The Footprints of a Friend

There are in our lives people who simply change everything for us. Individuals who help us to see the world differently and encourage us to see ourselves with compassion and grace. They cause us to dare to believe in our dreams and in our hopes. Flavia Weedn writes, “Some people come into our lives and leave footprints on our hearts and we are never, ever the same.”

Footprints on the heart show up in places we don’t expect them to. In a quiet moment of reflection, a thought, a story or a memory leaps into our consciousness. Long tucked away and forgotten, but suddenly present. Don was one of those people who left footprints in my heart. I met him first as my pastor, then later he became both a mentor and friend. Had I not been going through such a difficult time during those years, he may never have gotten quite so far into my heart. Sick babies and a marriage falling apart led me to his office where I found counsel and support. He was an encourager and celebrated with me the successes I had as I headed back to college and then to seminary.

I have to admit that there were times when he gave some terrible advice, but on Sunday morning, somewhere in the prayers or in the sermon was the word I think he wished he had said. Don had a special talent that way, which really was not an accident. Later he told me he would go into the sanctuary during the week. Standing at the front on the church, he would visualize the congregation and where individuals would be sitting in the pews. Then he would ask himself what people who came to mind needed to hear on Sunday morning. His gift was his ability to skillfully weave together a sermon which included concerns of the congregation he had heard in recent days. Listening to his sermons could be a profoundly  spirit-filled and holy  moment.  On a practical level, I learned the art of the zinger from him . . . the comment he would make just after he got you to laugh. The words he wanted you remember,  were always found there.

I chose him as my mentor when I was ordained. He was the person who I would be relating to as I entered the ministry. The mentor’s role was simply to share the journey of ministry, which made it possible to admit mistakes and talk about what I had learned. I would bring my questions and he would share his experience. I came to trust his judgement around church problems and difficult people. The official mentoring period ended, but the mentoring didn’t. Along the way mentoring turned into friendship. The years passed and the friendship continued.

Since Don’s death I have been reflecting on his life, his ministry and his unconditional love. In the end, he showed me how to grow old. As he neared ninety, I would ask how he was. He would always say he was doing “pretty well for his age.” One day when I pressed him a bit, he said, “I don’t want to complain. I’ve visited so many people through the years who complained about every problem. I just don’t want to be one of those people.”

“Some people come into our lives and quickly go. Some stay for a while and embrace our silent dreams . . . Some people move our souls to dance. They awaken us to a new understanding with the passing whisper of their wisdom. Throughout our lives we are sent precious souls . . . meant to share our journey, however brief or lasting their stay, they remind us why we are here. Some people come into our lives, and leave footprints on our hearts, and we are never, ever the same.” Flavia Weedn

Don left footprints in my heart.  I’m grateful for my friends life and the way his life touched mine. I’m grateful for the gift of friendship and for the shared journey. I’m grateful for all the other people in my life who have come as saints and also left footprints in my heart. Flavia Weedn’s poem “Some People”  includes these words: “Some people come into our lives to teach us about love… The love that rests within ourselves. . . Let us reach out to others and feel the bliss of giving, for love is far richer in action , than it ever is in words.”

Easter is God’s Message of Hope

My confidence in the arrival of Spring wanes in years of bitter winter nights and sluggish March days.   Yet, even when I doubt, God’s provision for Spring is already on its way. Today, I see slivers of hope. Leaves are thinking about pushing their way into our Minnesota landscape. Driving down my street,  I spotted a lone magnolia tree sporting some blooms.   Our lives follow a similar pattern. There are winter times, when life is hard. We go through days of struggling and working through our current trial. We wonder when the pain will end. We wonder if it ever will.

The day Jesus was crucified, his friends and family were devastated. All the events which transpired were outside of the control of his followers. Jesus on a cross brought little hope for any kind of a future, yet the record of history and God’s actions in the city of Jerusalem, tell us of a different reality. There is no keeping Jesus in the grave. Two thousand years bear record to that great truth.  Easter is God’s message  telling us not to  lose hope. God is working in our lives, even though it may not look like it at the moment.

