Lent

The Day Between

For the 9 years previous to this one, I worked in a church. One of the joys of that profession in this season is that you get to be a step ahead; Good Friday service is barely over and we were already breaking out the lilies for Sunday morning. The “second day”, the day between Good Friday and Easter Sunday, was often just a joyful day of preparation for THE third day. And we all know what happens on the third day.

But for the first followers of Jesus, it was the day in which they questioned EVERYTHING. The person they gave up everything to follow was just beaten and killed. What now? Everything they based the entire last 3 years of their lives on now seems pointless.

They gathered together to grieve, not celebrate. They prepared, not for his resurrection, but to anoint their dead teacher the next morning.

The questions, I’m sure, where many. “We watched Him. We saw what He did. We saw He had power and authority, but why didn’t He use it? Why didn’t He make them stop hurting Him? There were many other times where He did the impossible and escaped death. Why not now?”

As I try to comprehend what it must have been like to be a disciple on that day, I guess what I realize is that many times the ways in God works seem really messed up. He works in an upside down and backwards kind of kingdom.

We want healing from an emotional burden and we have to walk back through the pain. We want to be the greatest and He calls us to be the least. Someone hurts us and we’re called to turn the other cheek. We’re to love and pray for our enemies.

I don’t know about you but when I start to look at all of this, it seems kind of backwards… kind of imperfect. Yet even when things seem broken, messed up, and imperfect to us… they may be the very things God uses to bring about the greatest joy.

We wouldn’t have Easter without the cross.

We wouldn’t have redemption without a payment for our sin.

We wouldn’t have joy unless our Savior went through the deepest despair.

I’m sure to those disciples on that Holy Saturday 2000 years ago it seemed as God’s “perfect” plan was anything but. Why would their teacher just give up?

Well… because He loved them with a perfect love.

Because He loves us with a perfect love.

While we may have trouble contemplating what this “second day” was like for those disciples, I don’t think we have too much trouble remembering other “second days” in our lives… times when it doesn’t seem “Easter” would ever come… times when we don’t even have a picture of what it could look like… times when we’re stuck in our grief and anxiety and fear… times of waiting with no light spotted in the vast darkness.

But we are not those first disciples. We can look back and see how Sunday turned out. We can hold out hope. We know what Sunday holds. Easter IS coming and God’s got a PERFECT plan whether we see it as that or not.

Soon… light will break through. Soon … we will see the empty tomb. Soon… joy will be restored. Hold on. Easter is coming.

Devotional, Lent

Angels, Stand Down

Angels are one of those topics that people seem to either be really fascinated by or generally stay away from. These warrior messengers of God may be hard for us to wrap our human minds around, but their presence throughout Scripture is undeniable.

Around Christmas this year a teammate and I ended up in a conversation centered around the angels present in the narratives of Jesus’ life. Many of us know about the angel that announced Jesus’ birth to his mother Mary, explaining how she, a virgin, would conceive the Messiah. Then there’s the angel that appeared to Joseph saying, “It’s okay, go ahead and marry Mary.”

Here’s were a theme of protection by the angels starts. Biology and all of history up to this point in time was working against Joseph believing Mary’s story. According to Old Testament laws, Mary could have even been stoned to death for her presumed act of adultery, no care given to the child inside her. While Joseph was already trying to figure out a way to avoid that, the angel that appeared to him sealed the deal, confirming he should go forward with the wedding.

Angels appeared again on the night Jesus was born, announcing the good news to Shepherds nearby.

A while later, after the wise men arrived, God sent an angel to Joseph, warning him that Jesus’ life was in danger. A messenger appeared again when the coast was clear to return.

Even here, at the beginning of Jesus’ life, angels were on the seen fighting for and protecting God made flesh, Immanuel. This fully God yet fully man being had a great purpose in the world, and He had a whole army of God working to make sure He could carry it out.  Matthew even records a group of angels ministering to Jesus after His temptation by Satan in the wilderness and one appeared again in the garden the night before Jesus’ death.

