Easter Joy and Sorrow

I had another post ready for this week, but have been grieving my Gram and Papa a little more heavily this week, so decided to post this from the archives instead, as it more accurately describes my current feelings. May it bless you as well.

Easter.
Spring.
New life.
On Easter morning, my eldest ran into the living room where we had left Jesus on the cross the night before, eyes wide with hope of resurrection. “Daddy, look! Jesus left us flowers that God made!”

Hope and joy at the end of sorrow and pain. This is Easter.

On Easter morning, gathered with our Family, we sing

The greatest day in history
Death is beaten, You have rescued me
Sing it out, Jesus is alive!
Endless joy, perfect peace,
Earthly pain finally will cease
Celebrate Jesus is alive!
Oh, happy day, happy day…
My heart swells and overflows with emotions that at first glance seem to be at odds. For some time now, I often feel both joy and gratitude, sorrow and longing.
On Easter morning, the joy is easy. Jesus is alive!

Sorrow and longing, though, those are things that are more difficult. Yet they are real and, although hard, they are what should be.

My sorrow is over our first Easter without my Gram.

March-July10 036
As we celebrate Jesus’ victory over death and as our family celebrates a new season of birth from my youngest brother and his wife, we miss Gram with a physical ache.

We acknowledge that all of this, this pain and death and sadness, is not how it was supposed to be. None of this existed before we rebelled against God.

And so I sorrow.

My longing is for that day of redemption and transformation. The day when earthly pain will cease and death will be banished for all time. I desperately wish to be gathered into Jesus’ arms and told that all is now well.

And so I long.

Sorrow and longing. At second thought, they are what we should feel. After all,

Our kind, heavenly Father has provided many wonderful inns for us along our journey, but He takes special care to see that we never mistake any of them for home. ~ C.S. Lewis
May I return for a moment to gratitude?

On Easter morning, as we worshiped together, we sang

You make beautiful things,
You make beautiful things out of the dust.
You make beautiful things,
You make beautiful things out of us.
My heart cries out “Why?”

Why do You love me that much?

You went to the cross to allow me to become a daughter of God. Wasn’t that more than enough? Why would You now also work so very hard to make beautiful things out of the dust that I am? Why would You pour so much into molding me into someone who looks like You?

There is much deep theology in this. Perhaps I will explore these things later.

For now, I will fall on my knees in gratitude for such deep love.

On Easter morning and beyond, I will let my heart swell with sorrow and longing, joy and gratitude, knowing that Jesus is alive.

art credit: The Expulsion of Adam and Eve from Paradise by Benjamin Westheaven picturecross picture by Asta Rastauskiene

Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterPin on PinterestShare on Google+Share on LinkedInShare on StumbleUponEmail this to someone

To Hope While Living in Hell

To hear my blog post read aloud, just click the play button. If you’re reading this in an email, you may have to click here to hear the post on my site.

 

What does it look like to become like Jesus?
becoming like Christ
What does it look like when your heart is in the process of being transformed?
transformed
I have come to believe that one major characteristic of those who are being sanctified by the Holy Spirit is the supernatural power to keep your eyes fixed on Christ when your world is crashing down around you.
eyes on Christ
Whether it is your inner world or the world all around, the ability to cling to God no matter what is a powerful witness to all around us.
physical pain
grief
loneliness
depression
worry
fear
There is so much that could swamp us in our life with God.
be still
I am learning that being still before God, practicing the disciplines of silence and solitude, is one of the most important ways that we can open up space to allow the Holy Spirit to change us.
I hope to write more about that soon, but I wanted simply to write today about the idea that God can so surround us with Himself that nothing else can devastate us.
I don’t mean that we won’t feel negative emotions such as fear or sadness, but that we will still be able to hope regardless of our inner and outer circumstances.
In the monastic tradition, the highest form of sanctity is to live in hell and not lose hope. ~ Gregory Boyle in Tattoos on the Heart
Hope
trust
To know that God is with you, even when you don’t see Him.
To know that in the end everything will be okay, even if the end is not in sight.
To know that below all of the the hurt and pain, underneath all of the heartache and sorrow, there lies the incomprehensible and immovable peace and joy of Jesus.
Hope
hope
May God grant you the ability to hold on to hope, no matter what happens to you this week.

