Returning

Stopping by the Woods © Lynn Abbott Studios. Used with Permission

© 2015 Lynn Abbott

Like most, older brothers, he was a terrible tease.  But as a sensitive 7-year-old, I didn’t fully understand that.

And as a result,  one Christmas season, I made a  heart-breaking decision. Heart-breaking for a 7-year-old, that is.

It began simply enough.  While we watched the commercials during our favorite Saturday morning cartoons, my brother ridiculed the latest doll craze.

Of course, as an adult, I understand that he was just fishing, looking for Christmas gift ideas.

However, I idolized my brother who was eight years my senior.  If he thought something were “stupid,” then that made it so for me.

I did balk a little at his Saturday morning ridicule.  After all, most of my friends wanted the miniature, pocket-sized doll.

To be honest, I was fascinated by anything miniature.

I frequently set up tiny worlds in our side garden; fairytale gardens, white picket fences,  plastic forest creatures, and a veritable menagerie of tiny toys populated the ground cover that my parents identified as “baby tears.”

Today’s pristine, fairy villages–available for purchase at many garden centers–would have delighted me.

But given my brother’s apparent disdain, I would never admit I had even given that doll any consideration.

You can well imagine my horror when several weeks later I accidentally spotted the packaged doll tucked away in my brother’s closet.

He  planned to humiliate me  on Christmas morning! That much was absolutely clear to my seven-year-old self.

I felt nauseous.  My brother thought me ridiculous and planned to “announce” it to the entire family on Christmas morning.

Or so it seemed to me.

For this reason, when I spied him later that day, I made especially sure that he overheard me ridiculing the doll.

Stopping by the Woods on a Snowy Eve, copyright 2015, Lynn Abbott with watermarkMy words must have struck home because come Christmas morning I did not find the doll under the Christmas tree.

I imagine my brother returned his  purchase.  And secretly?  I was both relieved and disappointed.

After all, all the other girls in my neighborhood received that pint-sized doll for Christmas.

“But what could I do?” I thought.

I struggled with the epic choice between my brother and the neighborhood girls.  I could maintain his respect or fit in with my friends.

Obviously, my brother won.

Today, I laugh at my seven-year-old conundrum.

And I marvel at my big brother’s grace.  After all, he still speaks to me!

Amazing.

As I reflect during this season, however, it occurs to me that my holiday “madness” sprouted that Christmas long ago.

Perhaps, like me, you find yourself scrambling each Christmas to please others or to live up to their unspoken expectations, real or otherwise.

Or maybe, you have spent hours combing the retail landscape for that special “must-have” item for your young or adult child…

Keeping up with the latest trends, or making everyone happy seems to be the overwhelming burden of the season.

And ironically, Thanksgiving Day inaugurates these weeks of retail acquisition.  It’s almost laughable…our day of gratitude marks the beginning of our quest for more.

But sadly, it’s easy to lose thanks giving in the midst of all the Christmas hustle.

As I began my annual decorating on Saturday night, one of my favorite Christmas songs played softly.

“…we can find grace, mercy and forgiveness
He has come to save, He is all of these…

You’re the Savior we’ve been praying for.
In our humble hearts, You will dwell
You are in us, You are for us, You are with us, Emmanuel…” ~Casting Crowns

The lyrics gently filled my home.  I stopped my work for a moment and inhaled the quiet.

Stopping by the Woods on a Snowy Eve, copyright 2015, Lynn Abbott with watermarkIn that moment, I realized that I had allowed my seasonal busy-ness to blur the  essential.

Blinded by an avalanche of expectations, I simply pushed through the holiday “storm.”

But in the silence of Saturday night, I revisited what I learned eight years ago…to live each moment in simple gratitude for God’s grace. Cancer has a way of putting life in perspective.

But this past Saturday, as I decorated our home, my memories led me to reflect further. I recalled another place and time, and I pondered truth revealed in a Biblical account of miraculous healing.

In Luke 17, Jesus traveled to Jerusalem; he moved, in fact, toward his ultimate earthly mission.

He and his disciples planned to celebrate the Passover in Jerusalem.  You could say that at that time, the Passover brought Israel together just as Thanksgiving brings the United States together today.

People traveled great distances to celebrate the holy day.

It was a season of gratitude, remembering the way Yahweh had delivered the nation of Israel from the tenth plague in Egypt.

It was a national holiday celebrating all that God had done for them; all of Israel remembered their protection by God from the plague of death that visited the first-born of Egypt (Exodus 12:21-41).

In fact, God had not only protected the fledgling nation, but He had also lead them to freedom.

Thus, on Passover, families gathered to break bread together, to remember Yahweh’s provision and His grace, and to offer thanks.

Specifically, they remembered the sacrificial lamb whose blood marked their doors in Egypt, identifying their faith in and dependence upon Yahweh.

The angel of death had passed over those whose households were identified with the blood of the lamb.

The Passover Lamb.

And so, in Luke 17, Jesus returned to Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover. Yes, He knew what awaited him Stopping by the Woods on a Snowy Eve, copyright 2015, Lynn Abbott with watermarkthere.  As I read the Gospels, it becomes clear that He journeyed with a heavy heart.

His mission, although motivated by the deepest of love for you and me, would require everything from Him.

Yet, on this journey, somewhere between Samaria and Galilee, He stopped to give grace and healing.

Luke tells us that as He entered a village, ten leprous men called to Jesus from a distance.  Leprosy was the death sentence of its day…slowly, wasting away, these men were set apart and their lives irretrievably altered by their disease.

They lived outside normal.  Their disease required a different life for them.  For them, there were no white picket fences in Samaria or Galilee.  They lived on the outskirts.

