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Remembering Him

I wasn’t looking to add a new “tradition” into my life. What I was looking for were tangible and thoughtful ways to remember.

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I cut dogwood limbs from the tree in the front yard. Knobby grey buds are still tight, not yet ready to open. Taking my distressed blue stool that my husband found discarded along the side of the road, I tuck it into a corner of the dining room. Pulling my earthenware pitcher down from the shelf, I place it on the stool. The dogwood limbs go into the jug, along with some water.

The branches are now ready to decorate. We’re getting ready for Easter.

I’d already downloaded Ann Voskamp’s An Easter Devotional: Trail to the Tree from her blog. I’d cut out all the reproductions of great master’s paintings and mounted them on some card stock. Then I’d punched holes and strung ribbon. Ornaments depicting the various scenes of the Passion were ready and waiting to be hung on the dogwood branches.

In the evening we read Scripture that pertains to the Passion and hang the corresponding “ornament” on the tree. My three-year-old boys look forward to examining the pictures and taking turns hanging the cards on the tree.

It’s our first time celebrating Lent.

Lent Free

I’d heard about Lent growing up but really didn’t know what it was. People abstained from eating sweets and such, I gathered. In college I noticed some people with ashes smeared on their foreheads. Oh yeah, I’d remember. Ash Wednesday.

Traditionally, the purpose of Lent is to prepare one’s heart for the celebration of the Resurrection through prayer, repentance, fasting, and other forms of self-denial. Lent starts on Ash Wednesday and ends on Easter morning. It is usually forty days long, representing the forty days Jesus spent in the wilderness before starting his public ministry.

Although I did not grow up practicing Lent, in my family we had many wonderful Easter traditions. My mom made it memorable, fun, and purposeful. I never was under the impression that candy and bunny rabbits were the reason for Easter. We attended a Maunday Wednesday meal and service at church, a Good Friday service, as well as an Easter morning service. We were also often involved in cantatas or plays that corresponded to the season. However, as childhood and its trappings slipped away, I too often found myself surprised that Palm Sunday was upon me. That Easter morning had arrived and I’d not thought much about it. And I always regretted it.

I wasn’t looking to add a new “tradition” into my life or add to my to-do list by trying to abstain from chocolate for forty days. Nothing is wrong with that goal, but what I was looking for — really looking for — was tangible and thoughtful ways to remember. To make real the sacrifice that I celebrate on Easter morning: Christ’s bearing my sin, His death on the cross, and His resurrection.

Do This in Remembrance

That’s how I ended up cutting dogwood branches from our tree in the front yard. I’d discovered online that some other people were searching for the same thing as me. That despite the fact our individual churches might not “do Lent” I could do it on my own. I found resources that would help me concentrate on Jesus’ work on the cross for a specific season leading up to Easter.

But aren’t we supposed to do this everyday anyway? Isn’t that what being a Christian is all about? That Jesus died on the cross for my sins and rose again?

Yes it is. But we forget. At least I forget. I get caught up in what I should do instead of what Christ has done. I can study other very good things like prayer or how to be a good Christian parent. I can forget the essential. Christ’s work can become impersonal.

Like Communion, Lent functions as a tool of remembrance. It instigates reflection. It deepens my love for God. “Do this in remembrance of me,” Jesus said in 1 Corinthians 11:24. Just like pausing in a service to drink the cup and eat the bread I’m pausing in the midst of my year to focus on Jesus and His sacrifice. I don’t have to do it the same way every year. One year, it may simply be a personal devotional, like the one Noel Piper wrote called Lenten Lights. Or it may mean hanging ornaments with the children on the bare branches of dogwood in the corner of my dining room.

Alive in Christ

Easter neared. We dyed eggs and found the Easter baskets and the fake grass. I bought Easter goodies and chocolate bunnies. And a beautiful thing happened. The weekend of Easter the dogwood branches came to life. The buds that had been tightly closed when I’d cut them now opened, wide and alive.

I hadn’t been purposeful in cutting dogwood tree limbs when I’d thought about creating an Easter Passion Tree. They’d just been low enough for me to cut. But what more perfect tree could I have picked, but a tree so full of Easter symbolism? I gazed at the creamy blush-white petals with brownish edges.

The four petals formed a cross. A living reminder of the fact that not only did Jesus die, but that He now is alive. And so am I. As Paul said, “Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God. So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus” (Romans 6:8-11, ESV).

Lent was over. It was time to celebrate.

