Expecting both Crosses and Empty Tombs

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.

 

Crosses and empty tombs.
Cross
This is what life is made up of. Death and rebirth.
Life
Seeds that die in the ground in order to bloom glorious, winter death that must happen in order to burst into green, the dying to self that is the only way into joy.
Crosses and empty tombs.
Rembrandt
Empty Tomb
We are facing a couple of crosses in our family right now.
Really, just the possibility of crosses.
Although, as I sit quiet in candle-lit dark, it occurs to me that perhaps this waiting, this living in the possibility of a cross is, in itself, a cross.
What will I do when the cross looms large in my sight?
Where will I place these fears when all that crowds my vision is rough-hewn wood and sharp metal nails?
Will I continue to hope in the promise of an empty tomb at the end of the cross?
Death
I must. If I have to drop to my knees and beg God to help me, I must remember.
If I am to survive any cross, whether heavy or light, I must pray, I must fast, I must fling myself by any means possible into the hands of the One who bore the heaviest cross of all…the One who then emptied that tomb.
Jesus promised us crosses. We are to expect them. And He also promised us empty tombs in the end. It may not happen until the end, but He gave His word that He would make those tombs empty again.
So I must remember. I must remember that God broke into time to show us that the empty tomb will always follow the cross.
I must remember the times in my own story when God brought an empty tomb after a cross.
Hope
When I cannot see beyond my cross, when I cannot trust on my own, I must look to Jesus who proved that His power and love are strong enough to bring forth an empty tomb after every single cross.
I must remember
and hope.
Crosses and empty tombs. They always go hand in hand.
Lord, we pray we never find ourselves without hope, without a glimpse of the empty tomb each time we happen upon a cross. Help us begin our daily journey expecting both crosses and empty tombs and rejoicing when we encounter either because we know you are with us. Amen. ~ from the Book of Common Prayer

Art credit: The Three Crosses by Rembrandt; Empty Tomb ink drawing from Catholic Hymns, 1860

from the archives

Be Still

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 still.
Be Still
Wait.
Wait
Be still and wait for God.
Wait for God
Be still and wait for God to come.
God will come
Advent is waiting and so we become still while we wait for Him to come down and rescue us.
We pause in our fighting and our striving, we rest from our grieving and our mourning, we stop to breathe in our busyness and our too much.
Just for a moment.
It doesn’t take any of it away. Yet.
But we become still like Moses with the Red Sea before and the Egyptian army after and we wait for God to fight for us.
We who have lived with the pain for far too long, we who have just received the phone call and sit at our kitchen table in stunned silence, we who can’t see how we will put one foot in front of the other much less get up from our beds in the morning, we who hide in our closets and weep our wracking sobs while we rock back and forth,
God comes
just for one moment we become still.
We remember that God is and that He is fighting for us.
God fights for us
It doesn’t solve or heal any of it. Yet.
But it will.
God will heal us
Oh, how it will.
We become still and we wait for Emmanuel. We wait for Emmanuel, God-with-us, to come down.
We wait in this season and we wait in this life for our Emmanuel to come down and fight and make it all okay again.
So for just a moment, take a breath and remember how He already did this once to show us that He will do it again.
He is with us
Be still.
Emmanuel
Wait.

edited from the archives

Crosses and Empty Tombs

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.

 

Crosses and empty tombs.
Cross
This is what life is made up of. Death and rebirth.
Life
Seeds that die in the ground in order to bloom glorious, winter death that must happen in order to burst into green, the dying to self that is the only way into joy.
Crosses and empty tombs.
Rembrandt
Empty Tomb
We are facing a couple of crosses in our family right now.
Really, just the possibility of crosses.
Although, as I sit quiet in candle-lit dark, it occurs to me that perhaps this waiting, this living in the possibility of a cross is, in itself, a cross.
What will I do when the cross looms large in my sight?
Where will I place these fears when all that crowds my vision is rough-hewn wood and sharp metal nails?
Will I continue to hope in the promise of an empty tomb at the end of the cross?
Death
I must. If I have to drop to my knees and beg God to help me, I must remember.
If I am to survive any cross, whether heavy or light, I must pray, I must fast, I must fling myself by any means possible into the hands of the One who bore the heaviest cross of all…the One who then emptied that tomb.
Jesus promised us crosses. We are to expect them. And He also promised us empty tombs in the end. It may not happen until the end, but He gave His word that He would make those tombs empty again.
So I must remember. I must remember that God broke into time to show us that the empty tomb will always follow the cross.
I must remember the times in my own story when God brought an empty tomb after a cross.
Hope
When I cannot see beyond my cross, when I cannot trust on my own, I must look to Jesus who proved that His power and love are strong enough to bring forth an empty tomb after every single cross.
I must remember
and hope.
Crosses and empty tombs. They always go hand in hand.
Lord, we pray we never find ourselves without hope, without a glimpse of the empty tomb each time we happen upon a cross. Help us begin our daily journey expecting both crosses and empty tombs and rejoicing when we encounter either because we know you are with us. Amen. ~ from the Book of Common Prayer

