The Door to Forever by Virginia Hughes

First, the door,
a welcome in.

Set it down, the bag of rocks you carry,
empty out your pockets full of grief.

Sit and lean toward the warming fire,
soothe your ever aching back and feet.

Before you were born I saw you. 
Before you were formed I knew exactly what you need.

Here is love. 
Forgiveness in a bath for you.
Wash in my salvation. 
Wrap a towel of pardon
around your weary soul.

This is my body, the bread that feeds. 
This is my blood, the drink you seek. 
Be filled at the never-ending feast.
Do this in remembrance of me.
Here is love.

The key in a door apart,
turns and opens,
now a part.

I knock on your door,
I AM also the door.
I AM the bridegroom who heals your heart. 

 Virginia Hughes

Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me.  Rev. 3:20 ESV

My Mom's Legacy: Pirates, Horses and Edmond Dantès by Pat Cirrincione

A friend of mine recently gave me the book, I’d Rather Be Reading, The Delights and Dilemmas of the Reading Life by Anne Bogel. What a great gift to give to a fellow all-around book enthusiast! As I began to peruse its pages it made me wonder how my love for books began, and then these wonderful memories of my mom surfaced in my mind’s eye.

It all began when I was quite young. My siblings and I would run into the house after school, and Mom would have a snack waiting for her four hungry hounds. We would then do our homework before dinner, and so each day would go. The magical time came after dinner. Everything in the kitchen would be washed and put away, and we would gather around the sofa for story time. We never knew until right before the story began if a treat would be involved--either Jiffy Popcorn or a square from a giant Hersey Bar. Happily munching on our goodies, we would await the sound of the book being opened and the pages turned to whatever chapter we left off from the night before.

Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson was always one of our favorite stories. A story of “buccaneers and buried gold.” Long John Silver shaped my perception of pirates, including tropical islands and one-legged seamen, bearing parrots on their shoulders. Treasure Island propelled me to playing Captain Hook in a play, and I paraded around the house as a pirate for weeks. “Ahoy, matey!” I yelled at my siblings each night before we went to bed. To this day, I just love stories and movies that involve pirates, and I even own a small collection of books about pirates.

Then there was Black Beauty by Anna Sewell. If you’ve read this haunting tale you probably can still see Beauty as a carefree young colt, and you probably still cry when he begins a difficult life journey pulling cabs in London. If you’ve ever felt confined or been treated cruelly, then you might feel as joyous as I felt when Beauty gets his freedom. You can feel his breath of relief as he returns to the countryside to enjoy a happy retirement in the fresh air he enjoyed as a young colt.

And if you’ve never read The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas, I urge you to do so now! The story revolves around Edmund Dantès—betrayed by those he thought were his friends—and his desire for retribution. It’s a story of the conflict between good and evil told in a mesmerizing way with much excitement and drama (and more pirates)!

These were just some of the stories my mom read to us. Each of book full of richness and wonderful detail, and the sound of my Mom’s voice as she read to us. They brought my siblings and I into other worlds for just a moment each night, and were full of life lessons about kindness, sympathy and understanding.

In her book, Ann Bogel writes, “A book well written will make you think about things in a new way, or feel things you didn’t expect a book to make you feel, or see things in a new light. A book you won’t want to put down, whose characters you don’t want to tell good-bye. A book you will close feeling satisfied and grateful, thinking, Now, that was a good one.”

All of this made me think about the one book that never got opened in our home. The Bible. I read it for the first time as an adult. And when I began to read it, the words between its covers brought a whole new world to life. It has any theme you want between its pages. It has places to visit. It has characters to meet throughout its 66 books. It has a story that has still not ended. It’s a book that you will love, and every time, you close it, think, “That was amazing!” From Genesis to Revelation, God reveals everything he has created. It is a treasure trove of lessons in how to love, how to forgive, how to endure turmoil in daily life, and how to find true wisdom, knowledge and understanding. Through the Bible God shows us how to live as God would like us to live, as His children. God’s Word also shows how hard it is to break away from our sin nature. We get a realistic picture of ourselves and the struggles we face and the habits—for good or ill—that we cultivate.

