Today is Good Friday. And today my heart is heavy as I consider all the things I have not done.
I have not bought an Easter egg dying kit for my son and his cousins to play with at family gatherings this weekend. I have not picked up the ingredients to make the empty-tomb-crescent-rolls that my family loves. I probably will not have the time to make the hot cross buns filled with raisins that my grandmother loves. My box of spring home decor items filled with bunnies and pastels and wooden Easter eggs still sits in the storage room upstairs. I do not have a new Easter dress for myself this year. And there is a very good chance that my son will wear the same madras shirt he wore for Easter last year, if his long arms will still fit in it.
Yes, I have a full list of Easter things that I have not done. But this list is not really why my heart is so heavy today. There is still one more thing that I have not done, and this one feels like the most important one.
My heart is heavy because I am thinking of someone in particular, someone I used to know.
I am thinking of a girl who grew up in the church, but was afraid to return to it because she thought she no longer belonged. I am thinking of a girl who had let bitterness take root underneath a perfectly-performed smile. I am thinking of a girl who could not even recognize the grace that surrounded her because she was just too tired of life in a fallen world.
I am thinking these things because I was that girl.
And I have a story that might help if I shared it; it’s the most important thing I need to do this Easter. Because I am also thinking about the gracious love of a Father who tenderly and persistently called me home.
In April of 2013, just after Easter, I wrote the letter below to a few dear friends. And like many things in my life, I never intended to share it with anyone else. But today my heart is heavy with the words that filled that letter.
How can I not share this when I know there is someone that might need to be reminded that you can always come home?
These words are unedited. Unchanged. They remain exactly as they were first written because they flowed from the heart of a girl who was being set free by the grace of God.
Just after these words were written, God quickly moved in every detail of my life to make known to me how glad He was that I had come home. If you’re wondering today whether or not you have the courage to walk through the doors of that church on Sunday morning (on Easter morning!), would you read the letter below?
I promise you that God will be swift in His rescue. You can always come home.
April 10, 2013
To My Dear Sisters in Christ,
I am writing you to share something that has been on my heart recently. Many of you may know (some of you may not) that I have struggled over the past few years with my relationship with the Lord, trying to seek Him, trying to understand His ways, trying to find His presence in my life. Through much bitterness and grief, I allowed my own sadness to blind my eyes to His love for me.
Thankfully, joyfully, I write you today to tell you that He is speaking to my heart again. And when I say speaking, I mean shouting. Everywhere I turn, I hear Him…His word…His heart for me. It is like He has just thrown open a door that has been locked tight for a very long time.
Some of you I see every week. Some of you I see every few months. Some of you I haven’t seen in a few years. Some of you I have been afraid to connect with because I have feared that you would see the bitterness within me.
All of you have loved me and have known my heart. All of you have seen me laugh and cry in sadness and in joy. All of you prayed for me and stood by me and my family when God almost took me home to see Him two years ago. Like Mary in John 20:18, I am being called to spread the news of what the Lord has told me. I know all of you will rejoice with me in the story that I’d like to share with you today.
Jesus Appears to Mary Magdalene
11 Now Mary stood outside the tomb crying. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb 12 and saw two angels in white, seated where Jesus’ body had been, one at the head and the other at the foot.
13 They asked her, “Woman, why are you crying?”
“They have taken my Lord away,” she said, “and I don’t know where they have put him.” 14 At this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not realize that it was Jesus.
15 He asked her, “Woman, why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?”
Thinking he was the gardener, she said, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him.”
16 Jesus said to her, “Mary.”
She turned toward him and cried out in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means “Teacher”).
17 Jesus said, “Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father. Go instead to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’”
18 Mary Magdalene went to the disciples with the news: “I have seen the Lord!” And she told them that he had said these things to her.
John 20:10 – 18
For those of you who do not know, I have not been to a formal church service in several years, except for on Christmas and Easter. The church community was difficult for me to be in and I was too much of a coward to face that environment, when I knew that I was deliberately turning away from God. I made an exception to that self-imposed rule for Christmas and Easter, because regardless of where my heart was with God, I couldn’t bring myself to miss church on those days.
On the Saturday before Easter Sunday, Tom and I read the resurrection story to Thomas (from his Rhyme Bible – thanks, Kristen!). When Thomas heard the story, he noticed that while Mary was looking for Jesus’ body, she didn’t recognize his resurrected body (let’s just pause and praise that for a moment, shall we?), thinking he was the gardener.
In church the following morning, I gave Thomas a pad of paper and a pen to keep him occupied in “big church” because he didn’t want to go to kid’s church since I was there with him. Thomas wanted to re-write the verse about the gardener Jesus down on his little pad; I helped him follow the words in his Bible so he could copy them down.
What he wrote was this: “Mary thought it was the gardener. But it wasn’t. It was Jesus.” Then he shoved the paper at my face and said “see, Mommy, see! She didn’t even know it was Jesus!”
Like Mary, I have been so blinded by my own grief that I haven’t been able to recognize Jesus anywhere, although I’m sure He has walking right beside me all this time, most definitely carrying me for most of it. Of course, God used my sweet Thomas to deliver that message to me, with his ever-enthusiastic (and loud) voice – “see, Mommy, don’t you SEE???”
