BRAVE: At the Foot of the Cross

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The cross on our church’s front lawn. The purple cloth will change to black on Good Friday and then white on Easter Sunday.

Did the wind whistle across the top of that hillside, over two thousand years ago? Or was it eerily quiet? A few moans, cries and the haggard breathing of the dying, the only sounds interrupting the loud silence?

How many gawkers were there, looking for a cheap thrill? Gossips, wanting to get the scoop on what was going down? How many family and friends of the two thieves? Or were they all alone in their death sentences?

John was there.  The disciple.  Mary, His mother, as well.

Where would you be?  By now, the worst anyone could have imagined, had happened. He was on the cross, barely hanging onto life. Had some of his followers, come out of the shadows of fear, to watch?  To bear witness of what was coming next? What was coming next?

I’ve often thought about what I would have done had I been alive then. I have no easy answers. I hate blood and gore. I’m sure I wouldn’t have been able to watch the whipping and the beating. I haven’t even been able to watch it in the movies. Would I have stood there, covering my eyes, willing the bile in my throat to stay down or would I have run away? Would the mockery and taunting, have angered me?

I may have followed the procession up the hill. That slow, agonizing parade to the top of Golgotha. The scraping of the wood against the dirt as it was moved along the road. The sound of dragging feet, too beaten and tired to move anything but painfully slow. Would I have waited as He hung there, dying? Blood and sweat dripping down his body, the planks of wood, perhaps pooling at the base?  If I did, I’m not sure how close I would have gotten. I think I would have been a ways off. Afraid to get too near. Afraid of what I’d see so close up. Definitely not brave.

John was close. So was Mary. He could see them and talk to them. He didn’t have the strength to yell, so you know they were nearby. What was the difference between John and Mary and those who wouldn’t come close?

For John and Mary, I think it was about love.  Mary is easy.  She was his mother.  Of course she didn’t just want to be close, she needed to be. It’s a mother thing.  John is a little different.  He was the youngest of the disciples.  Probably more a young adult. Yet braver than all the rest?  I think so.  John and Mary saw beyond the blood and gore.  They saw the man they loved. The Master they followed and the God they trusted.  They didn’t understand what was happening but they knew to stay close by.

What about me?  You? I wouldn’t have wanted to get too close because of the blood. I’d be afraid I’d vomit from the sights and smells. The anguish. The pain. I wouldn’t want to see that mess. Does the same hold true for me today?  What about you?  We can only imagine the horror.  Still we don’t want to get too close. Why? Because two thousand years later, we still might not like what we see so close to the cross.  No blood now.  It’s.just.us.  The closer you get to the cross, the closer you come to the truth.  Let’s face it.  It’s not always pretty.  We see our mess.  The broken relationships.  The faults we try to cover up.  The lies we hide.  The sin we justify and rationalize. I t all comes out of the dark, at the foot of the cross.  Because Jesus is the light of the world and He had victory over the darkness and the one who rules it.  It’s not the cross that saves us but the person who died on it.

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As we come close to Him, and imagine Him hanging there in our place, it will hit us hard.  We see the truth of our lives and our yuck.  Some of us will respond by running from it.  Believe the lie that things will never change.  We’ve gone too far.  There is no hope.  Stay in the shadows, watching.  Or run as far away as we can, never looking back. (If you are running, slow yourself down and hear Him calling you by name from the cross. Take a moment and look back. Take a good long look.)

We may be immune to it.  Which is the worst thing of all.  At least running away, we realize we are in need of something. Cold hearts are prideful hearts.  I’ve been reminded of this as I’ve been reading about growing up in the church and in a pastor’s family, in The Pastor’s Kid by Barnabas Piper.  The bible becomes just words.  We’ve heard the Easter story so many times, we think to ourselves, “Meh”.  The love laid bare on the cross that day should rock our worlds but far too often, it doesn’t. That love story has grown cold.  Our hearts are hard.  (What do you have to do this Easter to light that fire again? To make it new and fresh?)

Or.  We can stay close.  Like John and Mary.  Bravely look at our hearts. Our lives.  Accept the outrageous gift of grace offered by Him, hanging there on those planks of wood.  Be mesmerized by the love in His eyes for us.  Believe who He says He is and then bravely, stand there and wait for what’s going to happen next.  It’ll take our breath away.

The women were terrified and bowed with their faces to the ground. Then the men asked, “Why are you looking among the dead for someone who is alive?  He isn’t here! He is risen from the dead! Remember what he told you back in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be betrayed into the hands of sinful men and be crucified, and that he would rise again on the third day.  Luke 24:5-7 NLT

And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love.  No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 8:38-39 NLT

When Easter Sneaks Up On You

It’s been a while. The combination of spring break, other writing projects and living life in a busy household took over and time and creative energy was limited. I thought about blogging, I just never got to it. Suddenly, a couple of weeks have passed since I was here.

