This is the Day

exploring the soul's quest for joy

Bags of Filth

 

It all began with a dare. A 40-day Lenten dare to put love into action. It was my Ash Wednesday – Valentine’s Day challenge to love deeper, truer, better. Could I practice a deeper love for forty days? For one week? For one day? And if I did, what would I learn – about me, about sacrifice, about love?

 

There is always a cost to doing good, to putting love into action. A cost to our financial resources, to our time, to our own desires, and even to our own egos. The first days were simple enough, a kind gesture to say I love you. A gift of flowers to bring beauty to a weary soul. A gift of words, in the form of a note or a card or a book, to encourage a fellow traveler.

 

I noticed the trash along the road by my house as if for the first time. Were there always so many discarded bottles and cans, so much paper and plastic rubbish, so many rejected items tainting the splendor of this lonely road that meanders through the horse country of southeastern Pennsylvania? Had it been here all along and I hadn’t even taken notice of it?

 

An idea forms. Am I willing to put love into action the hard way?

 

The large white plastic bag grows noticeably heavier with each step I take. Many of the plastic and glass bottles are not empty when I collect them from their roadside graves. A leash guiding my dog in one hand, the trash bag in the other, it is all I can do to pick up the trash and place it in the bag. So, empty or not, in they go.

 

My four-legged friend is not amused by the stop-start nature of our afternoon walk.

 

I catch sight of the top of a bottle, its body buried beneath a bed a leaves. As I bend down to claim the next captive to my assortment of rubbish, I reach into the covering of leaves and debris. The heft of the bottle surprises me. It is larger than any of the other bottles in my collection, and its weightiness reveals to me that it is nearly full.

 

I think twice about making such a weighty addition to my already burgeoning bag. Retracting my hand, I turn away.

 

Do I really want to add this heavy bottle to my bundle that has already grown far heavier than I had anticipated it becoming?

 

Turning back toward the half-hidden receptacle, I bend once again, willing my fingers to grasp it, even though I know that its weight will be significantly more than that of ten empty bottles. It is cold. I cannot stop to open bottle after bottle and pour their contents out on the ground. Nor does that quite seem the point – I’m trying to clean up the earth not add liquid pollution to it.

 

My eye registers the sight of the light tawny colored liquid and the bubbles inside, and instinctively I know this is no bottle of soda.

 

This is a bottle of urine.

 

I let the bottle drop to the ground. I’m not going to carry someone’s urine.

 

And just like that, I stand high and mighty above the bottle of human waste and declare that I am too good for this. And just like that, I have forgotten what Lent points to, what awaits at the other end of the Lenten journey – the sacrificial death offering of the holy God-man for all of broken humanity.

 

For me.

 

Who am I to say that I am above carrying human trash when my Savior willingly carried my human trash, all of my filth and sin, up Calvary’s mount? I reach for the bottle again, this time placing it gingerly in my bag of discarded things.

 

 

My load is growing steadily heavier now. I’m rethinking how aggressive my collecting was on the first half of my excavation. From time to time I feel sprinkles from my bag dance across my ankles, and I wonder which bottle is leaking.

 

When we carry trash, we’re bound to get a little messy.

 

And yet, how often do we insist on continuing to carry our own trash around with us. The trash of our guilt and shame. The debris from those we have wounded and the wounds others have inflicted on us. The trash that is ripe with the stench of festering anger and bitterness and unforgiveness. The discarded remnants of a self-esteem that is so performance-driven that it can never be satisfied.

 

On top of all this refuse we add the messes of our fears and insufficiency and anxiety.

 

And our knees fairly buckle under the weight of our broken humanness.

 

Cars pass. I’m suddenly uncomfortable knowing that others can see all the trash that I carry.

 

This bag of refuse that we carry is, after all, just that – refuse. It represents all that has been rejected, cast aside, deemed worthless and unsuitable. Is there a way for us to refuse to carry the refuse? I mean, isn’t that what Lent and Good Friday and Easter are all about? Isn’t that why Jesus said he came – to carry our burdens, to pay our price for sin?

 

He beckons, cast your burden on me and I will give you rest, and yet we insist on carrying our bag of refuse with us. He declares that it is for freedom that he has set us free, and yet we insist on clutching onto those very burdens from which he desires to free us. He longs to give us freedom from anger and bitterness and hurt feelings. Freedom from fear and pain and worry and depression. Freedom from anxiety and loneliness and doubt that we’ll ever be enough. He came and he lived and he died and rose again to give us abundant life, yes that’s right, life abundant and free.

 

And yet some days we prefer to journey alone, grasping hold of our bag of rotten things as it leaks about our ankles.