And since we know young children deliver things so eloquently honest, as in yesterday’s “mommy, your breath stinks”, I wish I had seen the truth in his statement that glorious Easter morning. I wish I had been bright enough to realize the impact of that moment in the moment, but of course I am thick-headed and it takes me a while to get a clue even when Jesus is so very clearly shouting at me…Wake up! I am right here and I love you dearly!
Fast-forward through a few days where I see now how God was lovingly and patiently bringing me closer to Him in the blogs I would read, the scripture that would land in my inbox, the music I would hear, the words others would say, and voice of peace in my head.
Oh, that we were all so loving and patient as our Father is when we were forgiving someone for hurting us!
The weekend after Easter, I was in my eighth weekend module of my yoga teacher training program. The weekend was focused on bhakti yoga theory; bhakti yoga is the yoga of devotion, meant to foster love, faith, and surrender to God. As a part of the weekend, we were required to submit quotes, poetry, or readings that inspired us and brought us closer to God. I carefully considered this task and submitted several Bible verses that have brought me hope in years past and one set of verses that God is speaking very clearly to me now. The verses I chose were:
- Ephesians 5:1-2; 8-10; 14
- Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.
- For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light (for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness and truth) and find out what pleases the Lord.
- Wake up, sleeper, rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.
- Psalm 27:13-14
- I remain confident of this: I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. Wait for the Lord; Be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord.
- Romans 8:37-39
- No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
- The Book of Ruth
- This is my favorite story in the Bible, because it reminds us that (1) the season of our greatest loss is the precursor to our greatest blessing (Beth Moore), (2) that God can open and bless the most bitter of hearts, and (3) that God can use even the smallest person to change the world.
On the Sunday morning of our training weekend, we aspiring yoga teachers gathered for our physical yoga practice for the weekend. The practice began similar to so many other practices I have done. But I should have known God was up to something when the teacher asked us to bow our heads and lift our hands up, palms facing upwards towards heaven, in a sign of faith and surrender.
This posture is one that I have taken so often in traditional Christian worship; so replicating it throughout this physical yoga practice began to tug at my heart. As we moved through the practice, our teacher began to read, one by one, our submitted quotes of inspiration. As I heard my verses spoken aloud while I moved through this physical practice that I loved, I was moved to tears (as many others were) and humbled that God would so graciously pursue me in, of all places, a yoga studio. It was beautiful.
How many times over the past few years have I said, just like Mary Magdalene, they have taken my Lord away…and I don’t know where they have put him…? I don’t know where they have put him! Just tell me where he is and I will get him! Where did He go? Why can’t I hear Him?
I let my sadness consume me, and the root of bitterness planted itself in my heart. I couldn’t see Jesus. I couldn’t see past my own grief to where Jesus was right in front of me.
Thankfully, He has now very clearly called my name, just as He did with Mary. Let us praise His faithfulness!
Since that Easter weekend, I have hungrily sought His word and His voice. I am desperate for it. And He has not disappointed. In every place I have turned to find him, I sense that God is speaking directly to my heart alone. Call me crazy, but I think I even heard His voice in an Octonauts episode on the Disney channel this morning (said an octonaut to a seahorse: “you are safe now and can rest here until the storm is over”.) Lord help me if I start to hear His voice in inanimate objects, but I wouldn’t be too surprised at this point if that started to happen!
To His glory, when I have needed Him to be near, he has delivered. Immediately.
God is very swiftly opening my heart and is beginning to take back so many things that the enemy has stolen. If you had told me two months ago that I would be writing this letter to you, eager for you to rejoice with me and praise the goodness and faithfulness and vast mercy of our Lord, I would have laughed in your face and probably said something sarcastically bitter.
It is also not lost on me that the first book that Thomas has chosen to read (as he gains the confidence to sound out words by himself) is his Bible. This is the book that he finds comfort and confidence in as he learns the new skill of reading. I have surrounded that kid with library books, Bob books, decodable books, and early readers since he could poop, and the first book he picks up and has the self-confidence to read is the Bible…God’s love letter to us. And the story of David and Goliath at that!
Praise the Lord that another Goliath has fallen in my heart!
My dear sisters, God is calling me to share this story, and I have chosen you to be among the first to hear it. Because I love you. Because you have known and loved me. Because I am thankful for you. Because I know you will rejoice with me.
Please do rejoice with me and praise His name.
Might I also ask for your prayers? Even as I write these words, I sense that the enemy is not happy about all this. The war wages on our earthly home. If the enemy were strong enough and if I were fighting this battle alone, he would surely defeat me. But he is not strong enough and I am not fighting this battle alone. The battle has been won and we are the blessed ones to worship the mighty God who defeated the enemy and saved us all.
Sing with me and rejoice. Today.
He will live our sorrow sharing, Jesus saves. Jesus saves.
He will die our burden bearing, Jesus saves. Jesus saves.
“It is done!” will shout the cross; Christ has paid redemption’s cost!
While the empty tomb’s declaring, Jesus saves.
Freedom’s calling, chains are falling, hope is dawning bright and true.
Day is breaking, night is quaking, God is making all things new.
Freedom’s calling, chains are falling, hope is dawning bright and true;
Day is breaking, night is quaking, God is making all things new. Jesus saves.
Jesus Saves, by Travis Cottrell
Thank you for allowing me to share this with you.
All my love and His,