Big and rusty, it sits on a small kitchen space with other decorative items. Some have questioned its presence, as it isn’t particularly attractive.
Beauty is in the eyes of the beholder, they say.
I was on the Atlantic coast of Canada beside an old lighthouse that is now just a tourist attraction. There in the sand, I found it. Huge compared to normal nails, it had probably been washed up by waves. In my eyes, it could be a hundred years old or more.
It spoke to me of history, of outlasting modern technology. I imagined that time-worn object holding together a historic structure such as the blockhouse in the same town, or as part of the old wharf that burned down and had to be rebuilt.
Its tip was blunt and not sharp, so one might call it a metal peg. For some reason, it reminded me of the Cross.
The nails that pierced Jesus’ hands and feet must have been gigantic, like this one. No nice slim “needles” that went in easily. Nasty, tearing apart flesh and tendons, with blood pouring forth.
I don’t mean to be gruesome, but it’s a fact.
One day I was leading the service at our little church, and I took my nail or peg as an object lesson before the Lord’s Supper. “Hold it as if it were piercing your hand. Think upon what it meant for our Lord’s hands to be pierced”. My brethren passed it around.
No one told me how they felt, but to me it was a strong reminder of the reality of what becoming human meant for the Messiah. It meant sharing our pain and bearing our sin and agony.
Not everything we possess or display is supposed to be pretty. Some objects are a piece of nostalgia: old letters, a crude drawing by a preschooler, a snapshot of a scrawny newborn. They often speak to us of love.
There are those who insist that Christians should not use the cross as a symbol, especially as a piece of jewelry. My husband once said, “If someone you loved had been murdered with a gun, would you wear a gun in their memory?” I respect that point of view, but it differs from mine.
Much as today’s crosses in churches or worn around neck tend to be smooth and attractive, they are nevertheless a reminder. In nations where it is a crime to be a Christian, the cross is a revolutionary statement. In China, crosses have been cast down from places of worship. For many, wearing a cross is a way of saying, “This is who I am. I am proud to be the object of my Savior’s love. I want to be identified as a believer. I want you to ask what that means to me.”
The “old rugged cross” has spoken to many across the ages.
Once in a while, you get into a muddle and it seems like there’s no way out. Sometimes the answer comes in the way of “angels” in disguise.
My story happened way back in the 70’s, so the details are fuzzy. I had gone from central Mexico way up to Brownsville, Texas to renew my tourist visa. Truth is, I was a student.
After finishing my paperwork, I bought a bus ticket back and was set to go… until I was asked for a certain amount of money (a few hundred dollars) to show that I could support myself during my stay in Mexico. Oops!
Though I had opened a bank account in Mexico, it wasn’t a good idea to explain that when I was entering on a tourist visa!
That was, of course, before cell phones and internet and rapid money transfers. Suddenly I felt stranded, at a loss as to how to proceed, in a city where I knew no one.
A middle-aged woman (angel?) nearby overheard the discussion and understood my predicament. As she was about to board the southward-bound bus herself, she quickly indicated that I should look up her daughter and son-in-law, and scribbled down their address. They would at least be able to put me up for the night.
Don’t ask me how I found the apartment, or how I finally got up my nerve to knock.
“Who is it?”
In a broken voice, I responded: “Someone your mom knows”… So convincing, of course! All in Spanish, by the way.
A few more questions were asked before the door was opened; they were undoubtedly surprised to see a young white woman at her wits’ end. Knowing myself, my cheeks probably showed a few tear tracks.
In the end, they offered me supper and a sofa bed, and figured out what to do. The next day was payday and one of them would pick up their pay and lend me the money to show to the person who wanted proof of my financial solvency.
As planned, the following day they accompanied me to the bus station. After I had flashed “my” bucks for the surprised official who remembered me from my first intent, I went to give my hosts a goodbye hug and slip them the money.
I’m quite sure I sent a thank-you letter to that couple at some point. It was truly a miracle that they had trusted me enough to offer me lodging, but even more so, to lend me a considerable amount and believe that I would return it!