Art credit: The Three Crosses by Rembrandt; Empty Tomb ink drawing from Catholic Hymns, 1860

He Has Made Promises

I lost a friend this week.
Jenna
Jenna After Prom
In high school, she was one of my best friends. We played and sang together. We did show choir and musicals together. We volunteered together. We even had secret names for each other. (Yes, we still did that in high school. We were nerds.) I got to be a part of her life when she was baptized. We lost touch over the years, but I still loved her.
Jenna Showchoir
I’ve lost three friends over the past year and a half. This weighs heavy on me.
There is nothing that makes this okay. Jesus Himself wept at the death of His friend.
Death and pain, sorrow and grief. These are not how life was created to be.
There is nothing that makes this okay. Only one thing makes this bearable.
Our God.
He has made promises to us that He will make it turn out all right in the end. He has made promises to us that when we see Him face to face, all the horror that came before will seem as insubstantial as a morning mist blown away by the rising sun. He has made promises to us that He will remain with us and in us until that beautiful day arrives.
How do I know He will keep His promises?
I know because God loves us enough to put on skin and come down to live with us, to suffer for us, to die for us. I know because God has enough power to rise from the dead and conquer death for all time.
He loves us enough and He has power enough.
I don’t know why God didn’t put it all right from the beginning. I don’t begin to understand why He places so much importance on human freedom of choice or why our sin and redemption are so closely intertwined with creation itself.
But I know He keeps His promises and I know that His promises are beautiful beyond imagining.
And for that I will trust Him.
Jenna Graduation
This one’s for you, Jenna. Until we meet again.

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.

 

Making Progress

I just get so frustrated.
Frustration
Failing
We often speak of deeper things via email so that we can linger long over ideas, drawing them more fully into ourselves before we respond.
I feel that after so many years of following Jesus that I should have made more progress, that I should be more like Him, think more like Him, speak more like Him. Yet I still struggle every moment to obey, to control my temper, to love others.
Struggle
Me too, Dad. Me too.
My heart feels heavy when I look at any given week and how much I have failed my husband, my daughters, my God.
I want so desperately to be like Jesus, to have love be my first response in any situation, to be grateful for everything that comes my way.
Yet day after day I lose my temper, I choose my own desires over the needs of those around me,
I forget to walk with God.
Forget
Guilt
Have I made any progress at all? It certainly doesn’t feel like it.
Yet God tells us that creating a new heart is not up to us. We are not capable of changing our heart of stone for a heart of flesh, but God promises that He will do this for us, that He will change us to look more like Jesus, to be who He created us to be.
Will I believe Him?
Will I trust what He says more than what my physical eyes can see? Will I trust the Word even when contrary evidence seems to mount up higher?
…. it is certain that the Christian does grow in grace. And though his conflict may be as severe in the last day of his life as in the first moment of conversion, yet he does advance in grace — and all his imperfections and his conflicts within cannot prove that he has not made progress. ~ Charles Spurgeon
As in so much of this walk with God, will I choose to trust His promises or my own imperfect judgement?
Conflict
Heart of stone
May we all push aside the guilt that we pour down on our own heads and say with the 17th century monk, Brother Lawrence,
When he had failed in his duty, he only confessed his fault saying to God, “I shall never do otherwise, if you leave me to myself. It is You who must hinder my failing and mend what is amiss.” Then, after this, he gave himself no further uneasiness about it. ~ Practicing the Presence of God
Believe
Trust
May we all trust God that much and give ourselves no further uneasiness about it.

