Thursday, April 30, 2009

Familiar Face in the Storm

A Bible study prompt asked me: Read Matthew 14:25-32. (It’s the story of Jesus walking on water). Did the wind die down before Christ told his disciples not to be afraid? No. After? No. What would be the basis of their courage since the storm continued to rage?

There’s just a one line blank in the study. I think my answer was simply supposed to be “His presence.”

But for whatever reason, I found myself tallying the “Jesus in the storm” stories in my head, and I remembered that this wasn’t the first time that the disciples and Jesus weathered a storm together. So it’s not just his presence that would give courage, it would be the experiences and track record that came along with it. They knew Jesus could calm the storm. Maybe this is why Peter had the gumption to get out of the boat. He was taking the next step. After all, Peter was the kind of guy who leapt first…and then tried to figure out the landing part. Even in this story, he stumbles. But Jesus is right there to keep him from going under. And the whole time the storm is raging. But what gives him courage? Trust. Trust that comes from knowing who Jesus is, what he can do, and what you’ve already been through with him.

In any case, when Jesus first appeared on the scene, he simply drew the disciples’ attention to his identity. It’s me. Jesus. I can calm storms. Remember? Don’t be afraid.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009


Today’s deep thought is brought to you by my no-longer-black-but-now-yellow car.

I wonder if flowers get annoyed at just how much pollen goes to waste. My car isn’t the only thing that has been yellowed. My entire back porch is covered with the stuff. Note to self: clean porch later with hose. (I also wonder if flowers had feelings, would they feel hurt or guilty that their pollen causes some people so much suffering. I don’t have allergies myself, but I can have empathy for the eyes and noses of others. The flower isn’t being factious or frivolous, it’s just trying to survive. And spread the joy.) In any case, so much of their hard work just ends up where it can’t blossom.

My deep thought is… If flowers did have feelings, I would tell them this: Don’t get discouraged by wasted pollen. It’s only by dusting (or flooding) your world with little bits of potential that you can later celebrate the beauty of new blooms. It’s the only way to keep flowering.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009


I’ve been feeling half full lately. It’s like I’m always thirsty for something more, and there are parts of me that just feel parched.

But just in the past few days, I’ve had several small chances to pour out into other people. Nothing huge or earth shattering, but just small shared moments.

I realized, if I had all of those little bits to keep pouring out, I must be fuller than I thought. And really, I’m happy to hold a cup that’s half-full if it means I have been sharing my water with others who are thirsty.

Monday, April 20, 2009

I Will be Your Witness

Do you remember this speech from Shall We Dance?

We need a witness to our lives. There's a billion people on the planet ... I mean, what does any one life really mean? But in a marriage, you're promising to care about everything. The good things, the bad things, the terrible things, the mundane things ... all of it, all of the time, every day. You're saying, “Your life will not go unnoticed because I will notice it. Your life will not go un-witnessed because I will be your witness.”

It popped into my head recently after reading Isaiah 43:10-13. There’s a lot in the passage that talks about God’s authority and distinctiveness. But what stuck out to me is this: Yes, he’s big and powerful, but he wants to be known. He’s relationally driven.

God wants us to be a witness to who he is and what he’s doing. Not like a student in detention who has been sentenced to do time, but like someone who has freely and wholeheartedly committed to a marriage. Deep down, I think most of us have a similar desire. We want to be seen. We need to matter. We ache to be loved.

Two days ago, I came across the passage in Mark when Jesus heals a blind man. I almost cried when I read it. (Strange right?) But I didn’t just hear him say, “I want to see!” I think he was also saying, “I want to be seen!” A blind beggar would have been a common sight outside the city gates. The kind of thing that you stop noticing after a while. And when the blind man cried out, scripture says many rebuked him. They were embarrassed by him. They wanted him to say quiet and unseen in the background. Let Jesus do more important things, and go and spend time with people more deserving of his attention. But the cry of this man’s heart is more determined than the desire of the crowd and he shouts all the more. He’s crying out not just to see, but to be seen. And Jesus did both. He took the time to see him…and he opened this man’s eyes to see everything he had been missing. You know what happened after the healing? The man followed Jesus along the road. A relationship was born.

