Tag Archives: Lent

Lent is Over. Now What?

During the last 60,480 minutes I’ve missed a few things. That’s 1,008 hours for those of you not handy with math. Forty-two days. That’s how long I gave up TV and radio for Lent. Now several days after Easter, the day Lenten fast’s finish, I’m wondering if I really missed anything.

Sure, news happened, even important news. But did I really miss anything?

Rick Santorum suspended his presidential campaign. Newsman Mike Wallace, banjo virtuoso Earl Scruggs, and painter Thomas Kincade all passed. These were great losses. Looming less large, so did Scottish champion darts player, Jocky Wilson and probowler LaVerne Carter.

Also during Lent, Madonna was banned from a talk show, Lindsay Lohan was released from probation and given a warning by a judge, and Ninjas attacked a medical marijuana delivery man.

Depending on your point of view, I may or may not have missed anything.

Sacrifice is always dangerous. It’s an act of release, opening oneself up, vulnerability. When you give something up or away, you always stand the chance of ending up empty-handed or, worse, hurt. That’s also why sacrifice is powerful.

But often in taking a risk, we discover that our sacrifice also makes room in life for something new. That’s why, in my opinion, I don’t think I missed anything in my self-imposed media ban.

I gained.

Freedom.

My daily thoughts have not been held captive by the commercially driven yammering of some talking head or disembodied voice. I’ve not spent one moment worrying about who the next President of the U.S. might be (though I will inform myself and vote), whether it might rain on my parade that day or not, or what the insane governments in Iran and North Korea might do.

My mind has been free to notice life and people near and around me. I’ve taken more pictures, seen spring fight off the blandness of winter, and my voice memo function on my iPhone is full of ideas for sermons, books, articles, and blogs. I’ve rediscovered music. I feel wildly creative. I started writing poetry again.  And I’m partnering with gifted musician, Cliff Hutchison, in writing song lyrics. I’ve prayed for my friends and family more consistently as God brings their names and faces to mind in the absence of media noise.

I gained.

Time.

I simply don’t feel as rushed. Standing in my living room as night closes down the day, I’ve often asked myself what I should do next.  It’s a wonderful, languid feeling. Usually I’d be vegging in front of the TV. I’ve taken longer walks with Dee Dee, my wife, and had spontaneous conversations with her. Gone to bed earlier. I have time to write my novel and I’ve read around seven books. Leif Enger’s novel “So Brave, Young, and Handsome” gets better each time I read it. I’ve journaled almost everyday of 2012.

I’m gaining.

Insight.

It’s not been all sweetness and light, however. This Lenten silence has allowed me to recognize who I am and who I’m not. I, maybe like you, am a pretty flawed person. The noise of TV and radio often allowed me to cover that fact. My journals are just as full of inanities, complaints, and judgements as they are prayers, poems, and pretty prose. And some things have only shifted. Instead of carrying on an imaginary debate with some TV commentator, I now do so with a Facebook friend. Argh.

The ancient but honest theologian and philosopher, Paul of Tarsus, expressed it this way, “I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do.” 

Lent’s Over. Now What?

Still I’m not willing to give the reins of even my messy life back to some advertising executive pulling levers behind a curtain. Monday I watched, or rather slept through, the Colorado Rockies’ home opener. But, I’m not going back. Yet. I’ve gained too much to gorge myself on media again. The silence has been exceedingly rich and I’ve seen living spiritually–for me–cannot happen in a world dominated by media noise.

After  60,480 minutes I’ve found I missed nothing. Rather I gained–even if the most disconcerting as well as comforting truth is that I cannot live spiritually, become a better person, on my own. I must agree with Paul again. “Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!”

Eugene C. Scott loves listening to the blues, which has nothing to do with this blog, but is worth saying anyway. You can join the Living Spiritually community by following this blog and clicking here and liking the page. He is also co-pastor of The Neighborhood Church.

