Jesus’ lifeless body (Matthew 27:57-60)

It just occurred to me today that Joseph of Arimathea held Jesus’ lifeless body in his arms as he carried him from the cross to the tomb and when he wrapped it with a clean cloth.  What would that have been like?  The feeling of hope dead and lost, right there in his arms — cold, limp, unmoving.  Were there feelings of despair, confusion, and lostness?  Helplessness and hopelessness?  Wasn’t his heart broken as he placed Jesus’ body in the tomb and rolled the stone over the cave, leaving him there in darkness?  Was his mind reeling with questions such as, “What about the promises?  The miracles?  The proclamations that Jesus made?”  Even though he was a believer in Jesus, there must have been some level of doubt and despair, sorrow and confusion — a momentary flash of wondering if what Jesus said about rising again would really come true.

So, for Joseph, how was it for him to find out that Jesus came back to life on the third day?  Did he get to be one of the ones who saw him alive?  Because everyone might’ve seen that Jesus died on the cross, but he was the only one who touched and handled his dead body.  How amazing it was for him to see Jesus with life and breath in him once again!  I can hardly imagine the joy and amazement for him on that first Easter morning when true, lasting hope was restored in him, a hope that everything Jesus said and promised was true.  Life everlasting.  No more fear of pain and death.  Love unconditional.  Mercy and grace.  Forgiveness.  Freedom.  Joy that would never fade.  How truly amazing it must’ve been.  I’m sure Joseph was never the same again.

When we are that close to death and then experience life restored, our lives are changed forever.

Good Friday reflections

I read all the accounts of Gethsemane this morning and was struck that Jesus told Peter, James & John, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death.” I always thought Jesus said that phrase to God, but it was actually to his disciples! He also says, “Stay here and keep watch with me.” I am struck by this because this means that Jesus shared with them his sorrow. He didn’t feel like he needed to hide it from or protect them because he’s their leader. He was vulnerable and honest, and the truth was, he needed his friends. He asked them pray and keep watch with him.

Jesus, here, gives us an example of what to do when we are facing hard things in our lives. First, we share it with friends and we ask for their support. Second, pray. Jesus tells the Father honestly how he feels. He doesn’t want to die for humanity in the excruciating manner of the cross–is there another way to come to the same result? If not, then he will do what the Father wants…

I’m struck by Matthew’s account which shows the difference between the first time and second time that Jesus prays. The first time, he says, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.” The second time, “My Father, if it is not possible…may your will be done.” The first time, Jesus is still asking for it to be taken away. The second time, he has come to the understanding that it’s not possible, and he has moved toward acceptance. He’s still talking it over with with God, but he has accepted it. Prayer changes us. This is why it is important to tell God how we feel–to express our lament–because God will address our sorrow and confusion, and following him will become just a little bit easier, even into something that is excruciatingly difficult.

One other thing that strikes me is how anguished Jesus feels. Words such as “overwhelmed” “sorrow to the point of death” “troubled” “sorrowful” show me how Jesus felt as he saw what was to come. It was bad. It was hard. It was not easy. And yet he willingly chose to suffer for our behalf. [selah]

The heart of the call

In seeking to be in step with the Spirit and in sync with the heart of God, God has shown me over and over that his heart is for the lost to be found, the hurting to be healed, the grieving to be comforted, the oppressed to be freed, and that those who are in darkness would see light.  This vision to help bring about wholeness to this world is at the heart of my call to be a pastor.

Softball Mom

I love being a softball mom. Tkayla-at-bat.jpghis is my daughter’s third year playing softball.  We kind of stumbled upon this sport accidentally.  A flyer came home from her school for softball, and I asked her if she’d like to try it and she said sure.  The funny thing is that I’m not really a sporty, athletic person at all.  My husband didn’t play any team sports in his childhood either.  But we decided to give it a shot.  We quickly discovered that having a child that is in sports means that the whole family is in that sport.  We all go to the practices and games, and we all cheer her on when she’s up at bat.  And we love it.

