About Lent…

The first day after Ash Wednesday. Here is where I begin to practice my commitments to deny myself small pleasures, ingrained coping strategies and lesser habits in order to honor the gargantuan sacrifice Jesus made for me. It’s not that I am paying him back or earning his favor as a result of my actions, it’s more like acknowledging that one love calls out to another, echoing reciprocal acts of sacrifice. The season gives time and opportunity for Jesus story to slow simmer and offers me the opportunity to reprogram life rhythms through repeated practice. Every time I say no to my defaults, I make space for something else. Something better, something more true. 

In Lent, submission becomes palatable because the misappropriated definition focusing on power and authority structures is dethroned by Jesus human story. Single verses of scripture are contextualized in the gospel narrative where submission is top down instead of bottom up. Jesus is first to pay it forward. It starts with the King of the Hill and trickles down so we all have a model to follow as we replicate His example toward one another. And that is a lifelong training exercise.

Last night, I missed that gritty sensation of pasty ashes smearing across my lined forehead in the form of the cross. The words spoken over me that, “From dust I came and to dust I will return.” I entered this world under the curse of death and I will leave it that way too. Inside my mother’s womb and 6 feet under—they’re both as dark as the church was last night, sleety ice raining down from the heavens. 

But that is not the whole story. The Lenten season is not a circular path. Where we commence forty days before Easter is not our concluding destination. Death is a temporary word. Resurrection is the eternal word.

And so my spectator’s journey to the cross and beyond begins. Again. Another year to ponder the conundrum of death and resurrection, God’s redemptive plan of choice, and to practice cruciform living, one decision, one discipline, one day at a time. 
And for the privilege and opportunity to follow where He leads, I’m grateful.

A Lent Reflection

It’s Lent. Those 40ish days leading toward the Christian comemoration of a busted up, brutalized Jesus carrying his cross to Golgotha, iron stakes driven clear through his feet and hands right before he dies. It’s the saddest season in the church calendar, where all roads point to suffering. At least, that’s the First Act.

Driving away from my cardiologists office after a thorough assessment for heart palpitations, I’m reminded that I too, will be swallowed up by death eventually.

There’s a cemetery just around the corner, the one where my baby boy is buried. An early March meltdown a few weeks back eliminated all but the dirty snow mounds at the end of parking lots. Now that the landscaped morphed from white to green, I knew that if I pulled into the circular drive, I’d be able to find his grave and say hello to my son.

In the center of “the baby section” stands a cluster of mature arborvitaes with a large marble gravestone front and center. The monument has a metal cast 3D image of Jesus with a gaggle of children crowding in close. When Angela was a munchkin, she’d run excitedly up to the headstone calling, “There’s Jesus!” and plant a big unrestrained kiss smack on His cheek.

Today, I stood over Seth’s tiny marker, square with a heart in the center. It’s slowly getting swallowed up by the surrounding settling earth. I thought about Jesus carrying my baby in His arms close to his heart. I looked toward the cast metal Jesus just out front of the arborvitaes but sometime this winter, those trees lost a  battle with the wind. Large branches lay snapped, split on their sides. Dead. Obscured by the debris, I couldn’t see Jesus. From the vantage point of my son’s grave, there was just rubble, so I walked closer, peered over the fallen limbs and brush and there He was, just as I remembered Him, totally intact, reaching invitationally to all His children. Even me.

Social Distancing, Ventilators, Death and the Coronavirus

I’ve crossed this date off on my calendar 15 times since the one my dad’s heart rhythm went wonky and then silent. Twenty minutes later a medical technician found him slumped over his breakfast tray and CODE BLUE blared over the intercom, a flurry of care providers compressing and jolting his chest back to beating. Afterwards, his eyebrows stood straight up like Wile E. Coyote after running through electrical wires in that old animated cartoon called the Road Runner.

They couldn’t restore the brain function though.

I’ll never forget that morning. From a thousand miles away, I called to check in on him, confident he’d be safe in a hospital, but something in his voice tipped me off  that he wasn’t. “I’ll call the airline immediately and jump on the next plane home,” I told him. Before we hung up, so I could call American Airlines, he spoke these last words. “I love you’s and the kids.”

An hour later, the rise and fall of his chest, regulated by a ventilator gave the illusion of life but his oxygen deprived brain made flat waves on the EEG monitor, because really, he was already gone.Irvin2 1

Three days later, the room in ICU was packed with some of the people he’d loved most in the world. We read Words from his favorite dog-eared, worn, leather Book, the one he’d read from on the side of his bed every night for always. We were singing to him about clinging to the Old Rugged Cross and exchanging it for a crown when the ventilator went quiet and his chest went still.Irvin10 1

All this talk of potential ventilator shortages, reading about Italy and the choices medical professionals are being asked to make regarding the value of a life based on its statistical chance of recovery feels a bit like that old ethical educational exercise about the train. In it, either one dies to protect the masses or everyone potentially dies but no one is intentionally sacrificed. I’ve always hated to grapple with that scenario even when it’s hypothetical.

