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

House of Cards

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.

 

Why are we so defensive on God’s behalf?
Why do we become so frightened of hard questions?
Do we think the Bible asks us to defend God’s character, or is it deeper than that?
House of Cards
Not all of the time, but all of us do harbor a bit of the recurring agnostic inside. A tiny voice that says, what if it isn’t true?
What will become of me if it isn’t true?
This flicker of fear lingers so insidiously that when someone asks a questions to which we don’t know the answer, when someone expresses a doubt we ourselves have thought, we tend to lash out, to push away, to shame.
Remove one piece
If this piece of what I believe turns out not to be true, perhaps none of it is true.
Is God so fragile?
Is the God who flung the stars into space, who has the power to overcome sin and death so uncertain that one piece of the puzzle can bring the entire edifice crashing down?
Is our God a house of cards?
just one piece
what happens to the whole
If your God is a house of cards, you need a new God.
You need a God who is big enough to cradle all our questions, deep enough to hold all our doubts.
You need the God who shows His power through the universe we see, who reveals Himself through His Son in Scripture, who speaks to us through His Spirit within us.
When you know this God, you can let go of your need to defend. You can rest easy with, even welcome the doubts and questions of others.
will it crash down
When you are safe and secure in the LORD Almighty, you become a place for others to find rest. You become a safe place where people can sit with their questions and doubts without feeling shamed or guilty.
What if we as a Church became a place where people could question and yet trust, where people could doubt and yet worship, where people could wonder and yet love.
What if we welcomed the not-so-sure rather than driving them away?
What if we could be comfortable with the hard spaces, acknowledging that not everything has an answer we can know right now?
It starts with you and with me. Can we let go of our fear and trust that our faith is not a house of cards?
this house of cards
Imagine a church where people could worship even when they don’t have it all figured out.
Imagine a church where people could love and serve even in the times when they aren’t quite sure about it all.
Imagine a church full of people like…
Well, full of people like us.

More About My Book (and a second giveaway!)

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.

 

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

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 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

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

My Capricious Heart

I’m back.
Tentatively, yet determinedly back.
I’ve been a little paralyzed, waiting for the perfect post to form itself before writing. I’ve been a little hesitant, thinking I should have time to dig deep into books before pouring forth out of my emptiness. I’ve been a little prideful, believing that my troubles are not of value to others because they do not deal with death or poverty or persecution.
I will cast off these lies and write. I will write and pray that God will use what is inside of me whether or not it is perfect or brought from research or developed from great suffering.
Since when can God only use greatness for His purpose?

Moving

Packing

Still Packing

Unpacking

Swimming in Packing Paper

Drowning in Packing Paper

Moving is hard.
There is a loneliness that comes from knowing that deep, local friendships lie months, even years away. There is fear in the understanding that your introverted self is going to have to be bold and take risks in order to find those new friends. There is a sadness when grieving the friendships you left behind.
There is the ache of watching your children struggle, seeing them cry before trudging off to a new school and holding them when they rant and rage with an anger that is really stress they don’t know how to handle. It hurts to hear them talk about what they miss from our old home.
There is the exhaustion of too many sleepless nights. Sleepless from a six month old baby who still wakes up multiple times a night, sleepless from older sisters who wake with nightmares or because they can’t find the bathroom in their new place, sleepless from your own desire to unpack just one more box and try to make this house a home.
And?
Moving has within it a hope for future grace.
There is the freedom of a house in which your children have the space to spread out a bit, a house big enough to host a gathering without sitting in each other’s laps, a house with room for you to grow.
There is the excitement of a town you know you can enjoy, a town that’s just the right size for you, a town with potential for serving and for fun.
There is the joy of being near my brother and his family, the joy of good neighbors who might become good friends, the joy of a job my husband enjoys and doesn’t dread every day.
Underneath it all there is the peace, when I look for it, of knowing that we are where God wants us to be. My heart is capricious and ever-changing; the loneliness and grieving will not always be so strong. Until my emotions catch up, I will know that God has purpose for us here. I will know that He will use us in beautiful ways we don’t yet see and that this is what will make us happy.
Until that happens, I will trust Him and cling to Him even when my heart would tell me otherwise. The joy and peace will come. This I know and this I hold on to.

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.