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.

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

Easter Sunday 2020

“Jesus isn’t dead anymore!” [the angel] said. “He’s alive again!”
And [the women’s] hearts leapt. And then the angel laughed with such gladness…

Jesus Christ is risen. He is risen indeed. Hallelujah!

For those who want a fresh take on Luke’s familiar resurrection account, I offer some questions to guide you.

Connect
Reflect on a favorite Easter celebration from your childhood.
How will/did you celebrate Easter while sheltering in place?

Study
Read aloud Luke 24:1-12.
Who went to the tomb, and why (vv1, 10)? What do you know about these women (see also Luke 8:2-3)?
What did they find/not find (vv2-7)?
Summarize in your own words what the angels told them (vv5-7)?
Why did the apostles not believe the women’s testimony (vv9-11)?
How did Peter respond, and what did he find at the tomb (v12)?
Why do you think the angels appeared to the women but not to Peter?

Live
On a practical level, what does the resurrection mean to you?
Do you think people still “look for the living among the dead,” and if so, how?
If you can, share about a time when you told someone about Jesus and they dismissed it as nonsense. How did you respond?
What about Jesus and the resurrection still causes you to wonder?
What will you do this week to live out the reality of the resurrection?
What is God saying to you through this passage, and what will you do about it?

Pray
Praise God for His gift of His Son, praise the Son for His gift of Himself on the cross, and praise the Spirit for the power to live as God’s people.

 

Family Share Questions
Use these questions to reflect on Luke 24:1-8 individually and with your family.
What good news have you heard recently?
Why is it great news that Jesus rose from the dead?
Thank God for Easter!

 

During Lent 2020, I read and reflected on The Jesus Storybook Bible.You can purchase it here. Please note: as an Amazon Associate, I may earn from qualifying purchases.

And special thanks to my loyal readers who encouraged my heart each time they read and liked one of these Lenten blog posts, especially to Robin Leann & Simply Wendi!

Christ Has Risen

He has risen indeed!

The other day we drove past a local church with a banner that read:

Easter is for Everyone!
(No religious experience necessary)

We chuckled, paused, reflected… It’s accurate, but does it feel like an odd thing to say? I’m still thinking about it, so at least that makes it effective advertising…

Easter is for everyone. John 3:16 affirms that God loves the whole world so much that He sent His one and only Son to live and die and rise from the dead to bring us back into right relationship with our Creator. Jesus didn’t sacrifice Himself only for those with religious experience, but for the whole world.

Jesus came to redeem our lives from sin and death. To restore our relationship with the God who loves us. To give our lives meaning and purpose. To reconcile us with one another and with this great big beautiful Planet Earth.

Even those of us with religious experience forget the vast significance of what Jesus did for us. We need regular reminders.

Today Tween and I will teach the 4-year-olds that God sent Jesus to be our forever friend. Because John 3:16. Yesterday I saw our co-teacher and admitted that I hadn’t read the lesson yet. But really, what we want these precious littles to know is that God is good and that God loves them. This sweet man exclaimed, “That’s what I need to know, too!”

Yes. God is good. God loves us. Love God, and love one another. It’s that simple.

But not easy. Even the disciples struggled. Jesus died and He rose. They saw Him in His resurrected body, and they still didn’t know what to do next. So they went back to what they knew. The former fishermen went fishing.

They failed at this thing they’d been doing all their lives. Enter Jesus. Jesus redeemed their failed experience beyond imagination. He restored their discouraged hearts. He reclaimed their vision for what He wanted to do in and through them. Jesus loved them fully and graciously. No judgment, no condemnation, only love and direction for the future.

Thank you, Jesus!

Resurrection Sunday 2017
John 21:1-17

Connect
In which ‘regular’ activities do you engage to distract yourself from discouragement?

