Tag Archives: salvation

Christmas Everlasting

Her name was Charlotte.

I’ve wanted to write about her for such a long time but I couldn’t find the words until now. I’ve desperately wanted them all to be so honorable and right, full of grace and love— just like she was.  I confess I didn’t know or appreciate her half as well as I wish I had, but I know she loved me and I’m certain she knew I loved her too.

And… I won’t lie; we didn’t hit it off right away— I really wasn’t her type of girl. I might have scared her. Heck, I scared myself.   Thank heavens, she tried and kept on trying.

While she’s been gone for 6 years, so many things around our home continue to keep her memory alive. Especially at Christmastime; her most favorite season of all. Gosh, how she loved Christmas! Partially because she flat out thrilled at any chance to celebrate, decorate or arrange something. Seriously, she was the kind of woman who had a tablecloth and matching paper products on hand for every season. I used to tease her about belonging to the “Potholder of the Month” club for that reason alone! Yes, she loved a holiday but Christmas was her time to shine.  Charlotte understood as deeply as possible the real joy we have for celebrating the birth of Christ: Jesus was her Savior.

In her earthly lifetime, Charlotte was the classic “Southern Lady”- private, proper, loving and loyal. Hospitable and generous too— you’d have to work hard to out-give her and after she was gone it amazed us to discover how charitable she had been with her meager retirement income.  Whether caring for her aging mother, children and grandchildren, or serving her church, retirement center neighbors and community through delivering Meals on Wheels— Charlotte spent herself wholly in the name of Christ.   What a legacy.

Charlotte was forgiving— at least as forgiving as humanly possible and willing to pray for the strength to forgive better when necessary. Despite the pain and betrayal that singed her heart terribly, somehow she managed to never let it interfere with the way she lived on a daily basis. Pain just didn’t define Charlotte or her relationships with others—Christ did.  She taught me by these examples and her life is teaching me still today. Especially at Christmastime.

I vividly recall her last Christmas with us. We didn’t know it was the last one we’d have together and certainly she didn’t either.  There we were— crowded together in her tiny apartment visiting, sharing a modest but plentiful meal, and opening up thoughtful and silly gifts, much like we’d done the year before.

However, this year she had also decided to gift some of her precious Christmas dècor. She’d already done some considerable downsizing in order to move into the center, but now she was ready to decide what she wanted to keep and, to capture the spirit of her words, she “wanted to give it as her own choice”.  Because she knew that this life and these lovely things were only temporary, she happily gave the very things she treasured. That was Charlotte.

So, again this year, as I’ve carefully unboxed and unwrapped our family Christmas items, many which once graced her own humble home, I can’t help but remember my sweet mother in law with a special fondness for her steadfast example of what it means to truly love, truly serve and truly live to give of oneself.  And not just at Christmastime; her legacy is the every day sort of stuff meant to be applied each and every moment.

I have to ask myself why this year remembering Charlotte seems to matter more to me than ever before.  To be honest, it’s likely for a variety of reasons but mostly,  I need the anchoring in these solid memories to help me know how to move forward through this ever-changing season of my life and most importantly— why.

Also because, among these other things, this year also finds her four sons in the throes of trying to respectfully care for their aging father. 

The differences between the two of them are like night and day but Charlotte would not want me to dwell on that. However, the life-lessons are clear:  how Charlotte gave, he withheld; what Charlotte cherished, he dismissed; where Charlotte released, he spent his life gripping all the more tightly. Sadly, in choosing a much meaner course of life, this poor man put them all on a trajectory that might have ensured no one would be around to stand in the gap for him at this late and most difficult stage of life.   But God.

Because this is where all of Charlotte’s love and Christ-like example is bearing the best fruit and an everlasting example. Simply put: the way she raised her sons and lived out her life before them was so thoroughly saturated with God’s protective and sheltering grace, that they are emboldened and equipped  to do the very best they can for their father despite the fractured relationship that has existed most of their lives. Because Charlotte loved Jesus the most, she loved her sons well and out of this love they are now able to show love to one another and for this man, their father. In courageously caring for their father, they are honoring the memory of their mother and surely, God is pleased.