They became a community, a collection of lepers.  And that day, they buoyed one another as they made a bold request.

I can relate to that.  Cancer impacts people in a similar way.

One early winter morning, I became especially aware of this when I answered the persistent buzz of the doorbell. The delivery driver smiled, and brought in my new chair.  A comfy chair becomes nearly a necessity when you are so very sick.

I thanked him profusely for setting the chair in place.

Before the driver left, he turned to me and said, “You’re one of mine, aren’t you?”

I gave him a puzzled look.

He nodded, acknowledging my confusion.  Then, he removed his ski cap, and proudly displayed a head of newly grown, albeit very short, hair.

I suddenly smiled in recognition and also nodded, noting my own knit cap. Thus launched a discussion of what one of my friends has labeled, “camp chemo.”

Not only did we compare hair growth, but we also shared our own brand of medical humor.

Stopping by the Woods on a Snowy Eve, copyright 2015, Lynn Abbott with watermarkWe’d brushed with death, walked the cold valleys, and sounded the depths of our souls. And yet, we survived.

A word, a knowing smile and a warm, compassionate touch of hand to shoulder communicated more than a year’s worth of dinner conversations. In those brief moments, a man from another city in another part of the state became my brother.

Without a doubt, chemo makes it impossible to ignore the illness.  A cancer patient stands out.

And even though some wear wigs and do their best to put a good face on things, the battle within still rages.

Although cancer patients do not suffer in the same way as lepers nor are they generally isolated from the rest of the population, their symptoms certainly signal an immune system under attack.

Cancer, of course, results from damaged or rogue cells whereas leprosy begins as an infection.

Yet, left unchecked, both cancer and leprosy lead to death.

The ten lepers that day on the road to Jerusalem, however, were as fortunate as my delivery friend and I.  The Healer, Abba’s Passover Lamb, traveled through their village.

And their encounter with Him would forever change their lives. He would deliver them  from the angel of death.

They cried out, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!” (Luke 17:13).

Jesus didn’t hesitate.  He simply said, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.”

At first glance, that seems an odd response.  But in Jewish culture, the priests were required to judge whether or not something was clean or unclean.  The lepers had been designated as unclean and as a result, quarantined outside the city.

The priest would officially declare them “clean.”  In fact, Abba often uses people and human institutions to touch lives.

For me, my physician gave me the official release from chemo. He confirmed the miracle of my healing.

In faith, then,  ten lepers made their way to the priests.  They believed that Christ had made them whole.

As they went, they were healed.  I can only imagine their tears of gratitude and relief; their shouts of joy and celebration.

I suspect a good many of them broke into a run.  They probably couldn’t wait to be declared clean and to reunite with their families and friends. Stopping by the Woods on a Snowy Eve, copyright 2015, Lynn Abbott with watermark

But one stopped.

One leper returned to the place where he and his friends met Jesus.

One celebrated the Healer, first and foremost.

One leper recognized the Abba’s Passover Lamb.  One worshiped the Healer who in mercy and grace had delivered the unclean from death.

There would be time to find the priests.  There would be time to celebrate with family and friends.

The picket fence would wait.  The approval of priests would come.

But Jesus was there.  Right then.

And the one leper returned to express his deep gratitude to his Savior.  The healed stopped to thank the Healer.

First. Foremost.

And in the quiet of last Saturday evening, as I meditated upon the grace, mercy and forgiveness I have found in Christ, my heart also filled with gratitude.

You see, I am not only a cancer survivor… I am also a sin survivor.

Without a doubt, the human soul is damaged.  Our hearts have gone rogue.

“All of us like sheep have gone astray, Each of us has turned to his own way…” writes Isaiah (Isaiah 53:6a).

It’s true. We all suffer from spiritual leprosy, spiritual cancer.  Some are just better than others at putting a good face on it. Even so, the unchecked disease promises the same outcome.

And so it is that during this season of national thanksgiving,  I remember my life-changing encounter with Christ, the Passover Lamb.

On the road to Calvary, He thought of you and me.

And you and I are healed when we place our faith and dependence in Him.

We cry, “Master, have mercy!”

Without hesitation, the Passover Lamb suffered to grant us a clean bill of spiritual health.

“You are one of mine,” Christ says.

You betcha.  As I decorated last Saturday, I thought, “There will be time later for gifting. First, I must return to thank Him.”

On that “silent night,” I remembered…

This time of year isn’t about the latest craze offered by any superstore.

Neither is it about pleasing others nor gaining their approval.

Even though the people around me are truly important, there is someone infinitely more essential.  Truly, I owe everything to the Passover Lamb who gave it all for you and me.

In the midst of the busy-ness, in my hurry to arrive at my next destination, I don’t want to miss Him.

I don’t want to miss His light in the midst of life’s trees, in my hurry to respond to all that clamors for my time and attention.

Rather, I wish to pause. Stopping in the woods, I will choose to rest in His presence.

My heart will whisper gratitude for Abba’s mercy and grace

Stopping by the Woods on a Snowy Eve, copyright 2015, Lynn Abbott with watermarkI will remember His Passover.  I will thank the Lamb of God.

Indeed, you and I celebrate our “clean bill of health.”

Most importantly, we return once more to exalt the Healer, the One about whom it is written, “by His stripes, we are healed,” (Isaiah 53:5).

Yes, this season, we pause to worship Him. First and foremost.

“Surely our griefs He Himself bore, And our sorrows He carried…As a result of the anguish of His soul… By His knowledge, the Righteous One, My Servant, will justify the many, As He will bear their iniquities,”

~ Isaiah 53:4a, 11