Maundy Thursday: In the Face of Hatred

“If you were of the world, the world would love its own. Yet because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. John 15:19

It’s not in our nature to endure hatred. Every particle of our soul burns for acceptance, for love.  It was the very thing that led us to Jesus in the first place, the promise that “neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”  (Romans 8:38-39) The world offered us many things, and they were good, though sometimes fickle gifts: admiration, acceptance, respect, belonging, even family, but not that.  Not the , unshakable love of a savior. DSC_1341But it’s in His nature to be hated.

“This happened that the word might be fulfilled which is written in their law,” He says. “‘They hated Me without a cause.’”  John 15:25 

And when we realize that, everything in our being tries to flee.  We’ll break the promises we just made, three times over. We’ll keep silent because we love the praise of man more than the praise of God. We’ll testify falsely because we can’t handle the fear. 

It’s not always that we don’t believe or that we don’t love him that keeps us from following.  It’s sometimes that we can’t bare to be hated. We’re terrified of what the mob will do to us, so we hang back in the safe spaces. We whisper about the injustice to other friends, but only to those who we know will agree.  We hide our testimony, because we’re terrified they will make space for our cross too.  When He catches our eye from a distance we’re suddenly humiliated by our weakness. We hang our heads and sob, but still, we don’t dare step out of the shadows.  

He kept warning us, waking us to pray. He knew we would not be able to endure the condescending looks and snide comments. Or the scorn slammed in our face daily. He knew we couldn’t bare their anger, or the burning of our humiliation, all if we merely mention His name.

DSC_0789But he promised that night not to leave us orphaned in our pain.

“And I will pray the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may abide with you forever—  the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees Him nor knows Him; but you know Him, for He dwells with you and will be in you.  John 14:16‭-‬17 NKJV

Something that would save us from this shame. That would push us out from our hiding places and out of our sanctuaries, able to fight their hatred with the truth.

The Spirit of truth…

His word in our hearts like a burning fire

Shut up in our bones.

We would weary of holding it back,

And we would not. (Jeremiah 20:9 NKJV)

But for now, as the hour of temptation is at hand, we break the bread and drink the cup, remembering our weakness in the light of his sacrificial love.  We huddle, sleepily in the garden, and realize how weak we are without Him, without the Holy Spirit he promises will help us.

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For tonight, our only protection is the prayers he says on our behalf.

“I do not pray that You should take them out of the world,

But that You should keep them from the evil one.

They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world.

Sanctify them by Your truth. Your word is truth.

As You sent Me into the world, I also have sent them into the world.

And for their sakes I sanctify Myself, that they also may be sanctified by the truth.”

John 17:15-19

 

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Holy week part 3: Fighting Denial

There’s a story in this picture that only I can see. It’s evident in the calmness of the sea and the clarity of the sky.  It’s in the peace shown in the child’s steady gaze.  This was a story that almost wasn’t, and one of which the child is almost wholly unaware.  Many deny the power the power of how this story came to be, but I’ll never deny its truth. 

The ocean in this picture could have been choppy.  The home the boy lives in began in turbulence.  Crashing waves of alcohol and drugs relentlessly churned up mud and silt, so that most often the atmosphere felt murky and brown.

The sky could have been full of storm clouds, for the boy’s parent’s sins were generational. Growing up in a home with such turbulence would have put him at high risk for the same behaviors: anger, depression, and a wealth of poor judgement.  Even if he could somehow make it out of the house free from addiction, he would still always be followed by the cloud of emotional pain.

The look on his face could have been one of uncertainty and anger.  He could have woke every day wondering, what kind of mom would meet in the morning? The one who makes pancakes, with exaggerated cheer, like everything was better than normal? Or the one who’s still a bit drunk, but mostly hungover? The one with a pillow over her head, letting him know he needs to pour his own cereal and peel his own banana. On those days he would fume and wonder, why was this his lot? What did he do to be born to such broken parents?

