Did you ever wonder what Easter is like in the Middle East where Jesus lived? I did. And then one Easter season, I traveled there. Here's what happened:
Worshiping at Easter-time in Egypt:
We walked from our hotel along the Nile to a large church building near downtown Cairo. The place was packed. People crowded the lobby yet parted quickly to allow the fifty blue-robed choir members to march in, waving palm branches. We couldn’t understand the Arabic words, but we read the English version in the guest-bulletin. They sang, “I love you, Lord. Come and be with us.” Tears leaked from my eyelids—this from a woman who rarely cries.
Giving at Easter-time in Egypt:
The inspiring experiences didn’t stop at the end of the worship service. We met with the articulate pastor afterward. He said, “We all have something to give, whether Western or Eastern Christians. If we learn how to share and attempt to understand one another, then people will know that the giver cares and sees the receiver as a fellow human being and brother.” He explained that was why he appreciated the Christian relief and development program I worked with at the time. We partnered to offer food, training, jobs and transportation to deeply disadvantaged parents and children.
Resting at Easter-time in Egypt:
During our conversation, the pastor’s adult daughter said, “As a child I continually wondered when someone would come take my dad away.”
“Yes,” admitted the pastor. “I’ve been in danger of being jailed almost every day of my life.”
I chatted with the daughter (who currently practices medicine in a large city in the U.S.) about topics like over-working, exhaustion, transition and burnout. “You know what it’s like to race inside, don’t you?” I asked.
“Oh, yes,” she admitted. “It’s like a treadmill—if I try to get off without first turning off the machine, I will fall.” Then she recounted stories about how two of her patients did fall off the treadmill during testing, because they didn’t heed the instructions to be careful. We chuckled at the analogy. And yet we both knew the sober reality: over-doing and running around without heeding wise directives and taking time to rest and replenish can lead to a burnout crash.
Worshipping, Giving, and Resting at Easter-time during the Coronavirus Pandemic:
Although this Easter-in-Egypt happened several years ago, I think of it today as I celebrate the current Easter season during this sad and challenging coronavirus pandemic with all the restrictions and uncertainties. We all face an unknown, unfamiliar, and uncomfortable future whether that future means tomorrow or one year from now.
We wish it could be predictable and controllable with results just like we think they should be. But the truth is: things aren’t perfect. Some things aren’t fair. And many things are hurtful and wrong…whether we live in Egypt or in a big city or rural town in the United States…or somewhere else in the world.
Jesus and You at this Easter-time:
It wasn’t perfect for Jesus when He lived here, either. He left His flawlessly supportive surroundings in heaven to live in this fickle, chaotic, disappointing world. One week He was adored, praised and openly honored with parades and palm branches. The next week He was mocked and killed.
Yet, Jesus came for a purpose–the ultimate purpose!–to sacrifice His life so that all of us can be re-united with our loving Creator God. All of us, the burned-out doctor, threatened pastor, penniless parent, caring giver, and each restricted “stay at home” observer.
No matter where you live or what’s happening in your life, Jesus says (to you about himself), “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish [spiritually] but have eternal life.”
It’s a personal invitation to you and me from God. Even amid our "social distancing" challenges, changes and losses, let’s remember that we are loved by the God who will always care about us and be involved with us, regardless of our circumstances. If like I have, you’ve accepted God’s generous offer to believe and follow Jesus and discover a forever-hope, what does this year’s unconventional and imperfect Easter season look like for you? If you’d like to leave a comment, I would love to hear from you.
Note: To protect the people involved, I changed some details of my actual experience, left out names and exact places, and chose not to post actual photos.
Ezra 3:8-11: "When the builders laid the foundation...with thanksgiving they sang to the Lord: '...his love...endures forever'" (vv.10-11).
"I wonder if I've done permanent damage to my mind and body," admitted a friend who had just left a destructive career environment. "As I begin this journey out of workaholism and burnout, sometimes I'm hopeful, other times I'm racked with doubt. I guess I'd better wait before I count my blessings."
At one time I too was frightened that total restoration was not possible. After all, I had "fried" my brain and soul.
Perhaps the Israelites experienced similar feelings. They had been freed from the oppressive chains of the Babylonians. Restoring the temple in Jerusalem was their goal, but many obstacles remained. The destruction was massive. Could they ever recover what they once had?
With such a huge task ahead, one might expect the Israelites to hold their praise until the temple reconstruction was completed. Yet as the foundation was being laid, they shouted, "God is good."
Learning new ways to live is risky. There is much work to be done and many obstacles to overcome. At first glance, it might seem like an unlikely time for Thanksgiving. However, even in our confusion and doubt, we can be grateful for evidence of growth and praise God.
Lord, your love endures forever -- before, during, and after the restorative process.
