I've been engaged to be married twice in my life.
The first time I was a sophomore in college and the groom-to-be decided NOT to-be at the beginning of our senior year. He had proposed with a classic diamond solitaire ring purchased on a payment plan from a jewelry store at the mall. My 19-20 year old self was completely captivated by that ring. I looked at it on my hand constantly. The jewelry store offered to clean your ring for free if you purchased from them and, I can promise you, there was no cleaner ring in Tucson, Arizona from 1994 to 1995. I stopped by that shop every time I was at the mall and had that diamond polished. I loved how it caught the light and sparkled. I still remember the night that he told me I wasn't "the one" for him after all and I remember vividly the moment I took the ring off and handed it back, along with the title of fiance', and walked out the door. My bare finger was a constant reminder of a promise that was no longer a promise.
Fast forward a few years and a few suitors, and you'll see another young man getting down on one knee in an Italian restaurant asking me to be his forever. It wasn't a surprise. Jason and I had been talking about getting married for several weeks and had even gone ring shopping together. When he asked me what type of ring I wanted, I told him, "I don't want a diamond solitaire and I don't want it to come from a jewelry store at the mall." The token of love my first engagement ring represented to a 19 year old girl no longer meant anything to the 23 year old woman I had become. The first ring cost more money than he had, now I wanted only what could be afforded without debt. The first ring was on a yellow gold band, so I wanted something with a silver hue instead. The first ring was all about the diamond, so I wanted anything but that as a focal point. I wanted a promise that was different from the first one offered, so I wanted a distinctly different symbol of that promise as well.
Jason proposed with a perfect ring that we found at an antique store for $300. I never had it appraised and I never will. I'm assuming the gemstones are "real." It doesn't matter to me if they aren't. Because, while I loved that ring, and I gazed at it with great affection, and I kept it polished to a shine in those early years - the ring wasn't what I valued. I valued the kept promise.
Fast forward again over 24 years into the future. We've raised a son together and sent him off into the world. We've made each other laugh hundreds of thousands of times. We've walked through a variety of losses that felt like punches to the gut and left us wondering what the future held. We've seen God work miracles. We've held hands and prayed prayers that made us weep and some that made us giggle. We've cheered each other on. We've gently corrected each other when needed. We've hurt one another by accident and on purpose. We've apologized and asked for forgiveness. We've disagreed about chores, child rearing, money, and far less important things. We've traveled together and stayed home together. We've lived out the promise and we are going to keep right on living it out.
So, while I don't spend a lot of time gazing at my ring (even though I still love it and think it is perfect), I do spend a lot of time marveling over that kept promise and how far it and God have brought us.
When we moved into the parsonage in the small Midwest farming community we now call home, a family from our church dropped off a delicious loaf of freshly baked bread. It felt like an extravagant gift to us. We enjoy bread so much, but I've never been much of a baker. The gifted bread was baked with flour that had been ground from locally grown wheat, and it was much easier on Jason's system than mass-produced sandwich bread we usually buy from the grocery store. The experience was so positive, I decided it was time to try my hand at baking once again.
I'm always filled with low-grade nervousness when I try something again that I've failed at in the past. My personality and wiring is such that I value correctness and thus, I'm always looking for the surest way possible toward success. I want to get things right! So, I bought locally grown and milled flour and scoured websites for recipes and advice, and eventually I found a recipe that claimed to be foolproof and had the reviews to back it up. The trick I learned (that has now led to 7 successful attempts!) was to bloom the yeast for 10 minutes before adding the flour. Blooming the yeast means dissolving sugar in warm water then adding the yeast and leaving it alone to see if it bubbles up and creates a layer of foam. In doing this, you discover whether or not the yeast is alive and active and you don't waste your time or the ingredients on bread that will never rise.
