My first book “(The Best of) 100 Days of Inspiration” was a collective of devotionals I wrote after my 100 days | 100 paintings project in 2009. It was featured in the Carolina Christian News in June of 2010, and can be purchased through this website, my book e-store, Amazon and Barnes & Noble.
A new project is underway, “Every Chance in the World – trusting God when there’s no chance at all”, and is slated for release in late fall 2020. Stay tuned for updates!
When the hubs handed me these flowers today he said, “These have a little summer in them, but they’re also a reminder that change is on its way…”I needed that – after a year, I mean a WEEK of virtual 4th grade – technology failures, tween meltdowns, screen fatigue, off the hook anxiety, and everyone reacting to everyone else’s reactions – by Friday I was DONE. I was running away to Australia like that little boy in the horrible, no good, very bad day book. But Australia has its own set of problems and getting there, its own set of challenges. Truth is, I don’t think any of us actually longs for a complete absence of challenge in our lives. Most of us have valiantly made it through some pretty intense seasons. We’ve dragged ourselves over some pretty tall hurdles. We’ve stood back up after some pretty ugly beat downs. We’ve rallied our hearts to give it one more shot after some pretty heartbreaking betrayals. But what I think we truly long for in our moments of frailty and not-having-it-all-togetherness is the assurance that God is who He says He is and He will do what He says He will do – that He is capable and strong and not thrown by this mess at all. We need to have faith. Faith that this will not be our undoing. Faith that He is bigger than our fear. Faith that no matter how much our flesh falters and fails and freaks out, we are still His. Faith that endures the searing heat of late summer, knowing that the cooling and gloriousness of fall is close behind. Faith that change is on its way. It’s the very essence of God’s creator DNA – new beginnings, redeemed situations, transformed hearts, altered trajectories. It’s stunning really – the One who has not even a shadow of turning within Himself has the power to change everything around Him. Even this crummy week. So take heart my friend – let it not be troubled. This too shall pass – you are not stuck or overlooked or forgotten. John 16:33 says, “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” This week, may you find the assurance your heart longs for…and in finding Him, the perfect peace that only He brings.
Today feels like I’m squeezing lemons to make lemonade…only to realize I’ve nicked up my hands while slicing the lemons. You know the tiny little cuts you don’t even realize are there, until the acidic juice hits and makes you want booboo kisses from your mama. Today I want booboo kisses from my mama. I’m doing the best I can – we’re all doing the best we can, really – making lemonade out of lemons. We’re trying to stay positive, not let the fear take hold – keeping our eyes focused on Jesus and our hearts connected to those we love. But this Covid-19 thing is real in ways we haven’t dealt with reality in quite some time. And by some time I mean ever. So today it stings…in a variety of places. It’s Day 2 of distance learning for my daughter, and the entire day has been one massive meltdown. It’s Week 2 of off-site officing for me, and even though we’re trying to use technology to stay connected I’m finding it difficult to juggle the new reality. It’s a Season of Unknowns for my husband as the majority of his income has gone the way of mandated quarantines – with closed restaurants and church gatherings, canceled theater performances and social distancing. But we press on, trying to make something palatable, refreshing even, out of the sour fruit. I’m attempting to work each day – that is, while I’m not homeschooling my 3rd grader in core math that I don’t even understand, prepping the next meal for the restless natives or trying to keep my house from being swallowed up by the Piles Of Stuff monster. I thought being a mom who was also working outside the home was tough, but it doesn’t even come close to trying to work while we’re ALL AT home together. The disruptions are agitating, to say the least, not to mention the emotional tug of war between work responsibilities and wanting to engage with my family. How do I do it all well? What I’d really love is the freedom to play – to be carefree and whimsical and imaginative, untethered from responsibilities or harsh realities – to do thoughtful things for my neighbors, to have a broader view of the kingdom opportunities this pandemic offers, to make these moments matter. But today I find my heart still in survival-mode lockdown – trying to adjust to the new normal, trying to find different rhythms, trying to make sense out of what isn’t.Maybe that lemonade is a bit too tart for your liking – just trying to keep myself honest here. Being a fixer by nature I can move too quickly to sweeten things up – and quick fixes are not what I’m looking for in this season. Otherwise, I’d be glued to social media or binging on some mind-numbing streaming service series or just staying under the covers for the rest of the day. No, what