Tuesday, April 5, 2016

An Empty Tomb, A New Life, A Thankful Heart - Revisiting Old Friends

Easter is about an empty tomb that signaled new life, redemption, adoption, hope, eternal life...Yes, a new life. I happened to be in my hometown this Easter and planned to spend it at the church of my childhood. In the instability of my childhood there was a sanctuary, both literally and figuratively, that was the shelter in my storm.

In the midst of much chaos, my mom had the foresight/insight to make sure we had a good church home. When we were homeless, the people of this church offered shelter. When we were hungry, there was food. When we were unclothed - clothes. This was "the church", folks. We read a lot about the dying of old churches. This was a conservative Lutheran church. The kind people scoff at because there's no lighting system or "worship" band. There's an organ. There's a choir, with choir robes. There's hymnals and vestments. But, I'm telling you - there is Jesus in a real, live, living and visible way. The hands and feet of God are moving in that church and the heart of Jesus was warmed and filled as the body of Pilgrim Lutheran Church ministered to me and my family.

Easter Sunday I turned the corner into the parking lot I'd not entered for nearly 18 years. Tears began to fill my eyes. I'd not expected that. I was hoping to see many familiar faces. The faces that literally put that church together, brick by brick and pew by pew. But, as I turned the corner, I felt like I was coming home.

Easter Sunday Pancake Breakfast - I approached person after person, whose eyes filled with tears as they looked in the face of a child they once knew. Hugs, tight, as you hug only those you have loved and hoped for. One lady, who provided Christmas dresses to a very poor girl, burst into the ugly cry without prompting, "I've prayed for you every day and wondered what happened to you..." The power of a faithful prayer is immeasurable. One woman, who I hold in especially high esteem, blessed me so. She comes from a long line of saints - faithful to the Lord. Faithful to her husband. Faithful to her children. Faithful to the Lord's church. "I am so glad you came today. You made my Easter."

There's a big difference between, "It's so good to see you" and "It's so nice to see you are happy and well." You see, statistically, I should not be well. I should not be happy. Statistically, I should be a dropout. I should have remained in poverty. I should have struggled in my relationships with men. Perhaps even mothered a child as a teen. I am not who I "should" be. Just in case you're wondering, yes - I was well aware of that as a child. I was aware that we were extremely poor. I was aware that there was an expectation of poor people. There is also an assumption of laziness, of filthiness, of stupidity, of a whole host of things I was not.

Much like Jesus was "supposed" to stay dead, I was supposed to "stay" poor. I was not destined for greatness. But, then there's Easter, isn't there? There's redemption. There's beauty in ashes.

As I sat in service and surveyed the Family that encircled me, I saw the baptismal, where I was baptized at six-years old. I remember vividly that moment. I remember how special I felt to be adopted into this family. I saw families. I saw marriages - 63 years, 72 years, 44 years....WOW! I saw kids, grandkids and greatgrandkids sitting in the pews with the anchors of their lives. Perhaps they don't realize what a gift that is. Perhaps they take it for granted. Perhaps not. I don't know. These marriages. These families. These were the "prize" I wanted. I could see the contrast from my own reality against theirs. As I prepared for marriage and adulthood, these were the images in my mind. My goal, if you will.

I recall during my dating life with Rhett, when we talked about the future, my goal, my dream for the future...I want to sit on my porch, in a rocking chair or swing, holding the hand of my love and watch my grandkids laugh and play. I want to see the fruits of my labor. I want to the Lord to look down with favor and say, "Well done. YOU have been faithful." You see, a girl doesn't come from the Union Gospel Mission to where I am without a few things. Hard work. The kindness of strangers. A little more hard work and the prayers of faithful believers make for a changed life - A changed destiny.

A few "food" for thought items if you're still tracking. My god-parents, with a teen-aged daughter in their home, took in a homeless stranger and her two children (one of whom was a teen-aged boy). They were in their 50s. They didn't need to do it. There certainly was no glory in it. There was no reward. But, it was the right thing. It was a "Jesus" thing. That's a challenge to me. How willing am I to do hard Jesus stuff? How willing are you? I don't know much, but they changed my life. Constant, faithful, stability in my life, even when it was thankless. I owe them much.

My Kindergarten teacher and her family, who were a part of our church family, invited a strange homeless woman and her two kids to spend Christmas dinner with them. That night changed my life. "This is a family!" Wow!! Families laugh. Families play. Families have fun. They don't yell. They don't hurt. They don't disown. They love. These were the images that permeated my dreams for Christmas with my future family - the one I would build.

None of the people who stand out in my mind or in my memories are perfect. None of them have lived life without error. But, they all, without exception have one thing in common - They honor the Lord with their lives by loving people. Jesus whittled the Gospel down to one commandment - "Love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, and soul and love your neighbor as yourself." They have demonstrated obedience to that commandment in such a way that there is impact. The results are generational. I have a healthy marriage as a result. I have healthy, happy children who are benefiting from that obedience. This is "Trickle-down-Jesus-nomics". This is the living, breathing, Gospel. This is the heart of the Lord. This is where it's at, folks.

So, my challenge to you (and myself) is two-fold. Assume nothing about the "lesser" of this world. There's a lot of politicians and political positions that will tell you poor people are lazy and just need to work harder. Consider the children in these situations before you open your mouth and spread ignorance. If you don't know anyone outside your income bracket, take some time to volunteer at a food bank, soup kitchen or shelter. I guarantee YOU will benefit from that experience.

Secondly, invest into your church. Get uncomfortable. Do hard Jesus things. Sometimes that hard Jesus thing is modeling what it means to be a good husband. Love your wife. There might be a little girl watching you, wondering what dads and husbands are supposed to do, so that she can make a good choice.

Happy Easter! He is Risen! The Lost have been Redeemed!


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