Katie Stratton – Mondays

Lent – Week 6

 

No one likes to talk about betrayal. It’s awful. It’s awful to betray someone and regret what happened later, and it’s even more awful to be betrayed. Many times there is forgiveness (Jesus died for the sins of Judas as much as he died for mine), but it’s hard, after realizing the consequences of your actions, to forgive yourself. The solution is obvious: never harm anyone. If you never harm anyone through word or deed, then hopefully you never have anything to regret or forgive yourself for. Just as obvious though is the fact that it doesn’t mean it’s possible or easy to do so.

The story of the last supper is heartbreaking. Jesus and his disciples break bread together and have a significant time of sharing and in the next moment, one of his followers walks away from that table and forsakes him. I can’t fathom what was going through the mind of Judas when he thought it would be beneficial or profitable to him to sell Jesus out. It seems unthinkable…how could I possibly relate?
Well, I may not be as deliberate as Judas when I fail in my friendships, but I certainly can’t even begin to count the number of times I’ve had an awesome afternoon with someone, and then later made an offhand comment or remark and wounded some of those I hold most dear. I try to make a point of not saying anything that would cause someone to feel badly, but sometimes it happens before I have time to think. One of my favorite passages in the Bible (because I need to hear it so often) is Ephesians 4:29-32: “Let no corrupt word proceed out of your mouth, but what is good for necessary edification, that it may impart grace to the hearers…Let all bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, and evil speaking be put away from you, with all malice. And be kind to one another…even as God in Christ forgave you.”
I never set out with the intention to do harm, and I hope I haven’t gone to the level of betraying one of my closest friends, but I have certainly hurt many close to me through careless words and can certainly relate to the regret that Judas felt after harming his friend. I have spent a lot of time this Lenten season learning to take a step back, to slow down, to listen first, and then speak when needed. I pray that I can carry this lesson with me throughout the rest of the year, and hopefully avoid some heavy hearts in the process.
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Lent – Week 5

 

Hopefully this will shock none of you despite the fact that the Chapel asked me to blog for our entire congregation during the season of Lent, but I am not a Bible scholar. I’ve read the Bible (all the way through with a reading plan in 2012, and hopefully this year, too), but I don’t claim to understand all that I read. When I got to Matthew 24; the part about the desolation of the Temple, everyone running for the hills, and woe to the pregnant and nursing mothers, I thought, “Wow. I am really in over my head here right now.” I don’t know enough to interpret this level of depth, and I certainly don’t want to pretend I know how, so I just won’t.

That being said, here is what I can relate to: I’ve known destruction. I’ve known hopelessness, and life that has become so devastated by sin that the relationship is unbearably sad and painful to maintain. I’ve known the grief and gut-wrenching hurt that comes from the decision that there’s nothing left to do but run…it’s not as if you stayed there’d be anything left to salvage. But while running, I prayed constantly, fervently, knowing that behind me sin was causing something once beautiful to turn to ruins. And tragically, after that destruction there was nothing left but ash and a shadow of what had previously stood.

Now, as time has passed, I can joyfully say I’ve also seen the other side. I’ve watched life built from the ash, with time, care, peace, and new understanding. I’ve experienced the sheer elation of rebuilding a relationship that I would have once called both excruciating and futile. My heart is so full of joy and pride at this newness that sometimes I really feel it might burst – something I never believed would be possible. I’ve cried more happy tears in the last year than tears of anguish in the previous several years combined.

People: destruction when it heralds renewal, while still painful and scary, is incredible.

Having had that experience, if “the renewal of all things” (v. 19:28) that Jesus says comes after a time of great judgment is even better than the renewal I’ve seen, then I can say with all honesty that I welcome the destruction.

Tuesday Post

There are many different challenges parents face in raising kids. One that I have faced has been in sports, when my kids have been a part of a team but they have had to sit on the bench. I know how badly they have wanted to get in and how hard they have practiced. I hate to see them have to watch the whole game from the bench. I think they deserve a chance.

In Matthew 20 Jesus tells the parable about the workers in a vineyard. The landowner hires several people throughout the day but at the end of the day they all receive the same wages. The workers who were hired earlier in the day started grumbling to the landowner because they thought they deserved more than the people who came at the end of the day. The landowner reminded them that they agreed to work for a certain price and that is what they received. Jesus begins (at end of chapter 19) and ends the parable by saying, “the last shall be first and the first shall be last.”

