Finding Hope in the Unexpected

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What am I expecting?
Hoping for?
Looking for?
Longing for?

Two thousand years ago, they were hoping for a way out of oppression.
They were longing for freedoms.
They were looking for a king…
…a king who would do all of this and more for them.

This past Sunday, Palm Sunday, marked the commemorative start of the Christian Holy Week. In many of our churches, we marked it by handing out palm fronds. Sometimes the fronds have been woven into a cross-like symbol meant to be kept as a remembrance. Some churches give out a single spear from a palm leaf, some give a small frond, and some hand palms out to wave during a particular worship song.

Last year I happened to be in Montreal, Canada, for the start of the Holy Week, and I visited the Notre-Dame Basilica just before Palm Sunday. I had been there as a teenager on a senior trip with my French class, and I wanted to see the grandeur of that church again. The only way to see the interior of the church on that particular day was to pay for a narrated program, laser light show and brief tour. That wasn’t what I had been hoping for. It’s amazing how one’s perspective on a church building can change after a few decades.

I also wanted to revisit the Gardens of the Way of the Cross at St. Joseph’s Oratory of Mount Royal in Montreal.  We came upon the glass doors leading into the garden only to find them locked. Deep snows covered the ground, so we couldn’t take in the peacefulness of the Stations of the Cross. The “Gift Shop” with a book about the Gardens was closed, too, but, those palm frond crosses many churches hand out on Palm Sunday? They were selling them inside the entry on this particular afternoon. That wasn’t what I was looking for.

Two thousand years ago, Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a young donkey.  His triumphal entry into the city is the day we now mark as Palm Sunday. On that particular day, the Jews laid their cloaks on the ground and laid branches, taken from nearby trees, on the road to hail His arrival and to celebrate Him as a the one sent to save them. This account is told in all four gospels, and it’s told from a slightly different perspective in each:

Matthew 21:1-17;
Mark 11:1-11;
Luke 19:28-44;
and John 12:12-19.

They were expecting Him to be THE ONE who would cleanse the Temple, free them from Roman oppression and help them to regain their national strength and identity. They expected a military leader, but instead, got a humble servant riding into the city on a donkey. He had come to save them for all of eternity, but not necessarily to save them from the Romans. That wasn’t what they had been longing for. When they realized He wasn’t there to do as they had expected, they turned on Him. Days later He was brutally beaten and nailed to a cross to die a criminal’s death.

That wasn’t what His followers had expected.

He was crucified on a cross on a hill outside of Jerusalem. The grave couldn’t hold Him, and His resurrection a few days later brought new life.
That wasn’t what His followers expected, either.

Life isn’t easy. We often make it more difficult by adding expectations to our anticipations. These often go unmet, and we’re left with disappointment. When hopes don’t turn into what we’ve longed for, do we turn toward Him, or do we turn on Him? Do we surrender our expectations, longings and hopes just enough, while yet still trying to control the outcome we’re looking for?

His resurrection did bring us the opportunity for new life.
With that life, we can find hope when we turn toward Him.

We’re heading into the heart of the Holy Week right now. It’s more than egg hunts, bunnies, chicks, chocolate, new clothes, a big dinner and church attendance.
I hope you can find a tad more than you are expecting.

What are you expecting?
What are you hoping for?
Looking for?
Longing for?

 

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Monday’s Musings — Nakedness, Noises & New Clothes

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The trees still lay naked, clothed in their winter garb.

We just enjoyed an uncharacteristically warm spring weekend. It was one of those “get outside and do SOMETHING” kind of weekends where the sunshine, temperatures and blue skies beckoned and awakened the senses.

I spent quite a bit of time on the deck taking in the noises from the forest:  the birds chirping, the woodpeckers knocking their beaks against the trees, the turkeys calling, a few flies scurrying in the air. The sound that stood out the most, though, was that of the trees as they waved in the wind.

I can see far into the forest, yet all I see are grayed trunks. Our trees still lay naked, clothed in their winter garb. The only leaves they hold are a few of last year’s crinkled remnants of fall that refuse to give up their dangle. The noises that echo from the forest are the sounds of the branches rubbing, the trunks creaking as they rock to and fro in the spring’s winds, and the gentle rustle of the leaf-covered carpet beginning to dry out from its winter blanket.

The forest still looks dormant, yet I know it is waking. It, too, enjoyed the sunshine, temperatures and blue skies of the weekend, and it, too, beckons new life to emerge from within its depths.

We still have the possibility of snow in the forecast for one or two nights this week. Even so, a new season is upon us, and a rogue snowfall can’t stop the life waiting to spring forth.

