imagesFor the lonely and broken-hearted
And ones who don’t know where to go
There’s someone who’s always listening
Someone who always knows

He’s your Father up in heaven
And He’s hearing every part
Of every prayer that’s ever spoken
And the ones inside your heart

For the times when you have not the strength
To even cry aloud
He’s always watching, always loving
He still hears without a sound

For those who hunger, and those who hurt
And those who hope for another way
Lift your eyes up to heaven
This is what He’ll say:

“Oh how I love you, How I miss you
How I want you to look my way
When you hurt, oh how I hurt
When you truly love, oh how I play

“Sometimes the “magic” doesn’t happen
In the way you want it to
But you can trust that I’m redeeming
In a way that’s best for you”

Not quite a year ago I woke up around 5am, and felt an urgency to pray. I am not a morning person, so this was nowhere near normal for me to wake up and be wide awake at this time. The feeling I had I could only describe as “keeping vigil.” God brought a particular friend to mind, but not wanting to text in the wee morning and risk waking her up, instead I posted on Facebook: “God woke me up just now to pray… So if you are needing it right now, I am praying for you!” A few people commented about things that were going on with them, and I found out several other people also were awake and praying at that time. I prayed for the friend God had brought to mind, and I prayed in the Spirit: “Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words” (Romans 8:26).

After some time, I think it was about an hour, the urgency of the moment of prayer passed, and I wrote the above poem, and posted it. Several people commented and thanked me.  I think I did go back to sleep for a little while before my day had to begin (It was a Saturday, so thankfully the day started a little later than usual). A few days later I talked with my friend who had been on my heart. I remember the moment she told me that her infant nephew had been in the NICU, fighting for his life at the very time I was praying. It was like my heart stopped almost, realizing that I really was keeping vigil for someone connected to the friend God put on my heart. What if I hadn’t been obedient and prayed? I am so grateful that God awoke me, not because I think I am indispensable to God’s plan, but I am so glad that God included me in what he wanted to do in that moment. Some what-ifs are not worth following.

I think about that poem sometimes, that psalm really, which has a tune, though I have never sung it for anyone. I sing it in my heart. And I was singing it tonight.

Another one of the people God brought to mind that early morning last August was a friend’s son who was in the hospital. I tagged the parents on my post, and the mom wrote back that it had been a rough night, but finally he was able to rest. Earlier this month, just after my last post on this blog, as I was on Facebook and had literally just posted the blog link, I found out this 16-year-old boy had died of leukemia the day before.

I saw him at Christmas. We were visiting California, and I came to the college campus where I went to school and worked for awhile. I had a short meeting and then was going to see his mom, whom I worked with for awhile. It was raining and I was a little late (LA traffic, right?), so I passed my friend and her son in the rain, said a super-quick hello-and-I’ll-catch-up-with-you-in-a-few-minutes and dashed off. I didn’t realize who she was with. I thought that tall young man with a hoodie over his face in the rain must be a college student that hadn’t gone home for break yet. The 12-year-old boy I knew before moving to Oregon was much smaller! When I caught up with her later her son wasn’t there anymore, and she told me it had been him, and he wondered why I didn’t say hi to him. “She probably didn’t recognize you!” his mom said, and I said “no I didn’t! I wish I had realized it was him! He seems to be doing great! Say hi for me!!”

And he was doing great. He was back at school and at home for the holidays. It wasn’t too much longer before he was back in the hospital again though, and this time when he went home it was to his eternal family. I will have to wait a long time to give him the hug I wish I’d given at Christmas.

Some chances we get, and some we miss.

I prayed for him. Many people prayed for him. For months. People registered as bone marrow donors. I registered online & via mail. Someone was found, a match for him, and a time was set for the donation, but it wasn’t to be. An infection set it, and ultimately, his body was too ravaged to carry on, and he moved to a joyful eternal rest, where “God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away.” (Revelation 21:4)

He loved Jesus, and now he is with Jesus, and we who are left behind are filled with a mixture of grief, and gratefulness for his life, thankful that he is free, missing what no longer is and won’t be, and longing to join him in that wonderful place beyond.

This has been a very hard one for me. I don’t know if it is because of others I have lost recently that are compounding the loss. Perhaps it is because of my age, this middle-life place where my peers are dying, some of us are having to care for aging parents, and some of us are losing our children. I am not grieving primarily for the young man, or for how my life is affected. Really, I am grieving for his mom, for my dear friend. Because as a mother of boys, I can imagine what it would be like to lose a son. I grieve for his older sisters, because I have younger brothers, and I can imagine what it would be like to lose one of them when they were sixteen. I am grieving because I choose not to let this just roll over me, but I choose to mourn with those who mourn, and weep with those who weep. I choose to feel the pain of the loss, and to take that pain and pray for those for whom it is at times completely overwhelming.