In Mexico they’ve recently coined a word, “Diosidencia, something like a “Godcidence” instead of a coincidence. (The final “s” in Dios makes it work better and fit into “coincidencia”). It’s a term I love to use when God seems to be behind an apparently random occurrence, which is truly a godsend.
“Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it.”
What’s interesting is that we speak of “angels in disguise” more as the doers, not the recipients. Perhaps you will be that person for someone, or perhaps others will appear on the scene for you. When you’re in the tightest spot, expect the impossible to happen!
Feel free to share one of YOUR “Godcidences” with me below.
Names have a fascination for us. Parents may spend months considering options for children’s names before they are born. The way they sound, their popularity and especially their meaning are often involved in their choices. In other cases, it may be the name of a parent, grandparent, or other well-loved person.
In some cultures, the definitive name isn’t given until parents have an idea of the child’s physical characteristics or personality, and then that’s considered, in terms of the name’s meaning. I knew of a very pale woman named “Blanca Nieves” (Snow White) in Spanish, and a redheaded friend was Robin.
How New Names Happen
Names or nicknames may be changed at some point in a person’s history. When my children were in Scouts, they were given names of animals from Kipling’s Jungle Book, which gave them a sort of new, exciting identity.
There may also be spiritually inspired names, such as those representing a religious conversion. In some cultures, for example, new Christians like to adopt Biblical names when they enter the faith.
In my youth, I asked to be called by the closest equivalent I knew of to my name in Spanish, Margarita, to identify with my having grown up in Latin America. It was also easier for Spanish speakers to pronounce, though over the years I began to invite people to call me by my birth name (Marjory/ Margie) again. One distinct disadvantage of the alternate name was that English speakers tended to relate Margarita with a popular cocktail, whereas in Spanish it means a daisy, a flower that is lovely in its simplicity.
Several of my family members have actually adopted different names legally; in one case, it was to reflect a family surname from the past.
Immigrants may find that their names are hard for those in their adopted country to pronounce, so that they choose an “easier” name, although they might not change it legally.
New Names in Scripture
Several Biblical characters were given a name change to represent a change in their lives. Abram (“Exalted father”) became Abraham (“Father of multitudes”) to reflect God’s promise of his descendants being as many as the stars in the sky, when it still seemed ludicrous. God tells him he will be the father of many nations, and that prophecy has come true.
Another Old Testament patriarch, Jacob (“Supplanter”), became Israel, He who prevails. He was in some ways an anti-hero, having gypped his brother out of his birthright and being exiled for years; much later, he returned to his homeland. After having wrestled with an angel on his way, his relationship to God apparently changed. He was reconciled to his brother Esau.
Simon became Peter, the Rock, much as his faith famously wavered three times before Jesus’ passing. However, this disciple’s faith had also meant he was the only one to walk (for brief moments) on water. Jesus himself declared that Peter was his new name! True to his new spiritual nature, Peter became one of the pillars of the early church. Once brash and impetuous, he became a powerful leader.
“So we see that these different names are given to people as a blessing from the Lord, to signify that something about them, their nature or their life, has changed in some way”.
Future New Names
In the book of Revelation, we are told of several rewards that God’s faithful ones will receive one day. My favorite is the white stone, with a new name written on it!
“And I will give to each one a white stone, and on the stone will be engraved a new name that no one understands except the one who receives it”. (Rev. 2:17 NIV)
Without a doubt it will be better than any name we’ve ever had, very unique, perhaps very intimate.
There are different interpretations for that stone, but the color white often signifies purity. I think of our slates wiped clean when we give our lives to Christ.
One metaphor that may be hinted at here is that of a custom in Biblical days. The jury in a court used a small white stone for the verdict of innocent and a black one for that of guilty. So this this little stone may symbolize our freedom in Christ. The final verdict: our penalty has been paid and we are innocent!
(Unsplash: Timothy Eberly)
Perhaps our name will mean something like “Innocent” or “Free at Last” or “Warrior” or “Beloved Child”. It will apparently be personalized and unique for each one of us, reflecting our new identity as children of God. It will be a special love-gift, a secret one.
Do you long to receive your new name some day? I certainly do!