So alive and unshakeable for me this Christmas— so real and profoundly true, these things of God matter the most. As I look around our home today, I see a handful of things she passed along but my heart clings to the real treasure that doesn’t fade  and one we are attempting to pass along to our own children—  it is the Holy Spirit’s everlasting gift of witness showing us the path to follow in the weeks and years to come. 

This is Charlotte’s gift to us– the  truly, everlasting message of Christmas and I’m so grateful that it’s mine to share…now… with you.    Merry Christmas!

 

Jesus Slept

Scattered, covered and nearly smothered.

Today is the first day most of the pieces of me are in the same place in awhile– have you ever felt that way?     Paper thin and bone tired.     Yeah.

God’s been working on me. Again.  Together  we’ve been wandering on the fringes of the wilderness. As I told my dear, sweet Ms. Jane the other day, I’m at that “Experiencing God” place: “The Crisis of Belief”.   She said, “ah yes… chapter 6!”   Love that crazy woman.

My youngest son and I had this conversation the other night— how in the wrestlings with God or various temptations, it’s important not to give in to the struggle but to call it by it’s rightful name: sin, pride, lack of faith or belief—whatever— and to thank God for the struggle that keeps us holding on to Him– to be thankful that He’s got his strong hands on us.                 Enemy = Defeated

That night, we talked about a lot of things.
You see, my big, soft-hearted teenager was sobbing.

Jesus Slept

Hard news shocked our community as we learned that a childhood friend was dead.  This was hard enough but seeing a family member’s  Facebook post: “I’ll love you forever. I’ll like you for always. As long as I’m living, my brother you’ll be.”—  put my boy over the edge. Suddenly he was overwhelmed by the instant evaporation of this young life and the unimaginable consequences of the void left behind.

Finding me on the sofa, he crumpled into a heap, spilling his tears and heart into my lap.

For his own brother.
For his two closest friends.
How devastating it would be for us if it was ever him.
For wanting to be closer to his own brother and sister.
Over life’s storms and how hard it is hold on and keep your head high and faith strong.

He was struggling. 
My son was in pain.

Cozy Christian cliches weren’t going to cut it for either of us. Good theology was necessary but what he needed in this moment was to understand how it applied to what he was feeling now.

What does it look like?
How is it lived for REAL?

When he mentioned the storms,  I remembered a story about another storm found in the book of Mark chapter 4

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 Mark records that it had been a long day of teaching and beach ministry. The massive crowds were pressing in on all sides so Jesus took a seat in a boat on the water and taught the crowds from there.

He had spent the whole day breaking down  vast kingdom principles into digestible bite-sized bits. Most didn’t understand–even those closest to him.   Now He was exhausted.

At dusk Jesus says, “”Let’s go across to the other side.”  Leaving the crowd,”  (I love this) “they took Him with them in the boat  just as He was.*”   

Then Jesus slept.

The story immediately jumps to the storm, but with a pinch of holy imagination, I can almost picture moments before.  I can imagine Jesus asleep on His cushion and the disciples  discussing the days events—the crowds, the highlights, His words. Wondering aloud what this or that meant…but not for long.  Because soon that storm was all up in there. Waves were breaking over top of them and filling the boat with water….    and Jesus kept on sleeping.

Bailing, trying to keep their little boat afloat, the disciples are frantic with fear. Incredulous, they wake Jesus and cry: “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?”

Because…..  that’s only why He came.
Because…… that’s only what He’d been teaching about   all.  day.   long.

In the midst of the crisis they forget everything else they know and cry out for Jesus.
He has spent all day teaching about faith and now He shows them application.  Waking, Jesus hushes the wind, calms the sea and in the eerie silence that follows asks them, “Why are you so afraid? Don’t you have any faith?”   

Then maybe, He goes back to His cushion. I don’t know. Stunned…they’re left  asking one another…  “Who is this….?”    Good question.

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Who is this?
Is He in THIS?
NOW?
Doesn’t He care that we are perishing?

These were the unspoken questions buried within my son’s pain-riddled conversation.  In his head, he knows the “right” answers while he wrestles to summon up the necessary faith to reconcile them within his heart and soul. It’s no different for any of us reading this today trying to navigate our own public and private storms.  It’s the leap we must make from espousing “good theology” to courageously applying it when it matters most.

