Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Drenched


Blood washes.
“…they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.”
Rev 7:14

Blood cleanses.
“In fact, the law requires that nearly everything be cleansed with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness.”
Hebrews 9:22


Blood frees.
“…To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood…” Rev 1:5

Blood pours.
“This is the blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.”
Matthew 26:28

It is an age-old image of the cross of Jesus Christ.

The pouring of blood that saves.

Maybe I saw it painted. Or heard it depicted in a sermon.

The image of stepping up to the cross of Christ and letting his blood coat and cleanse me from sin.

It is a powerful (paradoxical) impression that goes back to my childhood.

I still believe it is true.

I believe I am welcomed to that cross. To be cleansed and freed.

But.

Blood wasn’t the only thing that poured on that remarkable day.

And it isn’t the only thing meant to wash over me as His Follower.

There was a total experience. A devastating and delivering one.

Derision.

“Those who passed by hurled insults at him, shaking their heads and saying, ‘So! You who are going to destroy the temple and build it in three days, come down from the cross and save yourself!’ In the same way the chief priests and the teachers of the law mocked him among themselves, ‘He saved others,’ they said, ‘but he can’t save himself! Let this Christ, this King of Israel, come down now from the cross, that we may see and believe.’ Those crucified with him also heaped insults on him.”
Mark 15:29-32

The anguished, sorrowing cry of rejection.

“About the ninth hour Jesus cried out in a loud voice, ‘Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?’ which means, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
Matthew 27:46

Goodbye and sacrificial release.

“When Jesus saw his mother there, and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to his mother, ‘Dear woman, here is your son,’ and to the disciple, ‘Here is your mother.’ From that time on, this disciple took her into his home.”
John 19:26-27

Physical need.

“…Jesus said, ‘I am thirsty.”
John 19:28b

Forgiveness.

“When they came to the place called the Skull, there they crucified him, along with the criminals—one on his right, the other on his left. Jesus said, ‘Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing…”
Luke 23:33-34

Forgiveness?

Hanging naked before the world. Spit on, scarred and dying.

“Father forgive them…”

As the anguish poured.

As the rejection resounded.

As the accusations were spoken and believed.

While everyone was still sinning.

Forgiveness poured. Right along with His blood. The two cannot and will not be separated.

This message, this truth, which I have heard and believed always, is coming alive in me in a whole new way. Exuding life where I have forgotten to breath.

Christ’s Mercy, spoken from the cross, has been a thing I attain to; a heart I aspire to train into.

Something I keep trying to do myself.

Inevitably, painful heartbreak trips me up. 

That insult. That injustice. Those people.

Where there is injury. Where I am wronged. Where I hurt.

There, my eyes can examine the wound so closely and feel the pain so acutely that forgiveness can feel very far beyond my own hard, shattered heart.

It makes no difference where I seek solace. In church. In service. In anger. In tears. Surrounded by friends. All alone.

I find Him in each of those places. Waiting and receiving.

Knowing.

He has my cup already poured.

I receive His forgiveness for me readily. I guzzle the grace right down. I understand that His Love, His Mercy, His Sacrifice does all the doing where my own forgiveness is concerned.

And then, refreshed and thirst quenched I turn to give to the world.

I turn.

My gaze turns.

My heart turns.

(pause)

The motive is fine.

To give what I have been given.

Only.

It doesn’t always work.

No matter how holy my words sound or how generous my actions may appear. My heart can still hold on to things it should not.

I am hearing…

In the very hardest places.

Where there is destruction. Where there is pervasive grief.

He continually calls my gaze back.

Locks it in.

To his eyes that eternally reflect the cross. And the cup.

All that was poured.

I so badly need that communion, because the forgiveness is going to kill me.

“I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me…”

That I might have life…

“…The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”
Galatians 2:20

He knows that connection to Him, the One who speaks on my behalf, is the only way.


“…Christ Jesus who died---more than that, who was raised to life---is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us…”
Romans 8:34

“My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have an advocate with the Father—Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.”
I John 2: 1-2


He shed the blood. And spoke the forgiveness.

Together.

In my place. He bled and forgave. In my place.

He was forgiving me for all.

And he was forgiving all with me.

It was a complete work. A total work.

A giving that would wrap all of me up.

His presence. His Love is the imperative. There is no Healing outside of Him.

So.

In the face of the most painful injustices. The most searing accusations. The most costly loss.

