A Living Death

A Living Death

When I was a child, I spent most of my time waiting to grow up and be independent. I wished my childhood away. Blessed with the opportunity to attend college away from home, I could not believe or fully comprehend my good fortune. Then something unexpected happened during my first visit home from college. I experienced a sense of detachment from the rest of my family. I did not belong there in the same way I did or like my siblings who were still living there. They saw me differently and perhaps I acted differently. I was independent. It was what I had always wanted but when it happened I was sad. In that moment I recognized the end of something big and my heart was struck by the loss of it. Life flooded me with classes, studying, new friends, a boyfriend and the excitement of college life. I never looked back. I did not have time to look back.

Engaged before graduation, I was neck deep in wedding planning, job hunting and moving to a new city before I ever left college. I loved school but it was time for my college days to be done. I was running in the direction of adulthood and married life. Wedding PhotoThe life I knew in school was over and the person I was as a student was gone. There was deep sadness with that realization but the busyness of preparing for my new life did not allow me to think about it but for a moment. I never looked back. I did not have time to look back.

As the wedding approached, I practiced signing my new name. I struggled with taking my fiancé’s last name. It was not that I was terribly attached to the name I was given at birth but I did not want to erase it either. It was culturally what I was expected to do. Every other married woman I knew changed her name. I understood that I would be someone new after the wedding even without a name change. People I met as a married person would never know me as an individual. I would from that time forward be defined by another person, by another family, without much evidence of who I was previously. I practiced and practiced writing my new name until it began to look familiar. When I was handed the marriage certificate I signed it with a trembling hand. I never looked back. I did not have time to look back.

A few years later, pregnant with my first child and on bed rest with preterm labor, any evidence of my youth was shattered. There was a transforming pressure in the realization that I was completely responsible for another human being. Every decision I made would directly support or threaten my unborn child. I prayed for us both to survive. I prayed for the pain to subside. I prayed for the pregnancy to come to a swift and positive end. Every moment of every day for more than 6 weeks I spent trying to stay pregnant, manage pain and cope with the life threatening implications of a situation I could not control. On February 21, 1990 at 2:32AM my daughter burst into the world a month early, yellow and limp. My body was torn apart. Immediately after birth, a nurse rushed our newborn to the ICU.   My Megan as a newborn 022492husband worried about leaving me alone but sprinted behind the racing nurse after I made him promise to not allow our daughter out of his sight. Several days later, a tiny child was placed in my weakened arms and I was wheeled to the door of the hospital. There was no time to rest or heal. There was a child who needed me, depended on me for survival. I needed to devote all my strength and energy to being a mother. I never looked back. I did not have time to look back.

Standing in the parking lot of a popular daycare center, I wrapped my colic baby in my arms attempting to picture myself entrusting her to the caregivers on the other side of the glass door in front of me. The thought of it caused me physical pain. I reminded myself that every mother I knew went back to work a few weeks after giving birth. I spent time and money earning a degree so I could have a career. It was my dream. Many people fought and sacrificed for me to have the opportunity to go to school. How could I let them down? How could I let myself down? In that parking lot clinging tightly to my child I made a choice that changed everything. I decided that I wanted more than anything in the world to take care of my child full time. I did not accept the title “stay-at-home mom” easily but there was nothing in this world I desired more definitively. The person I thought myself to be was redefined in that moment. The trajectory of my life shifted in a direction I never before considered. I never looked back. I did not have time to look back.

Life continued at fever pitch bringing with it love, struggle, fun, loss, self-discovery, self-doubt, health issues, another challenging pregnancy and a second child. I often teased about earning an honorary medical degree with the hours I spent in doctor’s offices, addressing all of our health challenges. While other mom’s complained of scattered toys or the toilet paper roll unfurled around the house, my heart soared with gratitude for the normal play of a healthy child. Some days lasted forever it seemed but the years sped by. Sleepless nights spent feeding babies were replaced with sleepless nights waiting for teenagers to arrive home. There were concerts and games to attend, leotards and football uniforms to wash, holidays to celebrate, birthday parties to plan, homework to complete and college applications to submit. Suddenly it seemed my young adult children did not require my assistance as they once did. My role as mother morphed into trusted adviser and observer. I was transformed from one person into someone new without so much as a breath between. Version 2I never looked back. I did not have time to look back.

