He is Going Before You

“Is Daddy going to be ok?”

At 10:30 p.m. on December 23, one of my children was brave enough to utter the burning question that I didn’t have the courage to ask. I was scrambling to get out of our house and follow the ambulance to the emergency room. Only minutes earlier, my healthy, strong, full-of-life husband had suffered a stroke. I had no idea what the next hours and days would hold. But the question demanded an answer.

How does a parent offer hope and comfort when the reality of circumstance is a dangerously wild animal—unpredictable and threatening to destroy more than we could bear to imagine?

We plan and read parenting articles and labor over decisions that we think will define our kids’ lives, but the truest tests of parenting (and of life) arrive unannounced and unanticipated. Pop quizzes turn out to be final exams, revealing the truest truths about what we believe.

Every fiber of my momma-being wanted to reassure my children that everything would be ok. That they had nothing to worry about. I wanted that same reassurance for myself. But somehow, we all would have known that I was offering a shiny pink band-aid to cover the gaping wound inflicted by the children in the Garden.

“I don’t know,” I responded. “But we’ll pray that he’ll be ok, and no matter what happens, the Lord loves us and will provide what we need.”

In the days and weeks that followed, my hopeful declaration proved to be true. The Christ we’ve read about and talked about and sung about is, indeed, alive and with us. He loves us and provides, even in the most unthinkable circumstances, all that we need.

The Gospel of Mark assures that “He has risen…he is going before you to Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you” (16:6-7 ESV).

Eugene Peterson offers a tangible, real-life application:

In every visit, every meeting I attend, every appointment I keep, I have been anticipated. The risen Christ got there ahead of me. The risen Christ is in that room already. What is he doing? What is he saying? What is going on?. . . I have taken to quoting before every visit or meeting: ‘He is risen. . . he is going before you to 1020 Emmorton Road; there you will see him as he told you.’ Later in the day it will be: ‘He is risen . . . he is going before you to St. John’s hospital; there you will see him, as he told you.’ When I arrive and enter the room, I am not so much wondering what I am going to do or say that will be pastoral as I am alert and observant for what the risen Christ has been doing that is making a gospel story out of this life.

The promise is true.

“He is risen. . . he is going to the bonus room before you, where you’ll tell your children goodbye and answer hard, hard questions.”

“He is risen. . . he is going before you to the emergency room.”

“He is risen. . . he is going before you to the neuro-intensive care unit.”

“He is risen. . . he is going into your children’s bedrooms, steeped with fear and tears on behalf of their beloved daddy, before you.”

“He is risen. . . he is going before you to every speech therapy and cardiologist and neurologist appointment.”

“He is risen. . . he is going before you to all the places where you’ll be faced with unknowns—about health and work and life in the future.”

It’s the answer to all the pop quizzes that life will spring upon you and upon me:

He is risen.

And he is going before you.

Tell it out with joyful voice:

He has burst His three days’ prison;

Let the whole wide earth rejoice:

Death is conquered, we are free,

Christ has won the victory.

FullSizeRender-14

New Year’s Eve 2015. May we never forget.

_ _ _

Given all that has transpired in our family through these past months, I haven’t written anything since before Christmas. It was my great honor to write this piece in collaboration with other artists from my church community as part of an Easter devotional series, Out of the Depths. Take a few minutes to listen to Christ is Risen. Words by Cecil F. Alexander. Music by my friend, Stewart Fenters.

Said the Angel, He is Risen (Lyric Video) from Church at Charlotte on Vimeo.



If you liked this post, you might like these:

A Visit from the Tooth Fairy
Every Valley
Fear Not

The Lingering Scent

A few weeks ago, our family read the story of Mary who, in an act of extravagant love, anointed Jesus with expensive perfume. In Behold the King of Glory, Russ Ramsey writes, “As the scent electrified the senses of everyone present, Jesus called it beautiful. Creation testified to a Maker who delighted in beauty for beauty’s sake… Jesus said to Mary’s critics, ‘She has given me this gift because she is preparing me for my burial, and history will never forget her act of beauty.’”

Our reading left me wondering. What would Mary’s beautiful act look like in our current culture?

Within days, I was given an answer.

* * *

Later that week, we had friends visiting from out of town. They were only here for a few days, and most of that time they spent exploring and enjoying the city. At the end of their trip, we were grateful to have them join us for church. As we sat side by side, I was conflicted. I love these friends and was delighted to have them step into our community for a few hours. But during the service, I was distracted. As the guitar strummed and the room swelled with song, I scanned the rows of chairs and saw not flesh and blood, but rather story after story. We’ve walked and crawled and danced among this community for twenty-one years. We’ve witnessed devastation and miracle. Heartbreak and redemption. I wanted to lean over to my friend and whisper hints of those holy narratives. For her to catch a glimpse of the beautiful, messy, struggling, transformed saints covered in flesh and cloaked in their Sunday best. I wanted her to hear the significant ways in which God had touched and changed lives. For the Father to reach down from above and kiss her forehead through the stories of his people.

