Friday, April 16, 2010

Walking In My Comfort Zone

I'm stepping out of my comfort zone.

I just signed up to participate in the American Cancer Society's Relay for Life. The goal of the 36-hour walk is to bring awareness and raise funds for cancer research.  (I am glad it is a relay of 36-hours.  I will be walking with Tony in the 6-7 a.m. slot.) 

It will be inspiring to walk along side cancer survivors and their family members.  I am proud to raise dollars that will fund research that may someday put an end to pain and suffering caused by this dreadful disease.

And yet, I am entering a different kind of comfort zone.  Matthew 5:4 promises that those who mourn, shall be comforted.  You see, my reason for participating in this relay walk is actually quite personal.  I'm walking to make a deposit in a bank of a different kind.  A deposit in the memory bank of family and friends who mourn the loss of a loved one from the ravages of cancer.

I am walking in the memory of my niece, Heather Smalley Stevens.  She fought a long and heroic battle with pancreatic cancer, which took her life in June of 2006.

As I have posted before, memories are such a gift for those who grieve.  Remembering the time shared and the life lived helps link us to those who have passed away.  Norman Cousins said it best ~

Memories are where the proof of life is stored.

If you would like to contribute to this cause, to support my efforts or to donate in the name of someone dear to you, please click here to go to my personal page.  You can choose an amount to donate and enter the name of someone you wish to honor.

I'll let you know in a future post how much we raised together and how I survived, out of my comfort zone.

{this moment} . . .Spring

{this moment} - A Friday ritual. A single photo - no words - capturing a moment from the week. A simple, special, extraordinary moment. A moment I want to pause, savor and remember. If you're inspired to do the same, leave a link to your 'moment' in the comments for all to find and see. 

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

God's Redemption Center

Okay, I'll admit it ~ I hate to recycle STUFF! Rinsing out bottles and cans, sorting paper and junk mail seems somewhat futile.

I understand all the reasons we recycle ~ and I'm all for saving natural resource and energy, and promoting clean air and water. The internet is filled with helpful sites, like or Cities, large and small, have recycling bins for households to do their part. Parking lots have drive-up recycling centers that accept just about anything . . . non-living.

But in the back of my mind I keep hearing that little chorus I learned as a child ~
Jesus never fails,
Jesus never fails,
Heav'n and earth may pass away,
But Jesus never fails.
© 1927 by Arthur Luther
And so, in my mind, it seems that no matter how many bins we fill in our effort to Save the Earth (said in that deep announcer-like voice) ~ someday this planet, as we know it, will pass away. And a New Earth will be created!

But this week as I was reading Isaiah 61, I was impressed with a different recycling program ~ one that truly spoke personally to my heart. Listen to the words of the Prophet Isaiah in the first four verses of this chapter ~
The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me,
because the LORD has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor;
he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim liberty to the captives,
and the opening of the prison to those who are bound;
to proclaim the year of the LORD’s favor,
and the day of vengeance of our God;
to comfort all who mourn;
to grant to those who mourn in Zion—
to give them a beautiful headdress instead of ashes,
the oil of gladness instead of mourning,
the garment of praise instead of a faint spirit;
that they may be called oaks of righteousness,
the planting of the LORD, that he may be glorified
They shall build up the ancient ruins;
they shall raise up the former devastations;
they shall repair the ruined cities,
the devastations of many generations.
This is God's recycling program ~ the ULTIMATE Redemption Center ~ where human resources are accepted in any condition ~ to be rescued, restored, renewed from the burdens that seek to destroy them ~ and redeemed into someone with eternal worth.

Can you envision what this means?

God's Redemption Center
Everyone Welcome, Regardless of Condition

Do you know someone poor or brokenhearted; a friend held captive by the prison of their past? Can you think of one who mourns the loss of a precious loved one? Do you know families whose lives seems to be in ruins?

Perhaps you are broken, abused, or faint in spirit. You struggle under a burden of grief. Your life seems to be crumbling around you.

As the Prophet Isaiah, I can say, God has an awesome recycling program. He faithfully continues to restore my brokenness. He is the God of all comfort. The Blessed Controller of all things. The One who brings beauty from ashes. He makes the lame to walk and the blind to see. Nothing is wasted in God's economy ~ not our tears, our past, our deepest scars; not the mess we have made of things. He longs to rescue us from ourselves, restore our worth, renew our hope and redeem our future.

Do not lose heart. God does more than recycle.  He transforms us into new creations for His good pleasure.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Sunday's Coming

I think it was Tony Campolo who first coined the phrase, It's Friday, but Sunday's coming!

Those five words truly capture the contrasts of this Easter season. Holy Week begins on Palm Sunday with Jesus exalted as he rides through Jerusalem only to find his body buried in a tomb on Holy Saturday.

And in between, Mary watches her son beaten and scorned, nailed to a cross.

Jesus sees his mother's grief from the cross and speaks to her loss ~

“Woman, behold, your son!" Then he said to the disciple, “Behold, your mother!” And from that hour the disciple took her to his own home. ~ John 19:26, 27

It's Friday, but Sunday's coming!

Mary and the others who find the tomb empty and realizes the fulfillment of Scripture and the hope of resurrection.

It's Friday, but Sunday's coming truly resonates with my soul.  As a mother who has laid her son in the arms of God, I have known Friday.  I grieve the loss of a child almost daily in my thoughts of what.could.have.been.

Yes, life in His Kingdom is full of contrasts.