Now every time I put a ball of bread dough in my lightly oiled ceramic bowl and cover it with a towel, and set my timer for an hour, instead of being skeptical and concerned, as I have in the past, I now get a twinge of excitement. "Faith is the substance of things hoped for and the evidence of things not seen," Hebrews 11:1. My hope now has substance! I have now repeatedly seen what happens when you combine the right ingredients in the right way and I have faith in my ability to bake bread.
Did you know that leaving dough to rise is called "proving" or "proofing" the dough. My faith in how my bread will turn out isn't blind. The rise provides proof, evidence that it will turn out, well before I ever put it in the oven. This has been such a good reminder to me that having faith does not mean taking blind leaps into the unknown. Faith is built on evidence and faith itself becomes evidence over time. Let it rise!
What would it take for you to believe that something you were sure was dead, done, and finished - is, in fact, resurrected in a new form, full of possibility, and ushering in a new life beyond what you could ask or imagine. Is it difficult for you to even imagine such a drastic change in perspective? I can relate! My Dad insists my first words were, "Prove it!" I dismiss secondhand accounts and have probing questions for those claiming firsthand knowledge about things. I want to know that what I believe is true.
This Easter Sunday, during the sermon, as I listened to Jason read the scripture about Jesus' appearances after His resurrection, I was struck by what the people closest to him needed to believe, and even more struck by how WILLING Jesus was to give them what they needed to believe.
John saw the evidence Jesus left behind - the empty tomb with the linens lying there and the napkin that had covered Jesus’ face, folded - and believed. (John 20:8) - Peter was there too, but his belief or unbelief wasn’t recorded by John at that time. Mary Magdalene heard Jesus call her by name and believed (John 20:16). She had a short conversation with him, in her deepest grief, and didn't recognize who He was until He said her name; then she clung to Him. Peter, James, Andrew, Phillip, Bartholomew, Simon, Judas (not Iscariot), James (son of Alphaeus), and Matthew experienced Jesus miraculous appearance in their locked hiding place and saw his wounds from the crucifixion, and believed before receiving the Holy Spirit. (John 20:19-20)
Thomas was told about Jesus' resurrection by the Spirit-filled disciples, but couldn't imagine sincerely believing unless he saw and touched Jesus’ wounds for himself. Then he experienced His miraculous appearance in a locked room and Jesus offered him what he thought he would need to believe (told him to touch his wounds) and he believed. The scripture doesn't say that Thomas actually touched Jesus - it appears that it was enough that Jesus already knew what He would need. As if when Thomas heard Jesus speak aloud the cry of his heart, he recognized Jesus' understanding of him (His KNOWING him) as the greatest evidence of all - and believed.
WHAT DO YOU NEED TO BELIEVE?
"Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name." (John 20:30–31)
"I tried coffee for the first time... hated it, but loved the idea of bitter. Tried bitter gourd... hated it, but loved the idea of loving it... Don't be afraid to be an unforgettable taste." ~ Rukmini Kalamangalam, poet.
In September of 2015, my friend, Charlotte, and I attended the annual Library of Congress National Book Festival in Washington, DC for the first time. The festival moved indoors into the Walter E. Washington Convention Center that year instead of being held outdoors on the National Mall as was the tradition in years prior. I was disappointed that the festival wouldn't be outside in such an iconic setting until I woke up that morning and looked at the weather forecast which promised a hot, muggy day.
We spent most of our day wandering around the convention center in awe of the sheer number of books, authors and bibliophiles assembled in one place. Book signings were going on non-stop by authors such as, Buzz Aldrin, Kate DiCamillo, David Baldacci, David McCullough, John Riordan, Bryan Stevenson, Al Roker, Marilynne Robinson, Tom Brokaw, and literally hundreds more. Our favorite part of the festival, however, came later in the day in a smaller room with a simpler stage.
The Youth Poetry Slam brought accomplished teenage poets from big cities across the United States to a single stage at the Festival to share their original memorized spoken word pieces with a standing room only crowd, to be judged by the U.S. National Poet Laureate. There was much cheering, snapping (that's the thing to do at a poetry slam, don't ya know) and encouragement throughout. The line quoted at the top of this post came from my favorite entry of the night. "I tried coffee for the first time... hated it, but loved the idea of bitter."
