Good Friday

I get Easter. I can understand the celebration. I recognize the magnitude of what an empty tomb meant 2,000 years ago, and what it means now. But the days leading up to Easter? For me, these take more mental finesse, more grappling, more exploring.

A few years ago I wrote about Silent Saturday, the day that represents the pause between Christ’s death and His resurrection. The thought of what that day was like — for Jesus’ disciples, followers, believers, those who hated Him — it still sits like a weight on my heart. Had I been there, I would have been all wringing hands and pacing and tears and grief. It’s different now though. Now Saturday has become, simply, the day before Easter. We know what’s coming.

But what about Good Friday? How do I reconcile a day that represents the darkness of Christ’s death with a day that represents His triumphant resurrection? It isn’t easy, but the truth is there. Without Friday there wouldn’t be Sunday.

For nearly six months I’ve been working on a Good Friday project that required me to truly consider the importance of the day. I  asked questions like, “Why do we call it good?” and “Am I the only Christ-follower so focused on pastel-wrapped Easter celebrations that I see Jesus’ sacrifice as a mere stepping stone to a much happier day?” During the last several months — before-sunrise mornings and quick moments between life’s tasks and in the rice paper-thin pages of my Bible — I’ve sought after the answers to those questions.

Here’s what I realized.

Good Friday isn’t good because of the pain and anguish. Good Friday is good because of the sacrifice and the grace and the love. It’s good because, without it, we wouldn’t be celebrating on Sunday. Without the dying, there would be no rising. I can’t walk through Friday so focused on Sunday that I forget about the cross.

I get it. Easter Sunday is laughter, rejoicing, and warm breezes. It’s bright blue skies, celebrating, and light. So much Light. Juxtaposed sits Good Friday, representing darkness, anguish, and death. But here’s the thing…that’s what makes Easter Sunday so blindingly beautiful.

If you celebrate the Risen King, don’t forget to celebrate the Sacrificial King also.

 

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Grace Upon Grace

This morning in church the worship leader mentioned that some people may find the holiday season difficult because of trials or hardships or strained family relationships. I thought about those strained family relationships, looked down at the date on my watch, and realized that today would have been my mom’s 73rd birthday.

VickieAfter remembering that today was her birthday, I thought of my favorite picture of her. I misplaced it for a decade and then a couple of years ago I stumbled upon it in a box in the garage, the summer heat having left its mark. I’ve spent a lot of time tipping and turning the picture, wondering whether a different angle will give me a better glimpse of who she was. I don’t know who took it, I don’t know where she was. I can assume from her hair that it was the 70s, before I was born. She looks happy, but then again, it’s hard to tell. Of all the pictures I have of her, this is the one I most relate to. It’s not our features, although every year that passes I see her more and more when I look in the mirror. It’s the way you can see her, but not really. Hand up, guard up, same thing. I get her.

I’ve shared before that I prayed for her for 20 years. I asked God to surround her with faith-filled people who would care for her. He did. He wrapped His arms around her in the form of a husband, friends, a church, community, mentors, faith, all of it.

A few months ago one of her friends sent me a box of some things that belonged to my mom. On a ridiculously hot summer day, I snuck to a quiet corner of the house and opened the box like it was a treasure chest. There were several items, including a nativity scene that is displayed in my home, Christmas tree lights casting shadows of the figures against the living room walls. There was also a small card, printed by her church. On the top it says “High Five” and under that, in tiny print, it encourages the card’s owner to pray for the people on the list. She wrote down five names. My name is third. The card is dated Nov. 4, 2012.

How beautiful and how stupid is it that a mother and daughter were praying for each other, asking for things that had already been accomplished, but neither knew it because neither one dropped their guard long enough to pick up the phone?

IsaiahNot only have I shared about praying for my mom, but I’ve also shared about how I ended up with her Bible. I’ve looked through the heavy book many, many times. In the beginning, I searched it looking for my name written in the margin or some note that would give me more insight. That’s why finding that small prayer card in the box last summer was such a gift. Then, on Thanksgiving, I was flipping through the well-worn pages and stopped on page 1,097. Something caught my eye. In purple pen she had underlined Isaiah 54:13b: …and great will be your children’s peace. This journey has amazed me; just when I think its slowing to a stop, that I’ve discovered all there is to discover, something propels me further down the road of understanding.

After she died I decided to attend a Bible study that was filled mostly with women my mom’s age, and I wanted to be surrounded by ladies who had lived the same years she had. Before we met each week in our study groups, the entire group of nearly 200 ladies would gather for food and to chat. Walking through the room every week I’d hear snippets of conversations; ladies throughout the room who were sharing their strained relationships with their adult children. Several said things like, “I’ve tried everything. I can’t do it anymore.” I wore those comments like a weight I couldn’t shrug off.

