community

To Be Human

My dad died 6 years ago today. There are days it feels like only yesterday and days it feels like an eternity ago. These long moments and fast seconds of contemplating his life have passed with increasing regularity. It is in these moments that I find what I can only describe as profound humanity.

It’s not that I wasn’t human before. I was. It’s not that I didn’t understand death. I did. It’s simply that on September 4. 2012 my life lost its softness. To those who did not know us, it would be odd to characterize my father as a soft man. He was rough. He was tough. Most would remember him for his steely personality, full of flair but undeniably unchanging.

They say that the way you relate to your father is the way that you relate to God the Father. A rigid, correcting father leads you to believe in the sternness of God. A kind, gentle father leads you to believe in the caring nature of God. Whatever it might be, your father is your example. And I am no exception to the rule.

My father was no saint. Complicated and wounded, he fought through his life with a determinedness that forged on through every season. His life was a fight, one that would be won through the sweat of his brow and the determination of his mind. He was all steal and all metal. This was the father that I thought I knew.

And then I lost him.

I lost the incessant phone calls full of love and guilt and quiet curiosity. I lost the hugs and the gentle nudges to push forward with my next hare-brained idea. I lost the exasperated giggle when I dramatically retold my most recent hyperbolic interaction with the public in general. I lost the softness behind the steal.

In therapy I’m learning that the hardest part of grief is not grieving your memories, it’s grieving the potential of what you lost. It’s grieving the absurdity of the missed opportunity to argue over the 2016 Presidential Campaign. It’s grieving the loss of his wisdom while planning his mother’s funeral. It’s grieving all the hugs and the phone calls that would undoubtedly filled up the years. Those are the hard moments.

But, yet, even this has been a gain.

For it is in those moments of grieving my father’s softness that I see the softness of others. I’m able to cherish the text message from a friend or the late night phone calls. It’s the joy of hearing a friend’s surfing story and knowing that they will enjoy my latest email gaffe with the full kindness of knownness that only time can give. It’s the full celebration of seeing a dear friend’s face after all the years and enjoying the new wisdom in their gentle eyes.

I am grateful for my father. I am thankful that he showed me what it is to be both soft and strong. I am thankful that I can see both the softness and strength of God the Father through his example.

Mostly I am thankful for the community of people that are in my life, both Christians and non-Christians who have poured their lives into me through these long years. Their softness and kindness rekindling in me the knowledge of how deep and how wide and how high is the love of God.

It’s in these full moments of complicated grief I am able to appreciate what it means to be fully human and to hold on to those who are human with me. What a journey, what a gift to be able to walk alongside them even if our paths are short or our journey tumultuous.

What a gift it is to be human together.

So on this hard day I say:

To my dear, lovely friends, you are both salt and light to me. You are my softness and such a deep part of my strength. You help me discover the depth and heights of humanity with increasing grace and truth. I love you. I am thankful for you. You make my joy complete.  

Maundy Thursday

A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.
— John 13:34-35

Community is hard. It’s messy and dirty. Mostly, it’s overwhelming. Today is Maundy Thursday, a day set aside in Holy Week to contemplate and remember the Last Supper and Jesus’ washing of his disciples’ feet.

On the night before Jesus was arrested and betrayed, he sat with his disciples and commanded them to love one another. The very same people that would shortly hand him to the soldiers and deny him, he reminded them of his love. The very same people who would soon abandon him, he reminded of his truth.

Jesus loved them. They were to love one another.   

Scripture knows nothing of the solitary Christian. People of faith are always members of a community. Creation itself was not complete until there was community, Adam needing Eve before humanity was whole. God never works with individuals in isolation, but always with people in community.
— Eugene Peterson

Sometimes I get this all wrong. I am messy and dirty. Mostly, I’m overwhelming.  I desperately want to be a solitary Christian. I don’t want to mess with the work and dedication it takes to build a community. It’s just easier to watch The Office for the 10th time. Communities, like families, are built on birth and redemption. They’re fortified by forgiveness and hard conversations. They are long nights of angry words and and early mornings of mercy.

They are not just Sunday morning sunshine.

Sometimes they’re Thursday nights of washing feet and getting to the bare dirt that we travel with. They’re clinking wine glasses and breaking bread as unknown trauma and death lies before us. They’re not just me and Jesus traveling this road in the sand. They’re me and His people on a pilgrimage up dusty paths, building a family of faith in the desert as we await his Kingdom.  

So as we travel towards Easter Sunday, let us pause today and remember the night of the Passover and Jesus’ desperate call.

Let us remember:

Jesus loves us. We are to love one another.


As we approach this Easter weekend, are you walking in community? If not, what keeps you from investing?

What do you think it means to be loved? How does it look? How does it feel?

What do you think it means to love like Jesus loves? How does it look? How does it feel?

