Saturday, March 30, 2013

Reflections on Holy Week

On this holy Sabbath, I take time to silence myself and reflect on this Holy Week. It has meant a great deal to me, for many reasons. Different aspects that have been prominent of the week and of the special observances in which I have participated with my fellow brothers and sisters, have all come together to be weaved into a beautiful tapestry of Holy Week beauty. Below you will find what this Holy Week has meant to me.

It has meant Simplicity. For Lent, I gave up the need to overproduce and the need to please everyone. Though these two go hand-in-hand, the need to overproduce took center stage in my mind, perhaps and hopefully because the Holy Spirit put it there. Giving up this need has been quite the challenge, and I must admit that I have failed miserably at it, though not without much growth. The Lenten Offering, as I like to call it, has developed in me a need and desire for simplicity. It drives me to seek and hopefully to find what it means to live life more simply. All that I have learned thus far is in itself an entire blog post, or perhaps a few, so more on that topic later.

Holy Week has meant shadows. I expected at the beginning of the week, as I knew and expected there to be a time of retreat into the shadows, for this to mean a time of emotional sadness and perhaps a touch of depression. Don’t know why I expected this to happen for only a day or two, but I think I subconsciously did. What I found, however, was that the light of Christ has shown so brightly upon me this week that I have found it difficult and even impossible to retreat into the shadows of depression. Instead, a retreat to the shadows has more meant to confess that Jesus indeed did suffer, and in this way he connected on an entirely new level with humanity. To believe in a Jesus who did not suffer is to believe in a God who would not really stoop to the lowest place, for that would be too far, unreachable, and quite the nuisance. More on that in a moment.

It has been reflective. This year, for the first time in a long time, Holy Week has not been a surface-level theology that is simply a dead story from a bajillion years ago; it has not been simply repeating what has been said a thousand times. I.E., it has not been Jesus on a felt board. It has had meaning, reflective meaning, deep meaning, that has penetrated my soul and disturbed me there. It has crept deep inside of me, to the depths of my being, grasped me there, rattled my world, and has changed me forever. It has been quite the spiritual experience.

This Holy Week has meant community. I have spent a great deal of time this week with the people in my church, and even a small amount of time with people of multiple denominations, which was pretty awesome. Since I joined my church choir recently, I have been a part of a good deal of the services for which my church has gathered together. And I have loved it. Every moment of it. I went through a long phase during college in which I hated church. I hated everything about it; the building, the people who always wore really nice clothes and drove fancy cars, the stale songs and stories, all of it. And for the first time literally in years, I have begun to fall in love once again with the local church. Working with the children and adult choir members of a church have a way of doing that to you. Community has been lived out and felt this week.

It has meant listening and following God’s guidance. I can’t spill all my guts here, but the week has meant change. Hard change, change that means sacrifice. But the gains and rewards are worth it. Thanks be to God.

It has meant submitting my will to that of my Perfect Father and Mother God. It has meant me saying, “Not my will, but Thine be done.”

It has gotten me asking, “Who is my ruler?” Woven into the tapestry with the same color thread as simplicity, this question cuts deep. Will I allow certain things, even good things, to be my master, thereby forfeiting my soul, or will I lose my soul for the sake of finding it?

It has meant confessing the suffering of Jesus. Much like Peter, who said, “Never, Lord!” when Jesus told the disciples of His death, I find myself thinking, “Never, Lord! You could never suffer for me! It’s not worth it!” And the Lord says, “Get behind me, Satan. You do not have in mind the work of my Father” (found in Matthew 16:21-28, my rephrasing). This week during an ecumenical Good Friday service in the larger city community, my church’s Missions Minister spoke about Jesus’ thirst. The two-word sentence found in John 19:28, is a beautiful break in John’s portrait of Jesus as the Divine. After a lifetime of divinity, John gives us the picture of Jesus’ brush with humanity. He thirsts. Indeed, our fully-God-fully-human Savior, thirsts as He dies. For us.

It has meant rest, quiet, stillness. A difficult discipline for a Martha such as I. Also woven with the same color as simplicity, it has been brought right before my face that I have a problem with the discipline of rest. I am terrible at it. I would rather run around the block ten times before allowing myself to rest, even for a moment (and I hate running). It is against my very nature to rest and be quiet and still. And yet how necessary it is in bringing about the things of God.

My Holy Week has brought me to a new idea, which I like to call Post-Holy Week. Like Lent, for me it will be the giving up of something, in order to gain the world and my soul. I am giving up my need to be Martha. I am giving up my need to be Super Woman and never rest. I don’t think it is bad to be Martha; I just think I need to balance it out with some Mary time. I’ll let you know how that goes. For now, below you will find my Holy Week Prayer.


