So, What’s the Big Deal About Today?

Good Morning Internet World! Here it is Easter Morning and as I sit here in my home, writing on my computer, I wonder how everyone’s morning is going, and what this day means to you. When I first started this blog I was pretty purposeful in my thoughts that this wasn’t going to be a “Christian Blog”. What I mean by that, was that I did not want to write out little sermonettes and discuss bible verses every day. Neither did I want it to be an “Advice Blog” where I could spell out how I do things and encourage you to copy all my neat tricks for living. I just wanted to write about my life and the stories I have to tell. As it turns out, since I spend my life trying to make Jesus the most important thing, he kind of crops up in my blogs. Pretty regularly. And I have ended up dispensing some advice here and there. It’s just happened, the inevitable result of writing about my life. Today though, I am just going to be blatant Christian. I want to share with you all why today is so important to me.

Today is Easter. The day we celebrate that Jesus rose from the dead. What is that all about? Well, he was God, in the flesh. He came down to earth and lived the perfect, sinless life, because I couldn’t. And then, even though he was perfect, he was killed: whipped and then nailed to a cross, dying a torturous death. Why? Well, the punishment for sin is death. All of us have sinned. We all deserve to die for our sins. There was nothing we could do to change that. So Jesus came and changed it for us. He died in our place. Took all of our sins on himself and paid the price for us. Now, if we repent of our sins, believe in Jesus, ask his forgiveness, he does forgive us and he “Makes us white as snow..” He declares us innocent, clean, forgiven. And he promises that he will be with us and never leave us. And when our earthly body dies, we will go and be with him for all eternity. Easter is the day we celebrate that I can now approach God and have a relationship with him, all the barriers have been removed.

So, what does Easter mean to me?

It means I am no longer alone. I have someone that I speak to all day long. Sometimes it reverent, “Lord, thank you for the beautiful sunshine!” Sometimes, not so much, “LORD! Help me! I am so tired!! I can’t deal with this messy house!!” Sometimes it’s just commenting on daily life, “Wow Lord, I cannot believe that driver just cut me off like that!!! Please help me to not start swearing!!” And often, it’s just the word, “help”. For me, it’s an all-day running commentary on my life. And I know he’s listening. And he answers. Not so much an audible voice, though I have heard his voice a couple times, but more like a redirection of my thoughts. I’m grumbling about what a lousy day I’m having, and suddenly I remember the bible verse, “This is the day the Lord has made, we will rejoice and be glad in it!” Or I find myself harboring a bunch of anger towards someone and the verse pops in my head, “For if you forgive others for their transgressions, your heavenly Father will also forgive you.” It’s a conversation of sorts…with someone who never goes away, always listens, and knows all your thoughts. Can’t really get more intimate than that.

What does Easter mean to me?

It means I have peace. When I do things wrong, I don’t have to walk around feeling guilty. I can ask for God’s forgiveness and then I can count on him to give me the strength to ask forgiveness from the person I wronged. And if things continue to remain tense, I can have peace knowing that he will be with me and give me wisdom to know how to proceed. The underlying guilt that I used to carry around with me is no longer there. I am forgiven.

What does Easter mean to me?

It means I am no longer afraid. What is the worst thing that can happen to me? Death? Well, if I die I know that I will be with Jesus…forever. Doesn’t sound too bad. When I am tempted to be afraid for my children, God reminds me that he loves my children more than I do. Their lives are in his hands. They might not get the fairy tale life that I envision for them, they may go through horrible things in their lives, I may even, Heaven Forbid, bury one of my children (Lord, may it not be so). But, I don’t have to live in fear of these things happening. In the end, I have no power to save my children or protect them, and God never promised us a pain-free, trouble-free life. But, he promises to never leave us, to take bad things and turn them into good. I can trust him.   

What does Easter mean to me?

