No haloes here

LIttle Mac on blanket, Virginia Beach, VA

This weekend, many of us in the Western church are celebrating All Saints Day.  I’m grateful for the big Saints, people like Moses, the prophets, Peter, Paul, and John, who proclaimed and documented the faith, and those who shared it so that we could receive it, too. I thank God for them, but this weekend, I’ll be thinking of my little brother Mac, who I lost to Lake Ontario in Oswego, NY. He was the first of what is now quite a gathering of loved ones I miss who have gone on before me. How I look forward to our reunion!

When I attended confirmation class at Christ Church in Oswego, after early dismissal on Tuesday afternoons for religious instruction, I trudged through the snow a little over a mile and a half from the Oswego State Teachers College Campus School to Christ Church, though it seemed longer, especially on the cold, dark walk home.

Despite the boy’s hard snowballs stinging my bare legs (on Tuesdays, I refused to wear my baggy, hand-me-down snow pants) I loved going to church and learning the faith. I especially enjoyed our weekly hymn, “I Sing a Song of the Saints of God.” The second line still lights up for me.

“They loved their Lord so dear, so dear, and his love made them strong.”

Every week, I sang from my heart,

“For the saints of God are just folks like me, and I long to be one, too.”

For much of my life, I’ve tried “to be one, too.” I’ve had some not too spectacular failures and some of what looks like success. But it has taken me an inordinate amount of time to begin to really grasp the meaning of that second verse: “…his love made them strong.”

This weekend, I am playing the song in my mind (I often have a tune looping through my days and nights) with an emphasis on really receiving His love, not trying to be a good, saintly person so I can earn a halo.

Okay, I didn’t think I was working for a physical halo, but that really is the sum of my trying-so-hard-to-get-it-right actions, and the nighttime rehash of my days, my not-good-enough pronouncement on what I had done or failed to do that day.  

I was struck recently picturing Adam and Eve in the Garden. There, Eve chose her own way to satisfy her longing for wisdom, for more of whatever she thought she needed. She believed the lie that God wouldn’t provide.

All through the Old Testament, we have the history of God promising what the people needed, and most of the time, people choosing to try to get what they wanted in their own way.

The outcome was loss, just as it was for Adam and Eve, the loss of everything they really needed.

When he celebrated his last Passover with his friends, Jesus broke the bread and offered it to them, and told them to keep remembering.

Keep accepting the love he offers.

Keep choosing life through him, not trying to meet our needs our own way.

When he died on the cross and rose from death, he drew a big X over the world and everything in it that drags our hearts into darkness and death.

This weekend, I sing a song of the saints of God, reminding myself of that freedom, that love, that promise of life with Him in eternity, grateful I don’t have to earn a halo, or even polish one.

I can simply take life from his hand as he offers it.

His love makes me strong enough.

Good enough.

His love.

Such a gift.

It’s not so much what we do, but where we go to meet our needs that determines the outcome of our lives.

What are you choosing today?

Cut off?

Recently, I broke off two stems from a shrub I enjoy propagating and stuck them in water. A week later, one was wilting, and the other full and green. Looking at the roots, it was clear why one failed to thrive.

After a couple more days, the difference was even more dramatic.

The weak plant finally made a tiny effort to spurt a few roots, but not enough to get the job done. I tossed it in the compost pile.

The one that put out roots right away is now even stronger. With a growing root system, even in water, it is ready to go into the soil.

With the suddenness of the COVID-19 sequestration back in March, for many of us, our lives felt chopped off like that plant, broken or severely altered in countless ways: connection with others (too little or too much), job/income or business losses, schools, worship gatherings, athletic events worked so hard for, birthdays, anticipated holidays and trips, long prepared-for confirmations, baptisms, weddings and graduations postponed or drive by only.

Even being able to go to the store and choose our veggies became a no-go for many of us. (I won’t go into the time and energy to decontaminate groceries once they arrive at our house.)

After months of this, I’m wondering how many are floundering without their on-the-go busy life, no concerts or meet-ups, dining out, parties, or gym workouts, or church services to attend.

Hugs, anyone?

The diversions that used to keep introspection at bay have been sliced out from under us.

How have you handled the severance of everything we call normal?

Was it okay for a while, but now you are beginning to fray around the edges? Wilting, asking, “How much longer?”

Like the two stems, broken from their normal source of nourishment, when life cuts us off at the knees, we decide how we are going to respond. If we want to flourish, then our first priority has to be developing a new root system.

Life, as it used to be, won’t support us anymore.

I love Psalm 1. The ones who delight in God’s law, who seek his wisdom, are like trees planted by the riverbank.  

If we want to thrive, we have to go deeper for our life source.

Not find a different diversion or distraction.

Or comfort food.

And certainly not yielding to old habits, patterns, or addictions that used to enslave us.

At some point for all of us, life will offer challenges. Even if we’d rather not face them, in reality, it’s when it gets hard that real living begins. For a plant to thrive it needs a good, strong root system and a consistent source of water.

And so do we.

But I’m not going to give you advice on how to improve yourself, or Bible verses to memorize, even though that might be helpful.

