Tuesday, April 10, 2012

In everything give thanks...2Thess 5:18

We are thankful here that our dear fur ball has had a reprieve and seems to be doing much better.  He's a sweet orange striped old man and has begun purring again with just a slight limp.

The emotional turmoil has taken its toll, however, as is usual with my CI.  So today after a sleepless night I have treated myself to a trip to Mitford.

For those of you unfamiliar with Jan Karon's series, they are set in Mitford, North Carolina and patterned after the city of Blowing Rock. The first book in the series is At Home In Mitford.  I've had the great pleasure of meeting Ms. Karon several times and going to Blowing Rock - and being charmed by the tiny town nestled on a green, forested mountain top.

The books tell the story of an Episcopal priest and the everyday things that he encounters - and are the first books I've ever read where someone actually consults God when facing troubles or being blessed by joy.  He speaks of the Holy Spirit as though He were concerned with the smallest details of our lives - which, of course, He is!  Every once in awhile I reread the whole series,  I highly recommend them.

Today I have been reading In This Mountain, and one section has really spoken to me, bringing me to the Throne in gratitude.

Father Tim, the main character, has been dealt a hard blow. He needs a sermon for the next day and he is spiritually dry. He has struggled with a depression and pain that cut very deep.  He struggles with God, and, finally, as he opens the Word, God speaks to his heart, giving him the crux of his sermon - and this is what He says, using the verse from 2 Thessalonians 5:18 - and I think it most appropriate for us CIs:

"In everything, give thanks. That's all. That's this morning's sermon.

"If you believe, as I do, that Scripture is the inspired Word of God,  then we see this not as a random thought or an oddly clever idea of His servant, Paul, but a loving command issued through the great apostle...

"Though we don't do it often enough, it's easy to have a grateful heart for food and shelter, love and hope, health and peace.  But what about the hard stuff, the stuff that darkens your world and wounds you to the quick?  Just what is this everything business?...

"Everything is the word on which this whole powerful command stands and has its being.

"Please don't misunderstand; the word thanks is crucial. But a deeper spiritual truth, I believe, lies in giving thanks in...everything.

"In loss of all kinds,  In illness.  In depression.  In grief.  In failure.  And, of course, in health and peace, success and happiness.  In everything.

"There'll be times when you wonder how you can possibly thank Him for something that turns your life upside down; certainly there will be such times for me.  Let us, then, at times like these, give thanks on faith alone...obedient, trusting, hoping, believing,..

"Some of us have been in trying circumstances these last months, Unsettling.  Unremitting. Even, we sometimes think, unbearable. Dear God, we pray, Stop this! Fix that! Bless us - and step on it!

"I admit to you that although I often thank God for my blessings, I haven't thanked Him for my afflictions.

"I know the fifth chapter of Thessalonians pretty well, yet it hadn't occurred to me to actually take Him up on the notion. I've been too busy begging Him to lead me out of the valley and onto the mountaintop...

"Why have I decided to take these four words as a personal commission?  Here's the entire eighteenth verse:

"'In everything give thanks...for this is the will of God in  Christ Jesus concerning you'"

"His will concerning you,  His will concerning me...

"Let's look once more at the four words God is saying to us...by looking at what our obedience to them will say to God.

"Our obedience will say, 'Father, I don't know why You're causing, or allowing, this hard thing to happen, but I'm going to give thanks in it because You ask me to.  I'm going to trust You to have a purpose for it that I can't know and may never know.  Bottom line, You're God --- and that's good enough for me.'"

For a CI, these are words to take to heart.  It is never easy to thank Him when the pain hits and seems to stretch each minute until an hours worth of pain seems encapsulated in a few minutes, or when the world is gray and hopeless looking, or the heart breaks with the absence of another.  Yet, as Father Tim reminds us, it is a loving command - one that reminds us Who is in charge, and can change the face of our CI if we let it.

It is my prayer that you, gentle reader, will join me in doing just that.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

The Price He Paid

It is late, we are a watchful household tonite.

One of the four-legged furry loved ones who live here is ill.  He is no spring chicken at 14, a grand old age for a cat.

In two days he has gone from well and spunky but fading away - he lost 1/2 lb in two days.  And then on Monday things were a little off - he kept licking his paw, licking his paw, licking his paw - when to our horror we discovered an abscess draining on that paw.

He visited the vet , came home, and 3 hours later another has appeared, this time on a hind leg.  He has spent the day curled up in one spot - this from a little ball of fire interested in everything you do and having to be there in on it.  For the last 8 hours he has neither drank nor eaten - and he is the one who hears distant paper crackling and is convinced it has something to do with food.  For him.