Study
Read aloud John 21:1-14.
How did “the disciple whom Jesus loved” recognize Jesus (vv. 4-7)?
Imagine you are Peter. Why did you get dressed and jump in the water (v. 7)?
Why do you think Jesus helped the disciples catch fish (v. 6) and asked for some of the fish they caught (v. 10) when He already had fish (v. 9)? What might that tell us about Jesus? About us?
How do you understand the disciples’ reaction to Jesus in v. 12?
Read aloud John 21:15-17.
Why does Jesus connect loving Him with feeding and caring for His sheep?

Live
How do you recognize Jesus when He shows up in your life?
Where in your life do you need Jesus to show up with His miraculous power?
Jesus helped discouraged fisherman haul in a noteworthy catch, and He also called Peter back to his true calling as a disciple. How might Jesus want to redeem and transform your life?
Do you truly love Jesus? How do you show it?
What is Jesus saying to you through this study, and how will you respond?

Pray
Pray for God to do more than you can ask or imagine in and through your life.

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Thankful Thursday – Maundy Thursday 2017

I did not grow up with a tradition of observing Lent but, as an adult, I have grown in appreciation for spiritual discipline in general and this season of church life specifically. God does great things when we give Him great access to our lives through disciplines that help to tune our eyes and ears to His work.

Before this Lent began I asked God: “What discipline would you have me observe to see you more clearly?” Funny (and I truly believe God IS funny this way, at least sometimes), He didn’t answer clearly. I could take on a discipline of reading the news; in these times, we all ought to read the news more broadly and more carefully. And I put on a ring my mother-in-law gifted to me; as my ‘not typical’ right-hand ring, its presence on my finger has reminded me of Jesus’ presence with me.

And then Lent took a quick left-hand turn into discipline. Situations arose that required prayer; people needed me; I needed Jesus. God knew I didn’t need more disciplined practices than the discipline He was already planning to send my way. (And oh, wowza, did I ever need that ring as a reminder of His presence…!)

Today is Maundy Thursday, which means Lent is almost over. The dark before the dawn, tonight we commemorate Jesus’ last supper with His disciples before He was betrayed. Tomorrow He was crucified. Sunday, at last!, Jesus rose from the grave.

We want to fast-forward the bad stuff to get to the good. We want to skip the pain in favor of pleasure. We don’t want bitter but sweet. In this Holy Week, God calls us to see His glory in the worst-ever scenario, trusting Him to redeem and transform it into more than all we could ask or imagine.

So what am I thankful for on this Maundy Thursday?

I am, as always, thankful for Jesus, who sacrificed Himself in love for me, for all of us, so that our lives not only exist, but matter.

I am thankful for a year, and that the situation that occupied my heart last year is no longer my concern. And I’m thankful for the hope that the situation that occupies my heart now won’t next year.

I am thankful for time, as in, time heals all wounds. The wounds of last year, but also more recent cuts and jabs that, with time, prayer, and careful tending, have already begun to heal.

I am thankful for kind and gentle human beings who willingly give of themselves to help the rest of us make peace–with ourselves, with God, with one another.

I am thankful for the continual bubbling over of last week’s Mexico trip, and the ways I see God has grown and shaped my Teen through this experience.

I am thankful for yoga, and my friends and their friends who filled a studio this morning for a laughter- and fun-filled sweaty workout, good for body and soul.

I am thankful for the rain showers earlier today, for the quail running down my fence line, for the twilight breeze rocking the tree branches outside my window. Peaceful beauty.

I have to laugh at what happens when I pull out my running shoes…

…and say “Thank you!” for what I see outside my door…

The first spring rose in my garden, a gift from a friend

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Thankful (Maundy) Thursday

Maundy Thursday. Also known as Holy Thursday, Covenant Thursday, Great and Holy Thursday, Sheer Thursday, and Thursday of Mysteries (loving this last one – because isn’t God’s love SUCH a mystery?).

Maundy Thursday is the day on which we commemorate Jesus’ last supper with His disciples before He was betrayed (later that night), crucified (Good Friday), and resurrected (Easter).Da_Vinci__the_Last_Supper

The word maundy comes from the Latin, mandatum, which means command. As in John 13:34-35: “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

Oy, love can be hard!

Sometimes, it feels like too much. Too much to ask.

