As the weather continues to warm up, the proverbial pandemic lockdown is slowly easing up. After a long, snowy winter where we were forced to hunker down, the chains have now been unlocked and we are being allowed to emerge from our fortresses of solitude. We are finally able to be out and about again—though still wearing masks and staying socially distant of course. Spring air, warm temps, bright sun… it feels so good to be outside. I would imagine this is true for most of us; eagerly outdoors with almost reckless abandon—going on walks, planting gardens, riding bikes, attending the sporting events of our children and grandchildren. Going from winter into spring, in many ways, it feels like we are moving from 0 to 60 with the snap of the finger. As my wife recently observed about our own family schedule, “It feels like we’re burning the candle at both ends!” No doubt about it, the busyness has resumed!
Do you remember the “time out” from your childhood? Ah yes, the infamous child-rearing technique affectionately dubbed time out. Where a child has to spend one minute for every year of their age on the naughty chair, thinking about their not-so-nice behavior. Time out. It gives a child time to rest and regroup, albeit forced, and break away from the chaos and destruction that led them there in the first place. “Stop crying. Catch your breath. Stop flailing your arms and legs. Calm down and relax.” Surely you remember those days. Perhaps you’re still living in them. Whether your broods are toddlers or teenagers, those minutes of imposed isolation enable them to regroup from their sibling clashes, unruly outbursts, maniacal meltdowns, or reflect on any other defiant indiscretion of word or deed. For all those unavoidable and undesirable times when our kids go a bit too far and become a bit too out of control—that is why we have time out.
Hear these words from God, “In returning and rest you shall be saved, in quietness and trust shall be your strength” (Isaiah 30:15). God is reminding His people (us) how important it is to spend regular quiet time in conversation and meditation with the One who created time to begin with. Prayer. Worship. Bible study. These things are essential to us slowing down. But unfortunately they are usually some of the first things to go when the demands on our time and attention ramp up. This ancient Old Testament verse is a still relevant Biblical prescription for using time out. To be sure, as used by parents and teachers today, the time out is a form
The middle school drop-off line…
Each morning before heading to work I drop my oldest son off at our local Middle School. Yesterday, I noticed that in a stretch of about seven cars, there were two Lexus, two Mercedes-Benz, one BMW, and me. There were also a mini-van or two in the distance behind me, but I couldn’t tell what kind. Truth be told, I saw so many of the Mercedes-Benz on the road driving around or near the school today I actually googled the logo when I got to work because I had no idea what kind of cars they were. Reflecting on this, I couldn’t help but laugh. Sitting there in a line of luxury cars and SUV’s, was me and my 2005 Toyota Corolla. Slightly rusty, stained with paint, and held together (beautifully I might add) by gorilla tape, zip ties, and a stainless steel screw. The old Sesame Street song came to my mind, “One of these things is not like the other, One of these things just doesn’t belong…” Of course it was not hard to know that in this small parade of high-end and fancy vehicles, it was mine that stood out as a mechanical sore thumb, indeed not like the others. And if there was any uncertainty or confusion, the noisy exhaust of my nonconformist car acted in a way as if to proudly and boldly advertise it’s inferior value.
Have you ever felt that way—inferior or less valuable? This is an easy trap the Devil lays out for us. We see all kinds of “pretty” people on TV and the internet. People who not only look good, but also seem to have it all together. They have life figured out and are excelling in every desirable measure. We look at the luxury lives and fancy families of other people, while we go sulking back home to our lamentable lives. The highlight reels of social media feeds lead us to this place of comparison and competition. This is a dangerous place to be! When we find ourselves here, the Devil begins to work sinful feelings of ingratitude and disdain. We begin to resent those around us and envy their gifts or successes. We are frustrated with God that our lives can’t be “as good” as those around us. Why can’t I enjoy my job like they do? Why can’t I have flawless complexion and no grey hair? Why can’t I be as smart as they are? Why can’t our kids behave like theirs? Why can’t we take nice vacations like them? Why can’t my car be fancy and new also? No matter what this looks like for you individually, the measuring stick will always get you stuck. Stuck is a never a place we want to be.
