Sunday, March 31, 2013

When it feels like it's still Saturday....

So, this morning, I woke up early, cut my Sabbath "quiet time" short so I could make the 25-minute drive to Shannondale Nursing Home to get my mom ready and take her back to First Baptist Concord for Easter service. 

Earlier this morning in a Facebook post, I had boldly reminded myself and anyone who chose to read it that "a far-off battle" has made all the difference, even in a world that feels like it is still under the control of a foreign, oppressive power. And, on the drive, I had been singing loud and strong: 
"Hear the bells ringing, they're singing that we can be born again.
Hear the bells ringing, they're singing Christ is risen from the dead...."

As I walked through Shannondale's front doors, I gave my best "Happy Easter" to everyone in the lobby, then got on the elevator and hit the 5th floor button. But, for some reason, that elevator stopped on every single floor and, when the doors opened, this was pretty much the scene I saw on floors 1, 2, 3 and 4: 

By the time I arrived on the 5th floor, my smile was gone, my song was silent, and my heart was heavy. It no longer felt like Easter Sunday--and the power of the Resurrection seemed far away. The faces I saw and the heart inside me felt like it was still some sort of perpetual Saturday. 

But, as I stepped off the elevator and saw my mama's waiting face...already dressed in a winter sweater...I tried to push my sudden sadness aside. (The physical activity involved in getting my wheelchair-bound mama anywhere is a great distraction to whatever is going on inside my head at the moment.) 

After getting her wheelchair loaded in the back and getting her in her seat and buckled in, she and I head toward the Easter hymns and the ancient greeting and response of  
"He is risen!...He is risen indeed!

Along the 20-minute drive, her frequent, repeated question began to grate: "Today's Saturday, right?" which I reply, "No, mom, today is Sunday...Easter Sunday...we're going to church." 

Well, we get there...and, miracles of miracles, there's actually a handicapped parking space...(so my mood begins to brighten). Then, a kind usher finds a pew where I can easily park mom's wheelchair next to my pew. Then, my two handsome sons actually find mom and me...and sit beside me on the pew. 

My emotions are always a bit ragged on Easter...overflowing with gratitude for the cost of my salvation and for the promise of eternal life because of the Resurrection. And, I don't remember the last time I made it through a Sunday service without wishing I had more tissues. Easter Sunday...was some sort of powerful parable that will probably take me awhile to "read." With my beautiful, gifted, Jesus-loving husband in front of me playing in the orchestra; my two beautiful, gifted, Jesus-loving sons on one side of me; and my beautiful, gifted, Jesus-loving, stroke-and-Alzheimer's-damaged mother on the other side...well...quite honestly...I was a puddle. 

Then, as if God wasn't already speaking loudly enough, Pastor Avant began to talk about one of life's hardest "stones" to deal with--the "stone" of Alzheimer's. He read two incredibly beautiful letters from husband to wife...and from wife to husband...who were locked in the battle with this disease. Then, my youngest son, who was sitting closest to me, reached over and patted my knee, and....well...I just lost it...the kind of crying that's just plain old ugly. 

But, service ended. I recovered. I wheeled mom out. My three beautiful, gifted, Jesus-loving guys and I took her to Cracker Barrel where she ate her favorites--beans and greens, okra and cole slaw. Then, I loaded her back in the van, and we headed to the place that has come to represent all that is "fallen" to me--sickness, brokenness, loneliness, dementia, death. 

On the way, she asked many times, "When am I going to see the boys?"...."When am I going home?"...."Today's Saturday, right?"....

And, at that point, it sure felt like that in-between time...when those first followers must have felt like the enemy had their hopes and dreams had been nailed to the same piece of ragged wood as their Rabbi. 

But, as I drove, I remembered two of Pastor Avant's words after he read those sad, beautiful letters--"God remembers." 

And, when my mama can't remember that it's Easter...when she can no longer remember the cross and the Resurrection... can no longer remember the words of the long-sung hymns...can no longer remember our names...her name...God remembers.

And, even though...for now...she is locked in some sort of perpetual-in-between Saturday, not remembering that it's Sunday...not remembering that it's Easter...unaware of the Resurrection and all that it day...she will. His voice will remind her. His voice will call her name--Joyce--in a way that heals and resurrects her broken body and mind. 