Today both my children are college graduates and working in other states. I cannot help but laugh when I think about it. It seems they are each living the dream I once held for myself. I have plenty of time to ponder such notions now. What might have been? What actually happened? It is as if I died and now my life is flashing before my eyes. While reflecting on my life, I now see I have died this sort of living death many times before. At the end of each stage of life a part of me had to give way in order for me to continue living. The difference this time is that another task or responsibility is not bearing down upon me. Life seems oddly suspended and pregnant with choices or nothingness depending on the day. Instead of hurrying to the next thing, I am left to rest, to wonder about the future. While I rest I pray that I am purposeful and intentional with my choices about the person I am becoming. There is now time to look back, gather all that life has taught me and set that knowledge into action as I begin yet another new life.

Dear God,  Thank you for this time of rest, reflection and rebuilding. Please help me to remember with gratitude all the beauty and blessings I have received in this lifetime as well as the challenges. Help me to see struggle and loss as preparation for becoming the person I will be in the next phase of life. Teach me to recognize when others are experiencing times of transition from one life to another so I can show them compassion.

Thank you for another chance at new life here on earth. This unhurried time is allowing me to learn from my past and see the potential life holds for me still. You continue to provide examples of life, death and new life each day. Help me to lean on those examples to embrace and appreciate what is happening now and what is yet to come.

Love, Jean

John 11:25,26 Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?

Mark 1: 29 – 31 As soon as they left the synagogue, they went with James and John to the home of Simon and Andrew. Simon’s mother-in-law was in bed with a fever, and they immediately told Jesus about her. So he went to her, took her hand and helped her up. The fever left her and she began to wait on them.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Sowing Seeds Today

Dwelling in the Word Devotion with Narrative Lectionary for Ministry Teams and Small Groups 

 

Welcome

Check in: Today’s Highs and Lows

Scripture Reading:  Mark 4:1-20

4:1  Again Jesus began to teach by the lake. The crowd that gathered around him was so large that he got into a boat and sat in it out on the lake, while all the people were along the shore at the water’s edge. 2 He taught them many things by parables, and in his teaching said: 3 “Listen! A farmer went out to sow his seed. 4 As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. 5 Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. 6 But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root. 7 Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants, so that they did not bear grain. 8 Still other seed fell on good soil. It came up, grew and produced a crop, some multiplying thirty, some sixty, some a hundred times.”

9 Then Jesus said, “Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear.”

10 When he was alone, the Twelve and the others around him asked him about the parables. 11 He told them, “The secret of the kingdom of God has been given to you. But to those on the outside everything is said in parables 12 so that,

“‘they may be ever seeing but never perceiving,

 and ever hearing but never understanding;

otherwise they might turn and be forgiven!’[a]”

13 Then Jesus said to them, “Don’t you understand this parable? How then will you understand any parable? 14 The farmer sows the word. 15 Some people are like seed along the path, where the word is sown. As soon as they hear it, Satan comes and takes away the word that was sown in them. 16 Others, like seed sown on rocky places, hear the word and at once receive it with joy. 17 But since they have no root, they last only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, they quickly fall away. 18 Still others, like seed sown among thorns, hear the word; 19 but the worries of this life, the deceitfulness of wealth and the desires for other things come in and choke the word, making it unfruitful. 20 Others, like seed sown on good soil, hear the word, accept it, and produce a crop—some thirty, some sixty, some a hundred times what was sown.”

Centering, Becoming Present: One minute of silence and deep breathing, dwelling in the word.

