Passion Week

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Passion week.  Jesus’ passion.  Us.  His passion for us took him to the cross.  His passion for us got him beaten.  His passion for us gave him the ability to endure crucifixion.  His passion for us sustained him for 3 days as he passed through hell.  His passion for us exploded in joy at his resurrection.

So, what is our passion?  What is my passion?  Injustices inflame me.  Inconsistencies annoy me.  Hiding behind the Bible with feigned compassion could lead me to hurt someone.  What is worthy to me that I would submit willingly to beatings and even hell itself?  In Isaiah 53:4, the prophetic words describing Jesus resound with the question, “Am I willing to have godly people consider me stricken by God for the ones He calls me to protect, honor and fellowship?”  Tough question.

My family, especially my mom’s side, left me a legacy of fighting for civil rights.  My great-grandmother housed and tutored a black man, I only know as “Willie”, so that he could make a better way for himself in the world.  In East Texas.  She and her husband allowed him to live in their basement and do some odd jobs as payment.  Gomama (my mother’s mother) only said that Willie had some problems.  I don’t know if there was some mental illness or learning disability; but in East Texas, at the turn of the 20th century, my great-grandmother stood up for something not right in her society.  Gomama lost her teaching job in a segregated Texas town in the 1940s because, after school, she would teach literacy to black children of the town.  She helped many of them get into college or tech schools in the hopes of creating a better life for them.  She never received a paycheck for teaching again.  My great-great-grandfather founded a college in Texas to ensure that his daughters could be educated in the 1800s when a woman’s role consisted of wife and mother.  Godaddy (my mother’s father) paid into Social Security for all their domestics so that they would have some sort of ‘retirement pay.’  The other white folk of the town criticized him because it was up to the blacks to figure out their lives beyond the service the whites provided.  My father sent money every month to Elizabeth (the housekeeper/cook/nanny to my mother and her brother when they were growing up) once my grandparents passed away.  Civil Rights is in my blood and I have fasted, prayed and agonized over how I can build on that legacy.

Then the answer came a few years ago.  I wanted something that felt noble.  I doubt that Gomama felt noble when she was fired by the superintendent or ostracized by many of the women in the town.  Her nobility comes from her posterity who ‘rise up and call her blessed.’  I wanted to bask in the glow of my nobility.  Gomama never got the chance to bask in her glow.  She never saw the fruit of her actions as a crown of beauty–she only received a crown of thorns.  Those of us who came after her saw how many hearts healed because of her wounds.  She died wondering why God had forsaken her in the nursing home.  Those of us at her funeral rejoiced in the resurrection life we believe she experiences to this day.

Gomama and all the others in my family who fought hard for human dignity, civil and spiritual rights and paid a great price for their battles, teach me that God takes man’s crown of thorns and the mocking voices and changes all into beautiful crown jewels and cheering voices of the cloud of witnesses who show us the way to holiness, to Paradise–even if it doesn’t feel victorious in our lifetime.

I remember all this–where I come from, what I live for and all that I hope to become–as I remember the One who remembered where he came from and where he was going and knelt beside his disciples to wash their feet–even Judas’ feet.  As with my cloud of witnesses, I may never experience the feeling of nobility as I follow the path Jesus walks before me; but I can experience communion with him regardless of what others may think of me.  May Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Easter Sunday usher in God’s presence to our hearts and give us humility to serve the ones we consider stricken by God and the least of our world.

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A Birthday Letter

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My dearest Em–

HAPPY BIRTHDAY!!!! 

Today is Palm Sunday–just as it was 22 years ago.  The whole ‘triumphal entry’ theme resonates with me afresh in Palm Sunday sermons.

Kusel, Germany, 1991.  Desert Storm had left the military hospitals gutted in preparation for wounded, so I, along with everyone else in our Lamaze class, prepared to deliver in a German hospital.  My OB/GYN hailed from Greece, but studied in the US.  The OB who actually delivered you came from France.  Your half-Japanese dad dutifully and sensitively held my hand.  Diversity in action, it felt apropos for our ‘melting pot’ family.  I’ve heard it said (from mostly men) that women forget the pain of childbirth when the doctor or nurse puts their beautiful baby, all snuggled and clean in a blanket, into their arms.  *sigh*  How magical childbirth is in their world….  Reality check:  Those people lie…. However, with the pain comes great joy.

