surprised by grace

Joyous Easter

  he will swallow up death forever.
The Sovereign Lord will wipe away the tears
    from all faces;
he will remove his people’s disgrace
    from all the earth.
The Lord has spoken. (Isaiah 25:8)

 

absolute horror, hatred           unimaginable beauty, love
defeat, shame           humility, victory
despair, darkness           brilliant light, hope

 

But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:8)

He nourishes
He strengthens
He guides
He heals
He loves
He is risen
He is alive

Picture0331180826_1.jpgAlleluia

eventually, life

We’ve had a few false starts to spring this year. More than once I’ve been fooled into running to the garden centers to see their latest flats of bedding plants, herbs and vegetables. And when I put them outside sure enough there’s a cold snap, even a couple of nights of late frost burning the tender edges of the leaves.

There are many plants that come up year after year bravely through the snow. Crocus, daffodil. This year I had a periwinkle that bloomed.

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Some of the little flowers seem so fragile, delicate and tender it amazes me that they are completely unaffected by such a forbidding chill

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The bracken fern emerge very gradually, at first tight-fisted, their little fiddleheads clenched against the cold

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gradually then the sun’s warmth unfurling those little green fronds that grip so closely to stay alive

Picture0324181348_1.jpg (rescue dog Lulu patiently waiting to the right of the fern)

When I was little Sundays and church were a big part of my week. I looked forward to the friendliness and warmth, the bustle of families drifting into their respective Sunday school classes.

Children generally accept most things and question very little but I tended to be distracted easily so I can clearly remember some time after a particular lesson wondering why my teacher told us about somebody wandering around in the desert. Only later did I realize he meant Jesus’ 40 days being tempted by the devil.

And that was about the time I also realized that the ecumenical calendar was the same year after year. We spoke the same prayers, celebrated the same events of Pentecost, Christmas, Easter and the years were not flat, repetitive. It is an upward spiral.

The truth of those lessons and prayers reflecting the life and love of Jesus becomes clearer. I  paid attention. I hear His admonitions, His instructions, the meaning of taking up my own cross. The cross of humility, of selflessness, of love.

I hope one day those prayers take precedence over whatever smallness remains in me. Eventually.

“When they had brought their boats to land they left everything, and followed Him.”             —-  Luke 5:11

darkness

I have the same problem with Holy Saturday that I have with Good Friday. Good Friday? When Jesus is crucified? I could never see much good in it at all. People refused to see Jesus as Messiah. He made a lot of important people angry telling them the truth about themselves so they decided by killing Him it would make their unhappiness go away.

It didn’t.

Like a guy I used to work with often said, “Wherever you go, there you are.” Removing someone, moving to a different place will not change the person you are.

But Jesus could have, if they had listened, believed. So the same goes for Holy Saturday. What is holy about the death of a Savior?

When I was little like most children I was clueless about certain things. Church was a place you were polite and wore pretty clothes that you couldn’t make mudpies in. You could keep trying to destroy your brother during the week but not on Sunday. Or so I thought. Very thankful we grew up, neither of us destroyed the other and we are good friends.

But holy? The day after the man who was purported to be the Messiah dies? Savior of the world? He was the Son of God. Why did He die? Why didn’t He conquer the Romans?

Because He came to conquer our hearts. He came to overcome sin and death for us by sacrificing Himself on the cross so we by having faith that He is the Savior our own souls are saved. That was why He came. In love. Why that terrible Friday is good.

When God tells Moses to relay a message to Pharaoh, Pharaoh hardens his heart. Time and again Pharaoh relents only to change his mind and demand even more work, more bricks, less provision. So for the 9th plague God tells Moses to “stretch out your hand toward heaven, that there may be darkness over the land of Egypt, darkness which may even be felt.” (Exodus 10)

Imagine. A darkness so deep, so oppressive, so blinding you can feel it. I have a hard time imagining what that is. Feelings are quite sensitive. Some more than in others, but we all feel. There is the dark when you wake at night from a sound sleep and stumble to get a glass of water. The dark that is in your mind when you know there will eventually be light. The darkness that can be felt is heart darkness. The dark of hopelessness. A darkness that may even take the breath out of your lungs? Maybe.

When I worked in northwest New Mexico I visited a monument in Arizona called Canyon de Chelly. It is not federally owned and has existed for more than 5000 years, home originally to Anasazi tribes. If there was anyone else at the canyon the day I visited I never knew it. The silence there, even when the dusty desert winds blew, was so profound it had a presence.

That must be what darkness that can be felt is like. A sinister, empty presence. A void but one that, having no structure, nothing tangential can still touch you, consume you. So by Holy Saturday, Jesus had died, He was buried. The disciples and other believers must have been terrified. They hid. Their hopes were shattered. Jesus had told them He would destroy the temple and raise it in three days but even though they knew He often spoke in parables who would have suspected He meant Himself? Not me, had I been there.

This is part of all He did for us. He took our sin, the certain threat of death to the cross. He took the inevitability of separation from God. He remained in the abyss of that terrible dark alone. He and His Father were separated in what must have felt like eternity.