People mean well and wish well, yet sometimes push aside sadness, as if those who have faith in Jesus and a hope of eternity ought not feel sad when someone dies. I think we are afraid of grief. But I don’t think grief is a bad thing. It is Biblical to allow time to weep (Romans 12:15, Ecclesiastes 3:4). I do not ask why, I do not think God is unfair. The world is broken, and we have an enemy who seeks to devour us (1 Peter 5:8). That is why bad things happen. I do not for one moment think there is anything of cancer that was part of God’s original plan for us. That is a result of a broken, fallen, diseased world. I think God is really looking forward to getting us out of here, once all have heard the gospel, and the time is right (Matthew 24:14, 1 Corinthians 15). Until that day we live with the tenuous joys of this world, holding loosely to the things we love, entrusting them into God’s hands, and trying to make each moment count.

Some moments we get, and some we miss. Some loved ones we may hold onto throughout our lives, and some we will have to look forward to seeing in eternity. The very nature of this fragile world, this life as we know it, is enough that for me, I find many causes to weep. We hurt, we are broken, there is great suffering from many sources. Some of us catch a glimpse of that something beyond, and our hearts ache for that time and place we know we were truly designed to live in. Eternity.

I embrace the pain, the grief, the sorrow for those moments in which it comes. I pray, I weep, and sometimes I write. I hold close the ones I love. And I take a deep breaths, and I go on. I laugh, I dance, I sing, I find joy. I worship, I have fun, I try to live with courage and do the things that are hard. I try to embrace people, to not live closed-off to the needs of others. I try to respectfully disagree …disagreements are inevitable, but respect is a choice. I try to teach kindness and model kindness and thankfulness. I try not to lose my temper. I make dinner, I give hugs and kisses, I listen when I’d rather it be quiet, because the person speaking is valuable to me and to God.  Sometimes I’m quiet when I’d rather speak, because I know words aren’t always the answer. People often need love and safety before they can embrace help or truth.

This is the balance of life and love. We love, knowing we might lose. We embrace, knowing those we love will sometimes hurt us. We are thankful, even if what we have isn’t the dream. We hold closely to God, because there is nowhere else to go but towards the one who holds the words of eternal life (John 6:68). So, to my dear friend whose son is no longer in his bedroom, and whose scent barely lingers, who will never again watch basketball with you… I love you. I am in this moment with you as much as my heart can bear. But God is there more, in your lonely and brokenhearted moments, mingling our tears across the miles, hearing every spoken and unspoken prayer, and working to redeem the awfulness of what you are going through right now. To everyone else who is reading, and grieving losses or missed opportunities, or in the midst of fighting a battle that is not yet over, you are not alone.

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I got married today! 13 years ago, today, that is.

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Among a crowd of friends, church members, cousins, aunts, uncles, parents and siblings, I declared that I would marry this man and stick with him forever. “Before God and all these witnesses…” Little did I know how much I would need God and all those witnesses to stay married.

There is a reason that most love stories end at the wedding, or at the “they finally got together” point. I waited and looked for a long time (well not really, I was only 24 when I married) — but it felt like a long time waiting and looking for my perfect match, who inspired me do bold and silly things and trust much sooner than it seems I ought to have trusted, and who still makes me laugh even though his jokes are so ridiculous! Who always knows how to encourage me and is a perfect counterbalance to my deficiencies and hesitations. I still think he is so very handsome and I had no idea how much I would love seeing him as a father. I didn’t know I would still look at him and be amazed by who he is, and his gifts, all these years later. I am so very grateful that God brought him to me, and me to him, and that we are still together these 13 years later.

But there is a reason that many love stories end at the wedding. Because the happily ever after is hard won. Why do we marry in the midst of our community? I think it’s not just because we want to throw a big party (though that part is really fun too), but I think it is because it takes a good community to support a marriage.

