Resurrection Power

The work God calls us to do can only be completed by his word, with the encouragement of fellow believers, and through Christ's resurrection power.

Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?”
Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him,
“Sir, if you have carried him away,
tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.”
John 20:15–16

I tore off the wrapping paper and couldn’t believe what my parents had picked out for my ninth birthday present. It was a book of fun crafts for kids. The cover consisted of shiny and blocks of bright blue and red, each block showcasing a perfectly executed craft project. Inside were illustrations and step-by-step directions for all 100 projects in the book.

The book enraptured me. I spent days reading through the projects and settled upon a miniature village made of milk cartons covered with paper, on which were drawn shingles, brickwork, and dainty windows. I gathered supplies for weeks and finally sat down to create a masterpiece all by myself. But the project was too hard. An hour later I gave up without having completed so much as a single building. The book went on the bookshelf and stayed there until Mom gave it to me years later when she moved to a new house. Paging through it with adult eyes, I could see the projects were too complicated for a child to complete alone. These were projects designed for families to complete together.

Whenever I read Mary’s words to Jesus (though she didn’t know it was him when she said them), that childhood gift comes to mind. She says, “Tell me where you have laid him,” referring to the body of Jesus which is not in the tomb, “and I will take him away.” Notice that she doesn’t say, “I’ll get help, and we’ll take him away.” No, she says, “I will take him away.”

Jesus, in all his grace, doesn’t respond with, “Really, Mary? You think you can move a dead body by yourself?” Instead he calls her by name. “Mary.”

Instantly, she knows her risen Savior. Immediately, she obeys his command to go back to her spiritual family and tell them, “I have seen the Lord.”

This Easter, many in our church body feel as hopeless as Mary did when she first discovered the empty tomb. For some reason, God in his perfect wisdom and timing, brought us face-to-face with a work of healing and forgiveness during Passion Week.

Though God provided us with an instruction book, complete with step-by-step instructions, the job to be done is far too big for any one of us to accomplish individually. Even when we study the directions together, pray together for strength and wisdom, and do the heavy lifting as one, this task is too big for us.

It will only be completed when we seek to hear Jesus speak by his Spirit into our devastation, grief, and sadness. When we instantly recognize his word and immediately obey his will even when we don’t understand it. When, like Mary, we cling to Jesus when hope beyond imagination appears. When, though we don’t understand how God can possibly bring beauty from the ashes of our ruined expectations and broken hearts, we boldly proclaim the glory of our risen Savior to a hurting world. When we trust his resurrection power and forgiveness to shine in and through us in the dark days ahead and praise him for the good and unseen things yet to come.

Christ is risen!
He is risen indeed!

The Goodness of Light for this Fantastic Friday

For this Fantastic Friday, a much needed reminder that light is stronger than darkness even in the dead of winter.This week’s Fantastic Friday post comes in the form of a poem written in January of 2012 when the weather was cold, the morning dark, the moon brilliant and full. The perfect antidote to the winter blues both then and now.

Light Stronger Than Darkness

In winter, the extra hours of darkness
Weigh upon my shoulders,
Press upon my eyelids,
Make me groggy and slow and stupid.

Still last week, when the moon was full,
And the air was winter-warm,
I took my camera into the darkness
As the sun waited patiently to start her day
Until after the moon went to bed.

The darkness was too thick
And my hands too shaky
To capture the glory of the moon,
And finally I quit trying,
Trudging home with shoulders bent,
Eyelids drooping in a darkness
That lingered until yesterday
When I finally looked at the pictures.

Disappointments, all of them but one,
Where the bright moon waited
In the blue-black sky.
Not behind bare black branches
As it was in reality,
But in front of them,
Eclipsing them,
Engulfing them in silver light.

Looking at the picture,
My shoulders straightened,
My eyes opened wide,
When I saw the truth.
Light is stronger than darkness,
Waiting patiently to be found by those who seek it.

Walking Beside a Rainbow this Fantastic Friday

The legacy of hope Uncle Marvin left his family and the hope his descendants carry into the future remain a source of hope on this Fantastic Friday.This Fantastic Friday remembers my Uncle Marvin who died four years ago this week. The legacy of hope he left his family and the hope his descendants carry into the future remain a source of hope today.

