Sunday, March 31, 2013

Alive

Easter Sunday.

The bright colors, the high heeled shoes, the ties and suit jackets, the baskets of candy filled eggs, the fancy dinners with families.

The songs that proclaim "HE IS ALIVE." The rejoicing, the happiness, the hope.

But that's not how it started, or when it started.

It started on Friday, and it was anything but bright, happy, hopeful.

It was a day filled with shock, pain, despair, fear, doubt, and death.

I've had a day like that. It was a Wednesday for my family, but it held all the same emotions as Good Friday must have held for the disciples.

"How can this be true?"
"How could this have happened?"
"How will we live through this?"

The gut wrenching sobs of my mother, my father, my sisters, my brother, my kids...the pain that had me curled into a ball in the floor...Yes, I have lived through a Friday.

And a Saturday too. The listless, numb feeling that settles over everyone. Things to do, plans to make, bleak, painful futures to face. Fear that comes when the grief seems to rob you of breath. Its too much. Its more than we can bear. Life as we knew it, life as we hoped and dreamed it would always be...is over. Gone.

Sunday starts the same way for the disciples. Get up, try to eat, try to blink with swollen eyelids and overused tear ducts. Go through the motions, keep moving because what other choice is there?

Who's going to the grave to anoint His body? What do we do now? How can we ever go back to life like it was before?

And the women who loved Jesus went through the motions that everyone who's ever lost a loved one goes through. They got dressed, and gathered what they would need, and set out to face the body of the One they loved and lost.

They wondered how they would move the stone out of the way. They'd probably been too distracted to think of it before, too busy planning the heart wrenching, unimaginable task before them...but now they wondered, discussing it in tired, quiet tones as they rounded the corner.

And then the fear set in anew.

The soldiers were prostrate on the ground.

The stone was already rolled back.

An angel sat atop it.

And the angel spoke..."He is not here..."

Today, as I was thinking about the stone, and the grave, and the sadness that leapt into rejoicing for the disciples and the women who loved Jesus...I thought about my own Good Friday, and the Saturday...and all the days in the nearly 4 years since.

And in my mind, I saw this picture.


And in my spirit, I saw an angel, sitting atop the stone. And the Lord said to me...

"She is not here."

She's not there. She's alive. More alive than she ever was.

And Easter looks even more hopeful, and bright, and happy, than it ever has before.

Because Jesus got up out of His grave...and so my sister's grave isn't the end of her life.

It is the beginning.

The Lamb of God rolled away the stone in front of EVERY GRAVE.

EVERY GRAVE.

We all have Good Friday's, and Saturday's, and we all know the shock and pain and gut wrenching grief.

BUT...Sunday came, the first Easter dawned...and now we can hold onto the Sunday promise, even on Friday. We can bury our loved ones, and we can look at their gravestone, and we can see the angel sitting atop, and hear the words "...NOT HERE..."

My sister is in heaven, celebrating Easter with her Savior. And I am on earth, celebrating Easter with my Savior...and it almost feels like we're together, and the knowledge that we will be together again gives me such JOY that I can't stop crying, and I can't stop smiling, and I can't stop jumping, and I can't stop raising my hands toward heaven...

Because "HE IS NOT HERE!!! He has risen!'

There's nobody left in that grave.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

The WHY of it all

I am fairly certain that my least favorite word in the English language is "Why?"

Today in the car, my three year old and I had a conversation. It went something like this:

"Mommy, why are we going in the car?"
"We're going to have a play date."
"Why are we going have a play date?"
"Because it's Faith's birthday."
"Why is it Faithy's birthday?"
"Because this is the day she was born."
"Why did we stop, Mommy?"
"Because its a red light."
"Why did we go?"
"Because the light turned green."
"Why did we turn this way?"
"Because, Gabe! Because I said so!"

Yes, the word 'why' is currently the most hated word I can think of. I'm considering dubbing it a banned word in the Martin household.