But a few hours later, as Jesus’ hung on the cross, the presence of this warrior army was not to be found. All throughout Jesus’ life they were on call to provide and protect, but in this moment of greatest need, not one could be found. Matthew’s Gospel gives us a glimpse behind the curtain of the spiritual realm to see why. As one of Jesus’ disciples attempted to use physical earthly war to fight of those seeking to arrest Him, Jesus replied,

“Put your sword back in its place, for all who draw the sword will die by the sword. Do you think that I cannot call on my Father, and he will at once put at my disposal more than twelve legions of angels?” (Matthew 26:52-53)

They actually were there, on call, watching the whole thing happen. During the time of Christ, a roman legion was 6,000 soldiers. If this was the measurement Jesus was referring to, then more than 72,000 angels were there, ready to jump in at any moment, should the Father say the word. But instead of “attack” or “protect” or “get him out of this sticky situation,” it seems the Father was saying,

“Angels, stand down.”

The next verse in Matthew’s narrative reminds us why Jesus didn’t call out to his Daddy to send out the troops:

“But if I did, how would the Scriptures be fulfilled that describe what must happen now.”

72,000 angels ready to save one.

One God-man willing to suffer to save all of us humans.

It’s mindblowing really. Yet, it’s true. We can only imagine the agony of the Father not sending 12 legions and even more to save his dear Son. But that just goes to show how precious we, His sons and daughters, really are to Him.

The angels didn’t show up. The Son was beaten, murdered, and placed in a tomb.

That’s the reality of this day, this “Good” Friday we “celebrate” each year.


Thankfully, though, the angels’ work wasn’t actually done:

“Early on Sunday morning, as the new day was dawning, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went out to visit the tomb. Suddenly there was a great earthquake! For an angel of the Lord came down from heaven, rolled aside the stone, and sat on it. His face shone like lightning, and his clothing was as white as snow. … Then the angel spoke to the women. ‘Don’t be afraid!’ … “I know you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He isn’t here! He is risen from the dead, just as he said would happen.” (Matthew 28:1-6)

While only one showed up on the scene, I bet they all were rejoicing! Forty days later, Jesus took his rightful place on the throne in heaven surrounded by the legions of angels. No longer were these warrior messengers being told to “stand down” and hold back. Instead, they gather, with all the saints, bowing down, praising Him for that moment on the cross, worshiping Him forever.

“I looked again and I heard the voices of thousands and millions of angels around the throne and of the living beings and the elders. And they sang in a mighty chorus: ‘Worthy is the lamb who was slaughtered—to receive power and riches and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and blessing.’ And then I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea. They sang: ‘Blessing and honor and glory and power belong to the one sitting on the throne and to the Lamb forever and ever.’” (Revelation 5:11-13)

Oh, how I long to join that song.
Oh, how I long for that day.

cross

Lent

“Save, now!” – A Palm Sunday Reflection

I wake up and I know I need this week to be different. In these days of global pandemic, of soul searching, of anxious uncertainty, I know need this week, this Holy Week, to be one where I lean in and linger long and listen well.

I hit play before my feet hit the floor and the words begin to settle my soul. The podcaster puts aside her own words this week and speaks the Words of Scripture. Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John are her special “guests” today as they begin to tell us what happened in this week thousands of year ago, this Holy Week.

Certain phrases strike me like they never have before:

The crowd gathered.
A simple phrase, yet one in such contrast to our current reality. No crowds will gather on this day, not physically at least. I picture this scene, the complete opposite of social distancing.  

If anyone asks you, “Why are you doing this?” Tell Him, “The Lord needs it…”
I consider the ways God has called me, often to things that don’t make sense to others. In words and actions they ask, “Why are you doing this?” and in reality I, like these disciples untying the donkey, don’t really know. The full picture isn’t clear yet, but this much I do know: the Lord asked; I will obey. The Lord needs it.

He went to the temple, and he looked around at everything.
He sees. Oh, he sees. He sees all the thing that break our heart, they break his as well. We can imagine what he saw that day in the temple… his response to come in the days to follow. In this day, he seems to avoid action, but really, he’s taking it all in and as he does, he weeps.

“If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace?!?”
Heartbroken, longing to give his people peace, yet seeing all the ways they turn the other way. Downcast heart, I can hear him asking these words to me as well as I flirt with the things that promise peace and give only the opposite.

Do not be afraid, Your king is coming.
Oh, friends, the King is on the way! He is not absent. He is not turning his face away. He came on that first Palm Sunday and he will come again in ALL his glory and there won’t be enough palm branches to wave or coats to lay down to honor him enough.

