Lenten Meditation–Surely

photo by Josh Scholten http://www.cascadecompass.com

Surely, he has borne our griefs
and carried our sorrows.  Isaiah 53:4

Weighed down by life, we sometimes cry for relief from the burden we carry.  This is such a part of the human condition that the cry even came from Jesus Himself:  “Take this cup from me”.   Even He needed help to carry the cross to the hill;  another was needed to bear His heavy load for Him.

So He knows there are times we cannot bear it alone because He has felt overwhelmed too.  He knows what it means for someone to come alongside and share the burden.  He knows what we need even before we need it.  He has borne for us and carried for us.

Surely.  We know this with utter confidence and certainty.  It is so.


photo by Josh Scholten http://www.cascadecompass.com

“I am the vessel.
The draught is God’s.
And God is the thirsty one.”  Dag Hammarskjöld

rain falls in unrelenting
torrents from heaven,
a rising current so swift
I cling fast
to not be swept away.

Filled to overflowing
I am drenched
beyond capacity,
ready to empty
myself into
your thirstiness.

Lenten Meditation–Hid Not From Shame

Rembrandt Head of Christ

I offered my back to those who beat me,
my cheeks to those who pulled out my beard;
I did not hide my face from mocking and spitting.
Isaiah 50:6

So this is how humanity treats God.  Still.  He does not turn His face from us, but we continually turn from Him.  We only add to His suffering.

“In the real world of pain, how could one worship a God who was immune to it?  He entered our world of flesh and blood, tears and death.  He suffered for us.” John Stott

“No matter how deep our darkness, he is deeper still.” Corrie ten Boom

“…even the darkness will not be dark to you; the night will shine like the day, for darkness is as light to you.” Psalm 139:12

Lenten Meditation–Acquainted With Grief

Detail from "Descent from the Cross" by Rogier van der Weyden

A man of sorrows and acquainted with grief
Isaiah 53:3

There is a tsunami of tears overflowing our small community tonight.  When a healthy wife, mother, teacher, former missionary, active volunteer in church and school is suddenly stricken by a virulent pneumonia and taken from us in a matter of four days, there can never be an end to tears shed. Sorrow at her loss fills a chasm so deep and dark that it is a fearsome thing to even peer from the edge, as I do.  Her family and close friends have surely fallen inside, swallowed up by their grief, uncertain if they will ever be recovered.

We can never understand why inexplicable tragedy befalls such good and gracious people, taking them when they are not yet finished with their selfless work on earth.  From quakes that topple buildings burying people to waves that wipe out whole cities and sweep away thousands of people, to a pathogen too swift and powerful for all the weapons of modern medicine,  we are reminded every day–we live on perilous ground and our time here is finite.

There is assurance in knowing we do not weep alone.  Our grief is so familiar to a suffering God who too wept at the death of a friend, who cried out when asked to endure the unendurable.

There is comfort in knowing He understands and overcomes all peril to come to our rescue.

The Call of the Green

photo by Emily Vander Haak

It isn’t yet time to turn the Haflingers out on pasture.  The fields are still trying to recover from the ravages of winter freezes, even as recently as a week ago, so there is little convincing grass growth yet.

But spring is in the air, with pollens flying from the trees and the faint scent of plum blossoms wafting across the barn yard.  The Haflingers know there are green blades rising out there.

Even so, they are led daily from the barn to their winter paddocks for their usual portion of last summer’s hay, the waning pile of bales in the barn being carefully measured against the calendar.  We need to make it last until the fields are sufficiently recovered, dried out and growing well before the horses can be set free back on the green.

Haflingers don’t care much about the calendar.  They know what they smell and they know what they see and they know what they want.   As I’m walking them to their paddocks and back to the barn, they try to sneak grass bites as we cross the lawn.   They stretch their necks under the fencing to nibble what tender shoots they can reach beyond the dirt.  They stand with heads over the fence, gazing wistfully at the neighbor’s fields across the road where dairy heifers will soon be released.

As I opened the gate to a paddock of Haflinger mares yesterday to take them one by one back to the barn, their usual good manners abandoned them.  Two escaped before I could shut the gate, the siren call of the green carrying them away like the wind, their tails high and their manes flying.  There is nothing quite as helpless as watching escaped horses running away as fast as their legs can carry them.

They found the nearest patch of green and stopped abruptly, trying to eat whatever the meager ground would offer up.    I approached,  quietly talking to them, trying to reassure them that spring is at hand and soon they will be able to eat their fill of grass.   Understandably suspicious of my motives, they leaped back into escape mode, running this time for the pasture across the road.

We live on a road that is traveled by too many fast moving cars and trucks and our farm on a hill is hampered by visibility issues –my greatest fear is one of our horses on the road would cause an accident simply because there would be no time for a driver to react after cresting a hill at 50 mph and finding a horse a mere twenty yards away.

I yelled and magically the mares turned, veering back from the road.  As I marveled at my ability to verbally redirect them from dashing into potential disaster,  they were heading back to the barn on their own, where their second most attractive feature on the farm dwells:  our stallion.  He was calling them, knowing things were amiss, and they responded, ignoring the pastures temporarily in their desire of his studly approval.