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This was how the boys story was almost written.  In the years before his existence, his mom was in the worst kind of denial.  The kind that had given up on dreams, joy, and the possibility of God.  His dad was covered in a cloud of depression, and would do anything he could to escape its existence, only it followed too closely to ever be free for long.  Somehow, in their pain they found each other, and made their own home, a shelter from those who had hurt and disappointed them.  Their own safe place, just the two of them, together.  But a shelter is not secure when there’s a door open to drugs.  One day meth walked in and quickly chipped away at the little hope they had left.

In a last attempt at peace, they went to her aunt’s house for Christmas.  The mom missed her relatives, but more than that she missed the hope and joy their house was always full of.  She wanted to be near those things, but she was worried they would see through her charade. There might be lectures about behavior and the choices she had made. They would maybe break out gospel tracts and embarrass her with the offer of salvation, but they did no such thing.  In fact, nothing happened at all and if she hadn’t been seeking peace, it may have even seemed boring.

When they came home, the dad said it was the happiest he had ever been. She was shocked. Which part made him happy? The sitting around for hours playing board games? Or the women chatting endlessly about their kids and other people he didn’t know? It was so typical to her, the fact that it amazed him was probably the most depressing thing she ever heard.

That was the happiest you’ve ever been?” she asked aloud, filled with doubt.  After all the epic parties and surreal, all-night adventures, that was it?

“Yes.” He said. “That. And also that time I was young and went to church.”

Suddenly she was felt dismay.  She knew what he was aksing, and was also desperate for joy, but didn’t he know that church was what she had been running from all along? Despite the rage, and the fighting and the drama, she loved him still. If that was what it would take to make them happy again, she would do it.  It was the only one of the 12 sober steps she actually knew, and she knew that’s what they needed. She knew church well and for their sake, she could fake it. At the very least, she thought it might be better than the awfulness that they’d been stuck in lately.  She even kind of missed having friends weren’t all slowly dying. She agreed, and they googled ‘church,’ and went to the first one on the list.

As they rode their bikes up the hill that first Sunday, she expected stability, a new community, some new hope, maybe.  But she didn’t expect Jesus.  She didn’t expect that she’d be sitting there, crying in the pew, letting go of pain.  She didn’t to expect to meet any misfits like her, or people who loved Jesus more than anything, or anyone who would pray for her in the hallways or be willing to talk about God even after the sermon was over.  Sitting there in a pew, paging through the bible, she was disappointed to realize that she had read it for years without ever really listening to what was said.  Truth came blasting through.  Every page she flipped to spoke directly to her soul.  She could feel something entirely new being formed in her. She expected stability, but she didn’t expect Jesus.

The people sang about new mornings, life and mercy, but she had no idea that it would be literal. Suddenly everything was new.  New friends, jobs, passions and tastes. There were baptisms, a wedding, a baby, a new home and then more 3 more babies.  Before she could stop and fully marvel, they were a family of 6 living miles away on a literal rock atop a quiet mountain. 

DSC_0742In His last week on earth,  surrounded by people, Jesus yelled up at the sky. “Now My soul is troubled, and what shall I say? ‘Father, save Me from this hour’? But for this purpose I have come to this hour. Father, glorify your name.”

Then the voice came from heaven saying, “I have both glorified it and I will glorify it again.” (John 12:27-28)

Her trouble is that someday she’ll have to explain this story to the boy.  It would be nicer to tell him that she was always as responsible as she is trying to train him to be. He adores and respects her now, but like all children, someday he will have to understand and forgive her weakness and imperfections.  What will she say? That it would have been better to been spared seeing the bottom in all of its ugliness? But then she would not be able to talk about all the things she’d seen.  The evil things working together for good.  The tribulation, distress, persecution, famine, nakedness, peril, and sword being powerless against the bond His love.

What scares me is that even after people heard the voice, and testified that it sounded like thunder, or that maybe an angel has spoken to him…Even after that they still denied.  “… although he had done so many signs before them, they did not believe Him.” (John 12:37)

It’s the most disturbing part of Holy Week.  That even after everything that’s happened- after all the the signs, all the miracles, and even a voice from heaven, they still can walk away.  How could He be the Son of Man? He doesn’t fit the expectation, so they make excuses. He’s just a prophet. He’s a man possessed. Even after hearing her testimony, and knowing God’s hand in their story, will her children do the same? Will they think it was by her own might strength? That rock bottom will push people up regardless of the power pulling from above?