What are some things you need to leave at the foot of the cross in order to love your community more deeply?


Four suggestions for you or your community:

Read the story of the Last Supper in Luke 22 and John 13, contemplating the significance of the event for both the original audience and for the Kingdom of God.

Invite your close community over for dinner and wash each others feet in remembrance of Jesus’ actions. Read the above sections to each other and discuss the ramifications of Jesus’ command.

Culturally, in the setting of the Lord's Supper, washing of feet was messy work. It was a task meant for only lowly servants. Consider a way you can engage in today's "messy tasks" for someone in your community. Offer to deep clean someone's bathroom or kitchen. Give the struggling parent some time away from their tantrum-ridden toddler. Get your hands dirty to show your neighbor love.

If your church community doesn’t have a service, attend a neighboring church and engage in the wider community of Christ followers.

Holy Week Activities for All

Over the years, we have compiled several different interactive ideas to assist you (and your family and friends) in celebrating nd worshipping during Holy Week.

I have them listed with child and family activities first, If you are looking for adult-only activities, scroll down to the Remembrance and Worship Section. 


 

Kids Activities for the Week 

 

Palm Sunday Reflection for Kids

Ask your child: Have you ever prayed for something and felt mad at God when he didn't give you what you want? Name a time you didn’t get what you want.

Read this to your child: It is hard to not get what we want. The Israelites had been waiting hundreds of years for the Promised One of God, the Savior, to come and rescue them and be their new King. When Jesus came everyone was so excited because they thought that God had finally sent them the messenger they had been waiting on! They were so excited that they threw their expensive coats down on the ground to keep Jesus’ donkey from walking on the dirt. It was like they rolled out a red carpet for their favorite celebrity!

In only one week some of these same people turned against Jesus, because instead of doing what they thought was best, Jesus did things God's way knowing it was better for everyone. Jesus taught hard things that made a lot of people mad because it didn't line up with their own plans and desires. But Jesus made a very special promise to the people who chose to trust him. He said that all who trusted in him, and believed in his power and goodness, could ask for anything and he would make it happen!

The important thing to realize is that God is not working to give everyone their way, but instead to give us everything we need to do things his way. And his way will always be the best way for us. So when you pray, always believe that God is POWERFUL and God LOVES YOU!

Action: What are things we can pray for this week that would help us do things God’s way instead of our way?

 

Clean Hearts Activity

You will need: 2 disposable plastic or paper cups per child, glue sticks, sand (or dirt or brown sugar), and water.

Give each child 2 cups. Have them use glue sticks and sand to make the outside of one cup dirty, and the inside of the other cup dirty. Encourage them to keep the opposite parts of the cup as clean as possible. When they have finished ask them if they are thirsty. Bring water over and ask them which cup they want to drink out of. As they decide, ask them: which cup is cleaner to drink out of? Did you notice that the one that looks clean isn’t actually clean? Wouldn’t it be best if your cup was clean on the outside AND inside?

Read to them: Matthew 23:25-28. Explain that it isn’t enough to just obey rules, or not get caught breaking them. Jesus has called us to have clean hearts- something only he can do for us.

Ask one of them (or you could depending on age and maturity) to pray that Jesus would make all of your hearts clean. "Thank you, Jesus, for giving us a way to be good in the eyes of God- by taking our punishment so that we could have your reward. You are the only one who can make us clean on the inside."

 

Anointing Devotion

Ask: What are some of your favorite, most valuable things? What is something you would NEVER throw away? (Hopefully they will answer with a favorite toy, food, or device).

What would you do if you saw your friend who also loved her ________ about to throw it away? You would want to stop her! (This question can be adapted. Example: - What if Mommy decided to throw away all of our _______?)

You wouldn’t want to just let someone throw away something that is really expensive or really special, right? That would be a waste! Well one of Jesus’ followers decided she was going to get rid of something very, VERY expensive, and Jesus told everyone that she did something really great. Let’s listen to the story and see if we can find out why she did it.  Pray that God would help you understand this story so that you can know him more.

Read: Matthew 26:6-13 in The Message. 

Points to encourage:

  • Mary chose to show that she honored and valued Jesus even if it cost her!
  • Because Mary decided to honor Jesus in her heart, her actions ended up being an even bigger deal than she realized. If we honor God in our hearts, minds, and actions, we can be used by God for BIG things!

             

How Jesus Prayed Devotion

Pray with your kids: God, help us learn from Jesus’ words and actions so that we can understand your will for us. Holy Spirit, help us all focus and be alert as we hear your Truth. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

Read: Matthew 26:36-46 in The NIV or The Message.

Ask: What do you think Jesus was feeling?

What did Jesus do when he had to make a choice between what was right, and what was easy?