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Giving Up Bad BBQ for Lent

Fatback and his boys

As a little kid, my Dad’s office was a magical place. The walls were decorated with football memorabilia from years ago. He had a model plane of the one my grandfather flew in World War II. But perhaps what enamoured me most of all were his trophies. He had a plaque remembering his hole-in-one and a couple with pigs at the top. He was an award-winning pit-master. My dad had not only practiced the art of smoking meat and making sauce from scratch, he had been rewarded for his prowess. I was especially proud of those trophies because of where we lived: South Carolina.

Not sure why GA and VA are included in this map

The down-side of being the son of an acclaimed pit-cook is that you become a bit of a snob. While I was willing to acknowledge the efforts of the different regions (I got a soft-spot for mustard), no one came close to my Dad, ever. His nickname, Fatback, was synonymous for me to smoked perfection. So while I love BBQ, I almost always leave a new restaurant disappointed. But there are a few places that will always get my business when I’m in town. Recently I added a new king to this list: Oklahoma Joe’s in Kansas City.

My brother carrying on the tradition

While crowning a BBQ joint in Kansas City is border-line blasphemy from a Carolina boy, you have to lay aside your pride when you encounter something this good. The first thing you notice about the place is that it is a dump. It’s in a gas station. This is a plus, any self-respecting BBQ restaurant knows that decorating is limited to neon and trophies, no pretense. If you find yourself at a BBQ restaurant that actually looks nice, get out before they rob you. The energy is placed solely on the meat.

The line wrapped round the gas station and out the door, another good sign. while it was lunch, when you go on a BBQ pilgrimage you get the big plate with everything on it. You have try it all because depending upon the rising and falling of the creeks, you may never get back again. So ribs and brisket it was (I retained some Carolina pride, no way they make pulled pork like we do). I was far from being disappointed.

While sumptuous details of exactly why it was so good are too numerous to include in this blog, it suffices to say they hit it out of the park. Moist, balanced, unique, hearty, tender, delicious. I could see why Anthony Bordain said it was one of the places you have to eat at before you die. I left feeling a bit more prepared for my dying day. But the trip made me ask a hard question: why is it so hard to make good BBQ?

While there are a multitude of variables, perhaps the most prominent is that it is art. All (good) cooking is art, that’s why when its mass-produced it fails to inspire or even satisfy. Yet BBQ is unique because of the time it takes. Beyond the 18-hour start-to-finish procedure, there is a history there. You can literally taste the heritage of those before us. It is a uniquely American product, and beyond that it binds us together. Maybe its weird to put such stock into something so mundane as food, but this is what Jesus did as well. He was accused of being a glutton and a drunkard because I imagine he, better than any, understood the importance of food.

During Lent, Christians often give up some food item for forty days in preparation for the celebration of Jesus’ death and resurrection at Easter. What one often finds, is that giving up food is often harder than they thought. While of course we need nourishment, we also thrive on more than bread alone. Food brings us together, gives rhythm to our lives, and provides fuel not only for our bodies but for our souls as well. Soul-food is precisely that, it nourishes us in a very spiritual way. Our faith is not some segregated existence where we pray on one end of the spectrum and eat on the other, but where the two become the same thing.

When Jesus appears to his friends after his Resurrection, he offers them words of wisdom but he does something else: he eats with them. He broils fish over an open flame on the coast and breaks bread in Emmaus. And it is in these acts that we see, smell, and taste the goodness of God. I imagine the reason I despise poor BBQ is not merely snobbery but because when we cease to care about the work of our hands and the product of our time, it leaves more than a bad taste in mouths but a in our souls as well.

The Fast of Lent is to prepare for the Feast of Easter, so that we may taste and see that the Lord is good.

Michael wants to open his own BBQ Restaurant one day, named Fatback’s. Until then, he is the pastor of the Church @ Argenta in North Little Rock, AR.

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What We Can Learn From Harry Chapin About Making Room For God

In 1973, Sandy Chapin wrote a poem about the disconnect in the relationship between her ex-husband James Cashmore, and his father, a New York City politician. A year later, after initially discounting it, her husband Harry Chapin witnessed the birth of his son. Inspired by the experience and in light of his wife’s poem, he wrote the now-famous song “Cat’s In The Cradle.”

