What Remains

The stars of a thousand Christmas lights spill their warm glow over floor, the ceiling, me.  An opera, playing on the television, fills every speck of air with soprano and tenor, cello and flute.  The house is warm and quiet, the children tucked snug in their beds, visions of sugarplums, Lego sets, and baby dolls dancing in their heads.

And I weep.

Up Go the Lights III

I weep for the small beds not so far away that lie empty tonight.  I weep for those children, shattered parents, and lionhearted teachers.  I weep for the school, this community, our nation.  I weep for minds we don’t understand and actions we understand less.  I weep for injustice and depravity; for all that is wrong in this world and all its heartbreak, I weep.

For even our ability to numb ourselves, I weep, numb ourselves with things that are good, things that are not, and things indifferent, but numb all the same, until something unfathomable happens and we all sit up and take notice, shaken from our slumber, asking why?

Why, God?

The question is nearly as old as time.  This senselessness has always been.  I was reminded of this today as I was reading in Isaiah and happened to come across the prophet’s foretelling of Babylon’s destruction and the depths to which it would sink.  “Their bows will strike down the young men; they will have no mercy on infants nor will they look with compassion on children,” it says in chapter 13.

And I weep.

This utter degradation, this violence that threatens to empty the stomach of its contents, this absolute evil- it’s nothing new.  As Solomon stated in Ecclesiastes, “What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun.”  You need only to read the pages of Scripture and remember: an Old Testament Pharaoh orders his soldiers and Israel’s midwives, to throw Israelite baby boys into the Nile; a New Testament Herod delivers an edict to kill every male child under the age of two.

Recent history is no different lest we forget the atrocities of Nazi Germany, Bosnia, Rwanda, and the genocide that we so easily avert our eyes to which goes on to this day in countries like Darfur, Congo, Uganda.

None of these matter to us in this moment, now that we are full of our own pain.

Today, America weeps.

In these last few days we see, with open eyes, the face of evil.  This face isn’t necessarily that of a twenty year old boy in black.  The details remain hazy, the motives, unclear.  It could well be the face of sickly mind in a creation that has been wasting away since a rebellious bite of apple in a paradisal garden. It could be a many-visaged monster of indifference, entertainment, and greed.  It could yet be the face of a callous heart, so hard it thought nothing of a nightmare in the corridors of an elementary school.  Whatever the face, we don’t deny that it’s evil.

It’s a face that the rest of the world has seen time and again.  It’s the face of sweaty hatred that looks with unseeing eyes for its next target, its next rape, torture, or murder victim in the barren wasteland of Africa.  It’s the countenance of stony-faced detachment squinting out from under the brim of a Swastika-emblazoned cap, as Jew after Jew lines up for their execution in the gas chambers of Auschwitz.  It’s the face of a hijacker aiming for a tower.

It’s a face we as Americans have often been insulated and protected from.  It’s a face we see daily in international headlines, but never truly see.  And when we do find it within our borders, we shake our heads for a moment, shed a tear or two, and turn back to our regularly scheduled programs.

Until this.  Until it’s too much to bear.

We let the courts and politicians handle it because that’s their job.  We let the doctors diagnose it because, surely, that’s illness.  And yet, whole countries, entire terrorist armies, don’t get prosecuted for their crimes-  just a handful.  No pill can fix hatred; no therapy is guaranteed.

We need something more.

And in the meantime, all we can do is weep and ask, “Why?”

Sometimes there are no answers save one:  we live in a fallen world.  This world is not as it was created and that is why.  It was never intended for such pain, such senselessness.  It was created perfect in every way, created in love- the very antithesis of this.

So I weep.

Until I remember…

Another face.  One that peers up from the stink of moldy hay.  A face like any other newborn that brings with it the hope of new life, the joy of new birth, and the quiet peace of innocence.  A face freshly wiped clean of fluid, His mother’s blood; a face kissed and wondered over like any infant face.  A small face that peers into the din of a cave.  So too does the wide blinking eyes of the cow standing near.  In the straw, a burrow slumbers deeply- the journey had been long.  A virgin, asleep, holds tight to a baby; an adoptive father snores from his seat.  Strange starlight from outside gently gleams into the dark as the Light of the World takes up residence in this little face. One face in a quiet Bethlehem night- and all the world is different.