Our hearts may break. We may despair. The power of Easter is that because Christ lives, we can live also. We can face tomorrow. We can do so without fear.  This Easter you may be troubled of spirit and soul.   There may be difficulties and trials. The bitter taste of rejection and injustice may linger.  Your heart may be buried in grief.  I have no easy answers. But, while much of God remains a mystery to us, of one thing I am sure. God is a God of resurrection power. Witnesses continue to proclaim this truth. In God’s providence, Easter will follow Good Friday. Life stirs into being after death. Spring inevitably arrives in spite of winter’s hold. New life is God’s gift to each of us.

Charles Wesley’s Easter Hymn “Christ the Lord is Risen Today” includes this verse:

“Love’s redeeming work is done, Alleluia!
Fought the fight, the battle won, Alleluia!
Death in vain forbids His rise, Alleluia!
Christ hath opened paradise, Alleluia!”

May this Easter bring you hope. Where life has been hard, may you see glimmers of God is working in your life.  Where there has been the loss of one held dear, may you find hope in the mystery of Easter and God’s love for you and your lost loved ones.   May you be reassured that God holds tomorrow and is working, even now,  to make all things new.

I Believe in Easter

Desert Botanical Garden

I believe in Easter.    No one can prove for you the resurrection of Jesus.  My belief in Easter is set in life experiences and years of pastoral ministry. I believe in Easter, in part, because of the other resurrections in my life. We stumble and fall. We mess up our lives. We make huge mistakes that hurt others and ourselves. We fail more often than we want to admit to ourselves, and definitely not to others.  Our lives take painful turns.  We encounter losses and heartache.  Our world crashes around us.  We almost give in to despair.   Were it not, for God’s steadfast love and presence, we would give up.

 

I believe in the resurrection of Jesus because it simply doesn’t make sense to me that for two thousand years people have been fooled by a story that had no fact, no truth, no reality behind it. Or that this story would endure through all these years and be passed on from one generation to another.  It makes no sense to me that those cowardly disciples of Jesus would suddenly develop courage or that they would face dangers and hardship. Why would they be willing to give up their lives for a fraud? Someone else might have, but not that set of disciples who seemed more interested in getting to the top of the heap than serving God. It makes no sense that this skeptical group of disciples would have proclaimed Jesus as risen, unless they had personally experienced Jesus’ presence in some tangible  way. Not this set of disciples  – who doubted entirely Jesus’ resurrection, when the good news was brought to them.  Not these disciples who said, to themselves and each other,  this is “only an idle tale.”

 

For two thousand years one person has shared stories of encountering a living and resurrected Christ with  another.  People told of their lives changed for the better.  Thieves gave up on stealing. People struggling with addictions found strength for recovery. The angry bitter person started to love. All done through this Jesus. Hospitals were founded and the hungry fed in the name of Jesus. For two thousand years, people who had given up on life have found hope in the presence of Christ. In that encounter they have found meaning and purpose.   Those who felt themselves without love have discovered a God who loves unconditionally. Some, who  encountered the living Christ in a moment of crisis or defeat, found strength and a power outside themselves.  I believe in Easter – because the world is created in such a way that life always follows death – spring always follows winter.  I believe because there have been people in my life representing  God to me, who for no conceivable reason I could see, reached out to me in times I desperately needed someone to care.  I can only attribute that care and love to answered prayers – God’s people responding to need.

 

An empty tomb without a risen Christ would mean little. A risen savior who left no words behind or  wisdom to draw from, would be of little help. William Sloane Coffin say’s of Jesus “Miracles do not a messiah make, . . . But a messiah can do miracles. . . . I can also report that in home after home I have seen Jesus change beer into furniture, sinners into saints, hate-filled relations into loving ones, cowardice into courage, the fatigue of despair into the buoyancy of hope. In instance after instance, life after life, I have seen Christ be ‘God’s power unto salvation,’ and that’s miracle enough for me.”

 

I believe in Easter. I am confident that God can turn a life around, that death and sin can be overcome. I believe that God who loves us and came in Jesus Christ will have the last world.    There are really no proofs to the resurrection, only witnesses. Just witnesses transformed into one of God’s new creations.   Through  these last two thousand years,  people in all walks of life  have testified to the presence of the living Lord in their lives. They have found a grace which truly was sufficient for every need. Through that grace, they have lived difficult lives courageously, vibrantly and victoriously – for they knew they were never alone. However many times they were knocked down, they lived in the confidence God would be there to raise them above the place they fell.   Christ continues to offer that same gift today, to come as a friend, whenever a heart is prepared to receive the gift. Sometimes, it’s as simple of asking Jesus into your heart – or as scary as turning your life over to Christ and trusting that God means only good.  Today is a good day to let Easter,  and its promise,  into your heart.