I was thinking just today that my other kids all went through the dreaded 'why?' stage, and I remember being so relieved when they grew out of it. They no longer question why we are turning a certain way, or why we are stopped at a red light, Thank God.

They get into the van, put on their seat belts (while Gabe asks 'Why?' he has to wear his) and trust that I know how to get where I'm going and what the rules of the road are. They sit back, relax, and don't worry. They know that I will take care of them.

This is a lesson I could stand to learn.

I am doing a study of the books of First and Second Peter, and last week there was a question that stuck in my heart like a burr.

"Why do you think we, as Christians, suffer from hardship and pain? Does God allow it? Does He cause it? Is it part of His will? Why?"

That was the question, and I have to admit that I struggled hard to come up with an answer.

Because there isn't a good one.

Saying that God causes, or allows, suffering...it makes my stomach hurt. I literally couldn't write down that response, even though I think there is scriptural precedent supporting just such an answer. Certainly God allowed Job to suffer, and Jesus to suffer.

And my stomach is hurting again.

Because I've suffered too, and dwelling on on the reasons WHY, and coming up with the answer "because God allows suffering" ...that makes me angry.

WHY WOULD HE DO THAT??? Why would He take my little sister, while she was still young, when she was serving Him so faithfully?? WHY?????

And people quote the verse "ALL things work together for the good of them that love Him..." and I want to shout "WHY THIS?????? I don't want this to work for my good! I don't want this at all! WHY?"

And we're back to that word, and we're back to my hatred of it. Because if I start asking WHY?? I will drive everyone around me, and myself, crazy.

What that word really means, when I ask it, is "I want to understand the reasons."

Except I can't.

Because I'm not the driver.

The path the Lord is leading me down, the road of my life...I am only the passenger. I gave my life to Him, I climbed into the back seat, and put on my seat belt, and all He asks is for me to trust that He knows where we are going, and He knows when we'll get there, and He knows where to turn, and when to stop, and when to go.

He knows.

Does He intentionally lead me through pain? Does He cause my suffering?

Does it matter, really? Does my son's questioning of everything make my love for him and my desire to do what's best for him any less hard for him to understand? He can't grasp things, and so he questions them.

But if he would just trust me...we would all have a more peaceful car trips.

And the lesson is now clear.

The WHY of my life doesn't matter, not really. The WHO is what matters.

He leads me, and He's with me, and He loves me, and He catches my tears, and He DOESN'T WASTE MY PAIN.

That's what I am choosing to focus on. My pain gives me a unique opportunity to tell others in pain that "You will never understand WHY...but He is still good. And He is still Sovereign. And He still loves you. And you won't be able to see it, maybe not for a long time, but He will work in your life in this suffering, and you will know Him better on the other side."

I say to Gabe "Because I'm the Mom, and I said so!" But what I mean is...

Trust me, child. I'll take care of you, no matter what.

That's what He says to me too. And He says it with much less exasperation, I'm certain.

And so, the word WHY is officially banned from my vocabulary. Because it makes my trust waiver, and it chips away at my sense of relaxation...and it helps nothing, because the answers aren't knowable this side of heaven.

But I can know peace, and trust, and joy in His presence.

And that is much better than understanding why.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Rebel with a cause

I don't know what it is, but something about being told not to do something gives me an almost uncontrollable urge to do that exact thing.

When I was 7, I was told not to touch an electric fence because it would shock me. But as soon as my parents weren't looking...of course I touched the fence. I had to find out for myself.

Speed limits have always been a problem for me. (although, this may be in part because I am my father's daughter, and not because there is a speed limit)

Recently, a friend was telling me how many germs were on condiment bottles in restaurants. She was picking up the ketchup bottle with a napkin as she spoke, and as soon as she set it down...I picked it up and licked it. I don't know what came over me. I couldn't help myself.

The desire to say a four letter word is never stronger than when my kids are in the room. Somehow the urge lessens when only my husband's ears are listening.

There is a possibility that I am a bit of a rebel.

