Archives for April 2017

Heading Home: Walking with Jesus to the Cross — Day Thirty-Nine


Lamentations 3:55-66

I called on your name, O Lord,
from the depths of the pit;
you heard my plea, “Do not close your ear
to my cry for help, but give me relief!”
You came near when I called on you;
you said, “Do not fear!”

You have taken up my cause, O Lord,
you have redeemed my life.
You have seen the wrong done to me, O Lord;
judge my cause.
You have seen all their malice,
all their plots against me.

You have heard their taunts, O Lord,
all their plots against me.
The whispers and murmurs of my assailants
are against me all day long.
Whether they sit or rise—see,
I am the object of their taunt-songs.

Pay them back for their deeds, O Lord,
according to the work of their hands!
Give them anguish of heart;
your curse be on them!
Pursue them in anger and destroy them
from under the Lord’s heavens.

It must have been a gray day when Jeremiah wrote these words, don’t you think? And somehow, they’re appropriate for this day before Palm Sunday. With the deep understanding he had gained about the reasons for his trip to Jerusalem, Jesus must have been more than a little bit pensive about it all. It would not surprise me to discover that he spent time in the scroll of Lamentations as he readied himself for the events of what we call Holy Week.

These words, along with the psalms of lament, are beautiful gifts to us. They give us language when we can’t find the words, when we’re feeling overwhelmed by life, when we’re feeling lonely, forsaken, overlooked, persecuted. And I understand the longing for pay-back expressed in that last stanza. Oh, yes, I do! But you know what? These kinds of words (they’re called ‘imprecatory’ in biblical circles) are useful for us, as well. They give us permission to speak ALL of our truth in the presence of God. To get down and dirty, to let our anger and our hurt feelings hang out there, flapping in the breeze of God’s goodness and grace.

These are not the only words, nor are they the last ones. But they’re good ones. They remind us that God sees us as we are and invites us to be real when we’re speaking with him. I’m thankful for that truth.

Thank you, Lord, for permission to be who we are. All of who we are. And thank you that harsh words are never the last words in our scripture. Thank you that forgiveness comes, that you supply it in abundance. And that you expect us to practice it, too. Help us to follow your lead — thank you for giving us space to let it all hang out. But then help us, O Lord, to let it all go and to move forward in love.

Parsing It Out: Sacrifice or Duty? SheLoves

It’s time to write for SheLoves once again, and the theme this month is “Willing Sacrifice.” This one gets pretty personal and you can finish it by clicking on the link.


My beautiful mama, picture taken  yesterday, week three on hospice care.

What is it that makes a sacrifice truly sacrificial? Seems to me it has to be the modifier chosen for this month’s theme at SheLoves — willingness. I’m not sure that one idea can ever be successfully separated from the other, to tell you the truth. Choosing to give something up for the sake of someone else is what makes a sacrifice real. If the giving-up is not chosen, but forced — by pressure, either external or internal — then it becomes a demand, a duty or an expectation. And that is not the same thing at all, is it?

But sometimes, learning how to parse out that difference is one of the hardest parts of our journey toward becoming mature, loving, insightful and empathetic human persons. I have spent a good portion of my later adult life trying to peel away the multiple, nuanced layers of my own story, looking hard at the motivations behind a lot of my choices over the years. This business of learning to own your own crap is hard work!

I suppose the most central piece of the story for me is my long and complicated relationship with my mother. I’ve written about the last decade of our journey together in multiple places on the internet, including here. The hard, sad loss of this once vibrant woman is filled with pain and sadness, yet even this last stage through dementia has shed some light on who she is, on how her childhood both nourished and scarred her and how those scars had an impact on me. The act of writing things down has involved some hard, deep work and none of it has been easy. My mom was the very best mom she could be, loving me and my brothers well, providing care, concern, fun, beauty, color and laughter for us all. I am deeply grateful for her and to her and love her very much indeed.

