Monday, August 20, 2012

The End of the Story? Not!

This is not the end of the story. It's not the end of Ben's story, or ours. Or God's. Just as Jesus' death was not the end of His story. It's hard to imagine that it's not, though. It's actually easy to believe that life is pretty much over now, that there's nothing left to live for or look forward to. A year later, Ben's death still shakes us and affects everything, everyday. Our life is different now, our faith is different, our love, joy, minds, peace, awareness, sensitivity, plans, hopes, dreams...all different. We see people differently, we go through each day differently, our brains (when they work), work differently. Our hearts are different. We are more fragile, more tender. We see God differently, too. Before, we believed the lie that if we believed and did all the right things that He would just bless us and keep us from harm, giving us a happy little life. The truth is that if He did not prevent His own Son from suffering, how can we expect anything different? And not to get theological, but if people are free to make wrong choices, and if there's an enemy who's free to unleash evil, and once you realize that you're caught in that battle, how can we not expect pain?  

God redeems it, though. He has the last word. He causes all things to work together for good, for those who love Him and for those who are called according to His purposes. We rest in that. And we rest in the truth that Ben's rock at the grave is not the end of his story, merely the end of his story here. Yet his story here even continues in us. We have been changed by his death, and in that way, he lives on here in us as we reflect more of a different kind of life.  

More importantly, his story has only begun in Paradise. Yes, even with a sinful choice at the end, he gets Paradise. Jesus' payment for sin either pays for all sin, or leaves the payment unpaid! And if some part of it is unpaid, we are all doomed. But Jesus did pay it all, so that any of us who become a part of Him are rescued from sin and death. It's not fair. That's perhaps the hardest part. For Ben, whatever pain he was experiencing is gone forever, and he enters into the joy of his Master's rest. While we who are left behind, now suffer in pain here. We will suffer until that day when we get to Heaven and leave this part of our story behind, and begin the next chapter.  

We now live a split life. We live a life of sorrow and immense sadness over what's been lost, and at the same time, a life of joy and hope over God's redemption and what is yet to come. So when we seem to be unstable, well, we are! When you hear us talk of the hope and Paradise and our thankfulness that this is not the end of the story, don't think that we've "over it". We're not, and never will be. Moments later we can be cast into utter darkness, fighting off all the why's and the shame that comes at us from the arrows of the enemy. We often just get paralyzed, unable to move or think. But when you find us sad, don't think that we've lost hope, for we have not. Indeed, it's that hope that keeps us and makes us determined to live differently, intentionally, and transparently. We're in recovery, and will be the rest of our lives here. The prayers, hugs, and encouragement from so many of you have made a real impact on us. You  help us through each day as you become the tangible expression of God's love to us, His faithfulness, His promise to never leave us or forsake us. You are His embrace.  

This is not the end of the story.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Cinderella, Stepsisters, and a Prince!

Women have always been captivated by the story of Cinderella, written by Charles Perrault and made famous by Disney. As our men's group met last night, it was clear that there's something compelling here for all of us.

Cinderella represents that hidden beauty or glory that is somehow locked away and enslaved by an enemy, and we are incapable of escape. Every one of has felt that way, even if some may have let the feeling go and can no longer remember. In the story, her situation is hopeless, she has these evil stepsisters who belong to the evil stepmother who ensure that she will remain forever hidden away in darkness, covered in ashes and shame. 

When the Prince announces a ball to seek out his wife, they all of course, assume that they will be the chosen ones.

And this poor servant girl would have no chance until a fairy godmother intercedes. I cannot help but notice that she is much like the Holy Spirit who comes to us and does what we are unable to do on our own. With a wave of a magic wand, Cinderella's situation changes immediately from utter hopelessness and despair to overwhelming beauty and possibility.

At the ball, the Prince is captivated! And so begins the relentless pursuit as he will let nothing deter him from his true bride. We long to be pursued like that...for someone, anyone, to come into our dark basements of hiddenness and shame and to turn on the lights, see us for who we really can be, and take us away. It is the height of ecstasy. Which is why so often, we fall for false lovers just because they pursue us, promising things they cannot deliver.

We have felt like Cinderella. Perhaps you've not yet felt the ecstasy of being pursued and found, and if you've missed it already, Jesus is the Prince who comes for us. Nothing will deter Him until He has you. You. You are worth (to Him) literally turning the kingdom upside down for, and Hell itself will not prevail against Him.

He will have His bride, whatever the cost.

And what does He bring? A glass slipper of grace. Once that slipper is in place, we are forever changed. Not by anything we've done, but by what He's done, and His 'Fairy Spirit' (dare I call it?) that has invited us and provided for us.

Before we leave the story, we need to see something else. We've played other roles in this story. We've been cast as the evil stepsisters at times, holding others captive, telling them they're ugly and unfit. Maybe not out loud, but with a look, or a word, or a gesture, or dismissal. "Stay in the basement, you're not worthy to come up here..." Our hearts have betrayed us. Perhaps towards our children who have disappointed us, or our parents who we hold captive with anger and disdain. Or our spouse who has soooo failed to sweep us off our feet and into glory as we imagined would happen. Or perhaps even God, who did not act in a way that we expected, and left us seemingly alone and confused. We need to change roles, there are enough stepsisters!

The role God has given each of us, once we've 'come out' and His glory is revealed in us, is to become The Prince to others. Who are the Cinderellas held captive in your life? Truth is, most people are. Some are totally unaware, having made a fine home in the dark, ash-strewn, and filthy basement. It's all they've known. Others stand at the stairway and cry out for help, but are held captive by an enemy they can't see. Some have even made it into the kitchen upstairs, and were frightened by the feeling. Freedom? Beauty? Light? It was too much, and so they've run and hid, feeling so unworthy and ashamed. And now are ashamed at even aspiring to a better life. For coming out means being exposed, and it is unsettling. There are stepsisters everywhere who will spurn us and tell us we have no business being beautiful. Some of them are in the church, sad to say, a tool of the enemy.

Who can you relentlessly pursue? Who is waiting for you, their 'prince', to come and rescue them? We stand in the shoes of Jesus, authorized by Him, given this mission, and the ability to do for Him what He wants to do: bring the captives to His wedding feast. We are the ones carrying the glass slipper of grace. Your Cinderellas await.

Inspired from Chapter 8 of Sacred Romance by John Eldredge and Brent Curtis (thanks, Brian, for the "relentless pursuit").