Living Water

 

Sand heart
Have you ever watched a small child try to build a castle out of dry sand? She painstakingly fills her pail with scoop after scoop of powdery white sand. With all her might, she lifts the heavy pail and quickly dumps it over. You cringe a bit, knowing what’s about to happen. With hope in her eyes, she lifts up the pail to reveal her creation. Tears of frustration flow as the sand collapses around her and the castle is leveled to the ground.

She doesn’t understand what went wrong. You know the secret and you want to rush over and tell her. She needs to add water! Wet sand is sturdy and strong. It will hold her castle together so it can stand tall. Without water, she’ll never succeed.

The dry sand in this story depicts a life lived apart from God. Dry, dusty, with no strong surface to gain a foothold through the trials of life. This kind of barren life is one we fall into because we choose to distance ourselves from God. It’s not something God “does” to us or wants for us. In fact, quite the opposite. In Isaiah 44:3, God promises: “For I will pour water on the thirsty land, and streams on the dry ground; I will pour my spirit upon your descendants, and my blessing on your offspring.” Jesus repeats this promise to the worshipers in the temple in John 7:37-38: “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me, and let the one who believes in me drink. As the scripture has said, ‘Out of the believer’s heart shall flow rivers of living water.’”

If we’re thirsty, it’s not because of an absence of water, it’s because we choose not to drink. Or maybe someone needs to help us find the water source.

Jesus describes the gift of the Holy Spirit as water because of its life giving properties. It sustains us, nourishes us, helps us to grow. It washes us clean and makes us new. God provided a limitless ocean for this little girl who longed to build a sturdy sand castle. It was right there for the taking. In the same way, all we need to do is receive the incredible gift of God’s grace.

The next time you feel like things are collapsing in around you, remember the strength that can be found in the “Living Water” of the Holy Spirit. It is the secret to a life filled with deep meaning and abundant blessings.

And it’s right there for the taking.

Jesus’ Last Lecture

Jesus Last Lecture

A college professor is invited to give a hypothetical “last lecture” in which they answer the question: “If this is the last lecture you would ever give to your students, what would you say?” The professor is challenged with the task of packing in decades of wisdom and life lessons into one hour. In 2007, Randy Pausch, a professor of Computer Science at Carnegie Mellon University was invited to do just that. What was uniquely moving about this lecture, was that Pausch was dying of pancreatic cancer. His talk, entitled “Really Achieving Your Childhood Dreams” was delivered to a packed house of over 400 colleagues and students. This lecture became the basis for the New York Times best-selling book, The Last Lecture, co-authored by Pausch and published in 2008. It became his legacy to his children before he died in that same year.

As we move into Holy Week, I invite you to spend some time reading Jesus’ “Last Lecture.” (John 13-17) It was the day before Passover and Jesus, knowing that the hour had come for him to leave this world, gathered his disciples one last time. He washed their feet, in a beautiful example of how they were to minister to one another after he was gone.

And then he began to speak.

“Dear children, how brief are these moments before I must go away and leave you!” (John 13:33) I imagine the sense of urgency Jesus must have felt as he tried one last time to impart everything he wanted his disciples to learn before he would leave them.

For four and a half chapters of John’s Gospel—often referred to as the “Last Supper Discourse” or the “Farewell Discourse” —Jesus gives his disciples instructions, life lessons, and final words of wisdom. There’s so much rich and wonderful content in his words, it could never be covered in one short blog post. (It reads like a “Greatest Hits” of Bible quotes!) So I’ve chosen 7 lines from Jesus’ Last Lecture—one for each day of Holy Week—for you to ponder and pray about

MONDAY

“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13:34-35) This is it…really. The entirety of Jesus’ ministry and message summed up in one commandment. Love one another. During this holiest week of the year, how will we choose to love one another?

TUESDAY

“I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6) One of my favorite lines in all of Scripture! Jesus tells his disciples that he is going to prepare a place for them in his Father’s house. Thomas replies: “Lord, we do not know where you are going; so how can we know the way to get there?” The answer is simple and profound. Jesus is the WAY. Our guide and our bridge to God and the Promised Land. All we need to do is follow Him.