Driving to church for a meeting on Tuesday night I passed a bad accident. Route 15 was backed up and traffic was at a near standstill for several miles. Like most commuters, when the traffic first slowed I was annoyed at this unplanned inconvenience. But as the big picture came into view I joined many other rubberneckers staring at the chaotic scene saturated with an abundance of first responders. Police cars, fire trucks, ambulances all over the place. As we tend to do in our family when seeing such things, I sent up a prayer on behalf of the afflicted and the first responders. Sadly, the closer my route took me towards the scene, the image was heartbreaking. A large SUV lay upside down, off in the ditch. Medical workers still swarming around the car. Then I noticed, off to the side of one of the ambulances, a stretcher; it was covered in a white sheet. You’ve seen enough of the news and crime scene television shows to know what that means. My heart sank and my prayer immediately took on a different tone. Lord, have mercy!
Just like that, in an instant, a life (perhaps multiple) is sadly snuffed out. Tragically this type of calamity happens far too often. Death is never good and always unwelcome—especially when it comes so suddenly. And it could happen to anyone of us, at any time. We’ve heard it before, “Two things in life are certain… taxes and death.” Hardly an uplifting message. This may be somber thought, but it is an unavoidable reality. Car accidents. Senseless shootings. Terminal diagnosis. Life is a gift and no day is guaranteed. This should cause a person to stop and think—a time to reflect and recalibrate. It did for me last night. What are some of the things you keep saying you’ll get to? I’m not talking about things like finishing your basement; we all have an unending list of home projects. Nor am I referring to ways to further keep yourself busy at work to climb the proverbial corporate ladder. What about the more important things? Visiting your parents. Taking your kids to the park. Taking your grandkids fishing. Going out for dinner with your spouse. Volunteering at a nearby charity. Finally taking some time away from work to go on vacation. Beginning healthier habits and taking care of yourself.
Far too often, these are the things we put off. They sit on the backburner until we forget about them or they fall off completely. We’ll get to them… eventually… we hope…
I’m on the hunt for some cabinets. Not new ones, old ones. Kitchen cabinets that have since been deemed unwanted or become unused by their original owners. They’re going to be used in my garage. Even if they’re scratched up or beat down, if the price is right (cheap) I’ll put them to use. I simply want something to better organize the space and hide the clutter. It doesn’t matter to me how fancy or new they look. Truth be told, the more plain and banged up the better as I would imagine that will make the price that much more of a bargain. I’ve searched a variety of places thus far to no avail. Facebook marketplace. Slowly driven by yard sales. Perused the Habitat restore in Randolph. Oh there are indeed things out there, but nothing for the lower price point that I’m looking at. They are cabinets after all, nothing worthy of great investment on my part. So because I am not willing to pay a steep price at all, I’ll probably have to wait a bit before I actually find some that will work.
Easter Sunday wasn’t that long ago. The resurrection of Jesus changed everything. He is risen indeed, alleluia! This victorious battle cry of that day still rings true. As do these words from the Apostle Paul, “… for God bought you with a high price. So you must honor God with your body.” Did you catch that? Paul is reminding the people of the direct implications of Easter. Yes it changed everything; but it also very personal. God bought YOU with a high price. We’re not talking about old, unwanted cabinets anymore. Paul reminds the church of Corinth just how valuable and precious they are in the eyes of the Heavenly Father. Good Friday and Easter showcased the price that the Almighty Creator was willing to pay as the cost for His wayward sheep. Human reason and worldly logic would have turned their backs on selfish, unfaithful and sin-stained people. Like damaged cabinetry, certainly they are not worth such a high price. But not to our Heavenly Father. Instead of deserting us in the dry lands of our self-destructive behavior, He takes action to show there is nothing He wouldn’t do to make things right again. No price He wouldn’t pay. No action He wouldn’t take.
Christ is still risen. Are you still celebrating?
It was easy to be filled with the hope and joy of Easter this past Sunday morning. Especially after not being able to gather for worship at all on Easter in 2020, there was something extra celebratory regarding Easter this year. The purple of Lent turns to the white of Easter. The music is uplifting. The church is full. The lilies were in bloom. The alleluias return and we join in the church wide proclamation, “He is risen indeed, Alleluia!” There is an extra level of energy and excitement found in the church on Easter Sunday.
But now a few days after Easter, is the joy fading? It seems almost inevitable that the Easter enthusiasm will begin to wilt. The plastic egg hunts are over. The chocolate bunnies are eaten. Our homes are littered with empty candy wrappers. A cynical world mocks us for our traditions and belief that a dead man could actually raise from the dead. We’re back to a sober reality—pandemic, economic hardships, and the ongoing list of unpleasant realities of the day. We want to rejoice; we know we should rejoice. But to be honest we just don’t have it within ourselves to remain joyful. How can we sustain the Easter joy? How can we still live in the joy of the resurrection?