Immanuel.  God with us.

That we live in a fallen world was not enough for a God whose name is Love.

Immanuel, God with us.

With us in our suffering, with us in our pain.  With us in confusion, with us in this shame.  He dwells here with us in our fear, in our failures, entered into our lives -our very tangible worlds- with all their unrest, their raging, their trials and tears.  Knowing the pull of temptation, the sting of betrayal, the loneliness of imprisonment, He entered.  How He entered!

And when all the world’s turned upside down and when words, laws, diagnoses, fail us, we sit under the shadow of two timber beams and try to make sense in the presence of another senseless crime- where the face of peace and joyful infancy became the face of Love on a cross.

On a hill, battered and torn, he entered into it all.  This same face, dripping of blood, and sweat, and his mocker’s spit, looked out over all and willingly entered in.  With swollen eyes and ever more swollen heart, He watched faces fueled with hatred as they whipped His skin to rags and rent nails into His hands and feet.  And this unlikely King, peering out now, not from the pungent straw but from beneath a crown of thorns, saw these and all those after and said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”

He entered, not as accuser, but as Savior.  He entered despair so there might be hope.  He entered hell so there might be peace.  He entered death so there might be life.

He entered hate so that Love might conquer all.

So that when the world and everything in it has passed away, Love remains.  So that despite the mess we make of this world, hope remains.

So that when chaos rages in a quiet little school and the pain remains for a lifetime after, peace, also, can remain.  The peace in knowing that twenty beautiful, smiling little faces play ring-around-the-rosy tonight, with the God of the universe Himself.

And though we want them here, there they will remain, but there- without pain, without sorrow, and with Love Himself.  Lives cut short in the whisper that is this life here on earth, but that live ever on, in a world more real that the one we see with these, our unseeing eyes, looking for answers with tear-stained faces.

I weep still.

IMG_0327

Adeste fidelis. That is the only answer I know for people who want to find out whether or not this is true.  Come all ye faithful, and all ye who would like to be faithful if only you could, all ye who walk in darkness and hunger for light.  Have faith enough, hope enough, despair enough, foolishness enough at least to draw near to see for yourselves…

Adeste fidelis.  Come and behold him, born the king of angels.  Speak to him or be silent before him.  In whatever way seems right to you and at whatever time, come to him with your empty hands.  The great promise is that to come to him who was born at Bethlehem is to find coming to birth within ourselves something stronger and braver, gladder and kinder and holier, than ever we knew before or than ever we could have known without him.

Dear God, in the darkness of the virgin’s womb the holy child grows.  In the darkness of the world’s pain, the blessed light begins to kindle.  In the darkness of our own doubting of thee and of ourselves, the great hope begins to rise again like a lump in the throat: the hope that thou wilt come to us truly, that the child will be born again in our midst, the Prince of Peace in a world at war, the hope that thou wilt ransom us and our world from the darkness that seeks to destroy us.

O Lord, the gift of new life, new light, can be a gift truly only if we open ourselves to receive it.  So this is our prayer, Lord:  that thou wilt open our ears to hear the angels’ hymn in the stirring within us of joy at the coming of the child, open our hearts to the transforming power of thy love as it comes to us through the love of all those who hold us most dear and have sacrificed most for us.

Be born among us that we may ourselves be born.  Be born in us that by words and deeds of love we may bear the tidings of thy birth to a world that dies for lack of love.  We ask for it in the child’s name.  Amen.

-Frederick Buechner

 

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“I Need Hold You Hand.”

It’s funny how life, perspective, everything, can change in an instant.  Never more so than in those “life flashes before you” moments.  I wouldn’t have known.   I’d never really had any of those moments…until yesterday.

Those moments hide in days like any other- days that start out innocuous and humdrum;  days in which you ruminate on Scriptures like Psalm 90:12, “Teach us how short our lives really are so that we may be wise,” because you’ve found it in several different readings that day and you think, Yeah God, that sounds good.  Teach me–  not knowing what you’re asking for;  days like yesterday.

