Observing Lent was not something I grew up with. It was rather strange to be in a church that talked of Ash Wednesday services, foot washing in connection to Maundy Thursday and Good Friday services. Although the formality of the services was unaccustomed, the preparation of the heart was not. For as long as I can remember it's something my parents encouraged us to do. Often, they would read us books that would inspire deeper thought.
My papaw was a reader. A librarian as well as Latin and English teacher, he loved books and learning. When I interviewed him for a college paper, I learned that he was an special ed student. He wanted to be an elementary school teacher so he could help kids get off to a good start. In order to be an elementary teacher, you had to be able to sing. Singing- well- that was something Papaw never mastered. But he did overcome his learning difficulties enough to be a fabulous teacher. More importantly, he passed on his love of reading. To my dad, and to me (among many, many others!).
One of his favorite authors was Max Lucado. The newest book was a sure winner in the gift department for him. When we went through Papaw's things, each of the grandkids were given back whatever gifts we had given him. I honestly was not excited about the thought of getting back all those books, until I opened them again. Instead of pages that were neat and clean as I had expected of my librarian grandfather, Papaw had filled the pages with notes of insight. Underlined passages that spoke to him. Exclamation points, upward arrows and "Papaw-isms" filled the margins.
Almost every year since then, I've picked up one of those books, "He Chose the Nails", to read near Easter.
This year I picked up the book with a less than eager heart. Anxiety, hurt, frustration have been nagging at me. One blow has landed on top another blow and it just isn't seeming to stop. I wasn't really wanting to lay anything down at the foot of the cross. It was so much easier to dig in and wait for it all to pass. Easier to back away from people and relationships than to remain open to what I know God was calling me to.
So tonight, while I was reading the words hit home.
"Until you leave something at the cross you have not embraced it."
Those words were coupled with a reminder of our pastor's words a few weeks ago.
"The choice isn't between self and God. That is a far easier choice. The choice is between self and the cross. 'If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.' (Mark 8:34) You cannot hold onto self and the cross at the same time."
This message was followed by an invitation to literally leave something at the foot of the cross. Crosses had been placed at the front of the church with a basket to collect the slips of paper. As I wrote on the blank sheet and refolded it, I was reminded that God knows my heart and my needs better than I do.
Tonight I am not only reminded of what I need to leave at the cross, but what I need to embrace.
"By this all men will know you are my disciples, if you love one another" John 13:35
"Above all, love each other deeply for love covers a multitude of sins." I Peter 4:8
"Therefore encourage each other and build each other up" I Thessalonians 5:11a
"give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus" I Thessalnians 5:18
My prayer this season is has three parts: for Christ to increase and myself to decrease, that I might learn to love they way He has commanded, and I will give thanks more readily for all He has done.