So that is where I was able to nab them in their distracted posing for the guy in their lives.  Guys can do that to a gal.  You end up completely abandoning thoughts of running away with the wind when the right guy calls your name.

Tomorrow I know the green will summon them once again.  I’m just hoping our stallion will always call louder.

Lenten Meditation–Despised and Rejected

Christ Before the High Priest by Gerrit van Honthorst

He was despised, rejected of men…
Isaiah 53:3

There is much in the news these days about bullying –horrific examples of man’s inhumanity to man, or children’s inhumanity to other children, as the case may be.   Those who are the brunt of such treatment certainly know how it feels to be despised and rejected, isolated from others, victimized and humiliated.   It can be so severe it can drive some individuals to take their own lives in their desperation to be free of the psychological and sometimes physical torture.   Even death can seem a respite from such rejection.

So many years ago, and still today,  God is despised and rejected both privately and in public.  There were plenty of bullies in the story of the Passion but more disturbing than the public bullying by the high priests, Herod and the Romans, was the turning away of His friends, disciples and followers.   This was worse than cruelty that comes from people in power who need someone to pick on to make them feel they are in control.  This was indifference to His severe emotional struggle in the Garden, this was betrayal for a few silver coins, this was His closest ally denying knowing Him not once but three times, this was choosing a convicted insurgent murderer to be set free so He could take his place on the cross,  this was derision while He was hanging there suffering.

Even worse than the abuse from bullies wanting to look powerful and the turning away of friends when their support was most needed:  rejection of God by God.  No human rejection can come close.   Being hung on the cross by fellow humans cannot compare to the torture of being left there by God.

God is no bully and has no need to look more powerful to man.   He came to earth in the most humble of circumstances.  It is our turning away, our rejection of Him that brought Him to come beside us, live and walk among us, eat with us, love us with His human heart and then, despite His cries for relief,  die our death.

Our God is wholly God because He was willing to be broken like the most helpless and despicable among us, experiencing our struggles, identifying with us.  Death can be no respite for God.    Instead of remaining shattered,  He rose in victory, undefeated, with power over death itself.

We are invited to turn back, walk alongside and believe, our hearts burning within us for this man who is God living among us.




A Shared Nest

It’s spring. My dove just hatched her single egg yesterday after two weeks of faithful brooding.   I was puzzled when I approached the dove house as she was in the outside enclosure sunning herself for the first time in those two weeks.  Inside, on the nest, her mate was dutifully taking his turn sitting atop the hatchling, making sure the little naked baby didn’t get cold in the brisk morning temperature.  He was giving her a break from her 24/7 job yet he himself had been her constant companion during those two weeks, sitting on a perch where he could watch her and protect her and the egg if the need arose.    Who was going to give him a break from his vigilance?

They are monogamous and committed partners, these two.  It does my heart good to see such instinctive drive to cooperate together to raise the next generation.  There are a few species who prove over and over again how beneficial it is when two parents work together to raise the young.  I’m not always sure humans are one of those species.  Monogamy is taking a heavy beating in today’s society.

More children are born out of wedlock now than to married parents.  More children grow up in single parent homes than in homes with two parents.  More children are left alone to their own care, or to the care of the internet or television than at any time in history.  They are raising themselves~~disastrously.  There is no one sitting on the nest.

In the mean time the adults are struggling to sort out just what they want for themselves.  While one segment of society is fighting hard for the legal right to get married (and of course divorced),  a majority of heterosexuals are increasingly rejecting legal marriage in favor of a  “roommates with benefits” arrangement.  No harm, no foul.  Those who do spend an average of $20,000 for a wedding ceremony and reception can anticipate a 45% divorce rate within fifteen years.  Not a great return on investment.  I wouldn’t gamble that kind of money.

A New York Times article this week reported on the increasing divorce rates in rural communities as traditional womens’ roles in the home have been turned on their head by economics, politics, education and changes in moral and spiritual values.  Women are opting out rather than staying put in a relationship that doesn’t meet their expectations.  Some are taking their children with them, others choose to leave them behind.  The article is disturbing enough to read, but even more so the hostile and vitriolic comments about marriage and monogamy that follow the article.  My comment in defense of the covenant implied in marriage vows, which takes precedence over the desires of the individual, was a distinct minority view.  Most people want their “pursuit of happiness” to include escaping the bonds of marriage if that is what it takes.  I once attended a wedding where the couple’s vows were “as long as we both shall will.”  Oh really?  And how long might that be?

So just what did they expect?  The princess wedding dress and crisp tuxedo suit with a half dozen attendants along with the anticipation of “happily ever after” is not enough to carry a couple through many sleepless nights, baby poop and toddler vomit, pounds gained and jobs lost.  It can be an interminable tough slog.  It’s not long before it isn’t fun and fantasy anymore, the passion is past, and it is hard work to stay together.  Some people move on, still looking for happily ever after, wherever they may find it: in material possessions, in status and income, in another partner’s bed, in a bottle, or in the haze of smoked substances.

