave its way between the branches and closed my eyes to experience it dancing on my eyelids. I felt its warmth mingled with just a touch of breeze. I heard birdsong. I inhaled and exhaled deep, contented breaths. I replied, “Yes, Lord, I am pleased, too. Thank you.”

I experienced God’s pleasure in my mind, heart, and body. Later, the family gathered around the table for a satisfying meal. We migrated to the couches to watch a movie that had the young people laughing uproariously as I again slipped away, this time to read a book. I slept fully, not a given these days, and had pleasant dreams of waking dreams fulfilled. I awoke with a smile on my face, aware that all of this mundane and wonderful life is wrapped up in God’s pleasure.

I pray that experience of God’s pleasure for you, too.

No Need for Surrender

As a child in church I sang, “I surrender all … all to Jesus, I surrender.” A current Hillsong chorus intones, “I surrender…”, giving God all of who we are and ever hope to be. It’s such familiar Christian-ese that it must be biblical. Right?

I’ve been doing a lot of self-reflection lately, always informed by my faith. As such, I had been leaning into an awareness that surrendering my life to God doesn’t mean giving up who I am. God made me. God loves me, has plans for me, is delighted to be with me right here, right now. I am not broken in need of fixing, but a beloved human being. Learning, growing, following the lead of the Spirit in this moment, this season. Becoming.

If I’m convinced that God is God and I am absolutely not God, it makes spiritual sense that I should give up my pride. I should throw over my belief that I am in control, a lesson this pandemic year has made abundantly clear. I should confess and repent of my sins. But I had a gut reaction to any suggestion that I surrender myself. It stopped me short.

Curious, I looked up surrendering to God in the Bible and … it’s not there (I checked several respectable translations though clearly not every translation). Where the Bible includes the word surrender, it consistently appears in a military context and never in reference to God. Nowhere in scripture does it demand that we surrender ourselves to God. I was stunned.

From the Bible I turned to the dictionary. Surrender came into English in the mid-15th century from Old French, meaning “to give up, deliver over,” though by 1580, it was primarily used as a reflexive verb: “to give oneself up,” specifically as a prisoner. As a noun, surrender means “a giving up,” as in property or land grant. And the Oxford Languages definition of the verb “to surrender” is to cease resistance to an enemy or opponent and submit to their authority.

Read that last sentence again. I’ll wait.

The idea that we surrender our lives to God, all of who we are and hope to be, pictures God as an enemy or opponent. It makes God the bad guy. It imagines God in a military uniform, wielding a bloody sword, righteously intent on wiping out his foes. Maybe this time Goliath beats David?

We must be careful about the words we use.

God is love (1Jn 4:8). That three-word sentence is God’s self-definition. Love. That’s it, astounding good news.

I am not property, land to be annexed to God’s Kingdom; I am God’s beloved daughter. Further, casting God in the role of either prison warden or military enemy couldn’t be further from what we see in Jesus. The Son of God, God Incarnate, humbled himself to serve us in ways we could never serve ourselves. He sacrificed himself to make peace.

Paul talks in several places (Rom 6, Gal 2 and 5) about “dying to self,” a whole different matter. Dying to self in order to take up the life of Jesus is self-sacrifice, a choice made for love rather than a battlefield demand. Also, dying to self is not about cutting off pieces of my personality and the identifying traits that make me me; it has nothing to do with how we understand self through the lens of modern psychology. Instead it’s about giving up my strong-headed insistence to choose sinful patterns rather than living freely in God’s grace.

In her book of Lenten meditations, Where the Eye Alights, Marilyn McEntyre reminds me that “…God’s way is to invite, not compel.” Think of a time when someone tried to compel you to action. How did that go? I had a recent encounter with someone who entered the room with an agenda so loud he couldn’t listen, nor could I hear myself think. A posture of humility, a hand extended with grace, a gentle invitation, that I might have chosen to receive. A crowbar of weighted words moves me, sadly, in the opposite direction. I guess he hasn’t learned that one catches more flies with honey than vinegar, although I’d like to imagine myself more butterfly than fly.

God does not compel. He graciously invites.
God does not wait to arrest us and slam shut the iron bars. He longs to free us from the prisons we’ve built for ourselves.
God does not force our surrender. Instead, Jesus modeled humility.
God does not want me to give up myself. It bears repeating: God made me, loves me, and delights in me.

God wants us to give up sin. God wants to redeem the bad and bring forth beauty.
God wants me to live this one precious life he’s given me with purpose. With joy and creative imaginings. With love, in love, for love.

For God so loves the world.

