Mary Was My Age

free image cross_jesus_wood

Last night we saw a dramatic presentation of Jesus’ arrest, trial, and crucifixion. It was seen through the eyes of several witnesses. One of those witnesses was Mary, Jesus’ mother. The actress, playing the part of Mary, stated she was “old.” Now I know old is a relative term, but it didn’t sit well with me. So I started doing the math.

Tradition states in Biblical times a Jewish girl could be betrothed as young as age 10 or 12. We do not know how old Mary was during her engagement to Joseph, pregnancy, and the birth of Jesus; but, based on common knowledge of the culture at the time, we could guess somewhere between 10 and 16.  What we do know is Jesus was crucified when he was 33. So I added 14 (possible age of Mary at Jesus’ birth) and 33 (Jesus’ age at time of death) and got 47. 47! That’s my age! (That’s NOT old!) But that’s not my point.

When I started thinking of that blessed mother as someone my age, something clicked. There was Mary at the foot of the cross watching her son die. My heart sunk. For Mary, He wasn’t only (as if Jesus could be described as “only” anything) the Messiah; He was the baby she had nursed and the child she had raised.

What if that were my son on the cross? The pain would be excruciating.

I wonder if Mary clung to the hope she had that Sunday was coming. That Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection was the hope for the world. That all Gabriel and Jesus had told her would come to pass.

As I walk through trials and hurts of life, I cling to the hope I have.

It may be Friday . . . but Sunday’s a comin’!

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Loss and Sympathetic Grief

Loss and Sympathetic Grief

A friend of mine tragically lost her four-year-old niece a few days ago. When I first learned of the calamity, my heart sunk, grief rose, and tears flowed. No four-year-old should die.

I have never met the parents of this precious child, but as I processed the information and my emotions started to surge, I thought, “I wish there were some way I could transfer some of this young mother’s anguish to myself, to siphon some of the heartache.” If only hearing of the death of this beautiful girl moves me so profoundly, how extensive is the pain and sorrow of her parents and grandparents and aunts and uncles?

full of grief

Yes, I wish pain, grief, and sorrow could be measured like we measure water. And when it was on the brink of overflowing, it could be poured into someone else; thereby reducing the amount of distress felt by the original sufferer.

pouring water

I desperately want to help and at the same time recognize there is not a thing I can do (physically) to ease the discomfort, the agony.

Pain and grief are a part of life. No one can walk through it for someone else. That leaves those of us watching at a loss, feeling inadequate and ill-equipped (which probably explains why I skip out on most funeral services).

I believe God created me with an “extra-sensitive” feelings button. I easily “rejoice with those who rejoice” and “mourn with those who mourn” (Rom. 12:15). But the mourning feels unproductive and “less than.” If I had a measuring cup that magically reduced the hurting person’s misery by the amount of pain I feel for him/her, I could bear it easier.

shared grielf

But while I own no magic measuring cup, I know of One who can bear the pain—One who has borne the pain. Jesus is a “Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief” (Is. 53:12).

My sympathetic grief need not be fruitless because I have access to the One with the answers. I have a direct line to the One who heals. I can throw myself at the throne of grace and ask for mercy to be poured out on the victim of grief. I can ask God to be the Vessel in which they pour their aches and pain. I can hope God’s healing will eventually come. I can rest in the promise that His complete healing will eventually come to those in Christ.

This is my prayer for this young couple and family still reeling in shock.

This is my prayer for those of you suffering from loss or unbearable pain.

Longing for More – Part 1

longing for a better car

The following is a reprint of an article I wrote for SEEK. The original publication date is May 6, 2012. Part 2 will post next week.

Longing for Mr. Right, a teenage girl caves in to her boyfriend’s unrelenting requests. Recently demoted, a husband finds a pornographic website. Tired of her seemingly pointless life, a stay-at-home mom heads to bed. Defeated, a divorced man steps into the bar. Lonely, a single mother reaches into the freezer for the half-gallon of Rocky Road. Each desires to drown the sorrow. Each wishes to escape reality. Each believes there is more to life, but cannot bridge the gap between here and there.

