To the forgotten one

I do not often pretend to have His words, but – This is for you.


I am the light you cannot see, searching, piercing – not the mild sunlight of a summer day or the glimmer of candle and firelight, but the unescapable blaze of a streetlight on a deserted parking lot when all around is darkness.

I love you.

I saw the look on your face when it happened again, the thing you feared. It was only there for a second before you hid it, but I saw. You were not alone.

When you look around, you see the smiling Others whose lives seem to work – their bodies, their faces, their families. They seem to skip over the hard bits, or laugh them off, or overcome them. They seem so on top of things, and in the darkness you wonder why you are the odd one out.

I know the grief you carry, the tightening of your heart when the subject comes up, the dread of insensitive questions and curious glances. I know how you cry when people move in to care, and cry when they do not.

I know you worry that it will be too much for you, that this thing will make you crack if you face it, that the price is too high. I know exhaustion. I see it in your eyes. I know what you have sacrificed, and though you wonder, I am the one who knows it is not in vain. It will never be in vain.

I see you.

I know you.

You are not the only one.

I know the things you hold close to the chest, the horrors you cannot share lest your world cave in around you. In scores of stripes across my bleeding back I carried them for you. I carry you still.

In your loneliness I am there. When the night closes in, you are held in my light. When everyone else has someone, when the silence of the people who matter the most screams at you, when you’ve forgotten how to be the person you were, when the radiant ship sails without you, I am there.

I know what lies beneath your frustration and your turmoil, I know the palpable midnight of your fear. I am there when it yawns beneath you, when frantically you flail your way to solid ground, panting, shrieking.

Darling, you could fall all the way down and I would be there.

You are mine.

Jesus

Easter celebrations 2016

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When I began blogging four years ago, one of my first questions for you old-timers who were there was—How do you celebrate Easter?

In my experience it is the almost-missed Christian holiday in the Mennonite church. All sorts of treats and traditions have grown up around our Christmases, including non-overtly-spiritual traditions like homemade candy, piles of presents, and sledding parties. But somehow Easter…

Hmm. Easter. Let me think.
There’s an early service at church, and um…
Let me think…

Four years ago, I wanted to find ways to build excitement, anticipation, and joy into this best of holidays. Since then, we’ve found delight in trying new ideas as a family and seeing what works for us. Some years we’ve travelled. Some years we’ve hosted Easter egg hunts for children, with slices of layer cake for the adults.

This year we reinstated some favorite traditions, and started some new ones I predict will be keepers. I know I’m a month late. But I’d like to share our most meaningful with you, to tuck in your brain file for next year…

1. Resurrection eggs

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Did you know it’s very simple to make your own set of resurrection eggs?

You fill a dozen hollow egg shells with symbolic items to tell the story of Jesus’ final week. Your child opens one a day, and reads the accompanying passage of Scripture. We tweaked ours to include a few extras, combining ideas from this site and this site with a few of our own. (There are even printable Scripture cards here.)

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My favorite bit was our tiny crown of thorns.

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2. A mercy garden

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I am about five years behind on this one. I understand Ann Voskamp created or popularized the idea some time ago, but this was the first year I joined in with my five-year-old daughter. We found it surprisingly meaningful, to dig real earth and arrange real stones and know that his body rested in THIS. Our tiny tomb was chilling, and beautiful. We put a candle in it.

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3. A Passover meal

I’ve always wanted to attend a Passover meal; this year, I did a little research and hosted one for our children on Thursday night, the evening Jesus shared Passover with his disciples before his death. The Zook family did not go kosher. I got a headache just reading the regulations, and in the end I said “All things are lawful unto me” and served normal food, picking and choosing which symbols to keep and which to omit.

We ate roasted leg of lamb and unleavened bread and bitter herbs and haroset.

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This is not a good shot, but I was a little too busy being there to also be a great photographer.

Since our children are young and squirmy, we didn’t get to do the readings I was hoping. We were in this for the food alone. But there is always next year…

4. Good Friday singing

In our community, a Friday evening church service is not a thing. This year, my parents invited us to a beautiful new tradition—meeting in their home with a few friends to sing. We sang by candlelight, songs of the suffering of Christ interspersed with Scripture readings. When the music was done, we blew out our candles and left in silence.

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5. Time in a graveyard

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Photo credit: Ryan Zook

Maybe this one sounds macabre—but did you know that Jesus actually died? Saturday night, Ryan and I took our family to a much-beloved and beautiful graveyard. The children played while we sat and talked, then Ryan read aloud the story of Jesus’ death. Then we went out and bought ice cream. There is no symbolism in ice cream that I can find, but it is sweet to share with your family.

And Sunday?

Waking in the darkness to hurry our family to church. Coffee and donuts. An early praise service. Songs from little children. Brunch shared with our congregation. Naps at home. Chocolates. A delicious evening dinner with extended family.

I think it was the best Easter I’ve ever had.

Now it’s your turn to add to my files for next year… How did you celebrate? What traditions have you passed down or begun?

