“And sometimes I think about a one-and-a-half-year old child with its baby teeth still coming in, whose days on this earth were so very, very few.” (National Geographic, July 1988, page 53)
The author of the article, haunted by that scene as he unearthed the remains of a 4th century town on the Island of Cyprus, looked on it as a tragedy. Indeed, it was a devastating earthquake that had quelled the life of the entire village.
The Greek-speaking Christian city of Kourion on that late July day A.D. 365, had been secure in its pre-dawn slumber. Most people were indoors, as was the family of three found nestled together in their sleeping chamber. Here were found a young woman of nineteen cuddling her eighteen-month-old child and the father of twenty-eight with his body stretched protectively over them both.
The author deals with those final moments in terms of the “epicenter,” “fore-shocks” and “waves” as he tries to piece the events together. But those last seconds are as clear to me as if they had been experienced firsthand.
The baby cries in alarm as the first wave rocks his home. The parents reach out to calm him as the next and far more deadly wave hits within seconds. The walls crack, timbers fall, the solid earth trembles like a bowl of Jello but hysteria and panic do not invade their quarters. The father extends his body over his young family. Before the nineteen-second quake has passed, the family is asleep in death. They are secure with each other, and secure in the arms of their Savior; for we see that the author has unwittingly preached a powerful sermon on trust when he adds the simple note, “The man wore a Christian ring inscribed with the Chi Rho.” If the author is haunted by the “untimely” death of an eighteen-month-old child, to me the very rocks are crying aloud the glory of God. When my fears give way to panic and threaten to overwhelm me, I will think of this family and the ring, and their story which gives new meaning to the words:
“Should swift death this night o’ertake us
And our couch become our tomb,
May the morn in heaven awake us
Clad in light and deathless bloom.”( TLH 565 v.4)
We spent a half week with all nine of the children and the twelve grandchildren. The occasion was our son’s wedding. Tears threatened when the boys, now men, stood as groomsmen for their brother. The struggle of our grandson to stay awake and the relaxed attitude in one of the boy’s suits served to prevent a flood watch. Of course the joyous days ended. Goodbyes were said. Hugs given. Blessings for safe travels under the Lord’s care went with them all.
As I sit in the quiet of the morning, the flood watch has become a warning. I am in need of a lesson our son brought in a chapel address. It was a message of both admonition and comfort. The words repeatedly sustained me throughout the long winter of Kaylee’s illness. I find I am in need of it once more. For how easily does a mother, grandmother, say prayers for her children and walk away?
And She Walked Away!
As Matthew stated in his chapel address, they are simple easily overlooked words. When Mary saw the need, she brought it to Jesus’ attention and left. She walked away. The problem of the wine was in His hands.
O me of little faith! Faith finds the first action nearly automatic. It pushes the invitation “Call upon Me in the day of trouble…” into overdrive. Yes, I am weary. Yes, the burden is heavy. Yes, I lift my eyes up to the hills. While I struggle with the problem, the promises scroll as a tag line across my consciousness. “God is my refuge and strength.” “Flee for refuge to His infinite mercy.” “Lo, I am with you always.” They are a tremendous comfort and an invitation to walk through the storm on the sea of His promises.
But that is where I drift into failure. Like Peter, my focus too often remains on the waves of anxiety and the winds of fear. The oppressive clouds smother me, I cringe at each bolt of lightning, while the thunder is impossible to ignore. I want relief. I want it immediately. I think my ideas are worth vastly more than two cents. Scenarios, suggestions, and solutions stall me in a relentless and futile circle I refuse to leave. Sleepless nights and divided focus days result.
Really? Even two cents are two too many. “Know that the LORD, He is God; it is He who hath made us, and not we ourselves…” (Ps. 100:3) “When I consider the heavens, the work of Your fingers, the moon and the stars which You have ordained…” (Ps 8:3) “All things were made through Him…” (John 1:3)
I am in need of a Job moment. “Who is this who darkens counsel by words without knowledge?” (Job 38:2) Smell the coffee. Focus on Christ. Listen to the rest of the story. “Call upon me in the day of trouble and I will deliver you.” (Ps 50:15) He’s got it. He does not ask me to participate in the solution for my problems or those of my loved ones. My two cents are worthless and unnecessary. Like a stubborn two year old, I tend to resent the fact I do not “got it.”