This is the Holy Week. Yesterday’s Palm Sunday marked an entry into history, an entry into a city and the entry into lives that would be forever changed by the days to come. A new season was upon the people. Nothing could stop the death that would come and the life which would spring forth days later to conquer and to overcome. The time was upon them to clothe their nakedness and emptiness with a new garb … to shed the old and put on the new … a new garment as white as snow … a new life.

It’s not just history.
It’s each day.
It’s this week.
It’s right now.
It’s beckoning you … calling you.
A new season can be upon you.

 

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Finding Hope after Soaps

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Soap operas used to be a part of my weekday life.

I was raised in a household where watching the afternoon television dramas was the norm. If I was home sick from school or if it was summer vacation time, I remember them being on the family room TV. On early-dismissal days, I’d get off the bus and walk up the road quickly so I could catch as much as I could while they were on the TV during the afternoon. I knew the soaps weren’t “real,” and the morals I was being raised with rarely showed up on the screen. Even though our household morals bore no similarity to the soap storylines, I did see some dramatic similarities with what was on that TV in relation to how conflict was handled, often escalated and rarely resolved.

I caught the soap opera bug. I grew into the same habit.

When I went off to college, I started watching the afternoon soaps when I wasn’t in classes. I’d get my calzone and coke in a to-go box from the dining hall, and I’d head back to my dorm room to catch up on Cricket, Danny, Jack, Ridge, Brooke, Thorn, Tom, Margo, Reva, Billy and Josh.

Even to this day, I can still remember their names (oh, that’s just sad!). They were a part of my life. They were the part of my life that made it glamorous and bold to want drama, cat-calls, stilettos, attention, a big house, big money, a big family, a corporate career, and all that was beautiful, but not at all for the right reasons. My search-for-tomorrow dreams about the future launched my young-and-restless life into a search mode for a guiding light as the world turned around me.

The trend continued. With the invention of the video cassette recorder, I could spend a long day at work, come home and eat dinner on the couch, and burn through three-and-a-half hours of soaps in just over two hours while wearing out the decal on the fast-forward button. When the tape would get too fuzzy from record-over after record-over, I’d just toss it and pop a new one into the VCR. Gosh, how I hated when the power would go out and I’d have to reset that darned machine!

That trend continued, too. Then I had kids. At some point, it dawned on me that it probably wasn’t a good idea for my little ones to be taking in fights over who stole whose husband or the myriad of seemingly, slightly odd, father-in-law sleeping with daughter-in-law relationships that I enjoyed watching. … so I’d wait until the kids were napping or off to bed at night before popping the tape into the VCR.

My husband hated my soap-watching habit. He’d blame them for my dramatic outbursts or manipulative scheming to get my way. I’d brush it off saying that it would take me away to another world much like reading a good book would envelop me for a few hours at a time. “What was the difference?” I’d say.

While the soap trend continued, I also started going to a different kind of church. It was one where people carried a Bible with them on Sunday morning, where a band played great-sound music with lyrics I could understand, and one where people didn’t feel like they had to dress up to attend. This place also talked about that Book like it had relevance to my life today…like it was more than just a book filled with stories and ancient history.

So, the soap trend continued and the church thing got going … and then I noticed something else began to change. Church – which I had done most of my life – started to become something I thought about more than for just a few hours on a Sunday morning. It got to be more of a daily time in my life…where it would jump into my thoughts, where it would stop me in my tracks, where it would give me a flashback to a heard word, or where I’d be humming a few bars from a song we’d done on Sunday. That trend continued, too. The prayers in our house turned away from “God is great, God is good” and “now I lay me down to sleep” toward actually having a conversational praise, worship and thank-filled time with some “if I could also ask You for…” in them.

Somewhere along the way, I started to feel convicted about my soap watching. Convicted, as in “I probably shouldn’t be doing this,” as in “this makes me feel weird in a wrong way,” and as in “shouldn’t I be doing something more productive?” kind of way.

You see , “conviction” is one of those words that can be a double-edged sword. It’s one of those words that can have a negative meaning and a positive meaning … one of those words that can be used for offense and for defense. I was feeling “convicted” to stop watching soaps because of their content, and I was feeling “convicted” to move in a new direction.

After a few arguments with myself about the “take me away” aspects versus the “what are you feeding into your mind?” aspects, I decided to stop watching soap operas. Cold turkey. Yes, I decided that’s how I had to do it.

That was about 10 years ago. I have never regretted it. Never.

I think it was a part of that “conviction” thing. And, I also think it was about obedience.

I know now that it was He who was within me who was convicting me and calling me to be obedient to what He was trying to plant within me. It would have been much more difficult for Him to plant something within me that would bear recognizable fruit if my soil was filled with thorns, ridges, discord, jealousy, impurity, selfish ambition, dissension and the like.

Is He calling you? Is He convicting you with a double-edged sword?

