Posts Tagged ‘Lent’

The Cross and the Lily

CrossLily

In the midst of Lent and as Easter approaches, a brief reflection from the past. And for the present. And the future.

I was a craft-challenged mama. Sort of the anti-Martha Stewart. The very words “Next week we’re going to do a simple craft” struck terror in my soul. When it came to “making things,” my fingers just didn’t seem to work. The fingers that could play the piano and write essays and turn book pages by the hour simply froze when the popsicle sticks and glue came out. My heart just wasn’t in it. It’s a good thing Pinterest wasn’t around when my kids were small. I can’t imagine how I would have beat down the false-failure-as-a-mom (please note the word “false”) feelings. 

I was also a tradition-oriented mama. I loved creating family traditions that would make memories for our kids and help them remember the things that really mattered. I believed deeply that children often remember feelings more than facts. I also knew my three children had very different learning styles. One remembered every word ever read to him. Another wanted to build things and take things apart (and put them back together—the only one in our family who could do that!). Our third loved—and remembered–anything you could sing and dance to.

So what do our kids remember about Easter? A cross and a lily. Every Easter morning (well, most Easter mornings), they awoke to something special for breakfast (the kind of “special” that you can manage when running off to teach Sunday School classes before church). And Easter baskets accompanied by an “Easter book” which was a Bible story of some kind. But also—and maybe especially—an Easter lily with a simple white cross in it. I even made the cross—very simply cut out of cardboard and planted in the midst of the lily.

Why am I telling you this? Two reasons. First: Because of Mom to Mom, I know—and love—scores of young moms. Very dedicated moms. Very gifted moms. Very busy moms. They want desperately to make memories for their children. To help them know and treasure in their hearts the things that really matter. They have tons of great ideas for ways to do all that. They do, after all, live with Facebook and Pinterest. And, those glossy magazines illustrating all-you-can-do-with-your-kids are still there at the checkout. And most of them are probably not craft-challenged like me. But these moms also have children. And, as you may have noticed, children can be very time-consuming. And they tend to get sick at holiday seasons.

So I want to commend to you the simple lily and the cross. Not elaborate. Very simple. But they remember it. Also the reading of the Easter story. Again and again. From different age-appropriate Bible story books with different styles and illustrations. Act it out. I still remember our 4-year-old on our back porch instructing his mystified (but learning!) friend in his role in their self-directed little Easter play. (“No, Mark. You are the angel. You say “He is not here. He is risen, just as He said.”) Build the story with blocks. Use some of their action figures to represent the major players.  Sing it. With “He’s alive!” hand motions if possible. Or maybe dancing.

Because here’s the second reason I’m telling you this. The cross and the lily are, in the end, what matters most about Easter. In any season of life. In the good times and the bad. When you have a houseful of kids or grandkids. And when you don’t. Jesus died. He rose. He lives. All for the love of you and me. And when you “get” that love (and help your kids to), it makes all the difference. As one physically-challenged young mom told me years ago, “Linda, here at Mom to Mom I have understood, for the first time, how much God loves me. And when you get that—really get it—it makes all the difference.”

Yes it does, sweet mom-friend. The cross and the lily. They make all the difference. From here to eternity.

Happy Easter!

    

  

Snow and Ashes: So Lent Begins

Snow and ashes.  These two words seem to dominate my thinking these days.  An odd duet, perhaps.  Though not surprising when taken individually.

SnowSceneSnow.  Snow.  And more snow.  Such is this February in the land where I live.  Anyone who has watched any news or weather reports about Boston 2015 will not be surprised.  Four major snowstorms in three weeks, two of them officially “blizzards.” The snowiest one-month period on record.  The snowiest February on record—and it’s only February 16.  You know you’re in trouble when meteorologists  talk of snow in feet and not inches, when they make comments like. “This next one shouldn’t be anything significant—probably only 3-6.”

It’s causing major headaches for many people—public transportation shut down, driving hazardous, roofs collapsing. To name only a few issues. Still—dare I say it?—it is beautiful.  As I write, I look out on sparkling snow-filled woods, still (for now) pristine white.

And strangely, it makes me think of ashes.  Black, sooty, contrasting ashes.  The ashes of my sins which demand incineration.  Contrasted with the pure snows of redemption. 

This Wednesday is Ash Wednesday, traditionally a time when ashes on the forehead are to remind us of our mortality—and, I might add, our sin.  The longer I live, the more I’m aware of the blackness of that sin.  Seems backwards, in a way.  But somehow, the longer I walk with God, the more I see how different we are—He and I. Maybe I’m finally learning the necessity of the curate’s prayer in Gaudy Night, by Dorothy Sayers: “Lord, teach us to take our hearts and look them in the face, however difficult that may be.”

That look makes me all the more eager for the redemption poetically described in Scripture like snow: “Come now, let us reason together, says the Lord.  Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be white as snow . . .” (Isaiah 1:18) The psalmist pleads: “Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean; wash me, and I will be whiter than snow.” (Psalm 51:7)

So, on this brink of Lent 2015, perhaps it is fitting after all to have these two words bouncing around my head: snow, and ashes.

Speaking of Lenten words, many of you who know me will not be surprised that I already have my favorite Lenten reading in hand: Walter Wangerin’s Reliving the Passion.  I read it every year, and I doubt this year will be any exception.

But I have another recommendation that may interest some of you.  Last September I recommended a new book by my author friend Lucinda Secret McDowell: Live These Words.  Since it features 40 words in one short chapter each, it would make great Lenten reading.  Recently, Cindy (as I’ve long known her) made available a study guide to go with the book called “Lenten Words.’  You can print it free on her website www.encouragingwords.net.