Those who mourn are comforted.
Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. ~ Matthew 5:4
Those who grieve have hope.
Dear brothers and sisters, we want you to know what will happen to the believers who have died so you will not grieve like people who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and was raised to life again, we also believe that when Jesus returns, God will bring back with him the believers who have died. ~ 1 Thessalonians 4:13, 14
Those who die in Christ are truly alive.
For while we are still in this tent, we groan, being burdened—not that we would be unclothed, but that we would be further clothed, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. ~ 2 Corinthians 5:4
Many of us have known Friday and we long for Sunday.

One of our local pastor's truly captured the heartache of Holy Saturday and the hope of Easter ~
Holy Saturday is really like the world we live in ~ it's the in-between day . . . We believe in the Resurrection and we know it is coming, but we patiently wait as we grieve, knowing His promise will be fulfilled. ~ Pastor Gregory Beaumont
Jesus said ~
I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world. ~ John 16:33
This life is full of Fridays but do not lose heart because Sunday's coming!

Painting: Jesus Taken Down From the Cross, Michael O'Brien

Friday, April 2, 2010

Forgiveness from the Cross

When I survey the wondrous cross
On which the Prince of Glory died
My richest gain I count but loss
And pour contempt on all my pride

See from His head, His hands, His feet
Sorrow and love flow mingled down
Did e'er such love and sorrow meet
Or thorns compose so rich a crown

Oh the wondrous cross
Oh the wondrous cross
Bids me come and die and find that I
May truly live

It is late and Good Friday is almost over. I crawled out of bed to make some sense of the scenes and words I heard tonight that just keep playing in my mind. I attended a local production of the Passion of Christ earlier this evening. I know the story of Easter. I can re-tell all of the events of Holy Week.

But tonight, as I stood with believers from all around my town, I was struck once again with the words Jesus spoke from the Cross ~
Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.

I watched tonight as they beat him, whipped him, and spat on him.  The crowds jeered at him as he stumbled under the weight of the cross and the burden of my sin.  The soldiers mocked him on the cross ~ Is this your King? And then he spoke ~
Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.

I began to think of the times in my life when I have been mistreated ~ words spoken to me in anger, stories repeated that were not true, laughter at my expense, exclusion rather than embrace. These hurts and offenses pale in comparison to what He suffered during the last 24 hours of His life.

So how was He able to forgive them for all the suffering and pain? Because it never was about Him.  It was always about us ~ you and me, the soldiers and chief priests, the rulers and the commoners.

Oh that I would learn to die to self. That I would release my need to be right and choose to be reconciled with even my enemies.  May I be the one who speaks the words ~
Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.

Painting by Master of the Starck Triptych
The Raising of the Cross [center, left, and right panels], c. 1480/1490

Morning Has Broken

Morning has broken, like the first morning,
Blackbird has spoken, like the first bird.
Praise for the singing, 
Praise for the morning,
Praise for the springing fresh from the word.

Sweet the rain's new fall, 
Sunlit from heaven,
Like the first dew fall, on the first grass.
Praise for the sweetness of the wet garden,
Spring in completeness where His feet pass.

Mine is the sunlight, mine is the morning,
Born of the One light, Eden saw play
Praise with elation, praise every morning
God's re-creation of the new day.

Hymn written by Eleanor Farieon in 1931,
sung to "Bunessan", a traditional Gaelic tune
Photo by my friend, Holly in Flagstaff

Thursday, April 1, 2010

The Garden of Gethsemane

Today is Maundy Thursday ~ also known as Holy Thursday, Covenant Thursday, or Thursday of Mysteries. For Christians around the world, Maundy Thursday is the holy day falling on the Thursday before Easter. It is the day when Christ served His disciples what is commonly known as the Last Supper of Christ. As evening fell, Jesus and His disciples crossed through the Kidron Valley and climbed the Mount of Olives to enter the Garden of Gethsemane.

For most people of faith, Easter Sunday is the most holy of all days in the faith. I am grateful for the Empty Tomb, which brings the promise of resurrection and the blessed hope of reunion with loved ones who have gone before.

Others consider Good Friday as the most significant day of Holy Week. For indeed, it was the Cross which held the final sacrifice, the shed blood of the Lamb, which provides the forgiveness of sins.

But today ~ the Thursday before Easter ~ I find myself contemplating the last night of Jesus' life. Like Him, I am drawn to Gethsemane. Here in this garden on the Mount of Olives, Jesus came to wrestle with the pain and sorrow that was to come to him. Here in this place Jesus came to pour out his fear, to protest what was to be, to plead with the Father to let this cup of death pass from Him. And here, to submit to the Father's will.

Gethsemane ~ a curious place for Jesus to come the night before his crucifixion. Yet, not surprising, as so much of His teaching was filled with mystery and hidden meaning. In Hebrew, this place is called Gat Shemanim, meaning literally an oil press. Here in the grove of olive trees just outside of Jerusalem was a stone press where the olives were placed on the huge stone. As another large stone was turned, the weight of that stone crushed the fruit and forced the precious oil to drain down into containers below.

Gethsemane ~ a place to be crushed, a place to be transformed ~ is where Jesus came. Some dictionaries offer Gethsemane as a synonym for a place or occasion of great mental or spiritual suffering.
Gethsemane ~ where Jesus allowed his pleadings and protests to be transformed into submission and obedience.

Gethsemane ~ where Jesus climbed into the lap of Abba Father and found His anguish replaced with acceptance.
So often I find myself with Him in the Garden ~ thankful for the Cross and the Empty Tomb ~ but needing to linger a little while in this place, as I seek to be transformed rather than destroyed, by the events of this fallen world.

Oh, may I bring the hurts and the sorrows, the injustices and the inequities of life to this place, and may I leave transformed into an instrument of His peace.

Painting: Christ in Agony by Michael O'Brien