There’s a verse in Acts that says, “You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” After reading the passages in Isaiah and Mark, I think maybe the meaning of that verse is two fold. Wherever we are, we should keep our eyes open to see God there. Don’t let him go un-witnessed. But we should also keep our eyes open to the people around us. They matter. They need to be seen and to be loved. Be his ambassador. His witness.

After all, God only cares about three things: relationships, relationships, relationships. And as much as I think he wants to hear it, he’s also saying to each of us: “I care about everything. The good things, the bad things, the terrible things, the mundane things ... all of it, all of the time, every day. Your life will not go unnoticed because I will notice it. Your life will not go un-witnessed because I will be your witness.”

Isaiah 43:10-13 “You are my witnesses,” declares the Lord, “and my servant whom I have chosen, so that you may know and believe me and understand that I am he. Before me no god was formed, nor will there be one after me. I, even I, am the Lord, and apart from me there is no savior. I have revealed and saved and proclaimed—I and not some foreign god among you. You are my witnesses,” declares the Lord, “that I am God. Yes, and from the ancient days I am he. No one can deliver out of my hand. When I act, who can reverse it?”

Acts 1:8 “You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

Mark 10:46-52 “As Jesus and his disciples, together with a large crowd, were leaving the city, a blind man, Bartimaeus (that is, the Son of Timaeus), was sitting by the roadside begging. When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout, "Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!" Many rebuked him and told him to be quiet, but he shouted all the more, "Son of David, have mercy on me!" Jesus stopped and said, "Call him." So they called to the blind man, "Cheer up! On your feet! He's calling you." Throwing his cloak aside, he jumped to his feet and came to Jesus. "What do you want me to do for you?" Jesus asked him. The blind man said, "Rabbi, I want to see." "Go," said Jesus, "your faith has healed you." Immediately he received his sight and followed Jesus along the road.”

Monday, April 13, 2009

Running Anyway

Running every day may not bring the changes you dream about. Run anyway.

Eleven weeks ago, some friends and I decided to put on our own…uh…“friendly” Biggest Loser Competition. I decided to commit myself full-heartedly to trying to win. My strategy: run my butt off.

So for the past eleven weeks, I’ve picked up my running schedule. A lot. Four days a week, maybe five. At least 3.1 miles at a time, but over 5 miles twice a week. That’s a lot of running. And because I’m way too addicted to Excel, I have graphs: one to track my miles, and one to track my weight loss. There are pretty colors and everything. I even had perfect attendance at the gym last month. It’s the first time a female has been part of the “Platinum Club” in quite a while. “Runnin' Regina” is even on track for a repeat performance this month.

But after a brief dip, I’m back and holding steady right at my starting weight. Talk about frustrating! (And please hold any well meaning advice about a healthy diet. Yes, I know burning calories is only half the battle. Yes, I eat smart.) I really want that line to look like a slide and not so much like a –v^–. I have probably whined a little too much about this particular frustration lately to my friends. And I decided something: I’m going to do it anyway.

As luck would have it, my friend Katie posted a quote that corresponds very nicely to my decision: "Being happy doesn't mean that everything is perfect. It means that you've decided to look beyond the imperfections."

So, my graphs may not make the picture I want to see, but I’m sure my plan is doing good. I’ve discovered the joy of a good running rhythm. The hour or so I spend running has become some great “me” time. In December, I struggled to finish a 5-mile run. Now I can run that distance several times a week. The scale may stay the same, but there are days when I feel thinner. (Unfortunately, my attempts to air out my “skinny” clothes have so far produced less than stellar results.)

But it doesn’t matter. I’m committed. I’m looking beyond the imperfections. I’m going to do it anyway.

Do you have anything in your life like this? Areas where you’re investing and making effort and things just don’t seem to be changing?

Maybe like my running, the benefit is lurking outside the graph. Maybe it’s the kind of thing where the good builds up and kicks in later.

Or maybe it’s just a good thing to do. Will you look beyond the graph and run anyway?