I’m in search of is the grace to pivot. See, I know God works in mysterious ways. I know that God sees the bigger picture. I know that He works all things for my good. I know an awful lot of amazing things about God in my head…and even in my heart. But all too often I’ve used them to placate, disconnect, and numb out from the stinging realities of life gone sideways. What I’m starting to realize is that when gospel knowledge becomes living breathing transformational salve for my soul – it’s the power of grace in action. Grace tempers my snarky impulses to bite back. Grace soothes the prickly spines of fear and anxiety lodged in my heart. Grace reminds me that I am not stuck and this too shall pass. Grace lets me be myself, not some alter-ego superhuman mutant version of me – I can feel everything and nothing at all and think way too much about some things and forget all about others and admit that I’m far less competent than I’d like you to think I am – and yet Grace says that’s all okay…and God can still work with that and through that and in spite of that. Grace doesn’t pretend that life isn’t tart – that it doesn’t sting on abraded hearts – instead it brings perfect balance to the sour and the sweet. And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you. – 1 Peter 5:10 So I’m asking – no, I’m pleading with God – to give me grace for this mandated season of pivot. Grace for the painful present and the frightful future and all the glorious God-filled moments in-between. I pray that His grace will be like a tall, refreshing glass of cool lemonade on a swelteringly hot summer’s day. And I pray the same for you, my friend. May you draw near to the throne of grace with confidence, that you may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. (paraphrased) – Hebrews 4:16 ESV What are you, O great mountain? Before Zerubbabel you will become a plain; and he will bring forth the top stone with shouts of ‘Grace, grace to it!’ – Zechariah 4:7 NAS
The news is bad. Each day it seems worse…and more complex…and more uncertain. Daily I have to fight my addiction to MORE information. Higher death tolls, faster spread rate, lack of protective equipment…the list goes on and on. I hear the words that we’re doing good, but nothing I read sounds very good, and it certainly doesn’t make me feel good at all. Each grim reality crashes like a wave onto the shore of our hearts. The media is selling facts over fear and science instead of supposition. But “Knowledge is Power” is just a lie – you can know everything there is to know about a thing, but it doesn’t mean you can keep it from happening. You can do your part to help “flatten the curve,” but there’s no guarantee you’ll escape unscathed. Heartbreaking tales of love and loss are passed around like old war stories – only difference is they’re happening in our lifetime – to people we know. And fear creeps up little by little like the evening tide. Predictions have been wrong. Advice waffles between “dos” and “don’ts”. There’ve been a million “I said that yesterday but don’t mean it today.” Experts can’t seem to agree and models can’t possibly encompass the endless variables of every unique situation. But my heart wants answers. I don’t want shifty sand – I want rock-solid incontrovertible fact. THEN I can rest. THEN I can move forward with a plan. I don’t like NOT knowing – it leaves me feeling powerless. I’m a DOER, and there’s always room for more to be done. But we’re told to wait, do less, shelter in place…and I feel itchy in my soul. (I can feel my heart begin to race as that confession spills onto my keyboard.) As an artist, God has granted me the gift of feeling things deeply…but that doesn’t make those feelings altogether accurate. So, oddly enough, I’ve had to quarantine myself from the quarantine news. I can only trust my fragile state with a few sound bites at a time. And as I’ve detoxed, a remarkable phenomenon has occurred. The tides have turned. Now I no longer feel the waves of fear creeping higher, but God’s MERCY! I can busy myself with building whatever sandcastle of delusion I want, stack one anxiety on top of the other like a stone altar of stress, drag a big stick through the wet sand to spell out the words H-E-L-P M-E, or build a blazing hot fire on the shoreline in hopes that a far-away vessel might see my distress signal and rescue me. I can do all of that and more. But eventually and inevitably the waves of God’s mercy return and sweep it all away – every care, every neurotic obsession, every restless wandering of my heart – dragged deep into the sea…because the sea is BIG ENOUGH to hold it all. Every last bit of it. Truth is, every day can start fresh for us – wave-washed smooth sand, new shells scattered about like stars to discover, tiny claw prints from sandpipers and seagulls scurrying about, and the smell of new beginnings in the salty air. Lamentations 3:23-24 says it like this: The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end;they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.“The Lord is my portion,” says my soul, “Therefore I will hope in him.” So let the waves of mercy wash over you, my friend. Again and again and again. For GREAT is His faithfulness. His mercies NEVER come to an end.