The service ended and the spell was broken. We moved from the worship service to our adult Sunday school class. The leader announced that we’d be taking a break from our current teaching series, as we did once every month, in order for members of the class to come up and share a bit of their journey. The couple who took the seats up front had been acquaintances for years, but we hadn’t known them well. They were engaging and honest as they shared about coming from very different backgrounds, struggling to reconcile creative calling to the realities of limited job opportunities, and growing to find God’s provision in the most unexpected places. Yet in the span of the forty minutes they’d been given to talk, there was one particular moment on which the eternal and the temporal hinged.

The wife had been recounting the arduous journey of adopting from Liberia. After more than a year of preparing for and growing to love two children as their own, they learned that one, their new son, wouldn’t be able to return to America with them. In an honest moment of desperation, the mother cried out to God. A God who she trusted to be both good and sovereign. How could their situation possibly be His best?

While journaling her thoughts during the flight headed to Africa, something in her heart shifted. Or perhaps it was awakened. Just as her heart was gripped with anguish on behalf of her son, the Father of all aches – even more deeply – for every last one of his children. Through her excruciating pain, a young mother had been given a glimpse of the beautiful heart of God.

My friend soaked up the mother’s words, said her goodbyes, and returned to Tennessee to resume life as normal. Only something was churning inside her. The Lord’s faithfulness in the midst of unspeakable pain had purpose. It was a reminder that she needed, and that we all need, to hear. Being true to her beautiful, gracious, creative nature, she began to scratch lyrics to the song sung from the heart of an aching parent. She called upon her friends – world-renowned musicians, whose immense talent is surpassed by their humility and devotion to the Creator. Within days and across hundreds of miles, they had composed and recorded a song. My friend, who had never met the mother, had poured out her talents in response to the glimpse of Glory she’d been given. She quietly offered the final product, a video containing the lyrics, as a gift. It was an extravagant, spontaneous act of worship like few others I’ve experienced.

“Art, like Jesus’ tears and Mary’s nard, spreads in our lives, providing useless beauty for those willing to ponder. Many consider the arts to be the “extra” of our lives, an embellishment that is mere leisure. Yet how many hours of sacrifice go into being able to play a sonata by Chopin? Or a dancer’s flight on stage at the Lincoln Center? What many consider extra, and even wasteful, may come to define our humanity. That evening at Bethany, in that aroma that Mary spilled, there were Leonardo da Vinci’s paintings and Johann Sebastian Bach’s cantatas floating in the air as well (thanks to James Elaine, curator and artist, for this observation). Every act of creativity is, directly or indirectly, an intuitive response to offer to God what He has given to us.” Makoto Fujimura

 

To God Be the Glory.

 



If you liked this post, you might like these:

Houston, We Have a Problem
Hope Restored
Bookish Christmas Gifts

Books for Lent

The season of Lent begins this Wednesday, February 18th.

If you’re looking for resources for personal reflection or family devotion, I thought I’d share what we’ll be reading:

91yVulBsEWL._SL1500_-194x300

Behold the King of Glory by Russ Ramsey

This book’s companion Advent devotional, Behold the Lamb of God, has become a staple in our home. Ramsey’s writing is rich with imagery and steeped in sound theology. He invites, challenges, reveals and inspires – all while drawing us more deeply into the Greatest of Stories. For more about the heart behind and content found in Behold the King of Glory, you can read Ramsey’s recent interview with Barnabas Piper.

wordinthewilderness

The Word in the Wilderness: A Poem a Day for Lent and Easter by Malcolm Guite

Last year during Lent, our family read through the corresponding sonnets from Malcolm Guite’s Sounding of the Seasons together. In response, the children illuminated a few of the readings that were particularly meaningful to them. Although a stretch for all of us, Guite’s poetry played a significant part in preparing our hearts for Easter. The Word in the Wilderness includes poetry and meditative prose from Guite as well as a number of poems from classical and contemporary poets.

If you’re looking for something to read with younger children:

65883_w185

Vinegar Boy by Alberta Hawse

Amon

Amon’s Adventure Arnold Ytreeide

Both Amon’s Adventure* and Vinegar Boy transport the reader back in time to experience the culture, social climate, political dynamics leading up to the crucifixion through the eyes of one who was there. Either would be an excellent choice for families with children of all ages.