Note to self- keep eyes focused on Jesus. See the cross shine above, through and beyond the storm. He got that for us. No two cents of mine aided His atoning death. No words of mine brought Him from the tomb. The lesson is simple, wait with expectation for His time. Throw the concerns at His feet and walk away. He’s got it.
(Note: I would have featured a family picture from the wedding, if I had one. I have been informed some are on Facebook. The picture will be updated when I receive one.)
Pennants of prayer, the flags prance in the background. Strings of colorful bits of fabric ascend diagonally from ground to temple pinnacle. The photos suggest their ceaseless flap in the wind, or their slight flutter in the breath of a breeze. They are pinned with the mistaken belief that each tremor sends a prayer aloft. Though the photos are mute, to the photographer the sharp snap or whispered rustled is clearly heard. The wind carries the sound across the sky. It descends to the human ear, and ascends to disperse among the clouds. Unacknowledged by the hopeful Hindus, they bear no pleas or praise to an unseen being. The being is non-existent. Their effort, their time, their money is wasted on a useless gesture. They are simply vibrant decorations in an Asian landscape.
Kaylee has prayer flags. In contrast to useless gaudy pennants, these unseen prayers snap with confidence to the almighty, everlasting, living and listening, God. They whisper with hope on His eternal promise. Their pleas and praises do not evaporate in the atmosphere. From hearts of faith, the fellowship of believers has sent a multitude of prayers aloft. Assured they will be heard, they have flown from all parts of the nations, they have reached across oceans. They have ascended, translated by the Spirit, through the blood of Christ to the throne of a merciful Father. With a substance beyond bits of fabric, they have supported Kaylee, her parents and grandparents. They have extended comfort to aunts, uncles and cousins.
“Be careful for nothing’ but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God.
And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.” Phil 4: 6-7
Not a plethora of vainly dithering triangles, but a bold banner under which to confidently live. This is Kaylee’s and each Christian’s triumphant prayer flag.
It is only a number, the quantity one more than 12, one less than 14. Beyond that fact 13 holds nothing to fear. Kaylee is many things. She is the daughter of Son Matt, born on Friday, the 13th of March. She is the daughter of Vanessa. She is grandchild #1 of Susan and Gary. She is grandchild # 13 of John and Debi. She is, through the waters of baptism and the Word, a lamb of God. Certainly not unlucky, Kaylee enjoys a multitude of blessings.
Not bad luck, but the consequences of sin, invaded Kaylee with a brain infection. Bad choice for the evil plot. Foiled again. Kaylee and her parents walk on the water of Jesus’ promise. “Lo, I am with you always.” The final outcome of her illness is indeterminable in the murk of the future. Even still, it cannot dim the glow of God’s mighty, merciful, loving hands. “His compassions fail not. They are new every morning: great is Thy faithfulness.” Lam. 3:22-23
After Kaylee’s first surgery, Matt wrote this: “My personal feeling is that her brain has been affected by the infection, but in a way never seen before. One day she will be a super hero, and this is her origin story.”
My personal feeling is that some day, 6 year-old Kaylee will run wildly through the house while a dish towel cape flaps from her neck. She will jump from the furniture and shout, “Super Kaylee!” until Matt and Vanessa want to tell her to sit down and be quiet. They won’t.
This post was intended to be about jelly beans. Classic jelly beans, not the offerings of spiced, Starburst, Jelly Belly or Harry Potter, but the real deal, the vibrant, honest tangy bursts of flavor scattered among the showier treats. I intended to hunt my memories for events from the ancient ages of my youth.
However, here is a smattering, in no particular order, of the Holy Week just experienced. Vibrant and tangy, the events are flavored with the sweet message, “He is risen!”
Plans for departure advanced a day. In typical Wisconsin weather fashion, we were hurtling from springy temps of mid-sixties to a major snow storm.
Days with a two year old granddaughter. “Annie got this.” (Name pronounced ‘Onnie”. ) Sometimes yes, she did. Sometimes no.Maundy Thursday service and the Lord’s Supper at our son’s congregation. Precious words, “Our Lord Jesus Christ, the same night in which He was betrayed, ‘this is my body… ‘this is my blood,'”
Storm past, sunshine re-starts spring. Drive from son’s to daughter’s.
Baking, cookies, butter horns, concocting a jello salad with layers that never end. Ribs slowly cooking on the grill for 8-10 hours. Max, the dog, tortured by the succulent scents.
