Advent: The joy of being fully known

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God sees the miraculous beauty of each individual snowflake, just like He sees the miraculous individuality that is you. There is nothing about you that He doesn’t know. Isn’t that what we all want? To be seen and known by those we love most and who we hope loves us most? What could be any better? To be seen and known by the God who created us?

There is no better feeling in the world than to be with someone who knows you so well that you even breathe easier when they’re around. It’s like when they’re around you know that everything will be okay, or they will say something to make it okay.

Jesus came near not to get to know us better, because He already knows us better than anyone. He came so that we might believe more readily in a God who knew what it felt like to be human. To be lonely. To be misunderstood. To feel like no one understands you. To feel like no one really knows or values the real you.  And isn’t it wonderful to know that even if you were betrayed by every last person on this earth, that God would never betray you. Never abandon you.

The beauty of God coming near is that even when trust is broken by someone you gave your heart to, there is always hope for healing if you want it. The Holy Spirit is the binder of anything and everything that is broken. And our great hope in Heaven is that there, we will finally fully know and fully love each other with the perfect love we just can’t seem to master down here.

This Advent, God is calling you to draw near. Enjoy the wonder of having a God who knows you intimately like a favorite well-worn sweater. Wrap His love around you and pour out your grief to One who is well acquainted with it.

Seek healing and comfort in His Presence today.

Now we see things imperfectly, like puzzling reflections in a mirror, but then we will see everything with perfect clarity. All that I know now is partial and incomplete, but then I will know everything completely, just as God now knows me completely. 1 Corinthians 13:12 NLT

Advent: Beating back the darkness

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The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned.

To think that a baby–one you could physically see and touch–one like any other, totally dependent on another’s care could grow to be our Savior and the Savior of the world. This is the wonder of Advent and it’s ours to ponder yet again…..right along with Mary and Joseph and the dumbstruck Shepherds watching their flocks.

Even more amazing is that much of the world has still rejected that Light when all they have to do is turn and open their eyes and hearts. Even those of us who know and have embraced Him as Savior and Lord are still stumbling around much of the time in darkness. “Come Lord Jesus! Beat back the darkness of this world and calm the storm in each of our hearts!”

If not for Him, this world would be a pretty bleak place.

For the peace that He offers rests in our every difficult circumstance, our every sleepless night…….that is our great hope now and forever, that’s the hope of Advent.

Each light in my home is not to honor Santa or Satan, (as some legalistic hardliners will have you believe), it’s to honor Christ. Each string that bursts forth brilliance and color represents the unapproachable Light that emanates from His throne. Each sparkle on the tree represents the Light that shone, reflecting on each face in the stable that night. Each twinkle reminds me of the Angelic host that stupefied the Shepherds out tending their flocks.

Let’s beat back the darkness this Advent…….our world needs Him like never before. Seek out the quiet moments, listen for the rustle of Angel wings and the sound of a baby crying across the hollow plains, for unto us a child is born, a Savior is given……..And of His reign, their will be no end.

You who bring Good News to Zion, go up on a high mountain. You who bring Good News to Jerusalem, lift up your voice with a shout, lift it up and do not be afraid. Say to the towns of Judah, Here is your God. Isaiah 40: 9

Resurrection in the Desert

There was a chill in the air this morning that sparked a feeling of being awakened to new life. It conjured all kinds of memories of fall and the holidays and warm socks and pumpkin pie and sugar cookies at Christmas, and Bach playing while fire-colored leaves twist and fall like rain to the earth. There were a few days earlier this fall where it was chilly, but we knew those times were flukes fashioned to tease us, because we still had a few triple digits to come after.

Now, however, the chill and the hope are real because we know that the monstrous heat is gone, having released its death grip on us until next year.

While most of America turned their clocks back, our clocks remained steadfastly fixed where they were. Arizona is one of a few rebel states that doesn’t participate in daylight savings time. There is a little self-satisfied pride that comes with this I think. A kind of thumbing our nose at everyone else, because it’s the one little independence we still have to separate us from the status quo. Maybe that’s just me.

 This morning I walked in the dark with a sweatshirt, a welcome change. Fall here means that life begins again. Winter visitors come back and spruce up their yards and repairs are made to bicycles and fireplaces and BBQ’s alike spark to life. Everyone comes outside.

Advent feels closer. Even saying it conjures peace. Soon I will put my little Christmas tree in the shop so I can have my quiet time with its cheery brightness sparkling from the little shelf where it shines to remind me of when Christ came near, when He touched down on this earth so long ago. And how He prays for me from the depths of the unapproachable Light of Heaven even at this moment.

Yes. It’s good, this time of year.

We Arizonans know it maybe more than most.

I turned Christmas music on today but it felt like betraying Thanksgiving, so I settled for some David Nevue on Pandora. It fit.