Mary’s Soul

There is a stillness and a hush.
Stillness
There are words that shred her heart.
It is after the man of light, speaking words of miracle.
It is after the shepherds of dirt, speaking visions of angel army chorales.
It is after the star of God, shining spotlight on her baby.
It is after the scholars of heavens, laying rich treasures down.
Nativity
There is the temple and the sacrifice and the consecration of a baby.
There is a man who raises hands and speaks words of praise to God.
There are words that shred her heart.
And a sword will pierce your own soul too.
There is a stillness and a hush.
And ever after, she lives and follows Him, trusting that God will keep His promises. She is faithful in her trust.
Three Crosses
And she stands at the foot of a cross, watching her innocent child as He is brutally tortured and murdered. As He is pierced with a sword.
And her own soul is pierced as well.
It cannot have made any sense at all.
The murder of innocents never does. Death itself never does.
There is a cross.
Cross
There is ugliness and pain and sorrow and grief.
There is beauty and rescue and hope and the promise of life for all time.
There is faithfulness and trust in a God Who keeps His promises. Always.
In the stillness and the hush,
Hush
In the joy of angels singing
Joy
as well as in the piercing of your own soul,

Pieta

Trust in our God whose Word never fails.
I pray for a joyful New Year for all of you, worshiping the God who makes all things beautiful in His time.
Beautiful Christmas
art credits: snow photo by Kirk Sewell; The Nativity by Correggio; The Three Crosses by Rembrandt; Cross photo by Asta Rastauskiene; Annunciation to the Shepherds by Nicolaes Pieterszoon Berchem; Pieta by Michaelangelo; Advent wreath photos by Elizabeth Giger

Be Still and Wait

Be still.
Be Still
Wait.
Wait
Be still and wait for God.
Wait for God
Be still and wait for God to come.
God will come
Advent is waiting and so we become still while we wait for Him to come down and rescue us.
We pause in our fighting and our striving, we rest from our grieving and our mourning, we stop to breathe in our busyness and our too much.
Just for a moment.
It doesn’t take any of it away. Yet.
But we become still like Moses with the Red Sea before and the Egyptian army after and we wait for God to fight for us.
We who have lived with the pain for far too long, we who have just received the phone call and sit at our kitchen table in stunned silence, we who can’t see how we will put one foot in front of the other much less get up from our beds in the morning, we who hide in our closets and weep our wracking sobs while we rock back and forth,
God comes
just for one moment we become still.
We remember that God is and that He is fighting for us.
God fights for us
It doesn’t solve or heal any of it. Yet.
But it will.
God will heal us
Oh, how it will.
We become still and we wait for Emmanuel. We wait for Emmanuel, God-with-us, to come down.
We wait in this season and we wait in this life for our Emmanuel to come down and fight and make it all okay again.
So for just a moment, take a breath and remember how He already did this once to show us that He will do it again.
He is with us
Be still.
Emmanuel
Wait.

Hold On

Why do we expect a life free from ugliness?
ugliness
Why do we think that we should ease through life surrounded by comforts?
discomfort
Why do we think that we should be exempt from pain?
pain
hurt
God promised, after all, that life will be hard, that life will be full of trouble.
cross
And He promised that it would all be okay in the end.
He didn’t promise that we would see the end while still in this world, but He promised that it would be okay.
Everything will be okay in the end. If it’s not okay, it’s not the end. ~ John Lennon
So many died while still hoping for Messiah, still believing that He would come.
He came
And He did.
So many of us will die while still hoping for God to come and make everything beautiful again.
He is coming
And He will.
But not only that.
If that weren’t promise enough for you.
Not only has He promised that everything will be okay, but He promised that while it is still not okay, He will never leave us.
So hold on. Be still and hold on to those promises with everything in you and you will find that joy and peace that goes beyond anything that is happening around or inside you.
Hold on.
You who are watching her die before your very eyes.
Hold on.
You who are hurt by the one who should protect.
Hold on.
You who are frightened by all you see around the world.
Hold on.
You who feel like your life doesn’t matter.
Hold on.
Hold on.
He will never leave you. And someday it will be okay.