Five years have passed since I heard that teenage girl from Houston, with roots in India, utter two sentences about how part of growing up, for her, was loving the idea of loving something bitter. I can't forget it. It resonates with me, both literally and figuratively. Several years ago, I read a book titled, "Every Bitter Thing Is Sweet: Tasting the Goodness of God in All Things," by Sara Hagerty. The title comes from Proverbs 27:7, "A satisfied soul loathes the honeycomb, but to a hungry soul, every bitter thing is sweet."
Have you ever had a hungry soul? Do you have one now? A hungry soul can be prompted by the realization that earthly life is unsatisfying, or worse yet, cruel and painful. It can come about because of loss. Hunger can arise after a lengthy loneliness or unfulfilled longing. Whatever it is that awakens a previously "satisfied" soul to its hunger pangs, we can be grateful for it. Our souls were never meant to be satisfied by earthy things, for our souls themselves are made for another world. It is when we bump up against the limits of this world that the ache/hunger in our souls returns - and that is not a bad thing.
If we are wise, we will let this ache drive us straight to God through the scriptures and prayer and sacrificial living that pours forth from our urgency, empowered by the Holy Spirit. The things that undo us, God can use to rebuild us, if we allow Him to. And thus, the cursory quiet time, duty-bound offerings of service to others, the lackluster prayers can be transformed by our hunger and thirst for what the world cannot offer, and we will be transformed as a result.
Growing up spiritually, for me, has included less and less of an aversion to the bitter things of life. I still recoil at injustice and death, I still balk at broken relationships and conflict, but I've seen too much and I know too much of our God to believe that the story ends there. I know from personal experience the miracles that can arise from ashes and the sweetness that can come when the hardships of life stir my hunger for eternity and its author in new ways, and the changes in my soul which only seem to be fertilized and catalyzed by what my mind calls bitter.
I don't know what 2021 holds, but I pray that I will allow every bitter thing to be sweet, for He can make it so.
Today is the day Americans will finish voting and the ballots will begin to be counted. No matter what the outcome, there will be millions of disappointed, angry, fearful people when the dust settles. Millions. If that doesn't make us uncomfortable, it should.
In families, we do our best to find ways to make sure everyone's needs and wants are accommodated, or at the very least considered.
In our country, it feels as though no such habits or release valves exist. One "side" gets what it wants and the other just has to suck it up for four years, or fight back and resist through those four years so as not to lose too much ground. And then we begin all over again. It is exhausting for everyone. We don't view ourselves as a family with unique thoughts, wants and needs. Instead, we view the country as "us" and "them," so there are few concessions made. Personally, I crave leadership that unites, that sees every citizen as part of the American family and understands how to create national habits that demonstrate collective care, especially surrounding the issues that most divide us.
A colleague reminded me yesterday that, "Where someone stands is because of where they sit." Meaning: the causes we stand up for, the things that make us raise our voices are due to the unique perspective we have based on where and how we live our lives and what we are surrounded by (where we sit). In the days ahead, as we see people STAND for things that make us uncomfortable, may we consider what it must be like to sit where they SIT. Even better, may we ask to sit with them, listen and learn. We needn't wait for the right charismatic national leader to emerge for us to drop the rope and take steps away from the exhausting tug-of-war that we find ourselves engaged in.
Philippians 2:4 (ESV), "Let each of you look, not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others."
We Ritzes are stepping into the new normal this week.
College for Tim.
An empty nest for Jason and me.