In my family, we didn’t do much in the way of observing Lent. It was a bit too liturgical for the church I grew up in, and as kids, our focus was solely on frilly dresses and white patent leather shoes, and OF COURSE, Easter baskets and bunnies and the goodies that would leave me on a perpetual sugar high for a month. Needless to say, Ash Wednesday definitely didn’t show up on our calendar, either. And to this day, I’ve never actually participated in a public Ash Wednesday service. But I have to admit, my heart has been so drawn to the symbolic themes it embodies – the solemn recognition of our full-circle connection to the dust (Gen. 3:19, “for you are dust and to dust you shall return”) and the corporate repentance for our sins. Why not observe a sacred assembly of hearts where we collectively come clean? Joel 2:12-13 reminds us: “Yet even now,” declares the Lord, “return to me with all your heart,with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning;and rend your hearts and not your garments.”Return to the Lord your God, for he is gracious and merciful,slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love. As an adult, I’ve developed a deep appreciation for the contemplative nature of Lent – the idea of coming to terms with the human condition and acknowledging my own culpability in it – owning up to and mourning the need for a Savior before celebrating His resurrection with great joy. It gives Easter morning context and gravity. It reminds us of what we’ve been saved from – what our condition would be without the sacrifice. It invites us a bit closer to death so that we can celebrate life. Oddly enough, my soul is okay with that – digging in the dirt, getting my hands dirty in the mess of me. Today I will sit in the dust – with fasting and weeping and mourning. I will rend my heart and set my face on the Lord my God who saved me from my wretched state. I will return to the Lord with all my heart and bask in His grace and mercy, ever thankful that He loves us lavishly in spite of it all. Did you not know what the Holy One can do with dust? As the season of Lent arrives, what blessing do you need to claim from the ashes? BLESSING THE DUST All those daysyou felt like dust,like dirt,as if all you had to dowas turn your facetoward the windand be scatteredto the four cornersor swept awayby the smallest breathas insubstantial—did you not knowwhat the Holy Onecan do with dust?This is the daywe freely saywe are scorched.This is the hourwe are markedby what has made itthrough the burning.This is the momentwe ask for the blessingthat lives withinthe ancient ashes,that makes its homeinside the soil ofthis sacred earth.So let us be markednot for sorrow.And let us be markednot for shame.Let us be markednot for false humilityor for thinkingwe are lessthan we arebut for claimingwhat God can dowithin the dust,within the dirt,within the stuffof which the worldis madeand the stars that blazein our bonesand the galaxies that spiralinside the smudgewe bear. From Jan Richardson’s “Circle of Grace: A Book of Blessings for the Seasons”
I’d been through the darkest years of my life and had somehow survived thanks to the kindness of close friends and church family. But it was such an anomaly – an uncharacteristic blip on the screen – that it was easy to just tie a millstone around it all and send it straight to the bottom of the sea. Out of sight, out of mind. But then came the dream: all around me was inky blackness and I was keenly aware that I was deep down in the ocean where even light gave up the fight. Overhead a warm glow appeared – like a Touched By An Angel moment – illuminating a rusty, carbuncled door of a sunken ship. I tried and tried to turn the huge round hatch handle, but it wouldn’t budge. I used my feet and legs to try and force the door open, to no avail. And as I labored, I felt the Lord lean in and gently say, You buried it good and deep, didn’t ya? And just like the crew discovering ruins from the Titanic, with one simple question He uncovered the wreckage of my not-so-perfect life, and with it, he raised the disappointment and fear and shame from the dark depths and brought them up into the light. You see, I may have hidden it from people around me, but I hadn’t hidden it from Him – He knew right where it was all along. Truth be told, there is no depth so deep that His love can’t reach it. No matter the inky blackness. No matter the years that have rolled past. No matter the disappointment and fear and shame. No matter how truly dead a thing might be. Because God has a way of resurrecting dead things. 1 You have searched me, Lord, and you know me.2 You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar.3 You discern my going out and my lying down; you are familiar with all my ways.4 Before a word is on my tongue you, Lord, know it completely.5 You hem me in behind and before, and you lay your hand upon me.6 Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too lofty for me to attain.7 Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence?8 If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.9 If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea,10 even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast.11 If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me and the light become night around me,”12 even the darkness will not be dark to you; the night will shine like the day, for darkness is as light to you. – Psalm 139
Listen…to the sound of the silence around you, the beating of the heart within you. Listen to the feelings coursing through your veins that have never been given the power of voice. Listen to the memories of old – moaning in deep, hollow tones on cold, dark days. Listen to the ache of long-held regret and the craving for long-overdue acquittal. Listen to the distant laughter when hearts were carefree and weightless as dandelion seeds. Listen to the love that reaches out – arms open wide – to embrace the world, again and again. Listen to the babbling brook of joy dancing over the jagged rocks in your soul. Listen to the courage pounding out rhythms of hope and love and living. Listen to the beauty wafting through your heart like a sweet, complicated symphony. Listen to the song of you…and then sing it. Loudly.
