Preparing for Easter (Wednesday): The Game of Mockery

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 Two others, who were criminals, were led away to be put to death with him. And when they came to the place that is called The Skull, there they crucified him, and the criminals, one on his right and one on his left. And Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” And they cast lots to divide his garments. And the people stood by, watching, but the rulers scoffed at him, saying, “He saved others; let him save himself, if he is the Christ of God, his Chosen One!” The soldiers also mocked him, coming up and offering him sour wine and saying, “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!” There was also an inscription over him, “This is the King of the Jews.” Luke 23:32-38 


He was one of three. One of three Persons in the Holy Godhead, Jesus was one of three crucified on an execution hill, too. Numbered with the transgressors, He identified with the broken and the outcast even in His death.

Can you hear the crass celebrating of the crowd? Can you sense the soldier’s hatred and the misaligned pursuit of justice? There was the arrogance… and the fear of what they didn’t understand… and the reality of being a pawn in the Roman army.

Directing imprisonment and torture and execution day after day, the soldiers trivialized their work, escaped the reality of their orders, by making a game. Casting lots, they hoped to “win” the criminals’ garments as those hanging on crosses were losing their lives.

And the rulers, the leaders, stooped low like the common masses. They jeered and scoffed and made a mockery of the One who came to save them from a captivity they didn’t even know had chained them. “The Rescuer can’t rescue Himself… the Giver of Freedom can’t free His own body… The Son of God, the Chosen One, is insignificant and forgotten now!”

“Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do… Spread your grace over the oppressors. Flood the ignorant followers with your forgiveness. Restore the unbelieving Jews.” In his last moments on earth, Jesus concludes His ministry by pouring out His blood, spilling His redemption everywhere.

Maybe you’re the transgressor, or the arrogant, or the avoider who’s trivializing pain, or the skeptic. His broken body, his spilled out blood, it’s for you. His forgiveness and grace and redemption – it’s all for you.

Can you humbly surrender to His pursuit?

Can you enter His great Love Story?

Preparing for Easter (Join Me)

Train 2I seem to have stepped on a fast-moving train. I don’t remember boarding, and I certainly didn’t know it would move at this speed. I think I would have chosen something else.

I look around me, and I see beauty. I really do. I see beauty in the scene outside my window, and I pause for a second to breathe deep and drink it all in. But I’d rather be breathing deep on the other side, feet standing their ground, motionless. And I see beauty in the faces of those outside, watching my train race by their peace. They’re all so different, and I wish I could hear every single one of their stories.

But I’m racing instead, journeying to who knows where at record speed.

It’s humbling. I’ve learned to set boundaries, but now they’re mocking me. I’ve learned to say “no”, but I’m clearly not in control right now. I’ve promised over and over to live, but it’s taking great effort to not be numb.

In one week, I’ll celebrate Christ’s resurrection. I’ll delight in His triumph, and I’ll claim the hope that comes in knowing there’s a story bigger than my own. I’ll read that rescue plan with my name on it, and I’ll be amazed life truly can come from death. I’ll remember I was created for a different world where dying and suffering and bad choices and sin will be no more. I’ll exchange loneliness for eternal community with God… insecurity for the bliss of not thinking about myself… shame for Christ’s righteousness.

But I’m racing, and I don’t want to miss it.

Maybe your life is moving too fast, too. Maybe you had every intention of a Lent reading plan, but now you’re just trying to wake up from the detachment. Maybe you’ve forgotten you were created for a different world, and the urgency of your everyday is forefront on your mind.

I invite you to jump off the train with me and pause. Come with me into six different stories from just one day in history before we celebrate on Easter morning. We’ll slow down and touch some tangible things from Christ’s execution day. We’ll turn them over and over in our hands, and hopefully our hearts will follow. We’ll ponder and reflect and in doing so, we’ll be able to celebrate Christ’s resurrection that much more on Sunday.

A path. A story. A game. A cross. A curtain. A tomb.

Yes, instead of racing, we’ll open our eyes and ponder how each of these elements in Luke 23 connect to not only our own stories but with an eternity we can not see yet. We’ll start on Monday.

Monday | The Immigrant’s Path
Tuesday | The Unseen Story
Wednesday | The Game of Mockery
Thursday | The Other Cross
Friday | The Temple Curtain
Saturday | The Borrowed Tomb
Easter Sunday | Resurrection: Just the Right Time

I hope you’ll join me.

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photo source (train) | Femke Ongena
photo source (cross) | Jametlene Reskp

The Aching Orphan

In honor of World Orphans Day, November 14, 2016…

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The Jesus Storybook Bible was given to my children long ago before their questions were as big as they are now. I read it to them, hoping truth would etch their hearts – enough truth to carry them through middle school and high school with all its drama and doubts and failures.

But it became a love story for me, shouting on some days but usually whispering until streams spilled out of my eyes as we read the last lines of each entry. The Jesus Storybook Bible remains one of the biggest influences in helping me understand the Gospel. Oh, I had known it for years, but this amazing work helped me grasp God’s love for me like never before.

One day I stumbled upon this random picture on Facebook. A boy was holding our Bible.

