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Archive for the ‘Sorrows and Hope’ Category

FinishedIt’s the last breath, this “giving of the spirit.” We breathe in an out, minute by minute and day by day, but then, there is eventually the last breath. And so it was for the Christ.

And when Jesus had cried out again in a loud voice, he gave up his spirit. [Matthew 27:50, NIV]

The one thing that has crawled around inside my head ever since Mike died is a simple question: Was Mike really done? Had he accomplished his mission, his purpose? There were so many plans yet and so many possibilities. Was he really done?

And as I reviewed the stories in Matthew, Mark, Luke & John, of Jesus’s last day, especially his time in the garden, I sense a similar question. For he does ask in verse 39 (and 42 and 43), . . . “if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will,” or some version of this. There are many treatises on this request, but for me, today, I am simply caught with the similarity to my own question. Could Jesus be asking, “am I done?” “Am I done already?” “Is it enough?”

God’s answer was clear. To that point, what needed to be done was done and what needed to be done next, had to be endured for the completion of the whole package.

Jesus’s moment was in the garden, the moment he let go one more time, and trusted in the Spirit of God that indwelled him.

There was another flash of crisis I think, on the cross, before he last breath. In verse 46, “About the ninth hour Jesus cried out, “Eloi, Eloi, lamas sabachthani” –which means “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Another question about the end? Is this it? Some have written that Jesus was separated from God in that moment as he took on the sins of the world. But I’m not so sure. I believe God spoke and it was private. And God said, “Come.”

I believe the same for Mike, who lay on the floor alone, in much pain, and probably cried out to his God, to his Savior, and he was no longer alone but joined to the world of Spirit who said, Come. It is finished.

And he too, gave up his spirit, into the loving care of God of gods, King of kings, Lord of Lords. Rest now, my husband and my friend. I give you into God’s care now too.

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Mike Brown.

Mike Brown.

Today, Feb 23rd is my husband’s birthday. My deceased husband, that is. And I’ve rather put that fact on the back burner all day. I did a little Facebook post, but in a hurry, keeping the feelings at bay.

But now, the day is winding down and it’s time to ponder today’s devotion. So, what jumps out at me, “They gave themselves first of all to the Lord, and then by the will of God also to us.” [2 Corinthians 8:5b, NIV] But not like this, the words come out more like this: “He [Mike] gave himself first of all to the Lord, and then, by the will of God, also to me.”

Like many men, Mike, never fully trusted the women in his life. And yet, of all the women, he trusted me the most. And I can say that with some appreciation for a fight hard won. But whatever he might have withheld from me, he held nothing back from God, from the Christ. To God, he was devoted. I benefited from his faith, for it led the way to our marriage, our adopted children, and our 32 years together.

Mike was peculiar and saw everything through a unique lens. He didn’t really expect anyone to look through the same lens with him, but he did ask that people respect his point of view. It took me a while to get that. The Sarah in me wanted to change him. The Eve in me wanted to turn him. The Bathsheba in me wanted to lure him. But he was a steadfast man, even stubborn, which served his faith.

It wasn’t like he didn’t change over those years. He did. We both did, becoming less conservative and perhaps more progressive in the way we wanted to walk out our love for God. Mike was the first to reach out to people outside the box from men in prison to orphans in Africa. He could talk to just about anyone.

Mike gave hours and hours to the church, particularly our current church in its mission to reach people far away from God and bring them closer to new life in Christ. It’s a mission that resonated with Mike, but behind the scenes.

He was a good man. And today, we would have gone out to dinner and toasted to another year of blessings, and he would have said, one year closer to retirement, that is from his day job. Mike would have worked tirelessly for God until the end. Well, he did that anyway. I know his last word would have been the name of Jesus.

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fastingThey said to him, “John’s disciples often fast and pray, and so do the disciples of the Pharisees, but yours go on eating and drinking.” [John 5:33 NIV]

In this instance, Jesus clearly stated that his followers did not need to fast while they were with the “bridegroom.” But of course, the implication is equally clear that once the bridegroom is gone, then fasting will be back in the picture.

It’s actually a ancient practice but a simple one. Up until more modern times, fasting has been all about the food. The preparation and consumption of food used to be a large portion of a person’s day (hunting and gathering and all that).

According to a study done back in 2006, the average American now spends 67 minutes a day eating and drinking, literally. That’s a lot less than our ancestors. Ironically, we spend more time driving (average 101 minutes per day) and a whopping 2.8 hours watching TV. A more recent report, lumped all media together which added up to 500 minutes a day or almost 8 hours (this includes work and pleasure).

daily consumption of media

So, perhaps you considered fasting from food during Lent this year, but quite honestly, a little fasting from media might be a more challenging sacrifice. 🙂

I have fasted several times before from food. Usually, for me, it has to be an all or nothing kind of thing. I can’t just fast a single meal a day or one day out of the week. If I’m going to fast, then I need to fast for several days running. The first three days are usually the most difficult and then after that, it’s pretty straightforward. The best part is not the food or lack of food, it’s the space that not eating leaves in my day and in my mind. I may only eat and drink 67 minutes a day, but there are countless other minutes involved with food.

I’d love to know if anyone has counted the number of times a mom is asked over a lifetime, “What’s for dinner?” I think a lot about the logistics of meals: what to make, what is needed to make what I decide to magrieving girlke, when will I have time to go to the store, what time do I need to start, what time should we sit down, who can’t make it to the table, what foods go together, etc. etc. Yeah, I like fasting. They’re on their own next week.