So, Mom, although we never opened that particular book in our home, God did not forsake us. He showed your children how to connect over good books at a young age, and through these books as Ann Bogel say: “the full range of human emotions were shown to your children, from gut-wrenching, puddle-of-tears reactions. They captured the truth of our experiences, and validated our losses. They surprised us. They made us feel the loss of what could have been. They made us laugh. They allowed us to explore places we might never travel to.”

Reading became a habit I fell in love with, and one of my favorite so-called escapes. Thank you, Mom, for the bookshelves filled with amazing tales of life. Thanks for passing along your fascination with books—from cookbooks to mystery novels to biographies. Thanks for teaching me the joy of browsing libraries and bookstores. Thank you for making me fall head over heels in love with the joy of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood and Winnie the Pooh. 

And thanks for pirates, horses and Edmund Dantès.

Kintsugi at Easter by Daniela Abuzatoaie

Earlier this spring, someone’s breaking his coffee mug reminded me about the Japanese art form called Kintsugi, a process whereby broken pieces of pottery are repaired with a lacquer resin mixed with, most commonly, powdered gold or silver. Through this technique, an artisan carefully mends the broken ceramics, covering the cracks and flaws with the metal mixture, rendering the vessel a new, more attractive appearance. While the location of the formerly broken lines remain visible, paradoxically, their gold or silver covering adds to the final workmanship’s new beauty.

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Easter Sunday reminded me about the Kintsugi of my existence and about how God in his mercy, has mended and continues to mend the broken pieces of my life through the power of Jesus’ blood and resurrection. “Though your sins are as scarlet, they will be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they will be like wool.” (Isaiah 1: 18)

Through Christ, God takes our sin and washes it white, he takes our hearts of stone and gives us hearts of flesh, he makes old things pass away and we become new creations. All of this is possible because we are his workmanship (Ephesians 2:10). Those who have trusted in Christ’s atonement for their sins, have experienced the powerful transformation from death to life, from bondage to freedom, and from being spiritual orphans to children of a loving God. This transformation is not imagined, but is real and powerful and alters the small and large choices of our everyday life, changes the affections of our hearts, and redirects our deepest hopes toward heaven.

Nothing under the sun brings greater meaning, greater motivation, and greater joy, than to become a vessel for honor, sanctified, useful to the Master, prepared for every good work. (2 Tim. 2:21)

Will you give God the broken pieces of your life and let his loving hand restore you to glory?

The Author's Interpretation by Lois Krogh

Two on a road to a town
Just the same
as any other little town.

One man, Cleopas, the next
Never named.
Both hopeless and confused.

“Oh, foolish ones and slow of heart!”

Do you not know? Can you not see?
All the prophets of old spoke about me?

That a messiah would come, you’ve long been expecting,
That first he must suffer is uncomprehending.

Beginning with Adam and back to t he present
He told the great story of love in redemption.

To you there are turns in the long story line,
But each part was framed in the wise author’s mind.

A People. A Purpose. A Plan and a Place.
Saved for His glory. Saved by His grace.

“And their eyes were opened, and they recognized Him.”

Back to the city from where
They just came.
Their hearts burn bright and sure.

Seeking the Dead by Lorraine Triggs

A few weeks ago, I decided to check to see what spring bulbs were coming up on the north side of the house. I had my head down, eyes on the ground, intent on finding any signs of life. Instead I spotted a clump of gray feathers, and then the dead bird.

Gross, yuck. Look no more. I hurried around to the front of the house with my head up and eyes on the horizon, or at least looking down the street at the recycling truck picking up the bins.

After more than two decades of homeownership, I wonder if I am a magnet for creatures, dead or living. The baby bunny I respectfully covered with an overturned clay pot till my husband came home to bury it. The racoon resting on the whole house fan. The dead chipmunk in the laundry room. And it's not just me. I also know about ducks in a home study and exotic tropical creatures who partnered with missionaries in Ecuador. Or my niece Holly who took in an injured crow who became "Alfred," one of their many very-much-alive house pets.