Yesterday our pastor encouraged us to consider not only what we could “give up” for Lent, but what we might add.  May I suggest that either of these two above-mentioned books, one an old favorite and one a new favorite, might give you a place to start? 

Even if you don’t live in the land of the “storehouses of the snow” (see Job 38:22) as we approach this Ash Wednesday.

A Lenten Lesson from a Four-Year-Old

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It’s a dark and stormy Friday night.  We’re driving through thunderstorms and heavy traffic to visit The Boston Children’s Museum with our two grandsons, Soren (7) and Nils (4).  It’s taking a lo-o-ong time, and the boys remind us of this regularly.  We make conversation about all manner of things, some of it focusing on the recent Olympics and how amazing some of those athletes are.

Out of the blue (as is the way of children), Nils pipes up: “But when I grow up, I want to be Jesus!”  There is silence in the car as we ponder this stunning statement.  Four adults—two parents and two grandparents—process the theology.  We are at a temporary loss for words.

But not Soren.  Soren, you see, is never at a loss for words.  He feels a sense of responsibility, as the older, very grounded-in-reality big brother, to help Nils stay better connected with reality. Nils has a wonderfully wild imagination, complete with “camo-friends” who attend the University of New Hampshire, live underground, and camouflage themselves when adults approach but reveal themselves only to Nils.   You see the situation.

“But Nils,” Soren corrects emphatically, “ you can’t actually BE Jesus.  You know that, right?  You can’t really BE Jesus!”

I’m still processing the conversation.  (Nana minds are slower than 7-year-old minds.}   An interesting theological dilemma.  Of course we know the uniqueness of Jesus, the One and Only Son of God. But aren’t we supposed to be in the process of becoming more and more like Him?  What is that verse about being more and more “conformed to the likeness of His Son”? (Romans 8:29 NIV) There seems to be an “already in process” and a “not yet” aspect here.  I’m grateful for the future promise: “But we know that.when He appears, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is.” (I John 3:2)

In the meantime, we are called, are we not, to become more and more like Him. How does this happen? A question far beyond this humble blog post. But a question I think it’s good to ask during this Lenten season.

As I ponder the challenge, two observations:

  1. We become like the people we hang out with.  Becoming more and more like Jesus is, at least for me, a lifetime challenge.  But odds are that more progress is made as I spend more time with Him.
  2. Becoming more like Jesus seems to have a lot to do with seeing Him—actually seeing Him.  I think of  Mary’s dazzling cry on Easter morning: “I’ve seen the Lord!” (John 20:18)

My prayer for us all as Holy week approaches is that we may we see Him with new eyes, bask in the reality of His presence in our everyday ordinary lives, and live with this future hope:

As for me, I will see Your face in righteousness; I shall be satisfied when I awake in Your likeness.  (Psalm 17:15 NKJV)

 

Mom-mirrors of Dangerous Grace

Nothing has revealed my sinfulness and need of a Savior like being a mom.  Parenting my children showed me aspects of myself that I never knew were there–and didn’t like much!  I never knew, for example, that I had a problem with anger until I had kids.  In my teacher-life, I’d had plenty of students that pushed my buttons.  But never the way my 2-year-old or 10-year-old children could.

Walter Wangerin's book, "Reliving the Passion"

Maybe that’s why I was so struck by one of my Lenten readings this week from Walter Wangerin’s Reliving the Passion.  Wangerin points out that one of the reasons for reliving the Passion of our Lord during Lent is that it helps us to see our sin.  He talks about how his relationship with his wife becomes a mirror in which he can see, when he sins against her, the suffering his sin has caused.   A mirror that hides nothing and breaks through his denials and excuses.   He calls it a mirror of dangerous grace.

That’s what my family is to me.  My husband—and especially my children—are mirrors of dangerous grace.  When I put self ahead of them—or even them ahead of God, a subtle but tempting idol—I see in their faces and behavior both my sin and its consequences.   I see my desperate need of a Savior.   A Savior Who actually chose to bear the consequences of my sin (while my kids, of course, had no choice).

When I apologize to my children, as I’ve had to do countless times, and receive their forgiveness, I am reminded of my need to confess to God and be forgiven.  And I learn what the freedom of forgiveness feels like.

I’m also reminded of my constant, daily, moment-by-moment need of Jesus.  Recently my daughter, the mother of a 3-year-old and 6-month-old, posted on her Facebook page:  “My needs today–sweat, coffee, Jesus.”  A friend commented: “Jesus, Jesus, Jesus.”  Two moms who know what their deepest needs are.   Sort of a “severe mercy” (borrowing from  C. S. Lewis) that we receive by being a mom.

I suspect the words will haunt me throughout Lent: dangerous grace.  Dangerous because I see my sin in all its awful reality and realize that (Was it Luther who said this?) “We carry His nails in our pockets.”  Grace because He came.  He died.  He rose again.  He forgives.  He lavishes His grace upon us.  He grows us all the way into Glory.

It snowed this week in Wisconsin.  Normally not an unusual event here.  But we’ve had little snow so far this year.  So when I woke up yesterday morning with a winter wonderland in my back yard, it took my breath away.  All the dreary, shabby winter had been covered with pure, sparkling snow.

“Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be white as snow.”  (Isaiah 1:18)  Thank you, Jesus, for mirrors of dangerous grace.  Thank you that I can say with the Psalmist: “wash me, and I will be whiter than snow.”  (Psalm 51:7)

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