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A Story about Mary the Magdalene

“He’s gone!” Mary’s mind screamed these words though her lips stayed silent, pursed shut in a mixture of equal parts anger and fright. The sun had barely peeked above the horizon. The tomb dimly lit by that soft morning light. Yet she could not be mistaken, the body of her Lord was gone.

“They took his body,” she whispered. Finally breaking the silence. “They took his body.” She questioned a second time. Mary ran from the tomb, back to the others. She burst into the home shouting, “they took his body, I don’t know where it is!”

Two of the disciples ran past her while the others sat in disbelief. When Mary got back to the tomb the two disciples were just walking out. Their heads hung low, their mouths wide open, still breathing hard from their desperate sprint. No one said a word. What was there to say? He was already gone, and now he was really gone. The tragic had turned dismal and dark, deeper down the rabbit hole. There was no unseeing what they had witnessed, no forgetting the grief they had felt. Their beloved Jesus was gone.

Now alone, Mary started to sob. She didn’t think any tears remained to be shed. Her eyes a permanent red from days of mourning. She had nothing left, and yet she sobbed. Her body sunk in on itself and she wept not for hope of comfort or healing or help – she wept from within her soul. A mirror to her most authentic self. She stumbled to the mouth of the tomb when two blinding angelic lights erupted from the darkness.

A voice called out, “Why are you crying?”

“He’s gone,” she said, “someone took his body.”

Then another voice called to her from the garden, a man standing there, though she knew not who. “Why are you crying?” the Gardener asked her the same question.

“Do you know where they took him? Just tell me, I’ll go get his body. Please.”

She begged.

The man simply replied, “Mary.”

A new and yet familiar voice spoke her name.

As her eyes looked up to the meet those of the gardener time seemed to stop. Her mind began to swirl about. A vision over took her, memories rushed into sight. She fell through a tunnel of light until she stopped in a cold dark place.

Through the shadows she saw that which she already seen, moments from her past, from their journey. She saw Jesus raise a little girl from the dead. She could see him feeding thousands of people from food they didn’t have. Mary laughed as she watched blind bartimaeus dancing and weeping as his sight was restored. She even remembered the little boy. His dad begging for his life. A boy possessed by demons, a pain she knows too well. She watched as Jesus set that child free. Then she saw herself, her life before Jesus. Broken and consumed by evil. Pain, regret, hurt, slavery, wretchedness overwhelming her. Then this Jesus from Nazareth simply commanded it and the demons left her. As if God had spoke her into existence from nothing.

And then she saw Jesus standing before a crowd. The Pharisees were shouting, accusing him of blasphemy. All of Jesus’ followers, a hodgepodge of ragamuffins and high society, shouted back with similar passion. When Jesus stepped forward all fell silent to hear his words. His voice booming throughout her mind and soul, seemingly encompassing the entire universe as she heard the words, “Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it back up.”

Like a flash, her soul shot back through time, passing the miracles and teachings and meals and laughter and tears and pain, back into the light, back to the garden.

No gardener. No angel. No stranger. This was the voice that had beckoned her from the darkness years ago. The voice that had cast out the demons from her life. The voice that had brought her back to God when she had wandered hopelessly into the wilderness.

Her eyes met those of the one who had set her free.

“He’s alive!” Mary’s mind screamed those words though her lips stayed silent, afraid to move, as if uttering the words might somehow undo what was right in front of her. The soft morning light revealed truth before her. She could not be mistaken, her Lord was standing there, alive. Finally breaking the silence she cried out, “Rabboni!”

Her arms wrapped around her beloved teacher. And again, for the second time that morning, Mary of Magdala sobbed. She wept yet again from her soul as she was embraced by the risen son of God. When she stepped back, Jesus placed his hands on her shoulders, smiled, and said: “go, tell them.”

Again Mary ran from the tomb, back to the others. She burst into that home shouting, “I have seen the Lord! I have seen the Lord!”

And it was on that day, that Mary the Magdalene became the first witness of the risen Lord, the first believer of the resurrected Christ, the first apostle of the Messiah, and the first person to ever testify “I have seen the Lord!”

