STEPS

Reading Time: 3 minutes

{For Helen}

Psalm 37 [David]

23 

The Lord makes firm the steps

    of the one who delights in him;

24 

though he may stumble, he will not fall,

    for the Lord upholds him with his hand.

I distinctly remember watching both of my children as they first learned to walk.

One day, your child is standing still, she gets that sparkle in her eyes…and then she steps. You hold your breath, not wanting to shout for joy, as you don’t want to startle her. Will she do it again? You can barely contain yourself as you wait. You watch as she pauses and thinks for a moment, her face suddenly serious. Then, with great effort, she picks up the other foot and steps. Her arms are splayed outward as she wobbles uncertainly, and inevitably, she plops down. Startled and frustrated, she cries inconsolably. You reach out, saying, “Ssshhhh, come on, let’s try again” and help her up, this time, holding her chubby little fists in your hands. You step with your left foot, and she matches you; you step with your right foot, and she matches you.

God does not promise that we won’t stumble or fall down; in fact, the verse above guarantees that we will indeed do so. God does not say, “I’m going to make sure you feel loved and fulfilled every day of your life. I’m going to prevent this storm from flooding your home. I’m going to prevent this disease from taking over your body. I’m going to keep your loved one from dying.”

What God does say is, “I’m going to comfort you on the days you hate your life. I’m going to send workers from a church to help you fix your flood-ravaged home. I’m going to clutch your hand when this disease takes over your body. I’m going to embrace you when your loved one dies. Believe Me, all of those things and worse will come to pass, but you will feel My love, both in prayer, and through the concern of others. Remember this, most of all: I watched Jesus stumble down that dusty road dragging a cross on his ravaged back. I didn’t prevent My Own Son from dying, so I know what suffering is all about. Now, here we go. I have your hands clasped in Mine; now move your left foot…now your right…that’s it. Just match My steps.”

Proverbs 20:24

A person’s steps are directed by the Lord.

How then can anyone understand their own way?

Step…out of your comfort zone

Step…over an obstacle

Step…into forgiveness

Step…through your pain

Step…beneath the wings of security

Step…between your fears

Step…around weakness

Step…behind the Protector

Step…beside your friends

Step…with a heart, cracked open and pouring out gratitude

 

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Breath

I started this blog as a commentary to celebrate and study the joy of the common, every day, ordinary (B-Flat), things in life. I’ve decided I’d like to write using themes that you, Dear Reader, can suggest. So, here’s the first:

Reading Time: 3 minutes

Breath.

  • The very essence of life…

  • Not just drawing air in, but exhaling it out…

  • The basis for one of English’s most uplifting words—”inspire,” and all of its derivatives (from the Latin verb “inspirare,” meaning “to breathe”).

    According to Genesis 2:7, God literally breathes Adam to life, suggesting that breath is the source of humankind’s creation. References to the breath of God appear numerous times later in the Bible, too. God’s breath can be something that creates abundance of life, fills followers with faith, and symbolizes a holy presence; its power can also wreak havoc, terror, and confusion. All of these aspects were revealed at the first Christian Pentecost, or “The Fiftieth Day” (meaning the Fiftieth Day after Passover).

    Yesterday was Pentecost Sunday, one of my favorite days in the liturgical calendar. This amazing account of the Holy Spirit being gifted to the disciples is one of the most colorful stories in the Bible (Acts 2). Some Christians are uncomfortable with anything being portrayed as “magical” in the Bible, but I can’t imagine you could call this occurrence anything but miraculous. Along with several other believers, the disciples were gathered in a room, praying, talking, and waiting for the next step God would reveal in the new plan, now that Jesus was no longer on earth to guide them.

    God’s plan comes with the primitive elemental forces of air and fire. A rush of violent wind, the breath of God, fills every space and corner in the room.  This is no wafting breeze, no gentle zephyr wind you might feel on a morning in June; no, this was like experiencing a raging tornado at close range. Fire in the form of tongues of flame—one of the oldest signs of the presence of the Holy of Holies—appears above the heads of the disciples. It was miraculous, but it was more than likely terrifying as well to all who witnessed it. It seems that God decided to “take the theatrical route” to shake the disciples from out of their current posture of waiting into a more dynamic posture of acting. God’s breath is transformed into the Holy Spirit, roaring through the room, enflaming the disciples and early Christians to begin spreading Jesus’s story to all the ends of the earth.