Sadness kept me company on this morning’s walk. No matter how hard I tried to steer my thoughts to smoother ground, they continually strayed to the uneven place where we stood and buried Uncle Marvin yesterday.

All I could think about were his grandchildren, the honorary pallbearers, gathered from Minnesota and Iowa, North Dakota and Illinois, and one recently returned from Egypt. They stood tall and straight and lovely, in the tiny country cemetery where their grandfather joined his parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents, only a few miles from where he’d been born and lived all his years.

These sweet carriers of our family’s future stood guard over the coffin, grave and composed during the pastor’s committal service, through the military gun salute, the folding of the flag, and it’s presentation to their grandmother. But when haunting notes of Taps filled the air, they began to cry, realizing for perhaps the first time in their young lives, that there is an end to every good thing.

Will this be the end of their connection to the family farm? I wondered, as they placed flowers on their grandpa’s coffin and said good-by. Will they return to their homes far away and forget their family’s long history in this place, the connection to the land that binds their parents together?

Sadness weighed heavy on me, and my head drooped lower. It’s over, I thought, and tears came to my eyes. For a moment, the sky wept, too, and raindrops wet my shoulders and hair. Maybe I should just give up and go home, I thought, too sad to fight life’s changes or the weather anymore. I looked up to check the sky.

And there against the grey clouds in the east was the beginning of a rainbow. A small, faded streak at first, it grew brighter and brighter the longer I looked up. Slowly, my sad weight lifted, and when I turned the corner I walked beside the rainbow. The further I went, the brighter the rainbow grew, until finally it stretched across the sky, bold against the grey clouds.

When those sweet grandchildren and their far-flung adventures came to mind again, the rainbow whispered to me.

Hope, it said so softly I had to strain to hear the word.

Hope.

Weary and Heavy-Laden

Are you about to falter under the burdens you are bearing? Remember, you don't have to bear it alone. There is One who will bear it with you.Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest.
Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart,
and you will find rest for your souls.
Matthew 11:29–29

Rarely have I felt as weary and heavy-laden as I feel today. So many burdens are bearing down. The Red Card Kids Sunday school class broke the hearts of everyone in attendance as we were brought face-to-face with the conditions children live in around the world. The killing of nine people attending a Bible study in Charleston sent believers in our country reeling. Every week parents of kids with special needs email their stories to me and ask for advice. And right now, this very minute, my husband and I are shouldering burdens concerning people we love very much, and we feel too weak to bear the weight much longer.

I am so weary, so heavy-laden. What I want right now if for the world to leave me alone while I watch one happy-ending movie after another, starting with The Wizard of Oz and ending with Ella Enchanted. Why do I–and maybe you, too–want to escape the woes of this world? Because, deep down, we know we can’t fix what’s wrong.

We can’t ease the daily suffering and oppression of millions of children.
We can’t end the racism that led to the killing of nine Christ followers.
We can’t provide the resources and rest parents of kids with special needs require.
 We can’t even make things better for the people we love most in this world.

And yet as believers we are commanded to end oppression, to fight injustice, to heal the broken, and to maintain loving relationships. We are called to bear burdens we can never fix. God’s commandment seems so unfair. Impossible to obey. Unless we remember Jesus’ call to bear our burdens with HIm. To be yoked together In Him. Not alone. Never alone.

Of course, being yoked to Jesus so the burden can be shared requires us to make some adjustments. Being yoked to Jesus means matching our steps to His. Going the direction He says is best. Moving forward in His time, not ours.

Being yoked to Jesus means total dependence on Him. Total release of our will to His. Total relinquishment of our loved ones to His sovereign will. Total trust in His wisdom and power when all appears hopeless, when evil seems to be winning.

Only when we realize that all the impossible things God calls us to do are only accomplished through His divine power are we able to lay find rest for our sore and weary souls. Only then do we discover His yoke truly is easy and the burden is so very, very light.

Only then.
Only then.

