Category Archives: Poetry

A Word to Weary Small Group Leaders

After a long day of drop-offs and pick-ups, meetings and meeting needs, opening up our home and our hearts to more people is usually the last thing I naturally want to do. Yet, every time we host a small group or Bible study, I go to bed both tired and satisfied.

I love quiet. I love calm. And these are nearly always on backorder in a household of three growing boys in the context of ministry. I feel like I can barely keep enough food in our pantry for our children. As such, thinking for snacks for weekly guests grows my task list, my grocery bill, and my already-overflowing shopping cart. Keeping up with basic cleaning is a challenge for me, so getting the boys’ shared bathroom in suitable condition for strangers feels like a Herculean task.

However, once the people are finally gathered in our backyard, at our table, or on our couch, all those concerns flee.

Once God has gathered saints and strangers in our home, I am reminded of the priority of persons in the economy of the kingdom. Sentient, living, breathing, burden-bearing souls come to our home each week to be received by other sentient, breathing, burden-bearing souls. We talk about the weather and the latest taco spot, but we also share tidbits of our stories. We multiply each other’s joys and divide each other’s sorrows. For some portion of an evening, we are reminded that there are cares outside the casing of our own hearts.

In the Church, small group leaders do a lot of heavy lifting. They faithfully accommodate their homes and hearts to others. They are tempted to grow weary in well-doing, especially when it does not seem like huge things are happening week in and week out.

This temptation to have drooping hands and hearts is not new to the church. In fact, the writer of Hebrews continually reminded the Jewish believers to keep going in the seemingly ordinary act of regularly meeting together.

“And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day approaching” (Hebrews 10:24-25).

The Kingdom Hinges on Hospitality

For the past 6 months, I have been living in the book of Acts, studying it with multiple groups of people. This time through, a different cast of characters have been standing out to me. And it is not the likely crew of Peter, Barnabas, Paul, and others. It is people like Ananias, Mary, Priscilla and Aquila, Philip, and Jason.

I wonder if Mary was having a long day when the early church decided to gather in her home for a prayer meeting for the recently imprisoned Peter? We don’t get a glimpse into the whirling preparation she likely made to accommodate a group of prayer warriors who would stay through the night. We only know that, after the angel had released Peter, he knew where to find the believers. They would be gathered at Mary’s house. They were in the habit of doing so (Acts 12: 12).

When Jason opened his home in hospitality to Paul and Silas in Thessalonica, he had no idea that such a simple gesture would become so much more. Refusing to give them up a mob, he was dragged out of his own home, brought before authorities, and extorted for funds (Acts 17:1-9).

The kingdom hinges on seemingly small acts of faithfulness. The body of Christ must be housed, fed, and nurtured, both physically and spiritually.

Weary small group leader, don’t grow weary. Keep opening your home and feeding the flock of God placed under your care. Keep making room in your schedule and soul for the household of God.

Let us not grow weary in well doing, for in due season, we will reap, if we do not lost heart. So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith (Galatians 6: 9-10).

I must run now. I’ve snacks to purchase and bathrooms to clean.

When Furrows Fight Back: A Theology of Work

Complaining about work is the adult equivalent of college students complaining about mid-terms and finals. And let’s be real, we all have those days when work feels like a weight too heavy to carry and “Everybody’s working for the weekend” is our theme song.

We are wired for work. Contrary to popular belief, it is not a result of the fall. Challenges in work and struggles with identity around work were most assuredly a consequence of man’s rebellion against God’s created and careful order; however, work itself honors God and is a needed part of human flourishing.

In his pattern of the perfect world He had newly minted, God offered Adam and Eve significant freedom to do significant work on the fresh earth. There were animals to name and gardens to tame. Carl Linnaeus had nothing on them. Work was not a burden, but a particular privilege for those made uniquely in God’s image.

However, in Genesis 3, when God explained the natural consequences of rebellion against His good order, he included work in his description of the curse.

“Cursed is the ground because of you; in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life; thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you; and you shall eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, til you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return” (Genesis 3:17-19).