But she was far from perfect. No big surprise there, right? Only been One person to walk this earth in perfection — the rest of us muddle along, wounding and being wounded, falling and getting up again. Just today, in the midst of her confusion, I heard these kinds of phrases: “I’m trying to be a good girl.” “I hope it’s not my fault.” “I think I did it right.”

Breaks. My. Heart. These are the wounds of early childhood, worming their way to the surface of a 95-year-old, deteriorating brain, even when nothing else she says makes any sense whatsoever. How can this be?

From about the age of seven, my mother took on the responsibility of protecting her mother from her father, who was given to binge drinking and gambling. Mom cleaned up his messes, stood up to him in her 7-year-old righteous indignation, and worried over her younger brother and sister. She had an older brother, too, but he was the crown prince of the family and apparently could do no wrong. It fell to mom to be the family guardian and watchdog.

And she passed that message, that burden, that responsibility . . . but not that sacrifice . . . to me when I was about seven. “Daughters take care of mothers, “ were her words and they came right into me, body and soul. I’m here to tell you that age seven is way too young for anything to be ‘chosen.’ Instead, the act of care-giving becomes part of your very DNA. Seven-year-olds are not, and cannot be, willing participants. Assumptions are made, expectations are parceled out and burdens are borne.

But for too many years, none of that was what I would call a willing sacrifice. . . 

Read the rest of this essay by clicking over from this link right here. 

Heading Home: Walking with Jesus to the Cross — Day Thirty-Eight


Philippians 1:21-30

For to me, living is Christ and dying is gain. If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me; and I do not know which I prefer. I am hard pressed between the two: my desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better; but to remain in the flesh is more necessary for you. Since I am convinced of this, I know that I will remain and continue with all of you for your progress and joy in faith, so that I may share abundantly in your boasting in Christ Jesus when I come to you again.

Only, live your life in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that, whether I come and see you or am absent and hear about you, I will know that you are standing firm in one spirit, striving side by side with one mind for the faith of the gospel, and are in no way intimidated by your opponents. For them this is evidence of their destruction, but of your salvation. And this is God’s doing. For he has graciously granted you the privilege not only of believing in Christ, but of suffering for him as well— since you are having the same struggle that you saw I had and now hear that I still have.

 So these are the lines that stand out to me on this reading:

“For to me, living is Christ and dying is gain.”


“For he has graciously granted you the privilege not only of believing in Christ, but of suffering for him as well . . . “

And both of those lines are sometimes difficult for me to read. I know, I know. That first one is a verse we all memorized, back in the day. And I love the sentiment behind it. But I gotta be honest here, friends. It is sometimes really, REALLY hard for me to believe that ‘dying is gain.’ I know I should. And on my best days, I think I do. But you know what? I love my life, even when it’s difficult. I’ve had a rich set of experiences over these years, made some deep relationships. I adore my family, even when they make me crazy, and I think this planet is the most amazing thing ever.

So, I must admit that it is often difficult for me to grasp Paul’s meaning here. And then I read that second line, about the ‘privilege’ of suffering and I begin to catch a tiny glimpse of why the first line was written after all. We have no idea what it means to suffer because of our faith. NONE. Despite the political rhetoric that might try to tell us that Christians are persecuted in this country, there is simply no comparison to what the early Christians, or even what many Christians in other places experience today. We all suffer, yes, we do. But we don’t necessarily suffer in the way Paul did. Apparently, the Philippians were beginning to get a taste of that kind of struggle. And Paul tells them that it is a privilege. Wow. I have a lot to learn, don’t I?

Ah, Lord God. I am grateful for the life I live here in the US of A in the 21st century. I am grateful for the ways in which my faith is not only encouraged, but appreciated in this day and age. Maybe I’ve missed some really valuable lessons because I’ve never been imprisoned, beaten, tortured, or otherwise mistreated because of Jesus. Nevertheless, I am grateful for the live you’ve given me and ask your forgiveness for my lack of faith and for any short supply of empathy I carry for those who truly do pay a price for following after you. Remind me to pray for those who struggle in this way.