And, when she hears Him, all the sorrow, hurt and hardness, which sometimes led her nearly to despair, will be burned away by the joyful brightness of His love and light.

"Love never dies. 
Inspired speech will be over some day;
praying in tongues will end;
understanding will reach its limit. 
We know only a portion of the truth,
and what we say about God 
is always incomplete.
But when the Complete arrives,
our incompletes will be canceled….
We don’t yet see things clearly.
We’re squinting in a fog, 
peering through a mist.
But it won’t be long 
before the weather clears
and the sun shines bright!
We’ll see it all then,
see it all as clearly as God sees us,
knowing him just as he knows us!
But for right now, until that completeness,
we have three things to do
to lead us toward that consummation:
Trust steadily in God,
hope unswervingly,
love extravagantly.
And the best of the three is love."
(1 Corinthians 13:8-13 The Message)

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

"I Thirst for You"

"I looked for love, but there was none;...for my thirst, they gave me vinegar to drink." (Psalm 60:20,21)

"....Knowing that everything had now been finished, and so that Scripture would be fulfilled, Jesus said, 'I am thirsty.' A jar of wine vinegar was there, so they soaked a sponge in it, put the sponge on a stalk of the hyssop plant, and lifted it to Jesus’ lips. (John 19:28-29)

These are the words this thirsty One longs for you to hear:

"I know you through and through--everything about you....Nothing in your life is unimportant to me; I have followed you through the years, and I have always loved you--even in your wanderings. I know every one of your problems. I know your need and your worries. 

And, yes, I know all your sins. But, I tell you again that I love you--not for what you have or haven't done--I love you for you, FOR THE BEAUTY AND DIGNITY MY FATHER GAVE YOU BY CREATING YOU IN HIS OWN IMAGE. It is a dignity you have often forgotten, a beauty you have tarnished by sin. 

But, I love you as you are, and I have shed my blood to win you back. If you will only ask me with faith, my grace will touch all that needs changing in your life, and I will give you strength to (be) free from sin and all its destructive power. 

I know what is in your heart--I know your loneliness and all your hurts--the rejection, judgments, humiliations....I carried it all or you, so that you might share my strength and victory. 

I especially know your need for love--how you are thirsting to be loved, cherished, (respected). But, how often have you thirsted in vain,...striving to fill the emptiness inside you with passing pleasures--(which leave you) with even greater emptiness. 

I thirst for you. Yes, that is the only way to even begin to describe my love for you. I THIRST FOR YOU. I thirst to love and to be loved by you--that is how precious you are to me. I thirst for you. Come to me and fill your heart and heal your wounds.

If you feel unimportant in the eyes of the world, that matters not at all. For me, there is no one any more important in the entire world than you.

....My Father already has a perfect plan to transform your life, beginning from this moment. Trust in Me. Every day ask Me to enter and take care of your life--and I will. I promise you before my Father in heaven that I will work miracles in your life. Why would I do this? Because I THIRST FOR YOU. All I ask is that you entrust yourself to Me completely. I will do the rest.

Even now I behold the place My Father has prepared for you in My Kingdom. Remember that you are a pilgrim in this life, on a journey home. Sin can never satisfy you or bring you the peace you seek....Above all, do not run from Me when you fall. Come to Me without delay. When you give Me your sins, you give Me the joy of being your Savior. There is nothing I cannot forgive and heal; so come now, and unburden your soul.

I THIRST FOR YOU. Open to me, come to me, thirst for me, give me your life--and I will prove to you how important you are to my heart. No matter how far you wander, no matter how often you forget me, no matter how many crosses you may bear in this life, there is one thing I want you to remember always, one thing that will never change: I THIRST FOR YOU--just as you are. You don't need to change to believe in my love, FOR IT WILL BE YOUR BELIEF IN MY LOVE THAT WILL CHANGE YOU. 

You forget me, and yet I am seeking you every moment of the day--standing at the door of your heart, and knocking. Do you find this hard to believe? Then look at the cross, look at my heart that was pierced for you. Have you not understood my cross? Then listen again to the words I spoke there--for they tell you clearly why I endured all this FOR YOU. 