I can’t imagine being denied care because of a competition for medical equipment.
To not receive the benefit of the Hippocratic oath because of scarcity.
To be cheated out of the privilege of holding my loved one’s hand and saying goodbye due to quarantines.

My daughter texted me this morning saying, “I’ve never seen anything like this before.” “Neither have I,” I replied.
But that doesn’t mean that it’s the first time the government has issued policies restricting individual rights and freedoms for the benefit of the common good.

My dad contracted tuberculosis in 1946.
By mandate, he spent the next 5 years quarantined in a sanitorium.
And no, that’s not a typo.
Not 5 days or 5 months.
5 years.
5 years, he spent in isolation!Image 3-13-20 at 12.40 AM

I remember his stories of night sweats, waking up drenched and chilled.
The relentless coughing.
I remember scratching his back and tracing the c-shaped scar lines all the way up to his shoulder blades. “That’s where they opened me up and packed my lungs so they wouldn’t collapse,” he’d tell me.
“I laid in bed day after day wondering if I was going to die. I couldn’t see my family because I was contagious, so we wrote letters to each other.”
“The nurses, some of them were nice, but I didn’t like some of them, God forgive me. They were mean!”
“The other patients, they became family. It was awful hard to lose somebody.” His voice broke when he spoke those words.
“God knew what He was doing though, because that’s when I started reading my Bible. I realized I was a sinner, separated from Him and that He loved me and could save me from the consequences of my sin.”
“I remember the day I told Him, ‘God, I don’t ever want to leave here if I’m not different than when I came in. I want to love you and trust you and serve you for the rest of the days you give me no matter how many they are.’”
“After that, I learned to pray. I had plenty of time so I started talking to God and I’ve never stopped. Every day I pray for everyone I know and love by name and I learned to do that when I was sick.”

It’s true. Two hours before he got up every single morning for the next 55 years, he’d cover his tribe in prayer. The day he died, I lost my prayer blanket and nothing’s ever been the same.

In 1948, the wonder drug, Streptomycin, came on the market and it proved to be my dad’s miracle.
Eventually, his family got visitation passes and in 1951, he was released. He walked out of the hospital he’d been required to live in for the sake of public safety, a free man, ready to re-imagine his dreams and re-start his life.

Which brings us to today’s health crisis, COVID-19.

This past week takes me back to my childhood. I remember being a kid who went to bed on a February night during a winter weather advisory then woke up just as the local public school district called their first snow day of the year. Every other school in the county jumped on the bandwagon in about two seconds. These closings and cancellations feel like the same sort of  domino effect  on steroids.

Whether or not all these extreme measures for social distancing are necessary confuses me to a level beyond my pay grade and most of the articles I’ve read, loaded with charts and graphs, make my head spin. The thing is, the President, Governors, the CDC and many other local health experts are mandating and recommending extreme precautionary measures for public health.

I could choose to
Judge them,
Ignore them,
Politicize their decisions or
Accuse them of some sort of conspiracy theory.
Or, I can lean into the opportunity to be a team player.
To be quick to submit my rights for the sake of my community,
To concede my plans for the larger agenda of public health.

None of us really want to do that.
We’re not accustomed to restrictions on our personal autonomy.
We’re suspicious about submitting to our government.
We don’t like being told what to do.
Where to go (and not go).
And how to live.
We’re culturally unskilled at making personal concessions for the greater good.

That’s what makes this pandemic a monumental opportunity.
Especially for Christ followers.
We claim to be the guardians for the inalienable rights of the most vulnerable, ferociously defending the lives of the unborn.
Today, this week, this month and maybe beyond, we get an opportunity to expand our pro-life commitment to the diabetics and immuno- surpressed cancer patients, the elderly and people with other compromising health conditions.

How should we respond to the Coronavirus chaos?
For those of us who are card carrying Christ followers, we’ve already got our marching orders.
Imitate Jesus.
This isn’t the first time somebody’s been called on for no fault of their own to make life altering sacrifices for the good of others.
Such is the way of the cross.
And ‘tis the season.
I’m not exactly sure what that will look like in my little corner of the world. Maybe you’re not sure either; but, if we ask God to make us more like Jesus, He will.Screen Shot 2018-03-30 at 12.14.00 AM

None of us know how close to home this illness will impact our tribes.
But here’s what I do know.
I have this opportunity to lay down my rights, my plans and my conveniences for the sake of others.
It’s inconvenient.
It’s frustrating.
It’s anxiety producing.

But it’s also humbling.
And sacrificial.
And loving.
I get to wear some new shoes, following in His footsteps, ready to announce the gospel of peace (Ephesians 6:15).

My dad used to say, “I thank God for tuberculosis because without it, I don’t think I would have ever come to know His love and forgiveness because I wouldn’t have realized how much I needed it.”

Disruptions in life, they are a gift.
An invitation to take God’s hand, to let Him redirect us away from our Plan A to His plan B, C, D or Z and to trust the outcome to Him.

Nobody says it better than Ann Voskamp, “There’s a reason I am not writing the story of my life and God is. He knows how it all works out, where it all leads, what it all means. I don’t. So I will let God blow His wind, His trials, oxygen for joy’s fire. I will leave my hand open and be. Be at Peace. I will bend the knee and be small and let God give what God chooses to give because He only gives love. And I will whisper a surprise thanks.”