Reflection Question: How is God speaking to you through this word? What do we need to hear today?

Prayer: God of the Word, in the parable of the sower you showed us how your word can take root and grow within us. Nurture the seeds of your word in our hearts and help us to grow in faith and love. Amen.

Share Gratitude at End of Meeting: A piece of bread is shared around the table, with each member taking a small piece and reflecting on something he/she is grateful for today

End with Prayer or Blessing 

people said amen

 

Group Prayer Outline — Dwelling in the Word

Dwelling in the Word Devotion with Narrative Lectionary
for Ministry Teams and Small Groups:

 

Welcome

Highlighted bible 2

Check in: Today’s Highs and Lows

Scripture Reading

Centering, Becoming Present: One minute of silence and deep breathing

Reflection Question: How is God speaking to you through this word? What do we need to hear today?

Prayer

Share Gratitude at End of Meeting: A piece of bread is shared around the table, with each member taking a small piece and reflecting on something he/she is grateful for today

End with prayer or blessing

Friendship

 

 

Bible Marathon: Seven Things I Learned In Reading the Entire Bible in (Roughly) One Year

Cover of The NRSV Daily BibleIn the summer of 2014, I began hearing about a program at Easter Lutheran Church called “Bible in a Year.” The challenge was to read the bible, cover-to-cover, over the course of a year, beginning on Oct. 1, 2014. Outside of the obvious biblical stories, history, and facts I learned, there are a few things I would like to share from the experience:

1. The Old Testament is a lot longer than I realized. Have you ever counted the pages in the bible–with all that fine print? Tried to read the Old Testament straight through?  After the first month or two I found myself positively hungering for Jesus (as did many of us!). The benefits of reading the Old Testament, however, are many. For one thing, I came to understand ancient Middle-Eastern history/culture a little bit better—and that also helped me understand the situations surrounding the life and times of Jesus and his followers.

2. The image of God in the Old Testament (Hebrew Scriptures) is much more varied than I previously thought. It’s a stereotype to say that God of the Old Testament is warring, vindictive, arbitrary, wrathful, and harsh god.  Yes, we can find lots of OT stories in which God might seem this way. But the Hebrew Scriptures also the describe God as ever-faithful to us, as “slow to anger and rich in mercy,” the God who delivers people from slavery, gives them fertile land, identifies wise leaders, offers them a better way of living, desires justice and mercy more than sacrificial offerings.

3. We are a community of believers. I am not as self-sufficient and self-disciplined as I think I am. I wanted to quit a million times and often was lazy about doing this devotional reading. It was the others in the group who kept me going.  Although we mostly communicated via Facebook (with the occasional meeting), it was the strength of knowing other people were doing this—and, like me,  struggling along at times with certain readings—that kept me going.

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4. Deepening my understanding of the role of the bible in my life.  Christians have various ways of describing the bible’s importance (“sacred text,” “inspired,” “Word of God,” “inerrant,” or “inerrant in the original language”). Reading the bible forced me to ask myself: What do I personally believe about the bible?  What place does the bible hold in my own view of reality and Christian faith? How will I use the biblical teachings in my daily life? I found myself thinking that we worship God, and we hold the bible in high esteem because it reveals something of who this God is.

5. It’s so easy to quote favorite verses and ignore the Scripture passages that challenge us. Having favorite verses can be a way to truly feed our souls and guide our lives, but what I’m talking about here is the way some people in our culture use bible verses as a weapon to sling mud and condemnation on other people. In the morning, I would read about Jesus being full of mercy, kindness, healing power, and compassion—but then I would turn on the news and hear about people promoting the opposite values while purporting to follow Christ. I don’t know what to think about this—and I haven’t any answers. I’m just saying: I don’t get it.