Art Credits: St. Peter’s Rescue from the Lake of Galilee by Herbert Boekl; Jesus and His Disciples on the Sea of Galilee, author unknown

Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterPin on PinterestShare on Google+Share on LinkedInShare on StumbleUponEmail this to someone

To Confess I Cannot

We are on spring break this week, so I am posting a Lenten essay from the archives. May it bless you this week.
To hear my blog post read aloud, just click the play button. If you’re reading this in an email, you may have to click here to hear the post on my site.

 

I really hate admitting that I cannot do something.  I have experienced quite a few tragedies that occurred because I was unable to swallow that thing inside of me that rises up and prevents me from asking for help.
I cannot
The one notable exception is raising children.  I am all about seeking out advice when it comes to my children (which is its own problem because too much advice leads to indecision which invariably leads to paralysis).  This is not by any particular virtue of my own, rather it is because I am completely terrified of irreversibly messing up another human being.
Messing up my own life, however, is fine, because whatever the thing is, I can do it.
Even if I cannot.
This causes a definite problem, however, when it comes to my faith.  I want to be able to be good enough, to make myself righteous enough, to climb up the ladder and reach God all on my own.
Tower of Babel
I would have done well in Babel.
I want to do it myself so that I can then take credit.  I want to be proud of my own accomplishments.  I want, in short, to seek and worship myself.
Worshiping Self
God, however, is quite clear.  We can never rise up to Him, so He, in His infinite mercy, came down to us.  
Lent
This is folly and this is scandal.  It cannot be understood by our own reason and intelligence.  This is offensive.  It offends our pride to know that there is nothing for us to do.
God is too high and holy and our sin is too deep and depraved for us to be able to reach God.
Our souls become crippled and cramped by trying to rise to the highest height.  The end is despair, or a self-righteousness that leaves room neither for love of God nor for love of others. ~ Emil Brunner
It hurts as a crucifixion always does, but I must crucify myself and admit that I cannot reach God.  I cannot be good enough and I cannot make myself righteous.
So God descends to us at Christmas and finishes His descent on Good Friday.  What is His goal and where does He end His descent?  He ends where we belong.  In Hell.  Our rightful place is separation from God, which is hell, and God descends down to hell.
Fire
Jesus experiences our separation from God and despairs of loneliness from God so that we can be free of it.  He descends all the way down so that He can lift us out and reconcile us to God.  It is the only way.
Lent
If the only way to receive God’s Spirit and nevermore to be separate from Him is to admit that I cannot do it, I will crucify my pride every single day and bow my head to the ground in worship and thanksgiving.
I will confess: I cannot.

Art Credits: Construction of the Tower of Babel painting by Pieter Brueghel the Younger; The Three Crosses by Rembrandt; all other photographs copyright Made Sacred 2019

Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterPin on PinterestShare on Google+Share on LinkedInShare on StumbleUponEmail this to someone

Trying too Hard in Prayer

To hear my blog post read aloud, just click the play button. If you’re reading this in an email, you may have to click here to hear the post on my site.

