Saturday, April 29, 2017

And at the End of the Day

In one of the last chapters of Max Lucado's book, He Chose the Nails, Max speaks about the end of the day that Jesus was crucified. He talks about Him crying out, "My God, My God why have you forsaken me?" And then saying, "It is finished." Max also says He thirsted and some found compassion for Him at this point and offered a sponge filled with sour wine, while others were still mocking. And Jesus, He laid down His life. 

At the end of the day they took down the bodies of the three crucified, and they buried them, and one by one they went home. I wonder if the people in the crowd had the same tendency I do as an introvert to think back on how their day was spent. What did they think of Jesus’ trials? What did they think of the mocking that took place? What did they think as they recalled the darkness that came as Christ was hanging on the cross? What did they think of the words He cried out? What did they think of the events that occurred as Jesus gave up His life--the temple curtain being ripped in two, the shaking of the earth, the splitting of rocks, the tombs being opened? When people laid their heads on pillows that night, what were the thoughts they thought and the feelings they felt? 

I am sure there were many who knew and loved Jesus who were struggling with deep grief, confusion, and despair who were playing back the tapes of the conversations they had with Him, I am sure that there were some who faced guilt and shame that ran deep because they deserted Him and denied Him. Maybe some even questioned God's plan at that point and maybe a few were holding on to a thread of hope because He had lovingly washed their feet, told them things, and supernatural things happened as He died, indicating God was still at work. Maybe they were even wondering what the meaning of the torn curtain and the graves opening when the ground shook. 

What about those religious leaders who had clamored for Him to be crucified? What about those who had mocked Him as He was being disrobed, having bits of hair plucked from His beard, bearing the spittle of others, and the crown of thorns thrust on His head, the painful death He died, the anguish of sin He bore as He faced God's wrath for us. They were people just like you and me. Did they go home at the end of that day filled with self-righteous pride, still believing they were right? I know I have done that at times, to realize later I was wrong as wrong could be and my pride never made it right. In pride I have attacked the beliefs of others thinking I was right...and sometimes I was, but often I wasn't. The thing that hurts my heart to this day is the lack of love I displayed when I chose to attack instead of exploring the truth, the times I misconstrued others' words without clarifying, and when I cared more about winning an argument than I cared about a heart.  

What about the ones following the religious leaders? Did they, or at least did some of them, have second thoughts as they laid down to sleep and the silence of the night gave way to shouting thoughts? Did they think about the words He spoke from the cross, about the curtain of the temple being torn, or about the earth shaking as He gave up His life? Did they begin to wonder if they had been too easily swayed by the shouting crowd? I look back at times and realize I was. In college there were all sorts of movements and I didn't always do research. I just shouted what I thought to be the truth, only to find out I was wrong. I remember being swayed by others' misguided passion, only later to be ashamed I had fallen for false information. And, to be honest, this election year we all experienced that over and over again and still do. Did some of the followers realize, like I did, that they bought into the lies and the passion of those who denied Jesus? Did they think back onto sermons He spoke and realize those behind the movement to crucify Him took His words out of context? Did they realize the religious leaders with whom they had aligned themselves often misquoted, misconstrued, and misrepresented Him to protect their position in the community? Did any of them say as the centurion did, "Surely this is the Son of God?"

At the end of the day, what did the people think of the anger they had spent and had spewed as they joined in the cries of those clamoring for Him to be crucified, and the sarcastic mocking that took place both before, and as He was hanging suspended between heaven and earth? Did they feel their anger was justified? Or did at least some of them feel the same shame and the same sickness in the pit of their gut that I have felt when I have laid down at night realizing the angry words I spewed at my children weren't appropriate loving correction, but hurtful, abusive words of a bully. Did they feel the same feelings I felt at the end of the day when a disagreement with my spouse turned ugly and I shouted hateful words I can never fully retract? Did some of them feel the shame that I have felt when I have participated in gossip as either a hearer or a spreader that resulted in character assassination of someone? Did some of them feel that same sick feeling as they rehearsed the memories of their day--the words they spoke, the actions they carried out, the verbal expressions of the Lord from the cross, especially the one that asked the Father to forgive them? Did they lie down and wonder if maybe, just maybe they had blown it big? Did they wonder, like I have at times, "Is there really any way this can be forgiven?" 