“If they keep quiet, the stones will cry out.”
The Pharisees, they tried to stop the praise, tried to stop the crowds and the disciples from bringing honor to their King. But when a King comes, one worthy of all honor, glory, and power, the praise can’t be stopped. May I live my life in such a way that I make the stones keep quiet. And so we say, 

Hosanna!
A cry of honor and celebration. Literally, it means “Save, now!”  Yes, this is the collective cry of our hearts this day. Save us! Save us now! Save us as the only One who can. From sin. From disease. From addition. From pride. From broken relationships. From anxiety. From all this and more. Save! Now! Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord. 

Hosanna in the Highest! 

palm sunday

Bekah's Heart, Just Write

Fasting from Isolation in the Midst of Pandemic

Lent. It’s a season known for fasting. As I journey though a devotion book suggesting a new fast for each day, the suggested fasts have ranged from “collecting praise” to an actual physical meal. I had to laugh when I came across the most recent suggestion. “Today, fast from isolation.”

In a current world climate where “social distancing” is the buzzword in efforts to slow down the spread of a pandemic and many are being told to stay home or to isolate in their offices at work, I found it ironic that God, through my devotion, was encouraging me to fast from isolation today.

The reality is that with or without COVID-19, WE NEED EACH OTHER!

We can’t do this life alone and while we my physically need to maintain some distance for a while, I think we all should make it a goal to “fast” from isolation today and for all the days and weeks ahead.

As a coworker reminded me yesterday “Don’t go it alone!”

So what’s that practically look like? How do we fast from the very thing our employers, health departments, and friends are encouraging us to add to our lives? In a phrase, “be creative!”

1. Text, call, or FaceTime a friend. Grieve together, celebrate together, process this crazy life together. It may not happen in the normal classroom/office space or in a crowded arena watching a game, but you can still do life together from a distance.

2. Find ways to support each other. If a friend is sick, drop off some supplies on their doorstep with a little note. If you know a nurse or other professional who is caring for those directly impacted by this disease, simply ask them how they’re doing and maybe get them a gift card to a restaurant near their work or home so they don’t have to worry about cooking after extra long days.

3. Snail mail! If you are one who has to be home for a long time, maybe write some notes. Wash your hands well and then get to writing. (Maybe spray a little Lysol on it before dropping it in the mailbox.) 🙂

4. Offer people patience. This is an overwhelming, anxious time for many sorting through the impact pandemic has on lives. Whether your decisions impact hundreds or the decisions of others greatly impact you and your family, offer compassion and grace towards each other. We’ll get through this but we can’t see each other as the enemy.

5. Worship. Even if your church closes or you need to avoid social gatherings, don’t forget to find moments of worship. This is a way we can fast from isolation by connecting with the God who is always with us. Also, worship connects us relationally with others who join in worshipping the God who is still overall and in all, the God who remains faithful. We may not be in the same room but can join in the same spirit of worship that unites and connects us.

6. Enjoy and don’t take for granted what limited social interaction you may have. If you’re “stuck” at home with your family, break out the games. Make Spring 2020 the season you look back on as one of your favorite family times. If you get to interact with others at work, enjoy that time and use it to build each other up. When you’re in the grocery store, be kind to others who are also just trying to find a couple rolls of toilet paper.

7. Make use of technology. Start up a phone app game with a friend that lives across the country. Video chat with people who can’t have visitors right now. Watch a movie “together” or read a book and then talk about it.

8. Make plans for when this all settles down and you can get together again. Use this time apart to make grand plans for face-to-face connection when it’s possible.

Well, there are a few ideas. What else would you add? How are you going to join me in fasting from isolation even in the midst of pandemic? How are you going to show love and compassion perhaps in ways that are different than you’re used to? How can COVID-19 push us toward expanding our repertoire for how we connect and care for each other? Get creative today!

Books, Just Write, Mental Health, What I'm Reading Wednesday

Happiness isn’t the goal.

“Happy” ≠ “healthy”. They are not synonyms. But I think we act like they are.

I’ve been trying to use my lunch break to enjoy some reading and recently just finished a book called “Why Emotions Matter”. The middle section of the book spends six chapters looking at each of the six most basic emotions we all experience. Each chapter focuses in on the value of one emotion, where we see it talked about in scripture, when that emotion can become an problem, and how to navigate each emotion with wisdom. While looking at these things in regards to shame or fear or sadness was helpful, when I got to “happiness” I started to realize how little I actually know about how emotions work.

