Mary, Did You Know?

There are many things to think about when recalling the Easter story; self sacrificing love, victory over death, fear, sadness, forgivenes and much more, but this Easter I want to focus on one small figure at the foot of the cross. Mary. “Now there stood by the cross of Jesus his mother, his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Cleophas, and Mary Magdalene.” John 19:25 (KJV)

There she stood at the cross, the foot of which was most likely soaked in blood. I imagine the small divot where the cross was pounded into the ground was also pooled with blood. I can see her tear soaked face looking up, squinting in the sun, trying to catch a glimpse of her baby. She probably saw no more than his chest painfully rising upward while he was struggling to breathe. I can imagine her getting as close to the cross as she could, possibly soaking her own clothes in his trickling blood. Maybe it would have been just enough for her to feel a tip if her finger on his toe. A small touch that would say, “Mother is here.” It wasn’t likely that she would have a chance of touching any part of him, but at the very least, she probably came into contact with his blood. He was beaten severely before they nailed him to the cross and the scene that beheld his mother’s eyes was no doubt horrific. But she was his mother and that’s what a good mother does, she’s with her children in their time of need. She probably got as close as she could so her baby would know mother was there.

I know how much it hurts me anytime my children are hurt. In about a months time my youngest son will have neurosurgery, no doubt the reason why my Easter post took this topic. I can’t imagine the moment my little boy gets wheeled back for surgery without tearing up. I know my son will be in the care of the very best neurosurgeon but it doesn’t relieve most of my worries. I will have the obvious worry until I can touch him in recovery. I will feel relieved once I can touch my son and let him know, “Mommy is here.”

There is comfort in those words, “Mommy is here.” I find it a beautifully designed plan of God’s to allow the Son of Man to be born of a woman. He was God with a human mother and by every description of her, she was a wonderful mother. She was loving, honest, and faithful. She obeyed God with no thought of herself when she was told she was with child. She knew she was a virgin but what would her husband Joseph say? How did she know he’d still take her as his wife? Did she worry about these things when God asked her to carry His holy vessel? We will never know her intimate thoughts but she knew she was going to participate in a plan that would forever change humanity. I think about that when I look at the difficulty I face. My problems will not change the world and my plans will not be recounted for generations to come, but yet, I worry. I don’t think I have the faith Mary possessed. I know I am not the woman of faith God needs me to be, but I’m trying. I also know God has not asked me to sacrifice my son as he did Mary. What does this story of mother and son mean to me? Can it also have meaning for you?

I can only imagine what was also going through Mary’s mind during the crucifixion. There was little detail regarding Mary during this moment in time, but let’s try to stand with Mary and look at it through the eyes of a mother. Here she stood at the foot of a cross, watching her bruised, beaten, bloody, and dying son struggle for his life, possibly recalling the moment his life began. She may have thought of every other beautiful moment she had with her son since his birth, and now, the torment she must have felt as she was helpless to save him. I can see her anger for those who were mocking and belittling him. I can feel her agony as she realized what she was witnessing was indeed reality and when she finally could touch her boy, he’d be dead. Even if she had knowledge of his resurrection, she still had to witness his horrible death. It was a death he didn’t deserve because he was wrongfully accused. He was tortured and he was humiliated. He was an innocent man publicly shamed as a criminal and no one knew this better than Mary. This makes me think of the song, “Mary Did You Know?” Did she see what Jesus saw in the garden as he asked for this to be passed from him on the day of his birth? Did she look at the perfect son she had just delivered and see the death that awaited him? Christ did, and he was so fearful, he agonized over it. The Bible says, “And he was withdrawn from them about a stone’s cast, and kneeled down and prayed, saying, Father, if thou be willing, remove this cup from me: nevertheless not my will, but thine, be done.” Luke 22:41-42 (KJV) “And being in agony he prayed more earnestly: and his sweat was as it were great drops of blood falling to the ground.” Luke 22:44 (KJV) He didn’t want to experience the pain, even when he knew the effect his death would have on mankind. This verse comforts me because Jesus had all knowledge of his death, spoke to God honestly about his fears in prayer, and asked that God’s will be done. In difficult times, I take comfort in the obedience Christ displays for us here. He felt fear over his life, just like I have. He prayed and told God how he didn’t want to experience the pain, just as I have. Then, he asked for and accepted God’s will, just as I am still trying to learn. God doesn’t ask any more from us than he did from his own son. Mary and Jesus both obeyed, even when they saw the tragedy ahead.

Jesus even obeyed while he was dying. Jesus spoke few words as he died, but he spoke these words no doubt out of love and obedience, “When Jesus therefore saw his mother, and the disciple standing by, whom he loved, he saith unto his mother, Woman behold thy son. He saith to the disciple, Behold thy mother! And from that hour that disciple took her unto his home. After this, Jesus knowing that all things were now accomplished, that the scripture might be fulfilled, saith, I thirst.” John 19:26-27 (KJV) His mother, Mary was most likely widowed at this time and would have no home and no income. It was customary during this time in history for women to be put in the care of someone else at the passing of the man who was caring for her. Jesus didn’t forget his mother standing there. He made sure he took care of her in his most desperate hour. I can recall many times where my husband and I were experiencing the same pain, yet he took care of my needs before his own. It’s hard to forget that kind of love. Jesus was displaying self-sacrificing love two times over on the cross. He was sacrificing his life for mankind and put his mother’s needs before his own while he did it. My husband’s actions will never be of that magnitude, but through his actions, I have no doubt how much he loves me. When one person puts your needs before their own, they are displaying the same love Christ displayed at the cross.