Resources for Remembering:

Lenten Lights a free devotional by Noel Piper.

Treasuring God in Our Traditions by Noel Piper. This book has a chapter with ideas for celebrating Lent and Easter as a family.

Fifty Reasons Why Jesus Came to Die by John Piper. Fifty short readings on why Jesus came to die.

An Easter Devotional: Trail to the Tree by Ann Voskamp. Free to download online with resources to create your own “Easter Passion Tree.”

Jesus, Keep Me Near the Cross: Experiencing the Passion and Power of Easter, edited by Nancy Guthrie. A collection of readings by various classic and contemporary authors centered on Christ’s sacrifice for us.

Article photo copyright © 2011 Danielle Jones. Used with permission.

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Danielle Ayers Jones is wife to an amazing husband and mother to three. She's a writer and photographer, combining both loves on her blog, danielleayersjones.com. A space where she seeks to find beauty in everyday places, joy in hardship, rest in the struggle, and encouragement in unexpected places. She's also written for Thriving Family, Clubhouse, Jr., iBelieve.com, StartMarriageRight.com, and FortheFamily.org. You can follow Danielle on Instagram here and Pinterest here.

5 Comments
  • Great post. I too am exploring Lent more intentionally this year and just last week shared 15 Lenten resources. I feel called to depth. Taking the time to let the Word of God seep deep within my heart this year. Also am writing 40 notes of encouragement to others. I am trying to take more time daily, then once a week to be silent and really listen to God.

    • Thanks for your comment, Jean, and I’ll check out your resources! And the 40 notes of encouragement is a GREAT idea! Thanks for sharing it.

  • Danielle, so glad you found me through Kelly so I could find you too. Don’t you love this whole blogging world. Anyway, I love this post. I am actually composing an email to my followers tonight about taking this Lenten journey together. Wrote an article in HomeLife Magazine this month about adding spiritual disciplines through Lent and am a contributing writer for our church devotional through Lent as well. It is such a meaningful season, but like you, I didn’t really grow up realizing that!

  • Thanks, Danielle, for sharing how you are observing Lent. Like you, I did not grow up with a Lenten tradition. Last year, my husband and I gave up sweets and every time, I felt a craving for it, I tried to remember to thank Christ for His much greater sacrifice for me. I also read through part of the book, Bread and Wine: Readings for Lent and Easter. It did make Easter much more meaningful. Blessings to you and yours.

  • Wonderful post, Danielle. Thanks for sharing. I overheard one of my students today explain to another student about what he thought Lent was…”just ashes on our forehead.” Guess I have more reading and then teaching to do. This will be a worthy challenge. Thanks again,

Articles

When Doing Justly, Loving Mercy, and Walking Humbly Stand at Odds

If your compassion far exceeds your capacity, here’s one way you can be sure to do justly, love mercy, and walk humbly.

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One of my life verses is Micah 6:8, “He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?”

It is one of my favorite verses because my heart has been so moved by the love Jesus has for me and the sacrifice He made for me that I am grateful to have a way to express my gratitude through acts of justice and mercy while walking humbly with God.

I have found at times, however, the call to do justice and love mercy come in conflict with the call to walk humbly with God. For me, one of the ways to walk humbly with God is to recognize my limitations. I have to put skin to the fact that I am not God which means saying, “no” to ministry requests. It means going to sleep when I could be spending time advocating for the harrowed and helpless in the world. It means limited seats at my table, limited funds in my bank account, and limited energy in my body cannot be ignored but respected and adhered to.

This is hard for me at times, especially when I scroll my Facebook feed and see friends who are caring for their really sick children, spouse, or other family member all while millions of refugees flee war torn countries and babies are slaughtered by the hundreds each day in our country through the abortion industry.

As I scroll, I receive texts about one family member’s surgery gone wrong and another family member announcing a new baby is on the way. I have in mind my neighbor who has inpatient surgery scheduled this week and another neighbor who is trying to hold down a full-time job, care for twins all while battling profound “morning” sickness.

Folks at church are fighting for their lives in physical and spiritual ways, and strangers who pass me on the road are clearly battling something as demonstrated by their impatient honking because I won’t take a right turn on red. I want to meet the needs of all; I want to do justice and love mercy, but I’m daily confronted by the fact that I am so limited.

What am I to do when doing justly and/or loving mercy seem to come in conflict with walking humbly with my God?

God keeps bringing me to this answer: prayer.