But its not all thorns and thistles. He who wore a crown of thorns also had hands blistered from the beautiful work of carpentry. As such, both Christ’s active and passive righteousness inform our view of work. Our work is not in vain when done Coram Dei (before the face of God). As those who have been made right with God, we are freed to work under His favor. We don’t work to secure it, we work freely because it has been secured.

One day, in the New Heavens and the New Earth, we will experience meaningful, nuanced work that fits the way we were wired by God. We will roll up our sleeves happily and without stress, without sin, without the haunting need to provide security or provision. For our Christ will be all of those things and we will see Him face to face.

Furrows 

God intended faithful furrows,
The product of purposed labor,
The contented crown of creation
Working out of His full favor. 

Pushing against His protection, 
We sought power and control. 
Collapse and consequent curse 
Thoroughly took a terrible toll. 

Now the furrows fight back 
And enemies plow our backs,
Bruised bodies, furrowed brows,
Heavy plows on tired tracks. 

But the faithful, flawless Son
Gave His body for our flaws. 
His beautiful back was furrowed
To secure redemption’s cause. 

As the beloved, we labor in hope.
We dig furrows, He brings fruit. 
We faithfully cultivate our place,
As branches fed by the root.
 

If the proverbial furrows are fighting back as you work this week, know that the work story is not over yet. If your eyes are stinging from the sweat dropping from your brow, know that one day, those eyes will behold the One who sanctifies our work with His life, death, and resurrection.

Keep your hand on the plow and your eyes on the Pioneer and Perfecter of your faith.

Peace is a Person

Peace, as a concept, is easy to proclaim, but hard to purchase. It makes a good buzzword, but it is a near impossible goal for humanity.

As I write this, rockets rip across the skies in the land where Jesus Himself once walked and two people groups threaten to annihilate each other. As I sip my coffee, churches and families are being ripped apart by political ideological battles, whether they be aggressive or passive aggressive, virtual or actual fronts.To say we need peace is an understatement. To say we cannot achieve it ourselves is also an understatement.

God’s people longed for peace, and understandably so. They knew too much of war, both within and without. They also knew that peace would not be cheap. They innately knew it had to be purchased.

As an anxious soul, I have always had an eye for verses promising peace. In fact, when I first came to Christ, there were two anchor-line verses from Isaiah 26 which I memorized and to which I clung.

You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you. Trust in the Lord forever, for the Lord God is an everlasting rock (Isaiah 26:3-4).

O, Lord, you will ordain peace for us, for you have indeed done for us all our works (Isaiah 26:12).

In both of these Scriptures, God’s people realize that any hope of obtaining or experiencing peace on earth would only come from focusing on the very nature of their God, Yahweh. In a sea of adversity and in waves of shifting regimes and kingdoms, their only anchoring point was in the Rock Everlasting, the One who did not change.

Where they stood in the story of the slowly unraveling history of redemption, God’s people could not see what we see clearly on the other side of the Cross of Christ. They knew that peace could not only come when one’s mind was fully set on God. They did not know that the only One who would ever have His heart fully fixed on God would set His face toward Jerusalem (Luke 9:51). They knew God would ordain peace for them. They did not know that such peace would be purchased through the costly, sacrificial love of God-Himself-made-man (Ephesians 2:14; 1 Peter 1:17-19).

We have access to the life-transforming knowledge that peace is a person, the person of Christ.

Perfect Peace

The human record is wretched;
We’ve accomplished naught.  
All our most elevated efforts
Nothing but wind have wrought. 

Your peace will not be earned
By our ceaseless striving.
It is present and purchased,
While we await your arriving. 

Your long-promised peace
Is not to our performance tied.
It is wrapped up in the God-man
Who lives though once he died. 

All that our good God ordains 
He Himself will expertly fulfill. 
It is His to do and ours to trust,
As He accomplishes His will. 

You keep him in perfect peace
Whose mind is stayed on you. 
For all our God has purposed,
He’ll ultimately carry through. 

With such knowledge of the person of peace, we are invited to wage peace on this war-torn earth and to proclaim gospel hope to war-ravaged souls. But before we can properly proclaim His peace, we must let Him permeate our own lives.

And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace (James 3:18).

