Holy Week

Catholic Church pic

I love the week leading up to Easter.   In Christian circles it’s called “Holy Week.”  It’s become one of my favorite times of the year.  We have a unique tradition in our small town; I think it’s pretty isolated to this place as I’ve never heard of it anywhere else.  Each day at lunch hour a different church in town organizes a small service followed by a quick lunch.   It’s a pretty special week as the Baptists mingle with the Catholics, and the Presbyterians worship with the Episcopalians, you get the idea.  

It’s the spirit of community at its finest.

Today we met at the Catholic Church for a short service and then feasted on a variety of sandwiches served with sweet tea and petit fours for dessert.   But, as much as I enjoyed the lunch with all of its flavors and fixings, I was especially encouraged by the message given by the Baptist preacher.  Yes, the Baptist preacher, I know I said the service was at the Catholic Church.  That’s part of the beauty of Holy Week Services, the preachers and priests are each asked to speak in a church that is not their own.    

It’s amazing really.

Last week I was talking to my daughter about different songs she could sing in our little church on Easter Sunday.  We were rattling off the different tunes that hold a special “He is Risen” emphasis when a song came to mind I haven’t heard in years.  The beauty of it rings in my heart this time of year.  The words talk about Mary when she took an alabaster box of perfume and poured it over Jesus’ feet as a humble offering of thankfulness.  I’ve read in the days of Christ it wasn’t uncommon for expensive perfumes to be offered as gifts to the church to be sold and the money given to the poor.   When the disciples saw her “waste” this perfume by pouring it on Jesus, they were indignant.   But, Jesus understood the depth of her offering like they could not, and he rebuked the disciples telling them what she’d done would be told to countless generations.   

This scented gift likely cost her all she had.   

You can find the story in scripture in John 12:1-8.

It’s one of my favorites.

Sitting in the crowded small sanctuary of the Catholic Church, I listened as the Baptist preacher started the message by reading the passage in John. He went on to talk about worship and praise in its many different forms.  To me, this story is such a perfect picture of what worship looks like.  A thankful woman kneeling at the feet of Jesus, tears flowing offering all she has in praise. 

I can see her in my imagination, too caught up in the moment to be one bit embarrassed of her outlandish behavior.

How many times have you or I knelt at the side of our bed or by the couch or at the alter in church and cried tears of loss and thankfulness; tears that cost us something.  Mary’s perfume was tangible and the cost was measurable.  The song I talked to my daughter about says, there is a praise that is not measured by money that costs a person everything, it’s an offering not visible to human eyes. 

Jesus knew Mary’s tears were just as expensive as her perfume.

You know we all have an alabaster box of some sort, whether we realize it or not.  Our “box” is the place we hold our most costly praise.  In our deepest times of worship we dip into this box and offer our sacrificial gifts to our Heavenly Father as an offering.

For me, loss fills my alabaster box. 

Loss of my mom, loss of youth, of children running around the house and a life I thought I had figured out.   I’ve laid down hopes and dreams I thought should come true and ideas about what I wish tomorrow would hold.    It’s a painful experience to open this box, everything inside had a price. But, in those most precious moments of private worship, I open it carefully and pour some of the contents on my Savior’s feet.

It’s a beautiful painful experience. 

Losing something to gain something greater.

Strangely, I always feel a sense of deep gratitude in the midst of the pain.  Yes, I have lost much, but I have been given so much more.   Honestly, I don’t always remember that, but when I open my alabaster box, I am compelled to thank the Lord for every single lesson or truth I’ve learned by walking through the darkest of times.   Times I thought I wouldn’t make it, times when I questioned “why?”  Times when I wondered where God had gone and why had the darkness taken over.  But, time and again, he’s brought me through.  And time and again, I offer up my deepest praise for the journey.

Isn’t that what Easter is all about?  New beginnings born from deep loss.

It’s hope for the future, hope for each other and hope for life eternal.  It’s a time to worship Christ the King for his incomparable sacrifice of one life for another; his life for mine.  I’m not sure I will ever really be able to thank him fully for all he has done.  

So, in the midst of Easter lilies and choir cantatas, new dresses and matching shoes, big hats and pastels, little girls in hair bows and little boys with bow ties—there is a greater joy, the celebration of a suffering Savior and an alabaster box.

No basket of goodies and chocolate bunnies can compare to this gift.

Well, after the benediction of the Holy Week service, I found way behind the little Catholic Church to Parish Hall and feasted on Muffuletta sandwiches and grape salad.  There was plenty of laughter and conversation to go around and I left there spiritually and physically full.  You know, I wish we would do this sort of thing more often during the year, I’m pretty sure there will be Catholics, Baptists and Presbyterians the like in heaven.  

There will be a spirit of community like none other.

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Walking With a Limp

Me with half marathon medal

I’ve been training for a half marathon for quite a while now and last weekend was when all of my training was put to the test.  In case you’re not sure, a half marathon is 13.1 miles.  Yes, you read that correctly.  Why would anyone on earth want to run that far when you can easily get in your car and drive it with no pain and minimal effort?  My response?  I have no idea.  It seemed like such a fun idea at the time, but reality has proven to be much harsher than my pipe dream of becoming a marathon champion. 

There is a back story to why I wanted to run this particular half; this wasn’t my first time.