Sure, the first year or two were easy. We were “in love” and had good jobs and a teeny tiny apartment to cuddle in, but it was so charming to have a place of our own and be able to have friends over and just be together. But somewhere along the way you buy a house, and there is a financial crisis, and a lost job, and kids, and friends move away, and a short sale on the house, and you move across the country, and at some point you wonder “Who am I really? Who is this person I married? Why do we hurt each other so much? Why doesn’t he do things the way I do? Why doesn’t she agree with me on that? Why won’t he tell the truth? Why doesn’t she consider my feelings more before speaking? I can’t really talk about what is bothering me the most…” Somewhere along the way, in the midst of the closest personal relationship, with the one you love more than anything, the one with whom you are “one flesh” there is heartbreak and isolation and argument and brokenness. This is the way all relationships go. Because we are all broken and imperfect people, and we can’t expect our relationships to be perfect.

Thank God we have God and each other. Not just me and my husband, but me and God and my husband, and all those witnesses – those church members and friends and cousins and parents and brothers and sisters and aunts and uncles – because it takes a good community to support a good marriage.

So right now, I want to say “HAPPY ANNIVERSARY” to my dear, fabulous, wonderful husband, whom I love more than I could ever say or show. I never ever ever ever ever ever want to be without you. Thank you for being YOU, and letting me be ME, and for loving me despite all my faults and failures.

I want to say “Happy Anniversary” to God — to my dear fabulous God, who was my husband before my husband was. Thank you for showing me what love is, and helping me to choose love and unity over self and fear and pride. We wouldn’t have made it this far without you, God!

I want to say “Happy Anniversary” to all our friends from college and our church in California where we were married, all those who came to the wedding and danced with us and decorated the car and made the day so memorable. Thanks for cheering us on and being there at the “starting line” to support us and share joy with us and give us great words of encouragement and gifts to get us started in our married life. You are forever a part of “us” and I thank you!

I want to say “Happy Anniversary” to all the friends and church community who have joined us along the way. Thanks to all the other parents out there who have encouraged us and helped us along as we’ve learned to be parents. Who joined us in both the “this is really hard” and the “this is really beautiful and magical” moments of parenthood. Thanks to our Circle in Eugene… truly, you guys are amazing and thanks for sharing life in such a real way. Thanks to all my single friends who’ve journeyed with me. I talked to a single friend in another state recently, about how hard it is to make friends when most people our age are married with kids, because you don’t always get invited to the parties with the other families. So I just want to say, thanks to all my single ladies who’ve hung out with me even though I’m a boring old mom and I can’t carry on a phone conversation without being interrupted by the kids, and even though the only place I can hang out is at the zoo and the children’s museum (with kids in tow), and though I probably don’t call you and invite you enough, I love you, and you are an important part of my community, too. Thanks for being my friends and cheering me on. To my divorced friends, I love you so much too! I know how hard it is, and I am sorry it didn’t work out as you dreamed. I wish you didn’t have to feel that heartbreak. But I am proud of you for carrying on, for living bravely whatever you face. I admire you, too. I can only imagine how hard it is to be a single parent, and I hope I can be part of your supportive community when you need it, even if I can’t fully anticipate or grasp what you need to feel supported.

And finally, I want to say “Happy Anniversary” to our families. Thanks for being there for us, in the bright and beautiful moments and in the difficult and tear-filled ones. Truly, I am so grateful to both our sets of parents. My and my husbands parents have been married about 85 years collectively. Wow! I am so very grateful that family gatherings on both sides of our families are joyful occasions, and not ones we dread. I know not everyone has that, and I am so very thankful that we do. Thank you, family, for helping us get this far. You’re amazing!

Thanks, everyone, who has been part of my life — you have supported me and my marriage — whether you meant to or not. Would I be here without you? I don’t know. But I am glad that I am. Lucky 13 years married. Happy Anniversary to us!

I’m not praying enough. Recently I heard a message at church that essentially said, “Stop worrying about doing ‘enough’ and just give God what you have. He will be happy with that.” The point is, don’t accept someone else’s standards or dogma for what you ought to be doing and how you ought to be living or pursuing God. Don’t waste time worrying about what you “ought” to do or feeling ashamed that you don’t do “enough” — just spend that emotional energy on loving God and loving people. I think this is a great message.

However, there does come a point, as we pursue God, that God will personally convict you of something, and I personally know that I am not spending enough time in prayer for my world. In a few brief moments reading the news this morning, I read about the human effects on climate change, people being harassed for wearing a hijab or being gay, and efforts in my community to reach out to the homeless. I read about a pastor who I believe misunderstands the Bible on some key social topics, and how that misunderstanding is leading him and his congregation down a path of which I disagree. There are governments trying to decide how much to fund education, and what role to play in individual medical care. This is just the tip of the iceberg on social issues. I am so frustrated by lack of concern for our environment. I am so sad when I hear of people being harassed for their religion or lifestyle. I am sad and a little bit angry to hear about leaders who don’t seem to take much caution or care in their responsibility of leadership, who make flippant remarks that are hurtful to people and causes. I read the news, I look at the world, I hear people talk. I can be sad and frustrated …or I can pray.