It feels like it’s been ages since I’ve painted during a worship service, let alone painted as my husband played drums on the worship team. We love it when we get to use our gifts in tandem worship. We’re just better when we’re together. I’d decided during the week to give myself much grace in the process of listening for God’s voice and discerning what He’d like me to paint. Earlier on, it freaked me out when He remained silent, but I guess through the years I’ve learned to trust this dance of ours…having watched as He made His way around the dance floor…moving people into places, lining up stories and hearts, creating moments in time that don’t exist outside of Him. It is nothing short of breathtaking. So I guess I should’ve known the extraordinary was beginning to stir as I prepared for the Sunday service. Not a single word from Him. Not a peep. Not a momentary perception of a possible leaning in some direction. But my heart was at peace in the silence and I was still able to call up that mental checklist, gather up my supplies with surprising ease and place them by the door in readied anticipation. And my heart continued to wait. Maybe in the shower the next morning, as I washed my hair…maybe then I’d sense that undeniable knowing. Nope. Just peace…peace and quiet. But I was strangely okay with that. I knew that He knew what He was doing. It wasn’t until we were about halfway through our early morning trek to the next city down the highway that the strangest thought hit my head and heart: Valley of Dry Bones. I couldn’t shake it: Valley of Dry Bones. Well, alrighty then…I had no idea which direction to take or how a painting of a skeleton would be edifying in a worship environment – ESPECIALLY ON MOTHER’S DAY, but if I’ve learned anything, it seems that the crazier the idea, the more Him it usually is. So I opened up the passage in Ezekiel and read this: “The hand of the Lord was upon me, and he brought me out in the Spirit of the Lord and set me down in the middle of the valley; it was full of bones. And he led me around among them, and behold, there were very many on the surface of the valley, and behold, they were very dry. And he said to me, “Son of man, can these bones live?” And I answered, “O Lord God, you know.” Then he said to me, “Prophesy over these bones, and say to them, O dry bones, hear the word of the Lord. Thus says the Lord God to these bones: Behold, I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live. And I will lay sinews upon you, and will cause flesh to come upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you, and you shall live, and you shall know that I am the Lord.” So I prophesied as I was commanded. And as I prophesied, there was a sound, and behold, a rattling, and the bones came together, bone to its bone. And I looked, and behold, there were sinews on them, and flesh had come upon them, and skin had covered them. But there was no breath in them. Then he said to me, “Prophesy to the breath; prophesy, son of man, and say to the breath, Thus says the Lord God: Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe on these slain, that they may live.” So I prophesied as he commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they lived and stood on their feet, an exceedingly great army. Then he said to me, “Son of man, these bones are the whole house of Israel. Behold, they say, ‘Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are indeed cut off.’ Therefore prophesy, and say to them, Thus says the Lord God: Behold, I will open your graves and raise you from your graves, O my people. And I will bring you into the land of Israel. And you shall know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves, and raise you from your graves, O my people. And I will put my Spirit within you, and you shall live, and I will place you in your own land. Then you shall know that I am the Lord; I have spoken, and I will do it, declares the Lord.” – Ezekiel 37:1-14 I don’t remember any of the music that the worship team played, but my heart was stirred…that usually happens when I step into the zone. But I do remember painting a skeleton reclining in the dirt, but it wasn’t scary or heavy with death. It felt hauntingly lovely. Vines sprung up from the dry earth beneath, covering it in green leaves and flowers…symbols of life and beauty. Wind from above swirled about, like the very breath of God blew through those bones…driving out the raven of death that would pick away every last hope of life. And just like that, it was over. We only sang 3 songs…but I was told that I could paint throughout the entire service if needed. But surprisingly enough, when the 3 songs were done, so was I. As I sat down for the service, I wondered “What was THAT all about?!” Enter Debbie. Church Administrator and announcement sharer extraordinaire. But she interrupted herself mid-delivery to say, “I just can’t stop looking at that painting!” After service, a soft-spoken man approached me as I was cleaning up my supplies to say, “You have NO IDEA how this painting speaks to what many in our church are going through right now.” Confirmation. It wasn’t such a crazy painting after all. (Skeletons in a church service must be more okay that I would’ve imagined.) Debbie made her way through the crowd to ask if she could take a picture of the painting with her cell phone so that she could have it to look at later on. She blended back into the lingering group of people and re-emerged with her husband…and wanted to know a bit more about the painting. How did I paint like this? What did it mean? So I shared with them about the Valley of Dry Bones and the symbolism of each element. She stood quiet for a moment and broke