*Amon’s Adventure is a companion book to the Jotham’s Journey Advent series by Ytreeide.

* * *

Do you have any recommendations for reading during the Lenten season?



If you liked this post, you might like these:

The Only Thing to Fear
Pressing Into the Quiet
A Musing on Divine Love

Hope from an Unlikely Place

wb_pandora

During the season of Lent, we’re reminded of our humanness. From dust we were made, and to dust we will return. We attend church services marked by ash, read devotionals to focus our minds, and abstain from sugar, caffeine, or the internet to redirect appetites. The forty days serves a solemn reminder. This year, the season feels particularly weighty. The stark reality of cancer, deeply fractured relationships, and untimely deaths have seeped deep into the Lenten liturgy of our community.

We begin most mornings with a family devotional, which is followed by the current read-aloud. Today, after naming and praying for a number of folks who are walking through incredibly painful situations, I was given pause. Although brief, it was a “Why does any of it matter anyway?” moment. I couldn’t bring myself to pick up the small cheerful book covered in red and gold cloth. To transition from our world filled with pain to one marked by myths and fairy tales felt foolish. The moment passed. The show must go on. There are tasks to be completed and boxes to be checked.

Half-heartedly, I opened the book and began reading where we’d left off. The world had been a paradise full of beautiful children. There was no sickness, nor aging, nor despair. Yet Pandora couldn’t be content with perfection. Her companion, Epimetheus, was no help. The ornate box in their possession, full of mystery and promise, drew Pandora closer. With a slight touch of her hand, the golden knot at the enclosure was untangled. The box flew open. The grave deed of all deeds had been done. For the first time in history, the world knew evil passions and diseases and sorrows of all kinds. Again, I was given pause. This make-believe world was a mirror of our own. It was tarnished. Soiled. Full of despair.

But despair wasn’t the ending. It was the beginning.

Epimetheus sat down sullenly in a corner with his back towards Pandora; while Pandora flung herself upon the floor and rested her head on the fatal abominable box. She was crying bitterly, and sobbing as if her heart would break. Suddenly there was a gentle tap on the inside of the lid.

Hope had been born from the place of deep darkness.

“As long as you need me,” said Hope, with her pleasant smile, – “and that will be as long as you live in the world, – I promise never to desert you. There may come times and seasons, now and then, when you will think that I have utterly vanished. But again, and again, and again, when perhaps you last dream of it, you shall see the glimmer of my wings on the ceiling of your cottage. Yes, my dear children, I know something very good and beautiful that is to be given you hereafter… Trust in my promise, for it is true.”

And so they did; and not only they, but so has everybody trusted Hope, that has since been alive. And to tell you the truth, I cannot help being glad – (though to be sure, it was an uncommonly naughty thing for her to do) – but I cannot help being glad that our foolish Pandora peeped into the box. No doubt – not doubt – the Troubles are still flying about the world, and have increased in multitude, rather than lessened, and are a very ugly set of imps, and carry most venomous stings in their tails. I have felt them already, and expect to feel them more, as I grow older. But then that lovely and lightsome little figure of Hope! What in the world could we do without her? Hope spiritualises the earth; Hope makes it always new; and, even in the earth’s best and brightest aspect, Hope shows it to be only the shadow of an infinite bliss hereafter! —Nathaniel Hawthorne (A Wonder-Book for Girls and Boys)

Perhaps the days we feel least like reading stories of knights and dragons, of giant wooden horses and sea serpents, and of mythical gilded boxes filled with the problems of the world – are the very days that we need to catch a glimpse of the shadow of Hope. In the beginning, Hope spoke while hovering over darkness. In the end, it will sound like rushing waters and blaring trumpets. But while we’re waiting, Hope’s whisper can be heard in the most unexpected of places – like the funerals of saints and the flutter of fairy wings.

– – –

This piece was originally published at The Story Warren.



If you liked this post, you might like these:

An Unfinished Work
Moving Forward
The Courage to Keep Going

Peter’s Dilemma

“Having arrested Him, they led Him and brought Him into the high priest’s house.  But Peter followed at a distance.  Now when they had kindled a fire in the midst of the courtyard and sat down together, Peter sat among them.  And a certain servant girl, seeing him as he sat by the fire, looked intently and said, ‘This man was also with Him.’

But he denied Him, saying, ‘Woman, I do not know Him.’