    It is also in this way that breath and flame inspire language, in that the disciples are suddenly able to speak languages that had previously been unknown to them. Language is a give and take of breath, an inhalation and exhalation. It is also listening (taking in), and it is speaking (giving out). Language ignites communication and kindles understanding.

    Language is not just spoken, however; language is also written, and was to be vitally present in scripture and in the future teachings of early Christians like the apostle Paul. Paul himself even states that “All scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” (2 Timothy 3:16)

    Perhaps some might read the Bible and question Paul’s belief that all of it is inspired by God. If it were truly inspired by God, wouldn’t everything that happens in the Bible be fair?  Wouldn’t all the accounts of the gospel match up perfectly with no discrepancies? Wouldn’t all of God’s prophets, disciples, rulers, and kings be fine, upstanding citizens? And what about all the “smiting” God seemed to enjoy doing in the Old Testament?

    There is certainly much to ponder in these age-old questions, and the answer may be that there is no answer—none that will entirely satisfy us anyway. In his sermon entitled “Is the Bible Inspired?,” the Rev. Dr. James C. Howell states it this way:

Yes, this is All the Scripture that is inspired.  Messy, human, broken, miserably lacking in potential and lackluster in performance.  Why would God use such a book?  Because God wanted the book to  make sense to people like us.  Because God wanted to redeem the broken, lackluster and messy.  God’s very project to save us was to become one of us, and a poor, no account guy from out in the middle of nowhere who recruited few followers, and those failed him.  He was accused of partying too heartily, carousing with the wrong types, then he died a brutal, criminal death, a shameful showing for a sad human being, much less God almighty. This is God’s story, and this is my story and yours.  And it really is a stunningly beautiful story.

So let us breathe in the story. Let us feel the mighty wind swirl around us. Let us feel the heat of a holy flame alight above us. Let us even be afraid for a moment or two. Then, let us be divinely inspired by God’s breath to speak of the hope we know is ours to share.

[Please take a moment now and suggest a word for the next blog. Come on—help me out!]

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Hurry

 

Reading Time: 2 minutes

 

Hurry

BY MARIE HOWE

We stop at the dry cleaners and the grocery store   

and the gas station and the green market and   

Hurry up honey, I say, hurry,   

as she runs along two or three steps behind me   

her blue jacket unzipped and her socks rolled down.   

 

Where do I want her to hurry to? To her grave?   

To mine? Where one day she might stand all grown?   

Today, when all the errands are finally done, I say to her,   

Honey I’m sorry I keep saying Hurry—   

you walk ahead of me. You be the mother.   

 

And, Hurry up, she says, over her shoulder, looking   

back at me, laughing. Hurry up now darling, she says,   

hurry, hurry, taking the house keys from my hands.

 

Poem copyright ©2008 by Marie Howe, and reprinted from “When She Named Fire,” ed., Andrea Hollander Budy, Autumn House Press, 2009. First published in “The Kingdom of the Ordinary” by Marie Howe, W.W. Norton, 2008.

 

I first heard this poem when the author, Marie Howe, read it aloud on NPR’s On Being at https://onbeing.org/programs/marie-howe-the-poetry-of-ordinary-time/.

[I don’t know why this link isn’t working, but if you do a search for “Marie Howe On Being,” the entire transcript of the interview pops up.]

I can relate to the mother in this poem so well; my guess is that most mothers can. We spend our lives running (quite literally) from one task, job, chore, errand, children’s activity, meeting, class, rehearsal, party, event… to the next. What often happens is that one or more of your children get dragged with you as you decisively mark off each item on your “to-do” list. You spend the entire day in drill sergeant mode, saying, “Come on honey, we’ve got to get going…march, march, march!” All of this urging does nothing, of course, to get children moving. No matter what the age, asking children to “Hurry!” is, as some say in the South, like asking milk not to pour—it is a futile effort.