 

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Monday’s Musings — Joy

“What I am anxious to see in Christian believers is a beautiful paradox.
I want to see in them the joy of finding God
while at the same time they are blessedly pursuing Him.
I want to see in them the great joy of having God yet always wanting Him.”
~ A. W. Tozer

A.W. Tozer was a pastor, speaker and writer who had a profound impact on those with a deep desire to pursue God during the 1920s to 1960s. His books and legacy live on in churches today. He was known for his prayer time, his holy pursuit of a deeper walk with God, and for cautions to live simply and avoid moving down a path toward worldliness.

Too often, it is our JOY which is missing in our pursuit of a Christian walk. We go through our days, our chores, our mealtimes, our careers, our relationships, our quiet moments, and we fail to find joy in what we do … in just being.

Joy is bigger than happiness.

I’ve come to believe that happiness comes from our emotions about a situation, circumstance, person, whereas joy is not an emotion–it is simply a state of being. It’s just there … or it’s just not. It’s deeper than happiness, and I also think it comes from acknowledging that which is greater than our self or our circumstances.

My personal opinion?Joy exists in those who are learning to know, trust and understand who God is while allowing Him to be THE impact in their walk.

Just as we can quiet or quell the leading of the Holy Spirit within us, our joy can be stifled when we focus too much on Self or on circumstances. We hear more of the Spirit’s voice moving within us when we get out of the way, and we’ll experience more joy in our life when our focus is on pursuing God through His Word, through prayer, through fellowship (with Him and with others), and in learning to walk in obedience to how He has called us to live. It’s a process and a path, but it’s one where joy is present.

 

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Finding Hope in the Woman in the Mirror

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I’ve struggled most of my life with looking in the mirror.
The woman I see staring back at me has usually not been the same woman I am.
The one staring back often feels as though she’s just not good enough.

Three years ago, my journey took a new turn. With that turn, part of me was lost, but part of me was also found. I had decisions to make and a path to walk. None of it would be easy. The reflection wasn’t friendly, but what was reflected became bigger than my own reflection.

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I wear make-up, and I like to wear make-up. My husband and boys tell me I don’t look much different without make-up as compared to what I look like when I do wear it. I disagree. The mirror seems to prefer mascara, eyeliner and lipstick.

The mirror tells me I’m a little “soft” and that I carry a few extra pounds;
the camera shows me that I’m squishy, and it’s more than just a few.

The mirror shows me that my skin is beginning to show its age;
my heart and my love of adventure don’t agree.

The mirror reveals the increase in my graying hair, my stray lip hair and the dark spots here and there from tanning way back when.

The mirror is like a friend who is brutally honest…you know…the one who tells you what you need to hear, not necessarily what you want to hear.

The mirror shows me what is on the surface, but — if I stay to look long enough — it shows what is often hidden.

The mirror.

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For Christmas this year, my husband surprised me with two wall decals. He got me the kind that press on, but are removable if one ever wants a change. One was small, and it went up right away, but the other one came in a big roll, and — since shortly after Christmas — it has laid on the floor in our library with a few soft stuffed animals pressing on it to make it flat. MANY times, he has asked me where I’d want it to be put on the wall, as he was VERY ready to stop stepping over it and get it up “for me.”

It was big. I just didn’t know where to put it. Most of the walls in our house are textured, so I just kept saying I didn’t want him to try to put it on a textured wall until I was sure I knew where I wanted it.

About a week ago, I told him I finally knew where I’d like it to be placed. When I told him the location, he questioned me multiple times. He was pleased that I had finally made up my mind, but he doubted the wisdom of my decision. Against his own preference, he decided to honor my wish, and he diligently pressed the letters onto the surface for me. We’re both in agreement now.

The photo you see above is where it now resides.

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In our master bathroom, there’s a folding, three-way mirror I designed and made when we renovated the room a few years ago. These wall decals now hang on the middle section of that mirror. They were a perfect fit, and I think they truly were meant to be there.

You see, the words now stuck on that mirror are the fruit of the Spirit. When I look into that mirror, what reflects back at me is not just me, but what He is leading me to be as I submit to being in step with the Spirit who resides in me.

“…the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness,
goodness, faithfulness,  gentleness, self-control;”

~
excerpted from Galatians 5:22-23 of the NASB

In John, chapter 15 of the Bible, Jesus tells us He is the vine, and we are the branches. The branches grow from the vine and draw their life from the vine. The branches, then, have the ability to bear fruit. His fruit. Perhaps we’ll delve into this vine/branches/fruit topic more in the future, but for now, I want you to know something…

In Him, through Him, and because of my walk with Him, the woman I see staring back at me is becoming more like what He calls me to be.

I’m still a work in progress, but the seeds of His Spirit within me are sprouting and bearing His fruit.

I am struggling less with the mirror, as what is reflected is greater than just my own reflection.

 

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