From every shattered place.

I am invited.

To step right back under that cross I love.

To be coated and covered; filled and set free by…

His forgiveness for All.

I just have to get up underneath it. And let it with all it’s mighty grace, continue to do it’s work in me.

Covered.

Immersed.

Guzzling.

Drenched.

He forever attached forgiveness to anguish.

He made the impossible, Possible.

Eyes fixed on His, I hear Him declare:

“It is finished.”
 John 19:30

Let it be, dear Savior.

Let. It. Be. 

Monday, March 24, 2014

Equipped


“As for God, his way is perfect; the word of the LORD is flawless….”
2 Samuel 22:31

We don’t choose who our parents will be.

Or where our parents will live.

Or what our parents will do for a job.

“It is God who arms me with strength and makes my way perfect.”
2 Samuel 22:33


Our Girl arrived to us in East Africa sixteen years ago.

To grow up. Where we chose to be.

I prayed many, many times for her to be supplied with all she would need to thrive in this place.

Her situation would be unique in experience and in opportunity. It would also be rich with challenge.

God has been so very faithful.

“…but the Lord was my support. He brought me out into a spacious place….”
2Samuel 22:19-20

Months ago, Our Girl came to me and said she had some wishes for her sixteenth birthday celebration.

She wanted special dates with all of her dearest friends.

My mind raced as to how we could pull that off…

She smiled.

And caught me up.

“Isaac likes to swim and play pool—I can go with him on a lunch date and do both of those things.”

Isaac.

She continued…

“Silas loves camping out—so I can camp out with him one night and play cards in the tent outside.”

We were both smiling then.

“Alex and I have a list of movies and TV shows we want to watch, so we could have a marathon movie night with fun snacks and lots of laughs.”

Her best friend, Alex.


“We could go to breakfast together, Mom…”

Our favorite get-away-from-it-all treat.



“And Dad. I’d love to go on a fancy date with Dad.”

I knew he would be honored.

We schemed for how to locate a new, fun dress for her special date. And we made arrangements with these, all of her dearest friends, for celebrating her big week.

Our whole family plus Derrick would cap off the festivities with High Tea on her actual birthday.





I watched her roll through her week of dates, treasuring each in my heart.

This life we live requires making do and flexibility.

How amazing to realize she was doing neither throughout this week.

She really was celebrating with her dearest friends.

How very often my Cashlings teach me.

“Then this city will bring me renown, joy, praise and honor before all nations on earth that hear of all the good things I do for it; and they will be in awe and will tremble at the abundant prosperity and peace I provide for it.”
Jeremiah 33:9

God promised, through Jeremiah, that his restoration of and provision for Jerusalem would proclaim Him “before all nations on earth.”

This. Exactly this, is what I hear in the lives of my family.

Our Father Provides. And supplies. And gives.

Not ‘sort of.’

All the way.

I, the Mama, stand in trembling awe to see Yahweh Jireh pour good things into the lives of my beloved ones.

“The LORD lives! Praise be to my Rock! Exalted be God, the Rock, my Savior!”
2 Samuel 22:47

“…he shows unfailing kindness to his anointed…”
2 Samuel 22:51

God’s blessings on you, my Beautiful Girl, as you continue to walk out this perfectly designed trail.
Your faithfulness and joy in your journey inspire me every day.
I am breathless to witness God’s incredible provision in you.
His way is perfect.
And He never fails.
So grateful to learn with you.
Happy birthday!
Always, Mama

“May the God of peace…equip you with everything good for doing his will, and may he work in us what is pleasing to him, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.”
Hebrews 13:20-21



Sunday, March 16, 2014

"Keep writing"


Words matter. They can so deeply effect. I have my favorites. Words that reach into my most sacred, treasured spaces and bless.
The words, ‘keep writing’ are ones I remember. Each beautiful soul that speaks affirmation into this, my dream, becomes a part of the experience of laying words on a page. My heart is full today as I grieve the passing of one of my dear encouragers. The weaving of his family into my story is a beautiful memory. Worthy of honor and retelling. It has been sweet to recall…

My heart pulled to foreign missionary service from my childhood. Key conversations and stories of God’s work in Thailand from the beautiful hearts of Art and Judy Lynch opened the door for me. From elementary school on, the high points of my growing up years were the mission trips and ministry training.