I usually start my fasts with a dilemma or a question. As I had anticipated, my move out of my big suburban house where we raised our kids and into a much different downsized old house in town, has generated some new grief and the outlines of depression. I don’t much like being a widow even though it’s been tempered by a delightful but demanding infant grandchild in the room next to mine. But even that can’t push back the weight of what feels like a heart of stone. Come sweet Healing God and speak into my losses and birth something from them; soften my heart again.

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ListensCome close and listen, all you who honor God; I will tell you what God has done for me: My mouth cried out to him with praise on my tongue. If I had cherished evil in my heart, my Lord would not have listened. But God definitely listened. He heard the sound of my prayer. Bless God! He didn’t reject my prayer; he didn’t withhold his faithful love from me. [Psalm 66:16-20]

It’s not always easy to listen. If you are anything like me, you are forming an answer or comment to whatever the other person is saying while he/she is saying it. How often do I only hear a portion of what is being said. How often I react to one phrase and miss the second. How often I miss the point. And in short order, it’s no longer a conversation but a debate, or worse, an argument, or worse still, a screaming match. All because one or both of us didn’t really listen. Maybe we heard words but we didn’t listen. We didn’t attend to one another.

God, on the other hand, is always ready and willing to listen. And through God’s listening, I have an opportunity to learn from God about listening. God hears intent. God hears motive. God hears between the lines. God listens to the heart.

Oh, I suppose, God also listens to the dribble of my complaints and my shoulda, coulda, woulda. But these, I believe, he merely collects in a bowl and sets aside. What God is waiting to hear is a deeper self, of confession and repentance, of forgiveness and help.

onionsLike a layered onion, the outer layers aren’t much good for anything but protection of what is within. I am asked to peel those layers away. Sometimes, it takes a conscious effort to do so. For this reason, Lent becomes such a perfect time to strip away the chaff, to starve that part of me that normally consumes so much of my time and energy (like the preparation and eating of meals or going out to restaurants or snacking on sugars and guzzling sodas).

It’s a good time to fast. To prepare to fast. To peel. To strip. To offer God some truth.

God listens.

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wildernessThen Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted . . . [Matthew 4:1a]

He went willingly into the wilderness. Me? Not so much, more like kicking and screaming. It’s not like I haven’t been there before. I have stumbled through a number of dry seasons and harsh conditions. I have walked blindly and without water, but not because I chose to do so. The supplies got left behind.

Jesus fasted as a norm to the moment before him. He just knew that this challenge would require all of himself. If He could not survive this, then the rest of the mission would fail. 40 days and 40 nights and an evil companion dropping in and out, taunting along the way, was only a small portion of what He would face in the end.

This would not be a wilderness that would kill him. That much He knew. But the his test results could put a major crimp in the plan, in the method, in the progress. This was phase one.

I always mess this up. I look at the wilderness and almost always cry “Uncle.” I project into the wilderness more than is there. It’s like being hungry before I’ve started to fast. It’s rolling over after the alarm sounds because I’m just “too tired” to face the morning. It’s letting my memories of former excursions into the tough times set the tone.

So I know that. Right now. I see it, I know it. So, let’s do it differently this time.

I’m going in.

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ashesThere is something to be said about the Church calendar. Or any calendar, I guess. There is a turning of the pages and steady pace to the days and weeks and months. Some people mark the time with Christmas or the first day of school (what used to be the day after Labor Day), but for me, it’s Ash Wednesday.

Usually, when this day comes along, I have been thinking and praying and pondering how I will engage my God more deeply. This year, the day descended like roller coaster. What? When did the year pass? How is it possible that this year hellish sorrows and losses and change could be done and I am back to Ash Wednesday again. I’m not ready. I don’t have a plan.

And yet, I made it to church and I worked through the little activities of introspection and I promised to look again, to search again, to confess again, and to write again about the journey.

The ashes remind us of our mortality. I have been reminded of that every day since Mike died. It could have been me instead of him. I could have had the heart attack. It could have been different. And it still could be.

But now is now and today is what is and it’s Ash Wednesday. Lent begins and God is calling me back into the bosom of the Spirit. “Indwell. Abide. Hang out with Me, for I, Yahweh, am faithful.” Hear the voice of God.

Come prodigal daughter, it’s time to confess the truth of your vacuumed soul. Empty now. Full later.

Let go of those things that crowd out the Presence. It’s time. Make room, one step at a time.

“I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. [John 15:5]

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keep walkingAnd yet, there are times–in fact, many times, when our hearts are full of hope, our spirits are at rest, and our eyes are looking forward, but the way does not clear. And despite these words:

Surely the righteous will never be shaken;
    they will be remembered forever.
They will have no fear of bad news;
    their hearts are steadfast, trusting in the Lord.
Their hearts are secure, they will have no fear; . . .

[Psalm 112:6-8, NIV]

We are shaken and we fear and we hesitate. That’s right. It happens.

I know these things for I lived them. I have walked with confidence and I have seen the glory of the Lord, like a true Shekhinah. I have shaken in the Presence and I have heard the voice of God. I have trusted when there was nothing to trust and I have known steadfastness. My faith is strong.

But that doesn’t mean I am not human. Nor does it mean that I do not fall in my faith. I weep and I call out to God, who has seemed to forsake me. I have walked the lonely corridor where no door is open and no light shines ahead.

Why do I write this? Because I was reminded yesterday in service, to keep going. Just keep going. There is something in the going that eventually reveals the underlying truth. Only when I have stopped, even briefly, have I seen the effects of fear grow roots. And to move, after stopping, gets harder and harder, the longer I delay.

I walk. I go. And my confidence in the Presence of Christ Jesus returns. First as a whisper, but eventually as a song.

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