 

My load grows even heavier now. My arm aches from the awkward bulky weight. My fingers cramp from grasping the plastic so tightly. My load is nearly more than my arms can bear, but it pales in comparison to the weight of all my trash the Savior bore on his shoulders to set me free. The one who lost his life so I could find mine gently beckons me to lay it all down, and I am reminded that his unfailing love and glorious grace are more than sufficient to carry all of my burdens and all of my sin.

 

Will you let him carry your burden today?

When Light Breaks Through the Darkness

 

They called it a bomb cyclone; I call it forty-four hours without power. Forty-four winter hours with no heat. No light. And not even cell service.

 

We were all bracing for the winter nor’easter to rear its ugly head, interrupting our weekend plans with sheets of driving rain. We wondered if we would make it to our daughter’s lacrosse game in northern New York given the storm’s predicted snowfall there.

 

The storm ended up catching us all by surprise. Where my daughter was expecting 15 inches of snow, she got 3; we expected rain and instead got 50 mph winds and a 6-inch blanket of snow heavy enough to knock out power in 300,000 homes. The storm had caught us all completely by surprise.

 

Life’s storms are like that, aren’t they? Life is running along smoothly when an unexpected and devastating storm rips through our world, upending our tranquility.

 

At church yesterday, one of our pastors said, “Lent is a time to sit in the darkness and appreciate the light.” He was speaking, of course, about the darkness of our sin and the lightness of our savior, but yesterday, forty hours into my cold, dark experience, his words held greater significance for me.

 

In the dark, we discover what inconveniences us. And I have realized that it doesn’t take much! As evening fell, the darkness began to envelop us. We sat huddled together, pooling the light from flickering candles and beams from our small headlamps. We washed our hands in cold tap water to conserve what remained in the hot water tank for the next day’s brief showers. The first night wasn’t too bad; the house was still over sixty degrees and honestly it still felt a bit like a pioneering adventure. But once day one stretched into day two and the house hit fifty-five degrees, all sense of adventure had worn off! Without cell service, we were truly in the dark, literally and figuratively.

 

As I walked through these hours of darkness, I really did appreciate the moments of light with a more grateful heart. A walk in the warm sunshine the day after the storm. A lunch out in a warm place. An invitation from a friend to come to dinner and bring our dog! A place for a hot shower and a hair dryer on day three. These moments where light broke through the darkness were the sustaining moments that enabled us to persevere as the season of darkness lingered.

 

Glimpses of light are essential when we are walking in the dark.

 

 

I have experienced another type of darkness, an extended season when there were no respites of light breaking through. My son had just been diagnosed with type 1 diabetes and I was angry. Angry at God for allowing my son to get this devastating disease that took my brother’s life and has afflicted my sister since she was sixteen. More than being angry that this wasn’t my plan for my family, I questioned why a loving God would allow such an awful thing to happen to my son.

 

And so I pushed God out of my life. Stopped up my ears and squeezed shut my eyes and declared that I didn’t want to hear from him or see him again.

 

And the dark became very dark, indeed.

 

It settled in and lingered. What I first noticed was the silence. Like the stillness of my powerless house with no humming appliances or electronics, my mind went completely silent. Gone were the conversational prayers that would flow in and out of me throughout the day. But I was okay with that; I was angry at God. I didn’t mind the silence, at least not at first. But like the silence of the winter nor’easter, the silence eventually became deafening.

 

The darkness continued to settle in, heavy like a suffocating blanket from which I couldn’t free myself.

 

In time, my anger began to abate, and I sought once again this God I have known my entire life. I expected the light to break through in glorious fashion and end my exile. What I discovered instead was the wisdom of a God who knew there were still more lessons for me to learn in the dark.

 

And so the silence lingered.

 

And the darkness grew darker.

 

It’s in the dark that we really appreciate the light.

 

In the dark, we see what we cannot see in the light. Once our eyes adjust to the dark, we begin to really see.

 

And truthfully, I didn’t like what I saw. In the dark, questions loomed large: is God still good even when my world seems very bad? Or is he only good when things work out according to my plan, and devastation doesn’t hit too close to my home? With the faintest flicker of light illumining me, I saw the warped theology I had fashioned: God isn’t good all the time; God is only good most of the time.

 

I had tangled up the sorrow I was experiencing over my son’s life and health with the goodness of God. Before I could step back into the Light, I had to settle this matter of the goodness of God.

 

Slowly, gently, I began to see that God is always good, even when life is bad and terribly unfair. I needed to be swallowed up in the darkness and in the silence to truly grasp the beauty of the Light. This Light never goes out, even in the darkest of nights and the most ferocious of storms. We just need to keep looking into the Light.