Sunday, April 12, 2009

An Easter Trilogy – Part 3

Psalm 24
1 The earth is the LORD's, and everything in it,
the world, and all who live in it;
2 for he founded it upon the seas
and established it upon the waters.
3 Who may ascend the hill of the LORD ?
Who may stand in his holy place?
4 He who has clean hands and a pure heart,
who does not lift up his soul to an idol
or swear by what is false.
5 He will receive blessing from the LORD
and vindication from God his Savior.
6 Such is the generation of those who seek him,
who seek your face, O God of Jacob.
7 Lift up your heads, O you gates;
be lifted up, you ancient doors,
that the King of glory may come in.
8 Who is this King of glory?
The LORD strong and mighty,
the LORD mighty in battle.
9 Lift up your heads, O you gates;
lift them up, you ancient doors,
that the King of glory may come in.
10 Who is he, this King of glory?
The LORD Almighty—
he is the King of glory.

I know my redeemer lives. (Job 19:25)

I’m off to sunrise service. It’s one of two traditions that I dearly treasure in my yearly Christian walk. (The other is Christmas Eve Candlelight service.) For as long as I can remember, Easter morning has started before sunrise. (Partially because my father is always a reader at Sunrise Service, so we have to get there early.) We used to brave the weather and have the service outside on the front lawn of the church. Our favorite church trumpeter would play “Up from the Grave He Arose,” and we would gather in front of the cross for a brief sermon and hymn-sing. And then, we would warm up by going to McDonalds for a hotcakes and sausage breakfast. (And in case you’re wondering, I already asked my dad if we could go there after service today.)

I loved the years when the timing was just right and the sun would come up right when we all started singing. There was one year when we had nesting birds in the church steeple, and they decided to take flight when our Pastor concluded his sermon. And of course, I remember the years when we huddled together on the lawn wrapped in blankets because it was so cold. But I digress.

I’m a morning person, that’s no secret. There’s something very special to me about the time of the morning when night is fading away and the sun breaks over the horizon. So I love how in the resurrection story, the women discover the empty tomb when the sun was first coming up.

Arising. I wish I could put all I’m feeling about hope and life and love and freedom into a cohesive paragraph, but this morning it’s just all blurring together to one idea: Love so amazing, so divine. Demands my love, my life, my all.

Who is this King of glory? Who can ascend the hill of the Lord? For whom are the gates of heaven opening?

Jesus Christ. We celebrate his victory today.

I pray for a blessed Easter for all who read this. And I pray that the joy and celebration will not be a veneer on the realities of life. May the message of Jesus and the hope of the resurrection permeate your life and meet you in the midst of whatever you are dealing with. May the sun break over the horizon of your circumstances and fill your day with light.

Trilogy Bonus Feature: Every time I watch The Fellowship of the Ring and it comes to the part when Boromir talks about being called home by the clear ringing of the trumpets, I think of Easter Sunday morning. …“I have seen the white city, one day our paths will lead us there.”

Saturday, April 11, 2009

An Easter Trilogy – Part 2

Psalm 23
1 The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not be in want.
2 He makes me lie down in green pastures,
he leads me beside quiet waters,
3 he restores my soul.
He guides me in paths of righteousness
for his name's sake.
4 Even though I walk
through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil,
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff,
they comfort me.
5 You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies.
You anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.
6 Surely goodness and love will follow me
all the days of my life,
and I will dwell in the house of the LORD

Dearest Jesus,

How many times am I like the mourning disciples on the days between Good Friday and Easter? I just don’t understand what you’re up to. You are working behind the scenes. You are going where I cannot go. You are redeeming what I cannot rescue. You are conquering what I cannot face.

You knew what you were sent to do. You gave so many clues to your disciples. And they just did not understand. Sometimes I feel like I’m in that same boat. Help me to think the way you think, and to see the picture you see.

But even when I don’t get it. When all seems lost. When you feel absent, asleep, or dead… Help me not to mourn but to wait and have faith in what you’re doing that is beyond my vision and understanding. I don’t need to feel hopeless or despondent. All is not lost. You're preparing a table. Morning is just a few hours away.