....Yes, I thirst for you....All your life I have been looking for your love--I have never stopped seeking to love and be loved by you. You have tried many other things in your search for happiness; why not try opening your heart to me, right now, more than you ever have before. Whenever you will hear me say to you again and again, not in mere human words but in (your) spirit: "No matter what you have done, I love you for your own sake."
Come to me with your misery and your sins, with your trouble and needs and with all your longing to be loved (and respected). I stand at the door of your heart and knock. Open to me, for I thirst for you." 
(The heart of Jesus Christ for you through the words of Mother Teresa)

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Right into God-forsakenness....

For the past few years, I've revisited a Lent devotional that, with each reading, speaks to me in new ways, "Bread and Wine, Readings for Lent and Easter." But, this year...this morning...words fail to describe how the following words from John Stott and Peter Kreeft moved me.

I don't know why, but I believe I'm supposed to share them here...with you. Maybe you're in a dark place and need to be reminded, "No matter how deep our darkness, He is deeper still." (Corrie ten Boom).

Wherever you are...whatever you are going reminded--God is with you...right there...right now.
"I could never believe in God if it were not for the cross. The only God I believe in is the one Nietzsche ridiculed as 'God on the Cross'." In the real world of pain, how could one worship a God who was immune to it? I've entered many Buddhist temples and stood respectfully before his statue--his legs crossed, arms folded, eyes closed, the ghost of a smile playing round his mouth, a remote look on his face, detached from the agonies of the world. But, each time, after awhile I've had to turn away and, in my imagination, I've turned instead to that lonely twisted, tortured figure on the cross, nails through hands and feet, back lacerated, limbs wrenched, brow bleeding from thorns, mouth dry and intolerably thirsty, PLUNGED IN GOD-FORSAKEN DARKNESS. THAT IS THE GOD FOR ME! He laid aside his immunity to pain. He entered our world of flesh and blood, tears and death. He suffered for us." (John Stott)

"Calvary is Judo. The enemy's own power is used to defeat him. Satan's craftily orchestrated plot, rolled along according to plan by his agents--Judas, Pilate, Herod, Caiphas--and culminated in the death of God. And, this very event, Satan's conclusion, was God's premise. Satan's end was God's means. God won Satan's captives--us--back to himself by freely dying in our place.

It is, of course, the most often-told story in the world. Yet, it is also the strangest, and has never lost its strangeness, its awe, and will not even in eternity, where angels tremble to gaze upon things at which we yawn.

(But), however strange, it is the only key that fits the lock of our tortured lives and needs. We needed a surgeon. He came and reached into our wounds with bloody hands. He didn't give us a placebo or a pill or good advice. He gave us Himself.

He came. He entered space and time and suffering. He came, like a lover. He did the most important thing and He gave the most important gift: Himself. It is a lover's gift.

Out of our tears, our waiting, our darkness, our agonized aloneness, out of our weeping and wondering, out of our cry, 'My God, my God, why have You forsaken Me?' He came, all the way, right into that cry.

He sits beside us in the lowest places of our lives, like water. Are we broken? He is broken with us. Are we rejected...despised? He was 'despised and rejected of men.' Do we weep? Is grief our familiar spirit, our horrifying familiar ghost? Do we ever say, 'Oh, no, not again! I can't take it any more!'? Do people misunderstand us, turn away from us?...

Is our love betrayed? Are our tenderest relationships broken? He loved and was betrayed by the very ones He loved....

Does it seem sometimes as if life has passed us by or cast us out, as if we are sinking into uselessness and oblivion? He sinks with us. He too is passed over by the world. His way of suffering love is rejected; his own followers often the most guilty of all; they have made His name a scandal, especially among His own chosen people....We have made it nearly impossible for His own people to love Him, to see Him as He is, free from the smoke of (prejudice), battle and holocaust.

How does He look upon us now? With continual sorrow, but never with scorn....We, His beloved and longed for and passionately desired, are constantly cold, correct and distant to Him. And still He keeps a mother who has had all her beloved children turn against her: 'Could a mother desert her young? Even so I could not desert you.'

He sits beside us not only in our sufferings but even in our sins. He does not turn His face from us, however much we turn our face from Him.

Does He descend into all our hells? Yes. In the unforgettable line of Corrie ten Boom from the depths of a Nazi death camp, 'No matter how deep our darkness, He is deeper still.'

Does He descend into violence? Yes, by suffering it and leaving us the solution that, to this day, only a few brave souls have dared to try....

Does He descend into insanity? Yes, into that darkness too. Even into the insanity of suicide? Can He be there too? Yes, He can. 'Even the darkness is not dark to Him.' He make light even there,...though perhaps not until the next world, until death's release.