The rest of the story

Confession: I told you I miscarried a tiny baby last January. I didn’t tell you the rest of the story. Of necessity, this post contains personal details I would not normally share publicly. There are not many; I have been as discreet as I could. But I ask, especially if you are male, that you read respectfully.

The Rest of the Story

The problem with backing up to the beginning of the story is that it’s hard to know when to stop backing. You pass through months and years of events-that-led-to, and land not only in the hospital where you were born, but somewhere just before the book of Genesis, when all these things were developing in the heart of God. So I can’t tell all the rest of the story.

The piece I am going to tell you now started the month before my miscarriage, in December of 2014, when we said yes to a dream opportunity. A newborn foster girl was coming into care. Her older siblings had all been removed from the home, one was being adopted right now, and there was no kin. Would we be willing to take her? Continue reading

Spoiler Alert: When Jesus healed my freezer

“What is that awful noise?!” I said.

“Bdddrrrrddrrrrrdddrrrrddrrrrr,” replied a throbbing vibration from the laundry room.

I hurried in to look, and found the door of my upright freezer hanging open several inches, the contents melting, and the motor making a fearsome racket. “No! Son, when I sent you for bread an hour or two ago, did you really leave the freezer door standing open?”

Continue reading

The Lord’s Prayer – My turn

Confession: I have a tall glass of iced coffee in hand, and if I am not very careful I will pick up The Count of Monte Cristo and be lost to the world for the night as a reader instead of a writer. This too would be good. Dantes is an airhead at this point in the story, but the Abbe is nearing his fatal attack and Mercedes is growing paler and more interesting every day.

What did I learn when I prayed the Lord’s Prayer every day for a month?

(I’m still learning.)

Some days the phrases played over and over in my mind. Some days the words pierced me, and I cried as I spoke them. Some days I could hardly speak them at all, and instead let the celestial voice of Andrea Bocelli sing them into reality.

I learned things about myself, and prayer, and God.

First, I learned that I pray some really dumb prayers, ordinarily. Not only on the tip of my tongue, but also in the depths of my heart lie some truly ridiculous requests. They bloop out of my mouth when I’m least expecting them, and they embarrass me.

Like—

Please help me not to say anything silly…

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I can only imagine the look on God’s face.

Please help me to hold it together…

????!

Sorry, darling. Not on My list of goals for your life.

It was a relief to pray the Real prayers, for the Kingdom and God’s will and His glory and my daily needs, without falling into such catastrophically selfish and ungrantable petitions.

I’m not trying to say that ad-libbing in prayer is a bad thing. I know God cherishes the words we shape to Him, the words that come from the depths of our hearts or the tips of our tongues, however silly they occasionally are. But are they really what we want to say?

I loved the gentle alignment of my words with His, my requests with His, my will with His. I loved skipping “I know you want me to be okay with this but I’m really not, but I’m trying to be. You know I struggle sometimes, Lord. Are you sure you really know what you’re doing? I’m trying to trust you, and so I pray (I think I pray) that your will be done (except not if it hurts too much)…” and instead moving simply, so sweetly, to His heart. “Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”

Second, I learned that I am terrible at forgiving. I’m not sure if it was the Prayer itself that brought my grievances to the surface, like scum atop a cooking vat, or if I am always this vengeful. “Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors” seemed like an impossible mouthful for the first week or two, especially on the days when I was really steamed about something that happened months ago.

Then I started thinking about the real mouthful.

“Forgive us our debts.”

Honestly? Such a light and simple request.

I don’t pretend to know more about forgiving than I did a month ago, except for this piece: I cannot claim the forgiveness of the Lord Jesus for my own sins if I am unwilling to release those who have sinned against me.

I know we say His grace is free, with no strings attached, and I told you I don’t pretend to understand these things. But I know from the parable of the two servants who owed the lord money, and I know from experience in my own life, that it just doesn’t work to claim the one and refuse the other. And oh, I have been forgiven so much! The two parts of forgiveness must go forth hand-in-hand into the world—or neither.

“Forgive us our debts while we forgive our debtors…”

My acceptance of His bountiful, generous release, His wiping away of the debts I owe Him and cannot pay, not only inspires me or prepares me or enables me—but truly impels me to offer that same free release to others, at the risk of losing it myself.

Third, I learned something about the nature of prayer itself: that it is a way of holding two opposite things simultaneously and in the same space—the brokenness of the world, and the loving provision of the Father. (This idea came straight from N. T. Wright’s book The Lord and His Prayer.)

The prayer of Jesus stands as a powerful bridge between two realities. On the one hand, you have hunger, debts, temptation, evil. On the other, you have forgiveness, deliverance, power, glory. Mr. Wright says this is a crucial function of our prayers—bringing the brokenness of the world into the light of God’s presence, and holding the two together in our hearts.

There is more to this world than meets the eye. We are surrounded by brokenness without and within, but the kingdom is come! and coming! and coming more! Aslan is on the move.

Now that is a prayer I will be clinging to for months.

*****

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