I am in the process of slowing down my life, not by my choice, but by Cancer’s choice. Cancer has become my “parent” in a way, dictating what my next few months are going to be, overturning my schedule-encompassed, productive days. The surprise has been that Cancer doesn’t say “Hurry up,” as the parent does in the poem above. Cancer steps in, fairly suddenly, always quietly, and says, “Excuse me a moment, but I have some things for you to think about. I have miracles to show you. I have stories to tell. I have secrets to whisper, visions to experience. Sit down. Put your feet up. Wait and see.”

It has been an act of complete submission on my part. When recovering from surgery, your body does not give you a choice; you must rest and let go of your hectic life. You must lie down in your bed or on your couch. Your job, laundry, vacuuming, the grocery store, errands, exercising, cooking dinner…all the things that grasp you until you feel you might be pulled apart, limb from limb, all fall away.

I have made the surprising discovery that the earth does indeed keep revolving, even if I have to stop and rest in the day. To be honest, it has been a relief. It has been an excuse to re-learn how to relish the ordinary things in my life that I’d forgotten were there. This summer, I will be receiving six weeks of radiation treatments five times a week. That means that, every day, I will have to pause and do nothing for at least fifteen minutes while the treatment is happening. I need to determine what I will think about during those minutes, because time to be still—with purpose—is a precious commodity not to be wasted.

So, instead of planning tons of summer activities for my kids, I’m going to find things we can do that are close to home. Even though they are teenagers, I want to proactively be near my kids. We are going to go on more picnics in our backyard. We are going to watch more movies on Netflix. We are going to pick our favorite board games and have a marathon. I am not going to worry if the kids and I have been productive or not; but we will, I am certain, “produce” things whose value cannot necessarily be weighed or accounted for. I am looking forward to it.

 

 

 

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Open

Reading Time: 2 minutes

Open your eyes.

        What do you see?

        A roof above your head. The sun streaming through the blinds.

What do you hear?

        Birds calling. A dog snoring.

What do you feel?

        A bed, soft beneath you. Blankets cuddling you.

What do you smell?

        Spring riding on the tendrils of a breeze. Coffee gurgling in the kitchen.

What do you taste?

        The promise of pancakes. The hope of daily bread.

Of these, which is the most precious, the most valued?

        The simple, miraculous fact,

That your eyes opened up in the first place.

 

“The real problem of the Christian life comes where people do not usually look for it.  It comes the very moment you wake up each morning.   All your wishes and hopes for the day rush at you like wild animals.  And the first job each morning consists simply in shoving them all back; in listening to that other voice, taking that other point of view, letting that other larger, stronger, quieter life come flowing in. And so on, all day.  Standing back from all your natural fussings and frettings; coming in out of the wind. We can only do it for moments at first. But from those moments the new sort of life will be spreading through our system: because now we are letting Him work at the right part of us. It is the difference between paint, which is merely laid on the surface, and a dye or stain which soaks right through.”  (C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, Chapter 8, p. 198)

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The Kindness of Strangers

It was finally here—the day of my lumpectomy surgery. It’s a strange feeling you have if you’ve ever faced this. It’s a mixture of intense dread and heady anticipation. The suspense will be over with; no more wondering about the imagined “tortures” that will be inflicted upon you on that day.

I felt strong and ready as my husband helped me slip into my hospital gown. He left me to take the kids to school, assuring me he’d be back. I sat twiddling my thumbs, looking around the cubicle that had been assigned to me for the day. I checked my e-mail. I adjusted my super-sexy hospital socks. I sent my sister a funny text. I tried not to be irritated by the inevitable waiting. And waiting. And waiting. I sighed and changed positions in the bed and decided to sit in a chair instead. Maybe if I read a book, the speed of time would transform from that of a glacier to a kangaroo.

As part of a “You can do it” goody-bag, my sisters had given me a book by Max Lucado, entitled “God Came Near” (W Publishing Group, 2004). I hadn’t really started it yet, so I got it out. I had not even read the first sentence when the nurse bustled in my cubicle. “Hello there, I’m Linda—sorry for the delay—it’s been a crazy morning already and it’s not even 8:00!” She then looked at the book in my lap. “Are you a Christian?” she asked immediately. I said I was. She said, “Well then, God sent me here today to take care of you. You know that, don’t you?” I was momentarily speechless. It took me entirely off guard. I hadn’t realized how scared I was, and I felt tears blurring my eyes, my lips quivering.