Mary saw her son give up his own life shortly after this. He was removed from the cross and it was finished. In God’s great plan, taking care of Jesus’ earthly mother was included. He didn’t say, “Thanks for carrying my holy vessel Mary, get lost.” He had a plan for her care right to the end. He honored his mother. Three days later, Jesus rose from the grave proving victory over death. He didn’t forget his mother then either; Acts 1:14 says, “These all continued with one accord in prayer and supplication, with the women, and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brethren.” (KJV) Jesus spent time with the disciples, and even his mother after he rose from the dead. They prayed and worshipped together until the time he ascended into heaven. Again, the Bible didn’t mention the interaction between mother and son during this time, but there must have been joy in Mary’s heart once she saw her resurrected son. All the pain, sorrow, and grief of the cross must have melted away. She may have spent her time with him, once again admiring the wondrous works God was doing through him. Maybe she finally felt the magnitude of her pregnancy and the angel’s words to her saying she was with child.

These days, motherhood begins with two pink lines, no proclamation from heaven but the news is still as sweet. God had a plan for the mother of his son and never forgot her faithfulness. I imagine he always smiled on the woman who said, “Yes” to a plan that was uncertain for a woman in her time. She had the faith to answer God’s call and follow that all the way to the foot of a bloody cross where she watched her beloved die. His life did not end in vain. No, he had a purpose and in it, so did she. It was her “Yes” that helped complete a plan put in motion before Adam ever placed his feet upon the new creation. God had Mary in mind when he decided one final sacrifice had to be made to unite man with God. He had a plan for him and he had a plan for her. There was death and tears at that cross and there was blood, a lot of blood. Mary was probably covered in her son’s blood just as we are when we say “Yes” as she did. When we say “Yes” he has a plan for us, all the way to the end because he doesn’t forget. Like Mary, he has also promised us a new home. An eternal one. Mary wasn’t afraid to come close to the cross because she was Jesus’ mother and she’d follow him anywhere. I have no doubt Mary would take our hands and lead us to the cross where we too can be covered by the blood of the one last sacrifice because there we can find love. There lies the ultimate form of love and forgiveness. Follow Mary. Take the journey to the foot of the cross with her this Easter and ask, “Mary, did you know?”

*d*

Finding Hope

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There are times like tonight when the reality of my own life is overwhelming. It usually happens when the house is quiet and all the kids are in their beds. It’s at this time of night I have a chance to really think about things. Every day seems to move faster and more furiously toward too many events I cannot understand or control.

In the quiet night air is where anxious and stomach churning thoughts often disrupt what should be a peaceful end to the day. It’s hard to ignore the pain I feel at the end of each day when my body starts to feel the repercussions of any physical activity I may have been a part of. It can get so intense that it feels like punishment for participating in my own life.

It’s when I retire to my own bed earlier than almost every other person my age that I think of my sick little boy sleeping in his own bed. I worry about seizures that may go unheard. I sicken over the knowledge of my own weakness when he is in need. If an emergency arose, would I reach him fast enough? Could I physically do what is necessary if needed? I usually push these thoughts from my head the moment my husband appears in the doorway of our bedroom. “What would I do without him?” A thought of appreciation but also a bit of a morbid one, but a thought most parents with a sick child have frequently. We wonder how the delicate balance of our family could be repaired if we lost one of us. The magnitude of such a reality is frightening.

Often, when I recall my own thoughts of the day, I realize death lingers in my own mind more often than I am willing to admit. I have a chronic disease. My disease is running rampant while I am holding on with any last scrap of optimism I can muster. I wonder how I have any thoughts that even resemble positivity because life certainly hasn’t handed out a fair share of difficulty. It seems like the scale is not tipped in our favor. When one terrible event happens, another is rushing toward us.

The big issue with chronic illness is the “chronic” part of the phrase. It’s definition; constant or having a long duration tells me what kind of hope my son and I have at a release from disease and pain. With incurable disease, the disease never ends and freedoom from it comes only through death. With pain a constant companion to incurable, chronic disease, it isn’t a wonder why my thoughts seem quite morbid. It’s also easy to understand why I’m depressed. There isn’t an end to the pain or side effects of disease…….. there is no end. There are no cures or a remission for us. Medicine and surgery only treat the symptoms and based on the drastic measures we are taking to treat our son’s symptoms, it sometimes doesn’t feel like much of a life at all.

Dreams are put on hold, plans are cancelled, and hope seems lost. But it’s that small word almost at the end of the last sentence that have given strength to so many in worse circumstances than my own. Sometimes it’s the only thing people who feel weary and burdened use to overcome. Hope.

Hope is a word manifested through people, actions, and words. Hope is sometimes given, sometimes it’s stumbled upon, but hope is often the only thing left when everything else feels lost. On those days when I am focused on going back to bed because of the relentless pain, I cling to the hope that tomorrow will be better. I have hope that I can make each day wonderful in spite of it. Hope is the echos of a good deed. Those echos reverberate in my heart, especially in recent times, and have often brought me to tears. From gesures of kind thoughts or prayers to giving generously with no ask of recognition, we have felt more love than we may have felt in a lifetime with no difficulty. We have been humbled by pain but also by love. What a feeling it is to have a breaking heart also feel so full.

When it feels like life is too much, I don’t have to look far to find happiness. It’s the smile on our children’s faces. It’s their endless desire to love and be loved. It’s those who see past our absence from their lives due to the circumstances we can’t control and choose love us anyway.  We feel loved when we finally crouch out of our darkness and into the world and there are people still waiting with open arms.