The workers felt entitled. I think we can all relate. It seems to be the norm these days. Our culture screams to us, “you deserve it” in many ways. Feeling entitled is a dangerous place to live because it is the opposite of how Jesus tells us to live. It affects our relationships when we start to think we deserve something from someone else. It really affects our relationship with God. The opposite is also true. When we humble ourselves, it changes our relationships for good and we can see how He uses us to build His kingdom.

Jesus really is entitled.  He is the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, yet He is constantly talking about humility. It is interesting that right after he tells them this parable He tells them they are on there way to Jerusalem to Jerusalem where He will be betrayed and handed over to death. He wasn’t just telling the disciples this is how they should live, He was showing them.

This week when I find myself grumbling because I don’t have something that I think I deserve, I hope I can get beyond the superficial and see that I am really grateful that I don’t get what I deserve because of His grace. I will be praying for humility, which isn’t a hard prayer to pray, but it is a hard lesson to learn. I want to lift others up before myself, because I trust Jesus knows what is best for me, and He does not ask me to go to places that He hasn’t been.

Monday Post

About a year into our marriage, my husband accepted a job at Hampden-Sydney College, located right around Farmville, VA. At the time, the only thing I knew about Farmville was that it was a popular facebook game, but it was about to become our reality, not our fantasy world. For the first year or so that we lived there, I would describe it to people by saying, “It’s so small and rural that there isn’t even aTarget!” You see, we had spent the last year living in Arlington, where we paid to rent 500 square feet more than double what we paid in Farmville to rent our three bedroom house. The culture was all about how much money you made, what the next trend for restaurants or clothing was, or where you were heading for vacation next month. It was a bit of a culture shock to for me to move to Farmville, where if I needed to buy pretty much anything, I had to drive to Richmond.

The years we spent in Farmville were probably the most un-materialistic years of my life to date. We didn’t make very much money, but since there wasn’t anything to spend it on, it really didn’t matter. Despite that though, we were rich. We had our house, our cars, our cell phones, our cable tv…all the things we consider “necessities.” Even at that point in my life, though we didn’t have much to get rid of, if I had been asked to give up everything: our shelter, the food in our pantry, my pictures and computer, all to follow Jesus, I’m not sure I could have.

The story about the rich young ruler in Matthew 19 hits very close to home for me. Whenever I read this passage, I feel exactly as the disciples were described to be: astonished (v. 25). How is it possible? How could I get rid of everything and live day to day relying on God for food and shelter and other needs? Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that I feel called to do that – it would be burdensome for our family and our friends, but if I were called to that, could I?

Travis talked about being “wholly dependent” on the Lord this past Sunday – that the people who are wholly dependent on the Lord are those who are able to enter the Kingdom of Heaven. That is a hard concept to wrap my head around and truly something to aspire to. All I can say for now is thank goodness that “with men, this is impossible, but with God, all things are possible (v. 26).”

Jesus Walks on Water

Despite my original thoughts the first time I read through Matthew 14 (v. 22-36), I believe the scene where Jesus walks on water is universally applicable. At first glance, we see Jesus walking on water, inviting one of His disciples to do the same, and then strong winds ceasing to blow the second the two reenter their boat. All pretty irrelevant to my life, if you ask me. I’m certainly not going for a jaunt on a lake any time soon, wind or no wind. Looking at the passage a little more closely, I realize how pertinent it is. We have a disciple floating in a boat in the middle of a lake after escaping crowds of thousands on the shore (read: overwhelming situation) being asked to walk on water (read: do the impossible). Then, after he actually steps out of the boat to do the impossible thing being asked of him, the wind picks up (life’s curve ball), and the situation that already started out as impossible becomes completely overwhelming. Doubt sets in and he starts to sink – for Peter, literally, and for us, figuratively.

At times in life we enter seasons where we simply can’t do enough to catch up. The tasks on our plate keep piling up, situations we originally thought were under control start getting worse, and then just when you start to doubt whether God really does, in fact, have it all under control, BAM: your dog dies (or insert whatever other situation that would just make everything else feel just that much more awful). It feels like you can’t keep your head above water and guess what. You can’t. But in the words of the beloved Dick Woodward: He can.