 

Prayer
I like to do things right.
If I am going to bother to do something, I want to do it well.
I tell my children this frequently: If anything is worth doing, it is worth doing excellently.
weary
weary
weary
They might be weary of this particular expression.
This character trait serves me well much of the time.
Except when it comes to my relationship with God.
In my spiritual formation program, I am in the middle of a class on prayer. One of the main things I am learning?
I try too hard.
I have been half convinced that if I can find the right method to use, the best pattern of words, the correct posture of body,
POOF!
Magic
I will hear God.
Like magic.
Except prayer is not magic. It is a friendship.
Prayer is a friendship
I know this, of course.
Yet I also don’t know this.
Because I have still been looking for just the right way to pray, rather than just
being still.
I have been trying to control prayer, both its method and its results, rather than surrendering to God so that He can give me the gift of His presence,
the gift of communion with Him in whatever form He wishes that to take.
Prayer is God’s work, so it will always succeed.
If I feel that I have failed at prayer it is because I have decided what it should look like and then have become frustrated because I cannot make it look that way.
Prayer is nothing more or less than the interior action of the Trinity at the level of being. This we cannot control; we can only reverently submit. ~ David Benner
Did you hear that? You who want desperately to hear from God, to know Him more, to experience His presence,
listen closely.
Prayer is God’s work, so it will always succeed.
Always.
Your work is simply to be still.
Be still and know that I am God.

Art Credits: The Pathway to Life, Thomas De Witt Talmage; photos of some of my children, copyright Made Sacred 2019; Bible Primer image of a sacrifice, Adof Hult; Christ in the House of Martha and Mary, Johannes Vermeer

Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterPin on PinterestShare on Google+Share on LinkedInShare on StumbleUponEmail this to someone

Lightening and Love

To hear my blog post read aloud, just click the play button. If you’re reading this in an email, you may have to click here to hear the post on my site.

 

Be adored among men,
God, three-numberèd form;
Wring thy rebel, dogged in den,
Man’s malice, with wrecking and storm.
Beyond saying sweet, past telling of tongue,
Thou art lightening and love, I found it, a winter and warm;
Father and fondler of heart thou hast wrung:
Hast thy dark descending and most art merciful then.
With an anvil-ding
And with fire in him forge thy will
Or rather, rather then, stealing as Spring
Through him, melt him but master him still:
Whether at once, as once at a crash Paul,
Or as Austin, a lingering-out sweet skill,
Make mercy in all of us, out of us all
Mastery, but be adored, but be adored King.
~ Gerard Manley Hopkins
poetry as art
lightening and love
I am struck by how much truth can be contained within the words of a poem.
This poem by Gerard Manley Hopkins, for example – though you would grow weary long before I reached my end, still allow me to pull out just a few of my favorite bits.
Thou art lightening and love, I found it
God’s is a dangerous love. He is a holy fire that purifies. He pulls us from our filth and rebellion and makes us sons and daughters, and demands nothing less than all of us. Lightening and love.
Father and fondler of heart thou hast wrung
God demands our whole being. We are to pick up our cross, deny ourselves to follow Him. Our hearts are wrung, more, they are transformed into something new. And the entire painful time, He is holding us close, gracing us with His Father presence that will never let us go.
With an anvil-ding
And with fire in him forge thy will
Or rather, rather then, stealing as Spring
Through him, melt him but master him still
Some of us require the anvil and fire in order to mold our hearts into the likeness of Jesus. Others of us have hearts that can be melted slowly, as the spring melts the snow, and remade into Christ’s heart. Yet all of us must be mastered by the One who created us to bear the image of His Son.
Make mercy in all of us, out of us all
Mastery, but be adored, but be adored King
As God our Father, in His great mercy, masters our hearts so that we may show mercy to those around us, let us adore Him as our Lord and King. The Lord be with you all.
This was different from my normal posts, I know. Let me know if you loved it, hated it, or thought it was slightly better than a morning at the dentist. I enjoy hearing your feedback.
Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterPin on PinterestShare on Google+Share on LinkedInShare on StumbleUponEmail this to someone

A Taste of Hope

To hear my blog post read aloud, just click the play button. If you’re reading this in an email, you may have to click here to hear the post on my site.