I have hope when our children display compassion learned through circumstances that ask them to miss out on so many things by no fault of their own. Every time they offer me one of their little hands so they can help me up the stairs or care for me in concern, I have hope. They have compassion learned by trials. They don’t get to do many of the things other kids their age do like play summer T-ball or take swimming lessons. Our abnormal circumstances don’t always allow normality. I make myself sick thinking about what disease takes from everyone in this family. I feel like the little part of their childhood taken away will be the big things when they get older so I hope we offer them other beautiful memories in return. Right now, it’s that quiet time of night when they are asleep and I am awake to think of these things. I think about the smiles on their faces. I think about how much love they have for me regardless of how I feel about myself, or still, how others feel about me. They see me at my worst and still love me and I them. I realize I have much to look forward to tomorrow.

***Look for hope, even of you have to make yourself. Wake up and make the best of the day, even if you require help to do it. This doesn’t mean trying to do things beyond your capabilities, it means trying to smile or laugh, even of you have to spend the day in bed. Love to the fullest of extent, even when you feel like you have nothing left to give. You aren’t guaranteed a long life, you’re not even guaranteed a fair life. Take it from someone who knows how unfair life can be, good things are not promised and someday, the end may seem closer than it has ever felt before. Take time to cry when needed. Don’t expect to feel great about every person or thing that comes into your life. Sometimes you have to work at what’s important and let go of the rest. Most importantly, find what makes today beautiful, I bet it’s closer than you think.***

*d*

Where is Your Worth?

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Today my oldest son was sent home sick from school. I knew it was going to happen. I had seen other moms post photos of their kids next to trash cans or their status updates would warn others to stay away from the plague upon their homes. All I could do was wait for those germs to make their way through the school halls and come through my front door. Today the plague arrived.

Illnesses are treated much differently in our home. We are careful to separate sick children from the well ones and clean thoroughly, but we also try our best to keep them from coming in our home in the first place. With a chronically ill child on a chemotherapy drug and a mom who has an auto-immune disease, every illness has to be treated as if it has the potential to send us to the hospital. My ritual of telling the germs they are not welcome comes via a seasonal social media update, it reads something like this, “With cold and flu season upon us, we ask that you stay away from our family if you have been sick or have been around anyone who has been sick. Please make sure you are completely free of illness before visiting our home.” It’s simple and to the point but there is always more I could add like, “We ask you refrain from our home during flu season. We are more susceptible to getting the flu, but your small flu could send those in this home with chronic illness(s) and/or autoimmune disorders to the hosptial. Your flu could be devistating to our health.” I don’t want to come off as too pessimistic but illnesses pose a higher risk for those who are already chronically ill. I take quite a bit of medication to try to build up whatever immune system I have so I can care for sick kids when the plague does arrive, but it doesn’t always work. I sometimes succumb to illnesses and I need help.

These days asking for help is increasingly hard. I was scrolling through Facebook and someone had posted a quote that read something like this, “My greatest accomplishment in life is knowing I never depended on or was a burden to anyone else…..” I read it, made a face, read it again, and mumbled something under my breath. This quote may indicate that the author is a go-getter, someone who is independent and self-reliant. Those observations could very well be true, but the statement tells the world that there should be some great pride in not being a burden to others; so much so that this quote was paired with a beautiful photo, nice enough to hang on a wall if someone so desired. What I mumbled under my breath was this, “So what if something happened to this author and he had no choice but to rely on someone else? What about those who have no choice but to rely on someone else??…..” What did this “inspirational” quote say about those who need the daily help of others? Reliance = burden?

This quote could very well be an excellent life goal for an independent person but to someone like me who increasingly relies on the help of others, it makes me feel a bit…….worthless. I can no longer proudly proclaim how I care for myself and my family with complete independence. Until my disease is better controlled, I frequently need the assistance of loved ones. I can’t even walk long distances without the assistance of a rollator! (Yes, I am the one behind the pink and sparkly rollator.) So I have felt like my life has been on hold since my diagnoses, but does that mean I’m worthless?

I have spent many evenings cuddling a tissue box because I was crying over my feelings of worthlessness. I can’t escape the fact that I have times when I need extensive help from my husband because my RA is so severe. I still look for “good days” when my pain is minimal and I am able to leave the house or do a little of what I was able to do with ease not that long ago. It’s hard to live in a society of people who value what you can do more than who you are. Sometimes it is hard to find meaning when it’s hard to fulfill a purpose my body physically couldn’t possibly fulfill.

Then one morning after reading our morning devotional, many things came into focus. My faith teaches that we are created to be loved by a God, a God who finds pleasure in our love for Him. That same morning I looked at my special needs son after our reading and said, “Your purpose in life is to love and be loved! And we love you so much!” It was then when my light bulb went off. My purpose and meaning really isn’t measured by what I can do or how I can do it, in fact, it’s not meant to be measurable at all.

My little boy may never be able to fully understand many things in life. He has limited expressive communication skills but that doesn’t mean he can fulfill the purpose we were are created to fill, to be loved. If the only thing my son ever accomplishes in his life is to be loved, it’s a pretty sweet accomplishment. No one knows the course of our lives and those who are the goal oriented, go-getters may someday find themselves relying on others to accomplish those tasks that were simple for them not that long ago. That does not mean those people have lost their worth because of it. No, their value was and will always be the same. They are valued and loved for who they are.