Does God Hear Me in Iowa?

Do You Hear Me in Iowa GCCAnd when He had taken the book, the four living creatures
and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb,
having each one a harp, and golden bowls of incense,
which are the prayers of the saints.
Revelation 5:8

“Is this heaven?”
“No, it’s Iowa.”

Truer words have never been spoken, at least in the opinion of Iowans. In June the grass is a verdant green, trees are in full leaf, and the cornfields are nearing the magical days when we can imagine Shoeless Joe and his teammates appearing from between rows of corn to converge on a field of dreams.

For me, some scripture passages read more like the script of a movie like Field of Dreams than like words for believers to live by. How do visions of strange living creatures in Revelation 5: 8 assure parents scared to send freshly graduated high school seniors into a world filled with evil? How do harps and golden bowls comfort parents of children scarred by horrors no child should ever experience? How can wafting incense reassure us when people we love dearly are wandering in darkness and despair and self-destructiveness?
Apparently, the vision is important because John reiterates part of it later in Revelation:

And another angel came and stood at the altar, holding the golden censer, and much incense was given him, that he might add it to the prayers of all the saints upon the golden altar which was before the throne. And the smoke of the incense, with the prayers of the saints, went up before God out of the angel’s hand. (Rev. 8:3-4)

In both passages, John describes the prayers of the saints as golden incense rising to God. The first passage could give the impression that the prayers are only those of saints already in heaven. But the second passage says, “the prayers of all the saints.”
Do you know what that means? It means that as believing saints, our prayers we on earth–for high school graduates, for vulnerable and damaged children, and for the lost ones we love–rise to God like sweet incense. If they rise to Him, He must hear them. And if He hears them, then we know He will answer them, though perhaps in ways we won’t understand in this world.

These verses say that our prayers matter. Our prayers make a difference in our lives and in the lives of those we lift up before the Father. On earth and in heaven. Today and for eternity. They provide the assurance we need when we are discouraged, when God doesn’t seem to hear and answer our prayers, when our high school graduates make stupid choices, when our broken children are not healed, and when the lost ones we love wander farther and farther away. When we want to shout, “God, do you hear me in Iowa?”

By his strange and magical Word, we hear God whisper into our shattered hearts, “Do I hear you in Iowa? No, dear one. I hear you in heaven.”

The Daffodils Are Blooming this Fanastic Friday

daffodil

Friday’s here again, so it’s time for another fantastic post from the past. This one comes from April 2011, a few years after Mom’s Alzheimer’s diagnosis and subsequent move to live with my brother and his family. That chapter of Mom’s life ended this past January, when she moved to an assisted living facility. She is not adjusting particularly well. But as this post points out, she has adjusted before, and I can hope that she will slowly adjust again. And I can also hope that this week, during our Wednesday visit and drive, she will smile to see the daffodils are blooming.

The Daffodils Are Blooming

My daffodils started blooming yesterday, their bright faces raised, impervious to the wind while they soaked in the sunshine. They spoke spring and warmth and light and hope into my winter weary heart. They made me smile.

Then the rain moved in, and everything changed.

These natty soldiers, who had marched beside my house erect and confident short hours ago, were bowed and bedraggled this morning. They shivered in the wind. Tears rolled down their faces and puddled in the dirt at their feet. Their burdens were heavy on their shoulders, so heavy they couldn’t lift their heads to see the clusters of clean, greening grass lining their parade route, cheering their arrival.

They have no idea that sunshine will return.

The daffodils were a gift from my mother the last fall she lived in her house. Before we suspected Alzheimer’s. Before her legendary strength abandoned her. When she still had energy to dig in the dusty, autumn soil for the daffodil bulbs that needed separating. Come spring, the news that I had planted the bulbs didn’t bring her as much pleasure as in previous years.

The first clue, as I look back, that something was wrong in my green thumb mother’s world.

Things moved more swiftly after that. The next fall, Mom moved in with my brother and sister-in-law. The next spring, her house was sold. Her passion for gardening evaporated along with her love of quilting, sewing, jigsaw puzzles, and ordering around her children. When my sister gave Mom an African violet for her bedroom, her response was, “I’m not sure I want that much responsibility.”