Some people may, but I will not deny.  I witnessed a man lifted from the abyss of crystal meth to become a loving husband and dad.  I witnessed a woman bound by alcohol walk away from her endless party without a second thought.  For one purpose we survived, to testify. I will not look at this picture and deny the voice that came from heaven, and the authority with which it spoke.   

After a decade of constant growth and change, the people who meet me no longer sense that booze once flowed freely through my veins, or that my husband would stay awake for weeks at a time.  Now we look like ordinary people, with stable, ordinary stories. Raiding a child looking out at a calm ocean, ignorant of the fact that it used to be choppy. Standing under a blue sky, unaware of the storm that has been calmed. With peace, and a hope, and a future radiating from his face.  The power of our testimony demands that His name be glorified.  We cry out for Him to do so, and He shouts back to us that it has been, and that it will be again.

 

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Peace and Preparation

     Last week our family lit the second candle of Advent, which was the Candle of Peace. Depending on your church’s traditions it’s also called the Candle of Preparation, and the scriptures that week were all about the journey to Bethlehem or people preparing for Jesus’ arrival. When I think about preparing for something, I usually feel stress, so how did these two concepts get linked at Christmas?

     I adore all of the traditions of Christmas, and I have some pretty high expectations for how much good cheer I should be exuding. I work hard to give lovely, meaningful gifts to everyone I can afford. I want to sing, and feel joyful, and share God’s love with my family and neighbors. But trying to maintain a cheerful glow through the pushy shoppers and counters of overworked sales clerks requires the peace that passes all understanding. That peace is of course a supernatural gift, and it is hard to receive it when you’re stressing out over a long to-do list… And travelling to see family…And still managing every other responsibility in your life.

I hear lots of people advising Christians to be still, to take time to feel the peace God has given them, to free themselves from the worldly stress that Christmas brings. I dont feel that this is wrong, its just seems so impossible. Christmas preparations are completed with limited time and money. As the day approaches and both things begin to run out, its inevitably stressful.

Strangely enough to me, the times when I have most successfully maintained attitudes of peace and joy were when I was 9 months pregnant. No one expected much of me. Other moms knew that I was too tired and my feet were too swollen to go shopping. The doctor forbid me to travel and I didn’t even send a Christmas card. Most people were just pleased that my pregnant brain fog cleared enough to remember to wish them a Merry Christmas instead of a Happy Halloween.wp-1481778438609.jpg

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My physical situation forced me to be more still than I was comfortable with at Christmas time, but having less to do gave me more time to relate to the beauty of the birth story. I couldn’t listen to Silent Night without sobbing, because rocking even an ordinary infant in the still of night is a holy experience. I could feel promises of hope and a future stirring in my own belly, but what would it be like to be visited by angels? And to be promised a baby who is not only a savior, but also the son of God? There is always a celebration when a newborn arrives, but how could Mary even begin to process the heavenly host singing, kings from distant lands coming to visit, and strangers proclaiming her newborn was the long awaited Messiah? More than all these things I would wonder, how could God love her, love all of us humans, enough to send us His own son? Especially since we habitually deny His authority over us.  Like Mary, I too, would sit up late at night, pondering these things in my heart.

Now that I’m done (God willing) having babies, it’s hard to continue the pondering. I remember the promises and the excitement, but I don’t feel them the same way. Was Mary like that too? Perhaps she struggled with worry and fear just like I do. I know she cried after Jesus had been lost for days, “Son, why have You done this to us? Look, Your father and I have sought You anxiously,”(Luke 2:48).  The least peaceful noise in my life is listening to my children bicker, but Jesus had siblings, too. Considering his brothers showed up 30 years later telling people he was insane (Mark 3:21), I think Mary’s other children probably bickered too.  I imagine Mary followed the tradition of many good mothers by forcing all of her children outside, just so she could have the peace of that Holy night for only a few minutes.  Did she too remember those promises of peace, joy, hope and love, but struggle to still feel their power?