her silence with, “You don’t know anything about my story, do you?” I answered that I knew nothing, and she proceeded to share. Seems two years ago, Debbie’s oldest son went in for a standard checkup, and it was discovered that he had cancer of the thyroid. He’d had it removed and after treatment was doing much better. Two months ago, Debbie’s youngest son was complaining about his chest hurting and doctors discovered a very rare form of lymphatic cancer. Two weeks ago, Debbie found a lump during a routine breast exam and, after consultation with her doctor, was informed that she had the exact same rare form of cancer that her younger son had. The family had been through the wringer, but what struck me was Debbie’s peaceful assurance. She wasn’t afraid, she was confident. She wasn’t questioning God’s protection, she was resting in His love. She wasn’t doubting His faithfulness, she was celebrating His goodness in spite of all of the scary stuff happening in her family’s life. Truth is, I don’t know Debbie all that well, but I know this: that kind of assurance only comes from wrestling those demons of fear and doubt back to the pit that they came from. She had anchored her heart into the immovable unshakable truth of God. She REFUSED to believe the lies that ‘Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are indeed cut off.’ I fell so in love with her undaunted courage that I sent the painting home with her. It was rightfully hers anyway…God-breathed in every way. They hung it in their home as a reminder to trust that God’s Beauty and Life would show up in the most desperate places. This story doesn’t have a Hallmark ending…Matthew fought hard against his cancer – his sweet, young bride and family by his side throughout the whole journey. Friends stormed heaven’s gates with prayer and worship until they physically lost their voices, every treatment was tried, every option exhausted. And on the morning of March 13th, 2020, 23-year-old Matthew went home to be with Jesus. The family was heartbroken and to this day they mourn and grieve in such beautiful ways. But here’s the kicker that’s hard for some to wrap their brain around: Matthew’s death didn’t change the truth about God! It didn’t alter His character or mar His stellar reputation – God is still good, He is still faithful, He is still the Bringer of Hope and the Giver of Life. He still brings beauty to our brokenness and breathes life into our dry and weary bones. The painting now has new meaning to me…and I’m sure to Debbie’s family. These tabernacles of flesh are just temporary dwelling places. And by a divine act of grace God breathed healing and new life into Matthew and gave him a body that would know no sickness or pain. Beauty sprang up from the dust and Eternal Life triumphed over fear and death…‘that ALL may testify that He is the Lord.’ The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly. John 10:10
This devotion guide was created by my friend Tracy Grubbs, Creative Arts Director at Lake Forest Church. I’m so proud of her and the weight that this project bears. because (from what our research shows) it’s the only Protestant “Stations of the Cross” guide taken straight from scripture in existence. Tracy’s mix of ancient text and contemporary prose make for a stunning, poetic blend that comes across gently…almost as a barely spoken whisper. My hope is that you will make your own way through the images, scripture and prayers and be moved closer to your humanity; closer to the cross; closer to the heart of the One who suffered and died, just for you. ____________________________________________________________________________ THE WAY OF THE CROSS: During the Turkish occupation of the Holy Land in the late Middle Ages, when pilgrims were prevented from visiting its sacred sites, the custom arose of making replicas of those holy places, where the faithful might come to pray. One of the most popular of these devotions was the “Stations of the Way of the Cross,” which were imitations of the “stations,” or stopping places of prayer on the Via Dolorosa in Jerusalem. By the late sixteenth century the fourteen stations, as we know them today, were erected in almost all Catholic churches. At each of the fourteen stations: Read the Scripture, view the image, pray the accompanying written prayer aloud or silently. Then meditate on the prayer and image, making the prayer your own. Either gently repeat the written prayer or pray your own life into the subject of that prayer, A Preparatory Prayer – St. Francis: Most merciful Lord, With a contrite heart and penitent spirit I bow down before Thy divine Majesty. I adore Thee as my supreme Lord and Master. I believe in Thee, I hope in Thee, I love Thee above all things. I am heartily sorry for having offended Thee, my only and supreme God. I firmly resolve to amend my life; and although I am unworthy to obtain mercy, yet looking upon Thy holy Cross, I am filled with peace and consolation. I will, therefore, meditate on Thy sufferings, and visit the Stations. O Loving Jesus, inflame my cold heart with Thy love, that I may live and die in union with Thee. Amen. i. Jesus prays in garden Luke 22:39-44 Jesus left and made his way to the Mount of Olives, as was his custom, and the disciples followed him. When he arrived, he said to them, “Pray that you won’t give in to temptation.” He withdrew from them about a stone’s throw, knelt and prayed. He said, “Father, if it’s your will, take this cup of suffering away from me. Nevertheless, not my will but your will must be done.” Then a heavenly angel appeared to him and strengthened him. He was in anguish and prayed even more earnestly. His sweat became like drops of blood