Can this be the woman who grew all the roses for our wedding altar arrangements?

“The daffodils are about to bloom, “ I told Mom during our visit two days ago. “The ones you gave me.” On our drive to the library, we saw some blooming beside a small house. “Look, Mom,” I pointed. “Aren’t they pretty?” Her eyes turned warm and bright. For the rest of the trip, and again on the way home, she watched for flowers.

“The daffodils are blooming.” She smiled and lifted her head. Briefly, the sunshine returned.

When Life Feels Like a Bad Movie

Cloudy Sky

Therefore, prepare your minds for action, keep sober in spirit,
fix your hope completely on the grace
to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.

1 Peter 1:13

Thus far, 2015 has not been my favorite year. Before the first two weeks of January were over, our first granddaughter was born ten days early, an unexpected opening at an assisted living facility meant Mom could move in pronto instead of in two months, our daughter and son-in-law moved into the new condo they purchased, and the page proofs for my latest book project arrived, along with a very short turn around time.

“Your life is a lot like a movie where everything happens at once,” my sister observed.

“Yes,” I agreed. “A really bad movie.”

Things didn’t improve much over the next few days when an avalanche of medical, financial, and insurance details related to Mom’s move threatened to derail a trip to meet the new baby. Somehow, I plowed through the mess and spent a sweet week helping the young family adjust to its newest member.

But even at the best of times–cuddling the baby or playing with our grandson–a silent, unending refrain invaded my every waking moment. 2015 is like a movie. A really bad movie.

A really bad, exhausting movie.

The refrain was so loud and insistent I could barely hear the pastor teach about 1 Peter 1:13–16 during his sermon. Or maybe I didn’t want to hear what he or the apostle Peter had to say about a believer’s response to hard times. Because the pastor’s reiteration of Peter’s commands to cultivate a disciplined mind and sober spirit discouraged me. After all, I’ve dedicated daily time to obeying those commands for years and years. But my obedience wasn’t making this particular hard time any easier.

Not. One. Bit.

But then, the pastor got to Peter’s third command to fix our hope on Christ. Not just on the hope of our present salvation, but also on the future hope of glory spent in his presence for eternity. Glory which he promises that his children will one day fully experience.

As I contemplated that promise and began to fix my eyes upon the hope of Christ, the bad movie soundtrack in my brain gradually faded away. I wish I could say it was replaced by heavenly music sung by choirs of angels. But it wasn’t. And I wish I could say that my present troubles faded away, too.

But they didn’t.

But with my eyes fixed upon the hope of glory in Christ yet to come, present troubles no longer consumed my thoughts. They didn’t rule my day. They could no longer taint my attitude. Because I was and am looking forward to something.

You can look forward to the same something. In the midst of hard times, dashed expectations, unwanted change, or devastating loss, you can look forward to this glimpse of future glory Peter offers. His words are a mere taste of what’s to come, just the trailer of the glorious, unending movie where everything good happens in the eternal lives of believers at once and forever.

And though I haven’t heard soundtrack for the movie, I know it will be heavenly!

In Heaven Eating Bon Bons by the Pool with Jesus

swimming pool

For momentary, light affliction is producing for us
an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison,
while we look not at the things which are seen,
but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal,
but the things which are not seen are eternal.
2 Corinthians 4:17–18

The past month’s news has been a parade of one horrible event after another. An ebola epidemic in west Africa. Refugee children flocking into the country only to learn they aren’t welcome. Israel and Gaza at war. A passenger plane shot down by a missile.

The parade is never-ending. Sometimes, I can’t stand to listen anymore and turn off the news. I don’t even want to exist in this ocean of sorrow. I don’t want a job where parents of kids with special needs email with problems I can’t solve. I don’t want to live in a country where people hold up signs and scream obscenities at innocent children. I don’t want live in a world, which the Bible says, will end with death and destruction on a massive scale.