Sometimes it’s in doing less that our roots go deeper. As I’m learning in lessons sprinkled throughout my adult life, I can’t do anything to actually make good roots grow.

Ps 37: 7 says: “Be still in the presence of the Lord, and wait patiently for him to act.” NLT

The same loving hands that knit me together in my mother’s womb (Psalm 139) and prepared me to live (Eph 1:4), has guided and protected me through the years, and is here, now, to take me deeper. He will develop in me whatever I need to reach His nourishing love. (2 Peter 1:3)

I’m learning to stop trying so hard to get it right.

It’s in resting I find my peace. Then I will bloom and grow.

God makes his people strong. God gives his people peace. Ps 29: 11 MSG

Today, I invite you to join me in this prayer from The Swindoll Study Bible, p 675

Oh, God, we long to enter into the rest You promise to those who trust in You. Give us ears to hear. Give us hearts to trust. Give us wills to wait. Put stops on our efficiency so that we learn, while resting, that You have all things under Your control—even people who are doing what is wrong. So today I pray that You would help us rest in You.  Amen

Where are you going for strength?

Dark Saturday?

This long Lent is grinding to a close. The only triumphal processions last Sunday, Palm Sunday in the western church, were virtual. Some individuals placed palm fronds on their front doors. I didn’t even make it that far, though I intended to. That about sums up a lot since we’ve been sheltering in place. Way more intentions than actions, it seems, like old dreams, where my feet won’t move.

I hear from some who are bored. Others juggle full-time jobs while helping kids focus on tons of schoolwork passed on by remote meetings with teachers. Many have too much time and perhaps less energy, or no good way to dissipate it. Some are dealing with lost work and pay, others even lost businesses. Many are alone and isolated. A dear friend of mine whose husband is in skilled nursing care is only able to “visit” him on Facetime, whenever the staff has time to schedule her in. He is declining rapidly without her daily visits and her touch.

So much heartache.

No one close to me has lost a life to COVID-19, so far. But that guillotine blade hovers above us all, doesn’t it? Whether you or a loved one is a healthcare worker or first responder (thank you), we all feel the threat.

Even as we grieve the loss of plans, family time together, recreational facilities shut down, difficulty getting food and necessities then going through all the steps to decontaminate everything, we feel the ominous presence of disease and death. While I am glad to see neighbors I don’t know out riding bikes or walking, who are normally off and gone in their cars every day, I can’t help wondering who will still be here when it’s all over.

I’m getting pretty dark, not the way I usually go looking for glimpses of peace. But that is what I see outside the window I’m tired of looking through.

Today as I write this, it is the Saturday after Good Friday, when the Hope of all Hopes bleed and suffocated on the cross. When he died, the day turned as dark as night. He was laid in a cave grave by a few crushed but faithful followers – all their hopes dashed.

Most of his disciples had already scattered, off in complete despair to hide from the Roman soldiers, their only hope to avoid a similar death.

I wonder if his mother and the other women who stood at the foot of the cross and braved his brutal death sheltered together after they took his body down, weeping into each other’s arms as they mourned the loss of everything good in their lives.

Everything they had counted on. Trusted in. Planned on.

Do you feel that, too, as you erase events and plans from your calendar? As birthdays pass without parties? Celebrations for years of work are canceled? Trips put on a very long hold, or given up on altogether?

Does it feel like everything that orients your day has been pulled out from under your feet?

Some days, does the grief get heavier as the day drags on?

Even though Lent is ending, we are stuck in the in-between-time. All creation seems to be holding its breath. (We can’t even get a good rain here in usually very wet Florida!)

Our feet are trapped in a time when normal life is a fading memory and we can’t begin to guess what tomorrow is.

No certainty.

No sunlight on the horizon.

But wait. There’s more. (Did you ever think you’d want to read these words from those annoying commercials?)

There is always more when I stop looking at my feet and worrying about why they won’t move.

I will try one more step, this time looking up.

This time, I will recall the truth I know, and use my imagination to let the light in.

On Easter morning, when the women went at dawn to anoint the dead body of Dashed Hopes, they found what they never expected.

Life beyond anything they’d ever experienced.

So much more than a stable home and income, possessions, even more than family.

They could draw in deeper breaths of life than they’d ever known before. They could sing notes they’d never heard before. They could dance steps they never conceived of. They could love with abandon in a fullness they’d never dared to dream.

And they had the certainty that His plans are good!
https://my.bible.com/verse-of-the-day/JER.29.11/23013?version=116

Ever since He left that grave, He has been bringing life and light to anyone who will look up. Anyone who will respond when he calls their name.

The thief comes only in order to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it in abundance to the full, till it overflows. John 10:10 AMP 
I am the Resurrection and the Life. Whoever believes in, adheres to, trusts in, relies on Me as Savior will live even if he dies; and everyone who lives and believes in Me as Savior will never die. Do you believe this?” JOHN 11:25 AMP 
“Don’t be afraid! I am the First and the Last. I am the living one. I died, but look—I am alive forever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and the grave.   Rev 1:18

Dear reader, I am praying for you, that you will be strengthened as you need it.

Would you like to share what is bringing the light for you?