Spirituality and Spandex

I belong to the church of the physically fit. Members do marathon mudders. They sprint up stairs.  They are at peace with their lean to fat ratio because they  have nothing to put in the denominator. They run. They jump. They bench press twice their weight. And they look good in spandex.

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In my day, spandex was tights which, unless they were anchored in place by a leotard, succumbed to gravity pretty quickly. School girls suffered until bathroom breaks allowed them to hitch those buggers back up. By 3:00 P.M., my tights had settled into Shar-Pei like wrinkles down my skinny legs and I was walking funny. After a few years of this,  I switched to knee socks for school, reserving the troublesome tights for dance class.

Eventually even dance tights changed. I’m not sure when the modern dance movers and shakers decided to take the feet out of their tights, but by the late 1960s, I was dancing barefoot. I can only assume that this bit of brilliance eventually evolved into the leggings that most of the church ladies wear. Truth be told, I even own a pair. I ordered them in a spirit of rebellion. To heck with arthritis and tendonitis!  I’d wear my leggings as a proclamation of life, or tribute to freedom, or to who I used to be- but I’d be sure to wear a long tunic top. . . with freedom comes responsibility. Until I ordered the leggings, I hadn’t realized how closely I associated life with movement. “Moving slowly these days, Deb? You must have less life.”


Life does not consist of the things I can do. That list has become embarrassingly short. Life comes from God. The person sitting in a wheelchair at the back of the church might just be the most “alive” person there- deceptively quiet on the outside, but bursting with life on the inside, his “spiritual stem cells” multiplying lickety-split, connecting him to his Creator in all kinds of wild and crazy ways. Who’d have guessed it?

Jesus promises us life. He told the Samaritan woman that whoever drank of the water that He gave would never thirst, but that it would “become. . . a well of water springing up to eternal life.” (John 3:14) There is apparently no shortage of life. We just need to know where to find it.



Hunting for Thanksgiving




It’s November. Leaves are falling, skies are gray, and my son-in-law has been here visiting the deer. While he’s with us, I never need an alarm clock. I wake up abruptly just before dawn, smelling coffee and hearing the front door click shut. The hunter exits like a ghost, neither waking  his brothers-in-law nor the four dogs. In fact, I’d be willing to bet that our pony ignores him as he threads his way through the barn, down the gulley, and into the woods. Once he reaches his destination, he stays there all day watching and waiting. When he comes back to “deer camp” after dusk, he will, if pressed, talk about his days’ adventures. I’ve learned a lot because, being deer camp cook, I pump him for information while he devours his dinner.

I enjoy hearing his wildlife stories but I’ve learned more by watching him. Apparently, hunting is not just sitting up in a tree for a couple of hours shooting at harmless Bambis as they stroll beneath you. It’s clinging to that tree in rain, wind and sleet while your extremities stiffen with cold. It’s holding a drawn bow forever while your prey decides whether or not to come your way. It’s getting up early and coming home tired. It ain’t that simple. And I am torn between my compassion for the beautiful animals and my admiration for- well, I’ll call him “Uncas.”

While I want Uncas to bag a buck, I secretly wish the buck could go home with him as a pet and live happily in his back yard. Of course, being a meat-eater, I see the inconsistency of this attitude, and admit that my method of procuring meat is cowardly in comparison (buying plastic-wrapped muscle on styrofoam is so much easier). Oddly, the easy method of acquiring food doesn’t automatically make me more thankful for it. As long as I don’t have to watch an animal die, the only obvious cost is the one stamped on the package. Custom and convenience have numbed me to the fact that blood was shed so that I can live.

In ancient times animals were killed not only for food, but for forgiveness of sins. We don’t offer animal sacrifices anymore-  a circumstance for which I am profoundly grateful. I mean, if the necessary killing of animals for food bothers me, imagine how badly I’d feel if I had to regularly slaughter a lamb because of my sins. But maybe that was the whole point. Although the “inner animal lover” in me cringes at this idea, I do think that gazing into the eyes of that lamb might be revelatory, a shocking reminder of the darkness of sin.