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Study it. See the orphan. See him tucked in a boring mosaic of mass-produced decorating, locked in a pattern of sameness.

See his name taped to his bed, identifying the only space he calls his own. Known to no one. But not really.

See his hands holding the Love Story of all time. 

Maybe he’s been in an orphanage his whole life and can’t know what he’s missing. Maybe he doesn’t grasp how alone he truly is because he’s never known what it’s like to be a son.  But still, he’s human, and our hearts are created to ache until we give them to Someone, until we surrender to the Rescue Plan.

And His heart just might not ache anymore. The boy, he holds the key to an eternity of being known. An eternity of being Someone’s son.

Hidden to the world by a sea of yellow blankets and identical headboards, the Maker knows his name. And as His heart spills over with love for the boy, God defines his worth different than culture and society.

The Maker, He knows my name, too, as I hide among houses that look the same from the sky. As I spin and race and keep searching for a life of meaning. Yes, He knows my name even when I forget to turn my face to Him. Even when I forget to open His Love Story and read it again.

God sees the boy and me both, made to love Him back. Regardless of how alone and forgotten I feel, regardless of how I stumble awkwardly trying to live in community — by believing I was made for a different world, I can truly live in this one.

Are you stuck in a pattern of sameness? Pacing through the status quo?
Are you convinced you lack significance? Lack a life of meaning?
Have you wondered so long you don’t realize the fullness you’ve missed?

Friend, turn and stare your ache right in the face. Run to it. Wrestle with it. Thank God for the boring routines. Hand your loneliness to Him as an offering. The ache is a gift, for He’s telling you there’s more. Telling you that He’s more.

It’s only in giving our hearts to Someone that the ache will be forever healed. Forever satisfied.


You have the fountain of life that quenches our thirst. Your light has opened our eyes and awakened our souls. Psalm 36:9

The Spirit you have received adopts you and welcomes you into God’s own family. That’s why we call out to Him, “Abba! Father!” as we would address a loving daddy. Through that prayer, God’s Spirit confirms in our spirits that we are His children.  Romans 8:15-16

What I Learned from Our Series on Suffering

fontcandy (1) copy 3Although our Series on Suffering officially concluded last week, I’m compelled to share how I was personally changed over the past few weeks. My hope was to help others — either those in agony or those watching another suffer. By posting updates from four years after the initial story, I hoped to point toward perseverance. There’s something about seeing another’s redemption that helps you reach out your hand when you’re drowning. But once again, I found transformation in the mirror.  I entered the series as the facilitator, but I left the student.

I learned…

… Everyone has a story. Everyone. Why do I forget this? Life would be so much richer and more meaningful if I stopped to listen. If I pursued. If I slowed down enough to be a safe place for others. I must remember the faces in my life have identities. Everyone has so much to say.

… People grieve differently.  There’s no consistent, proper way to get real and deal with pain. Yes, there are common rhythms of grief. But I can’t put people in boxes and expect them to convey their distress a certain way. Some friends are more emotional while others are more rational. There’s beauty in this kind of diversity. Why bring judgment into someone’s healing process?

… It’s cowardly to remain silent amidst another’s pain. The fear of offending someone absolutely can not supersede our practice of living in community. Loving others requires us to feel awkward sometimes. I absolutely must get over myself.

… I whine too much. You see, all those thoughts harbored deep within, whether they pour forth from my lips or not, reflect where I’m at. Proverbs 23:7 makes it clear: For as he thinks in his heart, so is he. (NLV)  I’m too self-centered… period… in my peer relationships, my marriage, my parenting. Especially my parenting. There’s nothing like hearing another’s story to put your own in perspective.

… I must fight to prevent my body image issues from impacting my children. I know the standards of 21st century American beauty —  for women and men. I see it everyday at the check-out lane, in Athleta catalogs that invade my mailbox, on television commercials, in the lies I uncover in my own thoughts. I must commit to not complain about the way God made me in front of my son and daughter. I want my children to grow up knowing they’re beautifully created and knowing their identity is in what Christ did for them on the cross. As our world has become smaller through technology, unfortunately our infatuation with one type of beauty has grown bigger. I must fight our culture no matter how daunting the task seems.

… Redemption often looks different than I would have imagined. I believed this already, but I’m convinced even more after presenting these four stories. We pray and claim and beg — and even tell God what to do — and His answer is often different than our original hopes. But He’s purposeful. And He often uses radical, painful situations to convey His counter-cultural message. Regardless, I’ve seen him bring beauty and life to a dying heart. As Jeremy Bedenbaugh, a local St. Louis pastor, says, “Only where the graves are is there resurrection.”

I know God will continue to uncover more lessons for me. And hopefully for you, too. I don’t know what struggle will stare me in the face tomorrow. But for now, I have much to ponder — suffering, healing, Good Friday, Easter Sunday. Come, Lord Jesus. Come to the darkest parts of our stories.

Series on Suffering: Losing A Spouse (Update)

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We resume Susan’s story of losing her first husband with an update. A lot can happen in four years — especially when you’re adjusting to a new marriage, raising middle schoolers, forging new paths in your career, and getting to know a new community. Read on…


How has your situation changed in the past four years?