With eyes keenly trained on news from Thailand, I set my heart to quietly glean the experience of mission life.

My experience as a youth minister’s daughter, afforded me short-term mission opportunities every summer for most of my life.

I was the pip-squeak, tag-along helper but I embraced every opportunity to learn about service and teaching, draining those experiences of every ounce of knowledge.

I served koolaid, stocked supplies, joined in with classes and chased the more difficult children when the teenagers needed help.

I set up puppet stages and followed my Dad around paying close attention to how ministry worked.

Sheridan, Wyoming. Enid, Texas. Taos, New Mexico.

Churches that welcomed my Dad’s youth groups to lead Vacation Bible Schools and go door knocking.

I have dear memories from each of these places, but it is Taos that would influence me the most.

It was in the tiny foyer of the Taos church of Christ building that I first met Harold & Sally Paden.

I learned quickly that Harold and Sally had been missionaries in Italy. So I found the quiet corners near them and listened.

I loved Sally. She had a warm smile and eyes that really paid attention when you talked. I can’t remember what I said to her, but I know she took a shine to me and I hovered in her presence as often as I could.

Sally loved people, genuinely. And I learned from her.

At the end of my first week in Taos, Sally pulled me aside, wrapped me in a tight hug and said, “Cheryl, you are special to me.  I am drawn to our conversations and to your heart. I see Jesus in you. Fan that flame, girl. Fan that flame! He has big plans for you.”

It was a long, long time ago (I was in the 6th grade) and I might not remember the words with accuracy, but my goodness, I remember that feeling.

Sally spoke affirmation to my deepest hearts desire. I told her that I wanted to be a missionary some day and that I had no idea how to make that happen.

She told me that I was making that happen every day by loving Jesus and seeking his face.

Sally taught me. She quickly became one of my heroes.

I was blessed by time with Harold and Sally. I learned that life is bumpy and can be uncomfortable and that mission work is hard.

But Jesus is worth it. Worth it all.

I didn’t know it then, but Sally and I would always be linked. In beautiful ways.

Sally’s dear friend from college was named Phyllis Small. Sally and Phyllis had many conversations about foreign missions and found a strong bond in their mutual dreams of serving God in that venue.

Sally, who Phyllis describes as a ‘very bright star’, would serve in missions—foreign and domestic for most of her adult life. Phyllis, too, would live her life in service. She married and together with her husband Glenn invested years of work and influence into Christian Education and the growth of the church in their beloved Northwest.

Phyllis and Glenn would also have four children, one of whom would become my husband, Jeff. 

Sally and Phyllis’ dreams for missions linked further than they imagined. They would both deeply influence two kids, who would ultimately meet and serve together in Uganda for many years.

Funny how God weaves us all together.

Sally and I lost contact for a long while after my Taos years. We would meet again some time later in Tyler, Texas.

Sally’s parents were named Edwin and Kathleen. They lived and served in Tyler, as did Sally’s brother John and his wife Jerri. 

Edwin was an elder at Glenwood church of Christ and the dearest of men. He and Kathleen and John and Jerri were like family to my own family.

My uncle and aunt, who worked at the Glenwood congregation, told many loving (and funny!) stories of the Rasco family, so I knew them to be dear and strong.

It would be some time before I connected Sally to the Tyler Rascos but when I did it fit perfectly.

I loved them all.

In 2002, God joined the Cash family with the Glenwood congregation. They became our overseeing church.

Edwin’s respected voice was instrumental in our acceptance at Glenwood all those years ago. He spoke affirmation and assurance into our life and calling. Affirmation I had heard many years before in the voice of his daughter. Edwin and Kathleen wrapped us up in love and warmth. They supported us in our broken places and reminded us that God’s plans prevail.

Edwin and Kathleen were physically frail in the years I knew them, but their hearts were so strong in Christ. I loved being with them.



Sally came to visit her family during our initial stay in Tyler. We were thrilled to reconnect. She smiled knowingly into my eyes, realizing with me that God had given me the desires of my heart.

And that it was all harder than I had imagined it would be. She squeezed my hand and spoke in love and reminded me to Whom I belonged.

In the foyer of Glenwood, Sally pulled me aside to tearfully tell me of her Alzheimer’s diagnosis.

We both cried. But she quickly brushed away my tears.