A crowd gathered around Jesus longing for more. They, too, knew life without meaning wasn’t life at all. A spark of hope ignited as they watched Jesus distribute food to over 5000 hungry people. They witnessed a miracle. And they thought they had found it—the answer to their dilemmas, the solution to their problems—an unending supply of food for their stomachs and rest for their souls.

The next day the crowd tracked Jesus down. They sought Him not because of who He was, but for what He could provide.  However, Jesus saw the shallowness of their journey. He knew their purpose—to obtain another meal, a quick fix. They wanted a tangible, albeit temporary, physical satisfaction—a full belly. But, they missed the point. Their focus was off. Instead of looking at Jesus, they only saw the food He provided.

Have you found yourself caught in a whirlwind of bad choices? Have you wallowed in self-pity and turmoil to the point of destruction? Are you seeking fulfillment in sex, alcohol, drugs, shopping, sleep or food? If so, you are not alone.

Many evenings, I found myself devouring another bowl of ice cream, hoping to satisfy the empty pit I felt. But instead the sensation still existed with guilt heaped on top. Just like the crowd, I turned my focus toward a temporary solution. And while food may relieve the pain momentarily, it will not feed the ultimate problem. The purpose of food is to sustain life and provide fuel for our bodies. But it will not fill the emptiness in our souls. It will not relieve the longing we have to be loved and accepted unconditionally. Jesus warned, “Do not work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you.” (John 6:27)

When we recognize our worth and value cannot be found at the bottom of an ice cream container, at the end of a long nap, or in a closet full of clothes, we like David can cry, “O God, you are my God, earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you in a dry and weary land where there is no water.” (Psalm 63:1)

And Jesus’ response to our cry? “I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never go hungry, and he who believes in me will never be thirsty.” (John 6:35) Do not look at what Jesus can give you or do for you, but to Jesus Himself. As bread swells in our stomachs and relieves our hunger pangs, the Bread of Life seeps into our inner beings and seals our spiritual gaps. He speaks to our worries, doubts, and fears. When we allow these truths to cleanse our souls and wash away our aches and pains, we will find peace. When we fix our eyes on Jesus, we will encounter joy.

I can’t say I no longer seek comfort in the arms of a bowl of ice cream; however, as God draws me closer to Him, I slowly understand that His arms are far reaching and unending—His love covers all and triumphs over all. It is from this place, in His embrace, I can minister to others. It is from this place, enveloped in His grace and mercy, His life overflows from my heart to others. It is from this place, lavished with love, I can offer the Bread of Life to a hurting world.

Housekeeping:  As you read this I am sailing on a Carnival cruise in the Western Caribbean, so do not be offended if I don’t respond to your comment in a timely manner.

What’s In A Name?

name above all names

I am bad with names. Last summer we visited our former church and I had to ask a friend her name. I think I was bright red, but I’ve learned it’s better to admit my flaw than fake it. “I’m sorry, but I don’t remember your name,” seems more appropriate than, “Hey you,” or “Good to see you, friend, uh, buddy, uh . . . person.”

It’s more embarrassing when I’m working at the library. I can’t check out books to the wrong patron, so feigning is out of the question. While there, I’ve had to confess to facebook friends I don’t recall their names.

The other day I asked a gentleman, for probably the eighth time, what his name was. I apologized for not remembering. Graciously, he stated, “That’s okay. I always tell people, ‘If you meet me and forget my name, it costs you nothing. But if you meet Jesus and forget His name, it costs you everything.’”

I loved his response for several reasons. First, it put me at ease. Second, and more importantly, he found a way to mention Jesus in a non-threatening manner. If I were not already a believer, I may have paused to consider Jesus—who He was, His purpose, and why his name is well-known.

In reality, my name is inconsequential. Jesus’ is not!