For the Christian, the animal sacrificial system ended with Christ. I Peter 3:18 says, “For Christ also died for sins once for all, the just for the unjust, in order that He might bring us to God…” It’s done. No more animal sacrifice. Because He shed His blood, the blood bath is over. And when I look at this last sacrificial Lamb, I see  not condemnation but love. My burden of guilt is forever exchanged for the burdens of praise and thanksgiving. How unexpected. How remarkable. How glorious!

“There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” (Romans 8:1)












The 1st Peter Blues

I live in the boonies- it takes twenty minutes to get to the grocery store; water is collected in cisterns, and everyone has a gas generator.  Nothing is convenient, but everything is beautiful- the river, the hills, the wildlife.  Unfortunately, the domestic beauty requires effort.

Last week, I was grubbing out weeds from flower beds with sweat  stinging my eyes, and I thought about how hard and how long Jon could work.  His stamina coupled with his desire to complete a project was incredible.  I, being a take-a-breaker, travel the low road. Work hard for a while and then reward myself for it – that’s me.  For Jon, the work was his reward.  And at our house there was plenty of work to satisfy him.


We grow stones up here- some of them huge- and it has been a constant battle to dislodge them.  Shortly after we moved here, Jon introduced me to the “spud -bar”, a heavy tool used to pry or break up rocks. Our horticultural efforts included:  take a step, use the spud-bar; walk another step, use the spud bar.  Over and over and over again.  I thought, “To heck with it.  Build raised beds, or plant around the rocks”, but  Jon just kept digging them up.  Characteristically, he moved from one problem to another, working toward solutions, motivated to “get it right”, while I dashed  to get by the problems, hoping that “Happyland” was just beyond them.  The problem is that there is no Happyland. There’s no getting around it- life requires a spud-bar.  I call this phenomenon “the 1st Peter blues”.



Peter and I go back a long way.  I couldn’t begin to count the number of I Peter studies I’ve sat through because of Jon.  “Let’s do something else,” I would say, “how about John or Philippians?”  But in the end, it was mostly  Peter  because Jon identified with him.  I avoided Peter like the plague. Because he was trouble.

When Peter writes:  “… even though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been distressed by various trials”, my “fight or flight” mechanism wakes up.  Whoa.  Hold it right there.  Right off the bat, I see Peter addressing troubled people and telling them their trials are necessary.  Suddenly, I turn into an intercessor for appliances.  I pray that the dryer drum will keep circling, that the oven will keep heating, that the computer won’t get a virus for which it has not been immunized.  But these are just the fears I acknowledge.  There are much deeper ones.  Peter’s audience would have been thrilled to exchange persecution for minor domestic inconveniences.

Of course these things are everywhere- hardships of one sort or another.  Some we just deal with and move on; others paralyze us.   Peter was certainly no stranger to hard times and tragic events, but he was able to see past them because he knew the risen Christ.  Therefore, he closed his first epistle with an encouragement:  “After you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace, who called you to His eternal glory in Christ, will Himself perfect, confirm, strengthen and establish you.”  

Jon, it’s taken a while, but Peter and I are finally good friends.  I don’t enjoy trials, but I acknowledge the value of facing them with an eternal perspective, knowing that there is a purpose behind them.  A purpose with a promise.



Over the Mountain with Mom



Libby was busy, determined, and quick.  A petite whirlwind, she took care of us with high speed devotion and pretty much wore herself out doing it.  She wanted us to be good, to be accomplished, and for heaven’s sake- to look nice!   I attribute my relative indifference to fashion to Mom’s fixation with it, but that is beside the point.

She sewed all of our “Sunday” clothes- matching suits for my brothers and fluffy dresses for me.  The dresses were beautiful, but I was mostly ungrateful.  It’s not that I disliked dresses- I liked to twirl as much as the next girl- but to achieve the right amount of volume, Mom had to add some kind of netting underneath.  And it made me itch.