The older I get, the more I see them– the concentric circles of fresh mercies, new every morning.
Always have been.
Will be today.
And confident for tomorrow’s too.

Thanks be to God!

Sex Talks and Other Crucial Conversations

fullsizeoutput_9377IMG_1013We took a hiking trip and wrote a blog post together.
A celebration of—
Her birthday.
God’s faithfulness, past, present and future.

Angela picked the spot—Algonquin Provincial Park in Canada. The paintings she’d studied in her art history course at Wheaton lured her in for the real experience.

We hopped in her trusty Suburu with the awesome sunroof and heated seats, passports in hand and headed out on our international adventure. It’s not our first gig and hopefully not our last either.

We counted our trips—just the 2 of us.
The first one was 11 years ago, when she turned 13. I tucked an invitation on her pillow. Wide eyed with excitement, she packed her bag and we headed west of the metroplex for an overnight excursion at a Bed and Breakfast in Granbury to dialogue about adolescence and growing up.
Sooner than I could have imagined, there were 3 separate marathon college visit trips.
And our service week in Haiti.
Last October, we travelled to England and Scotland together.
And now, here we are in Canada.

We’re no strangers to road trips. We know the drill. Bring plenty of snacks and water bottles. Don’t forget to download some podcasts, our favorite Spotify playlists and intermingle them both with spontaneous conversation.
I love dialoguing with Angela, always have. As soon as her mouth formed words, she wondered aloud about things, asked a bazillion questions, pensively formulated ideas and analyzed thoughts, her mental cogs always turning.
This trip, we reminisced about the one we took together on the cusp of adolescence and how it impacted her teenage years and beyond.

Like many evangelical Christian families, we adopted select concepts and resources anchored in the purity movement. Personally, I’d not been shepherded through my own adolescence. I’d never received parental guidance regarding sexuality. When I came into marriage, sex fairly blindsided me except for what I’d seen on the silver screen. I wanted to be sure not to do a generational repeat with my daughters. Without a model in my own story, I didn’t have the confidence to trust myself and the Spirit’s words through me with their sexual training. I thought the evangelical experts on the family must know best.
-We read our little girls books like “The Princess and the Kiss” which elevated a kiss as interchangeable with sex in defining purity.
-A curriculum called Passport to Purity guided our process for presenting the topics of peer pressure, dating, sex and the distinct differences between boys and girls in puberty.
-We contemplated “I Kissed Dating Goodbye” and the Rebelution’s “Modesty Survey” though we never embraced them explicitly.

Other related resources and ideas in this tradition include:
-Purity rings, though we never gave them to our girls.
-Then there was the umbrella model (Angela’s nemesis), especially popular with the Gothard crowd, which taught that a woman should always be under the protection of a man. First, her father holds her umbrella, i.e. micromanages her life, then he passes off the job off to her husband. In this model, there is no space for a woman to hold her own umbrella at any age.
-And there’s the jean skirt people who generally steer women toward home-making programs after high school redirecting them away from college lest they be indoctrinated by feminism or become kingdom contributors in vocations supplementary to wife and mother.

Through the rear view mirror, I’ve concluded that many of the above parts and pieces can be counterproductive to a healthy perspective on sexuality. It was on my overnight adventure with my youngest that I shelved the curriculum and trusted my gut instead. I wrote about that experience here for anyone who wants to understand my parental journey better: https://hopewebster.com/2017/09/28/firsts-lasts-and-everything-in-between/
Just wish I’d done it sooner.  About 9 years sooner…..

IMG_1074Driving through Canada, Angela recounted her experience like this:

The Passport to Purity curriculum covered a whole host of issues that normal American adolescents might encounter, but I was not a normal adolescent. I was a sheltered homeschooler with a desperate desire to please God and a paralyzing fear of disappointing people.

The rhetoric was fear based—intended to scare me out of making choices that could potentially harm me. The  deep-voiced dude on the cassette tape explained all the ways I could destroy my  life while I completed accompanying activity pages.

He talked about peer pressure and how I could ruin my future if I chose the wrong friends. He made boys sound like sex crazed animals that would lust after me perpetually if I wasn’t modest enough. And he must not have done a very good job explaining sex, because afterwards I still thought people literally slept together. Slept.
 Innocently I asked you, “You mean, they’re not asleep when they do that?”
“That’s an important question. I’m glad you asked,” you said, before verifying that sex is indeed conducted wide awake.”

“There was one activity page that I remember quite vividly—it’s an image of a cliff. In the diagram, the edge of the cliff represents sexual intercourse. Next to the cliff was a list of activities including hand-holding, kissing, kissing while touching each other’s private areas, undressing, and others I can’t quite remember.  The voice on the tape explained my assignment to arrange the items in the list in order of closeness to the edge of the cliff. Then I had to draw a personal boundary line. The line would be my protection from falling off the cliff.
Sensing that proximity to the cliff’s edge was disastrous, I drew my line as far away from the cliff as possible. Innocent little me who had no male friends from the beginning of middle school to the end of high school had no clue how to process this diagram. I basically came away with the idea that any expression of affection that gives me pleasure is dangerous, negative and potentially catastrophic because it moves me down a slippery slope towards the cataclysmic drop off.”