Can you think of a time when being grateful seemed like a strange or even ridiculous thing to do, but you found ways to thank God, anyway?
WIN A FREE BOOK! The Bible text (in the photo I took of the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem) and this blog post remind me of my devotional book, It's a Wonderful (Imperfect) Life. I'd like to give you an autographed copy. Make a comment here and I'll enter your name for a drawing on THANKSGIVING DAY.
Are You Caught in An Over-Helping Trap?
“It’s easy to get confused by the Messiah Trap, a two-sided lie that, on the surface, appears to be noble, godly, and gracious. After all, being a caring and helpful person is something we value,” writes Carmen Renee Berry, author of When Helping You is Hurting Me.
Berry suggests that we believe one of two lies when we get caught in this trap.
1. Messiah Trap Lie Number One: If I don’t do it, it won’t get done. Messiah Trap people are doers, helpers and genuinely nice people. We keep homes and offices running smoothly. But we can become weary and overwhelmed when we believe another person’s happiness, spirituality, health and/or success is our God-given task. Berry says, “The Messiah Trap is an odd combination of feeling grandiose yet worthless, of being needed and yet abandoned, of playing God while groveling.”
Maybe this applies to you. Maybe it doesn’t. But before you write it off, consider this:
2. Messiah Trap Lie Number Two: Everyone else’s needs should take priority over mine. Because we don’t want to be or appear selfish, we often neglect our own spiritual, emotional, medical or social needs. People depend on us for answers and unending support, which makes us feel important and worthwhile. However, when inevitable humanness breaks through our facade, we may find no one to help us. We can then feel isolated, lonely or disillusioned.
It’s a catch-22, because we dislike the imperfect sensation associated with insignificance or disappointment almost as much as we dislike losing control and not making everything just right. These less-than-perfect emotions and experiences feel so miserable that we deduce we must try harder to avoid feeling this way. Or we withdraw, pretending we never experienced the uncomfortable feelings in the first place.
Either way, it is a genuine relief once we realize that God doesn’t expect us to have all the answers in order to be a valuable and compassionate friend, spouse, parent, colleague or Christian. We can break free from the MESSIAH TRAP or the OVER-HELPING TRAP. It's okay with God if we relax and let Him take-over what isn't our job to control anyway.
“Relax, everything’s going to be all right; rest, everything’s coming together; open your hearts, love is on the way!” (Jude 1:1, THE MESSAGE).
I’m amazed by Jesus. His work on the cross makes me right with God, and His life example in the midst of imperfection and disappointment shows me how to live. For instance, many loved Jesus; others loathed Him.* But that didn’t stop Jesus from fulfilling His purpose in life. He seemed unsurprised by it all. Although He cared about others, their opinions didn’t alter his plans.
I’ve discovered a misbelief guaranteed to make me (and you!) miserable: In order to be happy, I must be loved and accepted by everybody--or at least most people. Obviously, this isn’t a belief that Jesus espoused. When adhering to this misconception:
Not everyone loved and agreed with Jesus; not all will love and agree with us. This isn’t surprising. But by living out our God-given dream, purposes, and convictions, we can live satisfying and significant lives, regardless of the reactions of those around us. We don’t have to be loved and appreciated by everyone to be happy, content, and blessed.
Lord, it’s a relief to know that I can be who You made me to be and do what you've asked me to do even though others may disagree with me. Please help me to be courageous and consistent, even in the face of opposition from those I care about.
What do you do when others don't agree with your ideas, dreams, plans, beliefs or convictions?
* Thus the people were divided because of Jesus. Some wanted to seize him. (John 7:43-44)
Recently I talked with two lovely Christian women about the epidemic of body dissatisfaction in our country--and the world.
“I want to lose weight,” Lori said, “but I keep sabotaging myself. I’m tired of stressing about it. I always believed my body was merely the container for my brain and soul, yet after learning 1 Corinthians 6:19-20*, I understand that my body itself is important to God. I’m going to stop shaming myself and look for good ways to treat my body.”
Jeanne said, “When I’m frustrated with aging or my lack of physical attractiveness, I remember how God has gifted me with functional beauty. For example, I feel healthy when exercising and running a marathon. Four babies received life and nourishment from my body. I love and support my husband. My hands prepare meals; my smile and listening ear comfort hurting friends. These flow from the inner beauty I truly desire” (see 1 Peter 3:4).
Each woman approaches this topic from a slightly different paradigm, yet both agree: I’m God’s creation, housed in the only body I’ll ever have. He cares about every part of me, and I’ll join Him in honoring and taking care of my body.
Lord, I don’t understand exactly why I’m made like I am. Yet I know that You’re on my side and
Making It Personal: Think of several ways God shows you that He’s on your side. What's one way you will honor God with your unique body during these summer months?