After writing the ballad, he commented, “Frankly, this song scares me to death.”

Cat’s In The Cradle is written from a son’s perspective about his father who is too busy to spend time with him. Despite his many requests to join him in different childhood activities, his father continues to respond with little more than vague promises of spending time together in the future. Nevertheless, the son continues to admire him, promising that someday “I’m gonna be like you, Dad.”

At the end of the song, the roles are reversed. The father asks his grown-up son to visit, but the son responds that he is now too busy to make time. The father then reflects that they are both alike, saying “my boy was just like me.” The song’s chorus utilizes imagery related to childhood (hence the title, “Cat’s in the cradle”). You can read the lyrics by clicking here.

While other songs like Eve Of Destruction generate more consideration about its worthiness for the title of the Hippie Movement anthem, Cat’s In The Cradle at least deserves honorable mention. That song embodies the life trajectory of far too many Baby Boomers (and their kids!).

Every time I read the lyrics or listen to the song, my heart physically hurts. Perhaps it hits too close to home on a number of different levels. I see myself in the song as a son and a father. But I also relate to this song as a child of God. Fortunately, God always, always, always makes time for us.

Ironically, Chapin was either an agnostic or an atheist. In my walk with God, I so easily live as a functional agnostic, behaving as if God doesn’t exist. Even as a pastor and Christian writer.

The Purpose Of Lent Is To Make Room For God

Last Wednesday marked the beginning of Lent. The purpose of Lent isn’t to punish ourselves for our sins over the previous 12 months. The purpose of Lent is to reflect on how we live as functional agnostics, and then make room for God.

To a great extent, observing Lent is the attempt to avoid the pitfalls of this song. How often do we give God the leftovers of our hearts and priorities? Then at the end of our lives, we look back with great regret over the many missed opportunities.

Last month, I realized that I was giving God my leftovers. Despite my many “spiritual” activities, my soul was overwhelmed with a hunger  far deeper than the richest food could ever satisfy. I was becoming the anti-hero of Cat’s In The Cradle. So, I decided to begin my Lenten fast five weeks early. My focus isn’t mortifying my flesh–it’s creating room for God.

So I invite you to join me on this journey.

How do you make room for God? Please share it with us!

If you’d like to see a brief, interesting video about Lent, click on the video below.

Michael co-pastors The Neighborhood Church in Littleton, Colorado with Eugene Scott. He’s making room for God by turning off the sports talk and classic rock when he drives. Instead, he’s driving in silence or listening to worship music.

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This Day in History: A Meal Fit For a King–and You

By Eugene C. Scott

My eyes didn’t know what to fix on, so they darted from one delight to another. Oh, this is wonderful–but too much. Delightful, but I should have given Solome more guidance. The Master will . . . he will what? You may call me double-minded with my wonder and worry together crashing over me in waves. But you were not there. You never tried to serve the Master, to please him. I was never good at guessing what went on in that mind of his. When I looked for his praise, he chided me and when I knew I had failed him, his eyes spread patient love over the hole my hope had escaped from.

But this was too much. Little did I know that a sumptuous feast was the least of our worries.

Lamb, and bread, hyssop, herbs–bitter and sweet, jars of wine, fish, and candies sagged the long tables. This is a meal fit for a king, not our Master. I rubbed my hands together but I could not otherwise move. They would be here in moments. Dozens of oil lamps bound in iron to the walls burned softly, lighting the low ceiling with rich gentle arcs.

“You like it, Ruben?” A familiar voice touched me from behind. I turned.

“Solome, how did you do all this?” I asked kissing her cheeks. “The Master will . . . Is this what the Master asked for?” Solome had not prepared a simple Passover meal but a lush Roman style Reclinium. Pillows rimmed the low tables ready for our guests to lounge and rest on as they feasted. Table cloths covered the rough wooden boards.

“Who knows?” Solome said with a shrug of narrow shoulders. “He said to prepare the Upper Room. And I have done so. He was not more specific.” She swung her arm across the room.

