Good, Gut-wrenching, Glorious Friday

Most historians believe that around three hundred years before the birth of Jesus Christ, in Isaiah 53, it was prophesied…

Who has believed our message?
    To whom has the Lord revealed his powerful arm?
My servant grew up in the Lord’s presence like a tender green shoot,
    like a root in dry ground.
There was nothing beautiful or majestic about his appearance,
    nothing to attract us to him.
He was despised and rejected—
    a man of sorrows, acquainted with deepest grief.
We turned our backs on him and looked the other way.
    He was despised, and we did not care.

Yet it was our weaknesses he carried;
    it was our sorrows that weighed him down.
And we thought his troubles were a punishment from God,
    a punishment for his own sins!
But he was pierced for OUR rebellion,
   crushed for OUR sins.
He was beaten so WE (YOU and I) could be whole.
   He was whipped so WE could be healed.
ALL OF US, like sheep, have strayed away.
    We have left God’s paths to follow our own.
Yet the Lord laid on him
    the sins of us all.

He was oppressed and treated harshly,
    yet he never said a word.
He was led like a lamb to the slaughter.
    And as a sheep is silent before the shearers,
    he did not open his mouth.
Unjustly condemned,
    he was led away.
No one cared that he died without descendants,
    that his life was cut short in midstream.[c
But he was struck down
    for the rebellion of my people.
He had done no wrong
    and had never deceived anyone.
But he was buried like a criminal;
    he was put in a rich man’s grave.

10 But it was the Lord’s good plan to crush him
    and cause him grief.
Yet when his life is made an offering for sin,
    he will have many descendants.
He will enjoy a long life,
    and the Lord’s good plan will prosper in his hands.
11 When he sees all that is accomplished by his anguish,
    he will be satisfied.
And because of his experience,
    my righteous servant will make it possible
for many to be counted righteous,
   for he will bear ALL their sins.
12 I will give him the honors of a victorious soldier,
    because he exposed himself to death.
He was counted among the rebels.
    He bore the sins of many and interceded for rebels.

If you read Matthew 27, Mark 15, Luke 23, and John 19, you see that every single detail of the prophesy was fulfilled in Jesus’ crucifixion. His death was horrible, and painful, and exposing. Although pictures of the crucifixion always have him wearing a loincloth, the Bible says that he was stripped of his clothes and Roman tradition was to crucify criminals naked. So, we know that our savior, the one who literally gave up everything, including his life; was beaten, abused, and died a brutal death, completely exposed and broken. That is what today is all about…

He did it all so that when we are experiencing brokenness, feeling exposed, abused, in pain, ashamed, sick, stuck, hopeless, in bondage, or anything other than complete wholeness and freedom; we can leave it ALL at the cross with him. Because on the third day… he rose from the dead, insuring that you and I do not have to carry ANY of the things that hurt or weigh us down in this life, but live eternally with him.

This Holy Week has been a beautiful, brutal reminder of the significance of this day and what’s to come on Sunday.

The entire world is unstable, in every possible way. I am reeling from the end of my marriage. I have spent the majority of this Holy Week alone in silence, with the exception of the hours I’ve spent face down on the floor crying out to God. When I couldn’t think of anything else to yell at talk to God about, I have given thanks for every single thing I can think of. In all the thanksgiving, I remembered that I was not only healed of cancer eleven years ago, but I was also completely healed of all the side effects of radiation that I was told would be life-long. In the process of healing me of cancer, God exposed layers and layers of wounds that were keeping me from living fully in all of His promises, poured out the blood of Jesus on them, and healed my heart and soul. He has healed relationships that had little hope of restoration. He has healed pieces of my children that doctors said we needed to learn to live with. He has NEVER failed to provide for all of my needs. He has given me pure gold in my tribe of people. He equipped me with gifts, and talents, and intuition that have opened doors I could have never opened on my own. He allowed me to see a very large portion of this Earth before world travel became a thing of the past. And, two months away from turning fifty, I still have no gray hair. SO MUCH to be thankful for!

Also, I’ve given a lot of thanks this week for the fact that God has carried me through the most tumultuous storms of my life. In the moments where it was hard to breathe or stand on my own two feet, His love, grace, and strength quite literally carried me through.

As I wait for new life to be breathed into situations that feel a little hopeless and scary, I know that I know that I know that God will be faithful. He is the same yesterday, today, and forever. What He has done in the past, He will do again. He heals. He sets captives free. He shines light in the darkness. He exposes evil and eradicates it. He restores. He redeems. He is love. He is grace. He is constant.

So hold on, let go, trust God. We’re all in this broken, painful Good Friday world together.

Sunday is coming.

a season of grace

Growing up in south Louisiana is a privilege.  I’ve been around the world and I’ve experienced no culture, food, or people, quite like those of my home.  In south Louisiana Mardi Gras is a season.  Much like Black Friday and tree sales initiating the Christmas season, I grew up with king cakes, parades, and Mardi Gras balls initiating the Lenten season.

