Friday, March 25, 2016

What's so good about Good Friday?

This morning, my husband said, "I've never known why we call today 'Good Friday.' What's so good about it?

I tried to give an answer that made sense - we call it "good" only because we can look back at it from this perspective. Jesus was crucified and a few days later, he rose from the dead. He overcame death, the thing that frightens most of us most of all. It's good because Christ showed us power over even the worst suffering and death itself.

And I believe every word of that is true.
But still...
But still...

Death sucks.
Execution sucks.
Suffering sucks.
Waiting sucks.

I am a mother who has seen her children suffer.
I am a mother who sees her child suffering. In pain. Afraid.
I have wept and still weep with and for my children.

But I have never seen a child of mine arrested, tried, tortured, and sentenced to death.
I have not seen a child of mine be executed.
I have not seen a child of mine buried.
Mary, the mother of our Lord, saw all of that.
There was nothing good about that day for her -
perhaps except for the fact that her son didn't live too long on the cross.
His suffering ended relatively quickly that fateful, faithful day.

Today I spoke to a woman whose son is suffering.
She knows that I have traveled down the same road a little longer than she has.
But I didn't have any answers for her. I don't have any solutions for her.
I looked at her and listened to her, answered her questions as best I could,
and then we wished each other the best as we went back to loving our hurting children.
Tears filled our eyes. Horror filled our hearts. Along with love. So much love.

What was so good about Good Friday today, about the time I spent with that beautiful, heartbroken, terrified, hopeful mother?
I got to talk to her and walk with her and share a few moments with her.
I sat and talked with a dear, dear friend for an hour or so, sharing stories about the places in our hearts and minds that hurt the most these days.
I talked to another friend on the phone and she reminded me of the importance of enjoying the chocolate chip cookies and a glass of wine and the company of my husband and son, even in the midst of another dark chapter of our life as a family.

But still...
But still..

It's gonna be a while before I can truly understand what has been good about today,
what's good about this situation,
what's good about this prolonged sojourn through the valley of so many shadows.
It's gonna be a while before I understand how any of this is working together for good.
Before I understand how any of this is tied to hope and a future.
A good long while.

I do believe, Lord,
Please help my unbelief.
Help me to trust that all shall be well again. Someday.
Help me see beyond this sadness and sorrow.

It is Friday. Sunday is coming.
In the meantime, darkness descends.
In the meantime, hope wanes.
In the meantime, tears flow.
In the meantime, sorrow runs deep.
In the meantime, we watch and wait.
In the meantime, we pray for resurrection.

Deep sighs.
Deep groans.
Deep sorrow.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016


Darkness and light.
Peace and chaos.
Sorrow and rejoicing.
Pain and relaxation.
Health and illness.
Anger and hope.
Trust and hopelessness.
Silent and raging.

Why her and why not her?
Why us and why not us?
Why them and why not them?

How do we balance our hopes and expectations for healing and wholeness with patience and trust that all shall be well? That there is hope and a future?

I've spent a lot of time reading and pondering the Biblical account of the raising of Lazarus from the dead in John 11. His sisters sent a message to their friend, Jesus, informing him that their brother was sick. 

"Lord, the one you love is sick."
The one you love is in the hospital. 
The one you love is afraid.
The one you love is looking for a job.
The one you love is hurting.

When Jesus got the message, he stayed where he was for two days.
And then took several more days to arrive at the home of the three sibling,
but Lazarus was already dead.
Sick. Hospice care. Deceased. Dead. Gone

"If you had been here, my brother would not have died."
If you had been here, my child would not be sick.
If you had been here, my marriage would not be ending.
If you had been here, my church would not be imploding.
If you had been here, those bombings wouldn't have happened.
If you had been here, he wouldn't have hit me or cursed at me.
Where are you? Where have you been?

Jesus saw Mary and Martha and their friends in sorrow, in grief, and Jesus wept.
Does Jesus weep with us now, in our suffering and sorrow?