I’m wrestling with God this Maundy Thursday. Someone has hurt one of my cubs and this Mama Bear wants to take them down. (In my honor, please read that with a deep, booming, fantastic God-like voice: your favorite Batman, or Morgan Freeman, even Arnold in Terminator…)

How to respond graciously when I don’t want to? Sure, decorum works most effectively, but I want to kill with kindness. Really, I want the kill. Sigh…

I know what today is: a solemn day, an important day for Christ-followers. My One Year Bible doesn’t know that this particular calendar year has landed MT for March 24th. So I sit down with my Bible, knowing I need a heavy dose of God right now, and read this:forgive

Am I willing to listen? The command isn’t just to love, but to love my enemies! Loving my guys is easy. But to love, do good, bless, and pray for my hateful, hurtful, cursing enemies…YIKES!

Therein lies the rub. The true command of John 13:34 is to love like Jesus loved. How did Jesus love? He didn’t say a word in His own defense. He sacrificed His life. He loved with such a costly love that He gave everything He had. And because He loved us SO much, He died to save every single one of His undeserving, unloving, hateful, hurting, cursing enemies who would recognize their own sin and say YES! to His overflowing love.

Jesus said yes to me before I could even attempt to deserve His love (not that I ever could, try as I might). And now it’s my job, as His follower, to say a loving yes to others who don’t deserve it.

I don’t want to. And I still do need to seek justice for my hurting cub. Love doesn’t negate consequences. But God’s love calls me to a standard I can’t, won’t, achieve on my own.

So I ask for God’s love to fill me. To forgive my sins as I forgive those who sin against me (and my cub). I ask God for the willingness to listen, to love, to forgive, to do good, to bless, and to pray – even when that’s the last thing I want to do.

Because, I’m pretty sure, Jesus didn’t want to die on the cross, and yet He prayed: “…not as I will, but as you will” (Matthew 26:39).

One of my favorite poets, George Herbert, writes of this mystery:

I threaten’d to observe the strict decree
    Of my dear God with all my power and might;
    But I was told by one it could not be;
Yet I might trust in God to be my light.
“Then will I trust,” said I, “in Him alone.”
    “Nay, e’en to trust in Him was also His:
    We must confess that nothing is our own.”
“Then I confess that He my succour is.”
“But to have nought is ours, not to confess
    That we have nought.” I stood amaz’d at this,
    Much troubled, till I heard a friend express
That all things were more ours by being His;
    What Adam had, and forfeited for all,
    Christ keepeth now, who cannot fail or fall.

 

It’s not up to us. Every inclination we have to do good, to trust God, it all comes from Him. We are His, and thank God for Him who leads us to trust our Christ, who cannot fail or fall, who keeps it all, our Hold-Fast.

 

Celebrating God’s Goodness

Jesus Christ is risen.
He is risen indeed!

Today we celebrate Easter, the resurrection of Jesus Christ which conquered death and gives us new life.

Easter lilies. Choral and brass anthems. Dress-up clothes. And yes, Easter baskets, hidden eggs, and even chocolate bunnies.

Photo credit: Nancy Ingersoll, http://thephotocottage.net/

Photo credit: Nancy Ingersoll, http://thephotocottage.net/

Celebration is important, necessary for a full life, the highs balancing the lows. But what if you don’t feel like celebrating? What if you’re stuck in a valley so deep you don’t remember the sky?

Thank God the Bible addresses the full range of human experience. See Psalm 13:

How long, Lord? Will you forget me forever?
    How long will you hide your face from me?
How long must I wrestle with my thoughts
    and day after day have sorrow in my heart?
    How long will my enemy triumph over me?

Look on me and answer, Lord my God.
    Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep in death,
and my enemy will say, “I have overcome him,”
    and my foes will rejoice when I fall.

But I trust in your unfailing love;
    my heart rejoices in your salvation.
I will sing the Lord’s praise,
    for he has been good to me.

David cries out in despair, feeling the absence of God in this struggle against his enemy. And yet, he chooses to trust, to rejoice, to sing the Lord’s praise, to celebrate God’s goodness. He doesn’t feel like celebrating but he chooses to celebrate nonetheless.