falling on the ground. PRAYER “Father, please?” Jesus prayed “Take this cup from me. If you will?” Sadness in your furrowed face and sorrow in your eyes, the smell of blood and streaming sweat, Son of God and Son of Man wrestles with the will of the Father. “Nevertheless, your will be done,” “Nevertheless…” Jesus, may we drink from our cup as you did from yours, Trusting in the goodness of the Father even in our suffering. Amen We adore You, O Christ and we praise you. Because by your holy Cross, you have redeemed the world. ii. Jesus betrayed and arrested Luke 22:47-53 While he was still speaking, there came a crowd, and the man called Judas, one of the twelve, was leading them. He drew near to Jesus to kiss him, but Jesus said to him, “Judas, would you betray the Son of Man with a kiss?” And when those who were around him saw what would follow, they said, “Lord, shall we strike with the sword?” And one of them struck the servant of the high priest and cut off his right ear. But Jesus said, “No more of this!” And he touched his ear and healed him. Then Jesus said to the chief priests and officers of the temple and elders, who had come out against him, “Have you come out as against a robber, with swords and clubs? When I was with you day after day in the temple, you did not lay hands on me. But this is your hour, and the power of darkness.” PRAYER: With swords and clubs, they came for You, Son of Man. Soldiers, priests, religious ones, lead by a beloved friend. With a kiss, betrayed. Unjustly accused. And yet, you reject the sword and heal the wound. Lay down the arms. Jesus, may we forgive as you do, humbly and completely. Following in your footsteps, walking in the way of Love. Amen. We adore You, O Christ and we praise you. Because by your holy Cross, you have redeemed the world. iii. Jesus tried by Sanhedrin Mark 14:53,55-56,60-64 They led Jesus to the high priest. And all the chief priests and the elders and the scribes came together. Now the chief priests and the whole council were seeking testimony against Jesus to put him to death, but they found none. For many bore false witness against him, but their testimony did not agree. The high priest stood up in the midst and asked Jesus, “Have you no answer to make? What is it that these men testify against you?” But he remained silent and made no answer. Again the high priest asked him, “Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed?” And Jesus said, “I am, and you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power, and coming with the clouds of heaven.” And the high priest tore his garments and said, “What further witnesses do we need? You have heard his blasphemy. What is your decision?” And they all condemned him as deserving death. PRAYER: Christ, here you stand before your accusers, Pummeled with allegations, with insinuations. Angry words spoken by threatened, fearful men. But you stand quietly. No rush to refute their lies. Letting the truth of who you are be the Answer they are looking for. Jesus, may we follow in your example of softly, yet boldly speaking truth in love. Amen. We adore You, O Christ and we praise you. Because by your holy Cross, you have redeemed the world. iv. Jesus denied by Peter Mark 14:66-72 And as Peter was below in the courtyard, one of the servant girls of the high priest came, and seeing Peter warming himself, she looked at him and said, “You also were with the Nazarene, Jesus.” But he denied it, saying, “I neither know nor understand what you mean.” And he went out into the gateway and the rooster crowed. And the servant girl saw him and began again to say to the bystanders, “This man is one of them.” But again he denied it. And after a little while the bystanders again said to Peter, “Certainly you are one of them, for you are a Galilean.” But he began to invoke a curse on himself and to swear, “I do not know this man of whom you speak.” And immediately the rooster crowed a second time. And Peter remembered how Jesus had said to him, “Before the rooster crows twice, you will deny me three times.” And he broke down and wept. PRAYER: “I will never” “I will always” Swearing allegiance unto death. Peter, impulsive master of misunderstanding In the dark of night, he disowns, rejects, denies. As do we, day in and day out. We are all Peter. Wanting desperately to follow You but failing, dismissing you instead. But morning comes and with the rising of the sun, You offer forgiveness and redemption. Amen We adore You, O Christ and we praise you. Because by your holy Cross, you have redeemed the world. v. Jesus tried by Pilate Mark 15: 1-5, 15 The chief priests with the elders and the scribes, that is, the whole Sanhedrin, held a council. They bound Jesus, led him away, and handed him over to Pilate. Pilate questioned him, “Are you the king of the Jews?” He said to him in reply, “You say so.” The chief priests accused him of many things. Again Pilate questioned him, “Have you no answer? See how many things they accuse you of.” Jesus gave him no further answer, so that Pilate was amazed…. Pilate, wishing to satisfy the crowd, released Barabbas and handed Jesus over to be crucified. PRAYER: “Behold your king,” says Pilate. “We have no king but Caesar,” the people shout, “Away with him.” And they sent you to your death. Lord Jesus, Word made flesh, Light for our dark world, God come to save us, may we never send you away. Amen We adore You, O Christ and we praise you. Because by your holy Cross, you have redeemed the world. vi. Jesus beaten and scourged John 19:1-3; Luke 22:63-64 Then Pilate took Jesus and flogged him. And the soldiers twisted together a crown of thorns and put it on his head and arrayed him in a purple robe. They