If he makes it through the night, he will be put down in the morning.

We know it is time.  We know it is necessary.  We know it is the last and greatest kindness we can show him, to end his downward spiral before the pain becomes too severe.

So why does it feel like it's murdering someone who trusts you to make sure he is safe?

The heart recoils in horror, stomach tying itself in knots that will not loosen for a long, long time

For this dearly loved little furrball, it will be a difficult thing to do.

It set me thinking about the One Who had to watch a much more treacherous and painful death.

For the Father set His Son on a path that would lead to a viciously evil torturous way to die.  Because if He didn't, all of those whom He loved would be denied His presence, and suffer eternal torment.

And so, on the night before the Day of all days, He went to meet His Son in a garden.  His Son begged of Him, "If there be any other way, any other way, please, Papa"

And His beloved Papa could not say, "yes, there is a kinder way to do this. " He steeled Himself and simply said, "There is no other way."

So Papa watched as it began.  He clenched His teeth and watched as His Son was spat on, mocked, and had a thorny crown crammed down on His head - the thorns were approximately 5-7 inches long, tearing , slicing through veins, releasing little trickles of blood down his forehead, matting His hair.

Watched the "High Priest"- the" guardian of truth" - sell that privilege of guardianship to retain his political power. He valued God's Son, the Messiah of Israel, at 50 sheckles of silver, the price of a slave.

His Papa watched 3 separate trials, each one illegal in the manner in which it was executed.  Watched a magistrate wash his hands - as if that would make him guiltless in the sentence of death he would pronounce on an innocent man.  Watched the man condemn His Son after a dream had been sent to his wife to warn him. 

Watched as He was scourged with the Roman Cat o' Nine tails - strips of leather imbedded with nails and sharp stones, pieces of glass - anything that would tear flesh in the most excruciating way.

Tears began to stream down His face; yet still He watched.

Watched them put Him on a cross.  Watched Him slowly suffocate in agony.  Watched Him plead for those who crucified them, saying they had no way of knowing what they were doing - pleading "Abba, forgive them."

As the pain got worse for His Son, it began.

They came, sin upon sin upon sin, every sin anyone had ever committed.  Every sin anyone would ever commit. Sin upon sin upon sin - my sin, your sin for 3 hours they had been coming. And then, for the first time in eternities before, and the first time in all the eternities to come, the Father could not bear to look upon His perfect, loving Son as sin filled every cell, every corpuscle, every iota of His being.

He turned away. And when He left, He took the light with Him.

He heard His Son's cry of anguish ring through the darkened universe He had created, calling "Abba!  Papa!  Why have You forsaken Me?" 

The perfect Lamb of God, alone in a cosmic darkness, bleating with pain and fear and the taste of sin in His mouth,the stench of it in His nostrils. One upon one upon one,endlessly stretching through every shattering moment of pain.

It lasted for 3 more hours. Sins being nailed to His cross.  The sins of His mother, of His brothers, the sins of Judas, the sins of Pilate, the sins of those who drove the nail into His shredded flesh.

My sins. Your sins.  The world's sins. This sinless Lamb of God choked on them, He saw them, felt them.
Became them.

Then suddenly His cry of triumph rang through the endless corridors of time: "It is finished!!!!"  "Totelestai," the Roman word for a prisoner who had served his time, paid for his crime, forever carrying with him the piece of paper that proved he could never again be arrested or tried for that crime: it had been paid in full.

At the sound of His Son's death, the Father tore His clothes - a Jewish form of mourning, symbolically baring the mourning heart for all to see. 

And so He grabbed the 6 foot thick veils to the Holy of Holies and tore them from top to bottom, baring His broken heart, opening the way for all eternity, opening His arms to all who accepted the sacrifice His Son had made.

It is an amazing thing to be washed in the Blood of the Lamb, to be free for all eternity because that Blood paid my way and made me worthy to enter the Holy of Holies any time I want.

And yet, as we approach the day commemorating that sacrifice, that gift, my thoughts often go back to the Father, also alone for the first time in eternity - aching over His Son, wanting so badly to wipe these people off the face of the earth, holding Himself back to make a way for us. Enduring it. Having those pictures, those moments, burned into His memory.

That horrible night that cost both Father and Son so much, paid my way in full.  O  my Father!  I have no idea what that cost You - or Your Son - and I know I could never repay it! So, to the best of my ability, I will spend the rest of my life thanking You.  I would, truly, be lost without You.

Baruch haba Hashem Adonai! "Blessed is He Who comes in the Name of the Lord."