A simple trip to the park, that’s all it was.   A warm afternoon, a best bud, and 8 kids between us.  We’re like a well-oiled machine.  Over the past 5 years our kids have basically grown up together, as have we.  We can let ourselves into each others houses, and not clean beforehand.  That’s saying something.  Playdates consist of our kids tearing off their shoes at the door and disappearing until their tummies start rumbling, while we plop ourselves down at the kitchen table with a cup of coffee and a couple doughnuts that hide under paper napkins any time a wayward child dashes by.  And each spring we make an inaugural trip to the park with kids a little bit taller and a little bit older and we marvel at the fact that just moments ago, it seems, we were pushing babies in swings and catching toddlers at the end of slides, as now we watch those same children whiz around the playground playing tag for hours while introducing new babies and freshly-sprouted toddlers to the swings and slides.

The boys are older and the Strawberry Shortcake- now a full-blown toddler at nearly 3 years old- has a mind of her own.  And I was on auto-pilot.  When nature finally called and we needed to head home to indoor plumbing,  the 5 older ones ran to the vans parked in angles on the road in front of the park and the Shortcake followed.  The moms brought up the rear with a baby and a straggler.  The older ones stopped at the open van doors because that’s what older ones do…but she didn’t.  I assumed she would.  She does whatever they’re doing- a little pint-sized wannabe.  But she didn’t.

When they say that these moments go by in slow motion, they’re right.  I saw her keep going.  From too many yards away.  And a box truck.  That wasn’t slowing down.  And a blind spot to the left where more cars could speed through.  And I screamed.  Over and over and over again, “NO!”  And I ran.  And the truck kept going.  And she kept walking.  Truck.  Her.  Truck.  Her.  Any moment I expected her to go flying.  I could see it in my mind as I ran, and screamed.  Seconds that felt like a lifetime.

I bolted between the 2 parked vans.  I didn’t stop.  I didn’t look both ways.  I just ran.  I ran until I reached her.  And I pulled her to safety.  Pulled her away from the box truck that had thankfully and finally slowed.  Away from the cars in the other direction.  I pulled her to the side of the van and swatted her bottom and spoke to her more sternly than I ever had in the past.  She cried and I, shaking, held it together.  She had to know.  She had to know how bad and dangerous that was…but she couldn’t know- couldn’t know that she was this close.  But I did.

We two moms plunked the kids in their seats and strapped everyone in.  Then we turned around, hugged, and shook, and fought back tears.  My stomach hurt and my throat throbbed from screaming.  But she was safe.

I turned to go.  And as I opened the van door I heard Him so clearly…

That’s how I feel about my kids.

I gasped.  I wasn’t expecting, wasn’t listening for Him, but I felt it clear as day in my spirit.  He continued…

That’s how I feel when my kids are running out into the road marked with danger.  That’s how I feel when they run toward the things that will hurt them, maim them, even kill them.  But I’m not talking about just physical death.   I’m talking about the kind that separates them from me…forever.  I run and I scream and my stomach hurts and my heart aches like it’s being ripped in two and sometimes I get there in time…and sometimes I can’t.  Because that’s what free will is.  And I feel that, like you just did, every moment of every day because I’ve got billions of kids.  And at any moment billions of them are running toward the road.  And billions of box trucks are speeding their way.  And I can see them coming, from a million miles away.  And all I want to do is grab my kids and hold them and kiss them in the safety of my arms.  But sometimes they keep going…

And I could see Him, my heavenly Father, weeping over His beloved kids.  And my heart broke.  How could anyone live that way?  With that much pain and anguish?  Only love could.

I gave the Shortcake a long lecture in spurts over the course of the next hour.  Later, when I asked her what she had done wrong she said,

“I need hold you hand.”

I started to correct her but stopped.  The road really isn’t the problem.  There are always going to be roads in our lives, and not all of them are going to be safe.  We can’t necessarily get rid of the roads… but we can hold our parent’s hand.