  • He prayed honestly to God about how he felt, but didn’t doubt that God’s way was the right way.
  • When he knew the right thing was the hard thing, he chose to do it anyway and take courage in God’s faithfulness.

Aren’t we so glad that Jesus did the courageous thing? Because he decided to trust that God’s way is always best, we are able to do the same! We can pray to God when we are scared to do what is right, and God will give us strength to be brave like Jesus.

Ask: What are some things that God asks us to do that are hard or scary?

Pray with each other that God would give you strength to be like Jesus, even when it is hard.

 

All-Ages Tomb Activity for Good Friday

This Activity can be used for younger children as well as teens and adults.

You will need: Pens, multiple small pieces of paper, and a shoebox covered in paper to represent the tomb.

Have everyone (including yourself) write down the ways they have disobeyed God. For younger kids you may use this time to help them understand what sin is. It can be in our hearts (envy, greed, and selfishness) and in our actions (lying, cheating, violence). For older kids and adults, let this be a time of prayer and reflection. Consider including songs that reflect on the cross. Make sure that everyone participating knows that these sins will not remain private, and that whoever is leading the activity will see what is written.

Put all of the pieces of paper in the shoebox as a representation of the tomb. Read Isaiah 53 together and thank the Lord for taking on all of our brokenness. For younger kids, explain that Jesus died because he took on the punishment for all of our sin and with his death the power sin had over us was buried in the tomb. Close the box and put it somewhere visible as a reminder that our sins have been buried.

This activity will be completed with more steps on the next two days. 

 

Continued Tomb Activity for Saturday

Tonight before bed, whoever is leading the activity should take the box and open it.

For each sin, write down a corresponding gift of new life.  The list of the Fruit of the Spirit is a good place to start (Galatians 5:22-23).

For Example:

Sin: I lied to my friends and family.

Gift of New Life: You have forgiveness and freedom to live a life of truthfulness!

Sin: I have been mean to my siblings.

Gift of New Life: You have forgiveness and freedom to live a new life of kindness!

Leave the box opened and empty, like the tomb, for everyone to see tomorrow. Throw away or get rid of the sin papers. Take the Gift of New Life papers and do something fun with them. You may write them all of colorful paper (color assignments for each person) and integrate them into your current family traditions of an egg hunt. Or maybe you will have them spread across the table at breakfast, or hang them on each child’s mirror or door. However you choose is best for your family or friends, make sure you take the time to talk about and praise God that he not only took the consequence for our sin, but has given us New Life and freedom and power to live in a God-honoring way.  


Remembrance and Worship

 

Maundy Thursday- A Call to Commune. 

Four suggestions for you or your community:

Read the story of the Last Supper in Luke 22 and John 13, contemplating the significance of the event for both the original audience and for the Kingdom of God.

Invite your close community over for dinner and wash each others feet in remembrance of Jesus’ actions. Read the above sections to each other and discuss the ramifications of Jesus’ command.

Culturally, in the setting of the Lord's Supper, washing of feet was messy work. It was a task meant for only lowly servants. Consider a way you can engage in today's "messy tasks" for someone in your community. Offer to deep clean someone's bathroom or kitchen. Give the struggling parent some time away from their tantrum-ridden toddler. Get your hands dirty to show your neighbor love.

If your church community doesn’t have a service, attend a neighboring church and engage in the wider community of Christ followers.

 

Good Friday- A Call to Repent

Four suggestions for you and your community:

Make a bonfire with friends, reading the story of Peter’s betrayal, and confess your habitual sins over the year openly. Pray for each other as you remember your sins consequences on the cross.

Read over the crucifixion story, setting aside time to contemplate Jesus’ suffering for your sake.

If your church is not having a service, attend a church in your neighborhood that is hosting a Good Friday event. Take this day as a chance to remember with fellow believers from the Kingdom.

See All-Ages Tomb Activity above. 

 

Holy Saturday: A Holy Hush

For the past several years, our community has taken a “day of silence” where we don’t listen to music, watch tv, or have any other form of audio distraction on the Saturday of Holy Week. We remember the hush that the disciples must have felt as they fearfully reflected on the previous day’s events. We consider what our faith would mean without the resurrection and what our destiny would be without his death.

 

Easter Feaster

Plan a feast. If cooking is worshipful for you, then cook. If you don't have the money or know-how to pull off a feast, throw a potluck. If you have the money, cater. If you and all of your community lack both money and skill, bust out mac-and-cheese or hot dogs. Invite all the people. Invite the lonely and forgotten, and those you call close. 

At this feast, find a way for everyone to share a table or picnic blanket. Have the wine ready and as people finish their meal introduce the toasting time. (Based on the 4 cups of the Passover Meal.)

The first toast is the toast of Sanctification. Now is a time to raise your glass and share a way you have been sanctified this year. Do you feel set apart by God? How so? How has God assured you that he is still active in your life?