Then, a little levity to cut through the intensity—we diverged to joking about the curriculum’s discussion of menstruation. It was the only thing the curriculum recommended celebrating.
Angela remarked, “More than the slippery slope, you know what I think really ought to be feared? It’s your menstrual cycle. I just don’t get it—they suggested that we go out to ice cream to celebrate my first cycle.” I agreed, “My take on periods is that the best time to go out to ice cream and celebrate is when you hit menopause.”

She finished recounting her most poignant memories of the curriculum then transitioned to analyzing its impact and how it assimilated into her worldview.

“It’s all scare tactics. The entire thing is meant to scare you out of making any stupid decisions.
This narrative makes reason the highest virtue. If something feels good, it’s impacting your reason adversely, therefore it must be wrong. If I enjoy it, it must be a step toward the cliff.
And here’s the truth—the cliff is a man-made construct.
God didn’t say that a kiss is the thing you’re saving for marriage. He said to save sex. I don’t think it does us a service to draw extra lines as if they are on par with God’s instructions. That’s what the Pharisees are famous for.

When you add a bunch of extra rules, your body becomes a liability instead of a gift. Guys become 2 dimensional and their designed complexity gets minimized. Girls get scared of them and struggle with a false sense of guilt for the way a guy looks at them or responds to their body based on the outfit they choose. Expressions of affection become negative things because they’re a slippery slope toward a lethal fall.

This model reduces relational risk to something dangerous only, and to be avoided at all costs. But some risks are worth taking even when they don’t turn out the way you wanted. Anytime you enter into a relationship with another person, you choose to take a risk because you think they are worth it and the relationship is worth it to you. And in a good risk, you both end up feeling honored by what you shared even when it’s over. There’s no shame in giving your heart away.

I don’t find a fear based approach to dating and sex to be helpful. I think it’s way more helpful to focus on Imago Dei and the indwelling presence of Christ.
Think about the Weight of Glory. In his essay Lewis says,“Next to the Blessed Sacrament itself, your neighbour is the holiest object presented to your senses. If he is your Christian neighbour he is holy in almost the same way, for in him also Christ vere latitat—the glorifier and the glorified, Glory Himself, is truly hidden.”
If that’s the person you’re in a relationship with, then the way you treat him is a reflection of the way you treat Christ. Because of Jesus, you treat his body and your body with the respect and honor that Jesus asked you to show.

Not being sexually intimate with someone you’re not married to is ultimately something you’re doing for Jesus, not for yourself, and not even for the person who may or may not be your spouse someday.
Jesus gave his life for you and you owe him everything. So if he asks you to do something with your body, you honor what he asks. Period.
That’s it.
Bottom line.”

About that time, she took a long, deep breath.
And I looked over at her admiringly.
What a privilege it’s been to be her mom.
She’s an amazingly beautiful person who is understanding God’s love and grace more deeply these days, as am I.
Both of us, we’re being transformed into His image.

If I got a do-over to when she was 13, it’d sound different.

From the vantage point of life experience, I recognize her words in my own story. When we convolute the gift of sex so directly with shame and fear, women come into marriage afraid, self-protective, mistrusting and we struggle to feel freedom to embrace the beauty of sex after marriage because a finger wagging “no-no” set up shop in our souls.  At least, that’s what it’s been like for me.

I’ve always answered my kids questions as honestly as I know how, before, during and after Passport to Purity. No matter what the topic, we’ve batted it around. We talk about everything. I just wish I’d have had more God confidence– that as His image bearer, He could be trusted to lead me over time, by His spirit through intentional dialogue to communicate whatever He wanted me to say without a boxed curriculum.IMG_1072

And, I wish I’d trusted God’s indwelling in my children’s lives more. I wish that I’d intentionally affirmed their soft hearts to know Him better and by default to love Him more and let that relationship fortify their conviction that He can be trusted with their sexual journey and their plan to work that out.IMG_1113

I wish I’d been a better cheerleader for the innocent and exciting delights of exchanging affection in word and deed rather than blanketing it in fear and condemnation.

Truth is, I haven’t done the mom thing perfectly.
She hasn’t done the kids thing perfectly either.
And our perspectives don’t always intersect.
But there we were together, a few days ago.
At the trail head.



The sign said Caution: Cliff Ahead.
So, we hiked it side by side, along the rim of the cliff.
We could have fallen over the edge if we weren’t discerning. The cliff was dangerous, but it was so much more than that. It was also beautiful.

And that’s the moral of the story: The best life is lived in the tension of the risk and the beauty, holding tightly to the hand of God…even though you’ll likely get a bit scuffed up along the way.



Pondering our Mortality this Ash Wednesday

Contemplating your own demise.
If you do it well, it will make you happy.
So says the NY Times.
It’s an interesting narrative and what better time to embrace it then Ash Wedensday, the church holiday marking the beginning of the season of Lent.
As those cinders smear across my forehead vertically then horizontally, I am reminded that it’s not just from dust I was formed, it is to dust I will return.