What if Jesus is with us AND we still have to go through this sorrow?
What if our friends and family love us AND we still have to go through this sorrow?
What if there is hope and a future AND we still have to go through this sorrow?
Both hope and sorrow.
Both love and sorrow.
Both Jesus and sorrow.

The good news for Mary, Martha, and Lazarus is that Jesus raised him from the dead.
Called him out of the tomb.
Celebration. Rejoicing.

Around here, we are waiting for resurrection.
For new life. For restoration, healing, wholeness, and true freedom.
Clinging to hope, pleading for relief.
Outside the tomb, waiting for new life to emerge.

Sunday, March 06, 2016

Is it well? Yes, it is well.

I love me some old Gospel hymns.
In four part harmony.
Sung with organ and piano.
Preferably with a choir.
A swaying choir of powerful voices.

Great is thy faithfulness
To God by the Glory
Blessed Assurance
When we all get to heaven
I must tell Jesus
Stand up, Stand up for Jesus
It is Well with my soul

That last one is on my mind today, this past week, for the past two weeks, actually.
Here are a few lines from that great old hymn of the church:

When peace like a river attendeth my way,

If you have read any of my ramblings in the past, you know that I spend much of my time looking for and finding reasons to be grateful. Peace like a river has attended my way for much of my life. I have traveled extensively - and safely. I have loved and been loved. I have worked with wise and kind-hearted people. My friends call me and text me and come visit me and meet me in cities and towns all over this country and even internationally. They tell me and they show me that they love me. I have seen beauty and I have felt deep joy. Even my dog seems to like me these days - and she is a picky dog. Peace, joy, hope, love, trust, grace, mercy have indeed followed me and guided me and filled me and surrounded me in these 50 years I have lived. I am enormously, profoundly, overwhelmingly grateful.

When sorrows like sea billows roll,

At the other end of the bell-shaped curve, as my dear friend, Karen, says, I have seen darkness. I have known sorrow. I watched my beloved father breathe his last labored breath fifteen years ago this month. I was laid low by breast kanswer. I have watched my children suffer heartbreak, physical injury, and mental and emotional anguish. I have sat on the floor in my bedroom, in my study, in our family room back in Connecticut and here in North Carolina and wept over the horrors of September 11th, 2001, the earthquake and tsunami in Japan, the earthquake in Haiti, civil war and genocide in Rwanda, shootings in schools and theaters and on the streets of our nation, and the untimely deaths of people I love and people that are loved by people I love.

Whatever my lot, thou has taught me to say,
"It is well, it is well with my soul."

What is my lot? My lot is sorrow and joy.
My lot is plenty and little.
Worry and peace.
Health and illness.
Anger and love.
Trust and suspicion.
Power and helplessness.
I've felt it all. I feel it all right now.
What I like about this line and the chorus that follows is this:
It doesn't say, "It is well with my body." Or "It is well with my family."
Or "It is well with my school work or my job or my marriage or my house."
In truth, it is well with most of those things right now.
Not all of those things, but most of those things.
But that's not what the song declares. That's not what the Bible declares.
What it says is this: It is well with my soul.
With my soul, peace. With my soul, hope.
With God in my soul, strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow.

The Apostle Paul penned a letter to the church in Philippi from a prison cell
- and he wrote about being contented - even in prison.
He told the recipients of his letter: be anxious for nothing
(I haven't lived up to that one...)
but in everything by prayer and petition
(I do a whole lot of praying and petitioning, for sure)
with thanksgiving
(even at the times I'm anxious? even then, Paul? even then, Lord?)
present your requests to God.
(I have no shortage of requests, of pleas, of cries for mercy, grace and help in our time of need)
And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.
(There it is - that place, that moment, that ability to say, to sing, to believe, to know
that it is well with my soul. Take a deep breath, Gail. Take another one. Know that your heart and mind are guarded in Christ Jesus.)

Chorus - It is well with my soul. It is well, it is well with my soul.