came up to him, saying, “Hail, King of the Jews!” and struck him with their hands. Now the men who were holding Jesus in custody were mocking him as they beat him. They also blindfolded him and kept asking him, “Prophesy! Who is it that struck you?” PRAYER: “He was despised and rejected by mankind, a man of suffering, and familiar with pain. Like one from whom people hide their faces he was despised, and we held him in low esteem.” In thorny crown and purple robe Son of God and Son of Man. Bearing my shame in the presence of scoffers. “Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering, yet we considered him punished by God, stricken by him, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities” Amen We adore You, O Christ and we praise you. Because by your holy Cross, you have redeemed the world. vii. Jesus carries the cross John 19:17-18 So they took Jesus and he went out, bearing his own cross, to the place called The Place of a Skull, which in Aramaic is called Golgotha. There they crucified him, and with him two others, one on either side, and Jesus between them. PRAYER: You were led to Golgotha, Lord, bearing the cross alone. Step by agonizing step you walked with the cross and its crushing load, “Take up your cross,” the Savior says, “If you would my disciple be; Forsake the past and come this day, And humbly follow after me.” Amen We adore You, O Christ and we praise you. Because by your holy Cross, you have redeemed the world viii. Jesus helped by Simon Luke 23:26 As they led Jesus away, they grabbed Simon, a man from Cyrene, who was coming in from the countryside. They put the cross on his back and made him carry it behind Jesus. PRAYER: Simon, coming in from the fields, was forced to carry your cross. He had no choice in this; it was his lot. “Why is this happening to me?” “I’m not ready for this.” “I can’t.” Were these his thoughts? Are these my thoughts? Lord, when you ask me to pick up the cross and follow you, Am I willing? Will I walk that way with you? Give me a willing heart to follow. Amen We adore You, O Christ and we praise you. Because by your holy Cross, you have redeemed the world. ix. Jesus meets the women of Jerusalem Luke 23:27-29 A large number of people followed him, including women who mourned and wailed for him. Jesus turned and said to them, “Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me; weep for yourselves and for your children. For the time will come when you will say, ‘Blessed are
I’ve scorned my lop-sided boobies for most of my life. My mom said they’d even out once I had kids…which never happened. Hormone shifts just don’t come pre-packaged with adoption. But yesterday, a childhood friend lost both of her boobies, and today I’m aware of them on every woman I pass and catch the reflection of my own curves in the store window. I found putting my bra on this morning to be an awe-filled privilege, and admittedly, I’ve cupped my chest more than once today and whispered a soft, “Thank You.” Thank you for these lop-sided boobies. Looking at pictures from this past weekend, I’m less than happy with my new haircut. It’s too triangular. I think I look like a blonde cocker spaniel. Made a mental note to myself to get that fixed ASAP. Then I remembered helping a friend shave her whole head of hair off before the chemo took it first. I’m not sure why she asked me…we weren’t really that close. But it was one of the holiest moments I’ve ever had in my life. For some reason, I have a thick head of hair that makes most hairstylists marvel, but as I brushed and pulled it into a quick ponytail before exercise class today, I felt whiney self-absorbed, and petty. What a gift it is to have hair at all… every single strand that’s stuck to my scalp is a blessing. “Thank You.” Thank you for my cocker spaniel hair. Something shifted in my body a few years ago that no one has been able to pinpoint, but I gained 50 lbs in 3 months. I’d been thin all my life…how did this happen?! I didn’t change my eating habits. I didn’t go on some mad nutella binge. But the weight showed up, and has refused to leave. I’m active and I’ve tried every exercise program known to man. I’ve counted calories, given up soda and fast food, detoxed, juice fasted, gone gluten free and semi-vegetarian, and every combination you can think of…even my doctors are stumped. I don’t recognize myself in the mirror anymore. The skinny girl I’ve seen for most of my life is now wrapped thickly in the body of my German grandmother. My under-chin has even fallen and it can’t get up. I’m not an over-eater, but you wouldn’t know it by looking at me. I begrudge having my picture taken now…because the way I look on the outside isn’t the way I feel on the inside. And then I think about sitting next to my friend who was fighting a hard, brave battle…reduced to skin pulled tight over skeleton. She didn’t much like having her picture taken either…and I know for a fact that she didn’t look on the outside like she felt on the inside. Were that today, I’d joke with her about gladly giving her some of my excess, and we’d laugh till we cried. “Thank You.” Thank you for my unexpected mom body. So the next time I’m wallowing around on my exercise mat in a class filled with matchstick thin Millenials, I will embrace these extra pounds and call them mine…and remember the wonderful meals spent with my family and friends. I will put on my bra with gratitude and thank God for being a girl. I will laugh at this bad haircut and be mindful that the next haircut is nothing short of a gift. All of the wrinkles and lumps and flaws are meant to serve as reminders that life comes with things that are just completely out of our control. And these things that command our attention and cause us to fret don’t matter a hill of beans at the end of the day. So I will breathe deeply and say YES to having my picture taken more often…lop-sided boobies, cocker spaniel hair, double chin and all…because it means that I am alive and well and surrounded by the beautiful places and people I love. And THAT, my friends, is priceless treasure. For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb.I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place, when I was woven together in the depths of the earth.Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.How precious to me are your thoughts,[a] God! How vast is the sum of them!Were I to count them, they would outnumber the grains of sand— when I awake, I am still with you. – Psalm 139: 13-18