The days have been slipping off the calendar. “Mysteriously disappearing” as my son described it to his teacher in Kindergarten. He’s got that right. The whole month of March has “mysteriously disappeared!” I was shocked to see the wooden cross put up on the front lawn of our church, marking Palm Sunday this weekend. What? Palm Sunday? Already? Easter has snuck up on me.

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Last year I did the Lent Challenge with Margaret Feinberg and read through the New Testament during Lent. This year Lent passed me by. Honestly, I’ve let a few things pass me by and we are on the eve of Holy Week and my heart, mind and soul are not really prepared. Easter sneaks up on us for many reasons. Most are excuses. At least for me. Busy schedules, sickness, spring projects, the cares of life, take over our lives. They swallow mine whole. I let it happen. I let the idols take over and move God down my priority list.

I’m not a great multi-tasker. I like to focus on one thing and do it well. Sometimes that intense focus removes all else from my sightline. Therefore, Easter is a week away and I’m no where near being ready for it. Not physically, emotionally or spiritually.

Not to excuse myself, but I wonder if the disciples and other Jesus followers felt something similar? Of course it wasn’t called Easter then, but I wonder if that first Easter snuck up on them? They were ready for Passover but they weren’t ready for the cross. Even though they had been warned. Jesus had plainly told them he wasn’t going to be around forever. That the time was near for Him to go back to His Father. Yet I think those closest to Him got caught off guard.

Maybe they didn’t want to hear what Jesus was saying. We all do it. Selectively ignore what we don’t understand or don’twant to deal with. Life without Jesus? They had just left everything, businesses, family, relationships to follow this guy. He’s leaving? No way. Ignorance is bliss.

They may have not understood what He was saying. It would have been difficult because Jesus stood in front of them day in and day out. They were in and out of danger a fair bit. They may have become accustomed to the threats, so they no longer took them seriously. They were ruffling feathers every. day.

Obviously no one expected a mole in their ranks. Talk about blindsided. Jesus spoke plainly about this too at their last Passover supper. Still the words fell on ears that didn’t seem to understand. Can you imagine the shock, hurt and betrayal felt by Peter, James and John, in the garden? By the other disciples as they say Judas walking with the religious leaders?

I’m sure, that night and for the next few days, the disciples felt like Easter had snuck up on them and then hit them squarely between their eyes. Their Master was arrested. It wasn’t a hiccup. It looked serious. Their friend and colleague, a traitor. They probably couldn’t find their equilibrium. What had just happened? That question must have haunted them over the next three days.

Although I prefer to be prepared for Easter, honestly being hurled into Holy Week is often the more common experience. I’m not saying it’s right. That we shouldn’t be prepared. At times, it’s just the way it goes. Remembering the events leading up to the cross, I don’t think our experience is new.

The clues, the hints, the bold words of Jesus and scripture all pointed to the cross, but for whatever reason, the disciples missed it and suddenly Easter was upon them. They were unprepared.

Unpreparedness makes us run away just like the disciples upon Jesus’ arrest. It can make us lie and betray like Peter. It can make us follow at a distance, watching like John. Don’t get too close because that would mean we might have to own up to something, like we knew him. Witness something we don’t want to. Like our own sin.

Unpreparedness sometimes can jolt us into reality. The blood, bruising, and anguish can bring erase lies like nothing else. The revelation of the truth of Christ’s prediction that Peter would betray Him, brought Peter to his knees. Truth can do that – bring us to our knees. It ushers in hope.

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The hope that I see in all the disciples unpreparedness for the first Easter, is it’s never too late. They ran like cowards, fear hounding them. They lied and hid. They all betrayed their Master because no one stepped forward to defend or stand with Him.

Guess what? It wasn’t too late for them. Because that Easter that snuck up on them, brought life to their dead souls. It ushered grace and love into the world like never before. Hope filled the earth. Forgiveness was theirs for the asking. Later, as promised by Jesus, Holy Spirit filled these unprepared disciples in a display of power that you and I can only imagine. At best it would be a glimpse.

It’s not too late for me. Or you. To get our hearts prepared for remembering the grace, the love, and the forgiveness that dripped as blood and sweat, off the cross, from the body of Jesus. God’s only Son. That He gave to save us from ourselves, our sin and our unpreparedness.

Why I Love MOPS & Mom Groups

I have the privilege of speaking at a MOPS (MOTHERS OF PRESCHOOLERS) group at our former church in a couple of weeks.  As I’ve been thinking about what to say, I’ve been flooded with memories.  And I was blogging in my head so I figured I’d write it out.  So here it is.