Linda came over, sat beside me in another chair, and took my hands. “You know He is with you today; He’s the Author of all things.” I nodded, still not able to speak yet. She proceeded to share with me how she had received a difficult diagnosis and how God had walked with her through it, healing her body and spirit. “I learned a lot about myself. Would you share with me what you are learning about yourself in this process?”

I swallowed. “I’m learning to be patient…or trying to be, anyway. I need to learn to slow down and stop trying to control everything in my life like a maniac. I need to listen to Him more.” I shrugged in defeat.

Linda laughed, and wiped away a few sympathetic tears of her own. “I promise I’ll get you through today. I’ll talk to you, hold your hand, whatever you need me to do. As soon as I saw you, I knew I could help you today. Can I pray with you right now?”

I took a deep breath and nodded wordlessly. I don’t remember any of her words; all I know is that I felt calm and cared for.

Later on, I marveled at how I got the reassurance I needed at exactly the right time. I appreciated that Linda was able to reach out to me, seeing that I was distressed, even though I didn’t even know it myself. I was humbled by her ability to unabashedly share an intimate story with me, to ask me questions about my own personal story, and to pray for and with me. Later on in the evening when I had returned home from surgery, I read a phrase in the Lucado book that resonated deep within me:

“My prayer for this book—without apologies—is that the Divine Surgeon will use it as a delicate surgical tool to restore sight. That blurriness will be focused and darkness dispersed. That the Christ will emerge from a wavy figure walking out of a desert mirage to become the touchable face of a best friend. That we will lay our faces at the pierced feet and join Thomas in proclaiming, “My Lord and my God.” And, most supremely, that we will whisper the secret of the universe, ‘We were eyewitnesses of his majesty.'” (Introduction, p. XX).

Sometimes, God’s majesty can be as simple as the care and prayer of a stranger in a time of deep need.

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Embraced: Why I Love My Church

Reading Time: 2 minutes

 

It was another busy week after follow-up doctor’s visits, an MRI, and another biopsy, not to mention the regular hectic swing of life. I had come to our Bible study group to unwind and laugh with folks—oh, and to do a Bible study, too (we are definitely talkers!). Afterward, one of the members came to me clutching something furry in her arms. “Here you go—it’s a prayer shawl. It’s to put around your shoulders when you pray. Merry made this one for you.” I was so overwhelmed by the generosity of this gift, both for the time it took to make it, and the thoughtful spirit it with which it was made.

 

It is one of the most lovely things I have ever touched—light as a whisper, yet warm and snuggly. The colors are earth tones and muted grays; colors of earth, sand, stone. On the ends are silky tassles that twirl lightly around my fingers. It is a perfect size, as it can be a lap blanket, or it can drape across my shoulders, as it was originally intended. Even when I am not wearing it, I like to sit beside it and rest my hand on it, rubbing its softly between my fingers, or stroking it with my hand. I am unable to put into coherent words the comfort this beautiful shawl represents for me.

 

When I wrap it around me, it is dense, yet not heavy, as if someone were gently putting an arm around my shoulders. Many church members have already done this for me. Every week, they smile at me, and they reach out their arms and clasp me firmly. Several women whom I know, but not especially closely, have sought me out to encourage me. They take my hands and look me straight in the eye and say, “I had breast cancer, and I am just fine. You will be, too.” I receive cards in the mail that are humorous to make me laugh, or are sentimental and make me teary. I receive e-mails and phone calls from church members, volunteering to help me and my family in whatever way we need.

 

Believe me, I already know how generous my church family is. When my husband had colon cancer in 2010, they were there for us in every possible way. There were days where I thought, “I have nothing for dinner, and I am exhausted,” and someone would suddenly knock on my door with a meal. These people can walk through Sheol with you, and let me tell you—they are not afraid, and they thrive on bolstering folks up during a crisis.

