“The biggest thing I’ve learned at Mom to Mom is that God loves me. Really loves me. Even me. Others have tried to tell me. But somehow I couldn’t believe it. You know, the way I am. But this year through Mom to Mom, I have truly felt God’s love. And you know, Linda, when you know God loves you, really loves you, it changes everything.”Read More
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.Read More
I’ve been thinking about walls and windows and doors lately.
No, we’re not building a house. I’ve seen a number of people “hit the wall” recently, in various ways (and I seem to do it myself all too often). We’ve also had some precious times with grandchildren this winter . . . I love driving up to the house in New Hampshire and seeing eager little faces watching out the window for us to come. And oh yes: we’re getting ready for a trip to Ireland soon to see our family there. I just can’t wait to walk through the door into their house and be engulfed by hugs and smiles and tangles of bodies in the joy of happy reunion.
Also, it’s Easter week as I write this. In the past 10 days or so, there have been too many funerals: A much-too-young husband and father cruelly snatched from his family by a car crash on slippery roads. A much-too-young mother slipping away after a long courageous battle with cancer. Our daughter-in-law’s grandfather.
I keep thinking of author Peter Marshall’s unforgettable proclamation that because of Easter, death is no longer a wall, but a door.
And I am, of course, reading Walter Wangerin’s Reliving the Passion again. He writes of the paradox of the window of heaven being opened to us even as the heavens were, for a few horrific moments, closed against Jesus on the cross, becoming a door into heaven for us: “a doorway made out of nails and wood, a crossing, a cross” (p. 134).
Wangerin also writes of joy, of part of the purpose of Lent being that we prepare for joy. Against the backdrop of all these funerals, against the backdrop of my own life, amidst a world of walls, his words ring truer than ever this year:
“The difference between shallow happiness and a deep, sustaining joy is sorrow. Happiness lives where sorrow is not. When sorrow arrives, happiness dies. It can’t stand pain. Joy, on the other hand, rises from sorrow and therefore can withstand all grief. Joy, by the grace of God, is the transfiguring of suffering into endurance and of endurance into character, and of character into hope—and the hope that has become our joy does not (as happiness must for those who depend on it) disappoint us.” (p. 31)
This is the joy we celebrate at Easter. A joy birthed out of the Hope and Triumph of our resurrected Lord. A durable, stubborn joy for all seasons. Not only the endless winter we’ve had (and still have!) in the Northeast. But a joy that sustains us even in our grief. Wangerin, again:
“Grief, while you are grieving, lasts forever. But under God, forever is a day. Weeping, darling Magdalene, may last the night. But joy cometh with the sunrise—and then your mourning shall be dancing, and gladness shall be the robe around you. Wait. Wait.” (p. 138)
“Whooping joy,” Wangerin called it, describing the exhilaration he felt as a young child when his pastor father read the climax of the Easter story. Because of the window and the door, because of the triumph of the Resurrection, I wish you “whooping joy” this Easter—and far beyond.
“It changes everything, you know.” It’s the day after Easter, and that’s the sentence that keeps echoing through my mind. Because it does. Easter. It changes everything.
In Ireland my daughter tells me it’s a holiday. Easter Monday. How fitting: That the day after Easter be—instead of a “let-down, back-to-the-humdrum” kind of day—a holiday. It’s not, after all, “same-ol’ same ol.’” How can it be, when redemption has been accomplished, sin forgiven, death defeated, and a glorious eternal future opened up before us? Because He came, He lived, He died, and He rose again, nothing is ever the same again.
But we are easily fooled. Is anything really all that different? On this particular Monday in my life, I am jet-lagged and missing my grandkids after two wonderful weeks in Ireland. There’s a lot that’s been left undone while I’ve been away. My “to-do” list looks longer than my day. And several items on it are things I’d rather avoid. It was a lot more fun to shout “He is risen! He is risen indeed!” yesterday in church than to schedule doctor’s appointments and follow-up mammograms.
And you. I’ll bet your kids got up just as early this day after Easter. Or maybe your teenager didn’t want to get up at all. And the laundry pile, the carpool, the grocery list, the budget crunch, even the creeping anxiety about one of your kids or your husband’s job—it’s all there.
Which takes me back to where I originally heard the sentence I can’t get out of my mind: “It changes everything.” Let me give you some context. Several years ago I was speaking at a women’s event in another part of the country. The hosting church had just that year begun a Mom to Mom program. After I spoke, a buffet was served. I was told “just sit anywhere you’d like.” As I scanned the room, I was drawn toward a nearly empty table. Something in my head said, “Just sit down and see who the Lord brings to sit next to you.”
I’ll never forget the beautiful young woman who came and joined me. I can’t remember her name, but I will always remember what she said. She began by thanking me for doing Mom to Mom. She told how helpful it had been to her, particularly with special challenges she experienced as mom with a disability. “But the big thing, Linda,” she said, “is that through this year, week after week, I have felt God’s love as never before. For me. Personally. Particularly. Powerfully. For the first time in my life, I have felt completely, totally loved by God. And when you know—really know—how much God loves you, it changes everything, you know.”
Oh yes, my sweet friend, it does. It changes everything. How I think about laundry and food shopping and even mammograms. How you look at your husband and kids and even laundry. More importantly, how you think about your past (yes, you’ve blown it, but because of Easter, you’re forgiven and given a fresh start), your future (He will be with you every step of the way no matter where that way leads)—and even your present, your today (He can give you His love for the unlovable, His strength for your weakness, His peace amidst your pain). He said it in a sentence just before he left this earth: “Lo, I am with you always . . .” (Matthew 28:20)
His love changes everything. And what more powerful reminder of His love than Easter? It’s worth remembering—even, or maybe especially, on this Easter Monday.