What my son needed was to feel the hush in his soul that Jesus was offering in this storm. I needed to feel it too.   We talked about what we can know and trust to be true no matter how obvious:

  • Jesus was in that boat with them.
  • Jesus was in that storm.
  • And just maybe, Jesus was the storm, sent by God for this moment.God is Good!

There are also some not so obvious things here I believe the Holy Spirit invites us to ponder:

  1. I’m 99.9% certain that when the disciples got ready to launch out to the other side, they were confident in their strength and knowledge of sailing and navigation. Why didn’t they notice the storm? I don’t think it was there. It came up “suddenly” catching them way off guard….without warning.

What if  God is trying to show us that we might actually be the ones asleep…complacent, perhaps secure in what we know and what we do, and needing to be awakened? Reminding us how sometimes it takes a sudden storm to shake us from what we think we’re so secure about causing us to run and “wake the Teacher” — crying out for the help we need and the faith to cling hard and fast. 

My son and I recognized that God wants us to fight to stay alert and strong in and through Him— especially now because these days are certainly getting more evil.

          2.  I am 99.9% positive that Jesus rebuked the storm— but not His disciples. I don’t
               sense  He was upset with them for crying out in the midst of the storm. They
               needed to see their need. They needed to see Jesus and figure out where their
               faith was anchored.

    • Was it in what they knew?
    • Was it in their strength and ability?
    • Was it in the appearance of things?

They needed to answer these questions …not only for this moment and this storm…but for the storms to come. So do we …and people are watching how we answer them too.

They also needed to answer their own question: “Who is this…?” later asked by Jesus himself: “Who do you say that I am?” Likewise, in every situation we face, that’s the question we are ALWAYS answering. That’s the moment we are living our “good theology applied” to a watching world in need. Sometimes it’s hard to keep this answer straight. Sometimes we say that Jesus is our answer but we don’t live or love like it.

There’s no time for that.

This world is in crisis. The storm clouds are gathering. There is a generation —or two— crying out for answers they can SEE and FEEL being applied to all of life  by those of us who say we know Jesus. They’re asking:

  • What do we mean by love, unity, eternity?
  • What does that look like applied practically to every situation?
  • What does biblical marriage look like?
  • How can I push back the darkness and fight the urge to retreat into numbness too?Sail boats

I heard it in the voice of my crying teenager and a quieter conversation I had later with my other son. I heard it back in March as young women testified of the dark struggles in their lives wrestling with attempted suicide, bullying, self-mutilation, eating disorders and molestation. I heard it in a neighbor’s voice yesterday— lost and trying to find a solution she’s not yet ready to receive….

Oh “Teacher… do you not care that we are perishing?”

As the Church we find ourselves in the midst of our own crisis trying to figure out how to truly minister in the name of Christ in all of these places.  Part of my personal struggle is sorting out how to do as much as I can before it’s too late. There are days I feel like a muddle-headed, panic-stricken disciple bailing water from a sinking ship: helpless and inadequate for the task. Because alone… I am.  Then I remember… as I reminded my son… of one more thing:

It’s the simple understanding of something that is NOT recorded in scripture but we can bank on it:  the disciples made it safely to the other side that night.  They made it all the way…together, with Jesus “in the boat” with them… “just as He was”.   We’re gonna make it too.

Somehow, that’s helpful to me.
Standing and wiping his face, I could tell it was helpful to my son as well.
Then together, in THAT faith…we made it to the other side….one more time.

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The Pregnant Pause

It was our early marriage season “B.C” (before children) and we were young, wild and more or less “free”. Thanks to the USAF, we were enjoying a period of relative stability. For the first time in our recent history the pay was steady,  we had a solid place to live and felt the freedom to enjoy and explore our surroundings.   Life was good.

We lived in a small Illinois suburb just outside of St. Louis, no more than 40-minutes from a great zoo, a public museum, and a large city park with miles of trails for biking. Escaping as often as we could, time was spent taking in all the city had to offer.

This also included public performances from the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra. One of the lesser-known secrets of my soul is the love of good, classical music— Mozart in particular— and up until then, I had never seen a live orchestral performance. Having this kind of access was a treat for my senses and beauty-hungry soul.

