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?”

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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……

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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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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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