We go through a day or a week and someone asks us “How are you?”. Generally speaking, if the primary emotion we’ve been experiencing lately is something along the lines of happiness, we respond that we are good. However, if any other emotion has raised to the top, our response indicates that we are not good. (Well, at least if we’re not just acting “fine” even if we’re not… but that’s an entirely different blog post.)

We chase happiness as the ultimate defining factor of life being “good” or even “healthy”. In reality, happiness is just another emotion that CAN indicate things are going well in our lives, but happiness can go wrong too. Each emotion has its place where it adds value to our lives AND has potential to become a problem in our lives. I think I see this easier in emotions like anger or fear or sadness, but I’ve never considered this with happiness.

The authors of the book described well the main challenge happiness can bring:

“Happiness is wonderful, but it’s also tricky. We want happiness to last, to be the default, all-the-time feeling in our bodies, even though that simply isn’t possible. It’s not how we’re made. Yet like addicts we chase the high, never permanently satisfied. We’re also pretty terrible at knowing what makes us happy. Again and again we fall into advertising traps or cultural narratives that tell us stories about what will make us happy, yet every time we end up hungry for more.”

Later on it in the chapter they remind the readers that happiness is just one of many emotions, one “voice in our body’s communication system” and that “all of our emotions matter”.

Suddenly it all made sense. Happiness doesn’t automatically mean “good” and something like shame or sadness or fear or even jealousy aren’t inherently “bad”. I can be sad and yet deal with that in a healthy way while wrongly chasing happiness as the ultimate goal.

I saw this play out in my life over the last few weeks. January into February really provided space to find some healthy rhythms for my life. In addition to physical health, I was finding an emotional and mental health better than I had experienced in years. So I got a little frustrated when that seemed to all suddenly change a few weekends ago.

Grief has a way of sneaking up on you and suddenly my generally happy day-to-day life was overwhelmed by sadness for a while. As the one year anniversary of a certain event approached, I began to grieve so many things, loss of dreams, loss or changes in relationships, a desire for some areas of my life to be different. As God would have it, I happened to be reading this chapter on happiness RIGHT in the middle of that time. What a helpful reminder that just because “happy” wasn’t my primary emotion didn’t mean my whole life was suddenly bad or unhealthy.

While that weekend brought grief and sadness and opportunities for perfectionism to take my heart captive, looking back I actually responded in good, healthy ways.

I processed my grief and sadness instead of ignoring it, letting it show me where some healing is still needed in my life.
I celebrated the realization that perfection no longer has the same hold on me that it once did.
I rested when my body signaled its need for that.
I did some work to figure out why fear was popping up in my life more than it was actually helpful.
I reached out to friends and chose not to be alone even when I felt alone.
I enjoyed the few happy moments that did come along even if they were shorter or less prevalent than they’ve been in recent days.

While many of those emotions are less enjoyable than happiness, life was (and is) still really good. One challenging aspect in all of this is that after my thyroid surgery and in the 18 month process of finding the right amount of medicine my body needed, often my emotions or experiences did indicate something was really unhealthy and out of balance in my life. Sadness could so quickly lead to depression. Increasing fear often indicated that worry that anxiety was around the corner once again. Fatigue or muscle pain could be a signal that I had too much or too little medicine. These hyper-sensitive signals trained my brain to think any time some of these things popped up it was bad… because for an extended period of time that was true.

I’m thankful for a season now of re-training my brain… of enjoying a happy moment without fear of when it may end… of letting shame draw me into exploration of where my identity feels threatened… of sitting in my sadness realizing some things in this sin-stained life are just hard and worth grieving… of truly celebrating victories and growth and health in grace without over-focusing on areas I still need to grow.

All of this and more is helping me re-define the true, abundant life that Jesus promised in John 10:10, not necessarily a life filled with only happiness, but rather a life of health and joy and peace despite what hard things may be happening around us or difficult feelings rising up in us.

happy

Just Write

STRESS! LESS!

I work in Higher Ed. In that space, the concept of stress is pretty much daily conversation.

Academic stress
Athletic stress
Family situations causing stress
Roommate conflict stress
Health issues adding to or resulting from stress
And more.

Students talk about (or at least experience) stress often. So do all human beings.

A few weeks ago a student asked me to share some of the ways I personally deal with stress. As I answered their question and tried to then help them figure out what might work in their life, it felt like three main categories emerged. The more I thought about these categories the more I realized how helpful they can each be in my life.

