Sugarless Lent Prepares My Heart for the Sweetness of Christ, A Guest Post at (in)courage

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Today is Ash Wednesday, the start of Lent. I grew up in a church that observed no more of the Church calendar than Easter and Christmas, but I was introduced to Lent in college, when I developed a great appreciation for its reminder of Jesus’ 40 days of temptation in the wilderness and of His suffering. It is a focus on the cross before the Resurrection. I love the cross-shaped smearing of ashes on the forehead, a reminder that I am from the dust, and to the dust I will return. Last night, this reminder became all too real when I found out one of my students, a bright, kind, talented 24 year old, had died in a car crash. Continue reading

Overcome

DSC01261Every Good Friday, as I contemplate the death of Jesus, I think about the death of my own father, who died eight years ago of pancreatic cancer on Good Friday itself. It’s hard to think the timing of a loved one’s death could be good no matter when it is–and my father’s death was a great loss to our family–but I feel that God helped my family with the timing of my dad’s death in a big way.

Although I was across the country teaching high school at the time, I was able to be with my parents for a good portion of the three weeks that my dad knew he had cancer before he died. The reason for this is that he found out the diagnosis right before my spring break, so I could easily travel out of state to be with them through the first appointments and processing that went on as we turned to face the deadly threat of cancer. I could help them in small ways, and I could call on God for help with them. I went back home and left them for a week and a half, at the end of which the doctors were talking about hospice care, no more than days before the end. I flew back out there, once again only missing a few days of work because Good Friday and the day after Easter were scheduled days off school.

The timing was good when it came to me being able to be there with my parents as they faced death together, but the timing was even better because it was Good Friday, the day we remember Jesus dying on the cross. Every year now, Good Friday is that much more meaningful and poignant to me. I understand the gravity of Jesus’ death–I can picture His last breath in a way I couldn’t before. I feel the weight of it.

More importantly, though, two days later, on Easter morning, I was strongly embraced (the same way my dad used to hug me) by the hope that because of Jesus’ victory over death, my dad is alive in Heaven, as well. I picture him going on a walk with my sister, grandma, and brother-in-law, maybe even holding my miscarried child’s hand, my sister and sister-in-law’s miscarried children running alongside. That Easter, and every Easter since, filled me with a piercing, painful joy. Death has been defeated! I can say along with Paul, quoting from Hosea, “O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” (I Cor. 15:55).

My worship leaders at church this past Easter chose a few songs this year with the words “He has overcome.” I was reminded once again: He HAS overcome the grave! And if He can overcome that, what stronghold can’t He overcome? He wears the victor’s crown!

Resurrection Eggs

We spent the past nine days opening up resurrection eggs every morning–I got my ideas on how to put them together from this blog, which I found on Pinterest.  I tweaked the blog author’s ideas a tiny bit, but I mostly followed what she had.  If you’re not familiar with resurrection eggs, each egg contains verses that tell part of the resurrection story.  I started mine with the Last Supper.  Along with the verses are tiny objects that represent that part of the story.  For example, there’s a tiny stone with the verses telling about the stone in front of Jesus’ tomb, a thorn in with the crown of thorn verses, and 3 dimes with the verses telling of Judas’ betrayal.

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Of course, I paraphrased the verses so that my two and four year old could understand the story, but I also added something to the resurrection eggs to help them better picture what was going on in the story.  Below you can see my wreath of pictures.  I got this idea from Ann Voskamp on her blog, “A Holy Experience,” although I can’t find the particular pictures right now to create a link.  Ann used a lenten tree to hang pictures on each day.  I didn’t have any good spring branches, so I decided to use a wreath instead.  Each day, I added one picture (that I found from a Google search) that went with the verses that I read.  So it ended up that I paraphrased the verses while the kids fingered the item for the day and looked at the picture that represented the verses.  Mr. C would come back and look at the wreath through the day (which was hung at his level) and retell the story to himself.  We also made a dish garden with grass seed growing up over a small tomb made out of a tiny empty flower pot buried under the dirt–found this here.  I was able to teach them through the garden that even though the seed is buried and looks like it’s dead, God makes it come to life when we water it and give it sunlight.  I was able to explain that Jesus IS the water of life and the light of the world, so death couldn’t keep Him down.

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It was all very good–I definitely will do it again next year–and I could tell that at least Mr. C was really starting to get the story–but by the end of the ten days, we had talked a lot about some very heavy things, and we were all ready for the celebration of Easter, of Jesus rising from the dead!!