(This devotion was adapted from my book, It's a Wonderful (Imperfect) Life.)
* Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you,
whom you have received from God? . . . Therefore honor God with your body. (1 Cor. 6:19-20)
(I changed the women's names to protect their privacy.)
Mom, your life has changed! (You're probably saying under your breath, NO KIDDING!) You have a lot to manage. Your situation is not exactly like your best friend’s circumstances. You have unique needs and so does your family. You don't have to do your mothering like anyone else -- even those you admire greatly.
You can STOP the Mom-Comparison-Game and set grace-filled goals that match YOU and your family. It's okay with God to slow it down and do what fits you.
“Make a careful exploration of who you are and the work you have been given, and then sink yourself into that. . . . Don’t compare yourself with others. "Each of you must take responsibility for doing the creative best you can with your own life” (Galatians 6:4–5 MSG).
You’re the Mom; God’s Your Helper. The following suggestions are designed to assist you in discovering your unique motherhood needs:
Which of these suggestions will YOU try this week?
Adapted from an excerpt in Nourishment for New Moms by Joan C. Webb.
GIVE YOURSELF OR ANOTHER MOTHER THIS SPECIAL GIFT FOR MOTHER'S DAY!
Find the answers and encouragement you need to tackle this life-altering transition in the sage advice, practical strategies, and biblically based pointers in my book Nourishment for New Moms. It's sure to help you survive the challenges of motherhood--with grace, poise and humor intact.
You've probably noticed that I've not blogged much in the last few weeks. Well, actually it's been since I started my school classes in late January. While attempting to juggle my new much-loved school classes, life coaching, speaking, and my regular life, I remembered that when I was a child, I memorized the verse: "Redeeming the time, because the days are evil" (Ephesians 5:16.)
I wanted to heed the message, making the best possible use of my God-given time. I thought "redeeming time" meant I must make each moment productive. Over the years, it came to mean filling each minute of every day with activity and accomplishment. Rushing and busyness characterized my life.
Occasionally I paused enough to realize I was not in control of my time. Time was controlling me. I then resolved to step back and adjust, only to be sucked up into the excessive doing once again.
If I made perfect use of my time, I thought, I could accomplish much and God would be pleased with me. It was not only a lie, but an impossibility. Speeding through life is not a productive way to redeem the time. A better way to redeem life's opportunities is to slow down, relax, and enjoy myself, others and God.
Some days I practice this philosophy, some days I don't. I'll never do it perfectly. But God knows my desire to effectively redeem my time. AND He's helped me say "no" this past week to several requests that don't fit into my life right now (so I can continue to say "yes" to what I believe He's given me at this stage of my life.) I'm grateful.
Do you ever feel like "rushing and busyness characterize your life? What do you want to do about it?
While preparing for this gift-giving season, I asked myself (and God) two questions (at different times.)
1. What is Christmas to me?
2. What would it mean to enjoy a "grace-filled" holiday?
QUESTION #1: In my journal I wrote the following:
To me Christmas is:
"Sooooo, every day is Christmas to me," I concluded. And then it dawned on me that this reality (that every day is Christmas for me) has caused me to "lighten up" my unrealistic expectations for celebrating Christmas. It's been more an internal shift than an outward one. I've released some of the intense "shoulds and have tos and musts" that society, the media, the church, my inner bully, and others--who appear to have it all together--tell me (or at least hint) that I NEED to do.
In my heart, I now know that I don't have to cram all my giving, caring, doing, gratitude, merriment, music, celebrations, goodwill, and spirituality into the 4-5 concentrated weeks of Christmas holidaying.
QUESTION #2: And then I read about the original meaning of the word "grace" used in the Bible to tell us about the Christ of Christ-mas. This "grace" is the direct opposite of "works", in fact the two are mutually exclusive. All my "trying too hard to make it all just right" at Christmas (or any other time) is the antithesis of grace. When I truly accept God's grace/favor in Christ, I'm able to be grace-ful with myself and others. (John 1:14-17)*
Practical Grace Example! I shared this with some women at the beginning of December. A mom with 4 little kids got so excited that she began thinking of ways to "grace" herself and her family this season. One practical thing she did was to relax her expectations for how her artificial tree would be decorated. When she put it together, she didn't have time to "fluff" up the branches, so she let it go--and allowed the kids to decorate, anyway! All very smile-able.
How will you "grace" yourself and your loved ones this Christmas week?
BOOK WINNERS: Thank you to all of you for commenting on my last blog and entering the book give-away for It's a Wonderful (Imperfect) Life. The three winners were Robyn Bloomquist, Patricia Groff, and Tessie M. Congratulations!. Hope you enjoy reading the devotionals. Love your comments, Everyone. Keep them coming please! :-)
*The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. ...From the fullness of his grace we have all received one blessing after another. For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ." John 1:14-17
FROSTY THE SNOWMAN
"How can a snowman be 'parse and brown'?" I asked myself after singing Frosty the Snowman as a little girl. I didn't get it, but I didn't have the nerve to ask what it meant. (Years later I learned that the words really are "We'll pretend that he is Parson Brown!")