Don’t get me wrong, working hard and accomplishing dreams are great but there are those who are struggling to find value because we live in a society hung up on what we do more than who we are. All the valuables in the world mean nothing to someone with an empty heart. You are meant to be loved. You are loved and made for a purpose, and that purpose isn’t measurable by things of this Earth. We may not all have equal valuables but we are all of equal value. Once I realized this, I have spent less time cozy-ing up to the box of tissues. I realized that my life can be spent in love and service to others and to a God who delights in my life.

*d*

Exercise Your Faith

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It seems like the most work I do with my elliptical making sure it isn't used as a coat rack. "Hummmm."

When is the last time you picked up a work out routine and stuck with it? This doesn’t mean jumping on the treadmill for five minutes once a month or purchasing a YMCA pass after the first of the year, I mean starting a workout routine and sticking with it. I have and it’s been hard, especially with small children but I can’t let them or any other excuse stop me.

So it’s a good thing that my husband and I own quite a bit of exercise equipment. I had ample space to use them when we lived in our last house because we had a nice sized unfinished basement. I couldn’t make the “I’m too scared of the creepy basement” excuse because we painted the block walls and furnished it. I had my own space and my own time to work out and I enjoyed it. I missed a day here or there but I had successfully kept up with my routine. Besides having alone time, my next biggest motivator was money. I was involved in a biggest looser contest a few times while I worked at my last job. We fairly judged the winner on the person who lost the most mass body index versus weight as we were all various sizes, shapes, heights, and weights. I never won but I felt a definate improvement in my health and well being. Despite the obvious realization that working out had made me feel better, I eventually went back to my old ways and working out was no longer on my agenda.

Old habits, or lack thereof, are hard to break, even when they are habits that improve life. If a hundred people were asked to follow a guideline to have a happy life, a guide that guaranteed happiness, I wouldn’t be surprised if more than half of those people stopped living by the guide. Moreover, I wouldn’t be surprised if the majority of those same people would then complain about any unhappiness they would then experience. I am going to be very honest, I’d be the complaining quitter. I know because I am already one. I was given a guide to a happy life and quit long before I ever gave it a chance to change my life.

When I committed to my Christian faith and was given my very own guide to life. Like many people, my Bible rests on my nightstand. I guess I think if I sleep close to it, I’ll absorb all the knowledge I need. It’s like buying a gym pass and expecting to lose weight by the mere possession of it. Staying fit in any capacity requires effort. I was putting zero work into my life and wanted to claim I was physically and spirituality fit. I was nothing more than a fraud. In many ways, I still am. By giving into my old habits and choosing inactivity, I am settling for the mere fscaud of good spiritual and physical health. Why do I settle when I can have the real thing? It takes work.

I wanted the illusion of fitness because it requires none of the work it takes to be fit. This was especially true for my physical workouts. I was already so tired before even starting my workout that I felt too tired to try. My husband told me I had to push through the fatigue and it would get better. I would grin sheepishly because I knew he was right but I also knew my body was sadly too accustomed to the lack of activity. I knew working out would eventually give me more energy, it was just too hard to get myself psyched up enough to try again. I had a hard time giving up my motto, “Plenty of rest will make me feel plenty rested.” It was a misconception based on my lack of knowledge. Plenty of rest just made me lazy. Again, the same went for my spiritual journey. I got lazy. A lot of my distress came from my lack of biblical knowledge and principles. Yes, once a week I’m the one at the edge of my seat listening to a sermon, but I wasn’t opening my bible at home. Once a week wasn’t enough! Just like my physical fitness, I was stagnant by my own lack of knowledge and I was unwilling to change.

There was one thing kept me from being physically or spiritually fit, one hour. Yes, just an hour. I was not willing to put a mere hour to strengthen myself physically and I was only willing to put in more than one hour a week spiritually. Physically, an hour a day would be enough to improve my physical well being. Here is a quote from an online article found here: http://www.fitnessmagazine.com/workout/tips/power-surge-the-hidden-benefits-of-exercise/ about the benefits of exercise within the first hour, “Within One Hour of Exercise… You’re protecting yourself against colds, flu, you name it. Exercise elevates your level of immunoglobulins, which are proteins that help bolster your immune system and ward off infection……..”

“You’re feeling zen. Mood-enhancing chemicals, like serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine, flood your brain for a couple of hours post-exercise and for up to a day if you’ve competed in an endurance event, like a marathon. Stress? What stress?”

Wow! One hour of exercise, even within the first hour, has great benefits! Why is it so hard to find that one hour a day if the benefits are so great? Physically and spiritually, one hour a week won’t do. It isn’t enough!

There are those times when fitness becomes a priority with ample motivation. Money was definately mine! Joining the dating pool also seems like one of the best motivaters besides a doctor’s suggestion to do so due to failing health. When someone is searching for a mate, keeping themselves physically fit and well groomed is a good way to increase the chances of getting noticed by a potential mate. When finding “the one” becomes a priority, so might other things like exercise. It’s serious business that requires some serious effort. Someone once told me, “Most people are on their best behavior while they are dating. If the person you are dating isn’t on their best behavior now, it won’t get better after marriage.” It makes sense right? A lot of people put their best foot forward when they are seeking a spouse. If they believe they found “the one” a few things have to go into the relationship to ensure they can then make it to the alter. One of the biggest and most important components needed in a relationship is time. How many couples marry immediately after the first date? Not many! Time is needed nourish the relationship. Time is also needed so the couple can be assured of their compatibility. If no time is spent on either of these, it would be a nothing but a relationship between two strangers.
The only way to turn a stranger into a friend is to spend time with that person.