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changed my life

“It changed my life.” We say that about stuff. Trips, encounters, songs, books, religion, people. When the veil between this world and the other rips open it does indeed change our lives. I heard a song years ago called “Silence of God.” It’s on an Andrew Peterson album that my mentor loaned me. I was in a place where I had given up on the church. Family struggles, church drama, and religious insecurities all led me down a path where I was just fed up with it all. I could not stand to hear one more person talk about how great their walk with Jesus was. Tree, that was my mentor, loaned me the album and I listened to it.

Silence of God” broke me. In my dorm room, I fell to the floor shattered. The authenticity of the lyrics and the truth of its melody unleashed a buried and broken piece of my soul. I remember weeping and laughing and praying.

That song, just that simple song, led me on a journey. I found writers, musicians, and theologians that shared the same authentic faith, one unafraid to admit doubt or confess frustrations. My wife and I even traveled to “the hills of Kentucky” to see that “statue of Jesus on a monastery knoll” from the song. Few things have so impacted the trajectory of my life as that song.

Last October I sat in the back corner of a sanctuary during an Andrew Peterson concert. He was debuting a new album, “The Burning Edge of Dawn.” Before each song he talked about its origin, telling the story behind the lyrics. When he got to the song “The Rain Keeps Falling” I was already having a great time. The music was great, the audience was loving it. There were special guests and family and friends jumping up on stage to sing harmonies. All of it was joy.

Then he told us about feeling lost and helpless and afraid one night. He let us into a part of his life that most Christians refuse to ever admit exists. The music started and they played “The Rain Keeps Falling.” I didn’t realize how much hurt I had been carrying in my heart. I had no idea how broken I truly was. It has been a long couple of years. Ministry has been hard. Family have passed away. Life was happening as she does, not always merciful. Tears started to well up as I listened to Andrew confess all of his fears. And then, like the very voice of God, Ellie Holcomb sang out “peace be still.” And again, for the second time in my life, Andrew Peterson shattered me with a song.

There in that dark corner I let myself weep. I just cried. Thankful to be hidden by the shadows and somewhat anonymity of being in a different city. I crumbled and though I spoke no words I allowed God to see my heart and fears and doubts and worries. I rested in the voice and honesty of my fellow travelers on that stage. And then I realized that I was not alone. Across the room I could see tears and weeping and rejoicing and fear being lifted from the faces of the crowd. It was as if his honesty gave permission for all of us to take off the mask and just rest in the presence of God.

What about you? Do you need to rest in the presence of God? Do you need permission to admit you’re afraid? Is that mask becoming to heavy to wear? Take it off my friend. Sometimes the rain keeps falling, but if you listen very closely you will hear the breathe of God, a whisper through the rain saying “peace be still.”

I never thought I would say this about another song, but it’s true.

This song changed my life.

Again.

treasure stumbled upon

Our doctor said “I’ll be shocked if you’re not in the hospital tonight with contractions.” It was Monday, January 26, 2015 and we were thinking about life and babies and the future and our marriage and our home. We high-fived leaving the Doctor’s office, we’re high-fivers from time to time, don’t judge. Casey and I were preparing for our first child, a laughable idea really, “preparing” for children. How does one prepare for the world to change?

The day went by and nothing of consequence took place. We had seen the doctor and then gotten some food. Casey had been contracting for weeks and was slightly dilated but nothing seemed imminent. We played some card games and relaxed, watching tv. I was busy cleaning the dishes and picking up when Casey said, “so I’ve been having contractions for a half hour now.”

“What?!?”

“They’re happening pretty frequently.”

“What?!?”

Casey was tired, and considered just going to bed. That wasn’t going to happen! I insisted we start timing the contractions. There’s nothing easy about knowing when it’s time to go to the hospital. I know the movies say there is. And sure, if your water breaks or if your having painful contractions then it’s a sure fire sign to get your butt down there. But often times neither of those occur. Instead Casey was calm and relaxed and sleepy. But their frequency increased. Every five minutes, every four minutes, every three minutes. After over an hour of timing contractions she looked at me and said, “ok, let’s go to the hospital.” We high-fived and started loading up the car.

Even at the hospital the reality doesn’t fully sink in. Sure we fill out some paperwork and get checked into the room.  There are monitors, nurses, and hospital gowns but we still sat waiting to be told it wasn’t time yet, you can go home. We checked in at midnight and saw the doctor a little after 5am. The doctor told us it was going to happen today, no doubt.