I hope that some of those people, at the end of that day, who laid down with a sick feeling growing in their gut were able to own their actions and reactions that day. I hope they got to hear and respond to the gospel because, like Paul, they physically in real time and in real space lived out the words penned in Romans, " that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us." 

As I think about the end of that day, I think that those who did experience the pain of conviction and the realization that they were as wrong as wrong can be, were the ones who had the opportunity to hear the gospel and experience grace that ran deeper than anyone dreamed it could run. Because that grace allowed them to experience the pure love we experience even at the end of the day. 

Saturday, April 22, 2017

The Great Clothing Exchange

The Great Clothing Exchange

During Lent I started reading Max Lucado's book, He Chose the Nails. As always, Lucado gave me a lot to think about. In this book he shares how the Scriptures often describes our behavior as the clothes we wear. The epistles even tell us to take off certain behaviors and to put on godly behaviors. As a woman I've always liked the clothing analogies because we can get caught up in the external, thinking our clothing will make a difference in how people perceive us. But, the truth is when we come face to face with overt behavior, either good or bad, we are more apt to remember the behavior than the clothes worn. When I've had someone tell me a boldfaced lie, I don't remember the cute shirt they were wearing. I remember the lie they told. When I've had someone betray me, I didn't remember the outfit worn by them, I remember the painful betrayal. When I've had hateful words spewed at me, I don't remember the pretty sweater worn by the speaker, just the sound of the hateful words being hurled at me.  

After my third baby was born, I was struggling with postpartum depression. I went to the store early one morning to buy milk for the kids' breakfast. I was barely physically functioning and my mind was in a dull fog. I sat the milk on the counter and looked in my wallet and realized I didn't have enough cash, so I put my wallet back and pulled out my checkbook. In the fog of depression, I couldn't remember the name of the store and had to ask. Then I had to ask the clerk to repeat the amount I owed a couple of times. I knew I was taking too long, but I couldn't muster up enough energy to speed up. The clerk saw the line growing behind me and he sighed impatiently as if to let me know I was holding things up. The pressure of that added to the stress I was already feeling. Frustrated with me, the clerk said, "I've never seen anyone take so long to write a check." My face grew hot and tears slid down my face from the shame his words evoked--shame of not having it "all together" and shame from feeling defective for not being able to function adequately enough write a check quickly enough to satisfy the social norms. I don't remember the clothing the clerk wore, but I do remember his impatience. He might as well have embroidered the word, "IMPATIENT" boldly across his shirt pocket.

Years later, I was working as a volunteer youth worker in a small church. One year we were without a youth director so another couple, and my husband and I, filled in and loved it. Then came the news the church had hired a youth director and along with the news came a few unkind remarks that triggered insecurity and grief for all of four of us. The man who was ultimately in charge asked me to prepare something for the midweek group time, but when I walked in that night, he said he had changed his mind and he did something different. He could tell I was hurt and offered to talk, but I was too shut down to share what I was feeling and what I was thinking. I ran into him Sunday morning and right before church, and right before He had to go on stage to help with worship, I confronted him harshly.  I then avoided him, believing our relationship was over. He called that week and my husband handed me the phone, saying "You two need to talk." I apologized and he asked me what I was apologizing for. I thought a moment and told him I realized I didn't take the opportunity to deal with the hurt, that he had given me, and that my timing was horrible and my words were biting. He told me he accepted that apology. He explained that though the timing was bad and the words harsh, he agreed with the content of the confrontation. He also told me he still considered me his friend and told me what he believed I contributed to the group. Believe me, I didn't deserve the grace he showed in the face of my anger. Nor did I deserve the kind words he spoke in the face of my unkind ones. When I remember him, I don't think of the shirts he wore or the belt that bore his name, I remember the grace, the humility, and the kindness he displayed in seeking to reconcile the relationship I had broken. It was the first time in my life that I had experienced such blatant grace.

I find it interesting that the Bible seldom talks about Jesus' clothes. Maybe that was so we would remember His character--and by His character He was clothed in perfect obedience, sacrificial love, deep compassion, moral perfection, and indescribable strength. When He went to the cross, He was stripped of clothing and as Lucado put it "all that he wore was the indignity of nakedness, the indignity of failure, and the indignity of our sin He bore in His body." Because He bore our sin, He also bore the shame of the one who murders, the one who abuses his power, the one who commits adultery, and the one who views pornography. He also bears the disgrace of one who lies, one who cheats, one who steals, and one who mistreats others.