Let’s face it.  Mothering is hard.  Hollywood makes it look easy.  (I mean the kids take care of themselves right?)  But the nitty grittiness of being a parent is the most unglamorous job there is.  It’s not just the dirty diapers, routines or lack thereof, lost pacifiers and stuffies.  It’s much more.  The insecurity and fear that you’re doing something wrong.  The tape that plays repeatedly in your mind, “You are a bad parent. You will screw your kids up.”  The boring endless days.  And the days that smack you hard across the face and you think you won’t live to see another one.  The laughable thought that you might someday be able to have a conversation with your spouse without a tug on the shirt, someone screaming your name or the constant jabbing in your side, saying, “Mommy. Mommy. Mommy. Mommy…..” (Sheldon does live in my house after all!)

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Sand. It was both friend and enemy. It kept them busy for hours but I hated the grit on my floors!
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Being a monkey.

When you think it’s all gone down the toilet with the blankie and iPhone, you have these other days, where your kids play together nicely.  No one cries.  Or grabs a toy.  Sharing rules for those few precious minutes.  Kindness breeds peace. You think this is the greatest thing you’ve ever done and been a part of.  Then that angelic child decides his brother looks like a cookie and clamps down with razor sharp tiny teeth…And you realize that you will never know your old normal again.

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I couldn’t have lived in a shoe like the little old woman. It would have been the end of me.

This is why I love MOPS.  It provided a couple of hours of sanity every two weeks for me and many other mamas.  Some Wednesday mornings it was about throwing (almost literally) the kids in their programs and then running full tilt to the coffee bar and adult conversation.  Only women talking, laughing and some crying.  Just because they could.

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Yes it’s Panera. Community happened there on many occasions with other mamas that I met through MOPS.
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Coffee = Life fluid in my MOPS mug 🙂

The kiddos were mostly happy in their programs.  Even if they cried, they didn’t come get you unless it was desperate.  I can’t even begin to thank all those people, mostly retired grandmas and grandpas who volunteered their time so we could take care of our needs for a couple of hours.  It was a priceless gift offered with kindness and generosity.

I was introduced to MOPS through another pastor’s wife on staff.  We had just barely moved when she invited me to come.  I was overwhelmed – an understatement, with a newborn and a wild child of two.  I remember other women holding my son, as I sat nearby.  Alone for the first time in who knows how long.  It spoke peace to my soul.

I remember hearing one speaker talk about her son, who as an adult still didn’t sleep through the night.  He wasn’t weird.  I remember feeling validated that some kids may never sleep through the night.  That’s just the way they are wired.  My son wasn’t going to morph into some kind of sleep monster.  She was just one in a long line of great speakers who spoke about everything and anything under the sun!  (Butchers, bra specialists, therapists, running experts, so many more!)

MOPS was also the catalyst that started my healing journey.  I remember watching a DVD about a mom who was brave enough to admit she screamed at her kids.  It went way beyond having a bad day.  I went to the bathroom and sat in a stall, sobbing.  Our leader coming in later, talking to me through that bathroom stall door.  Not judging.  Not telling me how bad I was.  She didn’t tell me to pull it together.   She let me know I wasn’t alone.  I will never forget that day because it started change that would transform me.  Forever.

I remember being given some mini-muffins in a ziplock bag to have on hand when I got hungry while feeding my son in the middle of the night.  The care and love offered in the disguise of mini-muffins chock full of health and goodness, stopped me in my tracks.  I felt seen.  Someone had thought about and baked for me.  They weren’t for my son or husband.  They were for me.  To nourish me.  I was blown away.

I met some of my best friends at MOPS.  We have weathered many of the child storms together.  We have sat in each other’s houses, amidst laundry, walls with smudges and who knows what else on them.  I’ve told them to use the upstairs bathroom because that was the best bet on getting a somewhat clean experience.  I kid you not.  None of it mattered because it went beyond a clean house.

I served on the committee of MOPS with some really great women.  I wrote the newsletter for two years.  It stretched me.  Got me writing again.  It helped me to see that there was a person inside the mother, who needed to be seen and heard, now and again.  It provided a place where I could give back when I didn’t’ have time for much other ministry.

Finally MOPS was a place of community for me.  I was shocked to discover this because I hadn’t really thought about it in those terms.  I say that with a great deal of humility.  Because the word community and me are at odds at the moment and if you’ve talked to me recently, you heard that message at decibel 100.  (That’s another story for another day.)  The point?  Where I didn’t think community could exist in the real world, I realize I experienced it at MOPS.  With a bunch of other mamas who some days were just trying to get their coffee without spilling it.  I treasure that experience.  We did have our ups and downs too at MOPS, just like any other community.  But most weeks we went away refreshed and ready to tackle whatever was thrown at us.

I’m realizing as I remember, that even as our kids get older, moms still need each other.  To encourage each other.  Laugh together.  Cry on each other’s shoulder.  Talk out worries and concerns.  Have coffee together.  Have a safe place to go and know we aren’t alone.  My kids are better for it.  So am I.