It’s highly unlikely that Zillow would list “magnet for dead or living creatures” as any home’s selling point.

Good thing Zillow wasn’t around in Jesus’ days, especially with his attraction to dead creatures—Jairus and his daughter, Lazarus, us.

In Mark 5, Jairus, a ruler of the synagogue, falls at Jesus’ feet and begs him to come to his daughter who was at the point of death. As Jesus and this influencer head off, they are interrupted by a needy woman, a non-influencer, who had spent all her money on doctors and “was no better but rather grew worse.” (Mark 5:26) Though not physically dead, she needed healing and new life, and finds both in Jesus.

Meanwhile, people came from Jairus’ house with tragic news—his daughter was dead.

Why bother Jesus anymore. It’s too late. She’s dead. Nothing more to be done. How many do we write off as hopelessly lost, too late for the touch of Jesus to make any difference.

But I think Jesus’ ears must have perked up. Come on, Jairus, let’s get to your house. Your daughter is dead, yes, well, not for long.

When it was just Jesus, Jairus, his wife and their dead daughter, Jesus gently says, “Little girl, arise,” and now it was Jairus, his wife and their breathing, living, daughter breathing, living, walking.

And just in case you’re tempted to mix up the Lazarus in John 11 with someone else in the New Testament, the gospel writer John describes him as the one whom Jesus raised from the dead. Yes, this Lazarus, who had died and walked out of his tomb, grave clothes and all when he heard Jesus say, “Lazarus, come out.”

Then there's the women who came to Jesus’ tomb on that first day of the week. Deep in grief, they expected to find a dead body. Instead they encountered angels who asked them why they were seeking the living among the dead. Really? You expected to find Jesus still dead after three days?

And in true Resurrection paradox, it’s this living Jesus who seeks out those who are dead in their sins and turns every day into Easter with his gentle graced words:

Little girl, arise.

Lazarus, come out.

Dead in sin be made alive.

The Significance of Saturday--A Lesson I Won't Forget by Sarah Burkhardt

To paraphrase the words a wise teacher said to me as I sat in his office, “We often forget that it wasn’t Good Friday and then Easter Sunday. There was Saturday in between. God often does bring some healing, but we may not fully understand the reason for our suffering or find full healing for some things until we get to heaven.”

I had been struggling with intense anxiety that week, overwhelmed by all the unknowns of my future. I felt like I was taking shots in the dark at job applications and even more worried about how I would get through another semester. This teacher, whose class I enrolled in at the last minute, turned out to be a godsend. I have sat in quite a few other offices, getting through various situations, but this lesson is one that I won’t forget.

Have you ever wondered what exactly Jesus' disciples did on that Saturday, he was in the tomb? We know what happened to Christ’s body, and that the temple veil was torn. But what were Jesus’ followers doing? What questions were they asking? Pastor Josh Moody asked this in a sermon last Easter, and I think it’s a good question. I know I could probably read a book on the subject. I also think that it’s okay that we don’t know. But, as often is the case, I thought that C.S. Lewis would have some insight into it.

As a young girl, I watched the movie, “Prince Caspian.” It took multiple viewings for me to understand because, typically, the movie plot line was not done as well as the book. Scenes ran together, and it was hard to understand how they were cohesive, especially to my young mind.

Now when I watch it, I understand. Prince Caspian depicts what it is like to live on the Saturday in-between, making choices amid unknowns, when we haven’t seen God for a while but need him to come through. It’s a depiction of faith while waiting for answers, combating doubt and learning to have eyes to see, kind of like Saturday.

In the movie, “The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe”, Lucy is a character to watch closely. She sees Aslan and ends up leading her siblings in the right direction, after a dangerous detour. At one point in the movie, her older sister Susan asks “Lucy, why didn’t I see him?” Lucy replies “Maybe you weren’t looking.” It is at the last minute--when the Narnians have defeated half the Telmarine army and the undefeatable half is upon them, when their shelter is collapsing on itself, and Lucy is almost shot by a Telmarine soldier--that Aslan is found.