We need to nurture our relationship with God just as much as our most intimate relationships. We need to act as if we are dating the Lord. We need talk to the Lord, spend time asking questions and telling him about ourselves. We need to continually build trust that is made through our relationship with him. Like any other relationship, the more we know about someone, the more we can trust them. Most people would like a relationship where they can say they can trust their spouse with their life. The same should be true with our relationship with God, but most of us choose not to trust him with our lives. We worry and fret, displaying no trust relationship with our creator. I once heard that we should never worry about the outcome of our troubles because no matter what happens, we win when we trust in the Lord. If we live, we win another day to bring glory to the Lord and if we die, we win because we are finally reunited with Him in death.

Imagine a relationship with the Lord that puts you at peace with any circumstance in life. It doesn’t mean we won’t cry, hurt or feel pain, it means that we can always have the peace that comes from being in an intimate relationship with our Lord. A couple weeks ago I had a worrisome thoughts concerning my son’s upcoming neurosurgery. I couldn’t sleep and my worrying got so bad, I woke my husband from his sleep. I asked him if he thought we were making the right decision. He woke, assured me that he thought we had made the right choice and fell back to sleep. He was so confident that he didn’t stay awake to worry with me. With no one to share in my fear, I decided to simply hold his hand. In this closeness with the person I trusted the most, I calmed down.

This is what God wants to do for us. He wants a loving and trusting relationship that eases our fears and worries by our mere closeness to him. The only way we will get there is to spend more than one hour a week with him. One hour can truly change our lives in so many ways. One hour can transform our physical and spiritual being but it takes effort. What will you give up to get there? Will that couple hours of television a night bring you the peace and comfort God can bring you if you just spare him a few minutes of your time? Will time not spent on something meaningful be a regret you confess on your deathbed?  One hour………. think about it……

*d*

Come Down from Your Tree

One of the nicest things others have done for our family is bring a meal to our door when times are difficult. It was especially helpful when I was in the middle of my first, ugly Rheumatoid Arthritis flare. My family was able to enjoy a meal without the fuss of putting it together. We are equally grateful when we are invited to eat a meal with someone else. The invitation itself comes with the mutual understanding that mealtime with our family isn’t always seamless. We have four children under the age of 10, one of which is disabled. He has a great deal of anxiety at mealtimes and sharing a meal with him does come with a fair share of comprises. Having children of any age or ability can come with challenges but mealtime for us can be anything but relaxing. This may be why we are more than excited when we are extended an invitation.

This same excitement was especially true over two thousand years ago when mealtime was a priority and sharing a meal had great significance. In fact, hospitality should be an active practice in the Christian faith. Luke 14:12-14: “He said also to the man who had invited him, ‘When you give a dinner or a banquet, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, lest they also invite you in return and you be repaid. But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you. You will be repaid at the resurrection of the just.” This verse reminds me of the story of Zacchaeus. He was also someone who was rarely invited to a meal but got a big surprise when he was asked, and even more by who extended the invitation.

Zacchaeus’s story began with him cowering in a tree. Can you imagine a grown man hiding in a tree? That’s exactly what Zacchaeus did. He shyly hid away from a crowd that gathered in the streets to see Jesus. Zacchaeus wasn’t someone who was well liked. Zacchaeus was a tax collector. His unpopular profession had him hiding from a crowd that despised him and his shame could have also had him hiding from the Lord. Jesus did arrive and although Zacchaeus may have been able to hide from the crowd, he wasn’t able to hide from Jesus. Jesus saw Zacchaeus and called him down from the tree. Can you imagine the fear and anxiety that overcame Zacchaeus? Was Jesus wanting to make an example out of him? Would the crowd tell the Lord his indiscretions? Zacchaeus must have been astounded by what Jesus did next. Jesus asked to be a guest in Zacchaeus’s home. Now Zacchaeus and the crowd must have been puzzled by the actions of Jesus. Maybe they all stood puzzled and possibly wondering, “Isn’t there someone more righteous for Jesus to dine with?”

“What could Jesus want with a cowardly tax collector?”

In that time, it was an honor to house such a guest, let alone the son of God! The son of God just called down the most well known sinner in the crowd and asked to come to his home. What does this say about Jesus? What message was he trying to give to the watching crowd?

I think it says many things about him. First, it says that Jesus did not let the disapproval of the crowd sway his decision. He knew what murmurs would come from the crowd once he asked Zacchaeus down from the tree. He knew it may cause a disruption and rumors, but he did it anyway. Jesus had a plan and that plan was for all people, especially those who feel like they have the most to hide.

Second, it proves God can see the hiding sinner. Can you imagine what would drive a grown man, an employee of the government, up into a tree? He had a terrible job. He was the first person people would see when they had to hand their money over in taxes. Can you imagine the reception he received when there was a tax increase? The people of the time worked hard for their money and the taxes were not always fair. Zacchaeus had to collect the money one way or another, with no ability to be sympathetic with the people. Zacchaeus was well aware of his reputation. Who knows, maybe he had been in that tree since the middle of night as assurance he wouldn’t be seen. He was most likely a desperate man for a number of different reasons.

It also shows how Christ lived by example. The above verse is summarized by specifying who should be invited to a meal. The ones we should be extending a meal to are those who are unable to repay the kindness. It’s easy to invite those we know and like to our table but how many meals would we extend to our enemies or a hungry stranger off the street? Jesus knew Zacchaeus was not offered invitations to dine with those who disliked him, yet he was the one person Jesus wanted to share a meal with that day. He didn’t ask us to do something he didn’t do himself. Maybe he knew how much could be learned about someone by sharing a meal. Imagine what could be accomplished by extending an invitation to those who feel like an outcast. It could very well save lives as Christ lived to save all people.