Oh, so much change! I’ve now been remarried to Todd for almost six years, and three years ago, God called us to a great adventure, which included moving our family to Kansas City. New city, new church, new jobs, new friends. Now three years out, I can see how God has pushed me to corners of myself that I didn’t even know existed. I’m so grateful for the growth and refinement.

One of the biggest changes for me has been my job. I’m a bit of a nomad when it comes to my occupational pursuits, following my heart and God’s leading, and I’ve never been disappointed as to what I have learned on my journey. After serving as a teacher in independent schools for many years, I’ve landed back in public education as a learning coach in a project-based learning environment designed to empower creativity and equip students to be architects of a better world. For years, I’ve had ideas and desires to transform the learning experience for all kids and, while in St. Louis, I continually encountered roadblocks. It was as though God kept saying, not yet. Now, He has given me the opportunity to pioneer forward and be a part of something transformative.

How have YOU changed in the past four years?

Besides the gray hairs and wrinkles, over the last four years, God has continued to refine and humble me. The older I get, the more I understand my depravity and my need for a Savior. The first year we moved to Kansas City felt much like moving to a desert. Lots of anger, resentment, grief, pride. It was a lonely year for me trying to figure out who I was as a mother, as a wife, but, most importantly, who I was as a child of God. I no longer lived in the comfort of my hometown, my community of friends, nor my job – three things that had shaped so much of my adult life.

It’s been a rather arduous journey, but God has been faithful to continue His work in me to transform my heart. As much as I want to think “I’m all grown up and finally arrived at maturity,” I would be deceiving myself. Every uncomfortable situation I encounter, every painful trial I face, every joyful moment I experience–I’m learning more about the power and work of Christ in my life.

What are you still wrestling with?

Two of my greatest sin patterns are anxiety and fear. At times, I think, “Really, Susan? With everything God has done for you?” But, like faceless thieves, they creep in periodically, stealing my attention away from God. Some of my biggest fears and anxious thoughts are about my children. As my boys have grown, I see God’s hand in their lives, but I also see the effects of trauma and loss at such an early age. I tend to brace myself with the worse possible scenario, seeing the future through my human eyes. I continually redirect my thinking to God’s sovereignty and His abundant love for my children.

How have you seen redemption come from your suffering?

As a teenager, I used to think redemption meant “God sweeps in, God fixes problem, we thank Him, and life continues.” At 16, suffering meant the disappointment of not making the lead in the musical or wishing the boy I liked returned my affections. Thankfully, I’ve grown. One of the greatest takeaways from my suffering has been a deeper understanding of God’s redemptive hand in our lives. Understanding redemption, at least how I make sense of it, is believing and living the gospel. Though I will never feel nails in my hands nor wear a crown of thorns, I have learned that the more I lose and suffer in this world, the more I gain in understanding the redemption story. His sacrifice on the cross, His pursuit of my heart, His faithfulness in all my earthly sufferings—there I have known grace and redemption and love and compassion.

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So there you go — open and raw honesty for the past four weeks. While four stories and updates provide a window into the lives of ordinary men and women, I’m convinced many of you are doing more than peering through the glass. Maybe you have been cut by its jagged edges and could tell similar stories.

It’s never easy to read a story of brokenness and know you could be writing it, too. But recognizing is the first step toward claiming hope, toward believing that redemption really can happen.

A few years ago I sat in a class about doubting God’s goodness due to the rampant brokenness in the world. Oppression. Injustice. Invasions on our mortality. Reminders of our fragility. Fear.

While I can’t say I understand the mind of God with any more clarity, I did walk away speechless.  The very God who wrote a love story at the beginning of time included His own suffering in the darkest chapter. Did you catch that? The very God who wrote a love story at the beginning of time included His own suffering in the darkest chapter.

But unlike human suffering, our Author suffered with power. He could have defeated or even prevented His own suffering. But He wrote scene after scene in which He Himself was abandoned, misunderstood, mocked, tortured, betrayed.

So where do we go from here? What we do with the stories of Matthew, and Jami, and Julie, and Susan?

I dare you to look inward today. By seeing our own pain mirrored in these stories, we walk in realness. And that’s the first step toward healing. How can we ask for redemption when we’re not authentic about how our lives have really turned out? And how our situations – and hearts – are crumbling around us?  And how we’re devastated?

Yes, be real. Be honest… first with yourself, and then with someone else. And then together, walk boldly into the mess and watch redemption take place. Watch God restore and re-create your story into something more beautiful than it ever was. His project may take years, but please check in with me during the restoration process. You’re not alone, and I’d love to hear how you’re doing… even on the hardest of days.

Stop by next week for a reflection on what I personally learned through this Series on Suffering. But for now,  take the ancient words of Isaiah with you: “My thoughts and My ways are above and beyond you, just as heaven is far from your reach here on earth.”

Oh, to know the mind of God! But of this I’m sure — the pain of your heart is no surprise to your Maker. He embraced it Himself.

photo source | jen palmer