Image by Kusal Darshana from Pixabay

A Prayer for St. Patrick’s Day

Clover Heart Image by MLARANDA from Pixabay

Christ be with me
Christ before me
Christ behind me

Christ with me when I sleep and when I rise
Christ with me when I work and when I play
Christ surround me with love, grace, and goodness
Christ hold me close

Christ with those who can’t sleep and with those who suffer
Christ with the unemployed and with those who work two jobs
Christ with those who feel unloved, judged harshly, and unworthy
Christ, hold them closer still

Christ in the heart of everyone who thinks of me
Christ in the mouth of everyone who speaks of me

Christ in everyone I know
Christ, lead them to loving thoughts
Christ, lead them to peaceful words
Christ, may I remind them of you

Christ in everyone
Christ in those I’ve thoughtlessly injured
Christ in those who speak from their pain
Christ, make peace

Christ in every eye that sees me
Christ in every ear that hears me.

Christ in everyone I encounter
Christ, may I look like you
Christ, may I sound like you
Christ, may I introduce you?

Christ in every human face
Christ, may I see you
Christ, may I hear you
Christ, may I love like you.

Cover image by Kathleen Bergmann from Pixabay

Lent 2021: Explore Playful Practice

“…Lent is a speed bump in the church year, inviting us into reflection, confession, and prayer as we approach Holy Week and Easter, a time when we remember the profound costliness of God’s abundant love for us.” –Susan Phillips, PhD, Executive Director of New College Berkeley

Image by Trevor M from Pixabay

I love the image of Lent, the 40 days before Easter (Sundays not included), as a speed bump. Even in this strange pandemic time when I go nowhere to do nothing and see no one, apparently I’ve still managed to speed my life along and oh wow here comes Lent and – wham – I’ve hit it too fast. I need to slow down. Lent will help.

Often Lent involves giving something up (chocolate) or taking something on (acts of service) as a way of identifying with Jesus as he journeyed toward his crucifixion in Jerusalem. Yet I’m already daily working my habit tracker, and let’s be honest, this has been an unusual year to say the least. Which calls for an unusual response.

Last week when I encountered a list of words related to purpose in writing, three leaped off the page: Explore. Play. Practice. They get along well together, and I believe I will enjoy watching them frolic in the long green grass of this Lenten season. 

I want to Explore. To strike out on an expedition. To take twisty-turning side roads and unexpected paths in the deep forest. At one time I might have felt afraid, but I’m leaving timidity behind. I have confidence that my soul will guide me with yes or no responses along the way. I welcome everything, everyone, every occasion I encounter today, because I trust it will be for my healing.

I’d like to say I’m packing light, but that’s not true. Even if my backpack contains little more than snacks, a sweatshirt, and a flashlight, my head and heart are overstuffed. That’s part of the point, of course: I need to get lost to be found. To empty myself and create space for what may come.

Exploration will tuck new tools into my backpack I didn’t know I’d need. It will fill my eyes with breathtaking sights I could only extrapolate from travel books, imagination, and dreams. It will fill my heart with experiences that amplify my joy. I will encounter prophets and teachers, leaders and fellow pilgrims who swell my love to overflow. I may come home weary and changed. I expect to come home grateful.

I want to Play, and I’ve traveled enough to know that exploration can be hard work and playful, too. In my tendency toward contemplation, I naturally find myself alone, deep in thought, immersed in words – mine or others as I move between writing and reading. It can get a little heavy, and my mental muscles grow weary as my physical muscles grow itchy from sitting too long in our overstuffed recliner.

I need playful movement. I want to skip along new trails, and also to crouch low and watch the fascinating tiny creatures I’d miss otherwise. Maybe I’ll pull out the crayons and draw as I observe them. Maybe I’ll journal with colored pencils. Maybe we’ll find a deck of cards and play together, right there in the woods.

After all, I am walking toward Good Friday, not racing. There’s no rush. I need to move slow enough to remember Jesus, my companion. To walk hand-in-hand, noticing what he points out about this lovely world he made, about my life in this time, about his love for me. What’s coming will be devastating, though not paralyzing: Sunday always comes after Friday; Easter always follows Good Friday. Joy in the morning means I can play joyfully now.

I want to Practice. When I first read Richard Foster’s book Celebration of Discipline in the early 1990s, it was life-changing. Foster advocates for ordinary followers of Jesus, not just spiritual giants, to engage everyday disciplines that help them connect with Jesus and add joy to life in the midst of laundry and lawn-mowing. Disciplines such as meditation and study, simplicity and solitude, confession and celebration. I became something of a spiritual discipline junky, and as I type those words I’m not sure how to feel about being addicted to paths that connect me to God… Is that healthy addiction, or inappropriate metaphor?