On Sunday, Tim loaded up his car with all of his belongings and after church we all made the 7-1/2 hour drive down to Southern California - him in his car and Jason and I in ours. We had a family dinner together at an Italian restaurant and went back to our hotel to sleep. On Monday morning we drove to the campus of The Master's University. It was Tim's third time there and our first. As we turned onto the road leading to campus there were students lining the entry holding welcome signs and shouting their greetings to us. That's when a few tears threatened to leak out; for me, anyway. It is pretty simple to get me to cry these days, really - just love my kid. That's it. A pretty straightforward equation. The tears nearly started in earnest the morning before when I arrived at church and was greeted by our "Grammy Hill." She hugged me tight and asked when Tim would arrive because she had baked him cookies to take with him to school. (cue misty eyes) Later another young lady, whose family we love and have vacationed with in the past, came up and gave him even more home-baked cookies. (sniffle)
As we drove onto the campus, we saw many more groups of current Master's students smiling and cheering every new student and every parent on as we arrived. When we pulled into the parking area, another young man from our small town who is starting his sophomore year was there holding a welcome sign and he yelled out, "Hey, Tim!" in excitement. It nearly did me in. How many freshmen get welcomed onto their college campus by name before they ever get out of their car? God's grace knows the way to a mother's heart. The morning went by in a blur of activity - standing in a few lines, getting his dorm key, moving his things into his new room, finding his mailbox and figuring out how to open it, eating lunch - they keep you busy so you won't spend too much time thinking about the goodbye to come.
Even so, the goodbye came. I only shed a few tears as we prayed for our son, hugged him and walked away. That was it. The day that we had been counting down toward for months (let's be honest, years) with equal parts excitement and nerves... It came and it went. Jason and I got into our car and sat still for a few minutes, in a bit of a state of shock. Not sad, not frightened, not overjoyed, just stunned. My best friend texted and said, "I've got a coffee suggestion!" Perfect timing. She sent us to a local coffee shop not too far from campus to be able to catch our breath and process the emotions that were just beneath the surface.
We ordered our iced coffee/lattes and just sat and let our thoughts settle and our body temperatures return to normal (College move-in day is hot!). We didn't say much. We just stared at each other with wide eyes, shaking our heads. It is a lot to take in, this transition from actively parenting a child in your home to dropping off that child, turned young adult, at college... and driving away. A lot to take in.
Tim texted us later that night at 11:45pm: "First day of college a success. Plenty of friends and good times!"
Jason and I spent the next two days in a small, one-bedroom cabin in Twin Peaks, near Lake Arrowhead, before heading back home to our waiting empty nest in Northern CA. That mini-vacation was a very good decision. While we are home now and settling in to our quieter, emptier house, having that buffer was a true blessing.
On the first morning that we woke up in the cabin, I made coffee and we sat in the rocking chairs on the back deck and talked while we stared up at the beautiful tall trees. After our conversation grew quiet, I looked down on the deck and noticed an acorn lying there. I smiled, picked it up, and asked Jason to indulge me and take a photo of that acorn resting in our hands. "Large oaks from tiny acorns grow." Our precious (tiny) baby boy grew up, in the blink of an eye, into a wonderful (tall) young man. Only God can grow an oak tree from an acorn and only God can grow an infant into a man after His own heart. What a blessing to get to be a part of the growth process, while continuing to grow ourselves.
Now we move forward with the next phase of life. Time to see what God grows in each of our lives in the new normal.
Today over lunch, I sat with a friend who is grieving the loss of a family member and I was reminded of an account in the Old Testament that I had shared with an old friend several years ago after reading it and being struck by it. That old friend had also been grieving a loss at the time and when I shared the story with her it brought her tremendous encouragement, so I shared it today with my new friend and it encouraged her as well. So I'm going to share it here now so that I never forget it and so that it is here if when you or I ever need it.
In the Bible, we find an account of a man by the name of Elijah, who was a prophet of God from 871-854 BC. He was bold and the stories about his life detailed in the text are dramatic, to say the least. (I would encourage you to check it out.) Elijah had a protege with a similar name: Elisha. When the time was near for Elijah to depart this life and move on to the next, he knew it was coming and so did Elisha... and so did many others. The text said that as Elijah traveled (and Elisha refused to leave his side) other prophets in both Bethel and Jericho commented to Elisha, "Do you know that the Lord is going to take your master from you today?" To which Elisha responded, "Shut up!" Okay, perhaps the wording in the Bible is closer to, "Yes, I know. Be quiet!" Elisha, it seems, was grieved and panicked. He didn't want Elijah to leave him and he wasn't sure if he could fill his (very big) shoes.
