His is a Terrible Love

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There is darkness in all of us.

The Road

It is a part of being human to feel the weightiness of the absence of God.
And there is an absence of God in this world.  The Bible we profess speaks of it.
The prophets and psalms all speak of Him who is not there when He is most needed.  The author of Hebrews strips all of our pretense away when he speaks of Noah, of Abraham, of Gideon and David and the rest who “all died without having received what was promised.”
It is the anguish of glimpsing the briefest glow of the light of presence without being allowed to bask in the sun.
Glimpse of light
It is a terrible love, this love of God for us.  It is a love that means His absence as often as it means His presence.  It is a love that Jesus speaks of when He utters in His darkest moment the piercing cry of Where are you, God?
You who are in heaven for us, why are you not down here in hell with us?

Light of presence

It is a terrible love that speaks of carrying our own cross, that utters the truth that all ye labor and are heavy laden.
It is a terrible love that wounds, or allows the wounds, before the healing can come.
It is a terrible love that weeps at the death of a friend, of Lazarus.  They are tears that speak of the absence of God.  Of the part of God in the very body of Jesus who would not save the life of His own friend.
This is, after all, the Gospel.  It is terrible before it is beautiful.  It is darkness before it is light.
Darkness before light
We all labor and are heavy laden.  We work so very hard to pretend that it is not so, but even when we are appalled at the darkness, we cannot help but listen to Jesus because we see in Him not only the darkness of being without God but the glorious light of what it looks like to be with God.
It is out of the absence of God that He becomes most present.  It is out of the whirlwind, out of the storm that God first speaks to Job, answering Him not with answers but with Himself.
It is out of darkness that we first begin to perceive the light.
Paul says that “God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise.  God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong.  God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are”, and he points to “the apparent emptiness of the world where God belongs and to how the emptiness starts to echo like an empty shell after a while until you can hear in it the still, small voice of the sea, hear strength in weakness, victory in defeat, presence in absence.” ~ Frederick Buechner
Rembrandt
The cross itself is a symbol of defeat before it is a symbol of victory and it, too, speaks of the absence of God.
When the absence is all that we see, when we are tempted to see in it a well of doubt that could lead us into atheism or at least into becoming agnostic, there is yet something else to see as well.
It was out of the darkness and absence that God first spoke.  “In the beginning…the earth was without form and void, and darkness was upon the face of the deep.”
Darkness is upon our faces as well, a void that sinks deep into our hearts.  And perhaps it is necessary for the reality of this darkness to fold itself around us for us to be able to glimpse the reality of the word that God spoke into the darkness, “God said let there be light, and there was light.”
And there was light
It is a terrible love that is offered to us, and perhaps we must face the truth of the terribleness before we are capable of accepting the love.

Art credits: Three Crosses sketch by Rembrandt; Supernova photo by NASA

edited from the archives

More About My Book (and a second giveaway!)

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Thank you.
Thank you for all of the sharing and liking and subscribing that you have done over the past week. I’ve gained quite a few subscribers, and am grateful.
The Color of Hard
Let me tell you more about why I wrote this book.
As I wrote in last week’s post, my book is the story of how my sister-in-law, Kristina, battled breast cancer and lost, and how God met our entire family in the middle of it all. 
People learn best through story. Suffering is common to all who live on this earth, and I want to weave a beautiful story that unravels and reveals meaning.
I wrote a story that is honest and vulnerable about the ugly things in this life so that people can see themselves and can, through Kristina’s story, learn about who God is and what He does in the middle of our collective story.
Too often, people in our churches are afraid to be honest about how hard suffering and death can be, perhaps out of fear that they will be thought not faithful enough, perhaps out of fear that God may not come through after all.
If we are to be healed and comforted, however, we must be vulnerable with each other and with God about how dark this life can be.
This is why I wrote The Color of Hard. To tell a story that will help people heal. Not only people who have suffered from breast cancer, not only people who have watched a spouse suffer and die, but all who are on a journey through pain, whether that involves their own physical pain or the pain of watching a loved one suffer.
Will you help me to tell this story? The more you share this post, the more subscribers I get, the better my chance of being able to publish this story and help people heal.
The prize this week is a beautiful print with beautiful words created by a shop called Salt Stains. Go visit their website at https://www.etsy.com/shop/SaltStains and decide which print you would love to have adorning your home.
If you already subscribe to my blog and have followed me on Facebook and Twitter, you can still enter to win this prize! Just scroll down to the contest form and click on the entry tabs to let me know that you already subscribe.
And again, thank you.

Second Giveaway

I Wrote a Book

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I wrote a book.
writing a book
That is surprisingly difficult to say in so public a forum. I haven’t told very many people, yet here I am telling the world.
It’s a frightening and vulnerable thing to offer up your words to a critical world. Yet I feel I must at least try.
I wrote a book that was hard to write and is hard to read, but it contains a message that is desperately needed in this world of ours.
This book of mine is the story of how my brother’s wife, Kristina, battled breast cancer and lost, and how God met our entire family in the middle of it all.  It is the story of pain and loss, of how to reconcile the heart of God to the reality of how dark this world can sometimes be.
I named it The Color of Hard.
The Color of Hard
I wrote a book and I need your help.
The thing about books and publishers these days is that publishers want you to have lots of people who love you and will therefore most likely purchase your book before they will even think about agreeing to publish said book.
Translation? Subscribers. Lots of subscribers.
Which is where I need your help.
If you haven’t already, will you subscribe to my emails? Will you follow me on Facebook and Twitter?
Will you share this with all of your friends and help me get the message out? I would be most grateful.
And I will give gifts!  To sweeten the deal (although I know you would help a girl out anyway), I am going to give something away each week for the next four weeks. You can enter via the contest form below.
In the coming weeks, I will tell you more about my book so that you can know what I’ve been working on for so long.
Last of all, thank you.