Lastly, it shows that even the sinner who has the most obvious of sins are welcome to dine with the Lord. Jesus did not lay out criteria he required of Zacchaeus before he would dine with him, he just called him from the tree. Jesus reflected these actions on the day of his death. Two sinners were crucified on either side of him. One taunted Jesus and the other asked for forgiveness. Both men were obvious sinners and deserved death. Jesus extended forgiveness to the man who asked. With no strings attached, he said to the repentant man, “Verily I say unto thee, To day shalt thou be with me in paradise.” Luke 23:43

Too many of us feel like Zacchaeus. We are ashamed and hiding. We think there is no way we are worthy to be in the presence of the Lord. Our sin, disappointment, and the opinions others have us scampering and hiding away from life. What we don’t realize is that Jesus sees where we are hiding, and most importantly, he sees what we are hiding. He already knows our deepest of secrets and he knows what we deserve and wants us to let him in. He did make an example of Zacchaeus that day, an example that is still true of the nature of the Lord. God seeks out all people. No one is too righteous or too sinful to be excluded from the love of the Lord.

Jesus is standing under your tree. How will you answer his request to come into your home? Will you open your door or keep trying to hide all what he can already see? If you have already invited Christ in, what are you doing with his words? Who have you invited to your table? Will you be an example to the waiting crowd?

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To Those Who are Different

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If you are reading these words maybe it’s because you saw the title and thought, “That’s me, I’m different.” Maybe you said it with sadness. Maybe you feel like your differences have set you apart from the rest of the world and you feel alone. I want to tell you why you should say, “I’m different” with enthusiasm and joy.

At some point in history we were made to believe that it was acceptable to believe in a cookie cutter type of beauty. Beauty could be defined by some as a lack of “imperfections”. The world has gone so crazy over this concept that the appearance of people already believed to fit into the acceptable category of beauty is altered. Bodies are trimmed to a desired build, hair is colored, cut, or even added to obtain “perfection” and even the face can be altered to fit the mold. Everywhere we look we see some mythical idea of beauty. By accepting these preconceived ideals, we are denying ourselves the opportunity to witness the true beauty around us. Natural beauty. Beauty that shines so brightly on the inside, it dulls the watching world.

I want you to imagine what it looks like when you step out your front door. When I step out of mine, I step out onto my front porch. I have a swing and a wicker chair there. I can see my flowers, hear the cars driving by on my busy street, and I can barely see the horizon of the sky. The quaint buildings of our small village don’t allow me to see the wide angle view of nature but I still get to see several types of trees that line the main street in our village. The smells and sounds differ from day to day as we are a community that thrives on farming and livestock. I frequently hear a train roll through as we live only a block from the tracks. I love where I live. How about you? What do you see? Maybe you live where I have always dreamed of living, slightly isolated in a valley with a majestic view of a mountain? Or maybe you live where you had always dreamed, in a city alive with the noise of life. Maybe you don’t like what you see and are still dreaming of being elsewhere. No matter where you are, there is something to see once you step outside. Nature. Nature is all it’s own and it has been here long before we changed the landscapes outside our doors. It is full of splendid diversity. We can photoshop and edit pictures of nature but nothing compares to the real thing. A photo lacks the depth of being surrounded by the actual beauty of nature. Would the mountain look less majestic if a rock were to crumble off the face? Is the stream less blue if the leaves of fall float on its surface? Do we refuse to gaze upon the rise of an ancient tree because it’s bark has been worn from the animals that shelter in its branches?

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If your answer is “no” then I ask why our own differences are seen as anything less than beautiful. Why is a smile less warming if the face that wears it has a blemish upon it’s skin? Is the body any less than amazing just because it rests in a wheelchair rather than on two feet? Why is a the shaved head of a cancer patient less desirable than that of someone with a full head of hair? Beauty can no longer be defined by the masses idea of beauty, but by nature. The differences of all of us are natural. Why are we trying to change that? There is so much to appreciate when we step out our doors and take time to look at the unending differences of nature, isn’t it time we do the same with each other?

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Beauty isn’t just what you see in a magazine, it is the resilience of the human spirit, the beauty in our personal journey. Beauty is what the journey teaches us and how it transforms us from the inside. Beauty is the scars we bare from physical and emotional wounds earned in battle. True beauty is held by those who have been stripped to their soul and have seen life in a new light. Beauty is not worn on the face or seen upon a pouty lip, it is deep within the heart. Beauty is carried by those who have given all of themselves and have opened their eyes to what really makes taking a breath priceless. Indeed it’s seeing how wonderful it is to be a unique individual.

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We are on the brink of redefining so many things, it is about time we start redefining this archaic definition of beauty. It is time we love what makes ourselves and others unique. It is time to wake up and look at what makes you different and say, “no one else is like me” and celebrate it. Don’t be discouraged by differences. They really aren’t differences, diversity in all of us needs to be as natural as those in nature. The rocks will crumble on the mountain, so too will our bodies become brittle, but they are both beautiful. Not all birds have the ability to fly, but they are still birds just as we are no less human if we cannot walk. Hundreds of different flowers lining a hillside are not dedined as ugly because each one is different so why are some defined as such?

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If you feel different, celebrate because you were meant to be different. Every person was meant to be unique. To define beauty in a narrow perimeter is unnatural and ridiculous and it needs to stop. We are part of the beauty and artwork of nature but yet we define our beauty on different terms. It makes no sense.