I hope I never forget the beautiful European years of raising you to toddlerhood.  Going to the park down the street, strolling to the Greek restaurant past the cows, gasping with awe as the shepherd helped birth his sheep in the springtime.  The fields of saffron flowers blooming gave me such joy.  Oh, I wouldn’t call it idyllic (I’m not that naive).  I also remember dad almost dying when I was 9 months pregnant with Jason, and our little church community completely falling apart and relationships destroyed.  But I remember the pace of life.  I remember quietness and peace.  I remember church bells echoing through the villages.  I remember old people oooh-ing and ahhh-ing over you in your stroller and giving you candy while we shopped, traveled and ate in the German cities and towns.  And I remember letting you eat the candy that I would throw away if a stranger in America gave it to you.  I remember feeding the ducks in the village next to ours–and you stuffing the bread in your mouth while throwing some to the ducks.  A different culture.  A different life.

I loved the beginning of our family and the treasury of those memories.  I’ve loved raising you to adulthood, and although there have been many bumpy years as we grew and learned together, pride fills my heart as I see you pursuing your passions and learning to fly.  I still see that little girl in Germany who brought such joy and wonder to life.  I see her when your excitement and effervescence lights up the faces of the girls you mentor.  I see her when life is hard and tears fill your eyes at injustices.  I see her when you hope for a better tomorrow.  I see her when you curl up in a blanket and watch a Disney movie.  I see her when you courageously face the critics, once again, and fight for righteousness.  I see her when you see chocolate milk in the refrigerator and all is right with the world.  I see her when Jesus shines through you and gives grace to a soul who believes itself undeserving.  I see her when you worship God–with music and the sacrifice of your life.

You are my beloved child, in whom I am well-pleased.

Love you–‘madgey’

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Memorials

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In about a month, I will go cat-sit for my parents while they travel to Texas for my aunt’s memorial service.  Aunt Vivienne grew up in northern England.  Being 11 years older, she treated my dad more like a doll or plaything.  My dad remembers as a small child his sister and her friend sticking pins in him–they wanted to be nurses and practiced giving shots on my dad.  Ah, youth….

My dad remembers charmingly fun times in his town outside of Manchester.  He has always declared that there is no finer place to be than England at Christmastime.  After living in Germany for 3 years, I have to admit that European Christmases  transported me back to childhood.  But, those idyllic times intersperse with surreal ugly times.  My grandfather died when my dad was about 8.  He had been gassed in the trenches during WWI and doctors believe that’s where his stomach cancer originated.  The men of the town spoke to my dad in reverence about my grandfather.  Whatever my grandfather did during WWI to evoke that respect will never come to light.  Then WWII came and Manchester received the second most bombings next to London.

My dad remembers ‘double-daylight-savings’.  The factory workers needed light when they got off work to tend their gardens–without that produce, they would have starved.  He remembers bombs exploding and air raid sirens.  He remembers being thrown from his bed when a bomb exploded about 2 blocks from his house–he has tinnitus in his ears from that event.  He remembers after the trauma of war, being sent away to boarding school because my grandma didn’t have enough food for him and figured if there was food in England, the government would see to it that the children got it.  He remembers and the memory haunts his sleep with nightmares that he doesn’t share.

Aunt Vivienne married an American soldier whom she met at a USO dance, and she moved to Texas with my Uncle Harry.  Devastated in England, my dad and grandma eventually emigrated to America and joined Aunt Vivienne and Uncle Harry in Texas.  My dad was 17.  He’s never been back to England.  But his gratitude for my aunt and uncle, my uncle’s family who gave him a job and took him in as their own family and all the people who made his transition to America joy-filled and community-loving remains constantly in his heart and life toward others–part of my heritage.

So with the passing of my 91 year old aunt, I reflect on legacy and lifespans.  She saw so much history in her life.  She kept so many thoughts on those events sealed in her heart.

All of us do.  We have life events that many may know; but how we process through those things, very few experience with us.  Part of my dad’s grief is that Aunt Vivienne’s death closes a chapter of my dad’s childhood.  The last person who experienced (or was allowed to experience through memory and sharing) that part of his life is gone, and she took with her the piece of my dad’s memory that she shared with him.  He lost his sister and his last connection to his childhood in England.

The three years that Jesus spent with his disciples must have felt so full of life.  Good times, bad times, mundane times as they walked all over and lived life together.  And not just any life–Kingdom Life.  God’s life coming down.  The glorious entry into Jerusalem.  Shared story.  WOW!  And then he was gone.  Yes, he resurrected, but then he ascended.  As they waited for the Holy Spirit to come to them, I wonder if they grieved Jesus not being with them physically?  They remembered.  They had each other.  They remembered together–and perhaps the remembering sustained them. Then, the Holy Spirit came, they finally got Jesus’ message and the world changed forever.  Now that’s a legacy!!  But what if they had kept all that memory sealed up in their hearts or only shared amongst themselves?  What if they hadn’t understood that sharing the remembrances would propel faith in others and light a fire of expectation that the kingdom of God really could be here and now?