Life’s trials, big and small, certainly test our faith. I wish I could say that I never worry (Matt 6:25-26), and that I never doubt that God is working in and through every circumstance in my life (Rom 8:28), but sometimes that’s just too hard. Sometimes, things in life happen, particularly to people you love that you just don’t understand and in which you simply can’t see the good. Those are the times when all that’s left to do is lean on Him in prayer and wait for Him to put His hand out in rescue. My prayer this week is to remind myself to continue putting my faith in God, the one who is able to reach out His hand to catch us when we start sinking in doubt, the one who can calm the wind with a word.

Matthew 10

One of the primary reasons I’m not always forthcoming about sharing my faith in certain situations is that I often predict the reaction I’m going to get prior to actually saying anything. When I read Matthew 10 this week, verse 14 stuck with me: “If anyone won’t welcome you or listen to your message, go out of the house or the town and shake the dust off your feet.” Keeping this verse in mind, I’ve been constantly reminding myself that sharing God’s grace and peace is my job and gauging the reaction of my audience prior to acting on that mission is not.

Many of you know that I work in a hospital. A few years ago at work, I was pushing a sedated girl in her early 20’s who had been a victim of a car accident down the hall to surgery. Her mother, who had driven through the night to be there with her, was walking with us. Her daughter was stable at the time but I could tell her mother was still worried and running on adrenaline. Knowing she felt anxious and that the situation was out of her control, I put my hand on top of that hers and said, “If you’d like, I’ll pray for your daughter while she’s in surgery.” We were on an elevator and tears started streaming down her face. We got off the elevator, and for a minute or two, we continued walking down the hallway in silence – her in tears, and me feeling awkward, praying she wouldn’t be offended by what I said and that she would receive it as I meant it – as a form of kindness. Right before we parted ways at the end of the hall, she looked up at me, nodded and muttered, “please.”

Nothing else happened. I don’t know if that woman believed in God or didn’t. I don’t know any of her story before or after the 5 minutes that our stories ran parallel, but I do know that in that moment, I felt led to share my faith with her. There are many times in my life that I feel the same tug, and I’m ashamed to say that I don’t always act for fear of that person’s reaction. The reminder that we are called to do so regardless of the response we receive is something I’ve been focusing on this season of Lent. This week let’s all remind ourselves to share God’s love and mercy when He leads us to do so and when we aren’t received well, to “shake the dust off our feet” and continue to be bold in His name.

Monday Devotional

I was a little hesitant to participate in this Lenten series at the Chapel, mostly because the time I spend with my Bible is less than quiet these days and the time I have to reflect or write about what I’m learning becomes more and more scarce the older my daughter becomes. I used to believe that in order to have a “productive” or “successful” time studying God’s word that there were criteria that had to be met, like a specific length of time that must be dedicated to reading, writing, and prayer, that you had to be alone, that you should be in a quiet place, and that if those criteria weren’t met and the quality of that time spent with God wasn’t up to par, then that time essentially didn’t count. Well, my life is very different now than it was when I held those beliefs, and I’m more thankful than ever these days for an omnipotent God that knows my heart and my intentions. And even though Eleanor is almost always present and my attention is almost never 100% focused (because if it were, my poor girl would have more lumps on her head than I could keep up with), I still try, and hopefully that still counts.

When I read Monday’s devotional about the Beatitudes, I thought I certainly can’t claim to be meek, persecuted, or mourning, but too bad there isn’t a Beatitude that states “Blessed are those who haven’t gone to the bathroom alone in six months, for they will no longer fear embarrassing situations” because I could definitely claim that one. Thankfully N.T. Wright points out that this passage is not a prescription for us to try to fulfill. This passage is simply showing that God is moving in new ways, and those that are not in the most ideal circumstances will one day be celebrated and lifted up.

At the start of this Lenten season I’m learning that it’s okay that I’m busy and that my quiet times aren’t so quiet. I don’t have to feel guilt about my time spent serving Eleanor even if it isn’t ideal and interrupts my time spent reading my Bible. After all, serving her with patience and love is a form of devotion to God in itself.

I decided to participate in this series about Lent because I realized that a lot of people here at the Chapel are like me. A lot of people are full-time caregivers to infants, children, parents, or friends on top of their full-time day job. If I can encourage even one of those people with multiple commitments to find a few moments of peace in the Lord each day – even if that time must be spent in the company of someone else, filled with other demands for your attention, or studded with interruptions – then perhaps we’ll all be a little better off for it.