It means my life gets a bit uncomfortable at times. God’s number one priority for me is not for me to be happy. His number one priority is that I learn how to be like him. And sometimes learning that is a bit painful. Awkward. Esther, I want you to love your neighbor as yourself. Esther, I want you to forgive those who hurt you. Esther, I want you to help those in need. Esther, I want you stop putting your selfish desires above the needs of your family. Esther, I want you to trust me with this problem instead of worrying about it. Yeah. It’s not all fun and games. This weekend, I had an old friend reach out to me for help. My very first thought was, No way. I can’t help you with this. It’s too much. It’s going to really inconvenience me. My husband and I prayed about it. The next day, I still wanted to say No, sorry, can’t help, but God very gently pointed out to me that all my reasons for saying No were selfish and rather petty. And so I found myself saying yes. I can help you. But here’s the thing. All this nudging to change, do things differently than I want to, in the end it’s slowly shaping me into the person that I have always wanted to be. I have no power in myself to turn Esther from a selfish, self-absorbed person into a selfless person who always puts others first and is always ready to forgive, ready to lend a helping hand. It’s a change that only comes from listening daily to the quiet nudges from God as he slowly chips away at all the rough edges of my character.

What does Easter mean to me?

Everything. It means everything. And this is why I tell my children, this is the biggest holiday of the entire year! Easter! The day that enabled me to pass from condemned sinner to beloved daughter of God. Oh yes, Easter means everything to me.

 

There Are No Words

It’s a rainy Sunday morning. I am home with most of my children. My husband took one of our teenagers to church because she was scheduled to help teach Sunday School. The rest of us are staying home in hopes that we can avoid exposure to any flu germs that might be floating around. Our county has been overwhelmed with flu, to the point that they are closing schools for the second time this coming week. We have been extremely fortunate that none of us have gotten sick yet. I decided that we would lay low for the next couple days and hopefully manage to avoid the sickness completely.

Our fire is going strong in our wood stove. The kids have been in a good mood, playing with each other, reading books. We had our own Sunday service, sang some songs, read a bible story, worked on memorizing our next Bible Verse. The kids are now watching some cartoon videos about the 10 Commandments.

It’s one of those mornings when you just feel happy and content. It’s the kind of feeling that you wish you could bottle up somehow and pull out on your bad days.

 

(time break)

 

As I was writing about how content and happy I was, I received a text from a very good friend of mine telling me that her grandbaby had died in the night. I am in shock. I find myself just saying, NO, no, no, no…somehow, if I deny it, it will make it untrue. The rain outside feels sinister. My house feels cold. I feel fear as I look at my children. What would I do if one of them died? I can’t even go there.

Last night I dreamed that my husband had died. The entire dream was about trying to avoid the Overwhelming Physical Pain of his being gone, and it couldn’t be avoided. And suddenly that dream has become reality for my friend and her family and I have a desperate need to help them. How can I lessen their pain? It is impossible.

I think about the bible verses we talked about this morning, hardly an hour ago. 1 Corinthians 13. God is love. This is what love looks like. Psalm 139. God knows us completely. There is nowhere we can go to flee his presence. Matthew 22:36-40 What’s the greatest commandment? Love God. Love People.

Lord, this love thing hurts. My heart is hurting. It’s a physical pain. And it hurts more because I know that my level of pain is only a small fraction of what this family is feeling. I have no words. Anything I say would seem pat and condescending. There are no words to say to someone who has lost their child.

All I can do is cry alongside you. Mourn with you. Let my heartbreak join with yours.

May you one day feel peace again. Until then we mourn with you.

Sunrises, Andrew Lloyd Webber, and My New Piano

Sunrises. I love sunrises. For many years I have been too tired to get up and enjoy them. Nowadays, though,  I am driving my kids to school early every morning and during the winter I have been enjoying a lot of sunrises. My kids’ school is only about two miles away. It takes us maybe five minutes to get there. Part of the drive to the school involves going up a big hill and then we crest at the top and suddenly we have a big view of mountains and mist and red orange light peeking through the clouds. It’s amazing. Every morning I can’t stop myself from exclaiming to the kids, “Everybody look at the sunrise! It’s amazing!” And the kids have learned to oooh and aaahh right along with me. Thanking God for the sunrise is part of our morning prayers. I have always imagined God standing at an easel, throwing paint on left and right, painting the sunrise every day. God the Creator. The Creative One.

The other day as I was driving along, enjoying the beautiful colors, I thought about how we are created in the image of God. I’ve always wondered about that, what it means exactly. I thought about God painting the sky every morning, making art and it occurred to me that when we create things, make our own art, we are, in a small sense, being like God. We were made to create because we were made in the Creator’s image.

I thought about music. I love music, but I have struggled with music over the years. As a teenager I used music as an emotional outlet. A way to vent, a way to express emotions, a safe place to feel emotions. As life got more and more complicated, harder, I found myself shying away from music. As I look back, I can see where I struggled to keep depression away, and one of my solutions to not dealing with depression or anger or a bunch of other unresolved feelings, was to shy away from feeling any emotion. Just stay neutral. Calm.

