From dust thou art

On the first day of Lent, Ash Wednesday, I watched rows of people go up to the altar and return with ashes on their foreheads. I pondered the power of that corporate act, all of us in effect proclaiming together that we desperately need redemption, and we know where to find it. I also noticed that the black smudges on each forehead were distinctly different, varied by who was applying it, whether the recipient wore glasses or had bangs, stayed still or moved, probably even the shape of their foreheads. No two ash crosses were the same. While Lent began with a significant gathering, shared by many throughout the western Christian church, it is also very individual, experienced distinctly by every Christian, depending on our interaction with God as well as the details of our lives, histories, and personalities.

Now, suddenly, with the abrupt shutting down of so much of the world to try to contain the spread of COVID-19, we are thrust into a singular observance of Lent, whether we wanted it or not.

We have an opportunity to see it not so much as enforced isolation, but as an invitation to shalom, and a call to a deep time of Sabbath rest.

God the Creator called the first Sabbath, resting after the work of creation. He took time to stop and delight in all He had made. Then he handed the world to the people he made in his image to carry on, to create and care for his world. The Hebrew nation received the Ten Commandments from God to Moses while out in the wilderness, wandering around after God miraculously freed them from bitter slavery and eliminated their enemies. Among the rules that gave identity, structure, and safety to their lives, God encouraged them to establish the rhythm of their lives by setting one day a week apart from their normal activities, a holy day. A day of rest.

During this pandemic, we have the opportunity to get off the merry-go-round busyness of modern life, to stop even the good things that usually fill our days.

We can turn off the news and reject worry or fear (or stockpiling goods).

We are welcomed to let go of the good and seek the best.

This is our chance to really spend time reading the Bible, asking God to speak, just as he did in the cool of the garden with Adam and Eve, to Moses from the burning bush, through prophets and priests and all kinds of people whose words or stories are recorded for us, for our time.

It is an inducement to pray, and to listen.

What is he preparing you for, in such a time as this?

What might your Creator have to say to you, personally?

I resolve

For 2020, I resolve to be here. The last four or five years (yikes, too long!) I’ve been sidetracked with everything from repeat infections, mold remediation in our house, to repeat surgeries, on and on. It seemed like every time I was ready to stand up and “get things done, and get back to my writing,” I was hit with something new, or an old thing with another face. It was like the stories my mother enjoyed telling. Crawling out back in the grass with our goat Minerva, I’d raise my little diapered derrière, trying to stand up and walk. However, Minerva couldn’t resist that big white target. She’d come running and butt me flat on my face, while my parents laughed from the porch.

Being blindsided and flattened is far too achingly familiar.

After working with various doctors and a nutritionist, lots of testing, tons of supplements, a thousand diet changes and increasing sensitives and allergies, I’m improving, but still measuring out my energy with a teaspoon.

2019 was a year for me to go deeper. I read a study from California about how Adverse Childhood Experiences set people up for chronic and life-shortening illnesses. By quick count, I had at least eight major Adverse Childhood Events by the time I was five, a statistic that says I should have died a few decades ago. That depressed me until I realized it means I have fought. I have grown stronger. I persevered, in spite of it all.  And, most importantly, I realized I have never been alone.

I allowed myself to look with compassion at the pain within and found the silent infant alone in her crib while her mother tried to woo her wayward husband back, the toddler still crying, unconsoled in the grass, the shy child terrified by her father’s hands and voice, the young girl utterly alone, caring for siblings only years younger, the world looming cold and threatening. So much shaking fear.

There is much I would like to share with you about this journey, and probably will, but today I want simply to assure you that God is always at work. Though often not the way we would write the script, He is creating something more wonderful than we can ask for or imagine. And this life, this world, is only the beginning.

But I’m not giving up on this life to merely wait for heaven. There is value in living well, living with wholeness, even if we are sick or in pain.

Especially then.