 

A Light has shined in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it. ~ Saint John

Ashes and Chocolate

 

Chocolate and ash. Valentine’s Day and Ash Wednesday. An odd pairing, isn’t it? Inconvenient, actually. How do I celebrate Love’s Big Day with all the expected pomp of a fancy dinner, fine wine, exquisite desserts, and of course, chocolate, when Valentine’s Day happens to fall this day on the Church’s Big Day of penitence and abstention, Ash Wednesday?

 

Could there be a way of celebrating both days at once, and in so doing enrich the meaning of each celebration? Perhaps the question I should ask myself this Ash Wednesday is not so much, “What should I give up?” as “Who can I love in your name, Lord?”

 

I have explored these thoughts in a new piece I wrote for ESA, an organization that thrives in partnership with Eastern University, not as a typical “think” tank, but as a “do” tank whose purpose is to mobilize movements for constructive social change. I hope you’ll give it a read right here, and consider joining me on a 40-day dare to put love into action!

Keep Alert for Changing Conditions

 

I became an empty nester in the middle of a January snowstorm.

 

The snow began falling thick shortly after midnight. Plenty of time to turn black asphalt into a sloppy white slippery mess by 9:00am. Despite the thermometer reading 16 degrees and the sky reading more snow to come, my calendar read drive my daughter back to college.

 

And so, today was the day.

 

Regardless of the road conditions.

 

Or the condition of my heart.

 

I had expected my empty nest to come last fall. My emptying was delayed by 5 months due to my son’s unexpected health challenge. But with his return to college last week, today, the emptying has come.

 

Just as it should.

 

Driving straight into a snowstorm is not my idea of a good time. Don’t get me wrong – I love a good snowstorm. It is my favorite excuse to hunker down and get cozy. When my children were small I would take full advantage of their snow days and not move from the house until they returned to school.

 

But drive in the white stuff? Don’t even think about asking me to do that! I have spun 360s on too many patches of ice driving my children to and fro to ever again relish the idea of driving in the ice and snow.

 

And so I clutched the wheel tightly, my white knuckles matching the sea of white all around me.

 

Emergency road signs blinked their warnings: Slow down, hazardous conditions ahead.

 

How fitting. Here, on the cusp of living life without my children around me for the first time in 24 years of motherhood, I too had better slow down. Slow down and reflect on the joy of having taken them this far. Slow down and be thankful for all that they are becoming. Slow down and recognize that there will indeed be hazardous conditions if I don’t release my children to God, in trust, knowing that he loves them more than I ever could.

 

And perhaps most of all, on this day of letting go, I must slow down and recognize that God will also care for my mama heart – the mama heart that longs to nestle my children in my arms just a little longer and protect them all the days of their lives. God has my heart too as I release my children to their adult lives and to his care.

 

*

 

I heard it before my eyes understood what was happening. The sound was like a truck horn, but longer, deeper, strangely distressed in tone. The sound of a semi-trailer truck blaring its horn, the noise reverberating through the nearly 1-mile long tunnel. Was he trying to communicate with me? Was he getting closer and closer to me? Yes, the horn was his way of saying, I can’t slow down. I can’t change course. Get out of my way or you’ll get hurt.

 

How often have I been like this with my children as they grew into young adults? Unable to slow down and walk by their side, without feeling compelled to tell them which steps to take. Unable to change course and offer them support in the decisions they have made rather than offering them criticism for not making the decisions I would have made.

 

The thing is, our children do grow up, and they will change. They need us still, but they need us less. And they need us differently. They ask us in a million ways to slow down, to change our course. To love them still, but to love them differently. It’s time to pay attention to the changing conditions, or someone will get hurt.

 

Ignoring the double yellow line, I change lanes just before the 18-wheeler barrels past me and out through the tunnel, with two other semi-trailer trucks right on his tail. Sometimes, we just need to get out of our own way.

 

*

 

I ascend the Pocono Mountains of Pennsylvania, the gray-white of a snow-laden sky rising up before me. Everything my eye can see is shrouded in white. Forests of sugarcoated trees emerge from a thick layer of white icing coating the ground. It is a vision taken straight from Candy Land, or perhaps Elf’s journey through the seven levels of the Candy Cane forest, and in a blink the sheer beauty of the scene has transported me back to the sweetest memories of long ago days spent with my young children.

 

Interrupting my reverie, another emergency road sign catches my attention. Keep alert for changing conditions. Another fitting reminder for this mama on Emptying Day.

 

Everything about the condition of my home is about to change. I will return to empty beds. Empty dinner chairs. Rooms will remain tidy days after I put everything in its place. The silence threatens to be overwhelming.

 

The boots lay strewn on the laundry room floor, as if she’ll come waltzing in the back door and slip right into them. His bed left unmade, with only the coolness of the sheets beneath my fingertips to remind me that he hasn’t just emerged from them, his long lanky frame sauntering into the kitchen to bid me good morning.

