The Promise.

Sobering, yet exciting.  Awful, yet awesome.  Overflowing with regret, yet bursting with anticipation.  Every year, during Holy Week, I wrestle with these dichotomies as the days tick down to my single favorite holiday of them all–Easter. Christmas is welcomed after endless months of planning, and running, and wrapping.  Thanksgiving comes after days of cooking and baking.  But Easter comes differently–at least it does for me.

Easter comes with a quiet simplicity.  Time for reflection.  Remembering where I began, assessing where I am now, looking ahead to a future full of possibilities.  Easter births promise into my heart: Promise for redemption.  Promise for reconciliation.  Promise for renewal.  It’s a feeling that something spectacular is coming next….

This may come as a shock to some of you, but I haven’t always “bought into” the whole Jesus thing.  There was a time in my life where the only thing I believed in was what I could feel–this immense pain that I lugged around deep in my wounded soul.  Everything in my life felt broken.  Broken dreams, broken home, broken family, broken expectations, and the broken-down health of someone who was very special to me.  When I looked down at the foundation of faith that was once so firm under my feet all I saw were deep crevices lined with lies, disappointments, selfishness, and despair.  I couldn’t bring myself to feel warm and fuzzy toward a benevolent God who would allow the kind of torment I felt just so that His “plan” for my life could play out.  I couldn’t reconcile how this Divine, All-powerful Being just sat back and allowed the darkness of depression, addiction, abuse, disease, poverty, slavery, and all the unspeakable evil in this world to wreak havoc on the lives of a creation He supposedly loved. At my most empty and broken moments I looked into my mother’s eyes and, with a string of expletives that would make Tina Fey blush, I proclaimed that I was done with her God.  I literally said the words, “Your. God. Is. A. Lie.”  <insert profanity where you will.  I’m certain I did. >

I spent the next year or so of my life in self-destruct mode.  It turns out that when “anything goes,” everything does.  I cursed like a sailor.  Tried smoking like a chimney–although I pretty much sucked at it because I wanted to run more than I wanted to smoke. On the weekends, I partied like it was 1999.  You name it, I probably tried it.  If you’d like the details of what I did, how long it lasted or how I came out of it all, you can read all about it in my previous post, The Musketeers and Their King. The bottom line is simply this: By the end of that miserable chapter of my life, I was just as broken as I’d been when I began.  I had absolutely nothing to show for all of the “everything” I tried; except for scars so deeply embedded in my soul even the most skilled archeologist on the planet couldn’t chisel those suckers out.

stone-1534273_1280So, you know what I did next?  I carried around my guilt.  Like a 50-ton boulder, I slugged through all the days of my life toting around all the shame, disappoint, and self-condemnation I could muster.  Somewhere along the way, though, I heard a speaker say something that changed my life {I’ll have to paraphrase because my almost-40-year old memory isn’t quite what it used to be}.  He (or she) said that,

‘refusing to forgive yourself for the things that you’ve done is like standing at the foot of the cross, looking up into the eyes of Jesus, shaking your head, and saying “It’s not enough.  What you’re doing up there—it just isn’t…enough….“‘

 All I recall about that day were those words–not who said them, not where I was, not even who I was with.  The moment they were spoken my world began turning on its axis.  I grabbed onto them, cradled them, and cherished them as if they were the key to the treasure chest my heart had longed to open.

Little by little I began unlocking the power of those words.  I granted them permission to change me.  Slowly, I crept back toward God.  But this time, I didn’t find Him by borrowing faith from my mother or grandmother. I dug deep and found it for myself–not her God or their God, but MY God.  And I discovered that He does indeed love me in spite of me.  I let myself be loved–even treasured–by Him.  And I allowed Him to help me embrace those ugly scars from my past because, as it turns out, He did have a plan after all.

This is why I love Holy Week.  It’s a designated time when I make a conscious effort to remember.  I recall exactly who I was and take stock of who I still am I reflect on my actions, my words, and my attitudes.  I’m cognizant of my failures and my shortcomings– my selfishness and outspokenness, my arrogance and opinionatedness {clearly, I don’t always represent Him well}.  And as I contemplate all of these things, I walk my imagination back to the foot of the Cross.  I gaze up into His compassion-filled eyes–and declare that it is all MORE THAN ENOUGH.  It is certainly more than I ever deserved.

cross-918459__340But the promises of Easter don’t come packaged in a Cross-shaped box.  After all, millions of people over the centuries have written stories of sacrificial death.  The world remembers and retells the Easter story over 2,000 years later because it ended with an empty tomb.  That empty tomb buys freedom for those enslaved by pain.  It purchases wholeness for those broken by despair.  It acquires abundance for the destitute. Easter promises “amazing grace.”  Grace that can save even a “wretch like me.”

Dear reader, I don’t know where you are as you read these words.  I don’t know if you’re happily serving Him or if you’ve never quite “bought into” this whole Jesus thing.  Either way, I’d like for you to know that the promises of Easter are guaranteed for YOU.  There’s a tomb that sits empty today.  In it, we can pile our miseries, our heartaches, our disappointments, and our defeats.  And once we’ve unloaded it all, we can roll the stone in front–seal that bad boy up–and walk away victorious.  That is the promise of Easter.

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