On Power Plays and a Peculiar Posture

Presently, churches all across the nation are splitting and splintering, being pulled quite literally left or right. Both sides are claiming their way to transform the culture and both sides are claiming the name of Christ. While both sides think they share little in common, they are both involved in a power play for positions of influence, assuming that God’s primary call on His people is to transform or better culture.

But God’s call on His people is that they become a peculiar people.

Like many of you, my mind has been spinning this past year trying to make sense of what is happening with Christian congregations. Recently, the Lord has used a book written in the 1990’s to help me see more clearly what is happening in the 2020s. In their joint book Resident Aliens, Stanley Hauerwas and William Willimon address trends that were planted back in the days of Constantine and have been growing into full-fledged forests by now.

“That which makes the church ‘radical’ and forever ‘new’ is not that the church tends to lean towards the left on most social issues, but rather that the church knows Jesus whereas the world does not. In the church’s view, the political left is not noticeably more interesting than the political right; both sides tend towards solutions that act as if the world has not ended and begun in Jesus (Resident Aliens, page 28).”

Both sides are equally likely to fall into worldly patterns of thinking that change comes through positions of power and political prowess. Believers in either camp can want the right things but go about trying to get them through means that God has not ordained.

The primary job of God’s people is to be the people of God, not to transform culture. Culture may and likely will be transformed, but such transformation will be a by-product, not a means in and of itself.

“For to us, the world ended. We may have thought that Jesus came to make nice people ever nicer, that Jesus hoped to make a democratic Caesar just a little more democratic, to make the world a bit better place for the poor. The Sermon, however, collides with such accommodationist thinking. It drives us back to a completely new conception of what it means for people to live with one another. That completely new conception is the church (Resident Aliens, page 92).”

If the church is to do the work of Christ, the church cannot seek to accomplish His means through the mechanisms of a dying world. God has given us the church as His means to accomplish His work. Practically speaking, this means that Supreme Court justice appointments or decisions, while important, are not our hope. This means that laws enacted by our government do not sideline us from doing the work of God and being the people of God. We do not to be propped up by the government to be His people. In fact, when the laws of the land go against our beliefs, we have an even greater opportunity to stand out.

My fear is that our churches are missing their moment to show the watching world the compelling and true story of the gospel. A pandemic got the world’s attention, but the church has been so engaged in fighting each other, they look no different than the political ads.

When Paul spoke to the Church that he loved and helped establish in Galatia, his heart was heavy over their interactions with one another. They were using their new-found freedom in Christ to further their own agendas and catching each other in the crosshairs of their disparate aims.

“For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ But if you bite and devour one another, watch out that you are not consumed by one another (Galatians 5:13-15).

We have been stuck in a brutal power play when we are called to be spending our time on being God’s peculiar people. We don’t need laws to be His peculiar people. We don’t need a sitting president who affirms our ideals. We have His Word and His Spirit, which is all the early church needed to be set apart.

The Church should be odd. We won’t fit neatly into a political system because God’s word wasn’t concerned with political systems. God’s Word was concerned with announcing an altogether different kingdom. In the words of Stanley Hauerwas and William Willimon, “We want to claim the church’s ‘oddness’ as essential to its faithfulness.”

Oddity 

Often the faithful seem foolish,
Their trust in Your Word naive. 
A world calculated and strategic
Estranges those who believe. 

For the story that grabbed them
Has sunk deep into their veins. 
The storyteller’s life-giving Word
Continues to guide their reins. 

Those who’ve heard such a story
Must see everything in its light. 
The One who’s seen through them 
Has Initiated them into His sight. 

Staking their lives on a Savior
Despised and rejected by men,
They are to reenact His story
Again and again and again. 

As they resist prevailing notions, 
The world calls the meek weak,
When power takes on the posture 
Of gently turning the other cheek. 

The odd way they try to trod
Is labeled limiting and narrow,
For they don’t know the One
Whose Spirit is their marrow. 