 

Often this life seems unfair.
God’s answers to desperate prayers seem arbitrary and rare.
Prayer
Prayer
Prayer
One family prays for their unborn child and gives birth to a stillborn; another family prays for their unborn child and applauds at his piano recital.
One mother fights cancer and loses; another mother fights cancer and dances at her daughter’s wedding.
Sometimes God chooses to step in. Often He does not.
Why?
This is the age old question, is it not?
Why did God do this and not that?
Why, even in Scripture, does God say yes to some and no to others?
Taste
Why did Jesus not heal everyone He came across? Why did He not save everyone from death?
As my Papa used to say, Well, I’ll tell you.
I don’t know.
I’ll tell you what I do know.
This world is broken. It is broken because of sin.
It is broken because of the sin of men.
Our sin.
The ugly in our world?
This is our world as we have made it.
This is our world and we cannot fix it.
We are helpless and hopeless to bring any kind of beauty out of the ugly.
Except.
Except God.
Our God stepped down into the ugly and took on our flesh so that He could be God-with-us, so that He could make everything beautiful again.
hope
This He has done. It is finished.
And yet it is not finished.
The end is certain, yet this world takes time to be restored to its original perfection.
I don’t know why this is so. It feels so long since the days of Christ.
It is, at times, easy to give up, to decide that He is never coming back and that the broken state of our world is its inevitable end.
hope
Except.
Except God.
Except for those moments when God steps in and gives us a taste of what is to come.
Those moments when God steps in and reminds us that a time is coming when there will be no more sickness or grief or pain, when there will be no more veil between Him and His people.
Those moments when God steps in and gives us hope.
This world is broken and full of the ugly and the suffering, and it would remain so for always.
Except.
Except God.

Art Credits: Prayer by Antonio Parreiras; The Pathway of Life by Thomas De Witt Talmage; Prayer by Mednyánszky László; When the King Came by George Hodges; Jesus Christ by Asta Kr; candle-lit cross by Made Sacred

Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterPin on PinterestShare on Google+Share on LinkedInShare on StumbleUponEmail this to someone

This Kind of Sorrow

To hear my blog post read aloud, just click the play button. If you’re reading this in an email, you may have to click here to hear the post on my site.

 

Sorrow is common to us all.
Sorrow is part of what it means to live, part of what it means to be human.
Frederick Buechner says that this universal experience is what pulls us together, is what makes us feel akin to each other.
sorrow
Sorrow is what keeps coming back to me as I prepare for this season of Lent.
While we all experience sorrow, only those of us who claim the name of Jesus have experienced the sorrow that comes when we are brought face to face with the shadowless light of God that exposes all of the ugliness deep inside.
It is this kind of sorrow that leads to the cross of Christ.
It is this kind of sorrow that leads to the beauty of transformation.
It is this kind of sorrow that changes everything.
godly sorrow
Paul says that this kind of sorrow produces hope within that does not fail.
Paul also says that there is a worldly sorrow and a godly sorrow.
The worldly kind of sorrow produces death.
The godly kind of sorrow produces repentance which leads to salvation.
It is this kind of sorrow that breaks us and opens us wide to the painful healing that saves us.
It is this kind of sorrow that I want to lean into this Lent.
repentance
Our God is standing with His arms wide open, offering this kind of sorrow.
“Yet even now,” declare the Lord, “return to Me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning; and rend your hearts and not your garments.” Return to the LORD your God, for He is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love. ~ Joel
I attended an Ash Wednesday service at a nearby Lutheran church this week.
We stood and confessed all together that we had sinned, that we had done wrong against God and against each other, that we couldn’t even manage to do the good God had asked of us much less refrain from doing evil.
And then we walked up to the pastor, one by one, and were marked with ashes.
We were marked with ashes as we mourned the wrong we cannot seem to turn away from.
We were marked with ashes in the sign of the cross as we remembered that we are covered by the grace of God.
The pastor looked me straight in the eye and said, “You are marked by the cross of Christ. You are a child of God.”
This is what this kind of sorrow produces.
The gift of becoming children of God.
So lean into your sorrow in this season so that you can settle into the hope of joy for eternity.
hope
You are marked by the cross of Christ.
You are a child of God.