WEDNESDAY

“If you love me, keep my commands. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever—the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you.” (John 14:15-17) In this passage we learn about the Holy Spirit. Jesus promises his disciples that they will never be left alone, a promise that still holds for us today. The Holy Spirit is an Advocate or Helper that dwells within us forever…to comfort, guide, and lead us.

THURSDAY

“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” (John 14:27) Yet another beautiful gift from our Savior. Peace, not as the world gives—based on outward circumstances—but peace from within. Peace that is rooted in absolute trust in the faithfulness of God. A gift that becomes ours only in the act of receiving. How will we receive the peace of Christ this week?

FRIDAY

“I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.” (John 15:5) In these beautiful words we see Jesus’ message of discipleship. We are meant to bear fruit…to spread the love of Christ like branches stretching out from a vine. But we must remain connected to the source of our creation. Our dependence on God allows us to become an instrument of His love and peace.

SATURDAY

“My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” (John 15:12-13) After once again repeating his central commandment, Jesus foreshadows the great act of sacrifice that is to come on Good Friday. Jesus dying on the cross is an act of profound love. One that transforms the disciples to such a degree that they passionately preach his message, even to the point of their own death in martyrdom. How will we let Jesus transform us during this Easter season? How can we “die” to our own self-absorption in order to live renewed in Christ?

SUNDAY

“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33) The sorrow of the crucifixion and death of Jesus give way to the victory and triumph of Easter morning. We are a Resurrection People, born to new life in Christ. Alleluia, He is Risen!

Finding the Sacred in the Details of Marriage

two hearts
A year after I graduated from college, I was vacationing on Cape Cod with some girlfriends. One evening, I drove over to the next town to visit our friend Dave, who was staying in a rental cottage with his parents. I had heard lots of stories about Mr. and Mrs. F., but I had never met them. When I got up to the cottage, Mrs. F. flung open the front door and wrapped me in a huge hug. Pulling me into the living room, where her husband was sitting in an easy chair reading the paper, she said, “You must be Sheri. I’m Judy.” Then she pointed to her husband, “and this… is my beloved.” Mr. F. gave her an affectionate smile and got up to shake my hand.

It was over 20 years ago, but I have never forgotten this encounter. Somehow, at that young age, I knew I was witnessing an important truth about marriage. Just like so many of us, Mr. and Mrs. F. had a pretty ordinary life. She was a mother and homemaker. He was a professor at a nearby law school. They raised one son, took care of their house and garden, and every once and a while, rented a house on Cape Cod for a week in the summer. Yet that moment of a wife looking at her husband and calling him “Beloved” was anything but ordinary.

St. Francis de Sales talked about looking for God in the everyday circumstances of ordinary life. In other words… finding God in the details. That’s the perfect way to describe the encounter I witnessed in Cape Cod all those years ago. This simple, intimate exchange between a husband and wife was a moment filled with grace. To me, “finding God in the details” is a perfect way to describe marriage and to start seeing married life as a true sacrament. Looking through all the mundane, ordinary tasks of married life and seeing “the Beloved” is the truest sense of experiencing the sacred. Continue reading

A Light in the Darkness

Public domain image, royalty free stock photo from www.public-domain-image.com

For today’s reflection, I would like to share the following story.  The author is unknown, and the story can be found in various places on the internet.

There was once a dark cave, deep down in the ground, underneath the earth and hidden away from view.  Because it was so deep in the earth, the light had never been there.  The cave had never seen light.  The word “light” meant nothing to the cave, who couldn’t imagine what “light” might be.   Then one day, the sun sent an invitation to the cave, inviting it to come up and visit. When the cave came up to visit the sun it was amazed and delighted, because the cave had never seen light before, and it was dazzled by the wonder of the experience. Feeling so grateful to the sun for inviting it to visit, the cave wanted to return the kindness, and so it invited the sun to come down to visit it sometime, because the sun had never seen darkness. So the day came, and the sun entered the cave, it looked around with great interest, wondering what “darkness” would be like.  Then it became puzzled, and asked the cave, “Where is the darkness?” (Source Unknown) Continue reading

The First and Greatest Gift

red-christmas-present
Yesterday’s liturgy marked the official end of our Christmas season. What was the best gift you received this year? I was lucky to get a Fitbit® and I’ve been having so much fun with it. Since December 26 I’ve walked the equivalent of 70 miles. Hard to believe, but a great feeling! As I watched my boys happily examining their Christmas bounty, it got me thinking about gifts from my own childhood. The one that sticks in my mind is from 1978. All year I wished and hoped for the “Pretty Changes” Barbie doll. She had a series of hair extensions, hats, and accessories allowing you to change her look from day-to-day. I was filled with joy to find her under the Christmas tree, and she was by far the best gift I got that year.