And then there was the hair.  I had long dark hair, as unlike Shirley Temple’s as possible, but Mom spent forever winding damp sections of it around her fingers so that I would have ringlets.  She knew that my hair held its shape, and the shape she wanted was cylinders.  So while she meticulously molded my tresses into chocolate slinkies,  I waited in sullen rebellious pouting.  Depending on the degree of  rebellion, she’d either ignore me, or pop my twitchy little butt.  By the time I was five, I’d had enough of the Shirley Temple treatment, so I sneaked Mom’s pinking shears,  did a zigzag pattern across my forehead, and lopped off the side hair.  That was the beginning of the “pixie” cut era.  So long Shirley!  Hello freedom!


Mom eventually gave up on movie star hair, and by the time I took my first dance lesson, it was long again.  Dance lessons were necessary because Southern girls had to be graceful as well as attractive.  So on Tuesday and Thursday nights, she packed me and my brothers in the car, and drove to downtown Birmingham, so that I could unclumsify myself. At that time, we lived in a village planted on the northwest face of Shades Mountain, and the trip up could be either picturesque or perilous.  One night we encountered thick fog.  Mom piloted our Plymouth up the mountain, creeping through the cloudy atmosphere.  She knew (and knew that I knew) that somewhere to the right of us earth gave way to air.  I remember how tightly she gripped that steering wheel, how she watched the road’s center line,  and how cheerfully she sang.  Somehow, her singing became more substantial than my fear, and the scary  world was manageable.

Normally, we expect people to remember our strengths, so it’s odd that Mother’s singing made such a strong impression.  She liked to sing of course, but she certainly wasn’t a soloist; her voice was small and her range was limited.  No, it wasn’t how she sang that made it memorable; it was when.  Her habit of singing through the darkness revealed her faith.  Better than dresses, better than dance lessons, my mother gave me a more powerful gift; she gave me a triumph tune to sing in the night.

Psalm 96

Sing to the Lord a new song;
Sing to the Lord, all the earth.
 Sing to the Lord, bless His name;
Proclaim good tidings of His salvation from day to day.
Tell of His glory among the nations,
His wonderful deeds among all the peoples.
For great is the Lord and greatly to be praised



Old, But Not Done (with thanks to the Olivers)


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I have really good friends- the kind who will keep my gelding for me when my fences have gaps in them; who feed him chopped up, organic carrots; who let him pick fruit off their little apple tree, and who injure themselves fixing up a shed for him.  Why any horse would want to wander away from digs like that and people like that is beyond me, but a week ago, he did it.  Frolic discovered an open gate, hauled his bony behind up the long hill to my house, and followed his nose to the garage where we keep his feed.

I was shocked to find him there, but it was a much greater shock to my border collie puppy, who must have thought the ancient Welsh pony was Horsezilla.  Seamus bravely planted his little feet in the instinctive “prey stance’ and froze.  I didn’t expect him to make a sound – he was much too busy sizing up his enemy- but the other three dogs  were barking their heads off.  Unconcerned, Frolic, shifted from foot to foot,  and swished his tail, patiently waiting  for me to make a plan.

Eventually, it was done.  The bony pony was imprisoned in his old stall, quietly slurping up geratric formula, shifting from foot to foot, and swishing his tail.  The puppy was calm and crated,  chewing on a toy.  The disappointed adult dogs  had wandered off to bask on the back porch.  And the menagerie owner was seated at the breakfast room table, sipping hot tea, resting her knees and thinking.

How is it that an old horse, gaunt, arthritic, and lonely, can find motivation to trudge up a long, steep hill, ignore the threatening sounds of prey animals, and patiently wait for his owner to arrive and provide for him?  If I weren’t old and arthritic myself,  I might not even be wondering – but I can identify with the pain in his knees,  and  marvel at his perseverance.  At 32, he still cares about grass,  feed and water.  At 32, he still follows his nose wherever his legs will take him.  Does he remember better days, when he jumped hurdles, took trail rides, and grazed with a herd?  Who knows?  What I do know is that every time I ask the vet whether he’s suffering too much, she says, “No, he’s still got spunk; he still cares.”

When the Israelites were conquering Canaan, an old man did an amazing thing.   At 85, he began to conquer the hill country of Hebron.  Having fought alongside his brothers for many years, helping them to claim their inheritance, he started off on a quest of his own.