Heading Home: Walking with Jesus to the Cross — Day Thirty-Seven


Philippians 1:1-11

Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus,

To all the saints in Christ Jesus who are in Philippi, with the bishops and deacons:

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

I thank my God every time I remember you, constantly praying with joy in every one of my prayers for all of you, because of your sharing in the gospel from the first day until now. I am confident of this, that the one who began a good work among you will bring it to completion by the day of Jesus Christ. It is right for me to think this way about all of you, because you hold me in your heart, for all of you share in God’s grace with me, both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel. For God is my witness, how I long for all of you with the compassion of Christ Jesus. And this is my prayer, that your love may overflow more and more with knowledge and full insight to help you to determine what is best, so that in the day of Christ you may be pure and blameless, having produced the harvest of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ for the glory and praise of God.

And this is my prayer, that your love may overflow more and more with knowledge and full insight to help you to determine what is best, so that in the day of Christ you may be pure and blameless, having produced the harvest of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ for the glory and praise of God.”

Oh, to have such a prayer prayed over me every day of my life. And you know what? I think this is pretty much what Jesus says for each one of us, continually. That we would be full-up with LOVE. Love that is knowledgeable, filled with insight, love that helps us determine which way is right. Love that produces righteousness, NOT the other way around. Do you catch the big difference that makes?? We get so hung up on doing and being right, when we should put the horse before the cart and learn more and more about love. There is a reason that Jesus tells us the world will recognize us as true followers by how well we love one another.

And so often, we do such a rotten job of it. We are operating out of fear and feelings of inadequacy far too often, afraid someone else is going to be better liked than we are, that their voice will carry more weight with the larger body. We are quick to judge, to exclude, to label. What if we chose to love first, every time we were with one another?? Love.First.

Wow, I think the church might actually be the church if we could ask for the power and grace to do that!

Lord, teach us to love. To love honestly and well. To love first, last and always. Not that loving well doesn’t sometimes involve ‘speaking the truth in love,’ but that we would always, always, ALWAYS remember that there is no truth without love. It cannot be heard unless it is conveyed to us through the eyes, voice and words and of love. Help us to look to Jesus as our model, our example, our true-blue lover, par excellence. Thank you.

Heading Home: Walking with Jesus to the Cross — Day Thirty-Six


Matthew 22:23-33

The same day some Sadducees came to him, saying there is no resurrection; and they asked him a question, saying, “Teacher, Moses said, ‘If a man dies childless, his brother shall marry the widow, and raise up children for his brother.’ Now there were seven brothers among us; the first married, and died childless, leaving the widow to his brother. The second did the same, so also the third, down to the seventh. Last of all, the woman herself died. In the resurrection, then, whose wife of the seven will she be? For all of them had married her.”

Jesus answered them, “You are wrong, because you know neither the scriptures nor the power of God. For in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven. And as for the resurrection of the dead, have you not read what was said to you by God,  ‘I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? He is God not of the dead, but of the living.” And when the crowd heard it, they were astounded at his teaching.

Always trying to trip Jesus up. If it wasn’t the Pharisees, then it was the other important group-within-a-group, the Sadducees. They were the ones interested in ‘the law,’ sometimes described as ‘teachers of the law’ in scripture. And they did not believe in a bodily resurrection. So they decided to hone in on that doctrinal issue and see if they couldn’t stump the teacher.

No such luck. They took a fine point in the law – the levirate marriage succession, wherein a widowed woman became the wife (or the property?) of her former husband’s brother – and came up with the most complicated scenario they could devise, sure that they had finally found a way to make this popular teacher fumble and bumble his way to an answer.

As always, Jesus turns the tables. He didn’t just do it literally, you know. He did it all the time with these pesky questions, and today’s little vignette is a particularly interesting example of that technique. Not only does Jesus affirm his belief in a resurrection, but he fills in some blanks about that transformative new life that awaits us after death. Not sure if this means we’ll be asexual or just unsexual, but it’s surely different from this life, isn’t it? And then he pulls the rug right out from under them and asks, “Why do you keep talking about the resurrection of the dead?? We serve a God of the living!”