The scene that follows has enough meaning for the whole story to me. It is probably my favorite scene from the Narnia series. Here is a clip.

The beauty of film is that it can depict a lot more than words on a page. However, it takes some insight and imagination to fully understand what’s going on. Lucy is hesitant because she doesn’t know if this is a wild lion or Aslan. When she realizes who it is, she lights up with a radiant smile, rushes to hug the lion and soak in his lovingkindness with a playful hug. She talks to him like a close friend, asking:

“Why didn’t you show yourself like last time?”

“Things never happen the same way twice, dear one,” he responds.

“If I had come earlier, would everyone that died, could I have stopped them?” she asks another question. And after a brief pause, he answers.

“We can never know what would have happened, Lucy. But will happen is another matter entirely.”

And with that, Aslan roars, and Narnia begins to come back to life. The army is defeated, only with Aslan’s help. The ending is beautiful, and there are lessons to learn from many of the characters’ journeys. (It's worth watching, or better yet, reading [again].)

We all have chinks in our armor: things that cripple us, losses and hardships we experience, and we try to persevere through all of it. Sometimes we are continually hit with trials and don’t know what to do but fight on, waiting for rescue and redemption. Other times, we have so many questions and are not sure we can find answers to our doubt, or ever be assured in confident faith.

We all have Saturday moments, grasping for understanding of truth in the middle of the suffering we see. Saturday is the time in-between the seeking and the finding. Like Lucy, we may have faith but still want answers. We know Aslan is there but are afraid to find him, to go alone. And we want to ask why he wasn’t here earlier? Why did this have to happen this way? Could I have done something differently? Or even, simply, as it was for the children and Narnians and has been for me at times, how do I survive?

In one of his devotional writings on the Cross and suffering, Dr. John Stott says that “the fact of suffering undoubtedly constitutes the single greatest challenge of the Christian faith.” Can suffering possibly be reconciled with God’s justice and love? Stott says more, but goes on to quote from his own book, The Cross of Christ: “I could never myself believe in God if it were not for the cross. The only God I believe in is the one Nietzsche ridiculed as ‘God on the cross.’ In the real world of pain, how could one worship a God who was immune to it? I have entered many Buddhist temples in different Asian countries and stood respectfully before the statue of the Buddha, his legs crossed, arms folded, eyes closed, the ghost of a smile playing around his mouth, a remote look on his face, detached from the agonies of the world. But each time after a while I have to turn away. And in imagination I have turned instead to that lonely, twisted, tortured figure on the cross, nails through hands and feet, back lacerated, limbs wrenched, row bleeding from thorn-pricks, mouth dry and intolerably thirsty, plunged in God-forsaken darkness. That is the God for me! He laid aside his immunity to pain. He entered our world of flesh and blood, tears and death. He suffered for us. Our sufferings become more manageable in light of his” (From his devotional, Through the Bible through the Year, p.269). Stott clarifies the difference of other religions from Christianity through a suffering Christ, seen through imagination.

What is the lesson of Saturday? I am learning it more now. We don’t know what the disciples were doing. Perhaps they were planning an attack, like Peter. Perhaps they were waiting, like Lucy. Probably a bit of both, between personalities like Peter and Thomas. What we do know, as John Stott and others before me know, is that our God is a suffering God. Scripture tells us this not only in the New but also the Old Testament.

The Chronicles of Narnia help me understand it more. Saturday teaches us that it is only the cross that justifies the suffering of this world. The cross is our only hope for salvation and our one confidence, because only through it can we find strength to face the wounds and battles of this world. Our questions and reasons for suffering may not be fully answered until we reach heaven, but Christ allows us to know the lovingkindness of the Father through a relationship with Jesus, through knowing him and sharing in the fellowship of his sufferings (Philippians 3:10).

I recently heard this quote: “If we seek, we will find, but we do not want to find, so we do not seek.” Saturday fills the space where we struggle with our unbelief, the place where we seek but are afraid to find. It helps us learn to still have eyes to see and to live despite the questions that we just can’t have answers to this side of heaven.