I take my friends for granted…often.  I don’t always fully appreciate sharing life with each other.  I overlook opportunities to reveal my heart.  I don’t want to remember times past when that sharing took place.  I want to learn by failure and success how to open up more of myself–thus starting the blog.  I don’t want to memorialize around a grave.  I want today to celebrate life, love, relationship and shared stories of God at work in our lives!

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Absolute Truth

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Have you heard people talking about what the Bible says in ‘black and white’?  Have you heard people say that ‘truth is truth’ and does not change?

Have you ever questioned someone’s take on ‘absolute truth’?  I wish I could say that I’ve questioned and the conversation has gone well….

In thinking through many conversations over the last few weeks, one thing becomes clearer to me:  Jesus is my only ‘absolute.’  Doctrine and theology debates do not lead me to truth.  Jesus taught that truth is a person–Him.  If He’s right, could it be that truth is more fluid than we thought or hoped?  What if what is right for one culture evolves into something else for another?  A strong argument for slavery, polygamy and women as property can be made from the ‘black and white’ words of the Bible.  However, our culture has grown and matured over the generations and we have learned to reinterpret the literal view of many biblical teachings to a more fluid ‘spirit’ of the teachings.

But we don’t like variance.  We want absolutes.  We want to know with which side to … well … side.  We want to be right.  Isn’t that the focus of most of our disagreements–we want to prove ourselves right.  We want to win

One thing I notice about Jesus:  He never let a powerless person stand as a public spectacle for a theological discourse.  Can you imagine the fear and humiliation of the woman caught in adultery?  Paraded to Jesus by a group of men and spotlighted for the crowd to gawk at and judge?  Proclaimed the example of God’s Law at work, many took up rocks ready to heave at her given the command.  Stripped of her humanity, she stood there shamed waiting for her public sentencing.  Jesus responded to the building condemnation not by engaging in the debate, but by scribbling in the dirt.  Whatever He wrote, it silenced the crowd and took the wind out of the arrogant sails.  Everyone left except the woman.  Jesus conversed with her privately and defused the shameful situation.

In church circles, we have spotlighted and shamed groups of people that serve our purpose of proving our ‘correct interpretation’ of the Bible.  Honestly, all sides of issues have done this–we have elevated issues above people, and people have paid a high price of public shame and humiliation.  I challenge myself, and any who want to journey with me, to leave the conflict-inducing debates, begin to hear people’s hearts and learn with them and from them as we seek the only One legitimately called ‘Truth.’

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Digging Up Bones

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I’ve watched dogs dig, dig, DIG for something they remember burying–a bone, a toy, a sock (you know, the match you can’t find to your favorite pair).  They have buried it to save for later.  They have buried it to savor for later.  They have buried it so that they can remember and be like a kid tearing into presents at Christmas.

And it is a little like Christmas when we find something we put away and forgot.  My mom bought me a little Fozzie Bear, from The Muppets, one Christmas.  It was perfect for my stocking, and she knew that Fozzie was my favorite.  Problem:  She bought it in July and put it ‘away.’  Christmas Eve, after everyone had gone to bed, she filled the stockings–but no Fozzie.  She tore through her closet (her go-to hiding place).  She looked in every cabinet (and my parents’ house has many).  Nothing.  I remember her disappointment Christmas Day.  Of course I had no idea anything was amiss, so everything in my stocking thrilled me.  Then she told me about Fozzie and how she was sure she’d find him in the next day or two.  Twelve years later  (I had graduated high school and college, had been married a few years and had a child), she found him.  Celebration ensued!!  I received a package in the mail a few days later, and all my childhood memories of The Muppets flooded me.  In that moment, I returned to Christmas Day twelve years previous.  I was a teen again and relived the magical moment of the surprises of Christmas morning.  Fozzie became a toy for our baby, and I always smiled when she would hold him and teethe on him.

Recently, growing pains have darkened my spiritual zeal.  Life events, life maturity, life revelations and reflections take a toll on our passion as we navigate, process and reinterpret things we thought unchangeable.  Our souls, thinking they were on solid bedrock, suddenly discover a sinkhole opening up and we panic our way to safety.  But in the midst of the confusion and anxiety of what the future holds, there is something long-buried in my spirit that I’m trying to dig up.  Not sure of what I will find, I keep digging, deeper and deeper, knowing that I will discover something I hid away for just this time.  I keep asking God to ‘throw me a bone’ and give me a little respite; but I believe now that He did throw me a bone long ago and I buried it, because I didn’t need it yet.

So I dig.  I dig with anticipation.  I dig with hope.  I dig with confidence.  A joyful surprise waits a little deeper.

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