Dewey Kerrigan was almost eleven when she moved to Los Alamos, New Mexico in the 40’s to be with her Dad, a scientist at a super-secret location. He and some other scientists, including J. Robert Oppenheimer, were working on a project known as “the gadget.”
Not your everyday gadget, it was the atom bomb.
This fictional account by Ellen Klage builds up around a very real historical event, in the novel “The Green Glass Sea.”
Dewey’s Mom had disappeared when she was a baby, so she’s often on her own or with neighbors. Everything is hush-hush as they wonder whether “the gadget” will help them win the war against Japan.
Finally, the Los Alamos community gathers one night to see an explosion miles away, an eight-mile high, glowing mushroom cloud. It leads to celebration, to cheers, to drinking.
Until the end of the novel, one wonders what in the world the title is referring to. Much as I hate spoilers, this one is central to my topic.
Dewey joins the family of her friend Suze Gordon on an unusual birthday-celebration trip, where they drive out into the middle of nowhere, where it is impossible to imagine anything worthwhile seeing. When they finally walk out into the “flat, featureless desert”, first they come upon charred bushes and small scorched animals.
Suddenly, they discover a “huge green sea”, which instead of being water, is glass. It looks as if “a giant candle had dropped and splattered green wax everywhere.” Suze’s father proudly identifies “the first mineral created on this planet in millions of years”, Trinitite. (Yes, this mineral exists, as a result of those bomb tests!)
Dewey’s friend thinks it looks like kryptonite. Dewey herself puts her hand on the green, pebbled surface in awe, whispering, “Papa helped make this.” She remembers how her Dad’s voice used to sound when he talked about “how beautiful math and science were”.
Dr. Gordon uses a Geiger counter to make sure the girls don’t keep any pieces that are too “hot” with radiation, before they leave
After a bomb test of deadly proportions, beautiful glass!
How telling, that the author should seek to find meaning and beauty in the midst of a story which is ultimately related to destruction. The protagonist herself lives great personal tragedy, which I won’t go into to avoid further spoilers, yet this last memory speaks of hope arising from the ashes, like the mythical phoenix.
Beauty after Bullet Shots
Real life abounds in stories that show how ultimate meaning can come from what seems cruel or meaningless. Recently I read about the horrifying experience of Lisette Johnson of Virginia. Over the years, her husband’s violence had escalated, culminating in a shooting incident where she was left badly injured. Her diaphragm was ruptured; a bullet nicked her heart, and she nearly died.
A bullet is still lodged in her liver.
Lisette’s husband took his own life afterwards.
After such a traumatic ordeal, it is encouraging to read Lisette’s testimony:
“I have a great deal of joy and purpose in my life now. I’ve worked to help pass a law in Virginia that requires people who have a permanent protective order against them to give up their firearms. The law could have made all the difference in my case.” (Woman’s Day, Sept. 2016)
In addition, this survivor works with victims of domestic violence and trauma, helping them to find healing. Out of evil has come healing and help for others, as well as an important step forward legally for protecting potential victims.
Beauty after Loss
Finally, let me refer to two books by Nancy Guthrie that touched me deeply. The first one, “Holding on to Hope,” follows the author’s faith journey as she and her husband made the decision to let their child live after a diagnosis of a rare congenital disease, Zellweger Syndrome. The baby girl, Hope, was given less than six months to live.
The Guthries, knowing the illness could be repeated, decided he should undergo a vasectomy. To their dismay, Nancy became pregnant with a second child, who was born with the same syndrome and also died not long afterwards.
Much as I question whether I can classify illness as “evil”, it is certainly, for some of us, rooted in the coming of evil to this earth. Without denying the heart-wrenching pain involved in her loss and that of her husband, Nancy Guthrie recognized that good had come as a result.
“To experience and exude peace when life is crashing down around you, to have the lightness of joy when the weight of sorrow is heavy, to be grateful for what God has given you when you’ve lost what is most precious to you– that is God at work on the interior of your life, on display in your life. It is the light of God piercing the darkness of this world.”
