Holy Moments – Day 22 – Dawning Light

30226_Decisions_Ahead

“Mommy – What does ISIS stand for?”

Her blue eyes peeked out at me from behind her purple bedspread. It was time to turn out the light. Not the time to launch into a discussion like this. And what did she mean “stand for?” I took the literal route.

“ISIS is an acronym. The letters I-S-I-S are short for the longer name of a group calling itself the Islamic State.”

“Some boys on the playground were talking about it and what they did in Paris.”

“Hmm.” My mind reeled. What did she know? I didn’t want her to worry. We work so hard to keep her safe, happy, carefree…

I asked her what she’d heard and it was just vague details about attacks. She’d heard of Islam, so we discussed the fact that there are people in all religions who can become extreme and bend their views into hatred of others who have different faiths. I stressed that this is wrong, that God loves every person, that He created every single one.

“Will they come here?”

“There are people in our government and all over the world working very hard to protect us.”

“We’ll be warned, right? And we can run to our house and lock all the doors. Do we know what they look like?”

“Some of them. But it’s more like we’re watching their emails and telephone calls. Get some sleep, ok? I love you.”

Oh, Lord. I couldn’t tell her the whole truth….What do they look like?

They look like my friend from middle school – Mary – whose mother was Syrian and father was Lebanese. They look like guys I dated in high school and college – Italian. They look like the Greek guy at the deli around the corner from my office building in New York City. And they look like Zaidan – the Lebanese gentleman I worked with for years at a nonprofit civic education group in Washington, DC, where our mission was to encourage young people to participate in the democratic process.

What do they look like?  They look like us. And what’s on the outside has nothing to do with it. 

My daughter’s questions, posed on the first day of the week, led to 6 days of soul searching, long-bouts of reading articles on Facebook, and a general unease. I wanted to say something about this historical moment. But what?

On Saturday, as my daughter and I were listening to Christian radio and she was singing her little heart out, she gave me more to chew on…

“I want to sing a song for the talent show later this year, but if I choose one of these, I’m afraid everyone will laugh at me or think I’m weird.”

It wasn’t bedtime. It was time to dig deep. I’ll spare you the details of that discussion. But as I tried to bolster her spirit for a lifelong journey of faith, I was also coaching myself. In a time like this, when the world feels akimbo, maybe it’s appropriate to get out a wrench and tighten up the nuts and bolts.

All of the events of the last week have reminded me that choosing to walk through the narrow gate is never easy. It requires a daily commitment, a re-surrendering of my will to God’s will, because for me and for most of us, the natural instinct is to “run to our hous[es] and lock all the doors.” The world is quite frightening, and the Lord’s commands aren’t easy either. If we truly try to follow any one of Jesus Christ’s teachings we quickly find that he was, in every sense, radical.

But to you who hear I say, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who hurt you, pray for those who mistreat you.” – Luke 6:27-28

ISIS is no exception to this command. Each terrorist deserves God’s mercy as much as we do – which is not at all – and still God offers it, freely. Yet, how often do we hear prayers for our enemies from our altars? How often do we pray for them as we close our eyes and ask for protection?

Every time I publish a blog piece, I expose myself as a believer. I wonder sometimes how much of a risk I’m taking in proclaiming the Bible as Truth. I remember that Christ’s message was not one of perpetual comfort in this life, but of eternal peace in the next.

I tell you, my friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body but after that can do no more.”  – Luke 12:4

If anyone proved the veracity of this statement, it is Jesus himself, for if we do not believe in the truth of the Resurrection – the Son of Man literally brought back to life and walking the earth in his flesh and blood – we are not truly Christians. And the power Christ invoked is the same power promised to those who love Him.

I pray…that you will know what is the surpassing greatness of His power toward us who believe. These are in accordance with the working of the strength of His might which He brought about in Christ, when He raised Him from the dead… – Ephesians 1:18-20

If I could say only one more thing to my daughter, it would be the one thing Jesus says most often: “Don’t be afraid.” And this is not some self-help advice meant to puff up her ego. NO. Why? Because God never meant us to face our fear alone. From the Old Testament to the New, scripture is consistent on this – there is no place we can go to escape God’s loving presence, and He wants us to call on Him. When we admit our need for Him, he is endlessly forgiving of our failures – of our desire be self-sufficient and to ‘go it alone,’ of our judgments and anger toward our enemies, of our hiding from His power, of our foregoing His assistance, and of our acting as if He doesn’t exist. He stands ready at all times, offering us the safety of His eternal love. We need only to surrender to Him again. 