That hand keeps us out of trouble.  Oh, we may try to break away sometimes, try to step our toes off the curb and into the busy street, but that hand pulls us back.  There’s safety in holding His hand.  That doesn’t mean the road doesn’t have potholes, sharp inclines, or steep cliffs- most roads do.  But we’ve got a Daddy willing to walk the road with us and hold tightly to our hand, and not let go…

Psalm 73:23-26

23 Yet I am always with you;
 you hold me by my right hand.
24 You guide me with your counsel,
and afterward you will take me into glory.
25 Whom have I in heaven but you?
And earth has nothing I desire besides you.
26 My flesh and my heart may fail,
but God is the strength of my heart
and my portion forever.

Psalm 139:1-10

1 You have searched me, LORD,
and you know me.
2 You know when I sit and when I rise;
you perceive my thoughts from afar.
3 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.

 7 Where can I go from your Spirit?
Where can I flee from your presence?
8 If I go up to the heavens, you are there;
if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.
9 If I rise on the wings of the dawn,
if I settle on the far side of the sea,
10 even there your hand will guide me,
   your right hand will hold me fast.

Lessons in Supermarket Aisles and under Freeways (Part III)

I gave away that $20.  After weeks of wondering, expecting,  in every grocery aisle, it happened in the least expected place: 

Under a bridge.

I was alone in the car.  I am never alone in the car.  I am always carting 3 children in the back.  And always and forever there is bickering, seat-kicking, and requests for the nearest fast food joint and every fast food joint, serenading me from the back seats.  But I was alone this time.  And loving it a little bit. 

I spent most of the trip on a delightful phone call with my sister-in-love.  We hung up as we both approached our destinations.  One block later, I saw her.

She was standing under a long stretch of highway bridge.  In one of the spots

I know of 3 spots.  One at an off-ramp, one at an on-ramp, and one under the bridge.  The beggar’s spots. 

I come across them often in my travels.  Normally a man, sometimes young but often old, and always dirty, stands with his cardboard sign, at the traffic light, looking for mercy.  Their signs, so alike, say things like “Homeless Veteran,” “Need Help,” and “God Bless You.”  And normally, I pray for a green light, and when none is given, I lock my doors and look away. 

It’s easier to look away.  And, so I tell myself, safer.  And granted, a woman taxiing 3 small children should not be rolling down her window to men such as these, right?  Right, I say to myself, and drive on my merry way to the giant shopping malls and gargantuan thrift stores, to spend money on things I don’t need.  And I try not to think twice about it.

But this time, the beggar looked different. 

She stood there with her sign, small and alone.   This time I couldn’t help but look and read, and she was the one that averted her eyes.   There in black lettering on that ripped cardboard sign, it said,

“Homeless and Pregnant”

And she was.  A girl, maybe 20, with nutbrown hair, slivered almond eyes, and a round little belly.  Homeless and pregnant.

The light turned red, as it always does, and I slowed to my stop.  I knew I had moments and I knew He was already speaking.

You have $20 in your wallet.

I sat there in my nice minivan, with my 3 nice carseats, next to my nice wallet and nicer purse and the thoughts started to tumble.

What if she’ll use it for drugs?  What if she’s got some pimp who will take it?  What if she’s not even HOMELESS?

The thoughts tumbled, but this time they didn’t stick.  I knew.  I knew that here before me, stood Him.

… the king will say to those on his right… When I was hungry, you gave me something to eat, and when I was thirsty, you gave me something to drink. When I was a stranger, you welcomed me, and when I was naked, you gave me clothes to wear. When I was sick, you took care of me, and when I was in jail, you visited me.”

Then the ones who pleased the Lord will ask, “When did we give you something to eat or drink? When did we welcome you as a stranger or give you clothes to wear or visit you while you were sick or in jail?”

The king will answer, “Whenever you did it for any of my people, no matter how unimportant they seemed, you did it for me.”    -Matthew 25: 34-40

Frederick Buechner says it like this:

God comes to us in the hungry man we do not have to feed, comes to us in the lonely man we do not have to comfort, comes to us in all the desperate human need of people everywhere that we are always free to turn our backs upon.