Games, long soaks in the hot tub, keeping
track of the Sweet Sixteen, wonder as most grandparents do- “Just when did these babies turn into teens and near teens?”
Ultrasound pictures. “It’s a girl!”
The first in a series of e-mails. Newest 2 mo. old granddaughter is in the hospital. Requires brain surgery. Information flows to us. Matt flies back from India.
Easter morning. “He is Risen. He is Risen indeed” Tears of joyous emotion, tears of hope, tears of comfort, tears of prayer.
Understanding shoulders that don’t mind the wet.
Basket hunt, egg hunt, massive pan of scalloped potatoes and ham. Arrivals and departures. Lost key hunt. John meets Matt at O’Hare.
Milwaukee to Marshfield. A drive, ceaseless as the layers of the jello salad, through the tunnel of the night. The glow of the GPS as it vainly tries to redirect, plans new routes which are ignored. More road, more headlights, more night. Marshfield. Hospital. Motel.
Kaylee, Vanessa, Matt.
An unexpected visit from a former summer boarder. He’s a doctor? A surgeon? Should I have known? Did I know and forget?
Kaylee, Vanessa, Matt.
The vibrant tang and burst of sweet comfort.
“Why seek ye the living among the dead? He is not here, for He is risen as He said!”
“Out, out, damn spot!” The blood, fluid, thick, sticky and accusing, could not be erased or washed from the hands of Lady Macbeth. It clung, not on her hands, but in her vision. She could not wash from her conscience the conviction and condemnation of her evil deed.
Blood clings. A drop falls from a pricked finger and the white cloth might be spoiled if not cleaned at once and cleaned correctly. Blood does not clean easily, rubbed, it only spreads and fades to rust. Much time and effort are required to remove even a pinprick of blood.
Murderers are often discovered and caught by the blood of their victims they either carry with them or leave behind. Blood spatters liberally for long distances. It clings in cracks and crevices, and pools in low and hidden places. The blood seeps downward into mattresses and is catapulted upwards to cling to light fixtures or the ceiling itself. It can be found wedged beneath fingernails or clinging to an overlooked item that was touched and contaminated. The stain of it cries witness to the evil deed that condemns and damns the criminal. Much time and effort is required to remove even a pinprick of blood.
Sweat, like great drops of blood, breaking from a brow of agony, fell and splashed to the ground. The first of the blood, harbinger of what was to follow spattered the garden rock and soil. Those charged to watch, could only sleep, neglectful of the blood stained ground. Forgetful of the charge to watch and pray, consumed with worldly matters, the blood reproaches my neglectful flesh.
Trickling, fluid, the blood runs from crown to face, mats the hair and finding other welling streams on shoulders and back, join to mingle and flow. Deep and red the blood courses at the bite of scornful men. Absorbed by mocking purple robe, the staining blood mocks me, calls witness to my scornful deeds.
Sticky, smeared, the drying blood clings to crack and crevice of the wood on which it rubs. With every step the burden shifts and opens the drying streams to seep and smear once more. Weeping and lamenting, the condemned multitude follows while the blood that dries to rust cries condemnation of my sinful heart.
A torrent of blood, thick and sticky, fluid and unending, pools beneath the lifeless body. It spatters as it hits the ground, upward, outward, it reaches as a fountain. The darkened sun could not hide it nor envious rulers conceal or contain it. The blood clings and creeps into every dark and hidden place, fluid with forgiveness, thick with grace. Not to be washed away unclean, but to wash away what is unclean. “Out, out damn spot!” Not the spot of blood, rather the all consuming damning spot of sin is to be removed. Unlike Lady Macbeth, I may rest secure. My conscience may neither accuse nor condemn me. “Take drink, this is my blood shed for you for the remission of sins.” This is the promise of Christ’s blood that dwells within me, the blood that cleans and whitens, the blood that purifies my soul.
The chill November day required a snowsuit. The bulk of it did not deter the little girl from riding the birthday tricycle. While delighted with how quickly she could ride, she was also concerned. Repeatedly she paused, even stopped. “It’s okay, Jesus. I’ll wait for you.” She spoke the words aloud to the apparently deserted walk. Jesus was with her. He walked by her side. The bike might be faster than He. When the concept had become a part of her, she could not say. It was a fact, God with us. Trust.