And that is just about the finest and simplest expositions of the doctrine of bodily resurrection I’ve ever read anywhere.

Thank you, Lord, for the promise of eternity. We don’t understand it — something we share with the Sadducees of the first century! But we trust that you DO understand it and that you’re speaking truth to these trouble-makers. Thank you for always telling the truth, even when we try our best to trip you up. Thank you for making it simple and for keeping the main thing, the main thing.

Heading Home: Walking with Jesus to the Cross — Day Thirty-Five


Psalm 143

Hear my prayer, O Lord;
give ear to my supplications in your faithfulness;
answer me in your righteousness.
Do not enter into judgment with your servant,
for no one living is righteous before you.

For the enemy has pursued me,
crushing my life to the ground,
making me sit in darkness like those long dead.
Therefore my spirit faints within me;
my heart within me is appalled.

I remember the days of old,
I think about all your deeds,
I meditate on the works of your hands.
I stretch out my hands to you;
my soul thirsts for you like a parched land.  Selah

Answer me quickly, O Lord;
my spirit fails.
Do not hide your face from me,
or I shall be like those who go down to the Pit.
Let me hear of your steadfast love in the morning,
for in you I put my trust.
Teach me the way I should go,
for to you I lift up my soul.

Save me, O Lord, from my enemies;
I have fled to you for refuge.
Teach me to do your will,
for you are my God.
Let your good spirit lead me
on a level path.

For your name’s sake, O Lord, preserve my life.
In your righteousness bring me out of trouble.
In your steadfast love cut off my enemies,
and destroy all my adversaries,
for I am your servant.

For me, a level path is critical. Since my foot surgery almost three years ago, I’ve had problems with balance. Add to that the fact that neither of my knees works terribly well, and you gotta know that level is what works best.

Here are the lines that speak to me on this reading. Please share any that speak to you today in the comments.

“Let your good spirit lead me on a level path,” the psalmist cries. And I join in the cry — in a very real sense as well as a metaphorical one. There are other lovely phrases in this song, too. What are some of your favorites? Here is a list of mine:

“give ear to my supplications in your faithfulness” — Yes! God is faithful.

“Therefore my spirit faints within me; my heart within me is appalled.” — Yup. I feel like this on a regular basis, especially in the current political climate.

I meditate on the works of your hands. I stretch out my hands to you; my soul thirsts for you like a parched land — a sturdy metaphor that has been part of my daily life during the years of this long drought, a picture that I hold within my heart of my need for the refreshment of the Water of Life.

Let me hear of your steadfast love in the morning, for in you I put my trust. Teach me the way I should go, for to you I lift up my soul — “new every morning,” right? Yes, Lord, help me to hear of your love every new day and to trust in it and in you. Teach me the way. . .

You are the Master of the Path, whether it’s level all the time or not. Help us, Lord, to look to you, to tell you the truth about how we’re feeling, and to trust that you are here, right here, with us in the midst of it all, joy and pain, laughter and sorrow. Thank you.

Heading Home: Walking with Jesus to the Cross – Day Thirty-Four


Acts 20:7-12

On the first day of the week, when we met to break bread, Paul was holding a discussion with them; since he intended to leave the next day, he continued speaking until midnight. There were many lamps in the room upstairs where we were meeting. A young man named Eutychus, who was sitting in the window, began to sink off into a deep sleep while Paul talked still longer. Overcome by sleep, he fell to the ground three floors below and was picked up dead. But Paul went down, and bending over him took him in his arms, and said, “Do not be alarmed, for his life is in him.” Then Paul went upstairs, and after he had broken bread and eaten, he continued to converse with them until dawn; then he left. Meanwhile they had taken the boy away alive and were not a little comforted.

