The Astonishing Juxtapositions of Easter.

Total darkness and absolute light.

Evil and purity.

Doubt and faith.

Despair and expectation.

Disappointment and hope.

Destruction and establishment.

Separation and union.

Death and life.

Grief and joy.

And before the latter, there must be endured (not escaped) the waiting after the former.

The tension between the ‘already’ and the ‘not yet’. Both true.

The cross and the empty tomb.

“Easter Saturday” is the waiting on the knife edge between the two.

The waiting. Not the end.

HOLD ON.

 

 

 

jsg/march 18

Thank God it’s Good Friday.

He was not good looking.

He was not successful.

He was not envied.

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He was a man of sorrows.

Acquainted with grief.  

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He knew what He was doing for me, and I did not.

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I betrayed Him.

I rejected Him.

I misunderstood Him.

I misrepresented Him.

I gossiped about Him.

I deserted Him.

I beat Him.

I pierced Him.

I wounded Him.

I killed Him.

That is what makes Good Friday meaningful. Purposeful. Personal.

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And yet He has come for me.

He always-and-forever-will-be for me.

And you too.

It is unfathomable.

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He went to the depths, and rose back up.

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Because of Him, I will too.

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Thank you, God, for Good Friday.

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Thank you, God.

The sky is black.

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Sunday is coming.

 

jsg/march 18

 

The hardy daffodil.

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Daffodil bulbs look like nothing.

And when they start to sprout through the soil, they could be mistaken for any other flower. Indistinctive green shoots.

But they’re faithful to their growth and – in spite of rain and snow and windy weather – they burst forth in March exactly when we need them.

Fierce little flowers, they never give less than their best.  Have you ever seen a half-hearted daffodil?

Brilliant in colour, relentlessly outstretched, reaching for the sun. Especially piercing in beauty against a cornflower blue sky yet still able to brighten up the dreariest of days.

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Undaunted by inhospitable environments, they bloom where they’ve been planted.

Daffodils teach me a lot about patience.  And trust.  And doing what you know to do.  And being who you are.  Just because it looks like nothing is happening doesn’t mean nothing is.  Daffodils grow for a long time beyond the scope of human sight.

Then just when you think Winter will never end, suddenly Spring. It’s not “all over” at all! New life has, actually, only just begun.

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No wonder daffodils are associated with Easter.

Rebirth.

New beginnings.

Resurrection.

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I turn my face to the Son and reach up to stretch out and bloom.

Just like them.

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jsg/march 18

Like Snow.

“Come now, and let us reason together,” says the Lord,

“Though your sins are like scarlet,

They shall be as white as snow.

You’ve gotta love the Lord.  This is one of my favourite verses in the whole bible. It is God letting me know that it’s OK for me to speak up.  To say, on occasion, a respectful but deeply heartfelt WTF.  To make my case, to disagree, to shout and stamp and scream and rage.  To give my opinion (He can take it).

It’s been snowing here again.  Unusual for us in the UK. We’ve had a spectacular 2 inches where we are and, even with that and as snow does, it transforms everything.

The quality of light is different through the curtains when you wake up to it.  It is brighter, whiter, clearer, stronger.

Where the day before was bare branches and mud and stones and life writ drear, SNOW has transformed it all into something extraordinary.  Something beautiful. It has covered everything completely.  Changed the shape of things, softened sound.

Views we know like the back of our hand are suddenly new.  Newly known, newly seen adorned in white. Different. Our daily walk doesn’t feel like an everyday activity.  It’s new, and you gasp at the loveliness of it.  The way the light glances off the snow creating new patterns, new vistas, new angles, new shapes. Everything is the same yet snow has completely transformed it.  I cannot see, feel or hear things in the same way.

And this is what God says He does with my sin.  He takes all that is bloody and bleak and self-serving and wounded and wilful and – when I ask Him – He blankets it with white. He forgives me.

His covering has transformed me and continues to transform me into someone new. Truly me, and newly me.

Unlike natural snow, this supernatural blanketing of purity and newness does not melt away either.  It’s eternal.

Walking through the woods this morning, I was breath taken. Awe-struck at what snow can do.  How it changes everything so utterly.  So masterfully.  So purely.  How it catches us off guard with its power to create beauty out of absolutely everything.

Now if I can just remember that about myself, and about others too. God can do it.

We can all be changed.

And in the twinkling of an eye.

jsg/march 18

Spiritual Golf.

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I don’t play golf, but I can totally see why people love it.

All it would take for me would be one true stroke. The perfect connection of body, mind and spirit to club, with the ball flying high, far, and true. Oh the high!  How I would forever after be chasing that congruence again.