I’ll be honest.
I don’t want to live so long that my arthritic fingers can’t pick up a spoon and I need to have my behind wiped for me, or worse yet, I go potty in a “brief”.
And I don’t prefer to lie in bed all day staring up at geometrical patterns in the ceiling tile all the dark, gloomy days of a Michigan winter while fighting off bed sores.
I’m not excited about eating pureed food or drinking Ensure for nutrition.
And it hurts me to think of forgetting my children’s names or not recognizing my husband.img_3915
Don’t even get me started on wrinkly skin that hangs off the bones like a turkey’s neck. It’s fine on other people but I cringe at the thought of being remembered looking like that. Already at 50, I can’t reconcile the girl inside with the reflection in the mirror. The shell is morphing while the soul remains youthful.

I wonder what God accomplishes through aging. It wasn’t His original design but He can redeem anything.
Perhaps as our autonomy is compromised, reliance can be cultivated in it’s place,
And as our voice is diminished, our opinions regarded as obsolete, we are postured for greater humility,
As validation through status and accomplishments get exposed as fool’s gold, our identity in Christ can authenticate,
And as we lose the relationships we’ve loved best, space is created to receive His affection,
As our appetite for the world’s enticements diminish, an attachment to heaven may emerge,
And as we can do less we are positioned to pray more.
The endgame ultimately poses us for greater trust.
And therein are the mercies.ladybugs-2

Honestly, I’d prefer to choose the conclusion of my story.
And I don’t want to die with a long to-do list.
Or before I raise my Littlest.
I’d like to read books to my grandchildren all cuddled up in an oversized chair too, if it’s up to me.
But ultimately, God writes our final chapter, concluding the temporal and commencing the eternal.
And the ones left behind compose the epilogue.

It starts with a memorial amalgamating honor and closure in the paradox of celebration and grief.
Make mine personal.
Read God’s words about timing and seasons.
Sing about His faithfulness.
Reflect on my journey and the people He caused to cross my path. Recount the beautiful ways lives touched each other.
Give dignity to my unique identity as His image bearer, acknowledging strengths, talents and abilities but honestly admit my weaknesses too. Fear and insecurity dogged me this side of the river.
And laugh at my strange idiosyncrasies like the way I paint one fingernail as a trial and leave it that way for months.
And how I sneeze uncontrollably when my right eyebrow gets plucked.
And my tendency to bring stray people and puppies home and try to adopt them into the family.
Cry muddled up tears of joy and sorrow for the broken beautiful of our imperfect stories all intermingled.
Eat together and savor the sweetness of food and friendship.

And afterwards, let death be your tutor.
Contemplate the brevity of life,
The momentous impact of extending forgiveness,
The compelling freedom in apologizing,
The pressing call to invest your time eternally,
The significant blessing of loving words rolling freely off your tongue.

You see, Life is a gift and death re-wraps it in new paper and repurposes it in the hearts of those we have loved through memory and legacy.

If you attend to another with care and curiosity because you saw that in me,
If you hug long and squeeze hard because you felt loved and secure when I did,
If you welcome your tears and invite others to share theirs,
If you adopt the posture of a lifelong learner,
If you merge bold, crazy dreams with determination and creativity,
If you write your stories then tell them to your children,
If prayer is your daily rhythm,
If in some way, I directed your attention to Jesus,
Well, that is a beautiful life.
And that is an abundance of mercy.
You know, I think the NY Times is right after all. If you do it well, contemplating your own death will make you happy.dscf5760

Lewis Meets the Lion

Be Happy!   The last card has been played and it’s the ace of hearts.–Jesus

Screen Shot 2016-03-26 at 9.39.01 AM
Every night this week, the routine’s been the same. We slip on our cotton tent dresses, tie them at the waist, cover our heads with scarves and rush out the door. It’s been fourteen years since I played a biblical character in our church’s traditional Easter drama. Last time, I held one little girl in my arms, with another grasping the left side of my robe and the biggest one close on my right. The “baby” was a beautiful surprise yet to be discovered.
We waved our palm branches shouting “Hosanna” to Jesus who smiled lovingly at the mass of children reaching for him and held the tiniest ones in his arms. More than a decade later, the story of Jesus remains unchanged but the contemporary narrative that parallels the gospel account switches out every annum to highlight a person with a God shaped hole in their heart that gets filled at the cross.
This year, the modern figure features CS Lewis, author, philosopher and storyteller extraordinaire.

I can’t count how many times we’ve read his Chronicles of Narnia or listened to the audiobooks. I can hear the British reader in my sleep. And I remember the year we lived in the story when Lily and Robyn were cast as Susan and Lucy in the play based on the book, “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe”.