As a little girl I wanted so badly to be Catholic.  I was just about the only kid in elementary school who didn’t ‘get to’ go to catechism.  We were (still are) non-denominational Christians and listening to the other kids plan out and talk about their catechism carpools and the mean nuns left me feeling like a red-headed step-child  (no offense to my ginger friends).  I wanted my own rosary and I wanted to see my friends get hit on the back of their hands with a ruler by a nun when they talked during prayer.  king-cake

I eventually got over the desire to be Catholic and decided to just embrace the parts of Catholicism that I found enjoyable and comforting.  Even so, not living in Louisiana for more than twenty years means that I’ve missed out on being immersed in the season.  For many years I whined about missing the parades and having to make my own kingcakes.  And then, a few years ago, I realized that I was not only missing all the fun aspects of the Mardi Gras season. I was missing the reverent aspects of the Lenten season as well.  Although I had been one of the few non-Catholic kids in school, just living in Baton Rouge meant that I didn’t have meat in the cafeteria on Fridays and that I didn’t have school at all the week of Mardi Gras and Ash Wednesday.  And, even though my Mom would explain to me every year from the time I was six that I “didn’t have to”, I still gave up something every year for Lent.  I had to have something to add to the playground conversations and to be honest, I liked the discipline of the giving up.  I still do. I fast from various things at various times throughout the year and I am always blown away at the really BIG WAYS that God shows up when I’m giving something up and replacing that something with Him.

A few years ago, during the Lenten season, something amazing happened.  While I was in Lake Charles, Louisiana caring for my grandmother, my dear hubby was home in Virginia studying all things Ressurectionish.  I returned home to find a mezuzah attached to the frame of our front door and a book laying on the kitchen counter telling how to prepare the Passover Seder.  My former Catholic, very Italian husband, got in touch with his Jewish roots.  He found a desire to honor the beauty of Christ’ life, death, and resurrection in physical, tangible ways.

As dear hubby and I gave homage to all things Christ-centered, we talked to our children about the Lenten season and the crucifixion and the resurrection.  We reminded them over and over that all of it was for grace.  That Christ did not just come to earth and live as a man and die FOR us, but AS us.  We told them that he felt pain and misery and abuse so that we could let go of those things when they happen to us.  We told them that he was tortured and beaten for every wrong thing that any of us would ever do.  We told them that he conquered death so that all of those wrongs would not have the power to dictate how we live our lives.  We told them that he died for our freedom.  He died for our redemption.  He died because he loves us.  He died for grace.

Romans 8:38-39 And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord.

We’ve told our children these things throughout their lives, but grace and love and freedom are so much bigger than what can be told. They must be shown.

Yes, my children know what this season is about. But the same year that my husband found his Jewish roots, I found myself burdened. I want my kids to experience Christ, not just know about him. I desire more than anything for grace and freedom to be part of their identities, not just part of their knowledge base.  I knew all about Jesus when I was a teenager, but I was clueless when it came to grace and freedom and unconditional love.  Unfortunately, my lack of understanding led me to believe that choices I made could never be forgiven. My lack of experience with the realness of Christ’ sacrifice led to years of running and self-destruction.

I want more for my children. God, let them know!  Let them know how BIG your love is.  Let them know how BIG your grace is. Let them walk in freedom every day of their lives. Give them total understanding that NOTHING can separate them from your love. Give me wisdom in showing them these things. Amen.

John 15:13 There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.

When I was giving up something for Lent as a child I appreciate that my Mom made it clear that I had free will and that I did not have to.  But I really wish she had taken the time to teach me what Lent was about.  I wish I had known that the “giving up” was in honor of what Christ gave up for us.  I really wish that I had had some tangible symbolic activity that I could connect to scripture as a reminder that freedom and love and grace are mine for the taking.  But I didn’t.  And now… I have a chance to redeem my story.  I have four (not-so) little people in my care that I CAN provide with a tangible symbolic activity that can be tied to scripture.  In my endeavor to find that activity, I came across this blogpost by Ann Voskamp.  Read it.  Be inspired.  repentence box

On New Year’s Eve 2012, we had a little party at our house.  Instead of having people sit around and discuss or write down their hopes, dreams, aspirations, and resolutions for 2013, I gave everyone a couple of index cards and a pen at 11:30pm.  I asked everyone to go find a quiet spot and write down ALL of the things that they would like to leave behind in 2012.  And then… just before midnight, we put our cards, one-by one, in the fireplace and watched them burn.

For the last few years, as an attempt to SHOW what Holy Week is all about, I build a repentance box. Our family (and friends who stop by during the week) write out our bad choices, our pains, every ounce of unforgiveness. All the junk Christ carried to the grave, we place it in the box and let it go.  And just before midnight, on the Saturday before Resurrection Sunday, we will turn it all to ash.

Happy Season of Grace!

Go build your box. 😀