What a strange, small story! And man, could that Paul TALK, eh? Do you have relatives or friends who can talk like this? Just story after story, detail after detail, until you, too, have to fight sleep??

The small packets in the picture up there are my first attempt at crochet after several years away from that craft. A friend’s two sons are having their first children just weeks apart this spring — one of them is already here! — and so I made them each a blanket and a cap and included a copy of Matthew Paul Turner’s delightful new book with each gift set. Babies need lots of sleep, and cozy blankets can help that happen.

Well, this man was young, but not quite a baby. And his unexpected sleep led to a near-disaster — falling 3 stories and dying on the spot! Yet, Paul doesn’t hesitate to tell everyone that death has not won in this kid’s life — at least, not yet.

And after that nice and weird little interruption, Paul proceeds to eat and then . . . to start talking once again! All.Night.Long.

I love that that detail is included in the telling of this story. I also love this one — they took the kid away! Enough was enough.

Lord, sometimes we don’t know when we hit enough. Give us ears to hear, eyes to see, and hearts to understand when it’s time to take a break, to stop talking, to let the Spirit breathe in our midst. Thank you that Paul wasn’t perfect and that someone took the time and care to tell us this little story — just in case we were in danger of imagining that he might have been!

Heading Home: Walking with Jesus to the Cross — Day Thirty-Three


John 11:1-45

Now a certain man was ill, Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. Mary was the one who anointed the Lord with perfume and wiped his feet with her hair; her brother Lazarus was ill. So the sisters sent a message to Jesus, “Lord, he whom you love is ill.” But when Jesus heard it, he said, “This illness does not lead to death; rather it is for God’s glory, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.”

Accordingly, though Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus, after having heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was.

Then after this he said to the disciples, “Let us go to Judea again.” The disciples said to him, “Rabbi, the Jews were just now trying to stone you, and are you going there again?”

Jesus answered, “Are there not twelve hours of daylight? Those who walk during the day do not stumble, because they see the light of this world. But those who walk at night stumble, because the light is not in them.” After saying this, he told them, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I am going there to awaken him.”

The disciples said to him, “Lord, if he has fallen asleep, he will be all right.” Jesus, however, had been speaking about his death, but they thought that he was referring merely to sleep. Then Jesus told them plainly, “Lazarus is dead. For your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.”

Thomas, who was called the Twin, said to his fellow disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.”

When Jesus arrived, he found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb four days. Now Bethany was near Jerusalem, some two miles away, and many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary to console them about their brother.

When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went and met him, while Mary stayed at home. Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now I know that God will give you whatever you ask of him.”

Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” Martha said to him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.” Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?” She said to him, “Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one coming into the world.” When she had said this, she went back and called her sister Mary, and told her privately, “The Teacher is here and is calling for you.” And when she heard it, she got up quickly and went to him.

Now Jesus had not yet come to the village, but was still at the place where Martha had met him. The Jews who were with her in the house, consoling her, saw Mary get up quickly and go out. They followed her because they thought that she was going to the tomb to weep there. When Mary came where Jesus was and saw him, she knelt at his feet and said to him, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, he was greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved.

He said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to him, “Lord, come and see.”

Jesus began to weep.

So the Jews said, “See how he loved him!” But some of them said, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?”

Then Jesus, again greatly disturbed, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone was lying against it. Jesus said, “Take away the stone.” Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to him, “Lord, already there is a stench because he has been dead four days.” Jesus said to her, “Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?”

So they took away the stone. And Jesus looked upward and said, “Father, I thank you for having heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I have said this for the sake of the crowd standing here, so that they may believe that you sent me.” When he had said this, he cried with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!”

The dead man came out, his hands and feet bound with strips of cloth, and his face wrapped in a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Unbind him, and let him go.” Many of the Jews therefore, who had come with Mary and had seen what Jesus did, believed in him.