 

There will be holidays spent without my precious children by my side. There will be holidays spent together but shared with their new loves by their side.

 

At the crest of the hill, the white road seems to disappear into the white sky, leaving me no choice but to trust that there is indeed a road ahead on which I may safely travel.

 

I don’t know what lies ahead. Will I enjoy my new freedom? What new activities will occupy my time and attention? How will my man and I rediscover a love that was originally shared by just two? Stretched to encompass the dimension of five, it will of necessity find a new shape when it is once more shared by two.

 

The wise King Solomon once said, There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven: a time to be born and a time to die, a time to plant and a time to uproot, a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance.

 

Today I enter the time between two seasons, a time to keep alert because the conditions are changing. These are the days to pray for comfort as the tears fall when I long for what used to be. These are the days to offer prayers of thanks when joy fills my soul for all that will be new in the days ahead of me. And these are the days to receive God’s grace as I accept the moment I am experiencing, irrespective of my emotional response to it, and know that I am exactly where I should be.

 

 

 

Come, O Light, Come

 

A heavy blanket of darkness envelops our world on this the darkest night of the year. For those of us living in the northern hemisphere, this winter solstice, this stopping of the sun, heralds the end of the disappearance of light and the beginning of its return.

 

But all we notice is the dark.

 

Today in Philadelphia, we will turn our faces upward to catch a slim 8 hours and 20 minutes of light. Barely enough, but far more than our Alaskan compatriots who will wait to see a mere 3 or 4 hours of sunlight this day. During the deep midwinter, most of us long for greater illumination from this most-treasured of celestial orbs.

 

Most of us don’t typically like the dark.

 

Unless we are dining by candlelight in the cocoon of darkened walls, enhancing the glow on friends’ faces, on fine china, on elegant crystal. Unless we are nestled around a roaring fire, whose radiance takes the chill out of a winter night laden with stars.

 

In the dark we are always searching for the light.

 

The darkness awakens in us a sense of foreboding. It disquiets our soul and awakens in us the knowledge that we are no longer fully in control. In the dark we realize how much we walk by sight, taking steps forward only when we can see the road ahead. The dark swallows up our assurance, leaving us with a choice to make.

 

Stay still, or begin to walk by faith.

 

O come thou Day-Spring,

Come and cheer

Our spirits by thine advent here

Disperse the gloomy clouds of night

And death’s dark shadows put to flight

 

How we long for the light. This third stanza from the haunting Christmas carol, O Come, O Come, Emmanuel reminds us that it will not always be night. As surely as the dawn follows the dark, we can be assured that the true Light will spring forth like a new day.

 

Like a light into all of our darkness.

 

And so we wait. But like the awakening of a new dawn, it may take time. At times we too live in a bleak midwinter season, where our own piece of earth stands hard as iron, water like a stone, and we struggle to glimpse any beam of light at all.

 

What is your present darkness that you are plodding through in hopes of making your way forward to the light?

 

This time last year I had no way of knowing I would bury my father in one month and my mother in two. This time last year I had no way of knowing the new medical challenges that would stalk my family this year. I lost count at 66 medical appointments for two of my kids and me this year. You can do the math. That’s more than one medical appointment per week; that’s a high number.

 

But to me, it’s more than a number.

 

The number represents loss. A loss of time. Time scheduling appointments. Time researching options. Time driving. Time waiting. Time conferring with doctors. Time paying bills. Okay, let’s just say it…time worrying. And at the end of all this time, when there is still little resolution to some of these concerns, it all feels a bit like I’ve been wandering around in the dark, bumping into unseen obstacles in my path, and wondering when the light will break through and show me the way forward.

 

The people who walked in darkness have seen a great Light.

 

Perhaps I’ve been looking for the wrong light. Perhaps I’ve been confusing resolution to long-prayed prayers with moving forward. Could there be a journey in the dark whose worth far exceeds any journey we take in the light? It is in the dark that I must yield my need for control to the practice of trust.

 

Trust not that I’ll get the answers but that God is the answer.

 

This is the kind of trust that makes room for hope, and hope always welcomes the Light and prepares it a way.

 

Rejoice, rejoice, Emmanuel

Shall come to thee, o Israel

 

We can choose to move forward in the dark, in steadied hope that the light will indeed come. Waiting in the literal dark of this Advent reminds us that no matter how dark a season of life may seem, light will always break through, for the Light has surely come. When we wait in faith, we can catch glimmers of light before the dawn, before the Day-Spring, that invite us to step further into the light.

 

The world lays still tonight in darkness, but things will not always be thus. The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it!

 

« Older posts

© 2018 This is the Day

Theme by Anders NorenUp ↑