If you feel too different to be beautiful, please know that you are special because there is no one like you and there never will be again. You are like one of those thousands of flowers that grow wild in nature, without you, the hillside wouldn’t be as splendid. You are splendid, because you are you.

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Questioning Faith

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I was six years old one summer evening in 1987 when I stepped out of my pew and made my way to the front of my childhood church. I nervously stepped out to pray with the guest preacher that evening, he also happened to be nearly six feet tall. I don’t remember much about the message that finally spurred me out of my seat that evening, but I do remember the clicking sound my purple flip-flops made as I walked past the pews full of parishioners. I remember how my heart told me there was something I needed to do. I could no longer silence a stirring within my little heart and that urge could only be met with a simple prayer. So there I stood with a preacher who could barely bend down far enough for me to whisper my request in his ear. I wanted to open my heart up to God and follow him the rest of my life.

Despite my age, I changed that night. I finally answered the call God had been placing upon my heart, a unique calling that is hard to describe. I can only describe it in a single word that shouts from within. It says “Move!”. It was a move that only I could make, a move that declared I’d live my life for God. In obedience to scripture, I was baptized a few weeks later.

I was baptised in June. I wore a blue button down shirt with crayons on it. I was to dress down as I was to be submerged in the baptismal. Although I was quite young, I remember the feeling following my baptism. As I emerged from those waters, that old shirt no longer felt tattered, and neither did I. I felt clean, I felt peace and a renewed desire to change. As I rode back from my baptism, I thought about all the ways I could change for the better, or as much as a six year old could change.  It sounds a bit unreal for a little girl to feel such things, but I assure you they were real. Maybe that’s why I have such a clear memory of it almost 30 years later.

I made a commitment to God at a young age but it didn’t save me from making many mistakes in my lifetime. Mistakes are why I needed God, why I wanted to be saved. I understood that I was imperfect and there would be times when I would need forgiveness and I wanted to follow a God who understood my imperfections. I decided to follow a God who I was taught not only created us, but lived among us and personally understood the hardships of the human existence.  I have known for almost 30 years that I didn’t have to face the tribulations of life alone, I felt the God of the universe cared for someone as small and flawed as me.

With such a longstanding relationship with God, it has been hard for to me admit when my faith has faltered. Questioning my relationship with God and, His very existence, may seem like a big failure as a Christian but to me it has been a necessary part of my faith journey. In recent years I have asked the same questions I did before I took that walk before the church at the age of six. Health and financial issues of my own and those around me have made me realize I didn’t have the unwavering faith I thought I had. I started to think deeply about what it was I claimed to believe. I became scared when I did not understand things beyond my comprehension. I wondered how a God who was supposed to care for me so intimately could allow me to experience such suffering. I was becoming more angry and questioning what I believed down to the very existence of God.

Were my questions a symptom of a weak faith? What good could come from questioning a faith that has carried me through many difficult times since the day I walked to the front of the church on that summer evening? Some may say it’s because my faith is weak but I dare to believe that the deepest of convictions come when they are questioned, examined, and re-examined. What is a blind faith that is never re-examined, especially in difficult times? Questioning my beliefs would either solidify what I believed to be true or it would fall apart under the weight of the pressure.

Christianity believes that Jesus is God who came to earth to live as a human. He was one percent human and one hundred percent God. He felt the same human emotion as we do while having the diety of God. He had the full human experience and a frightening human death. He felt joy and happiness. He experienced great fear and loss. Knowing these things, I asked him to show me the meaning of my own suffering but before I could utter the words from my heart to my mouth, I saw Christ praying in the garden before he was arrested. I saw his agony over the death he knew was before him and there is no doubt he also knew of the torture he would endure. I saw him on his hands and knees, pleading for the cup to be passed from him as he sweat his own blood. He was physically manifesting symptoms of his internal struggle. He lived and understands by experience. When I accepted Christ, I accepted that he didn’t blindly ask me to suffer. He did it himself. He was born into this world and immersed himself in life. He was here and he understands. He suffered more than I could ever imagine. He was arrested, beaten, and crucified. I remember then the feeling I had when I decided to follow God at such a young age, I knew he loved me because he knew me. He was gracious enough to give me life but he never promised a life without strife, as he himself was not exempt. He promised to be with me always and he hadn’t broke that promise, I just forgot it.

In the last few weeks, my life has quite possibly become more difficult as my body is continuing  to experience widespread pain and my son’s seizures continue to increase, making neurosurgery look like the last, best hope but God has renewed so much in me. He answered my prayers. What was his answer? “Keep questioning.” What a wonderful response! So I am picking up my Bible, books, praying and asking questions. I am renewing my faith through questioning my own beliefs. Doubt made me search and through that search, I renewed my relationship with God. It is a relationship that gives my life purpose, even my suffering.

So I challenge you to do the same. Question why you follow your own personal convictions. Once you examine your beliefs, ask if those convictions make sense and bring you contentment. If your beliefs ask you to follow blindly, I’d question them even more. What good is an unexamined life? Take a chance and ask the hard questions. I guarantee if you are looking in the right place, those questions won’t be too hard to find.

