Month: April 2015

Pizza on the floor and empty-house dancing

My fiancée Rachel and I bought a house recently. It’s an older home — over 100 years standing — with great character and in a good location. It’s a quick walk from a quaint little downtown, a hop, skip, and a jump from a lake, and is a much shorter work commute for both of us.

I previously owned a townhouse during our courtship, which I had been in the process of purchasing when we first met. Not wanting to start our marriage with two mortgages, I immediately placed my townhouse on the market and was blessed to have it sold within a week — at a profit, no less. That’s something I never thought would happen in just one year of owning it and after I had taken a substantial loss on my previous home during the market crash last decade.

Interestingly, the closing of my townhouse and our new home were the exact same date. Knowing full well that the hassles of selling a home while also buying one, and getting all the paperwork and other logistics done in a timely fashion, doesn’t always work in one’s favor, I was pleased that the stars aligned and worked out so well. I feel blessed that God showered blessings down upon us.

One of my fondest memories of my townhouse was that it was the hub for good bonding between Rachel and me. As I mentioned, I was in the middle of buying the place when we met. The first time Rachel saw the place was at the inspection. I brought her along to get a view of the place we might spend nights curled up on the couch watching movies and the kitchen in which we might have home-cooked dinners. As the inspector was making the rounds checking out all the nooks and crannies and testing everything the layperson knows nothing about, Rachel and I were relaxing on the newly-carpeted living room floor and decided to take a selfie together. To this day, after hundreds of photos, that particular one is still one of my favorite pictures we’ve ever taken together.

The next time Rachel and I were in the townhouse together was the day I officially bought it. After the closing in the afternoon, I drove to the empty house and Rachel and her mother met me there. We popped some champagne and they presented me with some generous housewarming gifts. Rachel bought me a beautiful painting of the Last Supper which I proudly hung in the kitchen above the table. I love that picture, not only for what’s in it but what’s behind it as well.

I bought the townhouse as a foreclosure, but unlike most other foreclosures that are in some kind of distress, this place was newer and in great shape. All it needed was some painting and personal touch.

Rachel’s parents were generous with their time and resources and offered to help me paint my new place. As a young man who was moving out of his parents’ house, I didn’t exactly own an extension ladder that could reach the upper walls of my two-story living room. Plus, drop cloths and paint brushes can be expensive. I was already paying a fortune for the various paints I’d be using in almost every room in the house. I was grateful for the resources.

As Rachel, her parents, and I began the tall task of giving the townhouse a little color, the bonding began in earnest. Rachel and I were only a little over a month into our courtship so I not only was getting to know her parents but obviously a little more about her as well. We spent early mornings on weekends rolling paint and eating doughnuts and late nights after work listening to 80s music on the ol’ boombox. That one night that Rachel and I spent sitting in my empty loft eating pizza — Lou Malnati’s, the best there is — is also one my fondest memories with her.

After the townhouse received a little color, the final piece of the puzzle was filling it up. As I noted, I was moving out of my parents’ house and didn’t exactly have a full set of furniture. Rachel’s parents just happened to have extra furniture lying around and generously offered to let me use them. Think about how gracious an offer that was for parents to loan their daughter’s boyfriend couches, a bedroom set, and various accessories just two months into their relationship.

Once we lugged in the big furniture — another chance for Rachel’s father and I to bond — the place was almost complete. But to transition it from a bachelor pad — a hodgepodge of random things — into a cohesive home, the place needed a little decor and what they call a woman’s touch.

One day I came home from work and entered through the garage to one of the best surprises ever. There was a nice rug beneath my feet instead of the tile floor of the kitchen. There were placemats on the kitchen table, pictures on the freshly-painted walls, and accessories neatly arranged. Rachel proudly led me on the grand tour of the home she worked hard that day to set up. The living room had lamps and couch pillows, a picture of us on the end table, and a coffee table replete with a candle and reading material. The loft upstairs was transformed into a nice little office space with a table for my MacBook, bookcases with my favorite books and movies, and a makeshift filing system for my bills and important documents. The master bedroom looked like a wonderful place to crash after a long day. Another lamp, a plant, a little box to put my valuables, and a nicely-made bed.