Here is the account that I want to remember from the second chapter of 2 Kings:
6 Then Elijah said to him, “Stay here; the Lord has sent me to the Jordan.”
And he replied, “As surely as the Lord lives and as you live, I will not leave you.” So the two of them walked on.
7 Fifty men from the company of the prophets went and stood at a distance, facing the place where Elijah and Elisha had stopped at the Jordan. 8 Elijah took his cloak, rolled it up and struck the water with it. The water divided to the right and to the left, and the two of them crossed over on dry ground.
9 When they had crossed, Elijah said to Elisha, “Tell me, what can I do for you before I am taken from you?”
“Let me inherit a double portion of your spirit,” Elisha replied.
10 “You have asked a difficult thing,” Elijah said, “yet if you see me when I am taken from you, it will be yours—otherwise, it will not.”
11 As they were walking along and talking together, suddenly a chariot of fire and horses of fire appeared and separated the two of them, and Elijah went up to heaven in a whirlwind. 12 Elisha saw this and cried out, “My father! My father! The chariots and horsemen of Israel!” And Elisha saw him no more. Then he took hold of his garment and tore it in two.
13 Elisha then picked up Elijah’s cloak that had fallen from him and went back and stood on the bank of the Jordan. 14 He took the cloak that had fallen from Elijah and struck the water with it. “Where now is the Lord, the God of Elijah?” he asked. When he struck the water, it divided to the right and to the left, and he crossed over.
15 The company of the prophets from Jericho, who were watching, said, “The spirit of Elijah is resting on Elisha.” And they went to meet him and bowed to the ground before him.
That might seem like a strange story to share in a time of grief, but here is why it should bring encouragement. This story reminds me that I do not own any other person on this earth - their physical presence is not mine to control, demand, or cling to. What I do own, is what they leave behind in my heart, mind and soul. Their "cloak."
When someone we love or admire departs this life for the next before we do, it becomes painfully clear that we have no claim on their physical presence with us. But no one can take away what they left behind for us...
Elisha was left with Elijah's cloak.
And God used it to encourage and empower him to do what came next. He used it to assure him that he wasn't alone. He used it to confirm to others that Elisha had, indeed, received a great and powerful gift by being close to his mentor.
When we are left with the "cloak" of another, may God help us to recognize it and accept it for the powerful gift it is. May God, by his grace, use it to encourage and empower us to do what comes next. May God use it to reassure us that we are not alone. May God use it as a testimony to others. And May God use it to continue the impact and legacy of the one we dearly love.
The flipside of this lesson for me is to be aware of the "cloak" that I am daily fashioning to leave behind for others. How can I live to intentionally weave a cloak that will last and bring encouragement and comfort even when I have moved on? May we regularly ask ourselves that question and may it spur us on to deeper relationships, higher character, and contagious joy and faith.
Dedicated to the "cloak" of Bryce Alexander Hill. He wasn't ours to keep. But he left us so much that no one can take away.
noun, a particular right of possession or privilege one has from birth
In my last blog post I used the word birthright in reference to our God-given privilege and equipping to love others, even strangers, in a neighborly way. The next day I used the same word in a Facebook comment stating that "beauty from ashes" is our birthright. Having not used that word in many years and then using it twice in two days...it has my attention.
Right off the bat it reminds me of the first time I heard the word... as a child in Sunday School. The account of the lives of Isaac and Rebekah's sons, Jacob and Esau, in Genesis is one that I heard many times in my childhood growing up in church. Jacob took advantage of Esau's exhaustion and hunger after a day working outdoors and asked for his birthright in exchange for a bowl of stew. Like a poster-child for the word "hangry," Esau foolishly agreed. The privileges that were Esau's simply for being the twin who came out of his mother's womb first were transferred to Jacob. Turns out, that was a really big deal.