What can I really do? The biggest way to change the world — to represent God on this world — is to love God and love people. Part of how I can love God is taking my frustrations to Him and praying that He will do what I cannot do in this world. I can trust Him with my worries and cares and sadness and anger and frustration, and pray that God will move on hearts and influence those I will never meet. I can pray He will encourage the hearts of those who trust Him to do the right, but difficult and courageous things that often must be done when we live by faith. I can pray He will break into the false reality so many people are living. And I can live with love in my small little sphere of influence. I can speak words of life and encouragement. I can show love to my planet in tiny little ways, tiny little efforts to be more resourceful and less wasteful, to use less energy and fewer paper towels, to be happy with what I have instead of wanting more. I can show love to people — even when I disagree — because every person deserves to be treated with love and respect, simply for being human, and I believe, made in the image of God.

I don’t usually write about touchy social issues in this blog. I would rather focus on the things that can unite people, rather than the things that divide us. I like to try to bring an eternal and Biblical perspective. And I purposely didn’t include any links or specific references to those matters that are on my heart today, because I don’t want to focus on the negative and declare “this is what’s wrong with the world.”

Negative words don’t lead to positive results. There is a whole lot of hurt in this world. It is hard at times to not add to that hurt, to not let my frustrations spill over into my interactions with others, to instead focus on thankfulness and take deep breaths to calm and center my soul on Jesus instead of the darkness. I can pray that God changes my own heart toward compassion and joyful service instead of frustration and sadness and self-centeredness. Can you join me today in choosing prayer instead of public rants? (Rants can seem oh-so-tempting and cathartic but usually don’t end well.) Can you join me in looking for small ways to do your part to alleviate homelessness or damage to the earth or bullying or education or whatever issues are present in your mind today? And can you join me in looking for small ways to show love? Random acts of kindness, or simply politeness, and deference to others rather than asserting your own rights? Small gestures can go a long way toward improving someone’s day or outlook, just as small gestures of rudeness or selfishness or hate can totally derail someone’s day or outlook. Choose life, choose love. Change the world. At least your own little world, and pray for God to be involved and influential in those matters in which you have no direct voice or influence. Will you join me?

Do you ever have those days where you hate your life? For me those days usually come when I am overwhelmed with too much to do, things come up unexpectedly, and I feel like I haven’t had enough time to myself. Which is why it happened the past couple of days!

Confession: I cry a lot. For years I didn’t really cry ever, and then at some point in my young adulthood I realized that emotions aren’t there just to get in the way of my goals, but that they actually serve a purpose in our lives. Somehow, I was able to embrace that and declare to God that I didn’t want to be ashamed to cry in His presence. So since God actually takes our prayers seriously, I cried literally every time I was in worship for the next year. And since the dam broke, the river has been flowing pretty freely every since. I do get annoyed with emotions, but I know they serve a purpose, and tears — for me — seem to be a pretty quick way to connecting my emotions with God. So, yesterday if you came into the kitchen as I peeled potatoes for dinner, you would have thought I was chopping onions, because the tears were THERE, freely flowing down my little cheeks.

I think when emotions get uncomfortable, our inclination can be to squash them, or drown them, or ignore them. Watch a sad movie? I can release my tears without dealing with the true emotional source that has caused them to build up. Drown them in wine or something more potent, and it can numb the pain inside. Harden my heart so as to not feel so much, and I end up hardening my heart to the people around me as well. I have a friend who recently confessed to being on anti-depressants, but stopped because though the medication helped her function, it also caused her to not feel much of anything, like joy or excitement or desire. It was a tough slog, but she is now able to be a little more connected to God and others and deal with the emotions without feeling debilitated. [For the record, I don’t think medication is wrong. I believe it can be very helpful if used in the right way. However, I believe psychological medication is often like a pain suppressant. It doesn’t actually heal, but it can help us function, which is very good. Ideally, healing will come when we are able to connect with God and others and are in a safe enough place in those relationships – and physically – to deal with the true source of the problems instead of just the symptoms.]