The only problem with this approach is that when you don’t allow yourself to feel bad emotions, the really good emotions go away as well. I don’t think you can fully live in joy if you don’t also allow yourself to mourn. You can’t have peace if you don’t go through the conflict first. You can’t have happiness if you don’t deal with the anger. I think that as I shut myself down emotionally, I also shut down music. I just couldn’t do it. Music was too closely tied to emotions. I could sometimes sit down and play through some Bach or Mozart in an attempt to make my brain feel orderly, but I wasn’t feeling it. And so I mostly avoided it.

Lately, I have been looking at getting back into music. My husband, excited that I was showing an interest again, went out and got me an old 1935 Wurlitzer Baby Grand, for a really good price off Craig’s List. I went with him and helped him move it. It’s a perfect fit for our house.  It’s got some history, apparently it’s original owner was a violinist with the Knoxville Symphony and she died after a long happy life at the age of 103. It’s also a bit dinged up and scratched here and there which means we won’t have to freak out if our kids add another scratch or ding. I rearranged our entire living room so that I now have a Music Room at one end. I have started practicing a bit every day. Scales, warmups, old songs I played in high school. Just easing myself back into it. I have really been enjoying myself, but I’ve wondered about the emotional side of it. Can I relax enough to let myself play with feeling? Can I let myself feel the sadness in the song? Can I let myself feel again? I’ve been a bit worried that maybe I can’t any more. Maybe that part of me is gone. 

Today I was working on getting my piano music moved to a different bookcase and I found a piece of music that I didn’t even know I owned, “Pie Jesu” from Andrew Lloyd Webber’s REQUIEM. My copy was a vocal duet with piano accompaniment. It’s a beautiful, simple song written in latin. The English translation that is written on the music gives the words as this:

Merciful Jesus, who takest away the sins of the world, grant them rest.

Oh Lamb of God, who takest away the sin of the world, grant them eternal rest.

I sat down and started to sing it and play along. Alas. I am not a talented soprano and there was no way I could sing that high. My voice couldn’t bring justice to the beauty of the song. I stopped playing for a minute. And then I remembered my piano teacher, Ms. Wong, telling me to make the notes sing, make the melody sing. And I realized, I can’t sing the song, but I can make the piano sing it. And I did. And my fingers made the melody sing and it was beautiful. When I finally finished I sat there, feeling fidgety, like I needed to get up and do something. I stood up and went over the other side of my living room where I was still rearranging other books onto a shelf. (Moving my living room around created a couple projects I hadn’t been anticipating.) I was putting books back onto an empty shelf and I picked up my old Bible from years ago. I flipped it open and found myself in the book of Job, and I suddenly just wanted to read this chapter. Job 9. In this chapter Job talks about how powerful God is and how unworthy he, Job, is. In verse 33-35 he says,

“If only there were someone to arbitrate between us, to lay his hand upon us both, someone to remove God’s rod from me, so that his terror would frighten me no more. Then I would speak up without fear of him, but as it now stands with me, I cannot.”

I stopped reading and thought about how horrible that would be to have the full burden of your sins on your shoulders and no way to approach God because He is too Holy. And I suddenly realized that the song I had just played was an answer to Job’s predicament. Jesus takes away the sin of the world, and grants us rest. He removed God’s rod of punishment from us.

I went back to the piano, stared at the music again, and with fresh wonder, played the song again. And while I played, some tears fell, and I felt just a bit like my ice wall around my emotions started to crack a bit more. And I felt hopeful. Excited. I have missed music and I hadn’t even realized how much I missed it.

Here is a link to a recording of “Pie Jesu” if you’d like to hear it.

“Pie Jesu”

Finding Peace, It’s a Daily Thing

In the past week or so I have been fighting the sensation that I am just keeping about 2 feet ahead of an avalanche. Like I’m scurrying around moving as fast as I can, but I just can’t keep up and something catastrophic is going to happen as soon as I slip too far behind. People have asked me how I’m doing and I answer, “staying about 2 feet ahead of the avalanche” and everyone nods and says, “Oh yeah, I know all about that”. So apparently, this isn’t a feeling that is particular to just me. So, in typical me-fashion, I have been trying to figure out what this feeling is all about.