Other lessons learned:

  1.  It is hard work to get better at sports.  You don’t get better at it by accident.  You have to be intentional about setting aside the time for practice.
  2. Related to #1, you have to like the sport or else you wouldn’t be willing to put in the effort.  Thus, passion and enjoyment is a must.
  3. Being on a team teaches you to look outside of yourself.  Their losses are your losses, their gains are your gains.  The girls have cheers, which they sing whenever their teammates are up at bat.  It is unifying for them and encouraging for the one up at bat.
  4. The result of the above 3 is that you begin to gain confidence in yourself and then get more comfortable to try new things.

Most of all, I am so proud of my daughter for sticking to this sport and trying her best always.  So proud.


Valentine’s Day is for everyone

I have this crush
on a boy I hardly know
where one thing is certain —
I must let go!

This little stanza I wrote in 2001 pretty much sums up my entire college and high school days.

I have always been a romantic.  The story of the guy and the girl meeting and falling in love has always flooded my heart with warmth and wonder.  Daydreams of flowers and chocolates and poetry occupied my thoughts.  Deep conversations, holding hands, children climbing all over us filled my dreams.  And Valentine’s Day?  Don’t even get me started.

The problem was not what I desired but how much it had become a preoccupation for me.  My whole life was directed toward it.  My decisions seemed to hang upon that aspiration of one day when I’m married.  How I longed for romance at the deepest core of my being!

It was God who made me realize that those desires were like chocolate Easter bunnies — cute on the outside but hollow on the inside.

A pivotal moment for me came in 2002, when I had this realization, “What I need in my life is not a man to fulfill all my wishes and dreams, because that place, that role, is already fulfilled by Jesus.  I do not need a man.  I do not need to be married.  I only need Jesus.  If he so chooses to give me a partner in ministry, then it will be an unexpected blessing.  I will not be any less useful to the Lord as a single person.  I am not ‘half’ of a better whole.  I am whole and wholly useful.  In fact, I am unhindered and unencumbered.”

And so I prayed, “Lord, I want to love you only.  Offer myself to you only.  Plan my life around you only.  I do not know what you will ask of me or lead me to in the future, but for now I know I want to offer you all of me.  No marriage — just ministry.  And may it be so.  As you wish.  Thy will be done.”

In that moment, I was surrendering marriage completely.  But still, I had questions for the Lord.

Me:  Children.  What about children, Lord?  I’ve always wanted to have children.
God:  You will have spiritual children.  Different than you ever dreamed of — but ever more wonderful and beautiful and lovely to love, because they will be precious gems from me.
Me:  But, Lord, I can’t imagine a whole lifetime being alone.  Thinking about a whole lifetime seems overwhelming.
God:  Don’t think about that.  I will lead you step by step in the way you should go.  Just trust me.  I’ve led you thusfar, haven’t I?
Me:  Yes, Lord.  [Long pause]
So this is it?  This determines my future career as a single person?  I don’t exclaim that mournfully, just feeling overwhelmed.
God:  Oh, MaryAnn!  You’re gonna love what I have planned for you.  You’re gonna love it!  It’s simply delightful.
Me:  And you will always be my companion?  I will never feel alone or lonely?  You will satisfy my every need?
God:  I will give you everything you need.
Me:  I will get to a deeper intimacy and dependency on you, won’t I?
God:  Exactly.  [Pause]
Is it worth it to you, MaryAnn?
Me:  Yes, I think so, Lord.  But will you show me even more?
God:  Of course.

This conversation changed everything.  In giving him my dream of marriage, my heart was finally completely surrendered to the Lord.  In doing so, he gave me entry into a world where he could meet my every need.  As it turned out, the Lord didn’t give me a whole lifetime of singlehood, but he gave me the ability to understand that he is everything.  Romance was enjoyable when he unveiled it for me, but only because I knew that he had already given me everything with himself.

These days, Valentine’s Day doesn’t carry with it the aura of rose-colored romance with a significant other.  And I believe it shouldn’t be a day that draws startling attention to the disturbing realization that we are alone and therefore something is amiss.  Because, the truth is, nothing is amiss when we have Jesus.  Valentine’s Day is a day that reminds me of the great everlasting, unending, unconditional love I have in God and the love shared with all the dear ones he’s surrounded me with.  Valentine’s Day is a day of love, and every single person can revel and celebrate in it.  No one is left out of this kind of love, because the invitation to this love from God is sent out to everyone in the person of Jesus.