“Now behold, the Lord has let me live, just as He spoke, these forty-five years, from the time that the Lord spoke this word to Moses, when Israel walked in the wilderness; and now behold, I am eighty-five years old today. 11 I am still as strong today as I was in the day Moses sent me; as my strength was then, so my strength is now, for war and for going out and coming in. 12 Now then, give me this hill country about which the Lord spoke on that day, for you heard on that day that Anakim were there, with great fortified cities; perhaps the Lord will be with me, and I will drive them out as the Lord has spoken.”  Joshua 14: 10-12

What motivated Caleb to begin a new quest on his 85th birthday?  What kept him adventurous and inspired him to climb steep hills in pursuit of his goals?  I think the text tells us:  “…the Lord has let me live…”, “the Lord spoke this word…”, “give me this hill country about which the Lord spoke…”, “perhaps the Lord will be with me…”, “I will drive them out as the Lord has spoken.”  Apparently- God had something to do with it.

I don’t think Frolic worries about his life. In meandering through the pasture, searching for clover and flicking flies, he is content.  The fact that life is harder than it used to be doesn’t seem to matter to him, because he knows instinctively, what humans can only know through faith- that as long as we live, we have purpose.



Learning to Listen



When William, was a toddler,  he distinguished between his two grandfathers,  calling one, “Pop”, and the other “Papa Horse”.  The first grandfather is still active in William’s life, a kind man, full of integrity, eager to share the things he knows with his grandsons.  The second, who also delighted in his rambunctious grandsons (there were no granddaughters at the time),  is fading into pleasant memory.

When the little boys were able to sit up and take notice, Jon would carry them out to the barn and plop them, bareback onto Rufus and Frolic.  It was high adventure for them all, but it was especially delightful to William, who lived too far away to see us frequently.  Those barn interludes eventually caused him to refer to “Papa Horse” in everyday conversation,  hoping that his parents would humor his equine yearnings and take to the road. But even before the words were present, his desires existed, and William let us know about them in a  language of his own. In the early days, we struggled to interpret his cries of frustration, feeling helpless to identify the problems.  But Jon could take William to the barn and set him on a horse, and magically, William’s face would break out in delighted smiles.  “Papa Horse”  had figured something out.  Instinctively, he’d learned to listen to his grandson.

Listening can be hard.  I remember a biology course I took in college,  where the teacher’s great idea was to furnish all the students with casette tape recorders in lab.  In this way, he dictated each step of the rat dissection for us without actually being there.  Jon thrived on it, while I,  frustrated at being tutored by a faceless voice, loathed it.  I struggled all through the course, and ended up turning off the stupid tape recorder, and doing the dissections by looking at the pictures.  It was a situation where I failed to learn to listen.

But as I’ve gotten older and slower, I’ve begun to listen better.  Last spring, I decided to learn some bird songs, wanting to know what bird was singing,  just out of sight.  I bought a game called “Larkwire” and began actively listening.  It was hard for me, and I undoubtedly required many more repetitions to learn each call, than my auditorily gifted family members.   I learned the “chick-a-dee dee dee” call of the black capped chickadee, and the liquid,  musical notes of the wood thrush.  Early in the mornings,  I heard the  pileated woodpecker  taunting me from deep within the woods, and  recognized its call as one of the “jungle sounds” often heard in movies.   It was a wonderful, energizing thing to comprehend a new language.  Even a little  knowledge made me feel more alive.

Birds and babies speak  a different language from me, and I have to listen hard to understand them- but I am motivated.  With babies, the need is obvious- they keep on screaming until I get a clue.  And bird language?  It’s not necessary that I learn it, but it’s fun.  So why is it that listening to  God is so hard? If I can slow down long enough to listen to screaming infants and random bird calls, why do I consider listening to what the Creator has to say as burdensome and complicated?  Scripture proclaims His messages over and over and creation shouts to me.  Although He has condescended to speak, I hide from a tete-a-tete on the basis that He is too far away or that He is incomprehensible.  The difficulty, in this case, lies not in translation, but in desire, and the results of handling things without His input can get ugly.  I tend to be judgemental, rash and superficial.  I let unimportant worries waste valuable time.  I concentrate on urgent trivia and forget people.  If I would just  listen to God, I could avoid making so many messes.