I painted for a Women’s Worship Night at CityChurch recently. It was a chance for the ladies to intentionally connect with God and each other before the holiday madness began. I set up my easel and paints in a back corner of the fellowship hall, as my heart fluttered with anticipation at what God might do. It just wasn’t like Him to leave us empty-handed. He always seems so eager to speak to someone…to encourage…or to reveal more of His love and glory. Even though I’ve grown to expect Him to move in some way, it’s still a little like Christmas Day when He does! Worship began, and the all-female voices sounded so delicate and light as they sang of God’s faithfulness. I’m pretty sure that’s gotta be one of God’s favorite sounds of all time…and it was such a lovely setting in which to paint. It just seemed to flow effortlessly from my heart, through the paint brush, onto the canvas. The worship time seemed to be over in a blink, and I was asked to come share about the painting I’d done. It wasn’t complicated: A brick wall. Someone feels boxed in or like they’ve been beating their head against a brick wall, and they can’t seem to break through. But God sees beyond the wall. He sees the beauty of the wide open pasture. So He’s broken through the bricks and created a way of escape from the things that have us imprisoned. Some of us have already made our way through and have landed in a tree to rest, but we’re stuck there. Our resting place has become a snare for us…because ultimately God intends for us to soar! That was it. Nothing earth-shattering. I went back to my corner of the room as the Prayer Team began ministering to the women in the room. Only to turn around and see my new friend Patrice Gopo standing there with notebook in hand. She nervously shared that during worship, she had spent her time writing out something that God had put on her heart. I could tell she was stunned. You see, she was in the other back corner of the room…she had no idea what I was painting until I got up in front of the group to share. And as she read aloud to me, I couldn’t help but weep. It was so God. So crazy-unbelievable-perfectly-woven-together-couldn’t-be-anything-BUT God…and He obviously had something on His mind. Here is what she had written in her notebook: I remember what it felt like to soar with the wind piercing my back, the sky wide open before me, the power infused from You as my wings cut through the air. I don’t remember first one wall, then the next and next and next. I don’t remember the roof placed atop the cage, the sharp blade of the scissors that cut the tip of my wing, a breath of down and feathers against the ground. But I remember the prison, the darkness, the inability to move, and I remember the hot tears spilled on the cold ground. Were they mine or were they Yours? But I also remember Your hand brushing those steel walls aside. Nothing but paper to You. I remember Your hand reaching down, scooping me up and pushing my brokenness towards the sky, the wind piercing my back just as it should be. So beautiful, the way God had simultaneously woven together imagery and words so heavy with intent. So like Him to deliver them so delicately to His cherished ones that night. How about you? Are there areas in life where you feel like you’re beating your head against a brick wall? Do you feel entrapped…like you’ll never get free? Do not fear…God has made a way of escape for you. He sees beyond the wall. He sees you soaring in the great wide open with the wind piercing your back…just as it should be. That’s it. The simple truth. Pretty earth-shattering, if you ask me. God is just so good.
Heartbreak. Disappointment. Rejection. Abuse. Betrayal. The heavy stuff of life. Sometimes it feels like someone is standing on your chest. Sometimes it feels like everything that connects you to this earth has been untethered and your heart is adrift. Sometimes it feels like you dare not exhale or it will all crumble to pieces around you. Let’s be honest: most days we feel like anything BUT victorious. Broken and flawed as we are…and as dysfunctional as our families might have been…and as unapologetic as this world has become, our hearts can wind up a bit beaten and battered from the fight. But there is hope. Psalm 51:17 says: “Heart-shattered lives ready for love don’t for a moment escape God’s notice. Your pain matters to God. Your undoneness has His full attention. He moved heaven and earth to invade your emptiness. He sent Jesus to walk among the ruins of your life as an extension of His love. It was meant to change things…to alter your current reality…to affect the outcome of your anemic existence. No the story doesn’t simply end with your pain. Truth is, the story begins and ends with God’s love. Like massive, stone-hewn bookends, God’s unwavering love stands firm…and woven between the lines and letters on every page of every book, God’s enduring love