Decades passed. By God’s grace she grew in His knowledge. God spoke through His word. “Grace and peace from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior.” From. These were words straight from heaven. Inspired. God breathed. These were not second hand words. Jesus spoke through the pastors and teachers. The girl treasured the heavenly connection.
As the years continued, they brought a deepened understanding of Immanuel. “Take eat this is my body, this is my blood.” With that, she perceived Christ was in her. His body broken, His blood shed for her. A maturing faith brought the realization she must alter her post-communion prayer. The gift she requested had already been given. By His death His blood was streaked across the doorposts of her heart. The Angel of Death would pass over. One did not ask the waiter for a dinner, when it was there, wafting delicious scents under the nose. His tremendous gift of love, humbled and awed her.
Old as she became, God had more to reveal. Learned in grade school, John chapter 1 remained in her memory. So many wonderful passages to contemplate. So many sermons and Bible class texts were taken from it. But one day the little girl in the older woman had an epiphany. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God…And the Word was made flesh.” These words were Jesus. The obvious had eluded her. Repeatedly she had read, recited and listened past those words. Now, in the quiet, early morning, alone, with the words splashed under the lamplight, she knew what she had known as a child. Trust.
Immanuel, a name with more packed inside it than Mary Popins’ satchel. The little girl could only rejoice with thanks that Jesus patiently paused for her to catch up to Him.
Christmas cards, they arrive like the first drift of snowflakes before a storm. Those initial flakes are caught on a mitten, examined and savored for their design. Then the cascade begins and the distinct flakes are diminished in the abundance. They collect in heaps, unite to cling on barren branches or dress the evergreens in sparkles of white. The individual flakes combine in undulating drifts, windswept ripples and glistening ribbons of roadways. The whole presents itself as beautiful as the part.
Christmas cards are as much a part of the season as snow in the north. Each one is unique. The approaches differ. The families smile in play from sunny beaches. Summer camps portray comradery in shared pastimes. A major hike is accomplished, the elusive fish are conquered. Graduations and weddings display generations gathered to celebrate. Like the snowflakes, we appreciate the unique facets the cards display.
As with the snow’s storm, the few are followed by an inundation. The wall overflows with cards and letters. They cling to mantels and array the shelves. The overflow is heaped in baskets. With the cards, come the letters. Each contains a recital of the year. They relate unique joys and sorrows, challenges and accomplishments. They are savored and appreciated for previously unknown facts, a new baby, job, house or vehicle. Lives are shared. As with the snowflakes, despite the uniqueness of each, the majority in my collection have a common beauty.
“And it came to pass…” It is the rare letter that does not contain the “reason for the season.” Rejoice, Christ is born. Somewhere, whether at the beginning, woven into the text throughout, or blessings with the closing, the message is shared. Really? Our human nature might ask. Who needs another sermon? Faith asks another question. Who does not need another reminder? Faith recognizes the fellowship, the shared joy, the common hope and the mutual comfort.
While the majority of letters are sent to likeminded Christians, many are not. Non-professing Christians, business acquaintances, friends and co-workers are also on our lists. The letters correct the world’s misinterpretation of the angels’ song. He did not come for physical peace on earth. The letters reach out with God’s message in the star. The Christ child’s kingdom is not of this world. They witness like a glistening ribbon of roadway between Christ’s cradle and His cross. The cards and letters cascade. The “reason for the season” becomes more than a slogan. The whole presents itself as beautiful as the part.
“For as the rain cometh down and the snow from heaven, and returneth not thither, but watereth, and maketh it bring forth and bud…So shall my word be that goeth out of my mouth: it shall not return unto me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in the thing whereto I sent it.” Isaiah 55:10-11
The wise men did not make it to the stable. Maybe a camel threw a shoe. Maybe they stopped to fix a deflated hump. Whatever the reason they did not arrive at the stable but the house, it was not due to poor directions. They did not need a huddle to debate the correct road. Wrong turns did not deter them from the goal. No dead end ravine blocked their journey. They followed the star, God’s unerring GPS.
They arrived not with the shepherds, nor with the song of angels. “And when they were come into the house,” Matthew 2:11. They arrived according to God’s Global Mean Time. God’s GMT is more reliable than Greenwich Mean Time and as unerring as His GPS. The official announcement the wise men carried to Herod, the chief priests and scribes was delayed with a purpose. Though God has not revealed His purpose, perhaps some of the reasons are obvious.