It helps to remember that celebration is itself a spiritual discipline. We can choose it even when – maybe especially when – we don’t feel it.

A decade ago I went through a particularly difficult few years. After two years of secondary infertility we finally got pregnant just as my dad was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. My sister had a baby and on his baptism day, Father’s Day in fact, she landed in the hospital with a potentially life-threatening case of pancreatitis. Around the time our own long-awaited baby was born, we realized our jobs were in transition; we left our jobs shortly after Dad passed on Tween’s first birthday. Our peers, fortunately for them, hadn’t experienced the crushing weight of life’s traumas and couldn’t support us in our grief.

My kids were my joy, my reason to get out of bed each day. My sweet husband held me when I could cry, not as often as I expected. Family felt like a lifeline as we walked together through the valley of the shadow of death, that poetic line from Scripture becoming our too-real daily walk.

Time passes. We found new jobs and new community in a new town, and I came across my journal from that time. Although grief like thick fog had obscured my vision, had left me feeling alone, here I saw page after page of Scriptures and prayers in my own handwriting, a dialogue with God that had under-girded each day. Even in the darkness I had continued to practice a long-time discipline of Scripture reading and prayer. I wrote in my journal the verses that stood out from each day’s reading and then wrote my prayers to God in response. It didn’t feel celebratory, but I held on to God’s goodness, to His faithfulness, His love for me, His promises to be with me in every circumstance: “I will never leave you nor forsake you.”

As I flipped through the pages of my journal, a testament to God’s goodness, I recalled this promise from Psalm 30:

11 You have turned my mourning into joyful dancing.
    You have taken away my clothes of mourning and clothed me with joy,
12 that I might sing praises to you and not be silent.
    O Lord my God, I will give you thanks forever!

I wish that dark valley hadn’t appeared in our journey, but I am forever grateful for God’s presence with me and for the spiritual practices He used to reveal Himself to me. I am grateful, too, for the place He has planted us down the road, for the good work before us and the rich friendships we enjoy. We might have wanted to go a different way, but we had to keep walking to arrive at this beautiful destination.

God is good all the time. All the time, God is good!

Jack & Diane tell us: “Oh yeah, life goes on, long after the thrill of livin’ is gone.”
Jesus responds: “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.”

Celebrating God’s goodness in every situation – rejoicing in the Lord always – may be the very thing we need to get through those dark valleys and to live the full life Jesus intends for us. We will not emerge unchanged, but Lord willing we will come out with grace enough to share.

Jesus Christ has risen, and that changes everything. Hallelujah!

Connect
Reflect on a great party you’ve attended and what made it a special event.

Study
Read Philippians 4:4-7.
What does it look like in everyday life to “Rejoice in the Lord always”? i.e., How can you obey this command in the midst of difficult circumstances without being phony or inauthentic?
Explain the connection between rejoicing, anxiety, and prayer.
Read 2 Samuel 6:12-22.
Describe David’s acts of celebration.
Why was Michal offended, and how did David respond?

Live
What causes you anxiety? How can an intentional focus on celebration affect your anxiety?
When have you danced before the Lord with all your might, physically or otherwise? Explain.
What gets in the way of you celebrating God’s goodness? What can you do this week to level those obstacles and increase your celebration?
Richard Foster, in Celebration of Discipline, writes, “…I am inclined to think that joy is the motor, the thing that keeps everything else going. Without joyous celebration to infuse the other Disciplines, we will sooner or later abandon them. Joy produces energy. Joy makes us strong.” Reflect on your experience practicing spiritual disciplines this Lent. Does the above quote resonate with your experience? If so, how?
What spiritual practices might God be leading you to continue beyond Lent?

Pray
Pray that the Holy Spirit will cause your faith training to overflow with joy.

Note: This is the last study in the Faith Training series. It may be helpful to review the Faith Training Exercises and continue to explore practices as God leads you.

Tween picked out this bouquet in Easter celebration colors

Tween picked out this bouquet in Easter celebration colors