“But the cost,” I complained looking at the dozens of candles burning on the tables. “He will surely say we spent too much and should have given all this to the poor.”

Solome rolled her eyes. “The poor. We are giving this to him. No one has less then the Master.”

My feet, dancing beneath me, carried me around the room. Just then voices, loud and laughing, filled the house below. And up the stairs came Peter and John. The Master, Jesus followed them. Then all the disciples streamed in and filled the room with noise and odor and expectation. Over a hundred of them. He surveyed the room. I clenched my eyes.

“Master, I’m sorry,“ I shouted. “You know Solome. Extravagance is her real name.”

I know, it was low of me to blame her. Can you honestly tell me you would have not?

“And yours, my dear Ruben, is Worry.” His whole face widened in a smile.

“Peace,” he called to us. He patted me on the shoulder.

I smiled at how the Master assumed charge, became the host, even in my own house. My worry drained away.

Had I known this was our last meal together, I would have spent my entire estate on this meal. I would have hired guards. I would have . . . .

“Abba,” he prayed lifting the Kiddush Cup and the murmur of voices stilled. “Bless this our meal of Passover. Deliver your people tonight as you did our father, Moses long ago.” He passed the cup and directed us through the keeping and remembering of God’s commands for his people. He never read from the scroll I had provided but spoke from memory. James, his brother corrected him when Jesus gave new meaning to one of the old readings or prayers. Peter nudged James to quiet him.

The Master led us through the Maggid Cup, asking us the Passover questions. He let the children answer first. And we ate. I ran back and forth refilling cups and plates. I never spoke to the Master again that night–never spoke to him again ever.

He blessed the Birkat Hamazon Cup and passed it.

Then the trouble began. And in my house. Lord, forgive me. In the middle of this–I did not see what happened as I was busy serving wine, though you can ask Matthew because he wrote it down, and of course I know now–Judas–how I hate that man–shouted, “Surely not I, Rabbi” and ran from the room. Thomas stood to go after him but stopped under the Master’s gaze. How would the world be different if Thomas had stopped Judas?

At last came the unleavened bread. Jesus began in a whisper, tears in his eyes and we all leaned in to hear about the night, because of the blood of the spotless lamb, God’s angel of death passed over Israel.

He prayed, “Give us this day our daily bread.” Then he said–I didn’t understand it that night–”Take and eat; this is my body.”

He handed the broken bread to John, who had a confused look on his young face. Then Jesus lifted the fourth cup, the Hallel Cup, and blessed it saying, “Drink from it, all of you. This is my blood of the covenant, poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. I tell you, I will not drink of this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it anew with you in my Father’s Kingdom. Do this in remembrance of me.”

So, I still have trouble believing it, on Jesus last night in the world, he spent it with me–and you.

And so, thinking it may be the last night of our world, on every Yom Ree-Shon, the first day of the week, (you call it Sunday) we obey the Master and fill the Upper Room, spending it together, serving a Love Feast–though not as lavish as the last supper with Jesus that night. For whenever we eat the bread and drink the cup, we proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes again–and as he said,  he “will drink it anew” with us.

Read Matthew 26:17-56, Mark 14:12-42, Luke 22:7-46, John 13:1-17:36

Also, go to tnc3.org for info on how The Neighborhood Church is remembering this week in history.

Two thousand years ago this week one man turned history upside down. I would give anything to have been there, seen him, heard his voice. Instead we can only use our imaginations to re-enter ancient history. Each day this week, called Holy Week, we are going look at this day in ancient history through the eyes of a fictional character who witnessed part of that day as Jesus lived it. Join us as we believe a better story: the greatest, truest story ever told.

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This Day in History: God Breaks a Heart of Stone

By Eugene C. Scott

What if the place Jesus spent his last days could tell its story? The story of how God broke a heart of stone.