That’s a surreal experience. There were many things leading up to this moment: meeting Casey, winning her heart, keeping her heart, marriage, navigating marriage. So many clear steps and life happenings and it still feels like you just stumble into this moment. Like I tripped and here I was in the hospital waiting and high-fiving my beautiful wife, mother to be.

Just a pinch before 8am I walked into our room from talking to a friend in the hallway, and Casey says, “I’m at 9cm.”

“What?!?”

Nurses start to file into the room like we walked into a play. Actors shifting from spot to spot, talking and moving props. All of them part of some elaborate scene that Casey was in middle of but neither of us had the script. Ha! That was probably best. There is pushing and breathing and waiting and calling the doctor and more pushing and more breathing and then there is a child. Seconds ago we were two and then, as if the all the time before had vanished, we were three.

On Tuesday morning, January 27, 2015, after a long night and no less than six high-fives my daughter, Raegan Eve, was born. Jesus says that the kingdom of heaven is like a treasure stumbled upon by a man in a field; who then goes and buys the field. I have wondered how anyone might stumble upon treasure. Now I know.

 

tortilla soup and hidden grief

I made tortilla soup last week. It was a vegetarian dish with tomatoes, onions, cumin, chili powder, garlic, corn, and jalapeños. All of it tossed into a crock pot and cooked for eight hours. The recipe called for what I considered to be too few peppers, so I added a bit more. Upon the tasting the seasoning was perfect, the flavor was bold, and the heat was striking. So striking that it caught my breath and I sought out sour cream to add to the bowls. I didn’t realize how much heat was in there. We don’t always know how much we’re going to be affected by what’s inside.

Grief can be that way too. Sure you know it’s there, it was added to the crock pot after all. But time goes by, life goes on, and you think that you’ve moved past it. Or perhaps, when we are really honest, we realize that we never faced our own grief. Too much, too fast, too painful; so we avoid it. The friend that betrayed you, that hurtful remark you thought you’d forgotten, the anger you buried; all of these things are still there. And when people come to you and expect you to be ok, for reason’s you cannot explain – you are not ok. Because, the truth is, you’re still healing. The scar has yet to form and more time is needed. Hidden grief can manifest at the worst moments, far hotter and off-putting than jalapeños.

If you’re going to start off this new year the right way, then take time to deal with your hidden grief. If you don’t, you might take out that pain on someone you love, or a stranger, or yourself. Often times we’ll get angry about something unrelated but the truth knows that our pain is about our grief. It is ok to admit that you haven’t healed as fast as the world wants you too. There is nothing wrong with that. So take your time, admit your hurt, grieve, and let God heal you.

That soup, by the way, turned out to be pretty good. Add enough sour cream, cheese, and tortillas – well you get the point. The heat didn’t go away completely, but it never does. That’s life I suppose.

Psalm 30:2 “Lord, my God, I cried out to you for help, and you healed me.”

 

To the statues

There’s an old monastery deep in the hills of Kentucky that has been the home of countless monks, weary travelers, and soul searching followers for a 166 years. It is the oldest operating monastery in the U.S.. The famous writer and monk Thomas Merton spent much of his life there. In 2012 Casey and I traveled to this monastery, the Abbey of Gethsemane. I had always wanted to go there for two nerdy reasons. The first, I love Thomas Merton, one his quotes hangs framed in my office. The second, there’s an Andrew Peterson song, “Silence of God,” that sings about Jesus facing the same sorrows that we face in life. In that song there’s a line about “a statue of Jesus on a monastery knoll in the hills of Kentucky” and I was told that I could find that statue at the Abbey of Gethsemane. So Casey and I went on an adventure. We toured the Abbey. We read it’s history. We walked silently though a beautiful garden, visiting the stations of the cross. We hiked up a hill to see the view. I didn’t see the statue anywhere though. It was by chance that we noticed a trailhead across from the Abbey. We walked over to it and there was this little sign, no bigger than a bumper sticker, it had an arrow pointing into the woods and the phrase “to the statues.”

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escape

I am now a handful of months separated from my journey to Central America, a temporary escape from some everyday pressures. While there and working with pastors, educators, and leaders in rural Guatemala, it was an escape from the norm. With that trip behind me, a youth mission trip starting next week, and Casey and I planning a vacation for July in front of me, “escape” is on my mind! But while in Guatemala, I encountered other things too. I saw ruinous poverty and struggle, from which so many people are trying to escape. Their “escape” and my “escape” are quite different.