“Cheryl, this diagnosis is forcing me to say all the important things. While I can still remember them. And to you, I say ‘I love you!’ You are special and God’s plans for you are glorious to see and witness. I believe in you and I know you can endure and serve with grace and beauty. Eyes fixed on Jesus, girl. Eyes fixed on Jesus.”

Sally’s voice and those precious words stay with me still. Her memory would fade in the following years as her sickness progressed and she along with her parents would, one by one, move on to be with Jesus. Healed and free.

Just where they always wanted to be.

Thankfully, my Rasco connections would continue.

In our years of partnership with the Glenwood congregation, John and Jerri Rasco became some of my favorite people to have around.

They were quiet. But present.

And their voice of support meant the absolute world to me.

Jerri was my Aunt Pat’s dearest friend, which made her tops in my book too. Jerri’s gentle presence comforted (comforts) me. Always makes me feel like family is near.

And John.

John Rasco.

He and I spoke of his family often. People we both loved so dearly. He had witnessed my tearful exchange with Sally that day at Glenwood and loved me as she did. I don’t know how I came to deserve that.

Every single furlough. Every single Tyler visit. In the crowds and the reporting and all the busy-ness that surrounds our Tyler time…John would pull me aside for one reason only.

“Your blog, Cheryl. Your writing. I must tell you. I am compelled to exhort you: Keep writing. You must keep writing.”

He would cry when he said it. And he would hug me tight.

He said this every time we spoke. He said this in crucial moments, that he could not have even been aware of. Moments when I needed to be reminded of purpose and value.

How in the world those Rascos would be called to say exactly what I needed to hear; words that would echo and inspire me in obedience and joy.

That mercy is Christ. Him, our First Love, at work among us. It is real. And whole.

It is unique.

A fellowship I depend on for many lonely months on the field.

This week, John reunited with his parents and his sister, Sally.

Such emotion to think of them all sitting with Jesus, sharing face to face.

John went suddenly, unexpectedly to a glorious home. I know he found his room ready.

My heart breaks for all who will miss him here.

I am one of those.

I don’t know why God joins our story with certain people. But I just know that He does.

Thank you, John, for believing in me. And for saying it.

For listening to Jesus and acting as He led you.

With your confidence and encouragement multiplying strength in me, I will keep writing. You have become a part of all of my stories.

Blessing does that. It holds and influences.

In Christ, blessing expands.

We’ll see you soon, dear Rascos.

Until then we’ll strive to pay your blessings forward.

You’ve left a beautiful heritage in every one of us you have loved.

Come, Lord Jesus, Come.




Wednesday, March 12, 2014

How Can We Know?


“The Lord had said to Abram, ‘Leave your country, your people and your father’s household and go to the land I will show you.’
 ‘I will make you into a great nation and I will bless you…and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.’
So Abram left, as the Lord had told him;”
Genesis 12: 1-4

“But Abram said, ‘O Sovereign Lord, what can you give me since I remain childless… You have given me no children; so a servant in my household will be my heir.”

“Then the word of the Lord came to him… ‘Look up at the heavens and count the stars---if indeed you can count them… So shall your offspring be.”

“Abram believed the Lord, and he credited it to him as righteousness.”

“But Abram said, ‘O Sovereign Lord, how can I know…”
Genesis 15:2-6;8

I was sitting in an empty space when these words trumpeted, echoing into my fears.

My expectations were not being met and in the vacancy of disappointment I heard Abram’s cry in my own:

“O Sovereign Lord, how can I know…”

Abram received a calling buoyed by big promises. He followed with obedience and belief.

The results were years of hollow silence and endless waiting.

In the stillness of my own unanswered hopes, I hear Abram and Sarai chuckle into my ear…

“Obedience can look and feel barren.”

Called away from their home community and promised God’s faithfulness, with absolutely nothing to show for it for many, many bloody months, Sarai and Abram walked to the consistent cadence of “no,” and “not yet.”  They lived with a barrenness that was regular and routine. A barrenness that constantly whispered the threat of ‘never’, leaving residue of abandonment and loss.

Obedience and grief so often go hand in hand.

Reading this truth in the hallowed story of Abraham relieves me (I'm not weird!).

And it frustrates me (I want obedience and ABUNDANCE to walk right beside each other!).

“Oh Sovereign Lord, how can I know…”

It is easy to celebrate success and accumulation. Accumulation of material goods, or esteem or degrees or dollars…this we can feel blessing in and see with our eyes.