Several months later, in a minor tussle with my older sister, my doll’s head broke off. Feeling awful, my sister valiantly tried to glue it back on, but didn’t quite get it on straight. As a result, my Barbie had a thick and stubby neck, and permanently looked smugly off to the side, never meeting the gaze of her Barbie doll friends.

I lost my enthusiasm to play with “Pretty Changes” after that. She was broken…and I had no use for broken things. Continue reading

Taking Jesus to the Mall

christmas mall
It’s that season again. When countless sermons and blog posts deliver the same message: we’re doing Christmas all wrong. We’re focusing on the trappings and the noise instead of the true meaning of Christmas. Through all the gift giving and party planning, we’re forgetting whose birthday it really is. The stress of planning and decorating is distracting us from what’s really important.

My reaction to these statements… THEY ARE NOT HELPFUL AT ALL!

This commentary (for you can’t even really call it advice) is not rooted in a woman’s reality. We can’t abandon these things, because it’s our job. There’s a quote you’ve probably heard by British poet Arthur O’Shaughnessy: “We are the music makers, we are the dreamers of dreams.” (You may remember Willy Wonka saying this line in the movie Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.) Well, as women, we are the Christmas makers and we are the creators of Christmas dreams. Our job is making memories…and it’s an incredibly valuable one. Continue reading

Making Room for Jesus

And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.
Luke 2:7

On the night our Savior came into the world, there was no room for him. I can only imagine how Mary and Joseph must have felt. Tired and dusty from the long trip through Galilee and Judea. Mary, heavy with child, uncomfortable, frightened, knowing with a woman’s intuition that her time was near. Joseph, realizing with dread that they would not make it home in time, and their child would have to be born here, in Bethlehem. This brave couple, so very young and alone, desperately searching for a safe place to give birth, only to be told there was no room at the local inn.

John the Baptist says: “The Kingdom of Heaven is near” … “Prepare the way of the Lord!”   Just like that innkeeper in Bethlehem, during this holy season of Advent, we are being asked to make room for Jesus in our lives…in our hearts…and the world.

How will we respond to this request? Continue reading

Show Me the Way

 

road
I hate driving to new places.

Anytime I have to do it I follow the same procedure. I look up the directions. Write them out in giant print so I can read them in the car. Try my best to memorize them. And head out, still a bit nervous.

This is not a good way to be. And I’ll admit this fear has kept me from trying new things and seeing new places. Lately I’ve been trying to pinpoint the reasons why I’m so reluctant to venture out to places I’ve never been. Two reasons stand out to me.

I like to know where I’m going. And I hate getting lost. Continue reading

Jesus, the Bridge Builder

For today’s reflection, I would like to share the following story.  The author is unknown, and the story can be found in various places on the internet.

Once upon a time two brothers who lived on adjoining farms fell into conflict. It was the first serious rift in 40 years of farming side by side, sharing machinery, and trading labor and goods as needed without a hitch. Then the long collaboration fell apart. It began with a small misunderstanding and it grew into a major difference, and finally it exploded into an exchange of bitter words followed by weeks of silence.

One morning there was a knock on the older brother’s door. He opened it to find a man with a carpenter’s toolbox. “I’m looking for a few days work” he said. “Perhaps you would have a few small jobs here and there. Could I help you?”

“Yes,” said the older brother. “I do have a job for you. Look across the creek at that farm. That’s my neighbor, in fact, it’s my younger brother. Last week there was a meadow between us and he took his bulldozer to the river levee and now there is a creek between us. Well, he may have done this to spite me, but I’ll go him one better. See that pile of lumber curing by the barn? I want you to build me a tall fence so I won’t need to see his place anymore. That’ll show him!” Continue reading

Finding God in the Storm

finding god in the storm

My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?