And after a little while another saw him and said, ‘You also are of them.’ But Peter said, ‘Man, I am not!’  Then after about an hour had passed, another confidently affirmed, saying, ‘Surely this fellow also was with Him, for he is a Galilean.’ But Peter said, ‘Man, I do not know what you are saying!’

Immediately, while he was still speaking, the rooster crowed.  And the Lord turned and looked at Peter. Then Peter remembered the word of the Lord, how He had said to him, ‘Before the rooster crows, you will deny Me three times.’  So Peter went out and wept bitterly.”  Luke 22:54-62

“And the Lord turned and looked at Peter.”  The image sends chills up my spine.  I can only imagine what it felt like to Peter.  He loved this teacher, the One for whom he had left his peaceful life as a fisherman.  Only hours earlier, he had boldly sliced off the ear of a Roman soldier – an act that easily could have cost him his life.  In understandable fear, he could have fled the scene when Jesus was taken to the high priest’s home.  But he didn’t. Peter stayed close by.  He wanted to be near the One he loved.  The One he served.  The One who had walked on water, healed the lame, and caused the blind to see.  Peter had seen the miracles with his own eyes.  Having briefly walked on water, he had first-hand knowledge of the miraculous power of the Son of Man.

So what went wrong?  Step back in time, before the written written word, before Rembrandt’s creation, back to the scene that prophetic night.  Yes, Peter was close, but he was looming in the shadows.  He was maintaining a low profile and hoping for the best.  But when the light of the truth exposed him, he could hide no more.  His response was one of shame.  It was the opposite of hope.  His default reaction was not willful or malicious.  It was one of self-preservation.

I know that feeling all too well.  Sincere resolve.  Good intentions.  A genuine desire to do what is right.  Yet when the moment of testing unexpectedly arrives, I often default to self preservation as well.  For Peter, his denial was verbal.  For me, it can be much more subtle.

Every time I respond out of fear, I deny my identity as an heir to the Kingdom.

Each attempt to control circumstance, I forfeit my inheritance of peace.

My loyalties are divided between my Savior and myself.

Rather than hurt, anger, or disappointment, I can’t help but to think that Jesus was feeling compassion for Peter.  He didn’t turn his back, rather, He turned toward Peter. This is what He does.  This is who He is.  Jesus is never taken by surprise.  He is not limited by the dimension of time.   In the blink of an eye, Jesus could see Peter in his entirety.  He knew Peter not only as weak and fearful, but also as loyal and loving. This was the same Peter who had spoken boldly on His behalf.   He was the man upon whom the Church would be built.  He would be the first to enter the empty tomb.  And Peter, this timid man full of fear and shame, would one day die a treacherous martyr’s death on his own cross.  As Jesus turned to gaze upon His friend, perhaps He was also full of hope.  He knew that there was more to Peter than Peter ever could.

Yes, I’m comforted by the story of Peter’s denial.  It’s the story of us all.  His mutiny came as no surprise to Jesus, nor does mine.  From the creation of time, He knew that this dark event would occur.  It was simply the outer manifestation of the inner battle of all men.

We’re divided, fickle creatures.
We’re limited.
We’re selfish.
We’re self-preserving.
We’re in need of a Savior.