I’m blessed to be bound nearly thirty years in marriage to someone who I celebrate every day, even in the times when it is work to share our nest.  When I look at my dove’s devoted partner, I see that same protective look that I see in my husband’s eyes in his commitment to stay by my side no matter what, helping to raise our youngsters until they fly from our nest to their own adventures and someday families.  And I am committed to stay with him,  just as we said in our vows to each other (from Thomas Hardy): “And at home by the fire, whenever you look up there I shall be— and whenever I look up, there will be you.”

When our nest is empty, now only in a matter of a few months, we will still have one another to keep us warm.

Happily together ever after, as long as we both shall live.

Lenten Meditation–The Lamb

Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.
John 1:29

John the Baptist is the only one who actually calls Jesus a Lamb to His Face.  It seems a curious label to put on the Messiah expected to bring the Kingdom of God to His people with great power, might and fanfare.
A lamb?
A defenseless helpless lamb?
How could God send a mere lamb?

The label is particularly apt for this Messiah.  This mere lamb is marked for slaughter, destined for sacrifice.  The Jewish people well understood the age-old directive to find a “year old male lamb without defect”, the perfect lamb, as only that blood would demarcate their Passover rescue in Egypt.  There would be no mistaking what “Lamb of God” implied to the Jews who knew their Passover history.

But John is even more revolutionary than simply calling Jesus a Lamb of God.  He is not talking about a sacrifice meant only for his own people.  He is talking about a sacrifice on behalf of the world.    For the Jews, for the Gentiles, for the enemies of the Jews, for the millions of people as yet unborn.  His words cannot be clearer, ringing through to the unsettled times and people of today.

The perfect lamb is sacrificed, his blood marking the hands of the slaughterers, and washing them clean.
No mere lamb would forgive the holder of the knife.  Only so for the Lamb of God.

Lenten Meditation–Humble in Heart

photo by Josh Scholten http://www.cascadecompass.com

Take my yoke upon you and learn from me,
for I am gentle and humble in heart,
and you will find rest for your souls.
Matthew 11:29

Over twenty years ago, our first two Haflinger horses were a brother and sister team we sent for training together to learn to pull farm implements like a plow and manure spreader.  They were learning, in essence,  to be “yoked” together in their efforts to do their job.  Hans, the older brother, had previously been trained in harness, so understood what was expected and was always ready to go, usually taking on more than his share of the load.  Greta was new to this work, younger and more slightly built, so needed to be taught how to lean into the collar, how to take her fair share of the pull, and how to work in tandem with her team partner.

As it turned out, Hans became the primary work horse wanting to push on to the end of the row and Greta learned that she could be a slacker, hang back and let her brother do the brunt of the pulling.   Hans would be exhausted (and if a horse can be resentful, he probably was) and Greta was happily watching the scenery go by.  It was an uneven relationship that never quite gelled.

We can’t be slackers in faith, letting others do our job.  We are to take on the work of this world by throwing ourselves into the harness without holding back.  Our teacher walks alongside as we learn, handing us what we can manage of the load to share,  reassuring and encouraging every step of the way, being an example in gentleness and humility.   There is no contest to win here, no pride in accomplishment or trophy upon crossing the finish line.

The reward is the relationship itself and,  eventually,  the promise of rest when the work is done.





Lenten Meditation: I Will Give You Rest

photo by Josh Scholten http://www.cascadecompass.com

Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.
Matthew 11:28

Our oldest son contacted me online today around 12:30 AM his time from a rural location in Thailand about 50 miles from the 7.0 epicenter of yesterday’s Myanmar earthquake.  He and other teachers had been spending the past 5 days supervising a group of high school seniors from their international school in Tokyo on a mission service project.   They now wondered, somewhat ironically, if they had brought seismic instability with them to a part of the world that has not had an earthquake in decades.  As he talked to me, his computer camera began to waver and shake again as he sat through another one of several aftershock tremors.

It was unnerving, to say the least.  He couldn’t relax enough to sleep.  The long planned week in Thailand so far had been a welcome relief from the constant tremors over the previous ten days in Japan, and seemed like an opportunity to forget the uncertainty of that evolving disaster.  Instead, uncertainty followed this dedicated group of teachers and students and found them tucked away on a mountainside, building a foundation for a rural Thai school, almost a stone’s throw from Myanmar.

He was weary, I could tell.  He was burdened and troubled by all he and the others had experienced over the last two weeks, it was obvious.   He was worried about his students and how they were coping, at such a young age, with another powerful reminder that human control of events on this earth is illusory.  As his mother, sitting helplessly at my kitchen computer over 8000 miles away where he could see through the window behind me how our farm was starting to bloom with spring, the only thing I could say was something he knew and had already shared with his students.

You are in God’s care, no matter what.
He is in control, not us.
He knows what being afraid feels like and tells us not to fear.
He has promised you will know His care and comfort.
He will not abandon you in your time of need.
He will let you rest.

Despite the earth trembling as he lay down his head, he fell asleep.