Its not really that I don't believe in following rules, or that I don't respect authority, or that I 'live dangerously' or 'walk on the wild side.' (please, have you met me? the wildest thing I do on a regular basis is paint my toenails) (well, a semi-regular basis, anyway)

Its really more about pushing the envelope, just because I resent the envelope's presence.

I get that from my dad too. He is always ALMOST saying a curse word, just because he knows how mad it will make my mom.

My sister Sarah is worse than me. Once, when we were at a theme park, she was expressing how great she thought the roller coaster was that we had just been on, and the people behind us started snickering, making fun of her enthusiasm. Oh man, what I would give to have what happened next on video. She suddenly started whooping and shouting about how amazing the ride was, and 'galloping' down the exit ramp, slapping her thigh as if she were urging her horse on, and finally drawing her twin 'six shooters' (her fingers) and turning to use the people behind us for target practice. This. Is. A. True. Story.

We have also decided (Sarah and I) that we will wear white jeans this summer, despite the fact that we neither one possess the correct body type for them, (I'm pretty sure the words she used when discussing them was 'tragic, but still awesome") and despite the fact that white jeans are a questionable choice for all mothers, and we have 7 kids between us.

Its not really that I want to break all the rules, its just that I sometimes resent their presence. And apparently I have passed this on to my kids. A while back we were discussing words that weren't acceptable to say (following the use of one such word by my 6 year old.) Here is how the conversation went:

Nate: "Why can't I say that?"
Me: "Because its not good manners."
Nate: "What are some other words that are bad manners to say?"
Me: "I'm not going to tell you, because then I would be using bad manners."
Nate: "I wish I could take a bad manners class so I could learn all the words."

He doesn't really want to know all the bad words. He just doesn't like that he's not allowed to know them.

(My daughter just came into my room and asked me what I was blogging about. "What is the theme?" she said.) I'm pretty sure there isn't one. I've just been pondering my love of living on the edge of outrageous, and my tendency to dive head first into shocking behavior if I feel the people around me might judge me.

So, don't judge me. It will only push me further toward the edge. Please, for the sake of my husband's sanity, do NOT tell me not to do something.

And, don't let me and Sarah hang out together very often. It really gets wild then. (insert reference to a spontaneous wrestling match on Thanksgiving Day here) You might see some dancing in the middle of the street, or some trying on of pants at a kiosk in the mall. (over top of the pants being worn, and without the presence of a dressing room)

Its really Mom and Dad's fault. They always told us to live a life full of the knowledge of God's grace. He offers me grace when I speed, He offers Sarah grace when she shoots her pistols at strangers outside a roller coaster, He offers my dad grace when He gives my mom a heart attack with his almost cursing.

No judgement, not conditional acceptance, no behavior or works based relationship. He laughs when I'm wild, and He loves me when I screw up, and He gently and patiently steers me back in the right direction when I get over the line. Not by telling me "Don't do this!" "Stop acting like that!" or "You have got to shape up!" But by pointing me to the image of His Son, and reminding me that's who I am trying to be like.

And in the Bible there are no references to Jesus only using dressing rooms to try on clothes, or how He always walked within the speed limit, or how He never licked olive oil bottles because there were too many germs on them.

There are tons of references to His grace, and His acceptance of every person, no matter how outrageous.

That's all I'm trying to do. I'm giving all the people around me a chance to WANT to judge me, but CHOOSE not to because Jesus wouldn't. (Or maybe He would, but that's His call, not anyone elses)

And a theme has emerged after all.

The grace filled rebel who's really just trying to help others be more like Jesus.

Yeah, that's a little thin. But, its all I've got. Take it or leave it.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Twilight

What is the obsession with vampires these days? And werewolves, and aliens, and super heroes?

I went to a movie with my best friend last week, and more than half of the previews featured immortal beings in one form or another.

I am perplexed.

Why is a love story more potent and intriguing and heart wrenching when the couple in love can't eat or sleep or age?

Why are the green slimy guys who come down to invade earth so much cooler and smarter and appealing than the ones they are invading?