 

Perhaps when going through personal difficulties, people who don’t go to church are able to find support and community in other ways. All I know is that I have two families: the one that I am physically related to, and the one that I am spiritually related to. Every morning when I breathe my first breath, I say a prayer of thanks for both of my families, and the fact that they continue to wrap me in their sweet embrace.

Philippians 1: 3-6 [NIV]

3 I thank my God every time I remember you. 4 In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy 5 because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, 6 being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.

 

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Remembering Audrey

Reading Time: 3 minutes

 

While perusing our church’s library, I found a compilation of daily devotions by C. S. Lewis. Called A Year With C. S. Lewis (New York: HarperCollins, 2003), the book features snippets from some of Lewis’s most famous works, including Mere Christianity, The Screwtape Letters, Miracles, and others. Also included at the bottom of some of the entries is a fact about Lewis’s life. For example, at the bottom of p. 87 on the devotion for 19 March, this phrase appears: “1956: The Last Battle (the final volume of The Chronicles of Narnia) is published by The Bodley Head, London.” It is an interesting way to both read some of Lewis’s most famous “quotable quotes” while also seeing a sort of time-line of his life.

I admire C. S. Lewis’s work so much, and felt I could use a healthy dose of his no-nonsense approach to God. With every paragraph I read, I have to pause, re-read it, and shake my head in astonishment. I cannot imagine having a mind like C. S. Lewis. He can break down intangible Christian theological concepts into simple, relatable ideas like no one else. Take the “mystical limpet” analogy (I know, I know, bear with me here). This is the idea that a limpet (a type of marine snail or mollusk) could never hope to understand or describe to another limpet what a man looks like. A limpet relates only to what a limpet can see and understand; so, to describe a man, a limpet must describe what a man is not. Lewis’s point is that we often run into the same problem as humans. We try to determine who, what, and how God is and are usually led astray by our limited viewpoint (a brilliant analogy to my “limpet-like” brain).

As I continued reading the devotions, I noticed some underlining, writing, and check marks doodled here and there. Someone else had read this book and wanted to highlight some of the memorable ideas; this was a donated book from someone’s personal library. Intrigued, I looked in the front cover, and noticed the name written in a bold hand: Audrey Sprenger, July ’06. I froze. I did not know Audrey that well, but I did know that she had had cancer, too. I decided to take it home take note of some of the other passages that had appealed to her. Two were particularly compelling.

The first is under the heading “Blurry Visions of God” from Mere Christianity (p. 16). The under-lining is Audrey’s.

“When you come to knowing God, the initiative lies on His side. If He does not show Himself, nothing you can do will enable you to find Him. And, in fact, He shows much more of Himself to some people than to others—not because He has favorites, but because it is impossible for Him to show Himself to a man whose whole mind and character are in the wrong condition. Just as sunlight, though it has no favourites, cannot be reflected in a dusty mirror as clearly as in a clean one.”

The idea here is being open and receptive, and to set oneself up for listening. This requires raising our antennae and waiting. It requires sitting down and quieting the voices, activities, and thoughts that are always vying for our attention. It is a “condition,” as Lewis says—a state of being. God won’t throw a ball at us if we aren’t ready to catch it.

The second passage is also from Mere Christianity, and appears on p. 29 in the devotions book. Again, the underlining is Audrey’s:

“A live body is not one that never gets hurt, but one that can to some extent repair itself. In the same way a Christian is not a man who never goes wrong, but a man who is enabled to repent and pick himself up and begin over again after each stumble—because the Christ-life is inside him, repairing him all the time, enabling him to repeat (in some degree) the kind of voluntary death which Christ Himself carried out.”

This statement to me is a deep, bone-warming truth. It is the idea of a tiny spark of a “Christ-life” burning inside me that gives me strength to persevere. And, yes, sometimes, getting through a difficult time in life feels like a “voluntary death,” but one that we do because we must, and because we trust our source of energy will be further strengthened—and encouraged—by adversity.

Though I didn’t know Audrey that well, I do remember speaking to her daughter many times, especially when Audrey was in the last part of her illness. I feel that it was not happenstance that I found this book right when I needed it, and I want to believe that Audrey was re-reading it with me, pointing to the really good parts.