Blessings to all, and Happy Easter!


Holy Week Prayer
God of Day and God of Darkness,
Bring my eyes before Your throne.

Let the noise and clamor cease;
Be still, oh my soul.

Find rest, my soul, in Christ alone.
Rest in His power, in quietness and trust.

May simplicity find its way into my life once more,
May You do through it that for which it is intended.

Make me more like You,
Oh God of Day and God of Darkness.

Meet me, O loving Christ, in the shadows of your death;
Enshroud me with the quiet darkness, the heaviness of the weight of the world.

Once the work there is done,
Once my heart has known darkness long enough,

Bring me forth to glorious day,
May my life flower and blossom to glorious beauty.

That all the earth may know Your Name and Your Salvation,
Oh God of Day and God of Darkness.



Monday, March 25, 2013

Now Enter We Into Holy Week

I celebrated the beginning of Holy Week yesterday with the children in my church as I led them in singing, dancing, and moving before the Lord with all their might, as we attempted to teach and learn with them through the story of Jesus' triumphal entry that praise can and should be with our entire bodies and our entire being. An important thing, praise.

My prayer this Holy Week is simple: "Spirit of the Living God, lead me to where You are."

I recently joined my church adult choir. After spending my freshman year of college as a music major, I swore off sheet music for a few years. Now it is finding its way back into my soul. On Good Friday this week, my church choir and I will sing a little diddy called "Song of the Shadows." A beautiful arrangement of great pieces, the emphasis is allowing the Spirit to draw us into the shadows of Holy Week and there to learn what can only be learned in that dark and difficult place. So it should be real fun and chipper.

As I am walking through this beginning of Holy Week, I am seeking to be more attuned to the Spirit than I try on a day-to-day basis. You know, gotta get my holy fix. But I really want this year to be special.

After joining my friend on our "Jellybean Tour" of seminaries this past week, I realized how little I have sought rest in the last few weeks. I finally crashed after the tour and - get this - SLEPT. Haven't done that in forever. And I rested. That parable I keep bringing up of Mary and Martha? Yeah, still running around like Martha.

I got my big full-length keyboard out of storage in my basement recently and hooked it up tonight for the first time in months to play. I sat down with my Upper Room Worshipbook. A really fabulous work of art.

I was brought to the song "God of Day and God of Darkness," which is followed on the next page by an alternate set of lyrics, entitled "Come Away from Rush and Hurry." Wow, how the Spirit works.

The first stanza of the "Come Away" reading says this [the tune is "Come All Christians, Be Committed"], "Come away from rush and hurry to the stillness of God's peace; from our vain ambition's worry, come to Christ and find release. Come away from noise and clamor, life's demands and frenzied pace; come to join the people gathered here to seek and find God's face."

This Holy Week, take the time to be holy. I'm not just quoting an old song; I'm serious. Take time to step away from everything and find your Lord weeping for you in the shadows. Find the Spirit there, who lifts up the Sacrifice and gives him strength to press forward. Hear the silence. Hear the pain. Hear the agony. Let the need to constantly be happy and always in good light fade away as the darkness surrounds you.

Therein find your God. Therein find your salvation.

Blessings to you this Holy Week,

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Today's Playlist

Today's playlist for thinking about our words:

Wonderful Words of Life
Ancient Words
Closer (Charlie Hall)

Any others?

Friday, March 8, 2013

The Power of Words

I have been realizing lately how important words are. We are a society of cheap words. If we could count all the words we see and hear in a day (not only the ones we perceive), we....well, I don't have anything snazzy to say. But it would be an incredible number.

Proverbs 18:21 in The Message translation says, "Words kill, words give life; they’re either poison or fruit—you choose."


When I was a kid I was invited to a birthday slumber party for a girl who was in my class at school. We were acquaintances, as much as first graders can be, but not the best of friends. We played together on the playground and got along well, so I thought.

While at the party, we were all sitting around her kitchen table eating and hanging out, and the birthday girl was sitting to my left. At one point, she turned to me and said, "You're so stupid. I shouldn't have invited you."

I remember to this day how those words made me feel. Things kind of stopped for a minute in my mind as I internalized the strong words spoken against me. I had no response to her. They were typical words of my childhood. It's a hard knock life for the kid who always gets made fun of! Until that kid grows up to be a strong woman who changes the world. Just sayin.
Those words, those two little sentences, had the power to vacuum all the fun out of the rest of the party for me. And all of the life.

Our words hold power.

Remember the woman caught in adultery? John 8:1-11. She was caught, discovered, guilty. And she was used as a tool to frame a man. The religious leaders bringing her before Jesus were not bringing her there for her own good; not for her cleansing, not for her forgiveness, not for a sacrifice to be made on her behalf. They brought her there so that they could accuse Jesus.