Lord, hold our fumbling feet
Fast to your glorious way. 
In your likeness let us live
Until that promised day

Come and See

“Come and see,” Mary and Martha pushed out the words through sobs, leading their shaken up Rabbi to the cave into which their dear brother had been laid.  Martha, practical in nature, hestitated at Christ’s commands to take away the stone sealing the dead from the living. “It’s been four days, Teacher. You don’t want to see him. It’s not the Laz you remember. The staggering smell of sickness and death will overwhelm you as it has us these past painful days.”

Studying John 11 this week knowing we have dear friends who have lost loved ones and received heavy diagnoses, the bravery and vulnerability of the simple phrase, “Come and see,” jumped out at me.

What faith it must have taken these sisters to invite the same Jesus who came too late, in their honest opinion, into their messy grief. What trust it displayed that they invited Jesus into their pulsing, palpable pain, this same One whom both sisters had said could have saved their brother had he been there.

Come and see how our hearts are aching and nearly bursting with waves of grief at the separation. He is right there, not twenty feet away, yet we cannot access him, we cannot laugh with him and cry with him. Come and see the impossibility of our situation; join us, we trust and love you, even though things did not turn out the way we so deeply desired. We want your presence even though we are confounded by confusion.

We all love the Psalms of Triumph that pulse with praise, and well we should.

Shout for joy to God, all the earth; sing the glory of his name; give to him glorious praise! Say to God, “How awesome are your deeds!” So great is your power that your enemies come cringing to you. All the earth worships you and sings praises to you, they sing praises to your name. Come and see what God has done; he is awesome in his deeds toward the children of man. Psalm 66:1-5. 

But we do not get to the joyful Come and see without the risking, vulnerable Come and see that invites Jesus into the desperately broken places in our lives and hearts. And the life that happens between the two phrases is often a long, arduous, undulating battle.

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Jesus must be so honored by our trembling Come and See, inviting Him to tour our pain and brokenness. When we open unto Him the door to our terribly broken marriage or our dark past or our ongoing struggle with addiction in its minor and major forms, Jesus must smile a sober smile. For He who is outside of time knows the coming Come and See and can see us shouting in victory, even in that moment of vulnerability.

There will certainly be battles and scars and hope-deferred heart sickness between the two signposts, yet that initial Come and See begins the great work. The One we invite into our tombs and empty wombs is no mere man, He is the God-man, the Great Healer, the Captain of Salvation, the Mender of Mangled people, places and things.

Come and See

“Come and see,”such a brave little phrase,
Inviting God into grief on our darkest days.

To stay vulnerable when pain does wrench,
Bringing Him to tombs filled with stench.

The Maker of Life can handle grim facts.
Dark invitations precede healing acts.

Touring the truth in all its hideousness
Begins His healing with all fastidiousness.

A brighter invitation will come in due time,
The “Come and See” shouts of joy sublime.

What Makes the Angels Wonder

Even mainstream culture has a cyclical fascination with angels and angelic beings. Growing up we watched Touched by An Angel as a family. Nicholas Cage had that strange movie about being an angel wearing a trench coat. People buy angel figurines and necklaces for each other as symbols of affection and protection. There is talk of guardian angels even among those who would not call themselves religious.

It is no wonder that angelic beings make us wonder. The reality that an unseen realm exists right alongside our material universe has staying power. Even in our age of materialism when what is real is that which can be measured, prodded, dissected, and recorded, people are loathe to let go of the idea that angels walk and move and serve among us.

While there is much to say about the less visible though no less real realms, my heart has been thinking about what makes the angels wonder.

The Scriptures flat out tell us that, just as we are intrigued and wonder about angels, they are intrigued and wonder at us. Well, to be more specific, they peer from their lofty perches in the unseen realm and wonder at the salvation God has purchased for us.

We, who were intended to be the crown of God’s incredible creation, had quite a tumbling fall. Angels are not unaware of such ignoble falls. After all, the lead angel of light was swept out of the heavens for desiring more power and more prominence than the God under whose authority he was to serve (see Luke 10:18). They know all too well the corruptibility of God’s creation.

They wonder not at our disobedience, but at the incredible condescension of God who stooped to save us, who died that he might once again delight in us.

The Apostle Peter, writing to a beleaguered and bruised, suffering people, sought to remind his tired flock of the incredible wealth they had received in the gospel. He employed the wonder of the angels to that end.