 

Psalm 139 [NIV, from Bible Hub]

For the director of music. Of David. A psalm.

You have searched me, Lord,

 and you know me.

You know when I sit and when I rise;

 you perceive my thoughts from afar.

You discern my going out and my lying down;

you are familiar with all my ways.

4

Before a word is on my tongue

you, Lord, know it completely.

5

You hem me in behind and before,

and you lay your hand upon me.

6

Such knowledge is too wonderful for me,

too lofty for me to attain.

 

 

 

 

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Weeds

Reading Time: 3 minutes

Finally, an achingly gorgeous day outside….the sky, a crisp blue with snowy clouds, a gentle breeze, the smell of hyacinths in the air. I love spring-time, especially when the days get longer and longer and the sun shines high in the sky, well into the evening. More sun means more plants, too–it’s time to get the garden ready. I am not a gifted gardener, though I do enjoy having some flowers and a small vegetable garden.

 

Perhaps you’ll think I’m strange (if you don’t already), but one thing I enjoy when preparing my garden is pulling weeds. There’s something so satisfying about grabbing a weed and hearing that little pop! as it releases its hold on the earth. Reveling in the progress at the end of a long weed-pulling session is so wonderful—to finally see clear ground again that becomes a canvas for new plants.

 

Though I confess I like being the weed “puller”, I am now experiencing what it is like to be the “pullee” as well. I am realizing more and more that being a B-Flat Christian can also be synonymous with being a Comfortable Christian. I was planted here in my garden and, over the years, have pushed my roots gradually into the warm soil of safety. I have had the sunshine of good health and have been watered with blessings of family, personal success, and daily bread.

 

I am now noticing as I have been luxuriating in my soil that some weeds are beginning to be pulled from around me, and frankly, it is a scary feeling. These weeds have surrounded me and have made me feel secure. They shield me from the elements and they encircle me in their leafy comfort. Nevertheless, they are weeds. I am finding myself saying, “Wait a minute, Lord, you brought me here! I’m doing good things—the things I thought you wanted me to do! Why are you pulling up that weed? It was a nice weed! It was pretty! It was green and even had a sweet little flower!” That’s when I hear the pop! and in an instant, that weed is gone, and I am left, staring at the newly-opened spaces around me, startled, bereft, and vulnerable.

 

Now that some of those weeds are gone, however, I am noticing that I am able to stretch out the leaves of my spirit and grow into the spots that were once held by those weeds. I am growing inward and outward in ways that I am only just beginning to comprehend. Maybe the weeds were protecting me, but they may have also been sheltering me from being more than B-Flat. They may have even been hindering me, even if they were pretty and green.

 

I am learning that I am becoming tired of being secure in my B-Flat garden. Every day, God is pulling away more and more of my security, but is surrounding me by other plants—people—who are nurturing and feeding me. They are spurring me on, creating buds of inspiration I never could have imagined.

 

I have much to face in the next few weeks. Here is the truly worrisome thing: I think that though God is done with pulling for now, He may now be in the process of getting a shovel. Some of those weeds do not want to come out and a stronger tool might be used to force them to release their hold. I am ready.

 

Jeremiah 17:7-9

New International Version (NIV)

“But blessed is the one who trusts in the Lord,

whose confidence is in him.

They will be like a tree planted by the water

that sends out its roots by the stream.

It does not fear when heat comes;

its leaves are always green.

It has no worries in a year of drought

and never fails to bear fruit.”

 

 

 

 

 

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Endings and Beginnings

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Luke 2:

6 While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, 7 and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them.

 

John19:

41 At the place where Jesus was crucified, there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb, in which no one had ever been laid. 42 Because it was the Jewish day of Preparation and since the tomb was nearby, they laid Jesus there.

 

The bookends of a life—birth, death—two states of being we humans all experience. At some point, all of us (I wish, though I know it’s not true for everyone) were lovingly placed in a crib by our parents for a nap. Later on, we will all be prepared for burial and our remains will be put in an urn or in a coffin, to be returned once again to the earth.