Even famous people are only talked about within certain cultures and for a minimum number of years. For example, how many Americans can name all the previous Presidents? A small percentage. And if we traveled the world and took a poll, the number who knew the names of all the U.S. Presidents would drop significantly. Yet Jesus’ name has been remembered and talked about for more than 2000 years. Why?

Not because His name is unique, but because He is unique. And His name represents His Person.
Jesus . . . Messiah.
Jesus . . . Savior.
Jesus . . . Redeemer.
Jesus . . . Emmanuel.
Jesus . . . King of Kings.
Jesus . . . Lord of Lords.

So, go ahead, forget my name and who I am. It will cost you nothing. But don’t forget Jesus’ name or who He is. It will cost you everything! And, in the midst, cordially introduce Him to others.

One last note: I have not forgotten that gentleman’s name . . . and I don’t think I will.

Advance to 40 second mark on Brian Regan video for “name” humor.

My Scars, His Scars

Two years ago I chose to have lower back surgery. I was at the end of a very long list of options. The signs were clear. God had spoken. Yet I still had to walk into the hospital with my own two feet. I authorized the surgery and paid the Doctor to cut me open. I literally signed up for the pain I would bear to be healed. There was no easy way around it. One anesthesiologist, two surgeons, several hours of surgery, a back brace, physical therapy, and four months of recovery. I chose it, not easily, not without trepidation. But I made the conscious choice. And I have the scars to remind me—of the chronic pain I endured for nine years, of the surgery, of the sacrifice to be healed.

Cross

Two thousand years ago Jesus made a choice—not because He needed healing, but because we did. In the Garden of Gethsamane, Jesus, with blood for sweat, chose to go to the cross, not easily, not without trepidation. He walked the path alone, watching his “friends” flee or betray. There was no easy way around it. A kiss, a flogging, a cross-bearing walk, a crown of thorns, and nails. God called. He answered. A world needed Him and He made the conscious choice to pay the ransom. His scars remind us—of the pain He endured, of the sacrifice.

I realize it’s almost laughable for me to associate my comparatively minor scars to Jesus’. I can’t fathom the anguish, the physical pain, the cost. However I know God uses the physical realm to penetrate my tiny brain and provide a minute peek into Who He is and what He experienced. Paradoxically, while nothing I experience remotely touches what Jesus suffered for me, Jesus can relate to everything I experience.

Sometimes we must purposefully walk through a painful occurrence to be healed. I’m so glad my Savior purposefully chose the cross. My scars are a tangible reminder of His scars.

What tangible reminder of His scars do you have?

Jesus is My Valentine (And Yours!)

Roses are Red

Violets are Blue

God made a Valentine—Jesus

Especially for You!

The Kid’s Club kids decorated cards with this poem Monday. They were instructed to give the card to whomever they wanted. I was the recipient of my daughter’s card.

Valentine’s Day is a bittersweet holiday. For some, the day comes and goes without a hiccup. However, some women approach it with out-of-reach expectations. This leads men to tiptoe into the day fearing they will fail at expressing their love properly. And that’s just married couples!

I know these feelings and actions all too well. I used to be one of those women. My thoughts on how a man should express his love toward a woman far exceeded reality. For that reason I was typically disappointed. I know I’m not alone. I’ve counseled many ladies the day after Valentine’s Day.

After fourteen years, I have dropped my expectations on what the perfect Valentine’s Day looks like because, let’s face it, kids will throw up, keys will get locked in the car, and basketball practice will interrupt supper. In addition, my husband has learned a few things. He pays attention when I tell him my wishes. He (literally) takes notes and goes out of his way to make the day special. I am blessed to be married to a man who desires to express his love to me.

However, not all relationships work as well as ours. That’s why I love the above poem. When I first read it, the meaning escaped me. But after reading it a second time, I got it. Jesus is our Valentine from God! Our age or gender or marital status doesn’t matter. Jesus came to earth, died, and rose again for each and every one of us. He patiently waits for us to respond to Him. After we do, He saturates us with His love. He is the ultimate Valentine!

floating candle

For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 9:38-39).