I am writing this at the end of the day … unusual for me but will be out the door early tomorrow morning and my heart is full.
We found an Ash Wednesday service being held at a Lutheran Church not far from our home so we headed over after dinner.
It was somber and reflective and it focused around an old forgotten hymn of their church.
Stricken, Smitten and Afflicted
Not exactly what the praise team usually starts out with on a Sunday morning.
The lyrics are heavy.
But that is what Lent calls us to.
It calls it to put a pause on the spinning days of our lives and it reminds us that one day it will all end.
It will end for us individually and there will be a final end of all things.
All the seasons and lives and culture shifts and governments that were destined to be will be finished and we will stand in judgment.
Everything and everyone who seemed to important won’t really matter so much after all.
We went down for communion and before we ate the bread and drank and cup and remembered what has been done for us, we were looked in the eye as ashes were brushed on our foreheads.
From dust you came. To dust you will return.
It’s not the message I get on my social media feeds and from magazine covers.
It’s not what people tell me when I tell them I’m 60 and they exclaim that I sure don’t look it. (Hopefully)
It’s not what I tell myself when I make plans for tomorrow and next week and ten years from now and try to do all the right things to slow the aging that is inevitably progressing despite my best efforts.
But I know it.
I’ve stood by enough graves now to know.
Young, old…ready or not…to dust we will return.
I will return to dust…
I will go the way of all men and women born on planet earth…
and I will stand in judgement for every thing…
good, bad…intentional, accidental…
thought and word and deed…
the bad I did, the good I failed to do…
the wasted time and errant wanderings…
all of it…
along with the good I managed to do and the evil I avoided…
and the heart that motivated every single moment.
The ashes on my forehead, like the ashes of all those around me mark me for what I am.
It is my experience in my journey of faith that God always gives back way more than I think I am giving Him.
Sign up to go help people halfway around the world who have so little and find out how poor your land of plenty really is…and how much you can learn from people who have nothing and give everything.
Volunteer and give up a week of your summer to serve in Vacation Bible School so the neighborhood kids can learn about Jesus and as you sit and listen to the teachings, you find truth nuggets for your child-size brain.
Load up your car with stuff you had trouble parting with and find yourself knocked to your knees by the sweet lady with scars on her face who helps you unload it all and thanks you so much and do you want a receipt for taxes…no thank you…this one is going unrecorded.
So last night we drug ourselves off the couch and out from under blankets to answer the call for prayer from our pastors and leaders.
We drove on slick roads and navigated the parking lot, cautioning each other to be careful because we have heard the horror stories of people who weren’t and we don’t want to add that to our deductible this winter.
And as we approached the doors of the prayer meeting, we were told to select a rock from a basket.
I did what I always cringe doing…I made a quip about it…perhaps involving a reference to stoning people…and found out that I was one of many who had said the same thing.
Dang I hate being a cliche sometimes.
Anywho…back to the prayer meeting…
We found some seats and gathered with others who just can’t resist when they open the doors of our church for any kind of service…and the prayers and praise commenced.
And God showed up.
Just like He always does when two or more gather.
It was old school church with a guitar and one person leading songs and I kind of loved it.
We were led through various prayers, and for whatever reason I never put my rock down.
I held it all the way through the whole event.
To be honest, it felt comfortable in my hand and I often found myself just holding it to my heart.
I guess since our sermon that morning had referenced 1 Samuel 7: 10-12, I was still associating the “Ebenezer…thus far” reference.
But then one of our leaders took her turn in the service. Turns out the rocks were meant to remind us not of how far God has brought us, but how much we weigh our own selves down at times.
She talked about sin.
Our sin and the sins of others against us.
The weight of them.
Oh, I get it about my sin.
I carry it like a chain at times.
And not like a martyr.
Like a woman who has underestimated the power of her God and overestimated the stain of her sin.
But as she led us through the prayer exercise, and she talked about the weight of the sins we have had against us…the hurt and the pain…and the way it has distorted us…hardened us…wounded us…that rock in my hand started getting pretty heavy.
I thought back over the previous portions of the service and how at times I had held it to my heart as I participated in worship.
I remembered how I had to hold on to it with one hand which only allowed me the freedom to raise the empty one in a kind of affirmation. It had limited me from full on, both hands and arms raised in surrender praise.
As she reminded us to forgive as Christ has forgiven us, I had to recognize that while I have forgiven the ones who this tangible weight in my hand represented…I still carry the pain of it because, in truth, I don’t know what to do with it.
It has changed and colored both our past, our present and our future.
I don’t know what to do with the memories that now look different because of other’s choices.
It has stolen my joy many times and it has clouded and crowded out my joy for others who are experiencing what I would love to have.
It permeates so much more than I could have imagined and even as life goes on, I am left at times grappling to just stay afloat amidst the changes brought on by a fallen world and my own fallen nature that continues to rise up unbidden, even as I know and believe and declare that in Christ I am a new creation.
As we finished the exercise, we were given instruction to ask God to forgive us the weight of our sin and to ask Him for His help and assistance to forgive…let go…release…the pain and hurt of the sins against us.
The service had come to an end and we were invited to share in one more song of worship and praise.
We were invited to sit or stand.
Whatever posture seemed to express our heart to God for what He had done and our hope for what He will yet do.