Beauty at the Cross
Once I was watching TV at the home of a Laotian immigrant family, who hadn’t lived long in Canada. “Jesus Christ Super-Star” was on, and a young daughter was getting at least some of the story (perhaps totally new to her). Shocked at the crucifixion, she asked me, “Why did they do that? He was a good man!”
I was at a loss for words, particularly knowing that her English was barely functional.
Evil was at the heart of it, in a sense. Ironically, the “father of lies” hoped to destroy the “Author of life.”
However, God was in control and actually was not taken by surprise. He had a purpose in what to some was apparent “failure”, but was meant to save humankind. That sacrifice put the terrible weight of the sins of the world on Christ’s shoulders, to be taken off ours! Later, he burst the bonds of death and beauty reigned.
A sea of beautiful, stunning green glass… daring evil to have the last word and triumph!
“Blind curve ahead, trail users exercise extreme caution”, says the sign. True, there are bushes in the way and you can’t see what might hit you if you don’t stay on the right side. Joggers don’t want to smash into speeding bikes, or vice versa! There might be other joggers, skateboarders, or even a coyote or bobcat… The asphalt trail is also open to maintenance vehicles, which would be more dangerous indeed. Caution is a must.
I’d never seen such warnings on a trail before, but I had run into them on highways plenty of times. All the same, it’s pretty obvious you shouldn’t switch lanes on a two-lane road when you can’t see whether traffic is coming in the opposite direction!
In the case of the road or path, a blind curve is a warning sign in itself, telling us to prepare to avoid an undesirable accident.
But what about those blind curves in life? Don’t you wish there were warning signs? A lot of times it doesn’t happen. Bam! You run right into things like “It’s cancer”, or “He up and died”, or “She left me”. Just in case, should we always “stay in the right lane”? It helps, but doesn’t guarantee zero accidents. Continue reading
When my husband passed away after 36 years of marriage, several friends encouraged me with the words “You’re a strong woman!” In other words: “You can handle this.” Much as I was thankful for their trust in me, more than once I answered: “I’m weak, but I have a strong God!”
Strength Doesn’t Appear by Magic
When friends face tragedies, a common response is to console them by exhorting them, “Be be strong; have faith.” But strength and faith aren’t resources we can drum up as if by magic. They aren’t innate in us; the truth is that they grow in the middle of challenging experiences. In the long run, I’ve found, my true strength is God-given. Continue reading
“O death, where is thy victory? O death, where is thy sting?” These words came to mind as the sun and wind caressed me there in the cemetery. Not in traditional mourning garb, I wore a long, loose white native “huipil” with small colored designs woven into it, one my husband had loved. The workers had begun the long process of filling the grave, as off and on friends sang beloved hymns and choruses of hope.
Just one day after my life companion took off on a new journey, I was overwhelmed by the loss, but at the same time upheld by those “everlasting arms”, sensing the freedom that Refugio’s soul now enjoyed.
It was the rainy season, and in the afternoons a downpour was almost inevitable, but my heavenly Father cared enough to make that day different and the sun shone gloriously.
There had been innumerable “divine coincidences” that had come together to cushion the blow. Knowing that my husband’s health was fragile with a chronic disease, I had asked if he thought I could visit my aging mother, for those last years can be so unpredictable. He felt he could get by without me, so the long-distance tickets were bought… and not long afterwards my Mum passed away! The memorial service was set for a few weeks later, when I had already planned to be there.
Two weeks after my return, our daughter and family arrived from afar, by surprise. Their presence was so special and perfectly-timed. “Pa” decided to leave us the day before their departure was programmed, just a month after my arrival. Well, our heavenly Father had his hand in it, of course, and they changed their tickets to be with me for the funeral.
These incidences and more have helped to bring rainbows to my life as the sun– and the Son– shine through the tears.
This week I shared a Scottish poem someone had posted in social media about losing a loved one but instead of crying, smiling with the memories of their life. It seemed appropriate. Then a friend commented, “Doesn’t the author accept the reality of grief?”
He’s right. Denying the reality of sorrow, in fact, the need for grieving, is hurtful in the long run. It may mean pushing down those feelings that are natural, real, profound. Releasing those emotions in the form of tears is part of the healing process.