As I found myself overwhelmed with negative emotions, I kept asking myself, “What would I tell me if I came to me for help?” I am, after all, a pastor! I know what is true. Appropriating that truth is the tricky part. But what did my soul need to be reminded of? What truth was I missing? And what did I need to do with the truth I’d discovered about myself that was causing me distress? I won’t go into the particulars here, but on top of the deadlines and projects and sick family members looming over me, I had realized something about myself that helps explain some other things that have caused me repeated frustration over the years. Some of the things I have been asking God about are sort of starting to make sense as to a root cause, but now that I see the cause, how do I fix it? And how do I keep from being sucked down by negative emotions surrounding that particular bit of unhealthiness in me?

I think I did two things right: First, I allowed myself to have a good cry (while peeling potatoes), and I journaled a brief little prayer to God asking Him to show me something. Second, I reached out to a friend, and I talked with my husband with the disclaimer that I wasn’t mad at him and I just wanted him to listen! This helped him to be prepared to not have to explain himself or fix me — because I knew he wasn’t the problem, though of course, since he’s such a part of my life, he was involved in the mess. And then I went to bed. Okay maybe you could call that five things, but it’s two categories of action and one act of submission (sleep) which is sort of like doing nothing so it doesn’t count. Even though it is important!

Anyway, through all that and as I’ve been ruminating today, I discovered some things. They aren’t really new revelations. They are things I have known and committed to many times over. But sometimes we just need to be reminded, and recommit.

  1. Satan hates me. It’s true! I’ve known it as long as I can remember, but it’s good to have a reminder. As I told my husband how I wanted to “Quit everything and run away” I realized that the things I actually wanted to quit were the ones that are most connected to my particular calling and assignment from God right now. Guess which things in my life Satan doesn’t like? Those ones. So that is what he attacks. Boo! I’m not giving in, Satan. Go back to hell. (That’s the only context in which I can say “Go to Hell” you know, so I am going to use it while I can.)
  2. Jesus loves me. Pain shows us where there is a problem. And though I don’t yet have a solution to this distressing truth I have discovered about myself, I am thankful that God showed it to me, because it really is part of what I think has been holding me back and causing frustration in my life.
  3. People are important. I think if I had not reached out to a friend and my husband, I would not have been able to move forward toward good. I would have stayed in the bad and frustrated and self-centered. I wouldn’t have received the love I really needed, because they wouldn’t have known I needed it.
  4. I have issues with boundaries. I don’t know what to do with that yet, but I know (and I have known for awhile) that I need to keep seeking God on that one. I tend to know something for a long time before I act on it. Like decluttering. I’ve read books, listened to podcasts, downloaded apps, but I have yet to make a truly significant decluttering effort. I want to do it. But WHEN? *groan/eye roll* And exercise. I bought new running shoes…a long time ago… and have yet to run on a consistent basis. But I think this lack of finding time to do what I know will be healthy for me and help me in many ways has something to do with that boundaries issue.
  5. C.S. Lewis thinks God wants to kill me, and I think he’s right. I am reading Mere Christianity right now, and as Lewis states it (book 4, chapter 8),

Christ says ‘Give me All. I don’t want so much of your time and so much of your money and so much of your work: I want You. I have not come to torment your natural self, but to kill it. No half measures are any good…Hand over the whole natural self, all the desires which you think innocent as well as the ones you think wicked — the whole outfit. I will give you a new self instead. In fact, I will give you Myself: my own will shall become yours.’

Good LORD! I mean, Jesus is a good Lord, but He’s not very NICE sometimes! Why do I have to DIE??? (Though of course, GOOD is a lot better than “nice.”)

*Sigh*

But that is the path I choose. I choose death. To the bad and the rather-innocent-but-still-selfish. To the me that is not yet like Christ. I choose death because I choose LIFE.

Wheat_close-upJesus replied, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Very truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. Anyone who loves their life will lose it, while anyone who hates their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant also will be. My Father will honor the one who serves me.” — John 12:23-26

image: By User:Bluemoose – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=333105

Every year at my church we have a Good Friday event centered around the traditional Stations of the Cross. This is typically thought of as “a Catholic thing” and I am not Catholic, but I do love some of the traditions of more traditional churches.Version 2 One of the ways I enjoy interacting with my broader community is through helping to lead my daughter’s Girl Scout troop. One of the focuses of the Girl Scouting organization is to help girls grow into their best selves – feeling valued, empowered, living in kindness and courage, and in seeking unity with “sister Girl Scouts” and serving the community. Though Girl Scouting is not a faith-based group, I find that Girl Scout values mesh very well with my Christian values. And, the organization does recognize that a belief in something that is bigger than oneself can have a big impact on how we think of ourselves, live out our values, and interact with others. One of the awards girls can earn every year is called “My Promise, My Faith.” This is a way to help girls connect Girl Scout values to personal family or faith values, whether the faith is Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Athiest, Hindu, Buddhist or something else — whether we realize it or not, we all have SOMETHING  that undergirds our personal ideas of ethics and morality.