Friday, April 10, 2009

An Easter Trilogy - Part 1

About the ninth hour Jesus cried out in a loud voice, "Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?"—which means, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" (Matthew 27:46, Mark 15:34)

Psalm 22
1 My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
Why are you so far from saving me,
so far from the words of my groaning?
2 O my God, I cry out by day, but you do not answer,
by night, and am not silent.
3 Yet you are enthroned as the Holy One;
you are the praise of Israel. [a]
4 In you our fathers put their trust;
they trusted and you delivered them.
5 They cried to you and were saved;
in you they trusted and were not disappointed.
6 But I am a worm and not a man,
scorned by men and despised by the people.
7 All who see me mock me;
they hurl insults, shaking their heads:
8 "He trusts in the LORD;
let the LORD rescue him.
Let him deliver him,
since he delights in him."
9 Yet you brought me out of the womb;
you made me trust in you
even at my mother's breast.
10 From birth I was cast upon you;
from my mother's womb you have been my God.
11 Do not be far from me,
for trouble is near
and there is no one to help.
12 Many bulls surround me;
strong bulls of Bashan encircle me.
13 Roaring lions tearing their prey
open their mouths wide against me.
14 I am poured out like water,
and all my bones are out of joint.
My heart has turned to wax;
it has melted away within me.
15 My strength is dried up like a potsherd,
and my tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth;
you lay me [b] in the dust of death.
16 Dogs have surrounded me;
a band of evil men has encircled me,
they have pierced [c] my hands and my feet.
17 I can count all my bones;
people stare and gloat over me.
18 They divide my garments among them
and cast lots for my clothing.
19 But you, O LORD, be not far off;
O my Strength, come quickly to help me.
20 Deliver my life from the sword,
my precious life from the power of the dogs.
21 Rescue me from the mouth of the lions;
save [d] me from the horns of the wild oxen.
22 I will declare your name to my brothers;
in the congregation I will praise you.
23 You who fear the LORD, praise him!
All you descendants of Jacob, honor him!
Revere him, all you descendants of Israel!
24 For he has not despised or disdained
the suffering of the afflicted one;
he has not hidden his face from him
but has listened to his cry for help.
25 From you comes the theme of my praise in the great assembly;
before those who fear you [e] will I fulfill my vows.
26 The poor will eat and be satisfied;
they who seek the LORD will praise him—
may your hearts live forever!
27 All the ends of the earth
will remember and turn to the LORD,
and all the families of the nations
will bow down before him,
28 for dominion belongs to the LORD
and he rules over the nations.
29 All the rich of the earth will feast and worship;
all who go down to the dust will kneel before him—
those who cannot keep themselves alive.
30 Posterity will serve him;
future generations will be told about the Lord.
31 They will proclaim his righteousness
to a people yet unborn—
for he has done it.

Jesus said, "It is finished." With that, he bowed his head and gave up his spirit. (John 19:30)

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Ever feel like a mutant?

“Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.” (2 Cor 3:17)

For whatever reason, a recent reading of this verse brought this picture to mind:

Remember him? From that *cough* wonderful *cough* third X-Men movie? The one that tries to squash the entire Jean Gray/Phoenix storyline into one movie?

His name is Jimmy, or Leech. When any of the mutants in the movie is in his presence, he neutralizes the effects of their mutant genes -- Beast loses his furry blue appearance, Juggurnaut loses his invulnerability, Kitty can no longer phase through walls. In Jimmy’s little circle of influence, the mutations don’t matter.

Ever feel like a mutant? Like there’s something just inherently different and strange about the way you’re designed? or Like something has morphed in you because of something life threw your way?

There’s a place you can go that negates it all.

The flip side: (Because it’s hard for me to look at one thought without considering it from a different angle.)

You may not be happy with your mutation, your gift, your design. But when we all pool our abilities together, they become assets, not liabilities. I think one part of living in freedom from our mutations may be nothing more than learning how to embrace and use them.

Not being bound by them, but living free in them.