A more disturbing question that little Joanie Pressler had was: "Did they actually 'conceive' by the fire? (Hmmmm. Again years later I discovered the the word "conspire" isn't the same as "conceive.")
The words of the often-sung Christmas songs DO have meaning. I also remember the day the words to HARK, THE HERALD ANGELS SANG went from head-memory to my heart. I cried, smiled, prayed, and smiled all at once. It became my favorite Christmas carol.
HARK THE HERALD ANGELS SING
Jesus Christ, God the Son, the second person of the Trinity, willingly left His perfect surroundings with God the Father to be born into this messy, judgmental, chaotic, abusive world. To live with the same limitations of time, space, and to have the same hunger and sleep needs that you and I have.
He did this to reconnect imperfect me--and you--to all-perfect God. To demonstrate the character and attributes of God, so I can understand who He is. To give me a second change at life. And to give me hope that I'll live with Him forever.
This blows my mind. And thrills me deep inside, every time I hear or sing this Christmas carol.
What is your favorite Christmas carol? Why?
WIN A FREE BOOK THIS CHRISTMAS
(Comment below and I'll choose 3 names (yes, 3 people will win one) out of the hat and send you an autographed copy of my devotional book, "It's a Wonderful (Imperfect) Life" BEFORE Christmas. (My book reminds me of the classic Christmas movie with Jimmy Stewart, It's a Wonderful Life! Maybe you'd like to give a copy of the book and the movie as a Christmas gift.)
[Joan's taking some time-off and has asked her photographer friend Jodene Shaw to share an excerpt from her blog about gratitude. Check out more of Jodi's photographs on her website.]
"Gratitude. Thankfulness. Seeing the goodness. Finding the beauty in everyday life.
It makes a difference.
It is to enter a sacred place.
A holy, priceless state of being.
Psalm 100:4 says to enter his gates with thanksgiving, his courts with praise.
To have thanksgiving and praise takes us into the very presence of God.
This morning I walked for over an hour with my camera falling in absolute decadent love with purple coneflowers, dew drops, the sound of my feet on wet gravel after a rain, fence lines, birds singing, my daughter riding her bike through a rain puddle, and my beagle soaked in grass dew. My heart swelled with gratitude, with thankfulness for this very place in which I live. I wondered if the first ten years of my marriage and living on the prairie, if all of it was there then. Did the coneflowers bloom every summer? Were the dewdrops scattered like tiny diamonds in the morning sunlight? Did the birds sing so sweetly? Because I don't remember any of that from 1996 - 2006. It does not stand out in my mind. But certainly they were there. But my eyes were not open...
I noticed, as I walked, as I photographed, how fulfilled I felt.
Really? I could be so happy with such a simple thing?
Yes. I could.
It felt sacred,
It felt . . . with God.
And also giddy, delighted, indulgent."
(Excerpt adapted from Jodi's online Prairie Song summer class from summer 2012)
Over a year later, walking in the cool of the day with my camera helps me live Philippians 4:8 in the fall.
Think on these things.
That is what focus and seeking light and beauty helps me to do.
This is what photography is to me.
No matter the season.
Finally, brothers and sisters,
whatever is true,
whatever is noble,
whatever is right,
whatever is pure,
whatever is lovely,
whatever is admirable
--if anything is excellent or praiseworthy--
think about such things.
Enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise . . . Psalm 100:4
Opening the door to sharing who I am as a wife & mom, writer, photographer & artist. 4 short statements describe my story to tell: Believe Truth. Be Who You Are. Be Real. Embrace Your Place. I am a believer in and teacher of the beautiful difference made by Jesus Christ. Wife of a handsome, good-hearted man who is a hard working cattle rancher. Mom of 10 yr old son, and 2 daughters (8 and 3). One of my "life verses" is John 4:42, "They said to the woman, 'Now we no longer believe, just because of what you said; now we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this man really is the Savior of the world."
*** All photos and writing contained in this blog are the copyright property of Jodene (Jodi) Shaw. No permission is granted to copy or reproduce them in any form without written consent of the creator. This includes copying them in any form for any digital use or use on the internet.
[A NOTE FROM JOAN'S ASSISTANT] Allow me a moment to brag about Jodi. Not only is she a talented writer but she is also an artist. Her photography is great and she composes fantastic pieces of art using mixed mediums to create unique treasures like the one pictured here. Click here and enjoy spending a moment browsing her other creations at her ETSY shop.
Joan C. Webb
Writing, teaching, coaching to empower and set free.