Even when all is not well with my body,
when all is not well with my children,
when all is not well in my church or my city or my country,
it can be well, indeed, it is well with my soul.
Deep breath. Deep sigh.

Though satan should buffet, though trials should come,

In John 16:33, Jesus is coming to the end of a long discourse with his disciples, shortly before he is arrested and condemned to die on the cross. He said, "I have said this to you, so that in me you may have peace. In the world, you face persecution. But take courage, I have conquered the world." Another translation of the Bible says, "In this world, you will have trouble. But take heart; I have overcome the world." So trouble and trials should not be a surprise. They certainly aren't a surprise to God. Trouble and trials, persecution and pain are part of everyone's lot in life. I don't know anyone who walks this world unscathed, unscarred by the atrocities of disease, death, loss, pain, fear, loneliness, abandonment, mental illness, kanswer, financial insecurity or concern. And there are billions of people who wish they had a job to lose, a house to take care of, and children to fret over. There are countless people who wish they had the option and opportunity to choose which megalomaniac to vote for in the next election. Trials come. Trials are inevitable. For everyone.

Let this blest assurance control:
That Christ hath regarded my helpless estate,
And hath shed his own blood for my soul.

Helplessness sucks.
I've been wallowing in helplessness for a couple of weeks now.
There is nothing I can do. Nothing I can say.
I can't fix it. I can't fix him. I can't fix her.
I can't do anything at all. But wait. And pray.
Advocate for my beloved one, yes. Speak up for the cast down, absolutely.
But I can't fix anything or anybody.
I can't change the medical system or the school system or the political system.
I wish I could, but I just can't.
I will probably keep trying, but my efforts are likely to be of no avail.
Perhaps someday I will accept the fact that it's okay to stop trying so hard,
and learn to live life on life's terms.

The thought that God came to earth in Christ,
that Christ wept with those who mourned,
that Christ touched and healed lepers, blind people, those who were crippled,
those whose minds were out of their control,
that Christ sat with, ate with, talked to, and seemed to prefer
the helpless ones, the outcast ones, the lonely ones, the rejected ones -
knowing all of that gives me hope in my hopeless times,
joy in my joyless times,
peace in my stormy times.
And those times come frequently - they don't come to stay.
They do come to pass, but they do come.
For as much as I continually hope otherwise, I have not been spared.

Just as Christ saw the woman at the well, the one who came by herself, and he sat with her,
just as Christ saw the woman accused of adultery, the one who was dragged to the temple in anticipation of being executed, and he talked with her,
just as Christ saw Mary and Martha weeping over the death of their brother, and he wept with them,
just as Christ saw the men on the road to Emmaus, and he walked with them, listened to their story of hopelessness, and explained why things had to happen the way they did,
just as Christ regarded and honored and accompanied them in their helpless estate,
Christ also has regarded my helplessness and my despair.
Christ's healing power has shown up through the presence of doctors, nurses, and medical technicians who have provided protection and solace and comfort.
Christ's comforting presence has shown up in the visits, meals, cards, messages of support from as far away as India and Denmark and Spain and Connecticut and New York City and New Jersey,
and as close as the generous neighbors who live next door.
Christ shows up with wounds still visible, reminders of his own suffering, his own loss, his pain, his helplessness, his death - and also his victory over all of that.
Glory! Hallelujah! I am grateful - tearful and grateful.

I know, I know - it's a crazy story.
But it is my story.
This is my crazy faith story. This is my crazy life story.
With all of its upheavals and deep valleys.
With all of its joy and its soul-rending sorrow.
With everything and everyone in various states of emergency and delusion.

It is well with my soul. It is well, it is well with my soul.

A medley that includes "It is well with my soul."

If you need a slow song to remind you of the power of praise - I will Praise Him Still

If upbeat gospel music is your preference, Whitney Houston's rendition of "Hold On, Help is on the Way" has brought a smile to my weepy face several times in these past two weeks.