Too often, my cynical spirit says that God isn’t speaking  to me.  I wonder whether I’ve really taken the time to hear?


Whom have I in heaven but You?
And besides You, I desire nothing on earth.
My flesh and my heart may fail,
But God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.
 For, behold, those who are far from You will perish;
You have destroyed all those who are unfaithful to You.
 But as for me, the nearness of God is my good;
I have made the Lord God my refuge,
That I may tell of all Your works.  Psalm 73: 25-28

Standing on the Shore



Shortly after Jon and I got married, we left Alabama, loaded our worldly goods into a mid-sized U-Haul, and started driving north, towing our little car with its “Heart of Dixie” license plates behind us.  We reached Chicago’s Eisenhower Expressway at 5:00 p.m. on a Friday afternoon, and  people honked and swore as Jon manuevered the cumbersome load from lane to lane.  By the time we located our exit, sweat was pouring off his forehead, and I was a nervous wreck.  Miraculously, we made it to our hotel without injury.

That  first trip across town became a metaphor for  life in the Windy City.  Although it could be frightening, exciting, and demanding,   it definitely wasn’t relaxing.   I was often homesick for quieter days,  screened porches, and real sweet tea with lemon.  I missed our families, our traditional foods (fried), and the slow tempo of life in the South.  That rhythm, partially dictated by the weather:  hot in spring, broiling  in summer, sweltering in early fall, and cool in winter, left me entirely unprepared for the bitter cold winters of the Midwest, and for the explosion of activity that occurred when spring finally did arrive. After the snow melted, our neighbors burst out of doors  like worker bees from starving hives- flower beds were prepared; bikes were ridden; windows were washed.  One spring morning, someone even mentioned “going to the beach for the weekend”.  I was confused.

“Will you be flying?” I asked.

“No”, she replied.

“Well, if you’re not flying, how are you going to make it to the beach and back by Monday?”

She was amused.  “Surely, you know that Lake Michigan has a beach”, she said.

“Oh”, I thought,  “not a real beach.  You people don’t understand.”

To me, “the  beach” meant the Gulf of Mexico, with its white sand and warm water, a place my parents took us each summer.  While Dad fished,  Mother painted sea scenes, and my brothers and I romped through the waves, built sand castles and looked for shells.  I loved the gulf in all its moods and colors.  I loved the fresh breezes and the afternoon showers.  I loved the sound of the waves breaking against the sand, and the cry of the laughing gulls.  I loved the sight of glistening dolphins arcing through the water, and sailboats running before the wind. When those memories blow across my mind I feel a great yearning to be there again, because being near the sea feeds my soul.  Consequently, I found John’s vision in Revelation 21, distinctly disappointing:   “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth passed away, and there is no longer any sea.”

Some commentators think that this statement is purely metaphorical, that the sea represents evil, and that it is evil which will be swept away instead of  the oceans. Others remind us that the sea is not only the cause of many deaths, but a future portal for the antichrist, and conclude that it  cannot  be part of the new creation.  Then there are those pragmatic few who think  that any island prisoner would hate the sea,  and naturally regard it as an evil in a perfect world.  I find myself in deep waters (idiom intentional) when I read these commentaries.

I’m pretty sure that John didn’t delete the ocean from his vision because he hated it.  He grew up by the sea, worked on it as a fisherman, and watched Jesus walk on it.  And,  if he was using the sea only as a symbol,  why did he  juxtapose it with something he clearly saw as concrete (“a new heaven and a new earth”)?  As for the sea representing evil, what about the Genesis verses where God pronounces His whole creation “good”?  We live in a cursed creation.  People fall off mountains.  They die of thirst in deserts.  It doesn’t follow that mountains and deserts are evil in themselves.  Likewise, water  is just…water…no matter how big.  I don’t think that John was editorializing, but merely relating what he saw, and what he saw was surprising.  There was “no longer any sea”. 