And this time, this one time, I chose not to turn my back. 

I rolled down my window, caught her eye, and handed her a $20 bill.  She looked away, looked at the money, looked at me and said thank you, and walked back to her spot. 

I stammered an awkward, “God bless you,” and gave her a smile.  The light turned green and I drove away. 

And I knew I had been in His presence. 

He was that small pregnant girl.  He’s the malnourished orphans and AIDS-riddled Ugandans that I weep on my keyboard over.  He’s my very own children, my friends, my neighbors, and even the people that rub me the wrong way.  He’s so very much alive in every face that He loves, and every face that He loves is every face on this earth.  Black, white, old, young, male, female.  Child, murderer, widow, thief, prostitute, saint, bigot, zealot, homeless, heartless.  It doesn’t matter.  My only job is to love Him by loving His people. 

I don’t know what that girl did with the money.  Driving away I thought of all the things I could have said,

Make sure you buy some food with this.  Save this for diapers.  Please take care of yourself and your baby

I’m not sorry that I didn’t say them.  I said what I should have said.  “God bless you.”  God show Himself to you.  God wrap you in His arms tonight and be your shelter.  God pour out His love, protection, grace, peace and provision upon you, you His beautiful daughter.  Bless you.

We are really alive when we are together as human beings, when by sunset or daybreak or by the fluorescence of a grocery store or the shabby twilight of a church, the walls between us crumble a little.  What I try to avoid because the word has become so threadbare in our time is that we are really alive, of course, when we manage somehow to love- when we love the mystery and beauty and terror that loom vast just beneath the air we move through, when we begin to hear a voice not just in the setting sun but in the earthquake, in the silence, in the agonies of men as well as their gladness.  We are really alive when we love each other, when we look at each other and think,  “Grace and peace be with you, brother and friend.”  When there is such life as this, once is not nearly enough.   -Frederick Buechner

Extra Credit Reading

Read this last night in the book I’m currently devouring.  Thought it was perfect timing considering yesterday’s post.  Timeless as well.  Doesn’t matter if it’s 50 A.D., 1870, or 2011, He never changes.

…so few people have any conception of what the grace of God really is.  To say that it is free unmerited favor only expresses a little of its meaning.  It is the unhindered, wondrous, boundless love of God, poured out upon us in an infinite variety of ways [like 20 bucks you don’t deserve], without stint or measure, not according to our deserving, but according to His measureless heart of love, which passeth knowledge, so unfathomable are its heights and depths.  I sometimes think a totally different meaning is given to the word “love” when it is associated with God from that which we so well understand in its human application.  We seem to consider that Divine love is hard and self-seeking and distant, concerned about its own glory, and indifferent to the fate of others.  But if ever human love was tender and self-sacrificing and devoted, if ever it could suffer gladly for its loved one, if ever it was willing to pour itself out in a lavish abandonment for the comfort or pleasure of its objects, then infinitely more is Divine love tender and self-sacrificing and devoted, and glad to bear and forbear, and suffer, and eager to lavish its best of gifts and blessings upon the objects of its love.  Put together all the tenderest love you know of, dear reader, the deepest you have ever felt, and the strongest that has ever been poured out upon you, and heap upon it all the love af all the loving human hearts in the world, and then multiply it by infinity, and you will begin perhaps to have some faint glimpses of the love and grace of God!

-Hannah Whitall Smith

The Christian’s Secret of a Happy Life,  published 1870

The Color of Love

Red, the color of love.  It’s everywhere right now.  Valentine’s Day and all.  From florist storefronts emblazened with every shade of crimson to my kid’s Transformer valentines  -red.  I actually never thought much of the color.  I’d prefer a creamy white rose to a red one anyday.  It’s a little bold for me.  If you know me at all you know that I like to stay in the neutral family of colors.  It’s safer that way.  

I’m a safe girl.  In fact, the only reason I haven’t written on this blog for over a month is because it’s safe.  If I don’t write, then I don’t risk.  Don’t risk writing “me” when when my whole purpose is to write “Him.”  Don’t risk writing meaningless drivel or vomiting up the late-night meanderings of my mind on this dusty keyboard.  Don’t risk typos or incomplete thoughts.  Don’t risk failure or wasting my time writing into the void of the blogosphere.  I like safe.