It was a nice surprise for Rachel to take the day off work and transition my new place from a house to a home. It capped off a whirlwind experience from an empty, white-walled foreclosure into a cozy, furnished home. Getting from A to Z took a lot of hard work, but the memories and bonding experiences along the way from B to Y are moments etched in time that I’ll remember forever.

Now that Rachel and I have a new house together, we have the opportunity to further detail the story of our lives.

The house is still empty. It needs to be painted and given a deep, thorough cleaning before we move in all our stuff — that which we own, plus all the generous shower gifts we’ve gotten from friends and family. The big move won’t take place until a month from now just before our wedding, so that the house is set up when we move in together after our honeymoon. In the meantime, I’m currently “roughing it” on an air mattress in the guest bedroom with clothes strewn about and a TV sitting on the floor in the corner. Ideal living conditions? Of course not, but that’s the fun of it. It’s something I’ll remember years down the road.

Rachel and I started painting together this week and also spent a half hour dancing in our barren living room, preparing for the first dance on our upcoming wedding day. Much like last year’s pizza dinner in the loft, I already have another favorite moment to add to the memory bank.

He lives, I live

It’s Easter Sunday, the most important holiday of the Christian faith, for Jesus rose from the dead and ascended into heaven to give all Christians hope for eternal life.

Without the resurrection, where would we be? We’d be wandering the earth aimlessly without any real purpose or meaning. We’d be specks of dust that blow away and are soon forgotten. But with Christ’s sacrifice and God’s love for all his children individually, we live a life full of meaning, one that is a temporal period of time on this planet but eternal when our time is called.

What a joyous Easter Sunday this has been, spending the morning worshipping at church and then splitting time with both my fiancée’s family as well as mine. And all throughout the day I couldn’t help but replay in my mind the lyrics of the Matt Maher song, “Because He Lives”:

I was dead in the grave
I was covered in sin and shame
I heard mercy call my name
He rolled the stone away
Amen, Amen
I’m alive, I’m alive
Because He lives

Matt Maher, “Because He Lives”

My sins, my nails, my cross

I had never before heard the sound of a nail being driven into a cross before Friday night. And when I did, needless to say, I was none too pleased with how it sounded.

As Holy Week continues, Good Friday was filled with profound sadness in remembrance of Jesus’ crucifixion on the cross.

I think we often take for granted just how big a sacrifice Jesus made for us when his blood was shed for the forgiveness of our sins. What is the biggest sacrifice you’ve ever made? Do you tithe or give regular offerings at church? Do you volunteer your valuable time for the benefit of others? Have you given up eating something you enjoyed, drinking something so tasty, or ceased spending money on that which has dug its claws into you?

All of these are noble sacrifices, to be sure. But if you had the opportunity to lay down your life for random strangers, would you do it? Knowing that it wouldn’t be a quick, painless death but a gruesome, torturous one?

But the interesting fact about Jesus’ sacrifice is that it wasn’t for random strangers, but for his brothers and sisters. For us. In God’s holy family. And our sins helped nail our brother, our Lord and savior, to the cross.

In my previous entry, I had mentioned that the church I attend does a good job of placing you in the moment, giving you a feel for the way things unfolded in biblical times. While it can never truly replicate how things really occurred in Jesus’ day, the imagery does reach down deep inside your soul and tug on the strings of your heart.

On Thursday night, I described breaking bread and drinking wine with my fellow brothers and sisters in Christ in homage to the Last Supper. I then described escaping into the nave of the church where it was quiet and dark, save for a scattering of candles, to pray and reflect like Jesus did in the garden of Gethsemane before he was arrested. At the base of the stage was an imposing cross, an ominous reminder of the savage experience that awaited Jesus the next day.

Friday night, the congregation at my church received quite the wakeup call with an all-too real demonstration of what our sins really did to Jesus.

During the service, we were asked to reflect on what sins we were battling, and we were given a piece of paper on which to write them down. As the pastor shared passages from the Bible, detailing the arrest, trial, and crucifixion of Jesus, we all sat in our chairs, sin-filled papers still in our hands, and wondered what exactly we were going to do with them.

My best guess at the time was that we would be told to take the paper home with us and keep it in a conspicuous place this weekend where we could be reminded of what sins sent Jesus to the cross.

The church took it one step further in a more powerful way.

Row by row, as we would normally take communion, we approached the cross and were given a hammer and a nail, asked to nail our piece of paper — our sins, our guilty verdict, our death sentence — to the cross.

