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.
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?
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.
Maybe you’re tired of your inner “shoulda-woulda-coulda” voice, but you’d never call yourself a perfectionist because you tend to procrastinate. Guess what? Perfectionism (trying too hard to make it just right) and procrastination (deciding to do something and then not doing it) are like first cousins who pretend they aren’t related.
As a procrastinating perfectionist, you may not finish a job application, take that vacation, or organize your closet. You may avoid creating new friendships, singing in the choir, or calling a counselor, because you’re afraid of making a mistake, being laughed at, failing others—or yourself. Delaying decisions becomes a habit. Although it may seem like a laid-back approach to life, it’s often painful and limiting.
You can change your procrastinating tendencies. Just starting is a step out of the procrastination trap.
1. Instead of expecting to be the best (employee, parent, musician, you fill in the blank ________) in comparison to everyone else, commit to become the best version of yourself.
2. Limit all-or-nothing thinking. Choose your favorite color (deep red, ocean blue, sunshine yellow?) and the next time you feel stuck and start to procrastinate, brainstorm your options in that color instead of mere black and white. You do have choices.
3. When you’re tempted to procrastinate and postpone another task because it seems too hard or time-consuming, set the timer for 20 minutes. When the alarm sounds you can walk away or re-set for another 20.
4. Find a caring accountability partner who’ll listen to your frustrations without judging or trying to fix you and your procrastinating ways and then who will celebrate with you when you succeed.
5. Stand up to the shoulda-woulda-coulda tyrant in your head. Tell him to sit down and hush because you can make progress without him!
Just as you develop physical muscle by consistently exercising your body, you can develop mental/emotional muscle by consistently practicing these and other anti-procrastination exercises. Freedom, here you come.
You really love this, don’t you? You’re so animated when you’re busy working. Although my client meant this as a compliment, I gagged when I heard her words. To me, they represented a lifestyle I’d tried to ditch. Anything that reminded me of my excessive behavior felt like a punch in the gut. I get a high when rushing, working and finding solutions.
I am an adrenaline junkie. What do I mean?
What helps you become friends with tranquility again?
Joan C. Webb
Writing, teaching, coaching to empower and set free.