What we sometimes forget is that on the cross Jesus exchanged our dirty, disgusting clothing woven of the sinful choices we've made, the unkind, hurtful words we've spoken, and the prideful, greedy, selfish attitudes we display for a garment of salvation woven with threads of purity, honesty, perfect love, goodness, fairness, truth, mercy and grace.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Living with the Hope of the Resurrection

As I was thinking about Easter and what it means to live with the hope of the resurrection, I thought of my sweet friend, Daphne, whom I’ve known for over thirty years. Five years ago, she and her husband Philip lost their oldest child in an accident. At the time, I was the administrative assistant in Dr. Norm Wright’s Trauma and grief class and I reached out to Daphne even though we were miles apart. Over these last five years she has shared her thoughts, feelings, and the lessons she has learned through her loss with me. What I love about Daphne is that she is transparent and honest about her thoughts and her feelings and she courageously reaches out when she needs support. I’ve been amazed at the strength and hope that she has and her willingness to revisit her own pain as she goes to other parents who have lost a child and speaks hope into their lives when they most need it. I’ve been so blessed by our conversations that I asked her if she would share about living with the hope of the resurrection as a mom who has lost a child. She graciously agreed to do it. So pull up a chair and sit a spell and read her story and hear her voice…   

The day Larry died was a beautiful sunny day. It was the weekend after spring break and we had all been together as a family since our oldest daughter, Mary, was home from Mississippi College. All four kids were looking forward to Saturday so they could celebrate Stephen's birthday mud riding at the lake bottom. After they left that afternoon, Philip and I decided it was too nice a day to work in the yard so we went for a walk together in the woods. We stopped in a place with huge pine trees and talked while staring up at the sky. I remember how peaceful, calm, and relaxing it was to just be lying there in the pine needles. We had great conversation and then decided to head back to the house, eat supper, and watch a movie. Phillip hopped in the shower while I got supper ready. I was just pulling it out of the oven when we got the first phone call from Stephen. I could tell by Phillip's voice and the look in his eyes that this was not a good call. He kept telling Stephen to calm down and that we were on our way. All Stephen told his dad was that Larry had a wreck and for us to please get there as soon as we could. Stephen knew at that time Larry was gone, but he didn't want to tell us that over the phone.

We grabbed a few things and left the house in a matter of minutes. Phillip got another call from Stephen and he assured him we were on our way and encouraged him to just be calm and pray. I got a call from Sally and I did the same. I happened to think to ask her who else was in the vehicle and that's when we found out about the other boys and Ashley. I told Sally to pray for her brother and Ash, try to be calm, and reminded her that we were on our way. We knew we would have very limited cell service so I made as many phone calls as I could until I lost service. Then I texted, "Don't know details.  Larry has had a bad wreck. Please pray and ask everybody you know to pray." I sent this text to as many people I could think of. I started getting text after text saying prayers were being lifted and a lot saying they were praying for peace for us. I have to admit, I was a little aggravated. I had asked my friends to pray for Larry and they were telling me that they were praying for me to have peace. This would all make since in just a little while. 

It was so quiet on that 45-minute drive. I continued to text and pray and let my mind wonder what the following days would include. I pictured ICU with Larry hooked to machines and possible broken bones. I would put that quickly out of my mind and asked God to help me handle whatever state we found Larry.

When we finally got there, we came upon over a mile of parked cars. It was dark so there was just a steady stream of lights. We drove in the left lane around the cars until we saw where Stephen was parked. It was very quiet. I was expecting sirens and chaos but it was all so calm. I opened my door and jumped out before Phillip came to a complete stop. He was finishing a conversation with Ashley's dad so he remained in the vehicle for just a few seconds longer than me. As I came around the back of the suburban I saw Stephen running towards me. He threw his arms around me, crying he said, "Mama, Larry is gone". We knew Ashley had been airlifted to Memphis, and Dusty was being carried to the hospital so I wasn't sure where "gone" was. I grabbed his face, looked him in the eyes and asked, "What are you telling me?" He then said, "Mama, Larry is dead." At that point, his legs gave out from under him and I had his entire weight in my arms. I held him up and kept him from falling to the ground. I asked who told him that and he said everybody. I thought he was just listening to bystanders talk and told him not to think that until we knew officially. I then looked for Sally and Mary. Phillip had gone over to see if he could get information about Larry. I finally had my children and Ashley's brother in a circle around me all hugging. I asked someone to please pray. I don't remember what was prayed but I do remember that I had a feeling of peace come over me like I had never experienced. As I stood there with my arms around my children I knew whatever happened, we were going to all be alright. 