First, sometimes I believe we just need to distract ourselves from whatever is going on. We need space away from what’s causing the stress. For me, these kinds of stress-busters include things like reading a book, watching a movie, hanging out with a friend doing something fun, playing a game, going for a walk or run, sometimes even scrolling the web or flat out taking a nap! There are times when I’ve thought so much about a situation or issue, that doing something completely unrelated truly does relieve stress and lets me come back to it later with a clearer mind.

But in many things we do actually have to “come back to it” which leads to the second way I think we all need to cope with the hard things that come our way in life: deal with it. If it’s an emotional struggle, for me, this often looks like journaling, talking with a friend, mentor, or counselor, or finding some way to sort through and process through what’s happening. On the work/homework/housework side of stress, this looks like actually getting something done; completing a project surely relieves stress! In relational issues, this involves having the hard conversations and figuring out how to best move forward. Sometimes we just have to DEAL with it!

At first I thought there were really only those two categories, but there really is a third (and maybe more… this isn’t scientific or anything, just my random thoughts)! A key stress-reducer for me is all about habits. There are things that I can do every day or every week that automatically position me to be in a better place when stress comes along. They set me up for success before I even need to respond. Things like getting enough sleep and eating well help avoid the “hangry” state that certainly doesn’t cope well with additional stress added on. Exercise releases tension from the day even if it wasn’t built up from anything specific. Connecting with friends regularly energizes me along with making sure I have a decent amount of alone time to refuel. Reading God’s Word, prayer, and connecting in a faith community add on-going stability in a way nothing else really can.

When I have all three of these things in motion in my life–regular rhythms, ways to deal with my problems head on, and even some distractions–I find I really do stress less. The challenging things that come along don’t rattle me as much as they might have in another season. I feel hope for getting through tough circumstances because I have options of what might help.

With three broad options on the table, and then specific ideas within each category, I can figure out a little bit better what I need in any given moment. Do I need to dig in and deal with this problem or is a night “off” just doing something fun what will refresh my body and soul? Have I been shifting to distraction and ignoring the problem, only adding stress to my life? Is the situation in front of me not really a huge deal, but my reaction to it seems to indicate I’ve let the life-giving habits slip lately? Have I stopped doing the things that normally put me in a better space to manage the everyday inconveniences?

The longer I live the more I realize, there will always be something else hard around the corner in life. This isn’t something I need to fear or despair… it’s just reality in the broken world in which we live. But God has also given us many tools, experiences, and resources to deal with the hard things that come our ways. My challenge for you this week: make a list! What are the things you like to do to handle stress in your life? If you want, perhaps use these three categories to help you brainstorm. What do you like to do to just “check out”? How do you best process and deal with the hard things in life without ignoring them? What are the ongoing joys and rhythms in your life that steady you through the ups and downs?

Comment below and share some of YOUR favorite stress busters!

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Just Write

Courage is Not A Suggestion

Courage is an interesting word and an even more interesting concept. What does it mean to have courage or to be courageous? How does that word play into the concepts of both encouragement or discouragement?

The dictionary defines it as:

the quality of mind or spirit that enables a person to face difficulty, danger, pain, etc., without fear; bravery.

I do know this… life takes courage. For some, it takes courage simply to get out of bed each morning. I see the courage it takes for my friends to parent their children. It takes courage to take risks in our jobs, ministry, and life. It takes courage to speak truth with love.

Life takes courage. And it seems God agrees. Joshua 1:9 has been a verse that keeps popping up everywhere I turn in the last year. As this book begins, God is talking to a man named Joshua before he took over the overwhelming task of leading thousand and thousands of God’s people:

“Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.”

“Courage” comes from the original words for “heart” and “age”. And perhaps as we grow older and age, courage does become a slight bit easier; we grow in our ability to stare right at the toughest parts of life and defiantly take one more step when everything about it says “I can’t”.  Yet, here was Joshua at an estimated 96 years old needing God’s reminder: there’s no need for fear, there’s no need to let things deprive your heart of confidence. I, the God of the Universe will be with you every step of the way. 

God called attention to the fact that courage for Joshua was not simply a suggestion, it was a command. And I think we all need a little reminder from time to time and perhaps that’s exactly what it means to encourage someone… to remind them… courage is in them and it’s not just a suggestion; it’s necessary.

So take courage my friend, not because you have your life together or know exactly what the next step is. Rather face into whatever lies ahead with confidence and strength knowing you never walk alone!

courage