So maybe this is why it’s called holy. It was His sacrifice for us: that He endure what God sent Him to save us from.

Thank You God.

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The art of waiting

Trains, buses, meetings to end, summer, spring, winter to end, families to arrive, holidays to come, holidays to end, vacations, the roast to be done, elevators, seedlings, appointments, babies, good news, these are all things we at some point wait for.

But now everything happens faster. Mail replaced pony express. Telephones replaced mail. Texts replace phone calls and thank you notes and party invitations and announcements. And so waiting has become obsolete. There is so much busyness and distraction waiting almost doesn’t happen.

But there it is. The medical test they gave you Friday and won’t give results till Monday. You wait. You can wait gracefully or anxiously. By the end of the wait you can have convinced yourself of horrible things, or not.

Waiting is an art. Kind of like aging.

My dad did not go gentle into that good night. Not at all. At the end he was so angry. He wanted me to give him something he could break. All I found was a straw. Not very gratifying.

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My mom would plant tiny spring flowers. They would begin to take root and she would check them each day, pulling a little on their leaves and tender stems. The ones that survived this encouragement lived and bloomed, but she had a hard time waiting for them.

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When we’re hungry it is hard to wait for food. Mostly we don’t have to, stuff is so instant now. Fast food drive through or microwave, in a matter of moments steaming hot food is available. Food in some form.

Sometimes problems or thoughts wake me in the night. And sometimes these thoughts do not surface, so I am left wondering why, after only 5 hours of sleep I am now wide-awake wondering what I am supposed to be thinking of. So I wait for whatever it is to surface. Invariably it doesn’t, or my brain bombards me with a hundred thoughts of that day’s sentences I heard, questions asked, arguments thwarted, incomplete thoughts… anything and everything except whatever it is that woke me. Sometimes it will come to me and I can work through it but sometimes it does not. So until or unless I can go back to sleep I wait for morning.

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Somehow everything is better in daylight.

And I have many things I pray about. Family things, social things, political things. Anyway, stuff I have no control over. Stuff I need God to fix, or change, or stop, or start.

So I pray, and I wait. I try to be good at this. I realize many components go into effecting change. And I know nothing is impossible with God. Yet some things do not happen when I believe they should. Or if they do I would have done them a certain other way. Sometimes they may not happen at all. But I have to trust God. I have to wait for God’s timing.

This isn’t easy, but it is the best way.

Picture0310181747_1Rescue dog Lulu has mastered the Art of Waiting

“Blessed is the man who listens to me, watching daily at my gates, waiting at the posts of my doors.”    Proverbs 8:34

“Therefore be patient, brethren, until the coming of the Lord. See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, waiting patiently for it until it receives the early and latter rain.”    James 5:7

Expectations

The past couple of weeks I was seduced. The temperatures reached all-time highs. We have had a hard winter (well, for here) and I wanted to believe it was finally, completely over. I expected the warm to stay.

The sun is out, the sky is as clear blue as I have ever seen but the wind is gusting over 30 miles an hour and it is cold. Well, for here it’s cold. 50 is cold after 70s and 80s. And 30s overnight. I expected full-on Spring.

I knew it was still February. I know the saying, “March comes in like a lion, goes out like a lamb”, and it will. It always does. But somehow this year I was fooled into believing the cold was gone and this would be different.

Expectations. When what I want is so much stronger than what reason tells me. When all I believe and hope does not materialize because I didn’t consider all the factors. And sometimes there are factors in my limited experience I don’t know even exist to consider.

So I pray.

There are things I know that I pray for that are just not likely to happen. But they could. It is my way of being dependent on God. Having lived most of my life learning on my own, being resourceful seldom asking for help. Learning to get by with less than most because it was all there was and being happy with it. That was success for me, many times. And my dependence on God is really all I have. Everything else is a gift for which I am grateful but I cannot claim fully as mine. And if nothing else my prayer, if it does not change circumstances right away, changes me. It gives me peace.

My dad used to ask, “Why do you limit yourself?” Funny question. Experience stretches limitations, mistakes refine experience and grace allows others to share the success. So if I limit myself it certainly is unintentional. Who likes being in a rut? Or never growing or changing? So dreams, goals, expectations are visions of better. I use frustration to the same end. Something frustrates I find ways to change it or me so I don’t have frustration again. Not there, anyway.

Fear limits a dream. It’s not possible to achieve in fear. Caution is different. Fear paralyzes. And praying breaks the barrier of fear to where I know I can trust. It helps me know what is limiting me. It shines a light so I can see the fear or the unknown or the question that hasn’t been asked. It puts my dream into the hands of God who knows what’s best for me and when I should have it, or not have it at all. Choices. Opportunities.

If I do not expect anything I am not disappointed. Yet nothing ventured, nothing gained.

Or something like that.

Picture0303181417_1.jpg             Sasanqua camellia

So go! Trust! Try and try again.

“Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which passes all understanding, will keep your hearts and minds  in Christ Jesus. Finally beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.”    Philippians 4:6-8

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart and do not rely on your own insight. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.”   Proverbs 3:5-6

Picture0303181419_1.jpgDawn