The picture of what we have can be posted into the world around us as proof of our value. As proof that God is involved.

Abraham and Sarah’s story teaches that God is involved in other scenarios too.

Scenarios that hurt.

In scenarios that appear empty.

When desolate circumstances linger, it can be tempting to meddle and stew toward my own solutions.

To look for a Hagar to solve the problem.

“Now Sarai, Abram’s wife had borne him no children. But she had an Egyptian maidservant named Hagar; so she said to Abram, ‘The Lord has kept me from having children. Go, sleep with my maidservant; perhaps I can build a family through her.”
Genesis 16:1-2

Sarai (with Abram’s willing participation) jumps ahead of God's perfectly designed plan. They usher Hagar into an equation where she wasn't supposed to be. Consequence does follow, much of it negative and hurtful, but God stayed in all of it.

And He revealed Himself (The God Who Sees) in a whole new way.

There is a VERY wide zone in the story of Abraham and his family. There is trust and belief, yes, (especially on the part of Abraham). But there is also disbelief, and mockery, and doubt and lack of patience. Good decisions, bad decisions. Good behavior, bad behavior. God saw it all. He stayed with it all. He promised. He purposed. He blessed. And He never strayed from the plan He had chosen already.

Into the messy entanglements they brought on themselves, God continued to love.

Into the pounding ache of prolonged frustration, God continued to love.

He made himself known.

“Against all hope, Abraham in hope believed…”
Romans 4:18a


In betrayals and heartbreaks. In the waiting seasons we writhe underneath, I can hear our very consistent God say:

I am not surprised or confused by your current circumstance.
“He is before all things and in him all things hold together.”
Colossians 1:17

And the barren days you endure, are not what they seem.
“…the God who gives life to the dead and calls things that are not as though they were.”
Romans 4:17b

They are Me alongside you, in such a way that nobody can miss it.
Presence is my Promise.
I have always and I will continue to be With.
“…be content with what you have, because God has said, ‘Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.”
Hebrews 13:5

Know me. Acknowledge me by Name.
“Because he loves me,’ says the Lord, ‘I will rescue him; I will protect him, for he acknowledges my name.”
Psalm 91:14

El Roi.
“She gave this name to the Lord who spoke to her: ‘You are the God who sees me…”
Genesis 16:13

Yahweh Shammah.
‘The Lord is There.’
“In all their distress he too was distressed, and the angel of his presence saved them…”
Isaiah 63:9a

Immanuel.
“...which means, ‘God with us.”
Matt 1:23b


When silence echoes around me and my eyes grow tired of the strain of watchful waiting; when my heart feels burdened with the weight of emptiness, the laughter of an aging and wrinkled mother fills my soul.

“Now the Lord was gracious to Sarah as he had said and the Lord did for Sarah what he had promised.”
Genesis 21:1

“In his love and mercy he redeemed them; he lifted them up and carried them…”
Isaiah 63:9b

Friday, March 07, 2014

Symptoms


“Trust in the Lord with all your heart
and lean not on your own understanding;”
Proverbs 3:5

*There were headaches. Migraines. Three in a row.

My migraine meds, priced as if made of pure gold, are in fact worth every penny but precious in their scarcity (I cannot buy the meds in Uganda.) I stopped with the migraine treatment after the third headache and worked with just Advil to stave off the worst of the pain.

The headaches dulled a bit but held. For several weeks.

*We were watching a movie with the kiddos and I could hardly stand to look at the TV. The light from the screen was piercing my eyes and made me feel disoriented.

I made a mental note of this and began to also measure how difficult it was to look at my phone. I dimmed the light on every screen I used, but realized I was avoiding screen time because of physical pain.

I prayed for the headaches to ease.

*The rash started nearly 6 weeks ago. On my right abdomen. It was small but itchy.

Over the weeks the rash spread slowly and became a constant irritation.

I treated it with hydrocortisone and tried to figure out what was causing my allergic reaction.

*Many times over the last weeks, I reached a point of the day and realized I couldn’t hold my head up. I was exhausted and couldn’t point to any difficult work that would leave me so worn. 

*Meanwhile, three of us cycled stomach illness. Jeff, Kinley and I have treated stomach ailments twice in the last two months, but despite the treatment, continue in the up and down cycle of illness and relief.

Symptoms.

I could not piece them all together and solve the puzzle.