Looking over a golf course yesterday, I thought how much the walk of faith is like a game of golf.

You have an end goal.  A finishing point. A certain destination.  And many along the way.

And ohhh, what it takes you to get there.  Determination. Focus. Joy in the victories, perseverance in the defeats.

The club has a purposed use, but oh it can be used for so many other things.  Hacking up the course, hitting people, thwacking the ground in frustration.

And then there’s that ball.  So small, so exact.  You know what you’re meant to do with it so you try, and try, and try again. Practice helps.

Every stroke is another shot at playing the course.  And there are so many outcomes.

You miss the ball.

You connect to it and it flies in entirely the wrong direction.

You hit it and, although only off by just a fraction at the tee, over distance you’re way off the mark.

Then those bunkers. Man-made.  Not like the course, God-given.

And the wide, wide, margins.  Woods, undergrowth, valleys, and who knows what lies beyond that? It doesn’t matter what it is, it’s simply off the course.  Hit your ball over there and you might never find it again.  Unless you ask.  And then a kind spectator, who’s watching you and walking with you for the whole round, will lop it back to right where you stand.

And what about the lake? That huge distance that at times you have to get your ball over?  What if you fall short?

And, of course, you’re not the first one to play the course.  So many have gone before you that you’re navigating areas that have been completely messed up. You can easily twist your ankle or break your leg if you don’t look where you’re going.  If you don’t notice where other players have been before you.

And the other players. You have to leave everyone else’s ball alone! Their game is theirs, yours is yours.

And… here the analogy ends.

Because, unlike golf, no  matter how many times you mess up – even in a day! – if you ask for your ball back you won’t be disqualified.  That kind spectator who’s been there all along will lob it back to you and say,

“Just keep going! You’re doing great! I know how hard the game is, I made it! But without the bunkers!  By the way, it doesn’t matter how many strokes you need.  Everyone’s allowed to make mistakes, I redesigned the course that way. Don’t give up. I’m right here beside you, cheering you on, pointing out your next shot if you need me.”

So you tamp down the divots you wilfully made with your club in your fury and frustration, and accept the grace (for grace is what it is) of another chance.

You could get down on yourself, and beat yourself up for being so crap at the game.  Or you could face forward and course correct.  You may be in the thicket, but you can still redirect your focus to the end point.

And try again.

If you keep going? Every so often you will hit the ball true.  And as you watch it soar through the air in the right direction, your breath catches in your chest as you notice the glory of the sky, the green of the grass, the majesty of the trees, and the gift of the air.  All around you.

And you’ll be grateful again.

For the gift of the game.

jsg/march 18

Hot Loneliness.

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It was just like this.

Last year, I discovered an old lap writing desk that had belonged to my great grandmother.  Made out of beautiful polished wood, it was edged with brass and had an inbuilt, well-used leather blotting pad embossed into the lid.  And it was heavy, which meant that something was still definitely being kept inside.

I found the writing desk in an outside shed in the bottom of a box of mildewed linens which had not been opened since my parents’ move into their current house 11 years ago.  The problem was, there was no key.

Until one day, exploring treasures, I found it.  One of those old fashioned hollow keys with a curlicue handle that fitted the lock exactly. The desk sprang open and inside were carefully tied bundles of letters and cards and photographs and hair ribbons and memorabilia that had been painstakingly stored by my mother’s mother’s mother.  Irreplaceable family memories locked away for posterity.

And just to think, I had so nearly taken that box of smelly linen to the tip without even checking.

Like Gan’s writing desk, I found a key to myself  this week. I read a book that referred to the “hot loneliness” of the human condition.  I gasped and lay still for a long time.

I’d always assumed loneliness was cold and isolated and lifeless. Hadn’t it felt like that? Recognising that loneliness is hot, pierced the centre of my being and connected me to myself.

My loneliness had only felt cold because I tried so hard to suppress it or obscure it.  To cover it with story, or smother it with food, or wrap it in my duvet, or – later – to extinguish it with alcohol, or vaporise it with anger, or deny it with distraction.

But I see now that my loneliness will have none of that.  My loneliness is searingly hot,  and this week since I’ve stopped all my semiconscious attempts to starve it of oxygen, it has burst through in all its fiery majesty enabling me to see it for what it is.

And I am BOILING.

Suddenly, I can’t wait to take off all the layers upon layers upon layers I have been using to try and cover it up.  This hot loneliness.  The layers have only made me hotter!   I am suffocating in here! I can’t breathe!

I need to take it all off.  Off, off, off.  No more concealing, no more quenching, no more diverting, no more reaching for a sonic boom of anger which will somehow blast it into space.  Away from me.