The second toast is the toast of Salvation. What have you been saved from? Maybe it's a bad habit or sin that you are no longer enslaved by. Maybe it's a toxic mindset that you have been freed from. Maybe God spared you from a consequence you deserved. Tell us, how has Jesus saved you?

The third toast is the toast of Redemption. God makes broken things beautiful and revives dry bones. What has God redeemed in your life this year? Did you have any truly terrible things made beautiful by the presence of the Creator? What has been turned around in your life this year? What has been mended?

The fourth toast is the toast of Hope and Restoration. This is the toast of Kingdom still to come. We raise our glasses and say, "I believe God will make all things new, and once again, mankind and God will walk together in the garden." Proclaim your hopeful expectations. What do you long for that you know will come to pass when Jesus returns?

In a final toast, raise your glasses all together and say, "We praise you, Jesus. You are our King, our Savior, our Redeemer, and our God. Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord God Almighty, who was, and who is, and who is to come. Hallelujah!"

It Takes a Village

This Lent has been new for me.

Not in the stories or rhythm, rather it has been a different sort of dance. It’s a dance, not born of my desires or even best qualities, but a dance that is built upon some of my greatest weaknesses and insecurities.

Too many times I lead with my dominant foot. But, this year, I found myself swaying and stumbling far removed from my life of old, from the movements that normally make me comfortable, trusting that this new dance I am learning will make sense in the long road.  

Truth be told, I limit myself based on faulty notions about who I am and who I am not. That self induced truth strips me of many opportunities to serve God. Very rarely do I branch out to invest in things that cause me to feel like, maybe, just maybe, I don’t have ALL that is needed.

Every human activity can be put at the service of the divine and of love. We should all exercise our gift to build community.
— John Vanier

This weekend, me and my people, were blessed with the opportunity to watch two sweet baby boys so that two of our other people could finally get some well deserved rest. I found myself holding lots of babies. My role as Aunt Cookie is pretty secure. The jovial, delightfully overweight one of my friend group, I often find myself with babies and toddlers on my lap. I am truly, madly, deeply a comfortable person from my thighs to my giggle.  

Because of that, I struggle with discipline. Not one for rules either, I find it hard to enforce things and, to make it worse, it’s very rarely that I’m taken seriously when I do try.  

So as Kate and I watched these dear boys, we fell into a rhythm. She, a seasoned mom. I, a fun-loving aunt.

I know little about babies or children. I don’t even know that much about being an adult. Not surprisingly halfway through the day, I started feeling insecure about what I had to offer. What do toddlers even eat? (Answer: everything and yet nothing.) What am I doing? (Answer: I don’t know.) Which way does this dang diaper go? (Answer: Not that way.) How much poop is too much poop? (Answer: You’ll find out fast.) Can you OD on apples?  (Answer: TBD). On and on, I questioned myself and my ability. If I can’t be ALL things to these boys and my friends, what am I even doing?

Later that night, as I took it upon myself to put big brother to bed, I found myself at another hard place of not knowing if I was enough for what he needed. As the rain started pouring and I stared out the window pondering my next step, he came and crawled in my lap. We rocked in the squeaking rocking chair recounting the day as I laughed and jabbered on about my favorite parts. The park, O THE PARK, was great! The walk, O THE WALK, was great! Do you remember when we played in the sand? O that was great too. What a day, sweet boy, what a day!  

Pretty soon he was fast asleep in my arms.

That moment was humbling and beautiful for me. I can’t do a lot. There’s so much that I don’t know. There’s so much that I can’t offer. But I can rock that sweet baby to sleep.

When I think about the body of Christ, and what it means to live in the here-and-now of Lent and our salvation story, I will think of that rocking chair and that sweet boy. In the grand scheme of things, I didn’t have a lot to offer him. But I had willingness and presence.

Those boys didn’t need the best of me. They needed all of me. They needed all of us as a community of aunts and uncles. We needed to be all in it together, trusting each other to fill in when the moment called for, our strengths and weaknesses melding together in perfect unity.

Isn’t that what the church is to look like? Isn’t that what community is all about?

When I look at our journey towards Lent, I can’t help but be struck by this truth.

We are all wounded. We are all broken puzzle pieces trying to fit together in the grand narrative of faith. We are all desperately seeking community. We are all wounded, faulty pilgrims dancing to a song we don’t entirely know and can’t fully comprehend.

As we continue on this road to Easter, may we be filled with the assurance that all of us is enough for Christ our Lord. All of us is enough for our community.  

This weekend we lived out the truth that it takes a village to raise a baby. But, even more so, it take a village to be human.

We need each other. And God needs us as we are- fully human.  Faults, insecurities, flaws, and falls, every aspect of ourselves on full display with willingness and presence.

To God be the glory.