The first time I ran it I had just been told my mother had cancer and I was devastated.  The idea in running it a second time was to go back on the five year anniversary of the first run and sort of recreate the memory.  I wanted to look back on this event and not feel overwhelming sadness.

I trained, well I tried to train.  It seemed one thing after another kept me from being able to really put my heart into it.   First it was hip pain. When that cleared up it was foot pain, and when that went away it was shin splints.  It seemed there was always an obstacle to overcome.  But, I had decided I was going to do this race to the best of my ability; so I pushed through. 

It wasn’t pretty.

When I look back now, I realize I probably wasn’t prepared enough, but I figured sheer determination would get me through; it always had before.  I don’t think I was factoring in the extra years of wear and tear on my body, my mind sometimes forgets how old these old bones are.

Or as my daddy says, “My mind writes checks my body can’t cash.”   

This race was especially fun, as is everything at Disney.  It was the Princess Half Marathon and I’d say sixty five percent of the twenty five thousand people who ran the race were dressed up in some form or another; Cinderella, Snow White, Belle, Pocahontas, folks in giant bear costumes, and of course, plenty of pink tutus and sparkles.

My absolute favorite.

It was 2:30am when we got up to catch a 3:30am bus to our race site.  Butterflies the size of crows filled my stomach as I waited at the start line for our coral to be set free onto the course for which we’d trained.  It was in this time of waiting I encountered some people called “pacers.”  I’d never run with “pacers” before and the idea intrigued me.  They were setting their sights on an ambitious timed goal and in that moment of heightened emotions and uncontrolled adrenaline and obvious hysteria I thought to myself, “I can do that, I can keep up with these pacers and have an awesome race.” 

Except, I couldn’t. (My mind was writing a check…)

The time finally arrived and fireworks exploded as our group went flying into the darkness to run like our lives depended on it for thirteen miles.  I set my mind on keeping up with the “pacers” and away we went.  First mile, I was hanging on.  The pace was faster than I was used to, but I could do this, I shouted to my inner self, “I CAN DO THIS.” 

But, I couldn’t.  (…my body couldn’t cash.)

Second mile, then the third and I’m feeling the fatigue, but I was still determined, or maybe, crazy; I’ll let you decide.

Right before the sixth mile I knew it was hopeless.  The pacers were barely in sight and I began to notice some mounting pain in my left shin.  I remember passing through Cinderella’s castle in Magic Kingdom thankful I could still run, the 10k mark was just beyond the castle and once I crossed into the seventh mile I began to retreat.  The pacers flew on without me, finishing right on time I’m sure.  I ran slower and slower until mile eight or so when I had to walk.

It wasn’t a speedy walk, no, I was walking with a limp.

My shin was completely ruined, or at least it felt that way, and all I could do was stretch, then walk, then stretch, then walk.  There was the occasional water station and I stopped once at the medical tent, but only for some bio freeze; then I hit the road again. 

I just kept walking, with a limp.

Mile nine, then mile ten and I hurt so much that I wanted to quit.

But, I didn’t.

I just kept walking with a limp.

The last mile of the race was the most painful, not just because of my leg, but because at this point folks were lining the streets yelling and cheering in the weary runners.  I limped by them, so sad that I hadn’t been able to run my race.

It struck me pretty hard at this point how different things might have been if I’d just run the race I’d trained for, the one I’d planned.  This could’ve all gone so differently if I hadn’t gotten smitten with the crowd and followed them so gullibly and readily.  I was living in regret and I hadn’t even gotten to the end of the course.

Once I crossed the finish line, I cried.  I just cried.  Volunteers were passing out wet towels and soaked sponges, it was so hot.  But, I just walked by them all, tears streaming down my red cheeks.  The one bright spot was getting the medal put around my neck.  I’ll never forget what that felt like.  I was so tired, my leg was throbbing, my clothes were soaked with sweat; all I wanted was to sit down and cry some more, but then a nice lady put a medal around my neck and relief washed over me. 

I had done it!

Finished!

I limped over to the food station and found my friend.  We exchanged congratulations and proceeded to sit on the hot pavement to catch our breath.  It wasn’t long until I found the water station and we boarded a bus back to where we’d started at 3:30am. 

It was over.

All the long months of training ended with a medal and a limp.

You know, I am so thankful there are no rules against walking in a race.  Oh it feels good to run when you’ve trained to do that, but sometimes things don’t go as planned and we do whatever’s necessary to make it. 

Life is a lot like that.

I find myself “running” along in this race of life when suddenly I’m hit with tragedy or loss and, just like my shin, I find I’m slowed by the pain.  I want to keep pushing through the hurt, but it’s so hard, it takes everything in me to keep moving forward.  I want to quit.  But, instead of quitting, I decide to work through the problem; I apologize to the person or I work through the grief. 

It hurts and I cry.

But I keep on “walking.”

And when the difficulty is through, when I’ve made it through to the other side of the hardship, when I’ve “crossed the finish line” of a difficult journey, I find that I’m walking with a limp.

My limp reminds me what I’ve been through.

And that I made it.

I lived.

I’m a survivor.

And even though my pace may not always be what I’d like, I’ve learned it doesn’t have to be pretty, I just have to keep moving forward, one step at a time.

And finish.

I’m not sure when or if I’ll run another half marathon, I know I will never forget this one, at least not for a while; “Why?” you ask?

Because I’m still walking with a limp.