In the fellowship of believers, sitting there with people I have known and shared so much of this faith journey with for so many years, I stood…still hanging on to that rock that fit so comfortably in my fist.
And as we sang, I realized that somewhere along the way the pain has become such a part of me that I just assumed I had to hold on to it.
I set the rock down on the pew and raised both my arms.
I will have a choice to make in the days ahead when a photograph or a comment from someone triggers the feel of the weight of it once again, for most assuredly that temptation will always be there.
I will have to choose if I will draw it close to my chest and hold on to it or lay it down.
I pray I will remember His faithfulness.
The stone I laid down will be a reminder of the Rock I lean on.
That all stones…all sins…those against me and those I have made against others… are laid down at the foot of the cross of Jesus Christ…
Then Samuel took a stone and set it up between Mizpah and Shem, and called its name Ebenezer, saying, “Thus far the LORD has helped us.” 1 Samuel 7:12 <3
Time seems to be accelerating and I am feeling it was only moments ago we were looking at 2018 and wondering what it held in store. Now we are days away from ringing in 2019 and I am full of all the emotions as we wind down our holiday events, reminisce about what the past year taught and look forward to getting some goals in place for the coming year.
A day before the first wave of our family was to arrive, I began to experience a tenderness in the thumb on my right hand.
By the end of Sunday evening, it was definitely swollen around the tip of the fingernail and the upper region of my thumb.
We were meeting up with Zach and Rachel for an escape room so I took full advantage of her medical degree and had her do a quick diagnosis in the the waiting area before we began the adventure.
She said it was definitely inflamed and possibly infected and recommended some treatments and things to watch for.
I couldn’t think what I did to cause it to be so sore, but eventually as a deep bruise developed under the tip of the nail bed I vaguely remembered earlier in the week I had poked something into the tip of my thumb although for the life of me I can’t recall the exact circumstances or what the object was. I just remembered hoping I had not split my fragile nail yet again..but it seemed to remain in tact so I had gone on. Because I wear polish on a regular basis, it had gone undetected until the pain manifested the problem.
Even now it remains swollen and at times the throbbing renders me unable to focus on anything except how much I wish it would heal soon. I don’t think I realized how much I use my thumb until every movement causes me discomfort at best, and deep aching at its worst.
And I actually found myself thanking God for it.
Because it was a constant reminder to me of some dear friends who limped through the past month of Christmas festivities with gaping wounds of loss.
Every twinkling light and every card that arrived or post of an intact family was a sharp reminder of the changes this year brought.
Unwelcome and unwanted changes that mean things will never completely heal or return to normal.
Because what was normal has been forever erased.
So we pray for a gentle transition to a new kind of normal and we trust and believe always in the promise that there is a peace that transcends our earthly pain.
There is a mercy gift to us when we are deep in the heaviness of loss.
Because grief comes like waves at unexpected times and each one of us processes it differently…so even as we mourn the one who is no longer with us…we must learn to make room for our own broken hearts and the hearts of those we love who grieve differently.
And we know the One who calms waves with His voice.
He commands all kinds of waves to be still.
Our God is a God of comfort and love, mercy and grace.
He knows what we are made of…flesh and blood that easily bruises and ages and gets tired.
Flesh and blood that is temporal and hardwired to rebel…and yet…He so loved us that He sent His only Son…to be one of us…so that whosoever would believe in Him will never die…but will have eternal life.
Hold fast to that promise today and every day.
May God bless and comfort those who are mourning and who are in pain.
May you know HIs Presence in real and powerful ways even as He holds you tight <3
I make them all the time and sometimes I have spin-off lists of my main lists.
It’s like my lists have offspring and we are truly multiplying and filling the whole earth.
I am one of those who will write down something I did that wasn’t on the list, just so I can check it off.
This year I found a notepad that makes me laugh the way it is set up.
It has the words Reality Checklist in bold across the top and then at the bottom it says…
“My reality check has bounced”.
There are blocks set up with titles and these increase in space as you go down the page:
Tasks I Will Accomplish
Things I Hope I can Finish
Items I May as Well Write off as Never
Snowball’s Chance in…you know…
These categories give me a new way to prioritize and I have been using them this week to motivate me to get our trim up, the fall decor put away and the house cleaned.
Each page has a square on every line so I can make a check mark upon completion of an item.
But you know what…that is not enough for me.
I find the need to mark completely through the details of each job.
I realized just making a check wasn’t enough to make me feel I had really completed something that needed to be done.
As I was praying last night about what I could send you as encouragement today, it occurred to me why words like these are so reassuring to one like me….
When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your sinful nature, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave all your sins, having canceled the written code, with its regulations, that was against us and that stood opposed to us; He took it away, nailing it to the cross. Colossians 2: 13-14
I love that.
He didn’t just check off a task…He canceled out a debt.
The Law is good but it cannot save us.
We have a snowball’s chance in Hades (as my mom would have worded it) of meeting the requirements of God’s perfect Law.
But in Christ, our sins and shortcomings and old nature are CANCELED OUT…not checked off…
but erased…obliterated…eternally nailed to the cross of Jesus Christ.
That is good news, isn’t it?
We can live now in the joy of obedience because we are truly living free…
not so we can check things off but because it was written off forever <3