Although part of me urgently wants to join the “purely metaphorical” contingent, I realize that I love the sea most, not because of what it is, but for what it reminds me of.   Simply put, the sea reminds me of its Creator:   His voice is in the surf; His eternity  in its vastness; His power in the turbulent waves.  It is not the ocean, but what is beyond it,  that calls to my soul as I watch and wait on the shore.

God is a master communicator, and He uses creation to point out the obvious, namely, that ” He is”, and He wants us to believe that He is.  That He created us.  That He loves us and has provided salvation for us.  In the new world, He will live with us and speak to us face to face.  Perhaps the oceans will be done with then…perhaps.   But as this world is only a distorted version of the next one, I can expect to see greater things.  If the sea is gone, I won’t be missing it.

Let the heavens be glad, and let the earth rejoice;

Let the sea roar, and all it contains;

Let the field exult, and all that is in it.

Then all the trees of the forest will sing for joy before the Lord,

for He is coming,

For He is coming to judge the earth.

He will judge the world in righteousness

And the peoples in His faithfulness.  Psalm 96:11-13

Becoming Heroes



I  love the story of David and Goliath.  Once, our church dramatized it  for the children’s sermon, using a retired pro football player for the part of Goliath.  He was impressive- the biggest guy I’d ever seen, and when he walked into the room in his Goliath suit, the little kids began to back up.  Their eyes, if  not the size of saucers, were perhaps  the size of small pancakes.  The point that the children were supposed to carry home with them was that God gave David the victory against great odds.

We are  struck by the combatants’ differences – David was a teenager with a slingshot; Goliath was a nine foot tall armor-bearing Philistine warrior with a spear like a weaver’s beam.  Both camps considered Goliath a shoo-in.    King Saul, himself, tried to discourage the young shepherd from fighting.  So the stage is set, and we assume that David, who plays the part of hero, must be secretly terrified, even though he doesn’t show it.  Somehow, maybe because of all those flannel graph cut-outs portraying David as a skinny, rosy-faced kid in a striped bathrobe, we get the idea that David took a deep breath, uttered a nuclear prayer, and gave it his best shot- literally.  And because God was with him, the stone found its mark, and Goliath fell.  The story, seen in this light, is a little discouraging.  I wonder if I could drum up that much faith in an emergency?  

But non-flannel graph David,  responded to the skeptical Saul, “Your servant has been keeping his father’s sheep. When a lion or a bear came and carried off a sheep from the flock, 35 I went after it, struck it and rescued the sheep from its mouth. When it turned on me, I seized it by its hair, struck it and killed it. 36 Your servant has killed both the lion and the bear; this uncircumcised Philistine will be like one of them, because he has defied the armies of the living God.”  (1 Samuel 17:34-36)  What David is saying is:  “I’ve been here before.  This guy is dogs’ meat”.

David had a history of fighting off predators.   The bear he fought may have been the Syriac brown bear.  This bear weighs up to 550 lbs. and can run at speeds of 30 m.p.h.  The lion he encountered was probably the Asian lion, which can weigh almost 400 lbs, grow to a length of 9-10 ft., and can run in short bursts at 50 m.p.h.  In addition, it can jump 12 to 15 feet vertically and up to 45 feet horizontally.  Both animals can run better, jump better, hear better, see as well or better (especially at night), and have an incredible sense of smell.  David’s resume indicated that he’d been up close and personal with their teeth and claws, so he probably wasn’t as terrified of a nine foot  human as we might expect.

The real question  is:  “How had he managed to survive bears and lions up to that point?”  David gave the answer in verse 37:   “…The Lord who rescued me from the paw of the lion and the paw of the bear will rescue me from the hand of this Philistine.”  Apparently, David’s knowledge of and faith in God had grown during those years of ovine guard duty.  He didn’t have to drum up faith when he faced Goliath; it was already there, and it had grown while he did his day job.