To watch so many highly-skilled individual artists come together as a whole and fill a room with centuries-old music was a feast.  More modern pieces were presented as well and it was the first-time experience of one in particular that I’ll never forget: Samuel Barber’s “Adagio for Strings”.

The Pregnant Pause

To write this moment requires a loosening of my vocabulary— there’s simply no other fitting approach. Imagine: the sensation of being surrounded— nearly drowning in the sound of stringed instruments, spinning out and unraveling in an almost unbroken flow of sound. Swaying and swirling, ribbons of music unfurl, build and fill up every bit of available space within the possible range of hearing and come in so steady, without hastening or quickening the pace. You know you’re being taken someplace but you’re not quite sure where.

Note upon note is drawn between bow and string, as a pool of instruments measures out and pours upon the audience in a slow, steady stream…the sound now drawing us upward, drawing our ear and eye-gaze higher and higher still— narrowing, focusing….suspending over us as far to the peak of purity as it can go until you know— there’s nowhere left to go…       not one.   step.   more.

Then silence.
Absolute          silence.

As full as it had been only moments before, the room now echoes with spacious silence as the last few vaporous notes trail away and become memory.

And it lasts for quite a long time. The silence.  Almost to the point you may wonder if the piece is over and yet the Conductor doesn’t move— his hands are still in the air. The instrumentalists remain stock still with bows suspended against their strings, frozen in that silence.           Waiting.

It’s nerve-wracking, the ominous wait, the absence of sound and the fantastical fullness of the silence. The contrast is mesmerizing. Then…right about the time you’re certain you can take it no more— surely something must be wrong, the Conductor moves ever so slightly and the notes ease back into place falling in a much quieter decrescendo, working their way towards the finish line, backing away from the silence that was wholly necessary to the piece.

The silence that was planned all along. The silence that makes the sound more beautiful.

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This is my soul on this and most every Good Friday.

As the events of Holy week have once again unfolded before me, I’ve done my best to walk as a Pilgrim with others alongside our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ all the way to the cross.      All the way to today.

All the way from the clash with the religious leaders in the temple, to Mary’s alabaster offering and on through the cacophonous cries of Hosanna! lining the Jerusalem roadside.

I stood outside the door of the Upper Room and saw the kneeling and the washing, the bread and cup lifted up, and the hand against His on the table. I heard Him sing a song.  I stumbled along to Gethsemane and tried to keep my soul keen and awake for this one hour as the tension built and the blood-sweat trailed down his cheeks, soon to be kissed and called, “Rabbi”.

I stood in the shadows with Peter, saw the spitting mockery, the lashes and then heard the rooster crow in the distance and those same Hosanna voices turning inward on themselves, dipping into their own souls… my soul… and twisting back out into an ugly…CRUCIFY! 

The crown, the cross, the crowd.
The forgiveness, the forsaking, the cry… it is finished!

Then silence.

Sundown, the tomb and nightfall leading into the long    silence     of Saturday.

These are the moments that get me the most. As I try to imagine the grief of Peter and the dazed fear and disappointment of the disciples—maybe mixed with disgust— who had to be reliving every one of these moments over and over in their minds. Remembering just a week ago and now THIS? Wondering, “How did we get here?   Now what”?

That soul-stifling silence that you never expect to end. Death and the grave. Shattered dreams and expectations lay crushed beneath the weight of the enormous silence of Saturday.

Yes…Sunday is coming but Saturday doesn’t know it… yet.

Somewhere in the early morning hours on that 3rd day, God moved ever so slightly and the song continued. The stone was rolled away and the body wasn’t there. Because He lives!

Here we are:  with the possibility of being the people of Sunday and the risen Savior who can find measured joy in this Holy week, remembering our forgiveness purchased in these unfolding events and all the prophesy foretold of them since the Dawn of Time— we can anchor ourselves in these moments because–HALLELUJAH!– the story…the song— didn’t end in the silence of Saturday.   Not at all. 

The Witness

It’s something we must remember. It’s stated in one of the earliest creeds we know today how He suffered, he died and was buried. On the 3rd day he rose again in accordance with the Scriptures. He is seated at the right hand of the Father and….. He will come again to judge the living and the dead and His kingdom will have no end. 

He’s coming back.

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