The shepherds were not forced to identify the child when the wise men failed to return. The baby Jesus was circumcised at the prescribed 8 days. Mary’s 33 days of purification were completed. He was presented to the Lord as the Law of Moses dictated. The promise to Simeon was fulfilled, “For mine eyes have seen thy salvation…” Luke 2:30. Another faithful watcher, Anna, “…in that instant gave thanks likewise unto the Lord…” Luke 2:38.
God’s GPS did not fail when the wise men inquired at Herod’s palace for the King they sought. The stop in Jerusalem also had a purpose. Again, though God has not given us an inspired understanding into the reason, perhaps some are obvious. Shepherds with a tale of angels in the night and a baby in a stable could easily be discounted. Hallucinations and fantasies concocted by illiterate, bored men were not to be taken seriously. Important travelers like the wise men could not be ignored. Their inquiries necessitated attention.
“I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.” Luke 2:10-11. Herod, the chief priests and scribes were certainly included. The question of the wise men sent them for the answer to the Scriptures. “And thou Bethlehem, in the land of Juda, art not the least among the princes of Juda: for out of thee shall come a Governor, that shall rule my people Israel.” Matthew 2:6. God in His long suffering mercy, extended a grace filled opportunity.
If no room but a stable had been available at his birth, Bethlehem had now become less busy. Joseph found a house. The visitors were gone. “Then Herod …sent forth and slew all the children that were in Bethlehem, … two years old and under.” Matthew 2:16. Even without modern media, the news of the slaughter must have spread quickly. Imagine the mother who clutched an infant son as she whispered incredulously, “We were there for the census, it could have been our baby under Herod’s sword.”
The Biblical wise men did not make it to the stable. Neither will mine from the nativity set. They will remain tucked away in the box until Epiphany. The stable will get turned backwards to represent a house. The angels, shepherds and animals will be wrapped in paper and take the wise men’s place. A tree topper star will rise above the scene where the gifts for a King are offered. It will become a new tradition. I regret it is new, not years or decades old.
The mission festival guest speaker had my attention. The sermon centered on our call as Christian ambassadors. I appreciated the analogy and the exhortation to make it personal. Not until the final point did I wander along a path not laid out in the sermon. To be honest, it was not the fault of the speaker, rather the words “we have diplomatic immunity.” I hadn’t wandered, rather skipped, jumped, hurdled, from what he explained as “diplomatic immunity” and what I knew it was not, but wanted it to be.
With a son serving in a foreign mission field, mission festival mines at a weightier level. It becomes very personal. Yes, we are all to be missionaries, yes, spread the Word as we go, where we go. But at that moment, I was sorry the words “diplomatic immunity” did not hold the promise of physical immunity from harm. Missionaries do not live in an impenetrable force field. They are not immune to all danger. The miserable treatment of Old Testament prophets is too long to support the delusion. Very quickly after the ascension, the apostles were beaten for their witness. Stephen was stoned. Church history recounts how first century Christians were tossed to lions, crucified, and exiled. “Flung to the Heedless Winds,” a hymn written by Martin Luther, was composed for the first two martyrs of the Reformation. They were burned at the stake. Current methods of persecution have regressed to beheading and progressed to semi-automatic weapons. Preservation from all physical difficulties, up to and including death, is not promised in the diplomatic package.
So what’s a mother to do? Pray of course. At the expense of the final point of the final part of the sermon, pray is what I did. Not only for our son, but for all the missionaries. For strength of faith, for courage of conviction, “…that Thy Word… may have free course and be preached to the joy and edifying of Christ’s holy people.” (TLH p.14) And yes, I prayed for their bodily safety.
Endangered by tears, I forced a refocus on the sermon. Unfortunately I returned only in time for the “amen.” The point I missed, I have since learned, was as ambassadors, we do not answer to the world, but to the authority of Christ.
Diplomatic immunity authorized by Christ. It is certified by the Lamb who was slain and now reigns with all things under His feet. The Head, not of state, but of all says “thus far and no further” to any evil Satan devises. “For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain,” (Phil 1:21) “Whether we live therefore, or die, we are the Lord’s.” (Romans 14: 8) “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.” (Ps. 23:1) Diplomatic immunity, it’s not only a missionary perk. Got faith? Then you too have diplomatic immunity. Use it. Enjoy it. Trust it.