On the last day of the session I was asked to share a poem but when I stood on the stage, looking out at a sea of women, most of whom had been born the same time my mom had, I felt compelled to share my story. Through tears, I told them that I was that adult child many of them had given up on. I was the one whose mother had walked away. I was the one who had to learn about her mom’s life after she was dead. And I told them that they should never, ever, ever stop reaching out. No matter what. When I was done with my poem I walked back to my seat and a woman approached me. She told me that she has a wonderful relationship with her adult daughter but she lives far away and she often wished she had someone her daughter’s age to spend time with. I’ll never forget her words, “I can’t be your mom, but I can be like a mom to you.” I was floored, but it was what she said next that I’ll never forget.

“My name is Amelia,” I said as I stuck my hand out. “It’s nice to meet you.”

“My name is Vickie,” she responded, grabbing my hand with both of hers.

Few times in my life have I been without words; this was one of those times.

Vickie was my mother’s name.

I share all of this in case anyone needs to be told or reminded or encouraged — call your mom, call your dad, your son, your daughter. My experience has been a powerful force in my life and I believe I’ll see my mom again eventually, but I really wish we’d reconciled in life.

Just one phone call or hug or conversation free from resentment and anger. Just one Christmas. Just one birthday.

Just make the call.

 

 

When changes and hikes are difficult

This morning I climbed a mountain. No, a hill. It was more like a hill. We have trails in our community that range from easy to “Are you insane?” and I opt for something closer to the former, so I don’t die. I made my way up a moderate trail that zig-zags its way through the foothills like a wound. It was difficult. Everything is already so brown because, desert, and I have sensitive knees (because I’m not old enough for bad knees) and I almost ate it a few times when I tripped over rocks. You’d think, if I were going to cry like a baby, I would have done it on the way up, but I didn’t.

I cried all the way down.

I was hungry because I forgot to carb load (if carb loading means I should have gotten a chocolate chip bagel from Panera) and it was 94 degrees and if I’m being totally honest, I cried because I’m super stressed and wildly worried. Because I. Hate. Change.

And there’s so much change right now; it makes my breath catch when I think about it.

When I was a kid I spent a few weeks every summer in Tahoe at camp. Each year I’d count down the days until it was time to escape to camp where I’d see my faraway-friends I only got to hang out with when I was there. By the time we were 15 and 16 we started attending as junior counselors. My last year there ended abruptly. We all got kicked out. On a Saturday afternoon, we went into town to do laundry and decided to get our ears pierced. The camp director called us things like “irresponsible” and “liabilities.” I still think it’s so stupid. It’s not like we went to London on a school trip in ninth grade and got a tattoo that looks NOTHING LIKE TINKERBELLE. Anyway, we waited for our parents and one by one we said our goodbyes. I only keep in touch with one of those camp friends; he grew up and got married and had kids and went to war for our country, but that day we stood side by side, so sad about the whiplash-like halt to our annual summer plans. That now-Army guy ripped his half-carat fake diamond earring out of his ear and threw it into the trees. I got so mad, I yelled at him about how it represented the end of LIFE(!) and how could he just throw it away?!

After all those years, all the traditions, the lame skits and campfires, and trips to Pope Beach and the freezing lake, everything changed.

That’s how I feel now.

I dread the end of the school year. Granted, I get over it during the languid, ice-cream melting, salty days of summer, but around oh, right now, I start getting sad. I was the weird kid who cried on the last day of school every year. That’s mostly because school was safe and home wasn’t, but also because I knew I’d miss the daily routine and my teachers’ support and my friends. I liken my kids’ school to a daily reunion and now a lot of the family members are moving on to middle school, or new opportunities are taking some of them to different places. My kids have been at the school for a decade and, while there have been some changes along the way, it’s remained relatively the same.

So as I trekked down that trail this morning I thought about the end of the school year, the end of the familiar, the end of tolerable weather, the giant question mark looming over my professional life, how much my people — my family, my friends, my mentors — mean to me, and all I could do was cry.

In the end, all of these changes are good. It means kids are growing up and friends are happy and, ultimately, all of the end-of-the-school-year changes will segue into those aforementioned dreamy days of summer and those days are steeped in memories and laughter. Enough to carry me into whatever new things are coming.

 

 

 

Advent Day 20: The Living Water Gives Joy

December 16

With joy you will draw waters from the wells of salvation.
Isaiah 12:3 (NIV)

The book of Isaiah, written about 700 years before the Messiah’s birth, is replete with prophecy of his arrival. Chapter 12 is only six verses long, but those verses paint a picture of what the life of a Jesus-follower looks like. They’re packed with praise over Jesus’ eventual coming, and encourage the believer to find joy in drawing from the well of salvation.