No, I never thought much of the color red. 

I’ve been doing a character study of Moses so I’ve been reading through the book of Exodus.  Something stood out to me yesterday as I was reading the 10 Commandments out of Exodus 20.  In verse 5 it says,

“You must not worship or serve any idol, because I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God.”

I pondered it a moment and took out my Bible commentary.  I chewed on a few choice morsels and then when about the business of attending to the Strawberry’s mess-making and the Sour Patch Kid’s sour puss.  Later in the day I grabbed my daily devotional and BAM!  There it was again.  The day’s verse,

“I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God.”

Now, whenever this happens (and it happens WAY more than you would ever think) I sit up and take notice.  With 31, 103 verses in the Bible, it’s not just coincidence when the same verse or theme or Biblical story pops up again and again in the books you read or the sermons you hear.

My interest was once again piqued and I needed to know more.  Jealous?  What exactly does it mean for God to be jealous?  Certainly God doesn’t lose Himself in the pre-teen fervor of puppy love.  Certainly He can’t be like the brooding boyfriend, forever on edge, expecting at any moment to lose his beloved to the bequiling ways of someone ever more handsome and enticing.  Certainly He’s not driving past my house to see if there’s another car there or sifting through my past emails.  He’s not that guy, right? 

Richard Strauss describes it this way,

“The root idea in the Old Testament word jealous is to become intensely red. It seems to refer to the changing color of the face or the rising heat of the emotions which are associated with intense zeal or fervor over something dear to us. In fact, both the Old and New Testament words for jealousy are also translated “zeal.” Being jealous and being zealous are essentially the same thing in the Bible. God is zealous—eager about protecting what is precious to Him.”

Zealous.  He’s not jealous in the way we can be jealous, as if the object of our affection was just that, an object, a possession.  No, He’s zealous for us.  Eager.  Passionate.  Red with love.

He doesn’t want me chasing after my idols because He loves me.  He knows that they never satisfy.   His heart aches when my love is wasted on the temporary highs of a successful shopping trip or the joy of a few pounds lost.  Oh, He rejoices with me when they don’t compete for His attention, don’t get me wrong.  But when I neglect Him for their company, when my thought life is bombarded with their empty promises of safety, happiness and worth, it’s then that I’m cheating and it’s then that He weeps over the “other guy” in my life.  It pains Him to see me prostituting myself on the altars of pride, control and security, not because He’s insecure but because He knows that He’s the only thing that can fill this hole in my heart.  He knows that He’s the only thing that satisfies.  And He wants that for me.  He wants me to find peace in His love.  He wants me to find worth in His love.  He wants me to find fulfillment in His love.  His love.  That blood-red love that spilled so mine wouldn’t have to.  Oh how He loves us.

Red, it’s actually a pretty great color.

Do me a favor, would you, dear friend?  Click on the link below, turn up the volume (this is a must) and listen to this song. 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X-rW528qiYw&feature=related

Laundry and the Cross. Welcome.

It’s 4 a.m.  Little footsteps woke me. 

“Mommy, I peed my bed.”

“Noooo,”  I moan.

Please, God, no.  Not after the past two days of insanity.  Church, play-dates, 2 trips to pick up the new-to-us bunk bed and freezer, tearing apart and cleaning a room and a basement, un-loading, figuring out how to put it all back together minus instructions, loads of laundry, helping a friend, setting up a brunch, putting 75 cookbooks together that refuse to be stapled and weren’t supposed to be my responsibility.  Two days of bone and soul-wearying work and yet nothing to cross off my to-do list.  No.  It’s not fair.  I just washed those sheets, the clean smell of  bleach and fabric softener still linger on them, only now mixed with urine.

We pad down the stairs to his room.  I tear sheets, fluffy comforter, duvet and about a hundred stuffed animals off the bottom bunk, hitting my head a dozen times in the process.  How is it possible that such a small person can make such a wet spot?  I put it back together as well as I can until everything’s washed. 