God invites us to cast our cares before Him because He cares for us.
God tells us to be anxious for nothing BUT WITH PRAYER present our requests before Him.
God commands us to pray without ceasing.

And, when I walk humbly with God, I see the immense kindness in His command.
He gives us a way to do justly, love mercy WHILE walking humbly with Him.
It is by praying without ceasing.

I cannot take a meal or give money to every sick person or family I know. I cannot extend kindness to all my neighbors all at the same time they’re in need nor conjure up sustainable solutions for the refugee crisis and contact all the necessary world powers to make it happen.

I cannot heal all, but I know the Healer.

I cannot provide for all the needs, but I know the Provider.

I cannot rescue everyone in need, but I know the Rescuer.

I cannot comfort all the broken, but I know the Comforter.

I cannot speak peace over every situation, but I know the Prince of Peace.

I cannot be all to all, but I can go to the Great I Am through prayer, lay all the people, problems and pleas for help before the Omniscient and Omnipresent God of all Creation.

I can do this through prayer.

Recently, via an Instagram contest of all things, I came upon A–Z prayer cards designed by blogger/author/speaker, Amelia Rhodes. It is a simple concept packed with a powerful prayer punch. It has served me personally in this tension of wanting to do far more than I practically can do. It provides prayer prompts starting with each letter of the alphabet along with a scripture that coincides with the prayer focus. It ranges from Adoption to a creative “Zero Prejudice” for the letter “Z.”

The cards are well thought out, color printed on sturdy cardstock with blank lines for the user to write in the names of people and/or organizations that are personal to them.

If, like me, your compassion far exceeds your capacity, pick up a set of these prayer cards and unload your burdens onto a God whose competence matches His kindness, both boundless.

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Articles

Facing Our Fears in Motherhood

Do you have fears tied to motherhood? If so, here’s encouragement for you.

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“Are you scared?”

I was taken aback by his question. Scared? Of what?

“Of anything,” he answered.

I had just shared my due date with a new class of trainees.

“He has three boys,” another new hire volunteered. So fear is to be expected, I reasoned. I’m just about to face the most frightening experience in my life.

Of course I was scared.

I was scared…

  • I’ll lose my temper.
  • I’ll whine about sleepless nights.
  • I’ll breastfeed too often or not often enough.
  • I’ll leave piles of unfolded onesies in the middle of the nursery floor because I’m too tired (or lazy?) to fold teeny-tiny baby clothes for the upteenth time.
  • I’ll go with disposable diapers when the better choice would be cloth.
  • I’ll work too many long hours at the office and miss precious moments with her.
  • I’ll sign her up for too many activities and push her to become Miss Achieve-It-All.
  • I’ll pass on to her my ugly pride, self-righteousness, and perfectionism like a dreadful contagious disease.
  • I’ll miss countless little joys in life while pursuing worthless dreams.

Facing Our Fears in MotherhoodIn short… I was afraid I was going to fail miserably as a parent.

And now, holding my second-born daughter in my arms, thinking back on that brief exchange just a few years ago, I realize those fears were well-founded. I’ve failed many times. I’ve lost my temper. I’ve raised my voice. I’ve worked too much and played too little. I’ve seen my own sinfulness reflected in my daughter.

Yes, I’ve failed, but over and above it all, God’s grace has covered my parenting imperfections and made me run to the cross day after day. The writer of Proverbs puts it this way:

Whoever fears the LORD has a secure fortress, and for their children it will be a refuge.
Proverbs 14:26

When it comes to fears, we have two choices: Will we fear the unknown or will we fear the Lord? Will we allow the uncertain to grip us in its clutch or will we turn to God’s Truth to set us free?

Scared? Oh yeah. There was so much to be scared of that day. And even now, if I’m completely honest, there are still fears nibbling at the edges of my consciousness. Fear that we won’t outgrow the temper tantrums. Fear that the two girls won’t get along. Fear that I’ll mess them up and cause them interminable hours on a psychologist’s couch.

I’m sure you have fears, too.

But rather than allow those fears to consume and paralyze us, we can take them to the Lord, acknowledging His sovereignty over our parenting, pleading His grace over our mistakes, and entrusting His provision over their futures. He is not only able to handle it all — He is far more capable to be trusted with it all.

If I say one thing to that frightened 9-month-pregnant me standing in that room years ago, I would say this: Don’t let fear rob today’s joy with tomorrow’s unknowns. Each day has enough worries of its own (Matthew 6:34).

Instead, let us keep seeking God, running to Him as our secure fortress and resting in the knowledge that He will care for us and our children one day at a time.