Concerning this salvation, the prophets who prophesied about the grace that was to be yours searched and inquired carefully, inquiring what person or time the Spirit of Christ in them was indicating when he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the subsequent glories. It was revealed to them that they were serving not themselves but you, in the things that have now been announced to you through those who preached the good news to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven, things into which angels long to look (1 Peter 1:10–12, emphasis mine).

The angels stand in awe and wonder at the salvation God has secured for us. While we wonder about angels, angels wonder at our purchased place in the kingdom of God.

As a group of ladies and I have been studying the book of Acts, the angels that keep popping into the story for a brief act of helping obedience have stood out to me. They seem to be a funny flock, those angels. They remind me of Navy Seals, prepared and trained to the nth degree. Ready to step in for their crucial service of obedience to help a bungling group of human believers who are seeking to clumsily advance God’s rule and reign on this earth. They pop in, do their role, and peace out as quickly as they came. No agents, no publicity stunts, just unadulterated obedience and service to God.

Angelic Wonder

Angels don’t need agents.
They don’t crave publicity.
They operate in obedience,
Do His bidding in simplicity.

In compassionate condescension,
They buoy beleaguered belief,
Propping up pallor believers,
Bringing resurrection relief.

Sitting on the Savior’s tomb,
Wondering at what He’d done,
Ushering astonished disciples
When the gospel had begun.

Angels follows order exactly,
With God-empowered precision,
Yet they wonder at salvation,
At God’s unthinkable decision.

We know aspects of Adonai
They’ll never understand.
As recipients of redemption,
In God’s great grace we stand.

We were made lower than angels,
Yet, for our souls, Christ came.
As His resurrection lifts us up,
A wonderful salvation we claim.

We stand in a place of redemption that causes angels to wonder. Perhaps we would do well to join them in their wonder at all God has done on our behalf.

On Benefits

When I hear benefits, I immediately think of insurance plans, copays, deductibles, and group numbers. Adulthood will do that to you. Thankfully, when the Scriptures talk about benefits, they speak about something far more incredible than insurance plans.

In Psalm 103, David invites both himself and his listeners to consider and count a very different set of benefits.

Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless his holy name! Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits, who forgives all your iniquity, who heals all your diseases, who redeems your life from the pit, who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy, who satisfies you with good so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s (Psalm 103:1–5).

As a celebrated king who reigned during the golden era of Israel’s history, David knew a thing or two about benefits. Yet, when he wrote poems and songs, he did not elaborate on his home or the homage given him; rather, he recounted the spiritual blessings bestowed by God.

Paul, when writing to the Ephesian believers, borrowed the financial language of a city familiar with wealth. However, like David before him, he elaborated on the spiritual blessings that are bestowed on those who trust in God. After a short introduction, he presents his thesis and then unpacks it with countless blessings.

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places (Ephesians 1:3).

The verses following the aforementioned one are replete with rich examples of the benefits of being in Christ. Verses four to fourteen are littered with words like blessed, lavished, fullness, inheritance, and possession. Yet, Paul does not mention physical comfort or financial peace. Rather, he reminds the Ephesians of the spiritual blessings they have in and through the person of Christ.

In a world where we tend to count our IRA’s, our profits, and our bank accounts, the Scriptures command us to count a very different set of benefits. These will not deplete or decay (see Matthew 6:20–21). They cannot be repossessed or reneged. They don’t wrinkle or ruin with age. Unlike all our physical possessions, they pass with us from this lift on to the next.

Benefits

The benefit of bodies,
Powered by pumping hearts,
The care of the Creator
Who every breath imparts.

An inheritor of language,
Born into a world of words,
Woven wide with wonders
His goodness undergirds.

Buoyed by borrowed breath,
Blessed by first and second birth.
Worthless and unworthy, yet
Esteemed at His infinite worth.

Counted among your family
Though failing countless times.
Assurance and endurance,
Separation from our crimes.

Forget not all His benefits;
Rather, recount and rehearse.
For us to receive HIs blessing,
Our Christ took on the curse.

Earthly blessings are bonus.
Hold them lightly as such.
But these eternal benefits,
Count and cherish much.