This fantasy story, a brainchild of Lewis imagination, describes a group of siblings who embark on a magical journey through a clothes wardrobe into a mystical land called Narnia where the evil but deceitfully charming and beautiful White Witch has cast a spell on the land making it always winter but never Christmas. She dupes one of the siblings called Edmund and he becomes enchanted after eating some of her candy. He betrays his siblings for treats and the witch’s promise of power, unaware that she intends to kill him in order to interrupt an ancient prophecy foretelling an end to her rule.
Enter Aslan, the great lion and hero of the story. He is the real king of Narnia. And he is good. He privately arranges an exchange with the White Witch and trades places with Edmund. A life for a life. And so the witch giddy with evil delight, convinced that murdering Aslan cements her reign forever, binds her victim, lays him on a stone table and stabs him in the heart.
She has forgotten, however, that the spell will be broken if an innocent victim sacrifices life on behalf of another. As Narnia melts to spring, she remembers. Aslan resurrects and the children fight together against the witch’s minions in a battle for the sake of Aslan’s kingship. Ultimately evil gets defeated and Aslan entrusts the rule of His kingdom to the children until he returns to Narnia.

Lewis’ personal story has LOSS written large all over it with a Sharpie.
At only eight years old, he lost his mother to cancer and was sent to boarding school by his devastated father.
World War 1 bombarded Europe during his teen years so he shipped off to war, where he lost his entire platoon in battle and his best friend to a bullet.
Later, his father died unexpectedly still unreconciled to Lewis.
He married late in life. Found a kindred spirit in his wife, Joy, and four years later ravenous cancer snatched her away too.
Death dogged him.
Abandonment shaped him.
Loneliness pummeled him.
Brilliant. Yes.
Successful. Yes.
Respected. Yes.
But broken, emptied and reluctant to believe in a God bigger than his pain.

He carried his own little White Witch around on his shoulder whispering lies into his pain at his most vulnerable moments.
If God is all loving and caring, why would he do this to you?
You’re alone.
No one is coming to save you.

I commiserate with Lewis.
I have my own little demons dancing around in my head.
My story of rescue is different than his.
A compliant, fearful child, my Sunday School teacher’s description of hell petrified me so I repeated her spoon fed words as if salvation was a mathematical equation, the sum equaling a quick fix for a scary eternal problem. I repeated that mantra countless times like a kid practicing math facts just to be sure I wouldn’t forget them.
Then as concrete reasoning turned abstract, I realized that the God who makes a nice room for me in his Grand Hotel wants more than my reservation. He actually intends to accompany me all the way to my destination. He offers his services as tour guide for the journey too. But there’s a catch. He gets to decide the route, my arrival time and all the stops along the way.
And that’s been the rub because while I want his companionship, I don’t like his GPS system.
And so like Lewis, I struggle to trust Him, to concur with his plans for me, to let Him log my travel journal because I think I can write a better one.

In Act Two of the Easter drama, Jesus comes before political leader, Pontius Pilate. The Jewish religious bigwigs called Pharisees have made false accusations to shame and disparage him. They are frustrated by his unconventional leadership style, intimidated by his popularity and offended because he won’t fit into their box so they just want to get rid of him.
I’m in the scene where the angry crowd shouts “Crucify Him!” But I find that my mouth is full of cotton ever time I attempt to yell out the words. And the tears swell in the corners of my eyes and then overflow.

It’s not that I’m too spiritual to act the part.
Rather, I’m faced with my duplicity.
And it’s overwhelming.
I am the mocking, jeering, haughty spectator at the crucifixion and the weeping, humbled, grateful one too.
And the tension of the paradox disturbs me.

Truth is, I want my way but my way isn’t fully aligned with Jesus way this side of heaven.
So my own little witch feeds me a steady diet of lies every day questioning His goodness, His trustworthiness.
And the lies are unrelenting, like a song on repeat.
Even if you don’t like it, it gets stuck in your head.
And I complain to God,
“I don’t like your plan.”
“This isn’t the way I imagined my life.”
“Why won’t you do what I ask?”
“You disappoint me.”
And it’s really no different than yelling “Crucify Him”.

Fickly, like a pinball ricocheting off the posts, my soul alternates between complaints and gratitude. In my broken hallelujah moments, I glimpse the God-man stripped, bloodied, tormented and dying. His cross says I am held in His arms and carried close to his heart. I see lavish love in His nail scars. My fist opens and I transfer my life map into the wounded hands of my most ardent pursuer. There, humility meets holiness in worship.

After the crucifixion scene in the drama, Jesus exits the tomb to a peel of thunder and the roar of a Lion. He walks over to little boy Lewis, then young man Lewis and finally to older Lewis. With each Lewis, he places an arm around him and looks tenderly into his hurting eyes.
And like Lewis, I see myself
A little girl with irrational fears and excessive anxieties,
And a teenager who had no idea what to do with her losses,
That young wife disillusioned about love- and disappointed,
An insecure mom second guessing her skill and stamina,
The friend fearing rejection and abandonment,
And when I lean into the tender embrace of Jesus I hear Him whisper, Peace. Be Still.

I recently saw a facebook prompt that invited me to “Write the Happiest Story in 4 Words”.
So on this Easter Sunday, mine goes like this:
She embraced God’s love.