We hear this well-known scripture verse at the cross, when the Earth was covered in darkness, and Jesus uttered these words moments before he surrendered his spirit and died. But that’s not the first time we hear it… the line first appears in Psalm 22. Although the specific reason is not known, the author of the Psalm is clearly suffering. “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?” The passage goes on to say:

Why are you so far away when I groan for help?
Every day I call to you, my God, but you do not answer.
Every night you hear my voice, but I find no relief.

Have there been times, when you’ve felt like the author of this Psalm… that God was very far away? Perhaps during a time when you were experiencing personal suffering. Or maybe from the nagging worry that suffering may be just around the corner. We live in a world FULL of uncertainty and fear. Worries about our personal health and well-being and the well-being of our family members. Worries about the economic climate… will we keep our jobs? Can we “stay afloat” financially? Worries about global threats, war, and violence – terrorism, shootings, natural disasters, contagious disease.

How easy it would be to collapse under the weight of all these worries. How often do we feel like that’s exactly what we might do? How does this fear manifest itself? Sleepless nights, stress, anxiety. Living in this state of perpetual worry… how do we pray? 

Dear God, PLEASE don’t let me get sick.
Dear God, PLEASE don’t let anything happen to my children.
Dear God, PLEASE don’t let my husband lose his job.

We lovingly and a bit desperately bring our laundry list of fears to God… praying that He will protect us from anything bad. Dear God, don’t let this happen! We fear that if the worst did happen, we wouldn’t be able to handle it.

These troubling times can make us feel like we’re in the middle of a raging storm… beaten down by winds and rain, feeling like we might drown or be swept away. In the everyday trials and tribulations of life, the storm may not seem as life-threatening, but it still can be relentless and exhausting. The Scripture that always comes to my mind when I’m in the middle of one of these stormy times comes from Mark’s gospel:

That day when evening came, he said to his disciples, “Let us go over to the other side.” Leaving the crowd behind, they took him along, just as he was, in the boat. There were also other boats with him. A furious squall came up, and the waves broke over the boat, so that it was nearly swamped. Jesus was in the stern, sleeping on a cushion. The disciples woke him and said to him, “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?” He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, “Quiet! Be still!” Then the wind died down and it was completely calm. He said to his disciples, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?” They were terrified and asked each other, “Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him!”
Mark 4:35-41

It comforts me to know that the disciples behaved exactly like I would have in this situation. They were freaked out. They wanted the storm to go away. They didn’t trust that they would survive it. Jesus was right there in that boat with them… but still they didn’t trust. And can you really blame them? Here they were… caught up in a “furious” squall, and Jesus was SLEEPING ON A CUSHION! I love this translation, because that image of Jesus fast asleep on a comfy cushion perfectly captures the way the disciples must have been feeling. That God was far away. “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?”

When I teach this Bible story to my Faith Formation students, they love it. It’s so exciting. They can picture being out on that stormy sea, and how awesome it was that Jesus calmed the storm with a simple gesture of his hand. It really shows his power and might. My students see him as a superhero. What I’d like to suggest to my students, and anyone who focuses on the ‘Jesus as Superman’ aspect of the story, is that maybe we’re missing the point. Those disciples weren’t going to survive because Jesus calmed the storm… they would survive simply because He was with them.   He would keep them calm and safe and secure in the midst of the storm. That’s what Jesus wanted his disciples to realize and that’s why he called their faith into question. I think the same point holds true for us today. What we should take away from this gospel reading is NOT that Jesus is here to calm the storms in our lives and make them go away. We don’t need Jesus to do this in order to survive… although, admittedly, it would be nice. But we need to know and truly believe that Jesus is with us in the midst of every storm… to help us get through it.

So maybe, instead of going through the laundry list of prayers that nothing bad will happen to us, we should simply pray that God will be with us if and when it does. For reasons we will never understand, God doesn’t always take away the storms in our lives. He gave us a world with free will, human choice, science, and laws of nature. What God can promise is to help us weather the storm. To ride it out. To get through to the other side, where the sun will once again shine upon our faces.