The activity we had wanted to do with our Girl Scouts this past Thursday didn’t work out, so instead, we took the chance to help girls earn their “My Promise, My Faith” pin through coming to our church’s Stations of the Cross event (one day before Good Friday), and looking at the very courageous role some of the women played in that crucifixion weekend. At a time when women were not treated well or considered all that valuable, Jesus did treat women as equals, and in response, we see their unswerving loyalty as several women followed Jesus right up to his death, though all the male disciples except John had deserted him. And, it was to women that Jesus first appeared after his resurrection, because they were the ones to come to the tomb to care for his body. This girl thinks that’s pretty awesome!

So, in preparing to share this experience with my Girl Scouts, knowing that some of the girls who would come would not be part of the Christian faith, I wrote this little summary, of what this Jesus guy was all about, and why Easter is about more than bunnies and egg hunts, and the significance of his death and resurrection. It’s a pretty basic explanation, and I didn’t put every Scripture reference in throughout, but I thought I’d share it here, and let you know you can share it too, if you know anyone who is wondering what Good Friday and Easter are all about.

The Story behind Good Friday and Easter
(This is told in the Bible, in the sections of the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke & John)

One of the main annual celebrations of the Christian faith is now called “Easter” in America. About 2,000 years ago a man called Jesus was born into the Jewish people in Israel. Christians believe he was God in human form, also called the Son of God. God had promised the Jews that someone would come to save their people from the oppression they had experienced, and bring them eternal salvation, so they could always be in right relationship to God. The Jewish faith had a tradition of animal sacrifices as a symbolic way of putting to death anything that separated them from God, which was called sin (a missing of the mark that God had set for people on what is the most honest, fair, helpful, loving, and healthy way to live). When an animal was put to death and offered to God in the temple, God accepted that the people had turned from their sin and were turning back toward God and other people.

When Jesus came, he was a great teacher who also healed people from many diseases and did many other miracles to show that he really was God. Jesus came because people had misunderstood much of what God was trying to communicate to people, about how the most important things in life are to love God and to love others (Mark 12:28-34, The Bible). The Jewish people had been expecting a Savior. In Hebrew, the Jewish language, this was Messiah. In Greek, the common language of the time, the word is Christ. Many people thought the Messiah should be a political savior, to overthrow foreign rule in their land. Instead, Jesus came offering eternal salvation. He said the true way of freedom is to pursue love and peace first with God, by trusting God (having faith in God), connecting your heart to God’s heart. Second, we should love and serve others, instead of trying to control situations, force our own way, or work mainly toward our own advantage.  Instead, trust God to work on your behalf.

Many people liked the love and miracles Jesus gave, but many others did not like his message of freedom through serving and giving up power, instead of seizing power. Eventually the established religious and political leaders of the time convinced enough people in the crowd to ask the Roman rulership of the day that Jesus be put to death, upon exaggerated charges.

When Jesus knew the time was right and that he had completed the work God the Father had sent him to do on earth, in showing the people what God is really like, he allowed himself to be arrested and did not defend himself against the criminal charges brought against him. Jesus had never sinned, but the leaders of the time twisted the truth to make Jesus look bad. It was a very strange and frenzied trial. Jesus chose to submit to being put to death as a final act of love and service to people. Just as animal sacrifices had once been the way to turn from sin and turn back to God, Jesus allowed himself to be a once-and-for-all perfect sacrifice.  (Jesus knew it wasn’t really the end!)

Though many turned against him, Jesus also had many loyal followers. Some of them became afraid of the raging crowds and ran away from this conflict. Some were not allowed to be around during the proceedings because of the laws of the day. A few remained with Jesus to the end. But at the time, though Jesus had tried to tell his friends what was going to happen, no one understood, and they were very sad, scared, and confused when Jesus was put to death. He was killed by being nailed to a wooden cross that was raised up on a hill, which was a method the Roman rulers used to humiliate and execute the worst criminals.