If salvation is a well, the reward of salvation – eternity, fellowship with God, grace, forgiveness, peace, life – is the water. The blessings that come from salvation are life-giving. One author offered this insight on Isaiah 12, “It is our duty by faith to draw water out of these wells, to take to ourselves the benefit and comfort that are treasured up for us in them.” The treasure of pure joy is the natural outcome of knowing Jesus as our life-sustaining Living Water.

For Today: What is one responsibility you have that is mundane or difficult? How can you change your perspective today to find joy in even the most routine tasks?

Advent Day 19: From Sorrow to Joy

December 15

Those who sow in tears will reap with songs of joy.
Psalm 126:5 (NIV)

The holidays can be difficult for those who have suffered any form of loss. It’s a time that’s traditionally spent with the ones we love, but what do we do if the ones we love aren’t here? What if childhood hurts, addiction, anger, pride, or death have separated us from our people? How do we reconcile the pain we’re experiencing to celebrating the birth of the Messiah?

Psalm 56:8 says that God has recorded all of our tears on his scroll. Some translations say he has collected our tears in his bottle.  A God who keeps record of every one of our tears is a God who knows every detail of our lives.

God knows better than anyone that we’re hurting. Pain is the inevitable outcome of living in a fallen world. That’s why he sent Jesus to earth. Not to shine a light on our pain, but so the light of Jesus would overcome the pain-filled darkness. All the tears born from all the hurt have been overcome by the birth of Jesus. His life allows us to reap a harvest of joy from the tears sown in pain.

For Today: Is there a sorrow that is keeping you from experiencing the joy of Christmas? Take some time right now to pour out to God all of your pain so that he can help you walk through the next few days, and give you moments of joy in the midst of your sorrow.

Advent Day 18: Salvation’s Joy

December 14

Suddenly there was such a violent earthquake that the foundations of the prison were shaken. At once all the prison doors flew open, and everybody’s chains came loose. The jailer called for lights, rushed in and fell trembling before Paul and Silas. The jailer brought them into his house and set a meal before them, he was filled with joy because he had come to believe in God – he and his whole family.
Acts 16: 26, 29, 34 (NIV)

After Paul commanding an evil spirit leave the body of a slave girl, her master became angry and presented Paul and Silas to the authorities, claiming they were “throwing the city into an uproar.” The men were stripped, beaten, and ordered to prison.

Scripture doesn’t detail how the jailer treated the men, but customs of the time tell us that he was probably brutal. His sole job was to keep the two in prison, so when an earthquake caused the prison doors to fly open, he was prepared to die.

Paul implored the jailer to spare his own life, and in a change of heart that can only come through conversion, the jailer took Paul and Silas to his home. He and every member of his family believed in Jesus as their Savior, and they were filled with joy.

The Lord can work in any situation, no matter how dire, to reach the lost. He will use the prayers and songs of his children – like he did with Paul and Silas – to touch the hardest of hearts. After witnessing the Lord’s presence in Paul and Silas’ lives, the jailer and his entire family were forever changed. They were filled with the light of Jesus, and filled with joy. That same joy fills our hearts today. It’s the evidence of Jesus in our lives, and it’s as unmistakable now as it was 2,000 years ago in that prison.

For Today: Did you or someone you know become a Jesus-follower in the midst of a dire situation? If so, how was God’s work during that difficult time an encouragement to you?

Advent Day 17: Songs of Joy

December 13

Worship the Lord with gladness; come before him with joyful songs.
Psalm 100:2 (NIV)

Worshipping Jesus through music is a reoccurring theme in scripture. We do this every time we attend a church service and raise our voices in joyful song. Coming before the Lord with praise-filled songs is an act of worship. It’s the opportunity to set music to the cry of our hearts, a way for a congregation to sing joyfully the same worshipful prayer, at the same time. In unison our voices can rise to the heavens. Just as powerfully, the Lord hears the whispered music of a single person.

It has nothing to do with ability, and everything to do with worshipping Jesus with gladness and joy. We can easily do this at Christmastime when we sing songs that paint pictures of the Christ Child’s birth. O Holy Night says that when Christ appeared, “the soul felt its worth.” Waxing poetic, the third verse of Hark the Herald Angels Sing declares that Jesus was “born to raise the sons of earth, born to give them second birth.”

Silent Night describes Jesus’ birth this way: “Silent night, holy night; Son of God, love’s pure light; radiant beams from thy holy face; with the dawn of redeeming grace. Jesus, Lord at the birth.”

Sing. Sing of the most joyous of occasions, with joy-filled abandon and reverence.

For Today: What is your favorite Christmas song? Why? If it evokes memories, what are those? Why were those times special for you?