Granite to the core–a heart of stone, they said. And they were right. That the death and destruction, tragedy and violence I’ve witnessed in my 6,000 plus years on this earth would have crushed anything less than stone is true.  But even a heart of stone, they claimed, should have turned to dust, and like grains of sand been scattered in the desert wind.

In my long life I was smashed and left desolate by Canaan, Egypt, Philistia, Assyria, Babylon, Greece, and Rome. Only to rise up again. Why? How?

I can’t say. Knowing such things does not always come with age. I can say this. At one time I was the proudest of my kind. I weathered siege after siege because I was proud and strong. They all desired me. My temple was unrivaled. They say gods walked my streets. Though–again–I can’t say. I did not pay much attention to such things, until . . . .

. . . . until the week of the Jewish Passover in the days when Rome thought she owned me. A desert flea of a Jew, lauded as a king by a few hundred peasants, rode a scrawny colt through my east gate. I paid little mind. My walls were full of Jewish pilgrims, crawling through my alleys like ants. I blinked and forgot him. Then on Yom Reeve, the fourth day of the week, counted in the Jewish fashion–sundown to sundown–and the day before the Passover, this Jew tickled my ribs and woke me from my slumber.

“Do you see all these things?” this man with only one ratty robe asked, pointing to the temple shining like a moon on my highest hill. Those with him nodded recognizing my magnificence.

“I tell you the truth,” he said, “not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be torn down.”

I laughed. The Babylonians had torn down my temple, but it rose from the dust; Alexander the Great had considered turning the temple to ruble but wisely reconsidered; Antiochus Epiphanies had desecrated her; he later paid dearly. And today she towered still. Each time my temple was sacked she rose again more magnificent than before. Not one stone left on another! Who did this man think he was? God?

I was not sure why what this man said mattered at all. Why I cared. I was one of the greatest cities of stone ever raised up on a desert hill. He was dust.

It may be because seventy years later his prediction came true. Rome tore me stone from stone and my temple still lies in its grave.

It may also be because of what he said to me, “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing. Look, your house is left to you desolate. For I tell you, you will not see me again until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.’”

This man saw me for what I was, a stone facade. My name “The City of Peace” has never been true. And it never will be, until he returns to walk my streets again. A city cannot bring peace, not the kind her people need. But can a city have a heart, stone or otherwise, you may ask? I can only speak for myself. Two days after he predicted my ruin–on a hill that looked like a skull–the last Jewish prophet to enter my gates wet my dirt with his innocent blood. I watched him breathe his last. I shuddered and that night my heart of stone broke.

Today, 2,000 years later I long to feel his sandals on my stone. I will say, “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.”

If Jesus saw the art in me, a hard, proud city of stone, think of what he can see in you.

Read Matthew 23:37-24:1-51, Matthew 26:3-5, Mark 13:1-37, Mark 14:1-2, Luke 22:1-2.

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Also, go to tnc3.org for info on how The Neighborhood Church is remembering this week in history.

Two thousand years ago this week one man turned history upside down. I would give anything to have been there, seen him, heard his voice. Instead we can only use our imaginations to re-enter ancient history. Each day this week, called Holy Week, we are going look at this day in ancient history through the eyes of a fictional character who witnessed part of that day as Jesus lived it. Join us as we believe a better story: the greatest, truest story ever told.

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The Fifth Most Important Day in History: Are You a Giver or a Taker?

By Eugene C. Scott

I could hardly breathe the narrow streets were so crowded. This was the fastest way to the temple but it was not a good part of the city. I hated these grabbing people. Not Grandmother. Grandmother hated no one. Nor feared them. She hobbled along using her cane to pry her way through the middle of the crowd as if she owned the city. She moved fast for an old cripple.

“Grandmother, wait,” I called as she turned a corner.

“Grand . . .  ,” I began again but a rough dirty hand crushed my voice back down my throat. I tried to scream but the hand clamped harder. I tasted blood, like metal. The man drug me me backward into a doorway. I kicked and twisted, crying. He forced me to the ground and bent over me, cruel eyes raking me. He grabbed at my body and tore my robe. I screamed. Then I saw Grandmother behind him. She raised her cane and brought it down on his hairy ear. Blood burst from his head and he howled. I jumped up and ran and got stuck again in the crowd. I couldn’t breathe, even to cry. Then there was Grandmother suddenly beside me, smoothing my hair, taking my hand.