Jesus, after writing in the sand, responds to them, "Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her" (v. 7b, NRSV). They showly turn and walk away one by one, dropping their stones. I can imagine the stones piling up into a powerful altar on which Jesus reveals his love for the woman and for broken humanity.

Scripture says, "Jesus straightened up and said to her, 'Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?'  She said, 'No one, sir.' And Jesus said, 'Neither do I condemn you'" (v. 10-11, NRSV).

Sometimes I think we need to spend less time allowing words to fly from our mouths and more time writing in the sand.

A song from my middle school years says, "Oh the power of your words are filled with grace and mercy, let them fall on my ears and break my stony heart. Come in close...come in close and speak. God, come in close...come closer to me" (Charlie Hall, "Closer").

May we be people who write in the sand. May we be people who weigh our words and choose them wisely, knowing that our days are numbered. May we be people who speak life and not death. May our words heal and not wound.

May we be speakers of life.

To all the beautiful women of the world, Happy International Women's Day! You are beautiful, and your life matters.


Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Lent Meets Perspective

One of the many beautiful things about God's grace is that it often leads us to unexpected places in unexpected ways and at unexpected times.

Though we are in the season of Lent and perhaps that should be my main focus, I am returning once again to my New Year's Resolution, which I titled Perspective: New Year, New Mindset. Actually, I am connecting the two. Remember, all of my thoughts have multiple sources, along with multiple idiocies. I am wondering tonight if the need to overproduce and please everyone (what I am giving up for Lent) is somehow complexly yet amazingly simply intertwined with my tendency to never be satisfied with where I am in life or what I have and to always desire something else. I am realizing how often I become so convinced that I want something (I'm talking big girl stuff here, like jobs and graduate degrees, not a chocolate cupcake at the mall..that is a given!), then once I have it, there is something else that I want equally as much. And maybe it really isn't all that different from that childlike longing for a chocolate cupcake.

"Not all that glitters is gold," my college President told me once, as I sat in his office crying about a recent breakup. Not all that glitters is gold. That should be posted somewhere on a statue or something.

The beautiful creature has a disgustingly speckled underbelly. There will always be something that leaves room for desire in even the greatest gift from our Father (save Jesus). And perhaps that is because Jesus is the only perfect gift, the gift that is whole and complete, not lacking anything; the gift that keeps on giving and giving and giving; the gift that we may not desire yet will meet our greatest need and fill our deepest longings.

I am a big dreamer. I like to reimagine the world my way, which of course you know is God's way. I love to dream big. I think that is ok; indeed, without big dreams the world will never change. But sometimes when I start worrying about what steps to take to achieve my dreams, I get scared and the world starts crumbling in because it seems impossible. Thus I become depressed and eat rediculous amounts of chocolate to console myself.

The unquenchable, unwavering desire, the dream. The need to overproduce and to please everyone. The need to overproduce is itself a dirty dream, one that keeps biting back. The need to be or at least to appear perfect is itself an unattainable wish; no matter how long the facade lasts, it will eventually fall.

Luke 10:38-42 contains the classic parable of Mary and Martha. You know the story...Martha is busy being a Susy Homemaker and gets mad at her sister, Mary, who is chillin in the living room at Jesus' feet. When Martha tells Jesus to repremand Mary for not helping, Jesus gives Martha one of the most piercing sentences I find in the Bible: "Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing" (v. 41b-42a, NRSV). 

The parable is sandwiched between the parable of the Good Samaritan and the Lord's Prayer. Two vital passages of Scripture provide the bookends for this passage. These three parts of the sandwich each reveal very important Christian disciplines: helping those who are hurt (doing), resting at the Lord's feet (listening), and praying rightly (prayer). In the midst of doing justice, loving mercy, and praying rightly, Jesus beckons Martha to walk humbly with her God.

We are all busy, whether we be moms running to and fro, between Cheetos flying and tea spilling in our cars. Whether we be dads picking up kids from school and struggling to know how to nurse sick children back to health. In our busyness, we are fabulous. We care deeply for one another and for the things of God. We deeply want others to know and do the things of God. And as we all are running around making sure things are running as they should, whether in the church or in the home, the Lord beckons us to His side. The Psalmist said it this way, "Be still, and know that I am God." Be still, precious child, be still.

I struggle with sitting still. Just when I am doing well, the song playing on the iPod needs changing because it is just not right, or I have to tell Pandora that I like that song, then I need to check my Twitter, then I need to check if so-and-so responded to my text....and the moment is gone.