“Lord, take me home now,” I beg. “Bring me into your presence so Jesus and I can spend our days together. So we can sit by the swimming pool and sip fruity drinks decorated with tiny umbrellas, eat bon bons, and discuss the latest Sue Grafton mystery novel.”

So far, God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit have not come to consenus concerning the granting of my heartfelt and perhaps misguided and selfish request. More likely, thanks to some prayer intervention by Jesus, God the Father has directed the Holy Spirit to perform more internal heart reconstruction inside me so I’m ready when the time comes for me to go home.

God alone knows when that day is. He alone knows when my earthly work and yours is done. He alone knows when the eyes of our hearts are prepared to appreciate the glory waiting in heaven. In light of the reality of our God who holds our return tickets home close to his chest, how do we keep the actions of broken people in a broken world from breaking our hearts and destroying our faith? I know only one way to survive and even thrive in this world of sorrow.

By looking to Jesus. Jesus, who left his glorious home in heaven to live among us. Compassionate Jesus, who loved and welcomed children with special needs. Innocent Jesus, who listened as people shouted obscenities at him. Jesus the Lamb, who died on the cross to redeem broken people living in a broken world. Risen Jesus, who ascended into heaven and sits on the throne. King Jesus, whose reign will end death and destruction forever.

To survive and thrive when the parade of bad news never ends, we must not be consumed by the sorrows of this earth. Instead, we must see them through the lens of hope. Hope in the unseen eternity yet to come. Hope in Christ, who entered into our temporary light afflictions to produce an eternal weight of glory on our behalf.

Turn your eyes upon Jesus,
Look full in His wonderful face,
And the things of earth will grow strangely dim,
In the light of His glory and grace.

Photo Credit: papaija2008 at www.freedigitalphotos.net

Brave Mothers and Courageous Children

Doe trusting

Last week, my heart grew heavier and heavier
as the media reported more and more bad news.
Downed airliners.
Fighting in the Middle East.
People in this country shouting at refugee children,
holding ugly signs telling them to to home.

I gave God an earful.
I told him I wasn’t sure about living in a world as cruel as this,
a world stripped of loveliness and compassion,
a world devoid of beauty.

And then, God answered,
as He so often does,
on my morning walk.

I looked up,
and there on the edge of the woods,
stood a doe.
Immobile.
I walked closer and closer
to where she stood sentry.
Closer than I’ve ever been to a deer before.

Close enough to see
her heavy udder,
her swollen teats.
She bravely held her ground,
watching over a hidden fawn,
trembling,
but never flinching
as I passed by.

Then, at the end of my walk
as I ascended our driveway,
God spoke again.

A male indigo bunting,
very small,
very young,
sat on the gravel only a few steps away.
He hopped about,
flew into the bushes unsteadily,
then flew with wobbly precision across the driveway
and perched in one tree,
then on the dead branch of another.

I stood,
transfixed by the courageous bird,
patchy with iridescent blue feathers
and intoxicated
with the freedom of flight,
until he took wing again
and flew away.

“My world is filled
with brave mothers,
with courageous children,”
He said.
“My world is filled with beauty.”

Three Thoughts for Thursday

il_570xN.170003240

  1. A favorite childhood memory: me and the sibs pooling our allowance to buy Dad’s favorite Christmas and birthday present–a tin of Kentucky Club pipe tobacco–at our local Rexall Drug Store. I don’t think the CVC pharmacy chain will use our family’s brand of nostalgia for any ad campaigns after October, 2014
  2. HOPE = The touch of mild breeze on the cheek and warm sunshine penetrating a winter coat while shoveling 3 inches of wet snow off the sidewalk. Spring is coming!
  3. As much as I love writing, the Sochi Olympics have me considering figure skating as a new profession. I’m beginning the career switch with a wardrobe overhaul and could use some advice.
  • So, do you prefer electric blue, bright red, or gold lame for a costume?
  • Concerning embellishments, would you choose abundant rhinestones, abundant feathers, or abundant skin-colored mesh?
  • And finally, do you prefer traditional white skates, skin-colored skates, or skates dyed to match a perky, kicky, glittery skate costume?

Leave a comment and thanks for your help!

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