A Chronicle of Grief

Being a mother has completely transformed the way I experience Easter. It has very little to do with hiding the eggs and everything to do with imagining Holy Week through Mary’s mind and heart. When my kids stub their toes, I cringe. The relatively few times we have had to take trips to the ER (especially considering I am raising three rowdy fellas), I was completely undone watching my children in pain.

This series of poems chronicles the three days from the perspective of Mary, the grief-stricken mother of Christ.

A Chronicle of Grief

Friday
The aroma of anointing oils,
Scents of frankincense and myrrh,
Linen wrapping and a dark cave;
Buried memories begin to stir.

I remember holding him tightly,
Two sets of tear-filled eyes locked.
All was well with the world,
As I my newborn child rocked.

Here and there arrows of fear
Pierced the placid scene,
A Jealous ruler, exile to Egypt,
Prophecies. What does it mean?

Thoughts long stored in my heart,
Reemerge as tears my eyes fill.
Deep down, I knew pain was coming;
But death on a criminal’s hill?

Crazed by love and drunk with pain,
I nearly climbed that shameful tree.
His tear-filled eyes locked with mine,
Saying silently, “Momma, you must let it be.”

As I hold his body, swaddled again,
I rock him with the sways of grief.
My baby, My Son, My treasured One,
Without you, there can be no relief.

Saturday
For a moment, a split-second
In between waking and sleep,
I thought it just a nightmare;
Then realty fell in a heap.

Eyes swollen shut from crying,
Mind splitting in throbs of grief,
Muscles aching, heart breaking;
Even sleep offers me no relief.

Trapped by Sabbath laws,
A grief with nowhere to run.
So livid I could shatter stone,
To simply see my little one.

I want to be near you, my baby,
To lay beside you in that cave.
I cannot face life without you;
How did you beat me to the grave?

Sunday
“Let me be,” I mumbled from bed,
“No visitors today,” I said in sigh.
Yet, John still bounded in,
A glimmer of hope in his eye.

Out of breath from running,
In heaves of adrenaline he spoke,
“Mary -at cave. Stone -rolled away; 
Not there; Somehow he awoke.”

Fragments of news reached my soul,
As I processed what he’d said.
“Could it be, could it be true?
My son, awake from the dead?”

An angel had announced his birth,
He was conceived in a miraculous way.
Yes, Yes, It does make sense.
My son! Alive! What a glorious day!

Leaping with life, I ran to the door
With joyful John at my heels.
Though far too frail to be running,
Joy like strong drink in me reels.

We must, we must find him.
I must hold the son of my womb!
Drunk with joy and crazed with love
I rush to His empty tomb.

I am so thankful that God enabled a very human Mary to endure the unendurable so that we would never have to. Yet far beyond that, I am eternally grateful to the Christ who through His life, death and resurrection has secured a lasting hope for the wayward children of God.  May the Lamb receive the honor due His name this Easter week!

A Legacy of Covenant Love

Every time I walk down a certain hallway in our home, I see, among the family pictures hanging on our wall, a picture that nearly arrests me. A stunning woman looks askance at a handsome, proud young groom. Her eyes show the anticipation we normally associate with weddings, but they also betray a look we don’t expect: a nervousness which is closer to fear than wedding jitters.

She had only met her would-be husband two times, yet she was walking to the altar to vow a covenant of lifelong love to him. No wonder her eyes revealed mixed emotions.

My parents-in-law, as was the custom in their culture, were arranged by their parents. The decision was prayerfully and carefully considered. Each set of their parents saw in the other a good match for their children.

The concept seems foreign to me, one raised in a culture where there is no need for a descriptive adjective before the word marriage. When all marriages are love marriages, chosen by the marrying parties (and often blessed by the parents), there is no need to distinguish between” love” marriage and “arranged” marriage.

As an outsider looking in for the past fifteen years of their long marriage journey, I am astounded at the depths of their relationship. I am humbled by the way friendship and romance grew out of covenant and choice. I am deeply indebted to their marriage, not only for producing my husband, but also for painting a realistic yet regal picture of covenant love.