 

Being placed, being laid down, is not a common occurrence when we are able-bodied, healthy adults. Usually, it happens only when you are not able to do it for yourself. It is a sign of total surrender, of ultimate trust, when you are gathered up in someone else’s arms and put to rest.

 

I had the chance to be gathered and put to rest yesterday in an MRI machine. A week ago, I was diagnosed with breast cancer, and I needed an MRI to get a better look at what’s happening. The sweet nurses gently helped me lie down on the sliding bed-pad on my stomach and get situated comfortably. After putting in an IV line and strapping on my headphones (I needed some of U2’s Unforgettable Fire to give me courage through this process), my body slid into the MRI tube.

 

Not to be maudlin about it, but it was a bit like being in a tomb; a wave of claustrophobia washed over me initially, and I had to concentrate on breathing low and deeply. To help myself stay calm, I began to focus on the words of U2’s haunting ballad “Bad”:

 

Let it go

This desperation

Dislocation

Separation, condemnation

Revelation in temptation

Isolation, desolation

Let it go

And so fade away

To let it go

And so fade away

I’m wide awake

Wide awake

I’m not sleeping

Oh, no, no, no.

 

Other than my arms falling asleep, my panic was manageable and I was able to stay centered and relaxed through that exceedingly long half hour. When it was over, the nurses came back in and, taking my arms, gently helped me sit up. They were wonderful. It is incredibly sobering to be at someone else’s mercy and in their care.

 

This is the first step in my journey with breast cancer. I know that sounds like an overused cliché, but it is going to be a journey. I’m going to a place I’ve never been, though I have ridden on the Cancer Highway before with my husband in 2010. Can’t say I liked the ride, and probably won’t enjoy this one much, either, but my exit number came up. It’s time to go.

 

I will be honest and say I had no idea where I got the idea to begin this blog. I have never blogged before, never really read anyone else’s blogs on a regular basis. I cannot tell you how many times I’ve tried to start a diary; I’ve never been able to be consistent and follow through with it. I’ve never thought what I had to say was particularly important or memorable. I’m B-Flat, after all.

 

Now I know that God has been reading my blog, too, and even is writing it for me, in a way. He read that part where I said I was a boring, ordinary, B-Flat Christian who had a boring, ordinary, B-Flat life. I am sure He chuckled quite a bit, rubbing His hands, saying, “Hmmmmm, really? Okey dokey, let’s see how we can fix that.” I don’t mean to say He decided to “smite” me, per se; rather, I think He decided to begin a new way of life for me. God already knew I had breast cancer, and that my blog would be a way of working through my feelings about it—and about other things I’ve been thinking about, too. Sometimes beginnings have to start with a big push, and then, with lying down in submission and surrender.

 

Cancer affects millions of other B-Flat people. I look forward to hearing their Cancer Journeys and determining what it is I’m supposed to absorb from this. I am going to try to allow myself to be gathered up, drawn in, hugged tightly, and trust that I will be laid down where I can rest and learn.

 

 

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A Walk In the Dark

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This morning, I was awakened at 5:15am by the voice of a determined little bird. His tiny voice pierced the darkness outside my window, throbbing with joy as he tried to appeal to his brethren birds to join his operatic solo. I sighed as I lay there in bed, slowly unfurling the activities of the upcoming day, hoping to fall back asleep. My mind continued to wander, no matter how much I tried to settle down. Eventually, I started thinking about the Holy week to come, with its busy rehearsals and preparations for our church services on Thursday, Friday, and finally, Sunday. So much to do.

 

I finally got up, lifted the shade, and peeped out the window. I couldn’t see my little bird, but I could hear some other birds adding their lusty voices to the chorus outside in the darkness. As I looked out in the yard still draped in stars and shadows, I began to think about how bleak it would have been when Mary Magdalene picked her way through the darkness on her way to visit Jesus’s tomb. Perhaps it was a morning just like this.

 

The gospels differ in their account of who was walking with Mary to share in the agonizing process of anointing Jesus’s body, but to me, it doesn’t really matter; it was a group of devoted followers, and they were women, not one of the disciples. Hope was not even remotely on the horizon for Mary Magdalene and these other women; hope had died with Jesus. They weren’t even sure if they’d be able to get into the tomb in the first place since the tomb was to have been sealed, both by a large stone, and by the Emperor’s seal (you can see pictures of tombs and how they were sealed in this manner through the wonders of google).