2901744981_45c6284906_z--Red Letter bible by J Mark Bertrand with sig6. For Christians, the gospels are the four “aces” in the deck. Do you remember the old bibles that had the words of Jesus printed in red? My thought is  that although all parts of the bible are important, Christians actually worship Jesus Christ—and that gives the gospels special priority. It’s why Christian lectionaries have a gospel reading assigned every Sunday. It’s also why many mainline Christians stand when the gospel is read on Sunday, out of special respect (humans stand when kings, judges, or leaders enter the room, and we stand when excited during a rock concert). The gospel deserves special attention from Christ-followers.

7. We are never done pondering the mysteries of God and the wonder of Christ and the Holy Spirit. Reading the bible in a year was like a quick plane trip, flying around the entire globe in less than 24 hours. Once done, there are so many more places to land and explore in greater depth, and I plan to go back and do just that. As one person in the group pointed out, reading a bible passage leads one to specific questions and once those questions are answered, that leads to still more questions.  One is never done pondering the wonders, compassion, creativity, and mercy of God.

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For discussion/reflection: 

What do you believe about the bible?  How does the bible fit into your own faith journey? Do you have a biblical story or passage that has special meaning for your life? How so?

Easter Lutheran member Julie McCarty is a writer, spiritual director, and budding artist who is the volunteer coordinator of Easter Prays / Easter Praise! blog. She also offers spiritual reflections at Spiritual Drawing Board blog and on Facebook’s Spiritual Drawing Board page. 

Do You Hear What I Hear?

By John Peterson

Picture

Do you hear what I hear
A song, a song high above the trees
With a voice as big as the seas
With a voice as big as the seas . . . * 

It may be a bit early (for some) to start listening to Christmas songs, but it is always the time to listen to God and what He is saying to you.

“But he said, “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and keep it!”” – Luke 11:28

My wife Tammy and I started dating in the spring of 2000…for the second time. We were high school sweethearts and as is sometimes the case, our paths took different directions and we lost track of each other over the years. Circumstances brought us back together about fifteen years later and I was very excited to get to know her once again.

Pretty early in our renewed relationship, I thought she could be the one for me. I didn’t want to tell her that I loved her too early, but I knew those feelings were building up inside me. Then, on May 12, 2000, I lost the hearing in my left ear. It was a sudden, irreversible loss of hearing. My doctor, who is the head of the Otorhinolaryngology (hearing) department at the Mayo Clinic, said that sometimes a patient will have sudden, severe, permanent hearing loss. I asked if it could happen in my other ear and he said that the chances were like being hit by lightning twice.

The only thing I could think of was that if I was “hit by lightning twice”, I may never hear the words, “I love you” from the woman I was falling in love with.

As I think about my hearing loss and the possibility of completely losing my hearing, I wonder how many “I love you’s” God was telling me but I didn’t hear? Even though God has “a voice as big as the seas”, as the song goes, did I miss out on what He was trying to tell me? Missed invitations from God to share His love with others by inviting someone who sits alone at lunch to join me, or to put an extra dollar in a hat held out by someone trying to collect money to feed their family. Instead of listening to what God was trying to tell me, did I turn my deaf ear to what He was saying? I believe God wants each of us to know that He loves us and he wants to show His love to others through us.

Hebrews 2:1 says, “Therefore we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it”

In the month of November, many of us focus on things we are thankful for. Let’s be thankful for a God who loves us and wants us to make sure that we hear Him when he says He loves us.

I did have to wait a while, but I eventually heard the words “I love you” from my now wife who I have been married to for 13 years. The words are still a sweet sound to my one “good” ear every time she says them.

God give us the wisdom to hear you when you speak to us. Help us to recognize your voice and take action when you call us to share your love. Thank you for loving us even when we don’t listen to your words. In your Son’s name we pray – Amen.

 

*”Do You Hear What I Hear? song credits” : Lyrics by Noël Regney and music by Gloria Shayne Baker, 1962.

 

Highlighting God’s Word. . .and God’s Word Highlighting Our Lives

Today’s post comes from Chris Cairo: 

highlighters-871282749297x9GvWhen I read books I like to highlight the good parts. No, not in fiction books like those written by Vince Flynn (a favorite author), but the business books, Christian books I read, and especially the Bible.