Art credits: dead rose photo by Deb Knoles; Christ on the Cross photo by Asta Rastauskiene; Nativity by Antonio da Correggio; Tulips in sunlight photo by Kirk Sewell Photography

Nothing More than Feelings

I don’t always feel God’s presence.
In fact, I might even say that I don’t often feel His presence.
He feels far away
I don’t always feel joy and peace.
I can feel lonely and depressed, irritated and angry, and then feel guilty that I feel those things when my life is so good.
I don't feel joyful
Feelings. So fickle.
The question is not whether God is still there when I don’t feel His presence.
The question is not whether God’s peace and joy are still inside me when I can’t feel them.
God promised His presence
He has already promised never to leave me. He has already promised that nothing can separate me from His love.
He has already promised that I can have joy in all circumstances. He has already promised that His peace is beyond understanding.
God promised His joy
Will I believe it?
When darkness closes in, will I believe that the light is still there?
Will I trust God’s Word more than my own heart?
The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it? ~ Jeremiah 17.9
It’s hard in a world telling us that feelings are what is real. We are taught that whatever we feel, whatever we think, this is truth.
Regardless of what I think or feel, however, there is Truth that is above all else.
God promised His peace
And that Truth tells me that I am held closely by God no matter what.
Yet now He has reconciled you to Himself through the death of Christ in His physical body. As a result, He has brought you into His own presence, and you are holy and blameless as you stand before Him without a single fault. ~ Colossians 1.20-22 (Italics mine)
He has already done this, and this will never change. No matter what my feelings tell me.

Best

God’s Words are often difficult to understand.
I don’t understand why this is so, why God wouldn’t want us to easily understand Him and His ways, but that is a wondering for another time.
All throughout His Word, God makes promises about what will happen when we approach Him. He makes promises about how He answers when we ask Him for something. He makes promises about what He will give if only we would ask.
Sometimes those promises seem to be contradicted by the reality we can see.
Jesus tells us that if we ask, we will receive.
Jesus tells us that if we ask together with others, we will receive.
Jesus tells us that if we ask in His name, we will receive.
Jesus promises that if we are just persistent enough, just have faith enough, just beg Him hard enough with our faces to the ground and our tears falling like blood in desperation, He will give us what we ask for.
This is not what we live.
This is not what we live when a young mother dies of cancer. This is not what we live when a child lives her life in chronic pain and then dies. This is not what we live when a family is torn apart by depression.
So how do we reconcile this? How do we reconcile the promise with the life lived in this world?
Because Jesus also made other promises.
He promised that we would have trouble in this world, that storms would come against us, that we would be hated by this world in which we live.
Did He lie? Is He crazy?
Or is there something deeper within His words that we have trouble understanding?
Is there something deeper that we cannot see from our place here on earth, tethered as we are to the physical, unable to grasp the spiritual all around us?
From one who is stumbling along in the dark along with the rest of you, here is what I believe based on what I read in God’s Word as a whole.
What God does is not always what I want. What God allows is sometimes more than I can comprehend. What God gives is often too hard for me.
What God accomplishes is always best.
Best for me, best for someone else, best for our world. Just…best.
Not painless, not comfortable, not happy.
Best.
I know from my own experience as a parent that best is often painful and unpleasant. My children often are unhappy (to put it ridiculously mildly) with what I decide would be best.
When Jesus tells us to ask in His name, rather than His name being a magical incantation to get what we want, perhaps it is a way of living, of remaining in Him as He is in His Father.
When Jesus tells us to ask alongside of others, rather than it being a way to coerce others into asking for what we want so that we can manipulate God, perhaps it is a way to allow the Holy Spirit to work in our hearts in a way that cannot happen on our own.
I don’t know.
As my Papa would say, “Well, I’ll tell you.
I don’t know.”
Here’s what I do know.
When I look at God’s Word in its entirety, whether that be the whole of Scripture or the whole of Jesus’ life, I see a God who is ultimate power and who is ultimate love.
And I see a God who has a plan that makes absolutely no sense while in the middle of it all. A plan that seems, frankly, insane while you are watching it all unfold.
A plan that, at its ending, is better, is more beautiful, is more glorious than anything I could have imagined or asked for.
A plan that is best.
And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be His people, and God Himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” And He was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.”…  And He said to me, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end.
And looking up, they saw that the stone had been rolled back – it was very large. And entering the tomb, they saw a young man sitting on the right side, dressed in a white robe, and they were alarmed. And he said to them, “Do not be alarmed. You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has risen; He is not here. See the place where they laid Him. But go, tell His disciples and Peter that He is going before you to Galilee. There you will see Him, just as He told you.
I think perhaps that is why He gave us Jesus. To show us what the end will be even when the middle seems to be crushing the life out of us.
That end?
Best.