It had gotten chilly so I sent someone to get a blanket out of our vehicle. Philip hadn't returned with any news so we sat quietly in the dark. It wasn't long until he came and knelt down in front of me and held my hand. 

My husband is a kind, considerate, and compassionate man. I'm not sure how he had composed himself in such a short amount of time. He had just seen our son and had identified his body and now he had the task of telling his family the news. He told me about the others involved in the wreck first. Then with so much tenderness in his eyes and voice, he apologized to me. He said, "I am so sorry, Daphne, but Larry didn't survive the accident." Time stopped.

I heard someone screaming and realized it was me. My mind spun out of control and I wailed. I'm not sure how long that went on. Phillip just held me there. All this time I had been wondering where Larry was and what was happening with him. Suddenly, an overwhelming peace came over me. My screaming was hushed instantly. I realized in that moment that I knew exactly where Larry was. It is an indescribable feeling to realize that one of your precious children is in the presence of his Savior. I sat in awe of this place. God had been here. 

In the days after the accident, so many little details of that night made so much more sense. My friends had prayed I would have peace. Those prayers were answered in the exact moment I needed them to be. Our days were now a bit chaotic, but God had given us such a peaceful afternoon to get our thoughts together. Thing after thing happened that reminded me of what a merciful, gracious, and loving God I have. How did people who don't have a relationship with God handle this kind of situation? It's unimaginable to me. 

Larry accepted Christ as his Savior when he was young. He understood that when Jesus died on the cross, that He died for him. Because of this, I know one day I will see my son again in heaven. That gives me so much comfort.

1 Thessalonians 4:13 states, "I do not want you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning those who have fallen asleep, lest you sorrow as others who have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with him those who sleep in Jesus." What a blessing! Jesus died but he didn't stay that way. He arose from the dead. He conquered death. Not only that, the Bible also promises me that one day He's going to come back, "For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord. Therefore comfort one another with these words." (I Thessalonians 4:16-18 NKJV) 

I am indeed comforted by these words and live, looking forward to the day I'll see my son again. 
                                                   Daphne McKibben


Several years ago I realized that I often sped through my Scripture reading and gave it little thought. Yet, when I had meaningful conversations with friends or family members I replayed them over and over in my head. One day it occurred to me, that if I thought more about what God says in his word that I would not only know more about Him, but I would come to know Him in a personal way. I would know more about His thoughts, His character, His intentions, His passions, and His actions. So, I began to take one verse at a time and think on it and then journal about it. At the time I was served as a volunteer in youth ministry and shared my “Thoughts on God” with those girls. For a while I have been rewriting and posting them on this blog. I have realized when I am in the Word or move through my day focusing on God's presence that I have wonderful opportunities to Meet God in the Everyday. The Everyday can include storms, blessings, hard things, scary things, exciting things...just any where, anyplace, any time. I hope that you will be able to engage with what I write with both your head and your heart. I also hope you will be challenged to love, trust, and know the God of the Scriptures. It is my prayer that as you read you will experience Him at a deeper level and share pieces of your journey in the comments. It is my desire that we form a safe community of believers who pursue the God who loves us radically, eternally, and without reserve. As a precious pastor once told me, "Don't forget, Wendy, God is Good!" I find myself compelled by His Goodness and His Love to share so others can know Him through all the ups and downs of life. Please feel free to dialogue back and to share how each passage impacts you. If if there is a passage you would like me to write on or if you would like to be a guest blogger, please let me know. I am just learning to navigate this blog and appreciate the kind comments you have made in the past...I promise I will even try to respond if you leave a note. If you are blessed please share the blog with friends!