First of all, I feel guilty just to be feeling this way. I don’t feel like I have any right to this feeling. I don’t work a high-pressure job. I am not the sole breadwinner of the family. I don’t have any deadlines pressing on me. As I was trying to figure this out I questioned myself. What’s the worst that’s going to happen if I don’t accomplish all my tasks today? Ok, the house will be a mess, we might end up eating Little Caesar’s Pizza if I don’t cook supper. The kids might get some points knocked off of their behavior charts if I don’t keep their homework folder up-to-date. So what? None of that is really a big deal. Why do I feel so much pressure to keep up?

Have I been hanging on to unrealistic expectations for my life? Trying to keep my house in order has been a big part of it. I have 10 children (ok, 1 is at college now, but she still pops in regularly). I am in a constant quest to keep the laundry caught up, keep the trash taken out, keep the fridge full of food, and keep the dishes washed. And of course the impossible task of keeping the house clean when there is a toddler walking right behind me, undoing everything I do. (My latest cleaning spree had me cleaning one room, going to the next room, and by the time the next room was clean, the toddler had managed to destroy the first room…ack.) Again though, it’s housework, it’s not brain surgery, working as an EMT, or some other high-stakes job. So, apparently, high or low pressure jobs have nothing to do with this feeling. So, what is it?

Peace. Or rather, Lack of Peace. I think that is what is missing. When I am at peace I can roll with the punches, take each toddler disaster as it comes, orchestrate 12 people’s schedules without even blinking an eye. I’ve lost my peace somewhere along the way. As I write this I find my pulse racing, anxiety settling onto my shoulders. How did I get myself into this state? A week ago life was great and I was swimming in contentment. Why does peace seem so fleeting? Like trying to hold on to a cloud.

(time lapse)

So, I walked away from this puzzle and have been thinking more. Went to church. Spent time in worship and hearing God’s word. Felt my peace slowly returning. I think I’ve come to some conclusions. I have always struggled with “never-ending” chores. By this I mean things like washing dishes or doing laundry. You wash the dishes, the kitchen is clean and beautiful, you walk away and 3 hours later, the kitchen sink is full of dishes again. It never ends. The dishes always need to be washed. Same with laundry. You know, I’m 40 years old and I still do this. I wash all the laundry (and for a family of 12, that’s a lot of laundry) finally get it all folded and put away (never happens all in the same day) and then I feel this feeling of accomplishment. Hurray! I did it! I successfully did all the laundry. And then I promptly forget about laundry for several days because in my mind, I did the deed, I finished the task, I shouldn’t have to think about it again, right? And then halfway through the week I look up and there’s a giant pile of laundry again, and I experience this shock, like, What the Heck, I already did this! Now, if I was a disciplined, logical person, I would just wash one load of laundry every day, fold it, put it away, and I would never have an overwhelming pile of laundry to deal with.  I guess Peace is kind of like that. Jesus gives us peace. Spending time with him gives us peace, reading his word, spending time in worship, it all gives us peace. But I tend to get into this mode of, Ok, I just got a great dose of Jesus, I’m feeling peace and contentment and I’m ready to conquer the world with Love. And then I go about my daily business and kind of put Jesus on the back burner. Like, Ok, I did that, check. But having peace is a daily endeavor. It’s a daily seeking of God’s presence. I know how to do that. I know how to focus on him, even on busy days. I just forget that it’s necessary. And then suddenly I’m bogged down with a lack a peace and it’s like me staring at the pile of laundry, like, Where did you come from? Well, if I had invested in seeking out God every day, I probably wouldn’t be in this state.

When I was a kid I listened to a children’s musical called Music Machine. It was fun, had a bunch of songs about the fruit of the spirit. My favorite song was the one about Peace. I don’t remember all the words, but I do remember the last phrase of the chorus,

Peace, peace, I think I understand. Peace, peace, is holding Jesus’ hand.

Today when we were driving home from church my toddler was crying in his car seat. He was tired, needed a nap, had just spent the whole morning away from his mama, playing in the nursery. He just wanted me. I finally put my hand back and he held my hand the rest of the way home. He stopped crying and settled down. As I held his hand, I thought about the song from Music Machine and peace. This is what I need in my life right now. Just to focus on holding Jesus’ hand. Get his perspective on life again. Bask in his presence. And remember that I need this daily.

peacepic