My husband and I are raising 4 boys, between the ages of 2 and 8. We’re training a needy puppy not chew on the furniture, and a toddler to pee in the potty at the same time. This Christmas I’m behind on just about everything, including sleep. Hearing there’s a promise to bring peace to my life seems almost as laughable as promising a virgin peasant she’s going to give birth to a king. But I think feeling like life is stressful and chaotic is truly more of a blessing than being pregnant at Christmas time. It makes me relate less to the beauty of the birth story, and the more to the purpose of it. I relate to the rest of the imperfect people that needed saving in Israel.  Like  Zaccheus, Matthew, Peter, Paul, and all the others who were living in the land of deep darkness. The ones on whom the light shined so brilliantly (Isaiah 9:2).    

Real preparation is stressful and the world we live in is not a peaceful place! But the best gifts are ones that the recipient has a great need for, and cannot acquire for themself. The stress of life and of Christmas preparation makes us know how desperate we are for a savior. The ones most elated about Jesus’ arrival are the ones who know how hopeless they are without him.  Jesus said, “…It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.”
Lk 5:31‭-‬32 NIV

     God sent John the Baptist to prepare us. His father prophesied,

“And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Highest;

For you will go before the face of the Lord to prepare His ways,

To give knowledge of salvation to His people

By the remission of their sins,

Through the tender mercy of our God,

With which the Dayspring from on high has visited us;

To give light to those who sit in darkness and the shadow of death,

To guide our feet into the way of peace.” Lu 1:76‭-‬79 NKJV

And years later, when the people asked John himself how they should prepare, he said,

“Therefore, bear fruits worthy of repentance…He who has two tunics, let him give to him who has none; and he who has food, let him do likewise.”  Lu 3:8‭, ‬11 NKJV

    So as Christmas approaches and the chaos of finishing the preparations increases, I will listen to John. My inability to finish the to-do list and constantly spread joy will make me acnowledge my need for salvation.  Snapping at my children while shopping and baking will impress upon me my great need for forgiveness.  Receiving that tender mercy will relieve me from every burden, and like the wise men, I will “rejoice with exceedingly great joy.” (Matt 2:10)

And like Mary, sing, “For He who is mighty has done great things for me, And holy is His name,” Luke 1:49
And like Elizabeth, Zacharia, the shepherds, Simeon, Anna, and everyone else throughout history who had that light shining on them, guiding them into the way of peace.

But I won’t forget John’s instructions, to bear fruit worthy of repentance no matter how stressful it is, because that is the true essence of spreading God’s love at Christmas. To not only prepares ourselves, but also our neighbors.

It is good to search for God’s presence, and be still during Christmas. Jesus already came and granted us access to the peace of his presence. But its also okay to embrace the stress of preparation, and to let it remind you how desperately dark and chaotic  Israel was when Jesus arrived. Let it remind you how badly you need his peace and how utterly incapable you are of finding it for without him.

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Lord Jesus,
   Master of both the light and the darkness, send your Holy Spirit upon our preparations for Christmas.
   We who have so much to do seek quiet spaces to hear your voice each day.
   We who are anxious over many things look forward to your coming among us.
   We who are blessed in so many ways long for the complete joy of your kingdom.
   We whose hearts are heavy seek the joy of your presence.
   We are your people, walking in darkness, yet seeking the light.
   To you we say, “Come, Lord Jesus!”
   Amen.

             -Henri Nouwen

The Best Worst Thanksgiving

     I was 23 when I decided to host my first Thanksgiving. It has always been my favorite holiday, but my parents had divorced earlier that year, so it wasn’t  as exciting as usual. Instead of going home to face the misery, I thought instead I would maybe find similarly homeless people to share the meal with.  I had been working as a bike messenger in DC, and had made some good friends. We always joked that a messenger without a girlfriend is called homeless- and since most of them were single, I thought hosting a thanksgiving meal like this should be easy.

     I let everyone know if they wanted to celebrate, we could do it at my house. Even though it looked abandoned from the outside, it had an enormous eat-in kitchen which was perfect for entertaining. The exposed electrical wiring and chipped lead paint just made it even more of a perfect setting for a gathering of misfit souls. I imagined the night would be like an Adams family Thanksgiving; set in my spooky old house, with crazy people, delicious food, and enough alcohol to forget we were all abandoned. It would be so fun no one would even miss their family.