“He was an animal,” she spit. “But Yahweh is our strong tower, our protector,” she said shaking her cane. She did not release my hand all the way to the temple. I looked at her thinking she was my protector.

My tears dried by the time we reached the temple. But my heart still quailed. A shabbily dressed, skinny Rabbi was teaching there. We stopped to listen. He looked up and there was peace in his eyes.

“Wait here my child,” Grandmother told me and limped across the court to the temple treasury. A man in purple robes, with a gold phylactery tied on his forehead, pushed in front of her and threw a large purse in, shrugging at the temple guards. He relished their silent praise. I shivered.

Men. Even in purple robes they were animals.

Undeterred Grandmother bowed her head and dropped her coin in on top of the man’s wealth. This is why we had come. To thank Yahweh for all he had done for her.

The Rabbi’s voice came soft but strong from right beside me, “I tell you the truth this poor widow has put in more than all the others. All these people gave their gifts out of their wealth; but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on.”

How did he know Grandmother was a widow? I wondered. That we were poor was obvious.

Then the Rabbi turned and faced me and all my questions faded. This man saw inside me, knew me. But he did not need anything from me. I could see in his face–strong, plain, firm, satisfied–he was not a man like all the others, like that animal. His smile landed on me like a gift not a demand. It covered me like a cloak. He gave it expecting nothing in return.

Grandmother and I returned home by the longer road.

“Did you know that Rabbi?” I asked her.

“No, child.” she said.

Four days later we heard he was killed as punishment with two other thieves. At first I thought it was a mistake. But Grandmother said it was true. He had died on a cross. Still I knew it was a mistake. That man I had seen at the temple was no thief. That man knew about giving, not taking.

This day–the fifth most important in history: Jesus has four days left in what we call life. The Temple courts are full of people from all over the world. Rich people, powerful people. Yet he notices an old woman with no money and no influence. And he admires her. Like him she is a giver not a taker. Does Jesus receive hope from her actions that his gift too will be bigger than it looks?

Read Matthew 21:20-23:39, Mark 11:20-12:44, and Luke 20:1-21:4.

Also, go to tnc3.org for info on how The Neighborhood Church is remembering this week in history.

Two thousand years ago this week one man turned history upside down. I would give anything to have been there, seen him, heard his voice. Instead we can only use our imaginations to re-enter ancient history. Each day this week, called Holy Week, we are going look at this day in ancient history through the eyes of a fictional character who witnessed part of that day as Jesus lived it. Join us as we believe a better story: the greatest, truest story ever told.

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Is Your Life Missing a Few Puzzling Pieces?

By Eugene C. Scott

My mom was no longer breathing on her own. Her lungs had collapsed and I was waiting–waiting to see if God intended to let her join us again in this life or take her to join him in the next. The doctor said few people came off the ventilator successfully after this long. Because Dee Dee, my wife, had lost her father just before Easter, losing my mother meant none of our parents would be left with us.

It was June 2002 and I sat worrying and praying in the intensive care waiting room of Porter Adventist Hospital in Denver. Early morning sunlight cut through the tinted solarium windows and glinted off the plexiglass covers on the round, wooden tables. I sat alone staring blankly at the jigsaw puzzle under the plexiglass on my table.

As much as I wanted my mom to remain with us, if God’s healing took her to her true home, I wanted to let her go. My heart sagged. I bowed my head and prayed against my selfishness.

“God, she is yours not mine. If this is the end, take her gently.”

I opened my eyes to the puzzle decorating my table. It featured an early American scene, the stars and stripes, Colonial buildings, and a powerful white stallion prancing with a patriot on its back. Strangely though, the horse had a puzzle piece missing from its belly. For that matter, there were several pieces missing from the picture.