“I’m sorry I peed the bed, Mommy,” my 5-year-old whispers.

At 4 a.m. things seem so much dimmer.  I try to shake the frustration off but the prospect of laundry deja vu and another day filled with responsibilities to everyone and everything but my comfy happiness has settled itself heavily on my shoulders and mind.  This mommy-life, so muddy with monotony, has gotten to me tonight.  All I really want to do is throw a toddler-size tantrum.  I want to yell and scream and stomp my feet.  I stifle the urge.  It would only wake the rest of the house and thus awaken a whole new slew of tears and to-do’s.

“Pick up your cross, Cory.”

I hear Him but I pretend like I didn’t.  This is justified frustration after all. 

I mutter a short lecture to my son on the benefits of going to the bathroom before you go to bed, tuck him in and shut the door.  I trudge back through the cold, dark house and flop back into bed only to stare at the alarm clock, red and fierce.  4:15.  4:16.  4:17.

“Pick up your cross, Cory.”

Though He says it gently, I’m still not ready to respond.  I heard it all day.  I heard it when I had to change the plans of my day to fit something else in. I heard it while sorting through 1500 sheets of recipe-laced paper.  I heard it while nursing my bruised stapling-hand.   I heard it when I looked at my messy house, mounds of laundry and in-tact to-do list for the day, and sulked. 

I tried to tell myself that I was picking up my cross.  I mean, look at everything I did!  I most certainly was carrying that heavy burden! 

“Come on, Lord, don’t You see what I’ve done for You today?”

But as I sit here, typing away at my first and long-put-off blog entry, I know what He’s really saying. 

Sometimes what matters is how you pick up your cross.

I know how He picked up His.  With hands that dripped scarlet.  Three hundred pounds of rough splinters laid on a back whipped raw.  Wood pressing knife-like, against His thorny brow.  Blood mixed with sweat.  Pain wrapped with love ‘cross His spat-upon face.  And He did it for me.

Philippians 2:5-11 (The Message)

Think of yourselves the way Christ Jesus thought of himself. He had equal status with God but didn’t think so much of himself that he had to cling to the advantages of that status no matter what. Not at all. When the time came, he set aside the privileges of deity and took on the status of a slave, became human! Having become human, he stayed human. It was an incredibly humbling process. He didn’t claim special privileges. Instead, he lived a selfless, obedient life and then died a selfless, obedient death—and the worst kind of death at that—a crucifixion.”

When He asks me to pick up my cross it’s because He already did.  And when He did, He thought of me.  He thought of me in this moment when I’m whining about urine-soaked sheets and cookbooks.  Saw my sour face and self-blackened heart.  And all He thought was,

Love.

He picked up His cross out of love and asks me to pick up mine for the same reason.

Hebrews 12:2-12 (NIV and The Message)

 “let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. 

…So don’t feel sorry for yourselves. Or have you forgotten how good parents treat children, and that God regards you as his children?

   My dear child, don’t shrug off God’s discipline,
      but don’t be crushed by it either.
   It’s the child he loves that he disciplines;
      the child he embraces, he also corrects.

God is educating you; that’s why you must never drop out. He’s treating you as dear children. This trouble you’re in isn’t punishment; it’s training, the normal experience of children. Only irresponsible parents leave children to fend for themselves. Would you prefer an irresponsible God? We respect our own parents for training and not spoiling us, so why not embrace God’s training so we can truly live? While we were children, our parents did what seemed best to them. But God is doing what is best for us, training us to live God’s holy best. At the time, discipline isn’t much fun. It always feels like it’s going against the grain.  No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.

Therefore, strengthen your feeble arms and weak knees.  Make level paths for your feet, so that the lame may not be disabled, but rather healed.”

Welcome, dear reader, as He helps me strengthen my feeble arms and my weak and trembling knees.  My prayer is that as I attempt to level my paths and pick up my cross, that we both will find healing from the only One who can truly heal bodies and broken hearts.  The One who thought of  me and you as He carried His cross.  And all He thought was…

Love.