Where can I hide from your spirit? From your presence, where can I flee? If I ascend to the heavens, you are there; if I lie down in Sheol, you are there too. If I fly with the wings of dawn and alight beyond the sea, Even there your right hand hold me fast. – Psalm 139: 7-10

I acknowledged my sin to You, And my iniquity I did not hide; I said, I ‘will confess my transgressions to the Lord’; and You forgave the guilt of my sin. – Psalm 32:5

Do not be afraid of them, For I am with you to deliver you, declares the Lord.” – Jeremiah 1:8

As I have told my daughter, sometimes carrying this message of hope will make me unpopular. But I remember these words of Christ as well, “If the world hates you, realize that it hated me first.” (John 15:18). Knowing that He is with me always and experiencing His powerful love has created within me an unshakable joy and peace that is more than enough to get me through the tough moments. See, I can only serve one master, and I learned some time ago that serving myself is a dead end.

People of the Cross

imageAll over the world, we were marked today.  We are the People of the Cross.

“Getting” our ashes wasn’t something to be proud of. In fact, if we’re in it for the right reasons, it’s an act of humility.  We bow down to our Creator, recognize our proper place (as dust in His hands) and prepare ourselves to seek reconnection, or deeper connection, with Him during Lent.

I was anticipating this mark on my forehead all week – anticipating being seen as a person “of the Cross” by others, because people look at you differently when you have ashes on your head. In fact, they find it hard to look you in the eye at all.  They keep trying not to stare at that smear between your eyebrows. It makes many uncomfortable. Others think it’s weird. It makes them think, if even for a second – about Christ and His followers. And that’s not popular in many circles.

I’ve been one of the “People of the Cross” for quite some time, but I first heard this term on Sunday night when I saw Ann Voskamp‘s Facebook post – a still-shot from the video of the 21 men martyred on a beach in Libya over the weekend. This latest savagery by ISIS specifically warns the “People of the Cross,” and would usually provoke an instantaneous physical reaction in me. Violence (or knowledge of it) makes my hair stand on end, adrenaline surge, and stomach flip, and then I become nauseous – very, very nauseous.  But strangely, I stared at their names in the sidebar and felt…peace. I recognized – the horror was over. I prayed for their families, each one by name, and felt…more peace. So, I thought about why for all of the next day. And I knew that God, from whom nothing is hidden, was seeing me wonder, helping me figure it out.

Monday, my daughter and I drove to her piano lesson, and I was thinking again about men in orange jumpsuits on a beach….

Oh, dear God, what was going through their minds?  Hooded men with sabers standing right behind them. Each one knew this was it. Take one man, you know – did he hear the waves ebbing in and out?  Or just the pounding in his ears?   

Out of nowhere, my daughter asks,

“Who was the greatest person who ever lived?”

I am taken to an even deeper place of calm.

“Jesus.”

“No, I mean, on Earth.”

“Jesus.”

I hear myself say His name – matter of fact. It’s like my need to over-explain, my anxiety, my rush to fear – I must ensure that she gets this – has been stripped from me.

“Who was the second most important?” she follows-up.

“There really wasn’t one. No one comes close.”

There’s a slight pause.  And then she says,

“Oh, yeeaaaa….. right.  You’re right, Mom.”

Hmmm. Odd. There’s a satisfied customer in the backseat, and I didn’t tell her about anything. The conversation drops, and we ride in silence until some other, random topic emerges.

But I’ve finally realized why I’m at peace about the beheading of 21 men. Because what’s shown in the images, is not the full Truth. The horror isn’t the only thing that happened there. In verbalizing His name aloud, I have witnessed to myself the Truth my heart and soul already knew. He, Name Above All Names – Jesus – was there too. And “he is always able to save those who approach God through him, since he lives forever to make intercession for them.”  (Hebrews 7:25)

Jesus was right there on that beach. Why He allows such terror, I don’t know, but I have full confidence that He was waiting right there for those who called out, “Lord, help me.” Arms outstretched, scarred hands wide open to receive His children, He was waiting to welcome them home. Waiting to say to each and every one, “Well done, my good and faithful servant.”

I don’t want to live a life of cheap grace, where nothing is required of me. I want to be humbled, to bow down only before a perfect King who endured every suffering, rejection, and death, then overcame it all, for me. So, I wear my ashen cross, not with pride, but with reverence, because I am His, I’ve surrendered, and it’s brought me peace.