Why are werewolves more convincing protectors than friends who can't shape shift?

Why are the mutants and the superheroes so much braver than the rest of the cast in the movie?

Why in the world is Abraham Lincoln cooler when he is a vampire hunter?

What is the fascination?

I know its possible to look past the extraordinarily overstretched fantasies of movies these days and just enjoy a good story. I'm not knocking the pleasure of getting lost in an appealing tale.

I'm just saying, why is this particular material SOOOOO prevalent these days?

What is it in us that is so drawn to the story of the mighty warrior, who can't be with the one he loves because they are from two different worlds, but still he loves her?

Or the alien who is so compassionate for the ones he is supposed to be better than, that he helps them instead of hurting them?

Or the superhero willing to give his own life to protect others, simply because he has the power to do so?

Or the loner who wants so much to belong that she gives up everything she's ever known and puts herself in terrible danger, simply for the chance to be loved, and accepted, and known.

Hmm...take out the words alien, and superhero, and warrior, and we may be onto something here.

I want to be loved, no matter the sacrifice, no matter the pain. I want to be known. I want to be protected. I want to be helped instead of hurt. I want to be accepted.

We all do. Everyone wants those things.

They are built into us. The desire to be fully known, and fully accepted, and totally protected, and altogether, unconditionally loved...they are part of what makes us who we are.

Our Maker made us to seek them.

Why?

Because He can fulfill them.

He HAS fulfilled them.

He loved us so much that He gave up His rights, and stooped down to our level, to give us a glimpse of Himself. And the glimpse was the proof. He is able to protect us, and He knows us, and He loves us.

He sacrificed Himself for us. And His flesh was pierced, and blood drained from His body, and His body became cold, and His love for us destroyed every notion we could ever have had about what love really is.

But then His heart began to beat again. And He came out of His tomb, and WE began to live.

This story is so much better than a vampire movie. It has all the same draws: flesh is pierced, and blood is drained, and an innocent person is killed. Love is seen in the sacrifice of One for another. Protection and power are witnessed and experienced. Compassion is the central theme.

But this story is better, on every single level. Not because we get to be immortal, but because we get to be free of the fear of mortality. We don't have to fear losing what and who we love, because HE is who we love. And He DID die...but only long enough to defeat death forever.

Edward and Jakob can't say that, can they? Neither can Superman, or Wolverine. They are not invincible. They are not perfect. They are not immortal. They have flaws, weaknesses, and fears.

We watch movies and read books, searching for the overwhelming feeling of belonging, of courage, of love, that is displayed in the characters. The unbelievable things draw us in, and capture our interest, for a very simple reason.

We want to believe that superheroes exist. We want to feel that its possible to be yearned for, to be fought for, to be taken care of, to be known, no matter how impossible the dream of those things may be.

We want to hear that someone would willingly sacrifice themselves for us.

But Someone already has.

And He's tougher than Superman, and heals better than Wolverine, and is a more tenacious protector than Jakob, and loves more fiercely than Edward, and when His blood drained out...

That is when His power was at its most potent. His mortality was His greatest weapon against our mortality.

And His love for us was so strong that it wouldn't let Him stay in the grave. Because His death secured the possibility for us to be cleansed, but His LIFE lives in us every day.

So watch the movies about the vampires and werewolves and superheroes and aliens. By all means, enjoy the cinematic world. I plan to.

But don't forget...they don't hold a candle to the real thing.

And when the Twilight in my life comes...I will look into the eyes of the One who knows me, and I will see His love, and feel the warmth of His touch, and hear Him speak to me as only He can, and I will know I am protected, and that I was fought for, and that the price was steep, but He considered me worth it.

I have value in the eyes of the True One who makes all the others seem like empty frauds.

That is what we are longing to find in our fascination with the immortal.

Is there Someone out there who finds us worth sacrificing His immortality for?

Oh yes.

And its even better than our impossible dreams...because...

Twilight is only the beginning.