 Oh, my goodness, gracious sakes alive — I so, SO love this story. For a very long list of reasons, some of which I have highlighted above. I will admit to a certain partiality for Martha — I relate to her, what can I say? Take care of business, get it done, stay busy — ah, yes. But this powerful interchange with her friend, who in the space of a minute becomes her Messiah, well . . . it’s wonderful.

Both sisters utter the same sentence at the sight of their friend, Jesus, exhibiting utter faith in his power to heal. But look what happens when they get to the grave, and Jesus gives the order to roll back the stone — Martha cries out: “Oh, no, Jesus, he’s been dead long enough to stink already!”

Her newfound revelation just sort of evaporates in that moment, doesn’t it? I told you, I can really relate to this woman! 

The surprising character in this long narrative is Thomas, don’t you think? Doubting Thomas, we’ve come to call him over the centuries. But catch that little line up there: “Let us also go, that we may die with him.” Wow. He has heard the same words from Jesus as all of the others, but here, right here, he shows us that he gets it, he knows that Jesus is headed for his own death. He can read the tenor of the times and he has heard Jesus himself say it will happen. And he believes what Jesus tells him. Maybe his desire to see and touch his risen Lord came not so much from doubt, but from a deep love and desire to really see this thing that has come to pass. Who knows?

And then, there is the beautiful picture of Jesus’s tears, his deep empathy for the pain of his friends, his rock-solid sense that death is an enemy, even though it is the necessary end for every one of us. I am grateful that Jesus walked the entire human journey while he was on this earth . . . up to and including death. He gets it.

And finally, those last words to the mourners as they stand there, stupified that Lazarus has actually come forth! YOU unbind him. YES! That is our task as followers of Jesus and fellow sufferers with all of humanity — we are to help release all that binds us in the dark and empty places. WE are to be the hands and feet of Jesus himself.


Thank you, thank you, thank you for living this story and for making sure that John wrote it down for us! Lord Jesus, we get to see so many sides of you in these verses, sides that we need to see. The commitment to wait until the time is right, the insight into the truth of the situation, the empathy expressed to these sisters and their friends, the invitation to them all to join him in the glorious work of release! Help us to join you, too, Lord. Us, too. 

Heading Home: Walking with Jesus to the Cross — Day Thirty-Two


Luke 24:44-53

Then he said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you—that everything written about me in the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms must be fulfilled.” Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures, and he said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. And see, I am sending upon you what my Father promised; so stay here in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.”

Then he led them out as far as Bethany, and, lifting up his hands, he blessed them. While he was blessing them, he withdrew from them and was carried up into heaven. And they worshiped him, and returned to Jerusalem with great joy; and they were continually in the temple blessing God.

Must have been some sky that day, right? We saw some glorious cloud formations while driving south to our daughter’s last weekend for an early birthday dinner for my husband. I said to Dick as we drove, “That looks like a Montana sky over there,” remembering our summer driving tour of national parks last year.

Right up until the last minute, Jesus was teaching, teaching, teaching. Explaining their scriptures to them in new and exciting ways, encouraging them to hold fast to who he was and what he said and did in their midst. 

He opened their minds to understand the scriptures.

That’s my favorite line in this passage, at least for this reading of it. This is what any decent preacher prays for as he or she prepares Sunday’s sermon — “open my mind, Lord. Help me to see and understand.”

It’s not an easy task, preaching. So be kind to your preachers, friends. Encourage them, ask good questions, engage in dialog if you don’t completely understand, even if you disagree. Keep it earnest, but not derogatory, and above all, don’t make it personal. I’m here to tell you, pastoring is not an easy gig. It’s a very, very good one. But it is never easy.

And that is exactly what Jesus is doing with his faithful band — he is pastoring them, right up until his moment of departure from this earth.

Thank you, Lord, that you are our pastor, our shepherd. And thank you for the pastors that you’ve provided for us, in this time and this place. Today, I want to pray for them, that your Spirit would be very near, that parishioners would be kind and careful, that your gracious will would blossom in their lives and in their ministries. Amen.