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Faith Not Fear

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After a summer sprinkled with fear and anxiety, I wanted to discuss fear in hopes that maybe I could encourage someone else from giving into fear as I did. I gave into it months after I was diagnosed with Rheumatoid Arthritis and the disease began to progress quicker than I anticipated. Instead of trusting that God was in control, I decided I was better off fixing the problem myself and I began trying to negotiate a different outcome. I began working like mad to show God how serious I was about changing everything in my life if he would just spare me this disease. When things did not change in the way I wanted them to, I became fearful and I began to shut down. I spent more time crying and less time enjoying my kids. I worried about myself so much that I neglected to see those who were suffering around me. I was crippled by fear and blinded by my illness. It all came to a head while folding my laundry on a Thursday afternoon. My anxiety suddenly boiled over and I became an emotional disaster. I began pleading with God, tears landing on the laundry piled up on my lap. “Why Lord?” I asked, “How will I ever be happy again? Don’t you know my struggles and you choose to give me something else?! IT ISN’T FAIR!!” Did He forget that I have four children and one is disabled? He has a health issues, including epilepsy, and the addition of my illness seemed like a cruel slap in the face. I cried so hard that I felt like a piece of my soul could have been torn out with my tears.

I was supposed to attend my first Women of Faith Conference in a day and something was trying to convince me not to go. If I hadn’t, I wouldn’t be writing this today. It took one weekend to change my perspective. It took a few hours to remind me of all the things I somehow forgot. It took only a few minutes for me to realize I was not a woman of fear, I was a woman of faith.

I want to start by running down a short list of the benefits to beginning a relationship with one of women’s favorite bachelors, fear. Fear is a seductive and mysterious partner. Many women enter into an often secret relationship with fear while juggling relationships with a spouse, children and/or their friends. It’s a relationship familiar to most women. One thing is for certain, it’s hard to hide this secret affair women have with this sly beau because there are signs that she is indeed cozying up to fear. Women will make time to meet regularly with this companion; in the middle of the night instead of sleeping, nervously inviting it along to appointments, hiding it in a drawer while it dictates her at work, or she can be seen fighting with it while she anxiously watches her kids at the park. The question is, what is so great about fear that makes women want to wedge it, if necessary, into their life? And once there, stubbonrly hold on to it?

Lets expose fear for what it is by illustration. If fear were on a dating website, I will guarantee the profile would read something like this:

Name: Fear (a.k.a. Anxiety, Distress, Doubt, Panic, Unease, and Worry) ~Sounds great thus far, right?~

Age: Timeless

Physical Attributes: Heavy. Intimidating. Strong.

Best quotes from fear:

“I want to change every last bit of you. For example, I can help rid you of that haircut one handful of hair at a time. I can also help you lose weight by reconditioning your digestive system one stomach ache at a time.”

“I will occupy every last of your thoughts. You will no longer have to crowd your mind with nuisance pleasantries.”

“Eventually it will just be you, me, and our blossoming relationship. You won’t have time for anyone else.”

“I want every moment with you and it’s okay if you want to stop doing those annoying daily responsibilities.”

Wow! Doesn’t every girl dream of a controlling relationship with something or someone who wants to change every last bit of the person you are or want to become? If your answer is “no” then you need to reconsider what kind of relationship you are seeking when you allow fear into your life.
Why do we keep choosing fear from the list of available companions? Why do we fool ourselves into thinking that choosing to partner with a controlling emotion is normal and acceptable. We deserve better!

If it were up to me, fear like all emotions, would be defined like a drug rather than an emotion. Emotions would be required to list all potential side effects, then we would know the long term effects of every emotion. It’s no wonder women have such difficulty navigating through life being the emotional creatures we are. I know I can be a ball of numerous different emotions at the same time which means I am also experiencing a great deal of side effects. So instead of choosing to look at the dating profile of another emotion, let’s look at this profile.

Name: Jesus (a.k a. Savior, Son of God, Hosanna, Friend)

Age: Eternal

Physical Attributes: Scarred while making the ultimate sacrifice.

Best quotes to describe Jesus:

“….He will not grow tired or weary and His understanding no one can fathom.”

“For his anger is but for a moment, and his favor is for a lifetime….”

“Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you….”

“The Lord is slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, forgiving iniquity and transgression….”

“….I have loved you with an everlasting love….”

Which of the two profiles would you choose? Would you choose the one that will take over and control your life or the one that loved you before he met you? Do you choose the one that will build upon the ashes of the broken person it makes you or builds you up and loves you unconditionally? One cannot coexist with the other. The Bible is full of versus telling us not to fear. Here are a few more examples.

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and with thanksgiving let your requests be known to God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Jesus Christ.”

“Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time He might exalt, casting all of your anxieties on him, because He cares for you.”

“There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love.”

“I say to those who have an anxious heart, ‘Be strong, fear not! Behold, your God will come with vengence, with the recompense of God. He will come save you.”

God knows the profile of fear. He knows how it destroys lives. He knows how it will destroy your heart. He understands how crippling fear can be. He is concerned over the power fear can have over you. You could read a verse where God encourages us not to fear at least once a day for over a year. Choosing a relationship with God means that you no longer need a relationship with fear. A relationship with fear is a destructive affair. Fear wants you to doubt God. Fear wants to you think there is no joy left when times are difficult. God says that the most joy is found in times of deep dispair. God wants us to know he cares deeply for us and he will show you victory in all circumstances. He wants us to know that the true love of God is free from fear. His love is confident and sure, and He loves you exactly the way you are. When you choose Christ over fear, when you give God control, no matter what happens, there is victory in Him. We can have the confidence to call ourselves women of faith when we obey His words and put our trust where it belongs, with Him.

I came back from the conference that weekend with a changed heart. I let go of fear and grabbed onto my faith. I have confidence that my life has purpose and meaning, especially with the difficulty that ultimately builds my faith. Each day I remind myself to lift my thoughts to Heaven and see the one who loves me enough to allow suffering that brings me to joy.

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