As many others have, this past year a group of us asked God to give us a word for the year. “Abide” keeping popping up for me. I wanted something more active, brighter, and something that would mean I’d spend less time in bed and more time accomplishing my goals. But I have learned this year how powerful it is to abide. It begins with reading his love letter in the Bible and listening. Learning to meditate has helped me slow my racing mind and sit in his bright love.

I have allowed the silent infant to cry out and abide in His loving presence. The toddler learned to abide in His consoling embrace. The frightened and lonely little girl began to run into his arms. I’m learning to really let His love soak deep into every hurting, crippled part of me.

That is abiding.

The word I’m hearing for 2020 is “New.” Once again, it’s not flashy or active sounding, but the time I’ve spent abiding has given me hope that New really can happen in my life.

I resolve to be alert, to be present in my life, to deeply experience feeling chosen, being custom-made to praise Him.

Janie 4th grade
Janie 4th grade Virginia Beach, VA
© Jane Foard Thompson
In the silence of the desert
Wailing seal © Jack H Thompson
Wailing Galapagos seal © Jack H Thompson
Maui waves, JHT
Maui waves

 

“This is what God says, the God who builds a road right through the ocean, who carves a path through pounding waves, The God who summons horses and chariots and armies— they lie down and then can’t get up; they’re snuffed out like so many candles: “Forget about what’s happened; don’t keep going over old history. Be alert, be present. I’m about to do something brand-new. It’s bursting out! Don’t you see it? There it is! I’m making a road through the desert, rivers in the badlands. Wild animals will say ‘Thank you!’ —the coyotes and the buzzards— Because I provided water in the desert, rivers through the sun-baked earth, Drinking water for the people I chose, the people I made especially for myself, a people custom-made to praise me.
Isaiah 43:16-21 MSG

Is there a word that highlights the year ahead for you?

Why I can sing

Holy week began with a boisterous procession, the One everyone hailed riding on a young donkey that had never been ridden. How did he tame that beast? I whispered, “Can you tame the wild places in my heart that still evade my censure?” Palm branches waved in my face as he rode near. Then he was there, looking right at me, something of a smile, the smile of a friend who knows me, perhaps better than I do myself. And those eyes. Not laughing, but bright, intensely alive, looking deep into my soul and loving me.

The donkey jostled him from side to side. Clop, clop, clop, he passed by, me clutching those eyes to my heart.

That smiling face followed me throughout the week, glancing from the table as he broke the bread and lifted the cup, one last time with his close friends. Nodding as he washed their feet, as if to say, do you see how I’m doing this? The way my touch loves filthy into soft and new?

And then he turned away, into the garden, into the night of his despair. I could only watch from a distance, knowing I would betray him with a kiss every time I loved something more than him.

As the cock crowed he turned and looked at me again. I expected harsh eyes, accusing eyes. But it was knowing, painfully loving me deep within, in spite of my treasonous heart that sought the approval of others over him. As he was beaten and humiliated, I knew every blow was meant for me. For my sin. And yet he took it. All.

All the way to the nails pounded into hands that had touched the leper and turned his skin into purity. Hands that had broken bread to feed thousands.

I stood at the foot of the cross, at first unable to look up, dreading the truth of his look. It was for me he struggled for breath as his blood ran down the rough wood and stained the ground.

At last, strangely drawn, I looked up. He smiled! It was brief, but there in the midst of darkness and pain beyond bearing, I saw his knowing. Barely nodding, his eyes said, “For it all. I’m here for it all.”

Out loud, “It is finished.”

Did the whole world shake as much as I?

But darkness seemed to win again. How could I go on, now that those eyes were closed and all the light had gone out?

At the end of the waiting, seeking even the closed eyes and still body, hands that could not stroke my cheeks, I went and found nothing.

Nothing like I ever dreamed.

Nothing I could do or change or earn or even imagine into existence.

The heavy stone was rolled away, the weight of all my mistakes moved aside to make way for life.

There he was! Laughing eyes loving me, somehow even more, as if to say, “Now you can laugh at the darkness, too!”

“Now you are free of grave clothes, too!”

“Now you can be fully alive, too!”

And I will never be the same again.

That’s why I sing, “Hallelujah, He has risen!”