Holy Week always feels chaotic to me. Inwardly chaotic. Emotionally chaotic. I can’t decide how to feel.
On Palm Sunday, children sing and palm fronds are waved and Jesus is hailed as a King. Such rejoicing! But then the real chaos begins. In a few short days, how the crowd turns. By Thursday night, one of Jesus’ own has betrayed Him. On Friday—just five days after His triumphal entry into Jerusalem—the crowd is shouting, “Crucify Him!”
Wait! My heart cries out: What happened to the triumph? And why is it that I—one who joyfully, even ecstatically, welcomed this King into the City—now find myself amidst this other, uglier, angry crowd? That’s the horror: my sins put me right there with them.
It’s true, the line we sang in church recently (from “How Deep the Father’s Love for Us” by Stuart Townend and Keith Getty): “Ashamed, I hear my mocking voice call out among the scoffers. “ Martin Luther was right: “We carry His nails in our pockets.”
So it made great sense to me last Sunday when the young preacher said of Palm Sunday, and Psalm 118, which we were studying: “Today we celebrate the God of Reversals.” And then this week I came across a series of long-ago Christianity Today articles on Holy Week under the title “The Great Reversal.”
The God of Great Reversals. Watch Him at work through Holy Week. Temporal, fleeting triumph turns to terror, and torture, and death. For a day there is silence—holy, awesome silence. And then the Great Reversal: RESURRECTION. ULTIMATE TRIUMPH OVER SIN AND DEATH. ETERNAL LIFE.
The God of Great Reversals. A God in Whom the empty become full, the weak become strong, and sinners like me are forgiven and freed. And death—yes, even death—is destroyed, “swallowed up in victory,” as Paul puts it.
Enter the laughter. Now there’s a reversal. No one was laughing much during Holy Week. But now there’s laughter “from the other side of death,” as author Philip Yancey puts it. I came across the exact quote this week. The words had long echoed in my ears. But there it was in an old file. Yancey’s conclusion to a chapter in his book I Was Just Wondering . . . entitled “The Fragrant Season”: “Listen, Christians. Can you hear the laughter from the other side of death? Breathe deeply of a fragrance like no other. Let it fill your lungs this spring, this Easter.”
I’ll be listening for the laughter this Easter. Can you hear it with me?
Yesterday (Palm Sunday), the kids in our church came marching into the worship center carrying palm branches and shouting Hosannas: “Hosanna to the Son of David!” As I watched their adorable little faces—some delighted to be in the “big church,” some looking puzzled as to why they were there, and some maybe even a little scared—I was suddenly catapulted back across the years to a long-ago Palm Sunday.
As I drove home from church with all three kids in the back seat (Woody was on call that day), I asked them what their story had been in Sunday School. The two older boys had pretty reasonable accounts of Palm Sunday. But it was Erika’s story I remember best.
“Oh, Mommy,” she exclaimed. “It was a little sad because today we had the story of Jesus riding into Jerusalem on a horse. And the horse fell down and broke his leg, and Jesus fell off. But it was OK—‘cause He didn’t get hurt.”
Pretty creative listening, wouldn’t you say? As I gazed at those fresh faces yesterday, I wondered what stories their parents would hear on the way home from church. And I wanted to tell those parents—and you—not to give up on the stories of Jesus. Tell them in parts, a little at a time, age-appropriately. And know that they will sink in, little by little.
Another year comes to mind as I write this: a Holy Week when one afternoon four-year-old Bjorn had a preschool friend –we’ll call him “Matt”—over to play. The two boys were playing out on the porch when suddenly I heard Bjorn’s voice booming across the kitchen: “No, no, Matt, you are the angel. You say, ‘He is not here. He is risen just as He said.’”
Nothing like acting out the Easter story to keep a couple of four-year-olds busy!
The next day I got a call from Matt’s mother. “Thanks so much for having Matt over to play yesterday,” she began. Then there was a short pause, ’til she continued: “There’s just one other thing I wanted to talk with you about.” My heart skipped a beat, wondering what might come next.
“I just wanted to thank you,” she said, “for the wonderful way that Bjorn taught Matt about the Easter story. You know, we haven’t really known how to tell him the real story. We just stuck with the Easter bunny and eggs and candy and all that. But Bjorn did a great job telling Matt the real story, so I wanted to thank you.”
Hmmm . . . maybe even four-year-olds can spread the Good News!
This morning I read Lars’ blog about Palm Sunday in Iraq. He was happy that he had been able to worship with a handful of other Marines and soldiers and sailors and their faithful chaplain in their little trailer-chapel, cement-block barricades surrounding them for protection, their weapons at their side.
He had also been able to fly yesterday afternoon over parts of Iraq that brought the Old Testament alive for him, he said. I thought how happy it would make my Old-Testament-scholar-Dad to hear that. (Don’t you think he knows this, up in heaven?)
And I thought back to an Easter season many years ago when Lars’ account of the Easter story in Sunday School was something like: “Today we had the story about the empty tomb and how the guys in the white things told the girls, ‘Jesus isn’t here. He rosed from the dead!’”
Indeed He did!! He is risen. He is risen indeed! I wish each one of you reading this a joyous Easter celebration. And I pray that each of you will have patience—and perseverance—as you share the great news of Jesus Alive with your kids. They will understand the story in time. And they will want—I pray—to worship this Risen Lord, even if some day they’re halfway ’round the world in a dusty little trailer in a far country with a handful of fellow believers. You’ll be glad you shared The Story!