“Why decorate the table with an unfinished puzzle?” I wondered. Maybe it was simply a project to distract the minds of those waiting. I needed some distracting. I searched for the box that might contain the missing pieces. The solarium book shelves held board games, videos, and books, but no puzzle boxes. I looked at the puzzles under the plastic on the other tables. They too were unfinished. I sat down wondering again, “Why unfinished puzzles?”

Were the puzzles subtle reminders that life, especially as it exists in an intensive care waiting room, is always unfinished? Maybe they pictured what the Hebrew proverb said: “Hope deferred makes the heart-sick, but a longing fulfilled is a tree of life.”

I knew my mother’s longing, though she was seventy-five, wasn’t fulfilled yet. She still had a spectacular rose garden to tend. People from blocks away came to admire it. They would ask, “How did you get such a beautiful garden?”

“Simple,” she’d answer. “Plant some roses and pour your heart and soul into them for ten or fifteen years and presto there you have it.” She always was a smart aleck.

She also had her longer term and more crucial unfinished projects: her children and grandchildren. Some of us were grown but none of us in full bloom. Her grandchildren still needed serious spoiling! We had graduations, weddings, and a myriad of tiny life celebrations pending. She was our matriarch and we still needed her wise pruning and fertilizing. “God, don’t take her yet,” I prayed.

Then again, the puzzles were only a few pieces short. Maybe they were unfinished as a reminder that, though all lives lack a few pieces, they are as beautiful and complete as humanly possible. As Solomon wrote, “There is a time for everything . . . a time to be born and a time to die . . . a time to search and a time to give up . . . .”

My mother survived the Great Depression and wars like the world had never known. After my father died in 1968, she raised four challenging children during a time when addiction and rebellion left many of our generation dead or emotionally, mentally, or physically disabled. Without any help from the government, she carved out a life-like a sculptor chiseling away at a flawed but potentially beautiful piece of marble. That piece of art became the stable center for us. She had lived a rich and hard life. Who was I to say her life was unfinished? I studied the puzzle and mumbled, “God, forgive my selfishness.”

Maybe the missing pieces of our lives are incidental. After all, the missing piece in the white stallion’s belly didn’t detract from his beauty. The absent piece actually produced a sense of depth, mystery, and reality. Thus is life.

So, what’s all this ruminating have to do with God and life and growth and faith? Frankly, if you’ll forgive the pun, I’m still puzzled. That June God saw fit to answer our selfish prayers and turn my mother back from heaven’s gate and grant us fourteen more months with her. I’m grateful. In that year she swung between a desire to complete the puzzle of her life, to ”finish the race,” as Paul said, and a deep belief that’s she had done all she could, or “finished the race.” She seemed more than willing to let God finish the picture.

This month, on April 19, my mom would have been 84. We lost her too soon. There’s a crucial piece to my life’s puzzle missing. Others may not notice, but I feel her absence. I look and she is not here. I miss her.

In August of 2003 she whispered she was ready to go home. She had made it to the wedding and the graduation. She was finished. I remembered that unfinished puzzle from the year before and wanted to argue with her and with God. Mom slipped away the next day. Arguing with God seldom succeeds.

But she is not gone entirely. Finish well, her life says. What do I need to finish? What have I not said and done? I am only a man, and know I cannot say or do it all. I cannot piece together the perfect life. Real life is much more complicated than even a fifteen hundred piece jigsaw puzzle. And perfection is God’s domain.

Eugene C. Scott writes the Wednesday Neighborhood Cafe blog.  If you’re reading this on Facebook and you’d like to join the conversation, click here. www.bibleconversation.com. Eugene co-pastors The Neighborhood Church in Littleton, CO

Beginning on March 13–the Sunday following Ash Wednesday–we will begin a Lenten series titled “Embrace: Discover, Desire . . . Jesus” at The Neighborhood Church.  During worship we will explore those things of God we can embrace and add to our lives as a response of love to Jesus.  These worship gatherings will also include hands-on opportunities to practice these things God asks us to add to our lives.  Join us.  See tnc3.org for worship times.

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