Art credits: Sketch of The Three Crosses by Rembrandt; all other photographs copyright Made Sacred 2019

Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterPin on PinterestShare on Google+Share on LinkedInShare on StumbleUponEmail this to someone

The Practice of Lent

To hear my blog post read aloud, just click the play button. If you’re reading this in an email, you may have to click here to hear the post on my site.

 

I have been contemplating Lent recently.
Lent
I am still fairly new to the practice of Lent, but it seems healthy in our spiritual lives to have a time each year when we examine the deepest places of ourselves.
Lent is a time of practicing our dependence on God by giving up something we are dependent on that is not-God.
Lent is a time of being alone and quiet in order to search out the deepest places of ourselves that we are still keeping back from God.
Lent is a time to give those places back to God so that He can heal them and make them whole.
silence
I don’t yet know what Lent will look like for me this year.
I have been asking God how He wants me to die to myself during this season of Lent so that I can more fully be alive with Him when Easter arrives.
As much as I am tempted to try, we cannot skip over death and straight into resurrection glory.
I have been trying to listen to God during my times of silence and solitude with Him.
I have not yet heard any answers.
Perhaps it is because I am still so new to this practice.
Perhaps it is because He doesn’t have an answer for me.
Often He leaves the decision up to us.
dying to self
Lent is also a time of looking straight into the face of death itself,
and seeing that, after all we have been through,
after all this world has to throw at us,
after all of the screaming and crying and groaning and God where in this hell are You,
 God is still with us.
He is still Emmanuel.
Emmanuel
He is still the One who came to us and died a gruesome death for us so that He could be with us forever.
He is the God of Lent and the God of Easter, and we cannot reach the one without suffering through the other.
So will you consider Lent with me?
contemplating Lent
Lent begins on March 6 with Ash Wednesday.
Take some time in the quiet before then and ask God how He wants you to practice this season of Lent.
And then be still and listen.
Maybe you will hear something.
Maybe you won’t.
Either way, you are beginning the work of dying to yourself so that by His grace you can live more fully and abundantly with Him.
IMG_0314
If it would be of help to you, attached to this post are two links to a devotion that I have written for this season of Lent, one for the PDF version and one for the online version. It will take you through Ash Wednesday, the six Sundays of Lent, Good Friday, Holy Saturday, and Easter Sunday.
Take it and may God bless you through it.
You can download the PDF version by clicking here.
You can access the online version by clicking here.

Art credits: all photographs copyright Made Sacred 2019

Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterPin on PinterestShare on Google+Share on LinkedInShare on StumbleUponEmail this to someone

Clothed in Goodness

To hear my blog post read aloud, just click the play button. If you’re reading this in an email, you may have to click here to hear the post on my site.

 

 

We are good.
good
Not due to anything inherent in ourselves,
but good because God proclaimed it over us.
Left to ourselves we are a mass of ugliness and evil.
Full of selfishness and pride, we wallow in our muck and call it good.
Yet while we were still ragged, filthy,
God spoke.
And we were good.
God's goodness
clothed in goodness
Words have power.
Especially God’s words.
God’s Word flows from His mouth to water the ground and grow the seed.
It will not return to Him void.
God spoke and it is so.
Julian of Norwich, a fourteenth century mystic, said that we must discover that “we are clothed in God’s goodness.”
We are lovely because God loves us.
lovely
God's loveliness
Both sides of this matter.
It matters that our goodness comes from God.
Otherwise we might adore ourselves.
It matters that we are clothed in God’s goodness.
Otherwise we might despise ourselves.
clothed in God
When we submerge ourselves in the fullness of this truth for long enough,
God’s love spills over
and makes everything lovely.
Long lay the world in sin and error pining ’till He appeared and the soul felt its worth
The worth that was declared by God from the beginning.
He saw all that He had made and behold, it was very good.
delight
God's delight
We are good because God made us.
We are lovely because He loves us.
God delights in us.
We must steep ourselves in this.
Because once we believe this?
Believe it in the deepest places of ourselves?
We will naturally delight in all those around us.
And they will be more lovely for having tasted our God-delight.
good
We breathe in the spirit that delights in our being – the fragrance of it. And it works on us. Then we exhale (for that breath has to go somewhere) – to breathe into the world this same spirit of delight. ~ Gregory Boyle in Tattoos on the Heart