I have a small life.  I don’t create software, write rocket fuel formulas, run marathons, climb mountains or travel to exotic places.  I am not quick-witted; I can’t sing;  I’m not beautiful.  My flannel graph character would be a short, chubby, grandma with glasses and a book bag.  A most unlikely heroine….  But the quiet life of non-flannel graph Nana  is full of ups and downs, and opportunities to trust God or to despair.   Just like David, just like Ruth, just like Peter, my story is being written- every minute of every day, through all the years of my life.  I would edit the story if I could, but I can’t go back.  What I can do is to trust the Author, and He will create a story that the bards will sing about.

“…He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 1:6)                      

Singing in the Snow




Eastern Towhee Photo


Not so long ago, the drive to church was a noisy affair. The car was jam-packed with family, and we were usually running late. But today I would be arriving early and alone. As I drove, mental post-it notes whirled through my mind, and I felt a little anxious. I’d worked on this map project steadily for a month: compared gospel accounts,  read articles, scrutinized atlases, pestered  my well-traveled friends with questions about Jerusalem and the outlying areas, all to visualize Jesus’s wanderings during the last week of His life.  The idea was to examine His steps for that week-  to study the trips to and from Bethany;  to understand the escalating conflict with the religious establishment; to feel the ominous presence of the Roman military.  I wanted the children to understand that Jesus didn’t show up one fine day and offer to die that afternoon.  Although that would have been a staggering gift of love, what He did was so much more.  He set His mind to save us, and steadfastly walked, day after day, toward the cross.

Loaded into the back of my car were many of the props for the project:  30 lbs. of clay, 40 pizza bases, 320 tiny banners and 320 toothpicks  to mount them on, 40 tiny wooden crosses, 40 blank calendars;  the list went on and on.  Had I forgotten something?  Would the kids be bored stiff?  What if they didn’t learn anything?  Wait- was this idea just dumb?

Abruptly, memory  invaded my anxious thoughts.  I was in the car with Jon, heading for Kettering Hospital and his first cat-scan- a surreal errand to run on Easter morning.  We  found the waiting room empty except for the receptionist at her station.  As he signed in, Jon smiled and gave the traditional Easter greeting, “Jesus is risen!”.  The receptionist stared briefly and told him it’d be a few minutes.  He tried it again on the cat-scan technician.  “Jesus is risen!”, he called out.  She smiled uncertainly, and proceeded with the scan, but  when the scan was done, she said, “I get it.  It’s an Easter thing”.  Jon and I were to discover that it was more of a “survival” thing- a three word manual on joy.

Joy is generally defined in terms of emotion:  delight, happiness, exultation, euphoria, etc.  But the writers of the New Testament had an irritating habit of commanding Christians to “rejoice always”.  Feel happy when you’re being persecuted?  Delight in diaspora?  Not likely.  Obviously, in their minds, joy was made from a different material.  What’s more,  it was constantly accessible to those who knew where to look for it.  So what were they always rejoicing about?  They were rejoicing in that “Easter thing”.  They were rejoicing in a resurrected Savior.

I often find myself hedged in between darkness and light.  Three years ago, it was cancer on one side and “Jesus is risen!” on the other.  Today,  I was wedged between self-doubt and hope. Then I saw it.   How ridiculous I was being,  obsessing over little clay models of Jerusalem, and forgetting the message that gave value to the project!   At once,  anxiety evaporated, and laughter took its place.  Sunday’s lesson would be just fine- whatever I forgot or didn’t forget.

Monday was bright and warm, and as I walked the dog, I saw a towhee singing on a sycamore branch.  It was quite a display: he was proclaiming his territory, trying to entice a female to join him. Twenty-four  hours later, the temperature had dropped 50 degrees.  As I waited, shivering, for Dugan to do his business,  I heard a bird singing above me.  It was that towhee- singing on a snowy branch.  The weather hadn’t changed him.  He was created to sing in spring, and he was determined to sing- no matter if the day was sunny or snowy.

Whether the moment is bright or dark, we were created to rejoice, to sing.  Because the truth is:

Jesus is risen!

He is risen, indeed!


“Rejoice in the Lord always.  I will say it again: Rejoice! ”   Philippians 4:4