No, I think I am finally ready to face it for what it is.  Loneliness.  Searing, scary, intimidating, enraging, flaming, crushing, unbearably heavy. And hot.

And by loneliness, I don’t mean being alone.  I am content with my own company much of the time. Loneliness is simply the shield covering the painful, incendiary core of why we feel lonely.

Because I have God, I think I’m at last ready to acknowledge this newly understood hot loneliness for all its worth.  I’m at last in a place safe enough to say, “OK, Loneliness. You wanna show me what’s underneath? However painful it may be, I want to see it.”

The surprising thing is, now I’m ready to face reality and lifelong memory, I can’t wait to get rid of all the layers I’ve been using to hide myself from it.

I’m willing to feel loneliness melt all my carefully applied bandages and break off the hard caked substitutes I’ve plastered over myself to protect me from reality.  To keep me hidden.

Because unwrapped, nakedly me, I will be in the light. And God will be able to show me/I will be able to see who I truly am, what I truly want, where I have truly been and how God can truly use it all now for my good.

Loneliness had always been working for my good, calling me to look so that I could own my own life. Face the real pain.

I need to let loneliness do its work, reveal its core, so I no longer need its heat to remind me of what I have to face.

Because I’ll be facing it.

And it will be really me.

jsg/feb 18

The gift of being in need.

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I love to give. It’s easy for me.

I’m not a saint, it’s just that there’s instant gratification to giving.  Not because of the response but because it feels so great to take from what is mine and contribute it somewhere else. To do something that’s not about me. That is worth doing simply because it’s worth doing and I am able to do it.  Freely!

Not just material things.  It could be time and talent, patience and compassion, grace and mercy, prayer.

I don’t think I give because it makes me feel good. I think I give because there is a transactional gratitude in doing so.  I’m here, I’m alive, and I’m grateful to the One who made it so. So if I become aware of a need, I can choose to (I don’t always) do something about it. The act feels good in itself, so feeling good about doing it is an added bonus.

I also love the fact that giving is exclusively relational. There is no giving without relationship (even if it’s just a bubble bath and the relationship is with myself.)

Giving is something that can only be chosen.  It’s like love. You can only give if you want to.  Giving when you’ve been asked is quite safe, there’s a structure in place.  Giving of your own volition is more risky but your heart may desire to give it anyway. And there is still blessing in the giving no matter how it’s received.

What is far trickier is receiving. UGH! Much much harder.  How much I would rather give. So much more under my control, so much less vulnerable.  But, through my marriage, the Lord showed me something crucial about receiving.

When I was married, we were often desperately in need of money.  This was a new experience for me.  I had been materially comfortable all my life, I had never had to wonder where I would live or what I would eat.  Then all of that changed, and it was made even more intense by the fact I’d become a mother.

Formerly, I had loved being on the prayer chain at our church to provide meals for new moms or a family in need.  I loved being able to help.  But suddenly here I was, in desperate need myself, over a lo-o-ong period of time.

Friends and family were amazing.  Costco boxes of diapers and bags of food appeared on our doorstep.  Envelopes of cash addressed to me were pushed through our door or placed under my plate at lunch.  One Christmas a friend gave us a tree, another friend sent their kids through the doggy door to put presents underneath it and another drove across town on Christmas Eve to hide a toy train table under a tarpaulin on the back porch from Santa.

I taught a bible study to a group of amazing older women and regularly, for several of those years, I would arrive home after class to find grocery gift cards and cash had been secretly slipped into every pocket imaginable in my purse.

I would weep and weep and weep with gratitude. What could I possibly offer in return?
And what would we have done without all that practical love and support?

Even so, the need to receive and not be able to give back all the time was painful. It was not what I would have chosen.

Needing to receive, stripped away my pride, my sense of entitlement, and my self-sufficiency.  It was agony.  All my defences were gone, I was exposed and it was like having my skin stripped off leaving me naked. Really naked.

However, God revealed something truly invaluable to me through that season. That by receiving help, I was not doing nothing. My (enforced!) humility and gratitude were in fact giving to our givers in return, by allowing them to give.  And the relationships that were forged through that vulnerability are extraordinary.

“It’s all about grace in receiving,” the Lord said to me one day.

Grace in receiving requires humility, and so the gratitude is all the sweeter for it.

There is a gift to being in need.  You’re not just a big fat loser.  It may be you who’s in need today – but it might be me tomorrow! The gift of being in need is that you can give someone else the gift of being able to help you. It’s a gift to be needed, to be known.

So let people love you. Your time will come to be on the less vulnerable side of giving.  But in the meantime? Give by how you receive.

jsg/feb 18