I almost always have my highlighter out when I read the bible. I tend to highlight the major verses, like John 3:16 (‘for God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him may not perish but may have eternal life.’), and ones we often hear in church (like Numbers 6:24-26)).

Highlighted bible 2But invariably, no matter which book of the bible I am reading, there are certain words and verses that jump out at me…that make me pause…that I need to think about. So I highlight them.

And sometimes, as I am reading a particular section of the bible a second or third time (because I either (a) still don’t get it, or (b) need additional inspiration), I find myself highlighting verses I had ‘skipped’ over previously.

God speaks to me through His word…with the right words, at the right time.

This always reminds me of the bible verses the confirmands choose when they make their confirmation. Each of them chose a verse that spoke to them personally, and they were all different. God spoke to them.

I hope that He continually speaks to you as you read the bible, and that reading the bible is a part of your life.

Bring your highlighter, and let His word highlight your life.

 

Easter member Chris Cairo wrote the above reflection as part of his special ministry to college students and others, in which he writes to them on a monthly basis to encourage their faith to thrive in their daily lives. 

 

Our Father, Father’s Day, and Parable of the Father’s Love

Today’s devotion is from Chris Cairo:

“Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be Thy name.”

How easily we say these words, sometimes without even thinking about what we are saying, about what the words mean to us. The Lord’s Prayer becomes rote memorization and blind (spiritual) repetition.

Father and son at lakeGod as our Father (let’s side aside any discussion of God’s gender for a moment): what does that mean to you?

There are many stories in the bible, both Old and New Testament, that give us insights into God’s character. One such story is found in Luke 15: the story we call “The Return of the Prodigal Son”.

In a book of the same name by Henri Nouwen, Nouwen suggests that this story could/should be called “Parable of the Father’s Love”. This parable in Luke is told by Jesus after He hears the Pharisees complain that Jesus associates with sinners.

The story has three main characters (the Father and his two sons) and seemingly spends more time on the exploits of the younger son, who goes off and squanders the inheritance his father has given him. It is hard to miss the point that the Father (God) is filled with compassion and joy when the son returns, and holds no grudges: he forgives and accepts. End of lesson, right?

But then there is the older brother who resents that the Father treats the prodigal son so well when he returns. “He is not deserving!” (Or at least not as deserving as me!)

How many of us have moments of jealousy when attention or praise is given to one of our (less deserving in our eyes) siblings by our Father? Or a classmate by the teacher? Or coworker, by our boss? Or when a friend gets complemented on what they are wearing and not us?

I am guilty of this. Sometimes it’s hard not to be jealous, as the world is always comparing us, evaluating us, grading us. Constant competition.

But not God.640px-Rembrandt_Harmensz_van_Rijn_-_Return_of_the_Prodigal_Son_-_Google_Art_Project

In the story the Father runs out to greet the prodigal son as he is returning home. But the Father also goes out to the older son, to bring him into the celebration in the house.

Jesus’s point with the story, seems to be that not only does God love sinners, but that God loves all of us, equally. The Fathers love is not given in measure to our goodness or success. Thank God! (No pun intended) You do not have to have better grades than your brother or sister. You do not need to be the best athlete in the family. Or the smartest…There is no comparing.

Your Father simply loves you.

And so it is “on earth as it is in heaven”.

In the famous painting by Rembrandt of this parable, he shows the son kneeling, and comforted, in the warm embrace of the Father. The light in the painting symbolizing the fathers love. The father reaches out to give love, and equally important, the son has returned and learned to accept the fathers love.

I hope you each can bask in the love of your Father on Father’s Day, whether he is with you or not. That’s all He wants.

 

Easter member Chris Cairo wrote the above reflection as part of his special ministry to college students and others, in which he writes to them on a monthly basis to encourage their faith to thrive in their daily lives.