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Photo cred. Kevin Dillard, http://www.demoncats.com

The Guests

      My boyfriend, Adam, loved the idea of not going home. Growing up his dad was in the navy, which made them nomadic, so my rowhouse was as much a home to him as any.  Also, his mom was an alcoholic, so he was quite happy not spending money to travel down to Georgia just to get in a fight. I was relieved he had agreed, because no one would come if they thought I was cooking the turkey, but Adam had once worked as a chef, and agreed to cook the entire meal for me if I would make him pumpkin pie for dessert.

     My original plan was to ignore my parents completely, but I heard my Dad wasn’t going home either, since he had to work. When I called, he said he was going to volunteer at a homeless shelter instead, and I thought if he wanted to eat with a bunch of surly strangers, he could do that at my house. So I invited him too.

     Inviting him did not fit with my plan though, and I worried how people would react. My friends were mostly heathens and atheists and my dad’s idea of a good time was reading theology while listening to gregorian chants. If he came, he would be coming straight from church which meant he would certainly be wearing a suit, and maybe even a tie. He had also sternly disapproved of my decision to become a bike messenger, and he didn’t seem especially fond of Adam either.  But the divorce had brought some fresh humility into our relationship, and he bravely accepted my invitation.

     The other problem with my plan was that my friends, crazy though they were, were not as willing to give up on their homes as I was. And the people who were going to stay home had been so abused by their loved ones they had no interest in celebrating anything at all. Like my moody, motorcycle mechanic roommate, who locked himself in his room with an 18 pack of cheap beer, and spent the whole day listening to death metal.

     The exception to this was Ed. I adored Ed, almost all the messengers I knew did. He was fairly private, but his collections of punk rock records and vintage Italian bike parts were infamous. He had the nastiest dreadlocks I had ever seen, cultivated out of a complete aversion to shampoo and hairbrushes.  Ed was also the only person I knew in my generation with a mustache, which made him look Parisian to me- like if you stuffed all of his dreads into a beret you would see him painting along the Seine. Although in real life, I could never imagine him doing something so generic.

     I was surprised he wanted to come, since we weren’t especially close, but I really admired that he didn’t back out when I told him my dad was coming.  He was a vegetarian, so he wasn’t lured by the promise of turkey.  He must have desperately wanted to eat something besides pizza. Or maybe he felt pity for Adam, not wanting his friend to be stuck alone at a table with my dad all night.  I knew his family lived too far away to buy plane tickets home, but whatever the reason, I was glad he wouldn’t be sitting somewhere sad and alone.wp-1478542963582.jpgThe Dinner

     As the meal approached I started to regret everything about the dinner. The guest list was smaller and more mismatched than I had imagined, and I quickly learned that pie from scratch was beyond my baking skills. I was so worried about being a hostess. I had no idea how to create conversation among such incredibly different people.  How could I have been so foolish to think we could all come and laugh together, and that would solve anyone’s problems? I didn’t think I had anything in my life worth laughing about right then, anyways.

     When we all finally sat down, it was everything I was dreading. The food was delicious, but no one knew what to say to each other. My dad stared at the crumbling plaster walls, and I assumed he was wondering if he should send me some money. Ed nervously assured us that the tofurkey he brought was actual food, but no one else was willing to try it.  I tried to catch Adam’s eye so he could make some adorable joke or use his southern charm to break the ice- but he wasn’t looking up and his mouth was full of turkey.  I felt horrible that I had invited everyone and expected them to get along.

     But between everyone’s first and second servings, we finally found something to talk about…what it was like to pee in a trough. It was startling for me to realize that I lived had 23 years ignorant of this humiliation. Silently I began to thank God for the ability to always use the bathroom privately, and vowed to never complain about someone peeing on the seat again. The men proceeded to enlighten me with horrifying detail; the length, the texture, the difference before and after a football game. We laughed at their experiences of fear, of dodging drunk football fans and of urine streams gone crazy. The men were equally startled to learn that, even at a stadium, women’s bathrooms always have stalls with doors, AND locks. They cried together at the injustice.  The conversation continued on this way for quite a while, until I showed everyone the pie I made. Suddenly they were all full and ready to go home.