I simply dealt with the loudest one of the moment and carried on.

But I was getting worse.

And feeling deeply discouraged at my discomfort.

Sometimes, symptoms thunder in such a stampede that we can’t make good sense of them without help.

“…in all your ways acknowledge him,
and he will make your paths straight.”
Proverbs 3:6


A dearest friend and an objective, well-trained doctor diagnosed my sickness in the swift course of a few text messages two days ago.

Shingles.

Jeff had suggested that as an option several weeks ago, but we had dismissed it because I did not feel the extreme nerve pain in the area of the rash.

I did not associate the constant headache to the rash. But it was connected.

Once a doctor had seen the rash and diagnosed shingles we were immediately connecting every dot.

Of course.

I now have an effective course of treatment.

But.

My meds are wearing me out further, making me feel dizzy. I sit and rest and wonder how long my family can manage this catch-as-catch-can existence.  I long to be back at full strength.

I’m learning.

“Do not be wise in your own eyes; fear the Lord and shun evil.
This will bring health to your body and nourishment to your bones.” Proverbs 3:7


Sometimes we have every piece to the puzzle but for the life of us we cannot find the solution on our own.

It is okay to ask for help.

The care of others and a treatment plan renew hope and sustain.

It is okay to ask for help.

Sometimes, in our struggles and weakness, things get worse before they get better.
(Sometimes things just get worse.)

It is okay to ask for help.

The right medicines are not always readily accessible.

It is okay to ask for help.

The search for the correct medicine can weary further.

It is okay to ask for help.

Dosage and duration of treatment is very important and without proper information can be easily misdirected.

It is okay to ask for help.

Committing to treatment can be even more exhausting than the sickness itself.

It is okay to ask for help.

Healing takes investment and the hard disciplined work of sitting still and waiting.

It is okay to ask for help.

I do not automatically do what is best and wisest. I constantly have to choose how to direct my energy and where to fix my eyes.

It is okay to ask for help.

Treating the sickness feels hopeful, but when the healing effects are not quickly realized, discouragement can pour in louder than before.

It is okay to ask for help.

God is offering mercy into the scenario even we do not understand it yet ourselves.

It is okay to ask for help.

Sending a picture of a rash via text message feels…weird and vulnerable.

It is okay to ask for help.

Vulnerability is required for healing. (Dang. It.)

It is okay to ask for help.

I may not just be talking about Shingles.

It is okay to ask for help.


Healing IS Redemption IS God.

It is one of His Names.

A part of His Identity.

Yahweh Rophe.

“The LORD who heals.”

“But for you who revere my name, the sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its wings and you will go out and leap like calves released from the stall.”
Malachi 4:2

With Him, in Him, we are always getting better. Being made new. Being set free.

Pain. Discomfort. Exhaustion.

These are indicators.

These are signs.

They are pointing us to a thing that needs to be tended. Or treated. To a thing that may need to go.

Symptoms are, with increasing intensity, asking for our full attention.

So that we can be made well.

We need the symptoms.

We need the help.

He stands ready.

To do for us according to his Great Name.

“Praise the Lord, O my soul; all my inmost being, praise his holy name.
Praise the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits—
who forgives all your sins
and heals all your diseases
who redeems your life from the pit
and crowns you with love and compassion,
who satisfies your desires with good things so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.”
 Psalm 103:1-5





Sunday, January 05, 2014

She Did What She Could


Jeff bought them in Egypt. Three alabaster jars. His journey to bring the Cessna 206 to Uganda carried him across oceans, seas and continents and was nearing it’s end as he finally landed on African soil. He  spent several days in Egypt.

He was thrilled to bring me the alabaster treasures.

He had them wrapped very carefully and he carried them with him so that they would not get broken among all the other baggage.

Two of the three jars made it perfectly intact.

One was shattered.

I think it is my favorite.

“While he was in Bethany, reclining at the table in the home of  a man known as Simon the Leper a woman came with an alabaster jar of very expensive perfume, made of pure nard. She broke the jar and poured the perfume on his head.” Mark 14:3

I unwrapped every broken piece of alabaster, then, and I have kept them all these years. I couldn’t part with them. They were my gift from my husband and even those pieces held value for me. 

The two solid jars stand beautifully in my kitchen. We marvel at the transparency of the clay pots when a candle burns in them. You can see the light straight through. Such beauty.