What no one expected — though Jesus had tried to tell them it would happen — was that on the third day, Jesus was raised from the dead! Angels appeared and unsealed the tomb in which he was buried, and Jesus appeared to many people all around Jerusalem and nearby places in Israel. After forty days, with a crowd of around five hundred people gathered on a hill, Jesus rose to heaven right before their eyes — never to die again, because in his death on the cross, he defeated the power of death over people and made a new way for people to have closer relationship with God both on earth and forever after our death, for any who have faith in Jesus (John 3:16).

After the resurrection of Jesus, many of his friends began to share the story of Jesus’ life and teachings with greater courage than they’d ever had. First the movement arose from within the Jewish faith, and was also shared with those of other beliefs. Eventually the followers of Jesus came to be known as Christians, meaning “ones like Christ.”

Good Friday is remembered as the day of Jesus’ great sacrifice in dying for all people, that those who have faith in him could live forever. Easter is celebrated as the day of the Resurrection of Jesus, which signaled the triumph over death, and that we need not fear death, for God will be with us always (Matthew 28:20, Hebrews 13:5).

Do you ever feel like pursuing peace would just take too much time? Like you don’t have time for peace?

> I don’t have time for a diplomatic response – it’s quicker to be direct (blunt), even if that might hurt someone’s feelings – they should just get over it.

> I don’t have time to solve this problem right now. I am in the middle of ____ so I will just a) ignore it, or b) silence it by exerting my authority, or c) yell and hope everyone else shuts up and gets scared away so I can get back to my own little world.

> I have too much going on, too many distractions, too many expectations placed upon me to stop and deal with this unrest going on inside. If I try to stop and center in on God’s move and God’s Word, or to try to seek God about what is going on, I’ll just fall apart. I don’t have time to fall apart. So I’ll just distract myself a little more so I don’t have to deal with what’s really keeping me from being at peace in my heart.

Do any of these seem familiar in your life? Unfortunately, all of them are somewhat familiar in my own life. I write an email, it scenario A. I’m making dinner and the kids fight, it’s scenario B. At any time it could be scenario C, because honestly – is there ever a time I don’t have something happening? But if I don’t MAKE TIME to sit with Jesus and open my heart to Him and His Word, everything else will fall apart.

We are on week 3 of our church Month of Dedication – as we’ve set aside time in this month before Easter to think a little bit about what it means to live at peace in a decidedly unpeaceful world, and how Jesus came to bring us peace as we are reconciled to the Father and redeemed for His purposes in our lives. [You can download the free eBook PDF here.]

My plan was to blog through a couple times a week, but then my kids’ spring break hit, which translated to zero hours to myself, unless you count early morning or late at night, and frankly, my brain doesn’t work very well in those hours, so trying to share any thoughts from those moments probably wouldn’t have benefitted anyone! But we have continued to follow along in the booklet as a family, as planned — my husband and I, and my 7 and 10-year-old kids. We have also used the booklet as the basis for our home group discussions during this time.

One thing I have learned, besides the great insights in the booklet itself, is that change doesn’t happen overnight. Doing this family devotion together hasn’t automatically made us get along better. My kids still fight. We all still tend toward selfishness and want shortcuts, even at another’s expense. We all still seek what we need in negative ways because we don’t know how to ask for it in positive ways. But if we are faithful in the little steps, steadfastly pursuing a course of action, small changes do take place that move us toward healthier outcomes.

A few examples:

  1. We have developed a common language of peace. This book was written for adults, so in doing it with my kids, I have to translate as I go – to bring it to their level. But now, when my kids fight, we have a shared language – a shared experience of learning together that can be a foundation toward positive changes.
  2. In doing this with them, I am more intentional to my responses toward their bickering. Instead of the not-so-lovely-but-quicker scenario B I described above, one day last week I just stood before them, said “move away from the table and do as I do.” They stood up, moved into a clear space, and we did breathing exercises together! Then I pressed my hands together and prayed out loud a prayer of repentance for my own impatience, and times I have acted in anger. I asked God to help me to be more peaceful in the future. I led them through a process of praying their own prayers, talking about how we can’t change anyone else, so complaining and blaming is useless. Unless I can accept responsibility for my own actions and my own part in the conflict (be it inaction, impatience, anger, mistakes, or not dealing with my hurt but allowing it to spill out as aggression), I can never be at peace within myself, and I can never work toward peace with others.
  3. Again, scenario B, instead of yelling and sending them to their rooms I sat down with the kids. We held hands. We talked. We forgave. We prayed together. And I said, “We’re all hungry right? And that is making us cranky. Me included. But if I have to stop making dinner to break up your fights, it’s just going to take us longer to get to where we all want to be, which is eating, so can we please work together and try not to fight? Can you please stop asking other things and telling me what the other one is doing wrong so I can finish making dinner and we can stop being cranky?”