The saying is trustworthy, for:
If we have died with him, we will also live with him;
if we endure, we will also reign with him;
if we deny him, he also will deny us;
if we are faithless, he remains faithful—
for he cannot deny himself.

2 Timothy 2:12-13

The Wondrous Cross by Wallace Alcorn

The warden saved the gas chamber for the last. I was in San Quentin State Prison only by our Chapel Choir being on on a west coast tour and I having writing ahead for a personal tour on the basis of taking the Wheaton course on criminology. (I guess I presented my request rather presumptuously because he seemed to presume upon my letter that I was the professor.)

The choir had made our way down from Vancouver, Seattle, and Portland to the Bay area. My appointment came between our church concert in Oakland and another in San Francisco. I rented a car and taking three guys with me, we drove north across the Golden Gate Bridge into Marin County and to San Sausalito. (I tried to act professorial, and let him assume these other choir members were my students.)

The assistant warden kindly gave us a surprisingly thorough tour and answered our earnest questions thoughtfully. In the gas chamber, now, he pointed to the one-way glass window beyond which witnesses sit. He rehearsed the protocol and demonstrated the procedure.

A chemical capsule is placed on a lid beneath the seat in which the condemned prisoner is strapped. When the warden gives his signal, the lid drops and the capsule falls into a vial of another chemical. A reaction results, which generates the lethal gas. And that’s it.

With this, he studied our facial expressions and bodily motions. I don’t know what he saw, but I remember how I felt. As if this weren’t enough, he concluded: “Cute little gas chamber we have here, isn’t it?”

A “cute” gas chamber? I had already visited the electric chairs in Cook County and Statesville. Earlier, were gallows. There have been firing squads, the guillotine, and various devices of execution—none “cute” or any other euphemistic or dismissive adjective.

That evening, back in a pleasant San Francisco church, we sang ever so sweetly, as we had throughout the tour, a beautiful choral arrangement of Isaac Watts’ already lovely “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross.” What had previously been routine struck me profoundly: a wondrous cross? A cute gas chamber, a wonderful electric chair?

When I survey the wondrous cross,

On which the Prince of glory died,

My richest gain I count but loss,

And pour contempt on all my pride…

See, from His head, His hands, His feet,

Sorrow and love flow mingled down;

Did e’er such love and sorrow meet

Or thrones compose so rich a crown?

A monstrous incongruity, this: a wondrous cross. An oxymoron, as they like to say, “of biblical proportions.” Indeed, biblical; precisely biblical.

One day in all of history on one ordinary hill in the midst of many hills, one man who appeared no different from any in the gawking crowd hung on a cross exactly like those thousands erected all throughout the Roman Empire to execute the vilest criminals. On this one cross that one day two thousand years ago, a promise was kept and lives were forever changed on that — here it is — wondrous Cross.

On this one cross, on this one man there was laid forever all the sins of every man alive on every continent and all the sins of every man who had ever lived anywhere and all the sins of every man who would ever yet live wherever—and everything changed.

Never a “cute” gas chamber, but forever the wondrous Cross. Now George Bennard:

…And I love that old cross…
has a wondrous attraction for me…

a wondrous beauty I see…

So I’ll cherish the old rugged cross,

Till my trophies at last I lay down;

I will cling to the old rugged cross,

And exchange it some day for a crown.

Beholding Glory by Lois Krogh

They didn’t come
to see him die.
They came to see a miracle.

Drawn by a desperate curiosity,
moved by a perplexing need,
they quietly hoped
what the leaders scoffed,
“He saved others.
Let him save himself.”

They left
filled with deep sorrow
from all they had seen.

Hearts heavy.
Thoughts darkened.
Eyes blinded
to the dazzling drama.

The apex of history.
The culmination of prophecy.
The reconciliation of God and mankind.

Days, weeks, years later
some would come to know
and wonder at the glory
they’d been privileged to behold.

Open my eyes that I may see
truth in the midst of deception,
grace in the midst of despair,
beauty in the midst of destruction.