But I don’t see them every day. They are up. And whole. Among other treasures that all blend together creating a complete, warm picture.

The shattered pieces, though,  are a daily sight, always with me. They sit in my closet, in a dusty heap. No one else sees them or even knows they are there.

But those broken pieces cannot be tossed because they are far too precious in meaning and cost.

He carried them all the way from Egypt.

Because he was thinking of me.

“Some of those present were saying indignantly to one another, 'Why this waste of perfume? It could have been sold for more than a year’s wages and the money given to the poor.' And they rebuked her harshly.” Mark 14:4-5

To some these may look like trash. Pieces of rubble that should be cleared out to create space for something new and whole.

But to me they are sacred rubble.

They are a memorial.

That season, a decade ago, was exhausting for both of us. We had three tiny ones and one more arriving fast. We were often sleep deprived and over-worked. We were in over our heads with dreams and calling and commitments—all for good purpose---but our gasping overexerted breaths created haggard space around us.

Jeff had been gone for nearly five weeks on his ferry flight which seemed like an eternity to this (then) pregnant wife.  Our connection during those weeks had been limited to short, informative phone calls assuring me of safe landings and the next day’s scheduled take-off. I was grateful to know of his safety, but I ached for more meaningful contact with my best friend.

I missed him.

God brought him back to me in one whole piece by miracles and prayers and gracious provision that left us speechless.

But we were both keenly aware of the brokenness we had to face. Of the continued setbacks we must rebound from.

He was carrying his back pack when he walked through the airport doors. His journal was inside. His documents.

And my alabaster.

He hoped they weren’t broken. He had gingerly guarded that back pack over so many tumultuous miles.

For me.

“Leave her alone,” said Jesus. “Why are you bothering her? She has done a beautiful thing to me.” Mark 14:6

Jeff arrived with gifts for each child and stories aplenty. We would talk for days (years) about all he had seen and experienced.

But the pottery in his back pack was special. The most expensive. The most fragile. The most carefully guarded.

He grimaced when the broken pieces fell from the layers of cushioned wrappings.

“I was afraid that would happen…”

I gathered each piece with care and assured him that I loved all the shards too.

“Like the story, Jeff. The jar of alabaster with perfume. This will help us to remember…”

And it does.

“I tell you the truth, wherever the gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her.” Mark 14:9

In this Biblical passage (Mark 14) Jesus was only a few days away from agony and fulfillment. His calling was about to be completely realized. And it was going to hurt. He knew it. And he was going anyway.

He was surrounded by people responding to him in diverse ways—some were celebrating healing, believing in him, and serving. Others were hating him and thinking only of themselves.

In the midst of this crowd, one woman offered lavish, unrestrained worship. But she had to break something first.

From the fragmented pieces of gorgeous alabaster, the scent of deepest loving devotion poured out affecting the atmosphere of the entire house.

Indignant ridicule followed, but the sweet scent pervaded anyway.

“…And the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume…” John 12:3b

Jesus spoke, “…She has done a beautiful thing to me. The poor you will always have with you, and you can help them any time you want. But you will not always have me. She did what she could. She poured perfume on my body beforehand to prepare for my burial.” Mark 14:6-8

“She did what she could.”

And then he told them that her action, this story, would be remembered always.

Because it would be retold.

And.

Because we would all live it.

Life shatters sometimes.

No matter how careful we try to be, our cushioned wrappings unfold to splinters and shards and heaps of unusable substance.

But in Christ, the most beautiful worship can be born from our most shattered place.

“She did what she could.”

She chose to break the jar. She chose to spend it all.

All for Christ.

I pulled my alabaster pieces from the closet today. After 10 years, I’ve found their place.

In the center of our table, I arranged them carefully. The place where we meet as a family to eat and to pray and to talk. This is where we bring the moments that mark us as belonging and all our broken pieces belong here too.

To remind us as we gather, that every jagged fragment can exude costly, exorbitant worship.

Our heap of beauty altered. Beauty Altared.

In worship of our Christ.

Sweet mercy.

Our ruptured, rattled, fractured, crushed, smashed up pile of experience emanates the extravagant love that embraces and saves us all.

“But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed.”
Isaiah 53: 5

“Greater love has no one than this…”
John 15:13




*the story of the woman anointing Jesus can be found in Matthew 26:6-13, Mark 14:3-9 and John12: 1-8
Retell it friends, and remember.