Even so, the glimpses of light filtering through the darkness are more frequent, I believe, when you can cling to the Easter message of resurrection. This is not the end. This life is, in fact, only the Shadowlands, as C.S. Lewis called it, where we prepare for true Life.
Lessons on Mourning from the Word
Mourning and grief are an integral part of this fallen world, with the inevitability of death. I am always touched by the tears Jesus shed upon the death of his friend Lazarus. Surely he, who promised eternal life and indeed was LIFE, knew the end of the story. Still, he understood pain. At the same time, he showed there could be victory over death when he raised Lazarus from the dead… a foretaste of his own more permanent resurrection.
There is a time for mourning, and although we never leave grief behind 100 percent, there is a time to move on, a time when smiles may be more frequent than tears again.
The day of the funeral, I was able to catch a glimpse of the light beyond the grave. In the days following, there have been tears, often at unexpected times. Friends have been a strength, as has been God’s Word. Joy is not a stranger, however, and is richer now that it can be sensed in counterpoint to the grief.
May you who mourn… find there is “joy in the morning”!
Snow in April… and even up through April 20! This year, jokes and groans abounded in northern climes as March 21 came and went with no sign of what is known of as spring. Easter, for some, meant Easter egg hunts in the snow.
Those who still hoped for its arrival felt like unrealistic dreamers. My son in Canada posted sarcastic comments about the joys of yet another snow-shoveling adventure ahead as he repeated the mantra, “It’s spring!” I had hoped that upon my April visit such weather would be long gone.
Not a few fellow-sufferers made reference to living in Narnia, where “it’s always winter but never Christmas”, as lamented Mr. Tumnus, of C.S. Lewis’s classic “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe”.
In Narnia it had been winter for “ever so long” since it had been under the spell cast by the wicked White Witch. The beloved lion and “true King” Aslan had been banned from its territory and his followers were constantly at risk. As his return was hastened, the dripping of melting snow increased as a sign of the coming “spring at last”.
On April 21—a month after “spring” was official– sunny skies returned to Quebec after what seemed like “ever so long”, blue interspersed with clouds. Today, one day later, the sun was truly in control of glorious cloudless skies. The clumps of snow remaining in yards and roadways have gradually begun to melt away. The weather beckoned us to walk; even without gloves, we could feel the blood still warming our fingertips.
Soon, everyone hopes against hope, buds will swell on the tips of trees. Cheerful crocuses, like the handful that surprised us today, with their purples and whites, will push through the ground. Spring rain will further soften the earth to make way for what should be reality: “April showers bring May flowers”.
In church today, this message suggested by nature was echoed by the worship leader, who reminded us that as Christians we are those who ever hope for Spring: for God’s total redemption, for Christ’s second coming, for the final defeat of sin and evil. Of course, we know they were defeated on the Cross, although their presence was not yet banned.
Earth has been under the spell of the Evil One ever since the Fall. The initial blow was dealt with Christ’s coming, but we look forward to the final victory.
It seemed to happen all of a sudden, that on social media people were talking about choosing their word of the year, to guide them as they faced the near future. That clicked with me, simpler than going for resolutions or goals that ended up in the dust.
Then I came across a short online quiz to help you decide on “your word of truth” after asking you several questions. There were multiple-choice answers, which didn’t excite me, but in the end the word I chose was “Brave”.
The cooking fires had been put out and only the omnipresent, acrid smell of smoke remained. Bright moonlight fell on the huts of a tiny community in southern Mexico, and filtered through the cane walls. From time to time, the mournful howl of a dog sounded, breaking the silence.
Stretched out on my rustic cot in a sleeping bag, protected by a mosquito net, I awaited, unable to sleep. At any moment I knew the peaceful scene would become, for me, one of terror. Little by little, the scurrying of feet in the rafters and the squealing of invisible creatures began to torment me.
Days beforehand, one of them had tasted the split-open, poisoned squash we had left out; the next day we found its body outside on the path. Its companions, with their surprising instinct, no longer approached the mouth-watering bait.