Talk about powerful imagery.

My fiancée and I were among the first to go up, which means I got an up-close and personal account of the first nails being driven into the cross.

Clank! Clank! Clank! echoed through the church as hammer hitting nail, metal striking metal, produced a sound much louder than I had anticipated.

I had always known consciously that Jesus paid the penalty of death for my sins, and that even though I wasn’t around 2,000 years ago driving the nails through His flesh, by my sins — my yet to be committed sins but the inevitable sins — I was directly responsible for his crucifixion. It was at that moment, though, as I positioned my paper and nail near the center of the cross, that I truly understood what it meant for my sins to be nailed to the cross. The metaphor was about as real as it got.

Sure, there was no body hanging, no screams of agony, no blood shed that night. But there was pain. And it firmly filled the hearts of every man, woman and child swinging the hammer. And as I sat back and watched the long line of sinners approach the cross, hearing the hammer hitting nails more audibly in my head than was probably actually occurring, I couldn’t help but think of the numerous everyday sins that we commit that caused Jesus’ death sentence.

Stubborn pride? Clank! Lying? Clank! Idolatry of money or celebrities? Clank! Clank! Anger, hatred, or wrath? Clank! Clank! Clank! Gluttony or over-indulgence? Clank! Lust? Clank! Using the Lord’s name in vain? Clank! Impure or sinful thoughts, words, or deeds? Clank! … Clank! … Clank! …

The metaphor had to be one of the strongest emotional experiences I’ve ever witnessed in church and I am actually grateful for having gone through it. It brought my sins to light and showed me exactly what I’m doing when I’m sinning.

While the moment may have lasted but a brief period in time, the Clank! that I hear inside my head will echo forever. And maybe, just maybe, it’ll help make me a better man, sinner and all.

The anxiety of Maundy Thursday causes inevitable personal reflection

It’s Holy Week for all of God’s children and there is always a wave of emotion that accompanies it. Today we honor Maundy Thursday.

“Maundy” refers to the “washing of the feet” when Jesus, as the Godly and human leader, showed great sacrifice and servitude by washing the feet of his followers, a lowly task normally reserved for slaves and servants in that time.

Maundy Thursday also commemorates the Last Supper when Jesus met with his disciples for the final time before his betrayal and crucifixion.

While Christmas Eve happens to be my favorite day of the year — for many reasons, among which are the traditions, family time, and excitement of the coming birth of Jesus — Maundy Thursday just happens to amount to the polar opposite of that day. It’s filled with anxiety over the anticipation of the death and suffering of Jesus.

The church that I go to does a good job trying to set the mood in a manner which might help us better identify the meaning of each significant event throughout the year. For Maundy Thursday, we gathered around tables in the church’s dimly-lit narthex — or “atrium”, if you will. We prayed, we broke bread and drank wine, we communed with our brothers and sisters, and we worshipped as well. It was meant to symbolize what the Last Supper was like for Jesus and his disciples.

By the end of the night, we were invited to enter the sanctuary, except it was pitch black, save for candles providing a source of light. It was our “escape” to pray and contemplate, another symbolic gesture to commemorate when Jesus entered the garden of Gethsemane as he awaited his captors.

At the foot of the stage was a cross with nails in it that looked as though it was being prepared for a crucifixion. It was powerful imagery, and when I closed my eyes, it wasn’t difficult to imagine the angst that Jesus must have felt, knowing that a painful suffering awaited him.

It might be one thing for death row inmates to know they’re facing execution. Many of them welcome death and understand that they are guilty and deserving of a death sentence. But it’s a completely different thing for a sinless and righteous man — one undeserving of such torture — to know that it’s his duty to face the cross, and yet have a difficult time coming to grips with human suffering and mortality.

In those quiet moments in the darkened church with an imposing cross on display, I couldn’t help but be reminded of the ultimate sacrifice paid by Jesus to save us all from the death our sins deserve. To know what kind of pain and suffering awaited him, but to endure it for us anyway, is the greatest display of love I could ever imagine.

Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.

John 15:13 (NIV)

Who am I — who are we — that we should be so deserving of a sacrifice? It’s both humbling and uplifting to know we have a savior and redeemer who wants nothing more from us than the love he has for us.