Giving things away

At the pinnacle of my anxiety over finances, yesterday, I felt drawn to a survivalist inclination to chain down my wallet and then look around my house for things that we could sell, in order to earn some spare cash.

But before I could even get started looking for inventory, God brought me to full awareness that being tightfisted was not going to lead me to peace.  I needed to run in the opposite direction of my inclination and be generous instead.  If I was going to experience freedom in my heart, I had to give things away.

Even though I knew it to be true, parts of me resisted.  Being generous is not natural to me.  But, still, I had an unwavering conviction that this was the only cure for anxiety over money.

For awhile now, I’ve been meaning to sell a brand name purse that is worth hundreds of dollars — one that was passed down to me so that I could re-sell.  But instead of selling it, yesterday, I chose to give it away by posting it on a neighborhood social media group.  Many people were interested in this purse, so it was hard to choose, but there was one story that caught my attention.   A lady, who has been paying her mom’s bills because her health has declined, requested it for her mother.  I was touched by the daughter’s desire to bring such happiness to her mom, so I gifted the purse to them.  When she came to pick up the purse, I learned more of their story.  Her mother had been a single mom and had worked really hard all her life to support her two girls.  Now it was just their turn to take care of their mom.  And the thing is, she has never had any spare cash to spend on anything luxurious (read:  “frivolous”) like this purse.   And let me tell you, that little old lady was so, so thrilled.  There are no words.   I just wanted to weep as I stood there.  Amazement washed over me as this act of generosity turned out to be the greatest highlight of the year for me.  Giving away freed me.

And here is the truth that truly rings true but can’t even begin to articulate:

Bursting into Tears

When was the last time you bursted into tears?  By “bursted”, I mean the sudden, unbidden, spontaneous geyser-like eruption of tears.  Moments like those happen when you least expect it but always happen when multiple elements come to a head.

For me, it happened today, when I learned that a paycheck that I thought was coming soon was not coming so soon after all.  It would come on the same day when my seminary tuition and our credit card bill is due.  A credit card bill that includes much of our expenses from Christmas.  A seminary tuition that is not alleviated by any scholarships.  Ouch.  It’s due to arrive by mail on the exact day when those bills are due.  Why, God?  Would I even have time to deposit this check?  It just seemed too ridiculous to be true.  Not that I had the time to analyze this.  As I said, my eyes filled with abrupt tears before any thoughts had a chance to scurry through.

For the last two weeks, I have been weighted down by a sense of worry over our finances.

When I started seminary ten years ago, we had enough money in our savings to cover seminary.  A decade later, when I graduate, we will have completely depleted our savings!  But the upside is that we have grown from a family of two to four, paid off two car loans, and somehow never took out a loan for seminary.  This, to me, is a miracle of miracles.

And yet, anxiety riddles me.  It feels worrisome as I recognize that we have a depleted savings with still many forthcoming bills left to pay and as I see that actually building up our savings is a goal that is a long way off.

At this point in my spiritual journey, it seems like I should have it all together, right?  I should trust in the Lord with all my heart.  The gold and the silver all belong to him — even the cattle on a thousand hills!  I just need to seek first his kingdom.  But I’ll be the first to admit that I do not have it all together.

So what do I do when I’m worried about money?

What I want to do is to put a chain around my wallet, be as frugal as possible, look for things in our house to sell, and then mope around for days.  But God informed me today that I wasn’t going to do that.

These are the things I actually did:
1.  Cried
2.  Talked to a friend who offered to pray for me
3.  Journaled and told God exactly what is making me anxious
4.  Reflected on Bible verses that remind me of God’s character
4.  Went for a brisk walk
5.  Took my kids outdoors and paused to look at all the flowers
6.  Played hide and seek with my kids
7.  Started giving things away
8.  Talked it all out with my husband

And all of these things together helped me go to bed with peace.

Even still, I need to daily choose to make this the prayer of my heart: