Holy Week, Holy Waiting

I am excited! Tomorrow is Easter Sunday, and I feel like a kid who is eagerly awaiting Santa Claus to arrive.  I can’t even remember what I believed about Easter as a kid and the Easter Bunny—real or unreal.  Yes, I partook in Easter eggs hunts at various times.  It must’ve been at the Catholic Church we attended when I was young.  Unfortunately both of my parents are gone now and I can’t get those details of my childhood filled in.

My father rarely went to church with us.  It was always my mother who got us ready and dragged us to Catechism (Catholic Sunday school).  I think my father must’ve been what our pastor calls ‘Chreasters.’  Those are people who only go to church on Christmas and Easter.  I was one of those people in years gone by as well.

Almudena Cathedral, Madrid, where I worshiped one day while on mission to Spain, October 2014.

Almudena Cathedral, Madrid, where I worshiped one day while on mission to Spain, October 2014.

Church as a Priority 

I am at a stage in my life where I routinely go to church year-round, trying to give each weekend service a place of priority and honor.  Christmas is, of course, a special time to celebrate Jesus’ birth.  However, Easter feels especially sacred and uplifting to me.  There are many reasons for that.

  1. It hasn’t been over-commercialized like Christmas.
  2. It doesn’t come with the holiday parties and stress of holiday expectations.
  3. It hasn’t been made into a non-Christian holiday.
  4. It comes in the spring, when flowers are blooming, the days are getting longer, and the sun is starting to shine.
  5. It is preceded by Lent—a time of deliberate prayerful preparation to celebrate Jesus’ resurrection.
  6. It signifies how to acquire salvation and eternal life—with one simple decision to accept Jesus at face value, as the Son of God.

“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”  John 3:16, NIV

WP_20150328_012Waiting for the Story to End

Lent has ended, and now are the days of waiting—the three days between Jesus’ brutal crucifixion on Good Friday (yesterday) and his resurrection on Easter Sunday.

We know how the story ends.  Does that make the waiting easier?  Does it make it irrelevant or less interesting?  If we knew the ending to the books we read, would we stop reading them?  Maybe that depends on whether or not it is a good ending—one we like.

The Easter Story is the greatest story ever told!  I never tire of hearing it, especially so in a solemn church service like I did last night.  (Read the Passion of Christ in John 18-19:42.) It should make us shout for joy!

Because the waiting isn’t just for Easter, it’s for the return of Jesus.  Celebrating Easter, Holy Week, and Lent is ultimately celebrating in the here and now what our future brings.  There is no mystery to the ending.  However, there is mystery and intrigue in how we live in anticipation of what is to come.

Our lives don’t have to be mundane and boring.  We can approach our days and our ways with the same excitement and fervor with which we celebrate Easter.  There are blessings in it for us, for those we are in relationship with, and for those we come in contact with.

WP_20150330_001Easter: A New Beginning!

Easter marks the end of waiting for the Messiah, for us now and for the Jews and Gentiles over 2,000 years ago.  Some might say the ending was marked by the birth of Jesus.  I can’t argue with that.  However, my point is that Jesus’ death and resurrection marks the fulfillment of over 300 Old Testament scripture that foretold His ministry, death, and resurrection.  The resurrection is the linchpin of our Christian faith.

Easter really marks the beginning. It is the beginning of our Christian lives.  It is the beginning of the Church.  And that makes me giddy like a child—and worth the wait. It’s been a great week of anticipation.  It’s been a great week of holy waiting, filled with church services, fasting, and prayer.  I’m ready to celebrate.

Christ is risen!  He is risen, indeed!

A New Lenten Journey ~ Allowing God More Access

Here we are two weeks into Lent and I haven’t written a post about this time of year.  No big deal you may think, because you don’t recognize Lent or do anything special to participate in it.  Well, maybe it’s time you considered it.  Let me explain…

lent 40 days

Let’s Consider Lent

Lent is the 40-day period approaching Holy Week and Easter Sunday, usually associated with fasting, repentance, or sacrificial giving.  It is commonly considered a Catholic ritual, but I know of several local Protestant churches and friends who routinely participate in Lenten and Holy Week services, prayer practices, and such, just like they do for Advent (the season preceding Christmas).

This is my 5th year of actively participating in the Lenten season.  I’ve written about it several times: how and why I stumbled onto this practice, how it changed me and what I fasted from, and even about my son’s Lenten journey last year.  This year I was at a loss on how to change my Lenten practices, what to give up, etc.  I am again abstaining from alcohol and sweets.  Although, it seems to be part of an annual body cleanse now more than a strictly spiritual sacrifice.

Yesterday, I got an answer to how this Lent will be different.  It wasn’t about doing something different, it was about being something different.  The only way I can be different is to allow God access to my heart and mind.  And He gets hours of it in our weekly appointment at my sacred space.

He reminded me that after four years of dedicated weekly prayer time, that He has already transformed me from the inside out and made me into something new (yet again).  In our time together, He routinely speaks to me, guides me, and gives me peace.  He convicts me of my sinful ways and points me back to His will and ways.  (Although I do often wrestle with him when it comes to letting go of my grip on things.)

My willingness to enter the Catholic church over four years ago and start my weekly appointments with God have given Him more access to me not just at Lent, but year-round.  He reminded me that I don’t need to do anything different for Lent this year.

Seek Me in this Place

I am to just keep coming, keep seeking His will, keep listening for His voice, and keep writing about His messages to me—either in private or publically on my blog.  He will let me know when and how much to share.

Habakkuk 2:1 says, “I will climb up to my watchtower and stand at my guardpost.  There I will wait to see what the Lord says and how He will answer.”

Oddly enough, my watchtower is in a Catholic church, and my guardpost is in the sanctity of its small chapel.

Listening for God at the guardpost (local chapel).

Listening for God at the guardpost (local chapel).

It started with the season of Lent five years ago.   I embraced the mystery of Jesus there, a very unusual thing for a Protestant to do.  He was stretching me outside of my comfort zone as He showed up and kept wooing me to seek Him there every week.

It changed me.  It changed my prayer practices.  It has also trickled into my family, has rubbed off on some of my friends, and is modeled in the groups I lead and participate in.

How are you Giving God more Access?

So the message I am sharing today is about doing whatever it takes to give God more access in your life.

Make time in your schedule.  Find a quiet place.  Read the Bible.  Pray.  Listen.  Record what happens.

Lent is a the perfect time to do that, and make this Easter not just one of those Sundays that you have to go to church.  Make it a season and way to give God access to your life in new and mysterious ways.  And you’ll never be the same again.

How are you giving God more access to you?  Where is your watchtower?  I’d love to hear about what you are doing for Lent.

A Lenten Journey Surprise

As I’ve done the last few years, I prepared for Easter with a Lenten fast from alcohol and sweets.  What was different this year was that much to my surprise my 16-year-old son decided to observe a fast as well.

lenten-journeyHow it all Began

About the same time that Lent began, my son and I started a new bedtime routine.  We read a daily devotional and then prayed together.  On the evening of Ash Wednesday, he asked me about the ashes on my forehead which led to a conversation about Lent.  (By the way, observing Lent, or Ash Wednesday, is not exclusively for Catholics as some mistakenly believe.)

The next day after school he announced he was giving up video games for Lent!  My heart leapt for joy at his sacrificial offering.  I don’t remember what I said that night.  I didn’t ask him about giving anything up himself.  When he told me his decision the next day, he was excited.

My husband and I have had discussions with our son about the amount of time he spends on video games in the past.  Sometimes those discussions turned pretty heated, and he’d lose his gaming privileges.  We’ve also suggested alternative ways of using his leisure time.  Nothing else ever seemed to interest him.

And that's not all of it!

My son’s video game collection–and that’s not even all of it!

However, as Lent started my son was excited to share his choice—and even recognized how hard it would be.  Those first few days he admitted to me that his thoughts would turn to gaming.  He learned to turn his attention elsewhere — sometimes to God, and other times to his studies.  Those thoughts diminished over time.

The End of the Journey

As the 40-day journey grew closer to Holy Week, we talked about what he would do after Easter.  Would he return to his old gaming behavior?  Would he continue his fast?  I shared with him my previous Lent experiences—ranging from returning to immediate gratification with candy on Easter Sunday to abstaining for a prolonged period.  He has opted to return in moderation.

What excites me about this year’s pilgrimage to Easter is not so much that he stopped gaming, it’s that he (and us together) started a great ritual of connecting at the end of the day.  I would often forget, and he’d remind me to join him for our devotional and prayer time.  He also started reading the Bible again and occasionally writing in a journal.

My son and our dog, one of his best friends.

My son and our dog, one of his best friends.

In God’s Timing

I know a lot of this is only possible because my son made a decision to try medication again for his ADHD a few months ago.  He is a changed person.

The medication has given him access to areas of his brain that before were preventing his behaviors from aligning with his desires.  It has allowed him to establish new homework routines, focus on his studies, become more social and succeed in school.  In turn, he is now making more adult decisions and able to find a part of his self that was inaccessible before.

I’m very thankful that we went down this road with him.  I’m grateful that he persevered over the last few years.  I praise God for His timing in all of this (yet again!) and how my son is actively pursuing his relationship with Him.  I’m also glad that I was able to model something to him in the past and that he caught that behavior on his own.

Surprised by God

I had hoped that my son would actually write this post for me (another thing we talked about during Lent), but he is busy with his studies.  He did, however, quickly volunteered to help with the photos and captions.

Surprised by GodWhen I asked him what he’d like to share about his Lenten Journey, he said, “It was a beneficial experience for me.  It helped me to know God better and do well in school.”  That’s a lot to get out of a 16-year-old who is filled with new hope and finding his way in life.

As far as my fast, I’m still abstaining—for now.  I’m embracing the joy of getting to know my son in a deeper way.  That was my Lenten surprise.

Did God surprise you on your journey toward Easter?  I’d love to hear your story.

This post is listed on Christian Mommy Blogger/Fellowship Fridays and Missional Women/Faith Filled Friday.

 

Holy Week, Holy People

Holy Week—the pinnacle of the Christian faith. It starts with Palm Sunday—the remembrance of Jesus’ entrance to Jerusalem on a donkey while surrounded by crowds cheering ‘Hosanna’. It ends on Easter Sunday, with the Good News of the empty tomb. He is risen!  In between is the story of sacrificial love and gruesome suffering that led to the exchanged lives that Believers in Christ receive.Holy Week Faith Matters

It is not unusual for my mind to be on matters of Christian faith. I am not a trained pastor. I haven’t attended seminary. I don’t pretend to be a religious scholar. So why would I spend time on Holy Week sitting down to write a post about it?

It is because FAITH matters! And YOU matter to God!

If you are anything like me, you may not have grown up believing that, or maybe you still have doubts about it to this day. The root of that doubt doesn’t lie with God. It lies to a large degree with the formation of your identity as a young child and your family of origin.

You matter to God

Childlike Faith

In Luke 18:16-17, Jesus says “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.”

Was Jesus excluding adults in His Kingdom? No, He was reminding us of the innocence of a child. He was telling us to trust—a characteristic that we often lose in childhood due to shame, disappointments, emotional wounds, abuse, etc. This mistrust or absence of innocence can be brought on by a traumatic incident and sudden loss, or may be due to negative messages that over time we integrate into our souls as unworthiness. With those kinds of identity messages being heaped on us at an early age it’s no wonder we reject God or don’t believe we are who He says we are.  (I know because I have struggled with that myself.)*

My-identity-in-Christ

Who Are We?

We are Holy People!

Hard to believe?  Then consider the standard you are using to determine the validity of that statement. Are you believing the father of all lies, the devil (John 8:44)? Or maybe you are comparing yourself to the Heroes of the Faith praised in Hebrews 11.

Are you saying, “I’m no Moses”, or “I don’t have faith like Abraham?” These Fathers of our Faith ended their lives well, but they had many sinful acts in their lifetimes. Moses murdered an Egyptian and fled to Midian (Exodus 2). Out of fear for his own safety, Abraham passed off his wife Sarah, as his sister, allowing a king to take her as his wife (Genesis 12). These heroes of our faith were broken people who failed, but God still used them, just like He uses us.

Holiness

Proof of our Holiness

How can we consider ourselves holy? Romans 10:9 says, If you declare with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” Jesus sacrifice was the price to make us holy in God’s eyes. God doesn’t see our sins anymore. We are the ones who condemn ourselves and continue to act like or believe we are unworthy.

Still having a hard time seeing yourself as holy—or that God would consider you holy? I grew up thinking (mistakenly so, by the way) that saints were only those people who were canonized by the Catholic Church. However, there are many verses in the Bible that reference God’s people as saints. For instance, Paul uses the term saints over and over again in his greetings to the New Testament churches. When our time comes to leave this life, Psalm 116:15 tells us: Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His saints (New King James Version).

As you enter into these last few days of Holy Week, remember who you are, and whose you are. Your holiness was paid for with a price. The proof is in the empty tomb. He is risen indeed!

Empty Tomb

*For a great book on our identity in Christ, read Identity Crisis: Reclaim the True You by Tamara J Buchan, or better yet, attend one of her amazing retreats.

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An Invitation to my Sacred Space

Last week I entered into my 4th year of actively participating in the season of Lent, with ashes on my forehead as well.  No, I am not Catholic, as some might quickly assume.  I am a Protestant.  I do, however, attend weekly mass and spend quality time in meditation at a local Catholic church.  This practice started three years ago when my mother, a practicing Catholic, passed away shortly before Lent.

Ashes in cups

Cups of ashes from the Ash Wednesday service.

My Weekly Prayer Practice

It was in those first times of prayer there that the Lord showed up, gave me incredible peace, and started to speak to me in ways I’d never experienced before.  Those weekly visits became my Lenten practice that first year.  I’ve continued ever since, but not just for Lent.

Those first few months when I had one foot in my Protestant Church and another at the local Catholic Church were very difficult for me.  I knew God was doing something in me.  I knew/know that my identity in Christ was/is secured.

What I learned about myself in the process is that I am a contemplative, as described in the book Sacred Pathways by Gary Thomas.  It is how I best get in touch with God.  I came to understand that it didn’t matter if I was Protestant or Catholic.  It is faith that pleases God (Hebrews 11:6).

I was encouraged and supported through this spiritually growing time by Protestant pastors who accepted my unique walk of faith, and my not doing “church in a box.”  I was living missionally.  These visits to the Catholic Church also helped me to connect with my Spanish family and gave me a longing to worship in Spain, like I did last summer.  This has had major ripple effects in my spiritual walk and in God’s Kingdom in many ways here and abroad.*

WP_20140312_008Welcome to my Sacred Space

In light of my unique perspective, I thought I would share with my readers what it is like for me, a contemplative Protestant, to worship in a Catholic Church.  In so doing, maybe some of my readers won’t judge the Catholics so harshly, or maybe the Protestant Churches could learn something about this as well.  I am not advocating one way or the other is correct.  It is merely my perspective; and I am not a seminary student, an ordained minister, or a theologian.

First of all, I believe that no church can ‘meet’ everyone’s needs.  Yes, Jesus can meet all of their needs, but the way one church structures their church service, or the ‘vibe’ of the church, will not appeal to everyone.  I don’t think it is about structure; it is about content.  It is about preaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

One thing that is consistent about the Catholic Church is that they all have a set structure or order to the mass.  They even have the same scripture readings in all churches throughout the world, as dictated by the head of the Catholic Church.  (Not sure exactly if that is the Pope or some organization under him.   As I said, I’m not an expert on this.  The idea here is that it is divinely revealed as to what scripture is read worldwide.)  Those scripture readings are published in various publications and online.

I have to admit that in the past, I was one of those people who felt that the mass was just a bunch of rote responses and prescribed prayers.  As I’ve come to view it and take it in, I see that it is a beautiful dialogue between God and His people.  One could just say the responses, but I prefer to contemplate and say the responses in praise to God.  There is also deliberate quiet time in mass, albeit, much too brief for my liking.  It is all a rhythm back and forth.  To me it feels like an invitation to encounter God.  It is a sacred time.  I covet this time and notice a dramatic difference in my level of peace when I miss it.

WP_20140312_004One last thing, because I’ve been asked and know people are curious.  I don’t take communion—not because I don’t want to.  It’s because I’d have to become a member of the Catholic Church.  I’ve had lots of dialogue around that topic with priests, pastors, and even bloggers.  Instead I receive a blessing from the priest.  (And that is a topic for another post, but you can check out a very enlightening post by a Catholic blogger that I follow and admire.)

Find Him in the Stillness

Well, that’s a glimpse into my sacred space.  If you are reading this post on a Wednesday morning, you could actually walk into the small chapel of that church and see me praying, reading scripture, or journaling my conversations with God.  My friends and family all know I’m there, interceding on their behalf and talking with God.  But now it is late Tuesday night as I write this, and I will turn in so I don’t miss my weekly appointment with God.

What are you doing to give God more space in your life?  I know that if you give him the stillness of your day, and seek Him, you will find Him.  I love those who love me, and those who seek me find me. (Proverbs 8:17, NIV)

*Live locally and interested in what those ripple effects are?  You can request information about my next speaking opportunity through my Contact Page.

This post is listed on Christian Mommy Blogger/Fellowship Fridays and Missional Women/Faith Filled Friday.

Was The Sacrifice Worth It?

Last year I entered into the Lenten season with much anticipation and reverence as I started to explore Jesus from a more contemplative perspective.  I spent much time in prayer and meditation.  I also fasted from alcohol.  It ended up being the most amazing 40-day spiritual journey of my life.  And so I decided to make many of those changes a permanent part of my everyday life. 
As I entered into the Lenten season this year, I was expecting the same kind of holy ground type of experience.  That’s not exactly what I got though.  I fasted again this year, but this time it was from alcohol and sweets.  I increased my prayer and meditation time which had become a bit inconsistent over the past year.  That’s where the similarities ended. 
lent cross
This year, Lent coincided with a period in my life when I was being called into a major leadership role in ministry.  After three years away from serving in ministry leadership, I had forgotten how prevalent and pervasive spiritual attacks can be.  (A friend told me today that is also why God doesn’t allow women to remember the pain from childbirth.) 
This has probably been the most difficult spiritual journey of my life.  I know that if I hadn’t been heavily investing in my time with God and seeking His will for my life as part of my Lenten practice, that I wouldn’t have fared so well during this trial.  I needed that quality time alone with God to give me His peace and to strengthen me each and every week.
Lent is technically over, but for me the spiritual disciplines of the last 40 days are not.  I did already have a few sweets and my body quickly told me it didn’t like that decision.  And at least for now, the alcohol is still on hold. 
So was the sacrifice and fasting worth it?  Absolutely.  As God continues to call me to serve Him in ways that stretch me outside of my comfort zone, I will continue to seek His wisdom and discernment on how to do it not on my own self-sufficiency, but according to His will.  It’s the best chance I have of living a worry-free life.
On to the next 40 days—and Pentecost!

On Reverence

There is no doubt that the events of the last year in my life have drawn me closer to God.  I know this may sound strange, but when I returned from my mother’s funeral, I was on such a spiritual high.  God had shown up for me each day I was there, giving me much needed closure, giving me strength to get through each day, giving me the words to write my mother’s eulogy and to speak it and giving me insights into my identity that I denied for years.
As I began to accept these revelations about myself, I continued to explore my faith and seek God’s wisdom on how to walk this new path of spiritual growth that He was lying out for me.  Surprisingly for me, this path put me back in the Catholic Church.  At first, I was very confused by all of this.  I grew up Catholic and turned away from the church as a teen when I gave my life to Christ and joined a Protestant Church.  But for some reason, God was wooing me back and His vehicle was the Catholic Church.
This period of wooing and exploration coincided with the season of Lent.  So last year, for the first time in my life, I made several decisions that allowed me to really listen to God and approach Easter with a fully repentant and willing heart.  My main Lenten decision was to attend mass and prayer time every Wednesday in the Catholic Church.  Each week as I left the church, I noticed God giving me some word or insight to cling too.  I also left with incredible peace—a quieting of my mind to the worries of life.  
lent-spiritual-preparation
As I observed Lent from a sacrificial and willing perspective, I also came to enjoy a deeper relationship with Christ and a reverence for the Lord.  Growing up in the Catholic Church, the liturgy and tradition seemed stale and impersonal to me.  But as I attended these services with new eyes, I was able to appreciate the reverence that is demonstrated by the priest and the parishners.
Last year’s season of Lent was so amazing for me as it gave me time to really focus on Jesus without distraction.  I still go to the Catholic Church most weeks and definitely miss it when I don’t.  I have met some very devout followers of Christ in the Catholic Church.  It has changed my way of thinking about the Body of Christ.  It has affirmed and strengthened my relation to my Spanish family as well.
Last week, when I attended the Ash Wednesday service at the local parish, I reflected on this next season of Lent and the reverence that I now have for the Lord.  Last year, I was hesitant to have those ashes put on my forehead and a bit embarrassed to be seen.  This year, I attended a ministry meeting at my church and didn’t even flinch when asked about it. 
I know God has wired me differently than other people.  (We all are.)  I’m letting God point me in the direction that I should go.  Do I question it at times?  Yes, but thankfully not as much as I used too.
For this season of Lent, I challenge you to find reverence for the Lord in whatever way God has wired you to connect with Him.  May He create in you a clean heart as you live out these next 40 days and beyond.
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    I'm an author, writer, speaker, mentor & mom. I've struggled to find my voice all my life as I lived in the shadows of a mother with mental illness. Thankfully that was not the legacy that she handed down to me. It took a lot of recovery and deep healing work to rise above it.

    I am thankful to God for Making Me Bold in the process. Now I use my writing and speaking voice to help others on their journey to turn healing into hope.

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