So Much Paradox This Side of Eternity

Sometimes life flies over you like a B-17 bomber, the sirens go off, and something or someone you always counted on is suddenly gone.  (Angela Webster)

My daughter Angela is one of my favorite bloggers. (Her blog is linked to the article title below.)  She writes. She photographs. And she designs. Spring break brought her home to us so we celebrated early Grampsy’s sweet life and heavenly birthday over heaping bowls of oversized ice cream sundaes in his honor. While scrolling through her posts, I found this treasure in her archives written two years ago.
It so beautifully describes the tender and mutually adoring relationship she shared with my dad and how his death shattered her pink and blue childhood illusion of the world and happily ever after.  Life and death- so much paradox on this side of eternity.

Baby Blue and Powder Pink
by Angela Webstergrampsyangela

He would crouch down on the floor beside me, pinching the plastic four-inch grandpa doll between his thumb and forefinger. They resembled one another—the doll and the man—both clad in a powdery blue button down shirts and khakis, both gray-crowned and gangly. The doll, however, had a mustache. My grandpa did not.

“Goodbye, see you later,” I would wave enthusiastically on behalf of the mommy and daddy dolls before helping them into the ridiculous blue and pink minivan. For some strange reason, the Loving-Family dollhouse artists fixated on baby blue and powder pink. With the parents out for the evening, the grandpa doll and his granddaughter were free. Usually, they meandered down the imaginary street to the imaginary ice cream shop where the grandpa doll bought his granddaughter an imaginary treat. While she licked her vanilla ice cream cone, my grandpa and I would munch on cheerios and he would tell me stories about the Great Depression. Then, our dolls walked to the park. With my help, the granddaughter would situate herself on the single swing and the grandpa—shaking in between my grandpa’s fingers—would push her back and forth.

Eventually, the girl and her grandpa would wander back to the pink and blue three-story house and take a nap. The parents would return and all would be well. In the shelter of the pink and blue mansion, every ending was a happy one.

But houses aren’t really pink and blue.

It’s strange to think that Fisher-Price—the company that produced my dollhouse and plasticized my fairytales—also manufactured ammunition crates and repair parts for fighter planes in World War II. Somewhere in Germany, there was a real house and a loving family sleeping inside when the air raid sirens startled them out of their dreams. If they were lucky, they scrambled down into the bomb shelter in time. When they came out, the house was gone.

Maybe fairy-tales only exist in plastic.

Sometimes life flies over you like a B-17 bomber, the sirens go off, and something or someone you always counted on is suddenly gone.

It’s been over a decade since my grandpa and I played doll-house. Today, the Loving-Family grandpa doll rests peacefully in a cardboard box in an upstairs closet, the eternal smile and mustache still stamped across his face. Old, but never older.

My grandpa died of a heart attack nine years ago.

Strengthening my Spine

mg_8896Dread. It was written all over her face.
And I’d only mentioned Lent.
“You’re on your own this year, Mom,” Robyn replied boldly.
Then Brian offered, “How about if we go to Starbucks once a week during Lent and talk about the significance of Easter?”
Big smile.
“That I will do!” she responded.

Meanwhile, as the chocolate fest from Valentine’s week winds down, my own Easter preparation takes shape.
And again this year, I find myself worshipping at the altar of sugar and I am ashamed of myself and this illicit relationship.
My husband disappointes me? Pie or cake is the answer.
I can’t fix my children’s problems? I turn to chocolate.
Blaming, shaming self-talk? Warm, soft cookies right out of the oven.
Relief from the repetitive cycle of my mundane life? Brownies with ice cream is a favorite.
Anxiety? Pure unadulterated candy.
And for desperate situations, Graeter’s ice cream with chocolate chunks is the answer to my most insurmountable problems.

There’s something really warped about going to sugar for comfort instead of Jesus.
Proof of my brokenness.
Words from the pulpit echo in my mind. “The Father seeks broken people to worship Him in spirit and truth.”
That would be me.
Lent invites me to go to God, to look hard into His gentle strength, to talk to Him when I’d rather just consume sweets.

Here I am whining about my struggle with sugar and simultaneously 21 Coptic Christians are beheaded. Even before the Lenten season started, they made their decision about how to worship in spirit and in truth. They took the cross of Christ seriously and died for the hope Easter offers.
Ann Voskamp said, “Love without a Cross has no backbone.”
Jesus loves with backbone.
And the more my eyes are focused on His Cross, the more I am prepared to live a better story of sacrifice, discipline and dependence.
During Lent, I strengthen my spine.
I cry, “God save me from myself.”
And I do it every time I say “no” to what I want, which is sugar and “yes” to what I need, which is a Savior.
And He responds gently saying, “Come to Me.”
And I am filled with gratitude that He understands my frailty.
He is compassionate toward my weakness.
He smiles about my victory over that candy bar I walked past in the check out aisle.
He savors the conversation He and I had about it as I struggled with temptation.

Bottom line is–I’m pathetic. Really. I am.
The good news is–He loves me anyway.

