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.
She walked toward me at the close of my presentation. As I listened to bits of her story, my heart connected to hers in a unique way. We met for lunch. She talked of her love for writing. Taking an intentional step, she started a blog that went international. To say that Lynne Hartke has the God-given gift of written story is like saying Arizona is hot in the summer! Consequently, it gives me joy to introduce you to her first published book, Under a Desert Sky: Redefining Hope, Beauty, and Faith in the Hardest Places. You will be powerfully impacted by what you read. I promise!
To win a FREE copy of Under a Desert Sky, leave a comment below.
I love these following quotes from Lynne's book. Perhaps they will resonate with you as well.
I need and want to hold this truth close right now: He has not forgotten me! He's not forgotten you, either!
Yes, it is good to be strong in the midst of hardship, pain, and disappointment. But sadly, we can push that strength to extreme when we believe we must do it all alone. Lynne discovered that living this way is "stupid strong." I rather agree. It's not sensible to leave out God and those who love us; we were made for community.
Believing this truth can release you and me from the exhausting "trying too hard to make it all just right" mentality! Ahhhh.
Always striving for more can be exhausting. Yet, accepting our limited reality can be freeing. More will indeed come...
When we spend eternity with our Creator, Savior, and Lord. That is my ultimate hope. How about you?
Leave a comment by May 25, 2017, and you will be entered into a drawing to win a FREE copy of Under a Desert Sky!
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)
I love taking photos of the flag of the United States of America. In spite of her faults, I'm grateful for my country, for those who gave their lives to give us freedom, and for God's blessing on this land. I was a child when the words "under God" were added to the Pledge of Allegiance.
It's addition impressed me deeply.
"I Pledge Allegiance to the flag of the United States of America
and to the Republic for which it stands,
one Nation under God,
indivisible, with liberty and justice for all."
Lately I've been snapping pictures of our country's flag. Here are a few more. Hope you enjoy. Maybe you'll even want to sing "You're a Grand Old Flag" by George M. Cohan.
You're a grand old flag,
You're a high flying flag
And forever in peace may you wave.
You're the emblem of
The land I love.
The home of the free and the brave.
Ev'ry heart beats true
'neath the Red, White and Blue,
Where there's never a boast or brag.
Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
Keep your eye on the grand old flag.
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.
Many of us long to be accepted unconditionally, to be free of "shoulds", "oughts", and "have-tos". We hunger for good news to feed our souls. We are tired of striving, yet always falling short. When we stop trying so hard, and let ourselves feel, we may realize our fear of rejection is overwhelming.
Jesus did not come to give us more to-do's. He does not stand over us ready to chide when we fail. He gives no dirty looks when we are tired and cannot go on. God sent Jesus not to condemn us, but to save, deliver, protect and make us whole (John 3:17).
Some of us have felt shameful criticism from family or fellow church members. We work strenuously to avoid further rejection. We may believe that if we surrender to Jesus we will experience additional religious condemnation. However, it is not God's plan to heap condemnation on us. He sent Jesus to release us to freedom. This is the on-going good news of Easter.
How are you celebrating the lasting freedom of Easter this week, even after the family gathering/egg hunt/church-going holiday has passed?
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?
Joan C. Webb
Writing, teaching, coaching to empower and set free.