Their marriage exemplifies what Thomas Hardy so poetically and powerfully captured in his classic book Far From the Madding Crowd.

“Theirs was that substantial affection which arises (if any arises at all) when the two who are thrown together begin first by knowing the rougher sides of each other’s character, and not the best till further on, the romance growing up in the interstices of a mass of hard prosaic reality.

A mass of hard prosaic reality is an understatement. They worked hard to move their family to a foreign nation where they had only tertiary contacts and tenuous hopes. They weathered losing jobs, raising children, and moving multiple times. While there marriage is neither dreamy nor perfect, it is weathered and well-woven.

The strength of their covenant love has been highlighted by over a decade of being tested by the slow, steady decline of Parkinson’s disease. Amma serves as Appa’s primary caregiver, bathing him, feeding him, managing his litany of interventions and appointments. She rarely leaves the house. She has to steal a few moments away for a relaxing trip to the grocery store. Her world has shrunk considerably to match the needs of her hurting husband.

Yet, there are still moments when the two laugh together over Appa’s less-than-lucid thoughts. Playfulness pops out in the midst of the plodding perseverance. Watching her serve him so steadfastly with all of her life literally brings tears to my eyes and refines my view of marriage.

If what C.S. Lewis says about romantic love lighting the slow coals of covenant love is true, their marriage is even more astounding. Their covenant coals were lit only with the fire of promise and trust. They give my husband and I a moving, real-life picture of the love between Christ and His bride.

Covenants and Coals

If romantic love is flame
Lighting covenant coals,
Their love is hard to name:
The arrangement of souls. 

Barely more than strangers,
They vowed longterm love,
Trusting their arrangers,
Depending on God above. 

As they walked through life,
True companionship grew.
As they navigated strife,
One formed out of two. 

After a decade of slow decline,
Years of suffering and serving,
They stand with covenant spine
In their tested love unswerving. 

Coals without first fire lit
Still offer steady heat,
God by His hand has writ
A lifelong love still sweet. 

To God be the glory, great things He has done!

The Seder and The Savior

A few years ago, when my children were three and two years old, I had the brilliant idea of teaching them the deeper significance of the Passover. I studied the Seder meal, went shopping, printed coloring sheets. The whole shebang. My incredulous husband wondered if this was really age-appropriate, but I pressed on.

We sat down and strapped our children into their baby chairs, lit candles and began our walk through the Jewish traditions. It was a total disaster. They spit out the herbs, gagged on the horseradish and chugged the sparking grape juice. I have not yet regained the courage to attempt another Seder in the Joseph household.

Funny story aside,  today I imagined what it must have been like for Jesus to sit down with disciples for the Seder meal. I imagined the familiar scents and flavors which Jesus would have known from years of celebrating the Passover with His family, suddenly becoming ominous as He realized they all pointed to His punishment on the Cross as the second and eternal Exodus of both Jew and Gentile alike.

Thinking of the Savior eating the Seder meal that spelled out His certain death moved my soul to a deeper appreciation for his last Passover in that Upper Room.

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The Seder & The Savior

The Upper Room is ready,
The table carefully set,
The disciples eager to celebrate;
They don’t understand as yet.

The Seder plate stares up at me,
Invading all of my senses,
Sights and smells arrest me,
Alluding my human defenses.

The bitter herbs, they bite me.
Meant to point back to captivity,
Yet they press me to tomorrow
When I’ll be nailed to the tree.

The roasted meat, the Zeroa,
Features the bone of a lamb.
They think of sacrifices past,
Yet I know that I am the ram.

The Beitzah points to desire,
The cries of people to be saved.
The path to their deep desire
Through my death is paved.

Karpas, the parsley-reminder
Of slavery’s back-breaking load,
Smells of relief to them, but to me
Does the darkest day bode.

Charoset paste of apples and wine,
Reminds of the mortar and brick,
To release them from their burden,
I the way of the Cross must pick.

Looking up from the plate, my portion,
I see the familiar faces of my friends.
For them, these sin-sick brothers,
I will drink God’s wrath to the end.

Oh, Father, pass over your people,
Let the punishment fall on me.
Through my ultimate slavery,
Finally set your children free.