First Giveaway

Crosses and Empty Tombs

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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

There Is Good News

Sometimes I am weary of this world.
Wearied
Often I adore this crazy beauty that surrounds us. There is much to love, much to be grateful for.
Every once in a while, however, the brokenness of it all begins to weigh heavy on me.
Broken
My former pastor shares that he has cancer.
Blood work comes back and tells me I must take my daughter to a specialist.
The vitriol in the politics on my Facebook makes me just close my eyes.
Sinful
There are no easy answers. For all of its goodness, the fact remains that we have sinned and thus infused our world with darkness.
Darkness
The ugliness we see around us is here until Jesus returns.
The good news for right now?
He is here in the meantime.
God came down to live this same life in the midst of the brokenness.
God came
God died on a cross so that we can be with Him now through forever, so that we can be part of Him making the ugly beautiful again.
God died
God stayed here with us, to walk with us through the darkness. More than that, to be light inside of us that cannot be overcome by the darkness.
God lives
So as I feel the heaviness press down, I don’t try to escape the hurt of this world.
Rather, I try to lean into it as God did, knowing that He is working through me to heal.
Healed
Knowing that in the end He will heal it all perfectly.
And all that will remain will be beauty.

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.

 

Art credit: The Holy Night by Correggio; photo of Christ on the Cross statue by Asta Rastauskiene; Pentecost by Mildorfer

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.

 

Not About Me

It is not about me.

What?!

No way!

For real?!

This is disappointing. I want it to be all about me.

Please?

Come on!

Are you sure?

I want all that happens to be for the sole purpose of making me happy, comfortable, and a better person.

It's about me!

But it’s not.
When darkness fills my life, when loneliness weights my soul, when grief deadens my heart,
it’s not about me.
Yes, God loves me and wants the best for me, but what is best for me is not that everything (or anything at all!) revolves around me.
When circumstances occur that I don’t like, when hurtful or even ugly things happen, will I try to make it about me or will I let God use it to glorify Himself? Will I be able to let go of my own self long enough to let God use it to bring others to Him and bring His kingdom closer to fulfillment?
Huh. God glorified, loved ones brought to Him, His kingdom brought close to earth? As I think about it, this all benefits me.
Even though it’s not about me.

Hooray!

That's great!

Huzzah!!

Funny how God makes that all work out.

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He Is Saying Your Name

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I have lived deep in pain.
When I wanted a baby and God said not yet.
pain
When my brother called and said of his pregnant wife, it’s cancer.
cancer
When my Papa died the day my baby was born.
death
I have lost friends and family, I have been disappointed and lonely.
As have most of you.
You, too, have received the doctor’s call, heard the rejecting words, felt the crippling fear and doubt.
When you are in the middle of deep, dark pain, you are blinded. Your body curls in on itself, your eyes darken with tears. You look for Jesus, desperately searching for Him, but you cannot see Him.
In the deepest pain, He is closest.
tomb
Mary stood at the tomb, searching for Him. In the middle of her deepest pain, she searched for His dead body but was blinded by her grief. Angels spoke to her and she could not see. Jesus, the One she searched for, stood behind her and she thought He was the gardener.
empty tomb
And then.
Mary.
He is right here. As close as your very breath. And He is saying your name.
Look up. Wipe your tears away for just a moment and listen.
He is saying your name.
He has not left you. He is there, speaking to you. Can you hear Him?
hope
He died and is alive and because of that resurrection, there is new closeness with Him.
I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.
There is resurrection and now there is intimacy that was not possible before.
alive
In the middle of your deepest pain, do not wonder anymore where Jesus is.
Turn around. He is right there behind you. Closer than He’s ever been.
risen
And He is saying your name.

God Revealing Himself

God, where are you?
We who live in this dark world are searching for the light.
We want God to show up in a big way.
We want the cancer healed, the baby conceived, the loneliness taken away.
We wonder why He won’t reveal Himself in all of His glory so that all will believe.
Why does He hide and make it so hard to find Him?
Why does He let us suffer when He could heal us all with just a Word?
We wonder why this world remains so dark.
Those at the foot of the cross wondered the same.
The chief priests mockingly wondered why He would not save Himself when He had claimed to save others.
The women weepingly wondered why He would not come down from the cross when He had healed so many others.
I begin to understand, but don’t want to admit it. So much suffering is contained in the answer.
If Jesus had come down from the cross in a blaze of glory, tens of thousands of angels at His side, He would not have gained love but would have become a tyrant.
If God were to reveal Himself in all of His glory, He would not have children who love Him for Himself but would have slaves who serve out of fear or compulsion.
God instead reveals Himself in the small. He shows Himself in the weak. His light shines through the poor, the sick, the hungry, the captive.
If we cannot find Him in the common, everyday miracle of life, we cannot love Him as Himself.
If He always arrived to take away the darkness, we would never learn to love Him. We would, instead, love the comfort of the light.
If He made it impossible to deny Him, He would be our dictator, not our Father. And we would be His cowering slaves.
He must forebear to reveal His power and glory by presenting Himself as Himself, and must be present only in the ordinary miracle of the existence of His creatures. Those who wish to see Him must see Him in the poor, the hungry, the hurt, the wordless creatures, the groaning and travailing beautiful world. ~ Jayber Crow by Wendell Berry
So let us seek Him and find Him in the faces of the weak, and let us love Him as we stoop to serve the small.

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.