* * *

     Years later, after Adam and I married and left DC, we heard that Ed had died.  His individuality made him so loveable, but it was also part of what isolated him. I guess being an outsider made it too hard for him to fight the temptation of alcoholism. When he passed, Adam and I each remembered this as our favorite memory of him. And surprisingly to me, my dad really loved this Thanksgiving too. I felt bad about subjecting Ed to my family drama, but I felt worse for not including him in more of our broken gatherings.  More than anything, I wished Ed knew how seeing him laugh with my dad made that my best Thanksgiving yet. Even though I was so sure it was going to be the worst.

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Photo courtesy Ed Hermanson Memorial

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     Somehow the weirdness of it all saved it. In the end, I realized what we all needed to cope that year was less like the Adams family, and more like the Velveteen Rabbit. The celebration was shabby and the people brokenhearted, but that made it more real and beautiful than anything I had imagined. I still stress out about hosting people, but now I know nothing is as important as letting people know you don’t want them to be lonely. And it’s okay if it’s awkward, because even the saddest people might find a trough to laugh about.

The Royal Oak pt.2: Living in Strength

Though He slay me, yet will I hope in Him; I will surely defend my ways to His face.
Job 13:15 NIV

It was 1940 when my grandmother decided to follow Jesus at a tent revival.  She was 11 years old and had no real idea what would change in her life, and at first nothing did.  Sundays she went, as usual, with her family to church; Monday through Saturday she was always kind. She held the feeling of salvation in her heart for seven years, until she suddenly found herself surrounded by a group of passionate believers.  They pushed her to spread God’s message beyond the church walls and into the war weary navy town around them. In that fertile ground a seed was planted; her faith and purpose began to grow anew.

Over 70 years the seed grew from an acorn into a royal oak- a faith steadfast enough to hold a King the world wants dead.  She’s dug her roots deep into the ground, absorbing the love and wisdom needed to extended her branches over those in her care. Her labor reaped more blessing than she ever imagined she would harvest, and now looking out at the four oaks that grow beside her brings her such joy.

The two closest, tall and strong, are her sons. They are as different now as they were when they were young, though they have both inherited her desire to shepherd the weary and bring home the lost. Each has weathered their own trials and yet still they’ve spread their branches to places she hadn’t even thought of dreaming. Though they tend to her now, as she once tended to them, she will never stop praying over and ministering to them. A mother’s work, in that regard, is never done.
Behind them stands the tree that changed the landscape of an island. A church, born not of a seed, but grafted so painfully from one of her own limbs.  Its branches have now grown wide and strong, offering sanctuary to both the lost and hopeless- but when she knew it best it was just a mere sapling. Does God, too, think it ironic that the endeavor which robbed her of so much, now brings back her fondest memories? How could she have had the audacity to follow the call of ministry across the country with next to nothing? When she closes her eyes she can still see people’s faces changing as they began to understand the gospel. It was as if the book of Acts was happening in real time.


The last tree is the smallest, a bible study only 16 years old, scrappy and unpredictable in its ways. She’s amazed she has been able to tend it for that long. It has been hard to find a way to bind so many ages and backgrounds together, but she knows the need for wisdom is universal.  While the other oaks grow so independently now, this one still requires constant nurturing.  She looks at it gratefully, for the way it has filled her retirement with mission.

Time has been harsh to her, as it so often is, and the scars that maim the trunk bring me to tears.  The deep gash, where a marriage failed. The nubbed branches where the shame of her mistakes was pruned away. The damage termites left as they slowly invaded with crippling pain.  Worst of all the lightning burn, that stole away her husband and her second chance at love- a grief so deep it deafened her to everything except the book of Psalms.