 

Prayer – God, open my heart to receive you. I give you my fears,  my doubts, my cynicism  and  my skepticism. I offer my heart, my mind and spirit to you, trusting your love is wider than my fears, your compassion greater than my mistakes and your goodness large enough to receive me as I am. Amen

All Things Working Together For Good

My sons were seven, six and four the summer they decided to poison their two year old sister. The two neighbor boys, who were generally down on girls and helped with the plan, were six and seven. I was never certain just what possessed my sons to do this. Their sister liked to tag along after them. But that could never justify in my mind, how they decided to put together a concoction of shaving cream, toothpaste and what they assumed to be poison mushrooms. Mostly, I remember my despair when the neighbor mom called and told me the plan my boys and hers had cooked up. Even now, I’m appalled when I think about it. I will tell you that I was not a calm mom at that point. I couldn’t wrap my head around what they wanted to do. There was never any real danger that my daughter would have tasted the mixture. Still it was a painful moment of recognizing that my perfect children were as vulnerable to imperfection as any others.

I wonder how the patriarch Jacob felt when he learned the true story of his son Joseph’s disappearance and presumed death. Recorded in the Biblical book of Genesis (chapters 37 through 50) the story of Joseph has intrigued generations of readers. Joseph with his special coat was sent to check on his older brothers. His brothers resented him and what they perceived as special treatment. Eight of Joseph’s brothers decided to kill him and rid themselves of the troublesome sibling. One, hoping to teach the boy a lesson and bring him home safe, convinced the others to put him in a pit. Unfortunately, he wasn’t around when traders arrived and the others decided to sell their brother into slavery. Soaking Joseph’s coat in the blood on an animal, they let their father assume a wild animal must have killed his beloved son.

What they didn’t realize, in all of their scheming, was the devastating effect that losing Joseph would have on their father. The light just slipped out of his life. He was no longer the father they knew, but a broken man grieving for a lost child. Years would pass with Joseph’s brothers carrying a load of guilt and shame. Eventually, starvation led them to Egypt and their lost brother. By then, Joseph had risen to a status almost as great as Pharaoh.  His wisdom  prevented mass starvation in Egypt.  With the excess food that has been stored  he  can feed his brothers,  saving them and their famlies from famine.  Joseph could have treated his brothers with contempt. Instead, after revealing himself to them, he offers them forgiveness. It is not lost on the brothers that Joseph holds the power of life or death over them. To their surprise, Joseph tells them that what they intended for evil, God intended for good. The apostle Paul would say “We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to God’s purpose.” Romans 8:28

My son’s intent to poison their little sister has proven to be a handy reference point, when I hear one of the three adult sons complain about children who are behaving badly. It is a a quiet reminder of their childhood and what behaving badly really looks like.

Seeing Through a Glass Darkly

The question of suffering is deeply troubling. We want the very best for those who are precious to us. When a loved one hurts, we hurt. When they suffer, we suffer. Part of what makes us human is this connection of suffering love. So, we wonder how a good and loving God, can allow the grief and pain we see in our world. We don’t understand why God allows a September 11th or the shooting of little girls in a small Amish school.  Mudslides, fires, earthquakes and tsunamis all come with their own “Why.”

 

Especially, we wonder why God allows painful things to happen to ourselves and people we love.      If nothing else- we at least want to make some sense of our suffering.  A young woman from a congregation, that I had left weeks earlier, was murdered by a man who had just moved into her apartment building. As I searched and prayed for words of comfort and hope for the family, this passage of scripture began to fill my mind, “For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known..” I Corinthians 13:12

At the deepest level of faith, we trust that God will take our broken hearts, our deepest questions, our gut wrenching grief and weave them into our life in such a way, that some good will shine through. Today, we do not understand the “why” of suffering.  Till then we are comforted by God who chooses to be involved in our world, in our lives.

The apostle Paul’s affirmation in Romans encourages us. “For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Romans 8:39

The mystery remains . . . as does God who is with us and from whom, nothing can separate us in Jesus Christ.