So as we dart about cutting off ears, speaking resolutely of our steadfast faith, and proclaiming dedication, there is the inevitable other side to the well-intentioned coin.  Upon occasion, we’ll  find ourselves lurking in the shadows.  Yet we have no reason to fear.  The work has been done.  We have been forgiven.  He sees us in our entirety and cannot be taken by surprise.  We can move from the darkness into the light with confidence.  Not in ourselves, yet in the One who will come again to banish shame, fear, and every other form of darkness into the eternal abyss.

~~~~~~~~~~~

Hosanna by Andrew Peterson

I am tangled up in contradiction.
I am strangled by my own two hands.
I am hunted by the hounds of addiction.
Hosanna!

I have lied to everyone who trusts me.
I have tried to fall when I could stand.
I have only loved the ones who loves me.
Hosanna!

O Hosanna!
See the long awaited king come to set his people free. We cry
O Hosanna!
Come and tear the temple down.
Raise it up on holy ground.
Hosanna!

I have struggled to remove this raiment, tried to hide every shimmering strand.
I contend with these ghosts and these hosts of bright angels.
Hosanna!

I have cursed the man that you have made me,
as I have nursed the beast that bays for my blood.
Oh, I have run from the one who would save me.
Save me, Hosanna!

O Hosanna!
See the long awaited king, come to set his people free. We cry
O Hosanna!
Come and tear the temple down.
Raise it up on holy ground.
Hosanna!

We cry for blood, and we take your life. Hosanna!
We cry for blood, and we take your life.
It is blood, it is life that you have given.

You have crushed beneath your heel the vile serpent.
You have carried to the grave the black stain.
You have torn apart the temple’s holy curtain.
You have beaten Death at Death’s own game. Hosanna!

O Hosanna!
Hail the long awaited king, come to set his people free. We cry
O Hosanna!
Won’t you tear this temple down, raise it up on holy ground.

O Hosanna!
I will lift my voice and sing: you have come and washed me clean.
Hosanna.

 



If you liked this post, you might like these:

A Letter to My Church
The Lanyard
Fear Not

Curiosity for Lent

Having grown up in a small town in the mountains of Tennessee, my worldview was largely shaped by the individual faces in our small community.  I had one friend who was Jewish.  One was Catholic.  One who wasn’t aloud to wear shorts because they were too revealing. Another who actually took her Bible to church.  These differences never caused division – they simply provided the adjectives with which each family was described.

Friends’ distinctive religious celebrations brought a welcome diversity into a fairly homogenous community.  To attend a bat mitzvah in our little town felt somewhat cosmopolitan.   The cross of ashes worn on the forehead of a few classmates evoked a subtle sense of mystery.  We respected the differences of our faiths.  However, to cross over the line between respecting and learning from one another felt too bold and uncertain.

As a young adult, my experience of God shifted from one of inherited religion to one of chosen relationship.  Gradually, I began to suspect that I might have something to learn from the different ways in which others encountered, experienced, and worshiped God. I wanted His life, His teachings, and His ultimate death and resurrection to be more than an intellectual assent or a religious practice. I was not longer content to just know about Him.  I wanted to know Him.

An attempt to move beyond wanting toward knowing came shortly after I graduated from college.  Every Wednesday during Lent, I slipped out of my office at the bank and walked down the street to attend a church service.  The choice in church was not deliberate or intentional – it’s location and schedule simply made attendance relatively easy.  Each sermon focused on one of the people involved in the Passion of Jesus. Preparing for Christmas had been an expected part of my annual tradition. Preparing for Easter had not.  Intentionally altering my routine, in order to focus my heart, changed my experience of the season.  It changed me.

As we consider the world in which Jesus walked, he encountered primarily two kinds of people.  Those who held so tightly to their systems of religion and life that they missed Him, and those who were curious enough to follow.  As we embark on the season of Lent, we all bring our childhood history, our adult experiences, our preconceptions, and our annual rituals (or lack thereof) along with us.  Although these bring a sense of tradition and security, I wonder what it would look like if we allowed ourselves to become curious…

~ Curious about how others commemorate the next 40 days

~ Curious about the “whys” behind the Lenten traditions practiced by others

~ Curious enough, perhaps, to slip into a service at a different church, read a new book, or alter our routine in some way to make more room in our hearts for the season ahead.   And ultimately, to make more room in our hearts for the One who came to rescue us from ourselves.

I want to see Him with fresh eyes.  

I didn’t grow up in, nor do we currently attend, a liturgical church which formally celebrates the season of Lent.  However, I look forward to the next four weeks with great anticipation. We’ll be reading as a family, I’ll be reading on my own, and we plan to attend Vespers at a local Abbey.  Our choices will most likely differ from yours, yet the hope is that we all approach this season not with a sense of duty or habit, but with a renewed sense of wonder and curiosity.

~~~~~~~~~~

A few suggestions if you’re looking for books:

If you have children, or enjoy reading historical fiction, I’d highly recommend reading Arnold Ytreeide’s book, Amon’s Adventure. Written by the author of the Advent series Jotham’s Journey, each of the 28 chapters is a great read-aloud which provides fodder for rich conversation and reflection.  It paints a vibrant picture of the political, social, and religious climate in which Jesus lived.  Amon’s Adventure illuminates the complexity and confusion Jesus’ ministry brought to those who loved and were trying to obey Yahweh.  Jesus wasn’t what they were expecting. That same tension exists to some level for all of us today.



This year, I have discovered and soaked myself in the writings of Walter Wangerin, Jr.  I referenced the book Miz Lil and the Chronicles of Grace in my “Top 10 List” for 2011, and I’ve been lining up his books in my reading queue ever since.


Life of the Beloved by Henri Nouwen has become one of those staple books in our library to which I return again and again.


I’d love to hear from anyone who is willing to share books, resources, or traditions that have been meaningful to you during this Lenten season.  You’ll be an encouragement to others. Perhaps you’ll peak their curiosity.  Blessings to you and yours.



If you liked this post, you might like these:

The Other Side of the Stone
Election Day
Join Us