Unsurprisingly, Holy Week is a busy time for those that work (or volunteer) in the church. Creating liturgies. Printing bulletins. Practicing hymns. Writing sermons. Preparing the proper paraments, candles and Communion. But for all the things to do, the Wednesday of Holy Week has always been oddly quiet. The calm before the storm, so to speak. That’s the striking reality in the pages of scripture too. During the first holy passion week of Jesus, there seems to be an open date on Jesus’ otherwise jam-packed calendar. Relative silence. What did He do on this day? There’s really no way for us to know. We can only speculate what may have been going through the mind Jesus, knowing in parts nearby the religious establishment were working out the details of His unjust demise. Indeed, we have a blank day in the middle of the most important seven days in the history of man. But perhaps it is intentional; and something we can apply to our own yearly celebration. With that in mind I share this reflection with you…
Although the exact sequence of events is not always clear to us, we can discern, even now, the straight lines of divine order... Sunday: The garments in the dust - the Hosannahs as the prelude to the "Crucify."... Monday: Sermons with the urgent note of finality - the withered fig tree - Caesar's coin... Tuesday: The terrifying wrath of the Lamb over institutionalized and personal sin among the Scribes and Pharisees - the fire and color of His last sermon to the city and the world - the sureness of justice and the coming of judgment... Night and prayer in the light of the Easter moon on the Mount of Olives...
Wednesday is silent... If anything happened, the holy writers have drawn the veil... Everything that God could say before the Upper Room had been said... It was man's turn now... Perhaps there were quiet words in a corner of the Garden, both to His children who would flee and to His Father who would stay... Wednesday was His... The heart of that mad, crowded Holy Week was quiet... Tomorrow the soldiers would come, and Friday there would be God's great signature in the sky... Thursday and Friday would belong to time and eternity, but Wednesday was of heaven alone...
Silent Wednesday... If our Lord needed it, how much more we whose life is the story of the Hosanna and the Crucify... Time for prayer, for adoration... Time to call the soul into the inner court and the Garden... In our crowded world we are lonely because we are never alone... No time to go where prayer is the only sound and God is the only light... We need more silent Wednesdays... In the glory of the Cross above our dust, our silence can become purging and peace... God speaks most clearly to the heart that is silent before Him... [O.P. Kretzmann, The Pilgrim]
This quiet Wednesday can be a day to pray, a day to cherish our families and those close to us, and a day to rest and make plans for worship. It is certainly a day to be in awe of Jesus who could have filled this Holy Week Wednesday with miracles that would have left his enemies powerless. But no, he knew the cross had to come and so, in silence, he prepared for it today. It may not show up on a calendar, but we have of thanks that Jesus filled this empty day with the determination to go forward to the cross.
Sitting here, contemplating what to write. Yet another blog blurb, and I can’t help but take on a more somber tone. The news continues to be a dismal glimpse into fallen mankind. More acts of evil. Terror in grocery stores. Chaos in spa parlors. Needless deaths. Innocent victims. Like so many others across the world, I was shocked and disheartened by the news of Monday afternoon. Innocent people meet their untimely passing. You may not pay too close attention to the news. After all this happened thousands of miles away; it did not impact us directly. So, we go back to our regular routines and normal lives. Yet at the end of the day, the great tragedy is that children lost parents and parents lost children. Death reared its ugly head and left horrendous loss and pain in its wake. It is true that tragedies happen every single day; they just don’t get the national coverage nor media recognition. Still there is something about shocking, unexpected, far-too-soon acts of death that cause people to stop in their tracks and get sick to their stomach. I did. Even being so far removed, the events still shake me. News coverage and stories captivate me. My heart breaks for the families impacted.
Sadly, it often takes a shattering tragedy for perspective to ground me in what is truly important. This is probably true for many of us. They provide a “reality check” for my life. Self-reflection is powerful when you candidly stop to see what you may need to change in life. And so, here are some of my own thoughts in the dark wake of Colorado’s events…
Wait a minute... is there really more to this day than corned beef & cabbage dinners, green beer, and 'Kiss Me I'm Irish' t-shirts? This day doesn’t actually have anything to do with bar crawls or Lucky Charms? Don’t get me wrong, I can appreciate the unofficial sentiment that “Everyone’s Irish on St. Patrick’s Day.” Plus, I do absolutely plan on stopping by McDonald’s for a Shamrock Shake at some point today. But there are much deeper roots of this holiday that go relatively unknown by those in our country today.