Our Double Life

DSCF6607It was our grand finale—a trip to Ludington where a dozen delighted kids frolicked on the beach sculpting castles, playing cards, jumping over waves, lounging on floaties and having splashing contests while four moms in lounge chairs enjoyed easy conversation. We cooked hotdogs for dinner sitting in a circle around the campfire and finished off with s’mores before racing to the beach to watch the sunset and dune jump.DSCF6637DSCF6621DSCF6667 mg_6193The sun waved “goodbye” in a blaze of color, as if acknowledging the magnificence of friendships forged over time and shared experiences and we knew it was our turn to do the same–again. There were so many hugs—the little boys resisted. The mamas squeezed hard and long and so did Lily. Tears erupted from turbulent soul volcanoes. “Goodbyes” called from cracking voices through open windows followed by “See you in 9 months,” and “I love you guys,” called out Christine with a “Back to You” returned.

Then there was just the beach and the dunes for miles as darkness descended. Minutes passed quietly except for an occasional involuntary sob. I wondered how to band aid the gaping wound our children were bleeding tears about. What does a mama do with all these tears, especially when you know it was your choices that caused them. I did the only thing I know to do when I don’t know what else to do—pray.

“Hey guys,” I spoke compassionately. “I know we’re hurting. The tears tell us that we love large and we’re loved back– and that’s a gift. The downside of the gift is that it hurts to say goodbye.”

Sigh….. Pause……

“So, let’s take a few minutes to cry it out and then how about if we try shifting our focus away from ourselves and onto those friends we just spent a beautiful day with.” “How about if we pray for each of our friends individually? They have their own stuff to deal with too and we could talk to God about it for them.”
“OK,” Starla responded agreeably.


And over the next 25 minutes, all 16 of those dear people who hold our hearts were brought before the throne of the only One who can fix all this brokenness.

And when we said “Amen”, I suggested we play music.
Robyn chimed in, “I don’t want to hear anything sad.”
So we turned on Jason Gray singing:

…..Every step along the way,
I know You’ll never leave my side.
Whatever the season I can say,
These are the best days of my life…..

And we just kept driving away from the beach.
Just like we just kept driving away from Wheaton College on Sunday.
And just like we drove away from our cousins house yesterday.
And just like we’ll drive past the “Pure Michigan” sign on Saturday– all the way to Dallas to our other life.

The music felt like white noise in the background of my internal banter.
“How did we get here?” I asked myself. “And more importantly, how to do we get out?” I wondered….

I reflected 12 years back.

Like all sincere Christian parents we weighed our options prayerfully when we considered relocation, seeking wise council and did what seemed prudent. Nobody intentionally sets out to break their children’s hearts repeatedly. We were utterly ignorant about the long term implications of our decisions.

When we first drove away, we knew we couldn’t sever ourselves from our northern life completely in good conscience, even if we’d wanted to–which we didn’t. The Bible has something to say about respecting parents and reciprocating the care they blessed us with when their health goes South. So, we came back north to take care of family and that is what jump started our double life—school years in Texas and summers in Michigan.

To some people, it seems almost idyllic—winters where it’s warm and summers where it’s cool. While I appreciate upbeat optimism and grasp for it at times, that assessment is highly simplistic. It might be alluringly exciting for sanguines, but God didn’t wire us that way, and our double life makes us feel alive right in the pit of our stomach.

So what do we do when we can’t find a way to change the trajectory? And there’s no place to seemingly to make a U-turn….

That’s the million-dollar question we can’t seem to escape. We all ask it within our own particular messy stories….

And so we lament—groanings that only God understands.
And we try not to project ahead how many more times He might ask us to do a repeat because we don’t think we have even one more in us.
And tonight in the wee hours, the questions swirling feel a lot like jazz music that doesn’t resolve and leaves you aching with its dissonance.

img_5494-1But all of life is not the dead of night. I hear the girls whispering animatedly in the next room recounting to each other their sweet stories of summer–holding on to the memories in the retelling so they don’t slip like beach sand through their fingers.

Soon, they will drift off to sleep as will I.

And tomorrow, we will all wake up to God’s faithful, tender, mercies that are fresh and new for the day.
We’ll open our hand to accept His.
And trust He’ll take it just as He always has.
And we’ll turn the music up loud and on repeat as we pack up all those Rubbermaid plastic bins and sing,


…..Every step along the way,
I know You’ll never leave my side.
Whatever the season I can say,
These are the best days of my life…..

Easter’s Gardening Miracle


We lined up the plastic containers and poured premium potting soil with fertilizer in each one. Then Starla gently set 1 seed in each container and covered it with a layer of dirt. Each seed was dormant—lifeless, dead. She watered them dutifully all week and on Easter weekend, they sprouted. One after another the fresh, new green shoots erupted through the soil alive and growing. How kind of God to give us a gardening miracle on Easter weekend. It’s not just our sunflower seeds that have come alive. Jesus is alive. On Easter Sunday we celebrate our future and our hope. We give thanks that we have not received what we deserve and we have received what we didn’t deserve. Ecclesiastes reminds us that there is a time for everything—

A time to plant and a time to harvest…… 

A time to cry and a time to laugh.

A time to grieve and a time to dance.

Today is a time to harvest, to laugh, to dance because

lent is over and  He is Risen indeed. Hallelujah!