Monday, April 6, 2009


Passion week is a good time to think about crosses. Sunday morning, a special choir presentation touched on the story of Simon from Cyrene – the man who was forced to carry Jesus’ cross on the way to Golgotha. The narrator asked, “What would you have done?” My first thought was, could Simon have done any differently? A noisy mob of those mocking and those mourning the events emerging before their eyes. A Roman centurion (or two) giving him an order. Jesus struggling under his enormous physical, mental, and spiritual burden. Add it all together and Simon doesn’t really have a choice.

But apart from that, I had a second thought. This *is* what I do. Because even though I know Jesus’ invitation is to “pick up your cross and follow me,” it occurs to me that our walk might actually be a reenactment of what Simon did that day. After all, the cross we carry comes from Jesus. We carry the burden just for a while, walking with Jesus the whole way. And when we reach our destination, he takes back the cross and pays the price. It’s an encounter we never forget. It leaves a mark on a heart and life forever.

Do we really have a choice? I don’t think I do. After encountering the love of God, I cannot help but love and serve in return. Like PB or Ferrante would say, “I have been apprehended by something that will not let me go.” Like Isaiah, I can only answer, “Here am I, send me.” Like Martin Luther, even when the tide is flowing the other way I have to declare, “Here I stand, I can do no other.” While there is always a choice, there are also some things that are too strong to fight against.

The cross we carry comes from Jesus. He promises that he’ll never give us more than we can handle, that his yoke is easy, and that his burden is light. But it comes from him all the same. (Bonus tangent: Whose cross is it anyway? The wages is sin is death, so it’s ours. But Jesus chose to be our substitute, so it’s his. But he asks us to pick it up and follow him, so it’s ours. But then we lay it all at his feet when we get there, so it’s his…)

We only carry the cross for a while, but it leaves a mark. I wonder how Simon felt in the moments after his task was complete. Baffled? Relieved? Tired? …changed.

That’s where my thoughts led back to during the presentation yesterday morning. There’s a poignant moment in the Passion movie when something changes in Simon of Cyrene’s eyes. His look changes from “Who is this guy?... Why am I doing this?... When will I be done and away from this situation?” to something else: compassion, solidarity, determination to help Jesus make it through. After that moment, it’s not just Jesus’ burden anymore. Simon takes ownership, shifts the weight of the cross to be more fully on his back, and physically helps Jesus to make it all the way to Golgotha.

So, “What would I have done?” How would I treat the cross? More accurately, how do I? Is it still just Jesus’ burden that I am being forced to carry for a while? Or am I embracing the detour, shouldering the weight, and walking step for step with the man who has already paid it all?

It’s a new spin on a familiar thought. “Take up your cross and follow me.”

P.S. - I did a quick search on Simon to see if we know anything about what happened after that day. I found one tiny hint:

A certain man from Cyrene, Simon, the father of Alexander and Rufus, was passing by on his way in from the country, and they forced him to carry the cross. (Mark 15:21)
Greet Rufus, chosen in the Lord, and his mother, who has been a mother to me, too. (Romans 16:13)

If this is the same Rufus, we can imagine that Simon passed his experience with Jesus on to his family. I wonder how much of their father’s task Alexander and Rufus witnessed. Did they follow the crowd as their father was taken away under guard? Did they wait anxiously for him to return? However their day started, it seems that after that day they became a part of the emerging Christian community. After all, since the gospel of Mark was directed to the Romans, and they are mentioned by name, it isn’t a far stretch to assume they had become a valuable part of the church. It’s the sons that are called out in the story in Mark, and Rufus specifically in Romans. You know how that goes: “They made Simon carry his cross. Simon, you know. Alex and Ruf’s dad.” (I don’t know what kind of nickname you would give to Rufus. Maybe Alex liked to go by Xander…but you get the picture.) They were part of the church. Their Dad’s encounter was just the beginning of a much longer walk.

And as a second “so what?” thought -- When it really boils down to it, I think that’s what being part of the church is all about: Being a community. Having other mothers. Sharing the stories of our Jesus encounters. Walking the path with him and with each other. Collectively carrying his burdens as if they are our own. I know we all have our own burdens to bear, but perhaps just as Simon helped Jesus for a while…we can also help each other. (After all, whose cross is it anyway?)

The pictures are from a Taize service I attended last Wednesday.