After church this past Wednesday night, I realized I needed to put something in my car. As I was finishing up, I turned and looked behind me to see a beautiful full moon resting between trees and homes in the neighborhood. I then looked above me to see a partly cloudy sky through barren trees with a few stars sparkling through breaks in the clouds. I started thinking about where I wanted my life to be, somewhere different than the beautiful place where I am now. Then I stopped myself and prayed, "Lord, help me to be where I am now and to love it."

The moments are fleeting; take them while they are here. Be still, my child; be still. Rest your head on the shoulders of the One who loves you, the One who has come to visit with you and give you His precious attention. Breathe Him in, and know that you are never alone. You are so so so loved, child of God, so so so loved. Rest in that today. Just be still.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Lent Post No. 2: Last Night

This one has sat in my inbox for only two days. Moving on up, eh?

As I have begun my Lenten journey of giving up the need to overproduce and the need to please everyone, I have already learned a great deal. I find myself enjoying sweet moments with my Savior that otherwise I may have, but perhaps they would not have the meaning that they now have. I will take last night as an example.
I got off work at 5:00 and needed to be back at 6:45 for a lecture series our church is hosting. Typically, when I have to be working all day long, it is easier to not take a break so that I cannot think about being tired, or so that I can stay "in the zone." But yesterday, I decided time would be better spent seeking where the Lord may be found. I decided that though I would be keeping children rather than attending the lecture, it would not hurt for my heart and mind to be tuned into spiritual things, that I too may learn something from the event. So before leaving work, I nestled myself into my corner office (off the clock, mind you) and enjoyed a fabulous devotion about vulnerability. The devotion discussed Jesus' vulnerability in becoming human and in His journey to the cross. I was reminded of my constant need to overproduce, to have everything so-so. While I do not think vulnerability should be used as an excuse to be lazy and half-do a job, I think there could be a level of vulnerability in work. Perhaps it is ok to not know everything or to have to ask for help sometimes. Perhaps it is ok if one loose end gets left out by accident every now-and-then.
After enjoying my devotional time, I went home, washed some dishes I had left from visitors the previous day, and cooked some pizza. What a relaxing time it was. As I ate my dinner in my dining room, which has a big bay window with a gorgeous view, I watched the colorful sunset stretch ever-changingly across the sky. How beautiful and breathtaking it was. And the pictures I took did not do it justice. The Lord speaks ever so quietly through the Lord's Creation. And sometimes, how loud is that quiet speaking.
After praying and enjoying the view, I saw a bird flying high across the sunset. I took it to be another God moment, an action through which God was speaking through Creation. I heard the words of God, "You have to move, you have to try, in order to fly." A nice rhyme, huh? But really. In order to enjoy the beautiful sunset from way above the trees, to leave behind the worries of today and to find a new experience with the Savior, you might just have to move. Move away from the desk, move away from the pile of laundry that is ever-increasing, move away from the computer screen...move. Move toward others. Move toward God working in the inner city or out in the boondocks away from the hustle and bustle. Wherever it may be that God is leading you, move. And put forth an effort into your spiritual growth. Try.

And then you will be amazed at how far and how high you can fly.

My First Celebration of the Lenten Season

So I know this is late, as it has sat in my personal email for about a week, but forgive me. I've been busy and trying not to overproduce. :)

You may be surprised to know that I have never before celebrated Lent. It was not a part of my church tradition growing up, nor did my family really care about intentionally giving up anything. As I have grown older, I have begun to see the importance and beauty of pumping the brakes on an area or two of life and seeing where ceasing gets me.

For my first Lent, I am giving up the need to overproduce and the need to please everyone. Many people give up chocolate or coffee or facebook...for me, those are all essential to life and work. I would rather not spend the Lenten season struggling to get through a day because I cannot have coffee. I would rather create an experience with my Savior that brings me closer to His heart. So I began thinking, "What is something that is practical to give up yet that is necessary, as it holds me back from being more like my God?" I began to think about a day just this week when I allowed myself to take an hour lunch break rather than 30 minutes. I drove to the city's Bridge Club, where I parked and sat in my car, gazing out past raindrops on my windshield to the beautiful evergreen grass of a soccer practice field. As I sat there that day, I realized how far I had gone past simplicity. I had worked and struggled all week long to make up hours I had missed from being sick last week and from other previous days I had missed. I had labored and strove to work as hard as I could, and though I was accomplishing a lot, a part of me felt completely exhausted and like I was getting nowhere. I needed to rest; I needed to find simplicity. I needed solitude; I needed moments, quiet moments, with my Savior.
This experience led me today to think of the possibility that if I give up the need to be ever productive, the need to always be on top, the need to have everything perfect and in its place, then maybe, just maybe, I might find the joy of the silent presence of my Lord. Maybe I would find myself resting, as Mary did, at the very feet of Jesus my Lord, and there I would find the things that cannot be taken from me. Maybe.
We will see how far pumping the brakes gets me...