In a funk where my own life feels more like a rock, eroded by water day after day, I desire her Paul-like determination to keep laboring as she presses on toward the prize. The middle of life brings the great temptation of weariness and in the midst so many frivolous battles laying down hope can almost seem like a reasonable choice. How does one continue to grow and thrive against the force of dreams lost and expectations unmet? As I listen to her stories, I scour the evidence of her life for some sort of spiritual secret, something that mocks this ravaging power of time…
 

But what I realize as I listen is that I already know the answers I seek. Live in community (exodus 17:12, matthew 26:38)

Know God’s word (2 Timothy 3:16-17)

Pray (1 Thessalonians 5:17)

Cast off the things that hold you back (Philippians 3:14)

 

What kind of a remedy is that, though, when all the things that make you stronger also require a spiritual strength of their own? What ministers to me through the slow recounting of her stories, though, is truth.  Truth of the life she’s lived and the truth of what continues to lead her forward.

 That if we labor at the right time we will reap a harvest of blessing (Galatians 6:9)

That God is good, and what he does is good (Psalm 119:68a)

That the one who promised us hope is always faithful (Hebrews 10:23)

And that it’s all worth it because of His love. A deep, unwavering, holy love. (1 John 4:16)


As I close my eyes and let these scriptures mingle in my mind I dwell on this collection of oaks. I feel my own hope growing from the possibility of strength, that the knowledge of His truth will keep pushing my roots ever deeper into His love, words and presence. Stronger yet will I be. Strong enough to weather the abuse that time would hurtle my way.  Strong enough to seek and trust Him continually.  Strong enough, still, to share His love wherever my reach extends.

Special thanks to Grandma Norma Jean McDermet…for letting me tell her story, and for continuing to inspire after 87 years.

The Royal Oak pt. 1: Finding Courage

Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God…. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.
Romans 5:1‭-‬2‭, ‬5 NIV

The story of the Royal Oak:

In 1651, England was a grim place for Prince Charles II. His father had been executed by parliament just a few years earlier and now the masses were coming for him.  Oliver Cromwell had just decimated the royal army in the Battle of Worcester, and the only hope the royalists had was that the future King had survived.  He escaped to the house of William Carlisse, one of his last remaining loyal officers, praying that there would be somewhere on the estate to hide.  It wasn’t a brilliant plan, since it was obvious to his enemies that it was the only safe place for him to go, but at least this way he could lose his head among friends.  

Soon after, the night came when the house was no longer safe. Carlisse suggested they climb the large oak to the side of the house, and hide among the branches. It was preposterous, for surely the soldiers would look there first.  And what about his dignity?  After some debate, safety won out over pride, they packed cheese and wine and hurried up the tree.

 The men held their breath as they watched enemy soldiers walk directly under their feet. The Prince laughed silently at the absurdity of it all.  But below the laughter hope was forming, and from that hope he remembered his birth right, and from his promised destiny he found the strength to make a better plan.  And then he fell asleep.

We also hold something in our branches that the world wants to destroy.  And like the prince, we remain safe, nestled with our saving grace in the pews.  We come weary, and in search of rest. We know that at this altar we are safe from the judgement, evil, shame and stress that will try to trap us as soon as we walk away.  Here we are safe from the people who seem increasingly vindictive and a culture that’s beginning to resent our presence.

I wish I was present to see the moment the all clear was given, and it was tine for the Prince to shimmy back down the tree.  Although there is no written account of what he was thinking, I can’t imagine the courage it took. Was it a trap? Would he escape the country with his life or suffer the fate of his father? Even if he did escape, would anyone still follow a king who had so little dignity, that he would hide in a tree? There were no guarantees of safety, or happy endings to give him hope.  Only the purpose into which he was born, ruling and caring for England.

In the end, the future king Charles II found a way out and escaped to France. He was finally able to return to England 10 years later during the restoration, victorious, with a crown and a throne.

Just like the king, we can’t rest in the branches forever, ignoring the world beyond.  Too often people fall asleep in the safety of the sanctuary, forgetting their comission. While we are here we rest in security, but with the purpose of building our courage for the tasks ahead. We prepare our hearts to go out and do his will: to love others as he loves us, to help the needy and guide the lost. There are not promises of comfort or safety, but we are strong because we know that victory is our birth right, that it was won by the power of His sacrificial love.

Boast in hope, and let it strengthen you for the trials ahead.

Daughter of the original Royal Oak, Boscobel England