Yet these days I find myself substituting “practice” for “discipline.” Discipline feels exacting, harsh, rigid. When I practice yoga, I listen to what my body needs. Some days parts of me feel strong or wobbly, and tomorrow will be different. Some days, certain poses require modification because I can’t bend that way; it hurts, I need props, gentleness, maybe a slight wiggle to ease into place. It’s a practice, not a perfection. And it’s my practice, not up for comparison with others. It’s communal and personal, imperfect and improving. As with physical practice, so goes spiritual practice. Even the wobbles find acceptance so long as I keep at it. The practice itself imparts grace.

I can’t tell you today, on this Ash Wednesday as Lent begins, what this season will hold. I will read and write for sure. I will engage solitude and time with others. It may look a lot like life in any other season. I can tell you, however, that I will listen for whispers of invitation to Explore Playful Practice and follow where they lead.

Image by Pexels from Pixabay

Christmas 2020: The Light of the World

Image by Arek Socha from Pixabay

Christmas – The Light of the World

Say aloud together: Jesus said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”

Light all the candles: We light these candles to celebrate Jesus, who comes into the darkness to shine His light of hope, life, glory, and joy for the whole world to see.

Read Scripture: Matthew 1:18-21

Read: God loves the world so much that He wrapped up in swaddling clothes the best gift we will ever receive: His Son Jesus, who lived and died and rose again to save us from our sins. As we exchange gifts on Christmas, and on every day the whole year through, we remember that we love because He first loved us. We walk by faith because He shines His radiant light over the whole world and straight into our lives.

Pray: Everlasting God, we receive the gift of your Son who lights up the world. In the name of Jesus we pray, Amen.

To see the complete Advent devotional beautifully designed by The Creative Resource, click here.

Image by Terri Cnudde from Pixabay

Advent 4: The Light of Joy

Photo by Jill Wellington from Pixabay

Week 4 – The Light of Joy
December 20-23

Say aloud together: Jesus said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”

Light four candles: We light these candles to celebrate Jesus, who comes into the darkness to shine the light of hope, life, glory, and joy.

Read Scripture: Luke 2:8-21
(Shorter reading: Luke 2:8-14)

Read: On an ordinary dark night at work, the shepherds huddled around a fire for warmth while the sheep clustered together, some bleating and shuffling their hooves to kick up nibbles of grass, others leaning in for support as they slept on their feet. Into this ordinary every night darkness, angels burst forth to explode the inky-black sky, heralding the light of extraordinary joy: the long-awaited Messiah’s birth.

Pray: With the angels we sing–Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests. Messiah Jesus, in your name we joyfully wait and pray. Amen.

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Monday 1 John 1:5-7 What do you do to keep walking forward in the light?
Tuesday 1 John 2:9-10 How are light and love, darkness and hate, parallel? Who do you need to forgive so that you can walk in the light of love?
Wednesday Revelation 22:5 How do you imagine eternity with God in heaven?

To see the complete Advent devotional beautifully designed by The Creative Resource, click here.

“…God dances amidst the common…. The angel came in the night because that is when lights are best seen and that is when they are most needed. God comes into the common for the same reason.” –Max Lucado, The Applause of Heaven

Image by svetlanabar from Pixabay

Cover image by Jan Zatloukal from Pixabay

Advent 3: The Light of Glory

image by Pexels from Pixabay

Week 3 – The Light of Glory 
December 13-19

Say aloud together: Jesus said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”

Light three candles (two purple, one pink): We light these candles to celebrate Jesus, who comes into the darkness to shine the light of hope, life, and glory.

Read Scripture: John 1:6-18
(Shorter reading: John 1:9-14)

Read: The sun rises every day without fail even when clouds block our view of its brilliance. The moon and stars sparkle through each night while we sleep. God dazzles His light on the whole world, and those who open their eyes to see His glory receive a startling new identity-gift: we become His very own beloved children.

Pray: God of glory, illuminate our eyes to read your living Word filled with grace and truth. In the name of Jesus, we wait and pray. Amen.

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Monday Matthew 17:1-8 What does Jesus want to say to you?
Tuesday Acts 9:1-5 Has God ever unexpectedly redirected your plans? 
Wednesday 2 Corinthians 4:5-6 Ask God to shine His light in your heart.
Thursday Ephesians 5:8-9 What does it mean to you personally to be a child of light? How will you shine goodness on others today?
Friday James 1:17 What good and perfect gifts has the Father of the heavenly lights given you?
Saturday 1 Peter 2:9 How does knowing that you are chosen and called by God add beauty and meaning to your life?

To see the complete Advent devotional beautifully designed by The Creative Resource, click here.