A birthright has to do with both position and inheritance. As children of God, when we are reborn into His family by grace through faith, we are automatically recipients of both position and inheritance. Positionally in Christ, we are:
The way the story of Esau reads, it hammers home the point that Esau "despised" his birthright.
“Esau said, ‘I am about to die; of what use is a birthright to me?’ Jacob said, ‘Swear to me now.’ So he swore to him and sold his birthright to Jacob. Then Jacob gave Esau bread and lentil stew, and he ate and drank and rose and went his way. Thus Esau despised his birthright” (Gen. 25:32-34).
Commentaries on this describe that expression as meaning that Esau allowed his immediate discomfort (legitimate short-term hunger and exhaustion) to become more important to him than his long-term position and inheritance...to the extent that he might as well have despised it... it was just getting in his way of having what he really wanted in that moment. The life lesson for us comes when we look over the list above and reflect on how rich our inheritance is and how privileged our position and then examine the ways we've "despised" one or both by satisfying immediate, temporary cravings instead of walking by faith.
Thankfully, our birthright as children of God isn't up for grabs based on our whims or failings, but even though it is secure, the love of God compels us to want to live worthy of the position and the inheritance that are ours.
For more information about a Believer's position in Christ including all of the scripture references for the lists above: www.cru.org/us/en/train-and-grow/spiritual-growth/core-christian-beliefs/the-believers-position-in-christ.html
I read the story of "The Good Samaritan" a couple of days ago and I can't stop thinking about it. The story of the good Samaritan in the Bible isn't something that actually happened, it is an example, an allegory, a parable that Jesus made up on the spot to try to uncover the motivations of "an expert in the law" who was testing him. First the lawyer asked Jesus, what he must to do inherit eternal life. Jesus responded by asking him to answer his own question by reflecting on what he was an expert at - the law. The man responded, "To love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength and to love your neighbor as yourself," (Luke 10:27). And Jesus confirms that the man clearly already knew the truth and that now he just needed to live it out. Then came the beginnings of heart revelation...
"But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus 'And who is my neighbor?'"
The story of the good Samaritan was told by Jesus, not to answer the man's actual question, but to address the motivations of his heart. The law expert wanted to justify himself; he didn't really want to know who his neighbor was. So Jesus told a story about a robbed and injured man on the side of a road in desperate need who couldn't save himself, and of three other men who "happened to be going down the same road." Two of the men, religious by profession, did not stop - in fact, they actively avoided the man in need. The Samaritan, someone who the lawyer would have considered beneath him, went above and beyond to care for the man at great personal cost to himself. At the end of the story, Jesus did NOT say, "Do you think that the man in the ditch should have been considered a neighbor?" Instead, he said to the lawyer:
“Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”
The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.”
Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.” (Luke 10:36)
The man wanting to justify himself, wanted clarification on who precisely he was required to love and serve. Jesus, instead, showed him what it looked like to be a neighbor. The implication is that we are called to be neighborly and merciful to anyone and everyone we happen to be going down the same road with in life. That we GET to do that. It isn't a task to be checked off a list to make ourselves feel better (justified). Showing mercy and loving others in such a way that strangers feel like neighbors is our birthright.
Being loved without limits by God as our father, opens the door wide for us to be loving to whoever happens to be going down the same road we are. The destination is certain, our safe arrival there is guaranteed. We don't have to be in a rush to "get there," We get to embrace the journey; to open our eyes to others on the road and introduce them to the one who paved it and help them get back up on their feet and walk in freedom too.
A neighbor is not the people who live next door to us, or a list of people we really should love if we want to be considered good people.
A neighbor is who we get to be.
Carla Ritz. Proof positive that God uses cracked pots!