 

My guess is, these B-flat women had no idea how it was going to happen, but they were going to do everything in their power to do what needed to be done. They had no game plan about how that stone was going to be moved, or how to get past any guards who might be stationed there keeping watch. Still, no matter how tired, no matter how frightened, no matter how desolate they were, they were going to anoint Jesus’s body, not just because it was following Jewish law, but because they were determined. They desperately longed to return some small ounce of dignity to one who had suffered and died in an unthinkably brutal way. Additionally, preparing his body might aid in accepting the irrevocable fact that Jesus was indeed dead. When they arrive, however, the open tomb awaits them, and the resurrection story begins. It begins with angels dressed in white, with linen that no longer clings to a dead body, and with the joyous shouts of women.

 

I had never thought of this on a deeper level until after reading Lee Strobel’s The Case for Easter recently in my church’s book study group. In it, Strobel uses his skills as a journalist and editor for the Chicago Tribune to determine if the resurrection could possibly be proven based on facts and evidence. In an interview, renowned theologian, William Lane Craig, asserts that one of the key points proving the authenticity of the resurrection is that the gospel writers report openly that women found the empty tomb.

 

“Any later legendary account would have certainly portrayed male disciples as discovering the tomb—Peter or John, for example. The fact that women are the first witnesses to the empty tomb is most plausibly explained by the reality that—like it or not—they were the discoverers of the empty tomb! This shows that the gospel writers faithfully recorded what happened, even if it was embarrassing. This bespeaks the historicity of this tradition rather than its legendary status.” (p. 50)

 

What is humorous, and annoying, I suppose, is that immediately after the women rush back to explain what they had seen, the disciples don’t believe them, according to Luke 24:11. I understand why they wouldn’t; everyone had seen Jesus’s very public trial, torture, and death. It’s no surprise that the women would be viewed as being hysterical and maybe even a little nuts. Angels? An unsealed and empty tomb? Jesus walking and talking? To even remotely acknowledge such claims could bring much unwanted attention to the disciples and might even warrant some Roman guards dropping by for a fairly uncomfortable little “chat.” This news needed to be kept quiet; these women needed to keep their mouths shut.

 

I think it is troubling that some women’s voices continue to be ignored or silenced all together in some churches even now. I was reminded recently of a friend of mine, Cheryl, who was a pastor in my home church. After she attended seminary, she was ready to be ordained to begin her pastoral career. The church Cheryl had grown up in, who had fostered her burgeoning belief, who had inspired her call to seek a career in the church, refused to ordain her, simply because she was a woman. In their minds, it was not “biblical” that women serve in church leadership roles.

 

When viewing the facts of the resurrection, however, I simply don’t see how one can draw this conclusion. In all the gospel accounts, women were there. Women, too, were constantly in the company of Jesus and the disciples. From all accounts, Jesus treated women (and many people considered to be unclean or unworthy according to Jewish law) with respect that was uncharacteristic for most males of the time. While the disciples certainly began the process of disseminating Christianity into the world at large, other women are mentioned in the Bible as having taken leadership roles in the early church as well (such as Priscilla, who is mentioned several times by Paul).

 

I have no doubt that one of the main goals of Jesus’s ministry was to include everyone in sharing in God’s loving plan, and that meant that everyone had a shot, no exclusions. Over and over, Jesus warns of how Samaritans, poor widows, and even little children are just as worthy of a place at God’s table—maybe even more so—than the strict keepers of the law. Later on, even Gentiles took their rightful place in proclaiming the good news and furthering the mission.

 

And remember, that city of debauchery and hedonism, whose leaders put Jesus to death—ROME—is now the very heart of the Catholic Church. Who could ever have imagined THAT on the first Easter? Certainly not Caesar, and certainly not the disciples.

 

Let us all take that walk with Mary Magdalene, a lowly but fierce B-Flat woman, at 5:15am on that Easter morning. Let us be astonished, whispering “Rabboni!” in total shock; and with sudden awareness, believe.

 

 

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