In Frederick Buechner’s book, Wishful Thinking, he talks about “freedom” and “escape” connecting them in an enlightening way. He says that freedom in Christ is “freedom not from responsibility but for it. Escape not from reality but into it.” (emphasis mine)  These moments, Buechner says, are “the best moments we, any of us, have as human beings.”

I always believed that escape consisted only of getting away from something. But sometimes escape can cause us to discover something as well. We can discover truth, life, hope, grace. We can also discover pain, hurt, darkness, and fear. Escape leads to discovery. I need to learn to escape into reality, not from it. Perhaps we could all use more of that in our lives. Whether on vacation, or resting on a park bench, or eating a sandwich in the break room at work – escaping into the moment can be a powerful thing!

So how about it, where do you want to escape to? And what do you want to escape into?

You want to race?

Do you remember racing as a kid? Ready, set, go! First one to the fence wins. Streaming down the road on bicycles, those epic races that led to victory or, often times, crashes. Most adults don’t race. Save professional athletes, I don’t expect to witness two grown men or women arguing about who’s faster. We loose those kid-like qualities, life seems to do that to us. That is something we should not take lightly. While maturing and growing in our faith is vastly important, I’m not convinced that loosing all of our kid-like traits is a good thing. Take, for example, the class passage from Luke 18:15-17, revealing this wonderful moment in the life and ministry of Christ. Continue reading

trece

Day Six in Guatemala.

The first job I ever had was working for the Salvation Army. They paid minimum wage to anyone that would stand outside of a Walmart or shopping mall, ring a bell, and collect donations. I was fourteen years old and I worked everyday of Thanksgiving break, as well as each Saturday leading up to Christmas. I enjoyed it, loved it even. I chose it.

The first jobs of children in Guatemala are quite different from my experience. (I imagine that is the case for many children throughout the world.) Guatemalan educators struggle to keep kids in school. The demand for extra hands in the fields or selling trinkets in the tourist towns engulfs the schools throughout Guatemala. I knew all of this. I had heard the testimonies, I’ve read the stories, I’ve been to Cairo and Cozumel and seen plenty of kids working. Intellectually, up in my brain I knew this already. But not in my heart, not yet. I had shielded my heart from knowing it, perhaps on accident, or subconsciously, but shielded nonetheless. One could call me blind, if they so desired.

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School Supplies

Day Five in Guatemala.

I don’t miss school. The weight of homework and writing assignments and bells controlling my everyday schedule, I don’t miss it at all. But I remember the joy of getting school supplies before the new school year began. It was a joy that lasted through most of elementary school. Picking out pencils and pens, choosing notebooks, picking a trapper keeper – yep, loved those moments. I had to get the supplies because I needed it for school. And even though there were years in my family’s life that were sparse financially, we always, always had what we needed.

On Wednesday, in Guatemala, I had the chance to sit down with the Principal for the school in Chuluc. Together with a few other missionaries, Pastor Jorge, Principal Moses, and our mission guide Jake we met for nearly three hours. We talked about a ton of stuff. Mostly we were trying to listen and learn. Mission work is always tough, but in a foreign country, with foreign customs, a great idea could actually be a terrible mistake. So we met, we asked questions, lots of them, and listened to long, informative answers. The meeting was a blessing for all involved. We learned about the Guatemalan school system, water issues, and cultural struggles with keeping children in school. We also learned about school supplies.

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barefoot traveler

Day Four in Guatemala.

I saw a woman walking barefoot on the streets of Antigua. She wasn’t a native there. She wasn’t a tourist either. I discovered while being here how many people end up backpacking through central America. I’ve seen tons of them in Antigua, Guatemala. Most of them young adults, scrapping by, finding jobs as they need them, moving from city to city, from country to country. This young lady walked barefoot by choice. She strolled down the street with a dog on a leash and a hiking stick in the other hand. Beside her was another “traveler,” what I’ve been calling them being as “tourist” seems entirely inappropriate a term, talking about his decision to live in Guatemala for a season. The crowded streets make it easy to hear one another’s conversations, and seeing as how they spoke English, it was the only conversation of interest at the time.

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