LOVE is WHY He came. It's all love. The buzzing flies around the cross, the stroke of the Roman hammer as the nails tear into His screaming flesh, the infinitely harder stroke of His own people's hammering hatred, hammering at His heart.

Why? For LOVE....

(From this moment on), when we feel the hammers of life beating on our heads or hearts, we can know--we MUST know--that He is here with us, taking our blows. Every tear we shed becomes His tear. He may not yet wipe them away, but He makes them His. Would we rather have our own dry eyes, or His tear-filled ones?

He came. He is here. That is the salient fact. If He does not heal all our broken bones and loves and lives now, He comes into them and is broken, like bread, and we are nourished.

And, He shows us that (from this moment on), we can use our very brokenness as nourishment for those we love. SINCE WE ARE HIS BODY, we too are the bread that is broken for others. Our very failures help heal other lives; our very tears help wipe away tears; our being hated helps those we love....

God's answer to the problem of suffering not only really happened more than 2,000 years ago, it is still happening in our own lives....All our suffering can become part of His work, the greatest work ever done--the work of salvation--of helping to win eternal joy for those we love."
("Shared Hells" by Peter Kreeft)

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

They stood firm a little....

Today (March 6th), they would have been married 60 years. My mama and daddy. 
This is one of my favorite pictures of them. So young, fresh, in love. In it, mama is looking uncharacteristically shy and is dressed in a white blouse, light-colored skirt and black, peek-a-boo high heels with thin little straps around her thin little ankles. My daddy seems to be the one in charge of the moment, dressed in a crisp, short sleeved shirt and snazzy, pleated pants with a trim belt--looking very "James Deanish."

What I've noticed about this photo is the road they're standing on. It's dirt...with rocks scattered around...full of ruts...not a perfect road by any standards...especially for two young, beautiful people who look so fresh, so dressed up, so ready for life.

This photo has become a picture of marriage to me...heck, a picture of life itself. We start out young, fresh, dressed and seemingly ready for life. Then, we stumble over a few rocks, get caught in a few ruts. But, usually, nothing too serious. And, eventually, we pick ourselves up and dust ourselves off--perhaps just a bit more cautious before setting off on our next journey.

Then, we meet our "other." And, in our passionate, 'til-death-do-us-part-altered state, we just know the road is gonna be less rocky...less rut-filled. Or, at the very least, we believe we now have someone to move the rocks out of our way.

But, truth be told, once the honeymoon wears off (usually quickly), this "other" only doubles the number of rocks and ruts. Their own rocks and ruts and their reactions to them somehow become ours. ( be fair...ours become theirs.)

And right there is where the crisis comes: "What are we gonna do about all these rocks and ruts?"

These days, when I pick up this picture to dust underneath it, I find myself wondering, "Would it have made a difference if they had known the road they were in for?"

I don't think it would have. That handsome young man loved that curly-haired girl. Not perfectly. Sometimes, not even well. But, he loved her. He did the best he could with the rocks and ruts he encountered.

And she loved him. Not perfectly. Sometimes, not even well. But, she loved him. She did the best she could with the rocks and ruts she encountered.

When the crises came and they each asked, "What are we gonna do?" They decided to just keep dealing with it rut at a time...together.

They did not do it perfectly. Some days, they did not even do it well. Before they had ever met, life had already seen to it that they were each a bit  "broken." War had taken its toll on daddy; and, at the tender age of 12, my mama's mother had died, leaving her with an alcoholic father and 5-year-old and 3-year-old brothers to help raise.

I'm sure they would admit to stumbling and falling...wishing they had never spoken certain words, or taken certain actions. And, I'm sure each of them had many moments when they each wanted to just go off and find a new road, one less rocky, one less filled with those bone-jarring ruts.

But...they didn't. They stayed. They "stood firm a little"... for better and for worse... in sickness and in health... until death did them part. There is something sacred about that right there. And I believe they would tell you that, on that road...together...they even found moments of joy.

Last year, when mama was recovering from surgery, she experienced what the Celts described as "thin places," when this world and the next seem to be closer than we ever imagine. During one of these thin moments, my brother got to listen in on a conversation mama was having with daddy, where she told him, "Honey, let's go sit over there by that shade tree and sit down and rest awhile." 

One day, mama. One day....