I cannot tell you
how the light comes,
but that it does.
That it will.
–Jan Richardson, “How the Light Comes,” The Cure for Sorrow

Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay

Cover image by Jan Zatloukal from Pixabay

Advent 2: The Light of Life

tree of life by Please Don’t sell My Artwork AS IS from Pixabay

Week 2 – The Light of Life
December 6-12

Say aloud together: Jesus said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”

Light two candles (purple): We light these candles to celebrate Jesus, who comes into the darkness to shine the light of hope and life.

Read Scripture: John 1:1-5

Read: In the beginning, God spoke into the vast emptiness to create life. From His infinite imagination, God spoke into being amoebas and armadillos, light and life and love, mountains and mollusks, rhinos and roses, wombats and waterfalls, and so much more—declaring each “good.” To us—all of us, human beings created in His image—He spoke the blessing “very good.”

Pray: Creator God, thank you for the gift of life on earth and life eternal. In the name of Jesus we wait and pray, Amen.

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Monday Psalm 27:1 How does the light of the Lord keep you from being afraid?
Tuesday Psalm 43:3 What help do we receive from light? How does God care for us through His light? 
Wednesday Psalm 97:11 When have you experienced feeling light and joy as a result of your decisions to follow Jesus?
Thursday Psalm 119:105 How can the Bible make clear your next step?
Friday Psalm 139:11-12 When have you felt like hiding from God? How did He respond?
Saturday Proverbs 20:27 Do you tend to trust or doubt your intuition? How might this verse help you receive it as a gift from God?

To see the complete Advent devotional beautifully designed by The Creative Resource, click here.

“God redeems darkness. He wants to infiltrate the shadows the hardest life has to offer and bring light beyond our comprehension.” –Tsh Oxenreider, Shadow & Light: a Journey into Advent

Image by My pictures are CC0. When doing composings: from Pixabay

Waiting: Advent 2020

The global experiences of this unusual year have changed the way we express ourselves. So much so that the publishers of the Oxford English Dictionary couldn’t choose just one Word of the Year for 2020. While pandemic and Coronavirus are obvious, look at others that rose to the top: Blursday (the blurry sameness of everyday); doomscrolling (reading online all the opinions/facts); social distancing and flatten the curve and the fun new ways we use remote to describe work and education.

I’ll add another: waiting.

Waiting has become one of the names of this pandemic game. We’re waiting for normal, for justice, for civility, for people to consider and honor the common good, for election results, for a vaccine, for schools and businesses to reopen safely, for empathy, for the time when we can venture forth without anxiety, for hugs, for a new year, for hope.

We’re waiting. Oh Lord, we’re waiting, and we’re fatigued from all the waiting. We don’t like waiting in general and this year we are certainly learning that lesson…among others.

Advent, which comes from the Latin word for “coming,” is the Church season in which we wait for God. We celebrate God coming to dwell among us in Jesus. We open our hearts to how God wants to come into our lives now. And we anticipate with hope our everlasting life with God.

I write about many things on this blog, stories featuring my family and friends and pets, creativity, travel, vegetarian recipes…all ways I experience everyday epiphanies regarding the miracles smack in front of my distractable eyes. This month I’ll focus on Advent, and I hope you’ll join me for the journey. On Sundays I’ll post daily readings; the readings for Sundays in particular are meant to accompany the lighting of candles in an Advent wreath. If that’s not part of your tradition, you can light any candle and follow along.

If you’d like to see the beautifully designed Advent devotional guide by The Creative Resource, click here.

If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me and the light become night around me,” even the darkness will not be dark to you; the night will shine like the day, for darkness is as light to you.Psalm 139:11-12

Week 1 – The Light of Hope
November 29- December 5

Say aloud together: Jesus said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”

Light the first candle (middle purple candle): We light these candles to celebrate Jesus, who comes into the darkness to shine the light of hope.

Read Scripture: Luke 1:67-80
(Shorter reading: Luke 1:67-70, 76-79)

Read: Praise be to our God, who sent prophets to remind us of His covenant of love, sustain our hope, and prepare the way for our coming Lord who will shine His light in our darkness and guide our feet to the path of peace.

Pray: Most High God, thank you for the gift of people who remind us of your great love. With hope we anticipate the birth of your Son, in whose name we wait and pray, Amen.

Monday Genesis 1:3-4 What does it mean to you personally that God has the power to create light out of darkness? 
Tuesday Exodus 3:2-3 When have you seen God’s light appear in surprising places?
Wednesday Exodus 13:21-22 How does God’s light go in front of you?
Thursday 1 Kings 18:33-39 What big or small miracles have you witnessed that help you know that the Lord is God?
Friday 2 Chronicles 13:10-11 How might lighting a candle in your home remind you to honor and serve the Lord?
Saturday Psalm 19:8 How do God’s commands give light to our eyes? What does that mean for you today?

Cover image by Jan Zatloukal from Pixabay