Today (yesterday) is the Feast Day of St. Patrick, commemorating the life and legacy of the man who brought the gospel to the Irish. Born in England way back in 389, St. Patrick was kidnapped and enslaved by savage and violent Irish raiders at the young age of 16. He was sold to be a shepherding slave by these pirate warriors, living in horrible conditions—often hungry, cold, threatened by elements and abused by his captors. Patrick was enslaved in Ireland for the next 6 years before he escaped and fled back home. He later confessed that as a youth he had turned away from God; but it was during his time as a slave that Patrick was led back to faith in God. Upon his escape and return to England, he spent the next several years in a monastery strengthening his relationship with God. After becoming a priest, St. Patrick sensed God's call to return to Ireland as a missionary.
He came back to Ireland, a beautiful country that was ruled by tribalism, warlords and druids. They worshipped many gods and practiced magical arts. Patrick came and told them about the true God. Against great hostility and aggressive resistance, he preached throughout the land and was so successful that Ireland became known as the Isle of Saints. His ministry led hundreds of thousands to Christ.
The saga continues.
Garden State license plates securely on. Official NJ driver licenses delivered and in the wallets. This week it was inspection time. Our minivan passed with flying colors. Piece of cake. My wife was in and out of the inspection station (Newton this time, 😉) in 10 minutes. Our 2005 Toyota Corolla? Not so much. But on the plus side, I now have a stunning new piece of decor for my car. It is a bright red sticker on my windshield. It’s very pretty. Oh, and did I mention, it includes eight big, black letters. R-E-J-E-C-T-E-D.
Bummer. But it wasn’t a surprise. To be fair, we were pretty certain this was going to happen. After all, parts of my car are held together by gorilla tape and zip ties. Plus for the past couple of months my “Check Engine” light has been an ever-present, glowing reminder that something was wrong. Whatever that light indicated was askew, I knew it was not something I could fix myself. Add a few other known infirmities and we very much anticipated not passing the inspection. We were right. REJECTED. I guess 203K miles and a growing list of needed repairs will do that to you.
Glad I’m not a car…
Something doesn’t work right? REJECTED.
Speak a hurtful word? REJECTED.
Do a bad thing? REJECTED.
Welcome to the Garden State”
It’s becoming more and more official. Check another box off of our cross-country move list. We now have NJ license plates on our cars and our official NJ drivers licenses are in the mail. Of course, you know what this means. In order for these things to take place, my lovely wife and I had to make a fun, exhilarating trip. Who needs a date night or weekend getaway? Day trip to the beach? No way! When we’re looking for a good time, we head to Wayne and visit the New Jersey Department of Motor Vehicles. Fasten your seat belts. Keep your arms and legs inside at all times. It’s gonna be wild ride. Rip-roaring excitement awaits. Try not to get too jealous, but yes indeed, this past Friday, we spent about two hours of our day at the DMV. Did you just inwardly groan or wince when you read that? 😉
What a stressful two hours that was! Even though we had scheduled appointments far in advance, had (almost) all of our paperwork in hand and all our forms filled out, there was still this incredible sense of stress and tension the moment we walked into the walls of that DMV. Perhaps it was the armed security guards or the receptionist who had about the same level of charm as an angry raccoon, but we immediately felt like our very presence in that building was an inconvenience to everyone else in the room. My wife said it felt like she was being brought before a judge and about to be thrown into jail. To me it felt more like being called into the principal’s office, unsure if I was there to get a new class schedule or about to be expelled. Either way, the institutional confines of the DMV were anything but warm and fuzzy. Though for the most part, the employees were helpful and patient (at least to us), we both felt like we were walking on eggs shells and just one misstep a way from being yelled at and sent to the naughty corner. Thankfully the trip was successful, albeit a tad nerve-wracking. When we were finally done, we both plopped down in the car and almost simultaneously said, “I need a drink!” It had to be 5 o’clock somewhere! And like the cherry on top of an ice-cream sundae, now we get to go and get both cars inspected. The fun never stops. I’m sure they’ll just ignore my glowing check engine light…right?