Art credits: final photograph by Kirk Sewell; all other photographs copyright Made Sacred 2019

Amazon links are affiliate links, allowing you to help support my blog in a tiny way with no additional cost to you.

Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterPin on PinterestShare on Google+Share on LinkedInShare on StumbleUponEmail this to someone

Fear Into Faith

To hear my blog post read aloud, just click the play button. If you’re reading this in an email, you may have to click here to hear the post on my site.

 

Fear.
fear
It creeps in everywhere and is so hard to banish.
There is much to fear in this broken world of ours.
Fear is, at its root, the failure to believe God.
We don’t truly believe that He will take care of us, that He wants what is best for us, and so we are afraid.
There is much fear in the gospels.
The disciples fear the storms on the sea, fear the hungry crowds, fear the strange suffering of which Jesus keeps speaking.
In Mark’s gospel the opposite of faith is not unbelief but fear. ~ Bonnie B. Thurston in The Spiritual Landscape of Mark
fear
I recently was afraid.
We are still paying off medical bills from last year, and suddenly both of our cars needed work done and were not driveable.
At the same time.
Immediately I felt the fear creeping in.
How will we take the girls places? With four children, we don’t all fit in just any kind of vehicle! How will we pay for it all?
Often, I confess, I give in to the fear.
This time, however, God gave me the grace to resist.
My husband and I continued to tithe.
The night our vehicles broke down I spoke with my girls about God as our Provider, about the promises He made to always take care of us, about the ways He has provided in the past.
Our Bible story that evening happened to be the story of the loaves and the fish.
The story that happens in the desert.
With no natural food sources to be found.
Where God provides enough.
And more than enough.
That same night I received a text from my parents.
Five days previously, they had decided, for no particular reason, to give a monetary gift to each of their children.
Five days previously.
I fell to my knees in gratitude.
God our provider.
The next morning I got to gather my girls into my arms and tell them that even before we knew we needed it,
God provided.
fear
Fear is everywhere.
The circumstances that produce the feelings of fear are constant.
Will we choose to dwell in that fear, allowing thoughts of worry and anxiety to win?
Or will we choose to push them out with reminders of the character of God, the times He has cared for us in the past, the stories in Scripture of His care for His beloved?
Will we choose to believe?
There is much fear in the gospels.
The gospel of Mark, in fact, ends in fear.
Mark ends with an empty tomb, a message from an angel, and three women who say nothing “for they were afraid.”
I am those women.
More often than not I give in to my fear rather than choosing to believe.
Mark lets me know that God is gentle with my fear, wanting to comfort rather than chastise me.
We do, after all, still live in this broken world, in this space before the restoration of all things.
This is where we live: after the resurrection but before the Return, entrusted with a message that is wonderful, but the import of which we don’t quite understand. ~ Bonnie B. Thurston in The Spiritual Landscape of Mark
Mark gives me hope.
faith
Hope that God is gentle with my fear, that He still entrusts me His message.
Hope that He will not give up on me but will continue to change my fear into faith.

Art credits: photographs of storms by Kirk Sewell; Jesus and His Disciples on the Sea of Galilee from The Story of the Bible from Genesis to Revelation; Jesus Walks on the Sea by Gustave Dore

Amazon links are affiliate links, allowing you to help support my blog in a tiny way with no additional cost to you.

Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterPin on PinterestShare on Google+Share on LinkedInShare on StumbleUponEmail this to someone