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If you aren’t a part of a moms group or a MOPS group, I highly recommend you give it a try. Many churches and community centres offers moms groups or MOPS groups.  It may take a couple of phone calls or a quick search on Google but it’s so worth the effort.  No Mom is an island!

An Affair of the Heart

 “You found his heart faithful to you”  Nehemiah 9:8

The letters forming the words above, jumped off the page at me, as I read through the prayers of the Israelites in Nehemiah 9 for my study homework.  Even before I read what Kelly Minter had to say about it, I’d already underlined it in my bible because it was begging me to come back to it.  These seven little words gives us some serious insight into the nature of God.  Who He is.

You may or may not know that in the book of 1 Samuel, the Israelites has asked for a king.  God wasn’t too happy with this but as any good parent does, He lets consequences rule the day.  The first king, Saul, is going to have some serious issues and so God sends his man, Samuel to find the man He’s chosen for the task.  Samuel is looking at the big, handsome sons’ of Jesse and thinking to himself that surely these guys are king material.  Then God reminds Samuel that He is only interested in the heart, not the outward appearance.  Nehemiah 9:8 is proof of that.  God had looked at the heart of Abraham and found it faithful to Him.

We can pretend all we want that our hearts don’t matter, that it’s more about doing, looking and being but it wouldn’t be true. The state of our hearts matter.  When it comes to God, hearts are the main event.  Maybe we should be making it our main thing too.

I admit at times, I’m fairly careless with my heart.  What about you?  We don’t guard it like we should.  We leave it exposed to the enemy.  An easy target.  We let feelings take over rather than keep it true and faithful.  Sometimes we let it roam and wander to other gods that at the moment seem much more appealing.  I wonder what God sees when He looks at my heart? Is it sick?  Is it black?  Does it beat with life?

Kelly Minter points out in her study, that even though Abraham had a faithful heart it wasn’t perfect.  He still did some stupid stuff.  But even there among the stupidity and fear, Abraham’s heart was still faithful to God.

I think of David, the one God chose to be king, who was described as a man after God’s own heart.  David loved God.  He sought Him.  And David messed up.  Big time.  He let his heart wander.  The thing is that as God sifted through the muck in David’s heart, just like Abraham’s, there was something true there.  Faithfulness.  Love.  Devotion.  A connection that couldn’t be severed.  These things get lost as we get swept up in our busy lives, our chaos and crisis.  In the everyday mundane dance of life.

Why is it so important that we don’t let our hearts get lost?  Proverbs 4:23 tells us that it’s our hearts that determines the course of our lives. (Guard your heart above all else, for it determines the course of your life. NLT)  Whatever our hearts love most, that’s what we seek.  That’s what we spend our lives on.  That’s what we treasure.  If our hearts love IT more than God, well that’s just not how He wired us.  He created us to love Him most.  We get out of sync when we don’t.  We do stupid stuff.  Like Abraham and David.  We waste time, lives, seeking pleasure, comfort and other worldly things that offer nothing in the end but emptiness, instead of seeking Him with our hearts and in the process fulfilling our destiny that He designed.  For. Each. Of. Us.

I used to think this was the most unexciting thing ever.  To love God with all my heart, soul, mind and spirit.  Honestly what could be more boring?  For me it was a one way street with me doing all the work.  And work it was.  Striving to be good all the time.  Working away at having a one way relationship with a God I was actually afraid of.  Who I thought didn’t see me. Except when I was bad.  Then He saw and there was going to be some singed bangs.  Of course it was work.  I didn’t have a clue about who God really was or what was in His Heart for me.

The exciting thing is it doesn’t have to be all work.  Ezekiel 36:26 NLT says: And I will give you a new heart, and I will put a new spirit in you. I will take out your stony, stubborn heart and give you a tender, responsive heart.  God does the work here.  I don’t have to.  I find great hope in that.  I can try and try to change my stoney stubborn heart but it takes a divine hand.  That’s good news.  Again, Jeremiah 24:7 says: I will give them a heart to know me, that I am the LORD. They will be my people, and I will be their God, for they will return to me with all their heart.  He will give us a heart to know Him.  All we have to do is ask.

Any relationship takes effort on our part.  We study those we love so we can know them.  I know more about superheroes than I want to.  Why?  Because my boys love them.  So I know them.  I know the difference between Marvel and DC.  Same goes with God.  He’s left the Bible as the main way to know Him.  It takes effort and some days it seems like work.  The rewards are eternal.  They are also here and now.  All we have to do is ask.  He’s waiting. For. You. For. Me.

We can do and strive all we want but if our hearts are cold our works mean nothing.  In the end, it’s not about what we do. What we look like.  How successful we are according to the world and people.  It’s about our hearts.  And when He looks at ours, may He find it faithful, full of devotion and love to and for Him.