What are you scared of today? Name your fears and bring them to the Lord, allowing Him to replace them with His peace that passes all understanding.

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He Gives Shade To The Weary

If anxiety is a struggle for you right now, remember that He gives shade to the weary.

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Do you ever have those moments of fear because you don’t know what lies ahead? When do those thoughts tend to happen to you?

For me, most of those thoughts happen when I lay my head down to sleep at night. The vulnerability comes forth every time. That’s what happened the other night to me. I shut my eyes and immediately anxiety welled up inside me.

What if we don’t succeed in this new venture? What if we have to move? What if we can’t pay our bills?

I laid there with the covers drawn tight over my head (I still think that I am safer if the covers are over my head), praying scripture over my anxious heart. Assuring myself that God sees me and that He cares.

In the morning, I turned to Isaiah 41, specifically verses 10-20.

“Do not fear, for I am with you; Do not anxiously look about you, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, surely I will help you, Surely I will uphold you with My righteous right hand.” (Isaiah 41:10, NASB)

Yesterday, the “what if’s” piled up as I anxiously looked about me. My daughter needs tutoring, however at this point in life, tutoring feels like a luxury we can’t afford. So I listed some items online to sell hoping to make just enough to cover the tutoring. I’m buying groceries on a Visa reward card. I’m holding my breath until the next paycheck comes. But what did God speak over me: Do not fear. Do not look anxiously about you.

“For I am the Lord your God, who upholds your right hand, Who says to you, ‘Do not fear, I will help you.’ Do not fear, you worm Jacob, you men of Israel; I will help you,” declares the Lord, “and your Redeemer is the Holy One of Israel.” (Isaiah 41:13-14 NASB)

Why shouldn’t I be anxious? Because God will hold me up. God will help me. When I first read the word “worm” as a description, I took it as a slam against Israel. Like, gesh, God. What animal does He relate me to? But through further study, He calls them a worm because worms are helpless. They are viewed as insignificant, despised and weak. God will help me — seemingly insignificant, helpless me — because He is my Redeemer. He is my go’el — my next of kin. The Redeemer is the one who provides for all my needs. Rent. Car payment. Credit card bill. Gas. Food. Clothes. Debt. God will redeem.

He Gives Shade to the Weary

“Behold, I have made you a new, sharp threshing sledge with double edges; You will thresh the mountains and pulverize them, And will make the hills like chaff. You will winnow them, and the wind will carry them away, And the storm will scatter them; But you will rejoice in the Lord, You will glory in the Holy One of Israel.” (Isaiah 41:15-16 NASB).

God is transforming me from a helpless one to a powerful one. The description of that type of threshing sledge is like a modern day earth mover. Powerful. Strong. Immovable.

“The afflicted and needy are seeking water, but there is none, And their tongue is parched with thirst; I, the Lord, will answer them Myself, As the God of Israel I will not forsake them.” (Isaiah 41:17, NASB)

He will come to our rescue. God, Himself, will answer you and me. Can you hear how personal that sounds? Have you ever pleaded with someone important whether your boss, public figure, or even a parent, and they responded to the need themselves? You expected for them to send their assistant, but instead they — the most important one — responded to you.

“I will open rivers on the bare heights And springs in the midst of the valleys; I will make the wilderness a pool of water And the dry land fountains of water. I will put the cedar in the wilderness, The acacia and the myrtle and the olive tree; I will place the juniper in the desert Together with the box tree and the cypress.” (Isaiah 41:18-19, NASB)

This passage describes the wilderness-like times in life. You are barren. You are thirsty. You are hot. You are in need. God will provide what you need. God will quench your thirst. He will provide shade when you are weary. During those times, God can provide in creative, innovative ways. He can provide something out of nothing. Doesn’t that give you great hope? Even when you can’t answer how He will do it, He is creative enough to figure it out even when the odds are stacked against you.

“That they may see and recognize, And consider and gain insight as well, That the hand of the Lord has done this, And the Holy One of Israel has created it.” (Isaiah 41:20 NASB).

God will do all of this so that His glory will be put on display. People — including yourself — will see that He is powerful.

So you can see how after a night of wrestling with fear and anxiety, reading this was like shade and water for my soul. God is a god who sees. And God is a god who acts on your behalf.

What do you need His help with today? What are you fearful about today? What keeps you awake at night? Where do you need some shade?

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Remembering Him

by Danielle Ayers Jones time to read: 4 min
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