Making the peaceful choice often does take time – because usually what will bring peace requires some action. It requires a little extra effort of me. Teamwork involves training. Often I want everyone to just go away so I can fix it myself. I will make it, I will clean it, I will plan it and do it. In the moment, that might seem like the quickest way. But in the long run, that strategy leaves me lonely and over-worked. Bringing someone else into the process – teaching them skills – is more work for the moment. But it means less work and more enjoyment of being and doing together in the long run. To teach is to empower – not just so someone else is equipped and can find the blessing that is working hard and being proud of your work and the joy of blessing someone else. But also if I can empower someone else, then I will NOT end up lonely and over-worked; I can end up surrounded by partners and having that elusive time to be peaceful with Jesus and work on whatever He needs to work on with me, and do what brings me life instead of just what I have to do to live.

Considering the first part of our “week three” in the booklet, I want to bring to you today a few questions:

> Are there conflicts (current or potential) that I am ignoring because I hope they’ll just go away?

> Are there steps I need to take now to keep a small issue from becoming a big issue later?

> And going back to the scenarios at the start of this post, is there an area in which you’ve been unwilling to take the time that might be needed to help you pursue peace in your life?

It’s never too late to take a step in the right direction! Whether you’ve been keeping up with the study or not, today is a great day to take a step toward peace.

“If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.” Romans 12:18

Be at Peace Ebook – [Free ebook download so you can join in wherever you are]

Every year my church does a “Month of Dedication” leading up to Easter. This year our senior pastor, Mike Lawrence, has written our guide through the month. Our theme this year is “Be At Peace” from Romans 12:18 – “So far as it depends on you, be at peace with all people.”

It is easy for me to get very sad when I read the newspaper, watch television, read bumper stickers, etc. these days. Our country is so divided at this time. Some are hopeful, some are fearful. The government is talking up ramping up military spending and building a wall, while cutting spending for the arts and humanities, and programs that care for those who need the most help – things like Meals of Wheels, healthcare, and so many other programs that help people. We are divided. And it makes me sad.

Unfortunately, my home often feels the same way. It seems like there isn’t enough kindness and unity, and there’s a little too much “mine!” and yelling. My kids sure know how to assert their rights to each other! But they know a little bit less about laying down their rights out of service and love toward one another. As much as my husband and I try to model this, we also assert our own rights – to peace and quiet! To being in authority! To set bedtimes! But if I want more peace in my own home, or in my sphere of influence in the community, I must begin by seeking peace in the way that Jesus modeled and recommended: by laying down my own rights and seeking to serve and love others, even if it doesn’t serve my agenda or ideals.

I will be reading through and blogging on the themes in our Month of Dedication, which you can download as an ebook if you’d like. This is how it works: for each of the four weeks until Easter, there are about 5 sections to consider, with a section of Scripture and some thoughts and questions to think about and discuss if possible. Do one a day, and if you miss a day, you won’t be behind! Or if you have extra time and want to do a couple sections at a time, that’s cool too. Go at your own pace. We decided (or I decided and my husband cooperated) that it would be cool to do it together as a family with our two oldest kids, age 7 and 10. I am really hopeful that we will have some good conversations and come out of this month a little more unified and peaceful. I don’t think it’s impossible! But I do think if we aren’t intentional about the change we want to see, then we probably will never see it. Last night we made it through the Foreward and Romans 12, not even starting the main part of the book. We stopped every paragraph or two and talked with the kids about what it meant – I never think about how many big words and concepts there are in the Bible until I try to read it with my kids! But slowing down as I go through really helps me to think about what it means too, instead of just glossing over the reading as if checking a box off a to-do list.

I’m not sure how much I’ll be able to post this month, but I plan to share my journey toward peace, and I hope you’ll join in, either in the comments here or on our church Facebook page, if you’re connected to North Eugene Faith Center.

combat peaceRomans 12 says “As much as it depends on you…” I love the picture of this soldier and his peaceful interaction with the two kids. It can often feel like we face hostility in our daily lives. There are many things we can’t control in our environment and surroundings, but like the soldier in this photo, I can look for the places to bring life, hope, and peace into a situation. I can decide how I will react to what goes on in my world, and if I will choose to join in the hostility or seek a way to neutralize the tension around me. I can choose to go to prayer instead of trying to come up with my own solutions. I can choose love and service. Will you choose peace?