What can it possibly mean?

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I woke early this morning and it was cold. Cold for here anyway. Wrapping myself in the huge robe guaranteed to ward off any chill, I slogged out the door in my slippers to look at the temperature which read 46 degrees. All you people in the snow, I don’t know how you do it. I wimped out of praying in my usual spot out in the shop. I came back inside and settled back in my easy chair and turned the heat up. I felt a momentary sadness knowing that tomorrow I would be spending Christmas at work, but that sadness was fleeting.

On December 26 all the frenzy will be over, but Christ will remain, big as life. As I gaze figuratively at the face of the babe in the manger, I ask myself all over again what it really means. This God coming to earth. Who can possibly understand that kind of love? Who can truly grasp it? The love of a God who would voluntarily come down here to this planet rife with turbulence and every kind of heartache and sin.

How can I feel anything but unbridled joy, knowing He would do that for me? For you?

What it means for us Christians is that we pick up our crosses all over again as we do everyday, knowing that He will never expect us to carry as much as He did. My little cross, whatever it is will never lead to Calvary, but ultimately to Heaven. How can it possibly be?

The babe in the manger scares me sometimes to be honest because I look at that baby and I ask myself how my life would change if I really truly believed as I say I do? The manger means hard questions sometimes. Look what it meant for those to whom He came then……..

Mary was afraid.

Joseph wanted to divorce her quietly.

The Shepherd’s were shaking in their sandals on that night.

Herod was so threatened he murdered all first-born babies up to two years old.

The wise men journeyed hundreds of miles just to worship Him.

As I sit here in my chair pondering all this, I am overwhelmed with thanksgiving for a God that would love so much that He would risk it all, knowing we might still push Him away.

Every light is lit and the tree casts a glow that fills the room. Even these two old cats have caught my joy. They have turned into kittens momentarily, playing tag and dashing back and forth. I smile at their play as I opened to my devotional and read these words:

Lord, you have been our dwelling place
    throughout all generations.
 Before the mountains were born
    or you brought forth the whole world,
    from everlasting to everlasting you are God.

You turn people back to dust,
    saying, “Return to dust, you mortals.”
A thousand years in your sight
    are like a day that has just gone by,
    or like a watch in the night.

Yet you sweep people away in the sleep of death—
    they are like the new grass of the morning:
 In the morning it springs up new,
    but by evening it is dry and withered.

Psalm 90: 1-6

The question remains: What can it possibly mean? To me it means saying yes all over again. Sometimes it’s a feeble yes, sometimes a shaky yes. But it’s always a yes.

Merry Christmas from Lori’s Prayer Closet. I pray you know the joy of the Savior today.

How Many Kings?

But would we notice?

Follow the star to a place unexpected
Would you believe, after all we’ve projected, A child in a manger?
Lowly and small, the weakest of all
Unlikeliest hero, wrapped in his mother’s shawl – Just a child – Is this who we’ve waited for? ’cause…

How many kings step down from their thrones?
How many lords have abandoned their homes?
How many greats have become the least for me?
And how many gods have poured out their hearts

To romance a world that is torn all apart How many fathers gave up their sons for me?

Bringing our gifts for the newborn Savior All that we have, whether costly or meek Because we believe.
Gold for his honor, and frankincense for his pleasure And myrrh for the cross he will suffer Do you believe?
Is this who we’ve waited for?

Only one did that for me
All, all for me…..All for you.

“How Many Kings” by Downhere
Written by Marc A. Martel, Jason Ronald William Germain.

“Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.”

Isaiah 7:14

Who has believed our message? And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?
For He grew up before Him like a tender shoot,
And like a root out of parched ground;
He has no stately form or majesty
That we should look upon Him,
Nor appearance that we should be attracted to Him.
He was despised and forsaken of men,
A man of sorrows and acquainted with grief;
And like one from whom men hide their face
He was despised, and we did not esteem Him.

 Isaiah 53:1-3

All for you, all for me.

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The Best Gift You Can Give

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They watched from a small distance as kids and parents alike ran up with gifts…..little wrapped packages and decorative bags with fancy bows, plates of homeade cookies; all to show their appreciation for what she does for them everyday,  but mostly for who she is to them.

She’s not just the person who drives their school bus, she’s also  their friend. Oh, she makes them mind the rules of the bus, but she also makes it fun. She’s the one who will listen to what they say when it seems everyone else is too busy or doesn’t care.

She makes every ride to school an adventure, some days they’re an airplane, some days a cruise ship, some days she lets them choose. She will tell you all about the rewards and challenges of working with kids of all ages on a daily basis. Sometimes it just about wrenches her heart in two to see what hardships some of “the least of these” go through in their young lives.

He stepped forward first, the boy in the shadows. As one of several foster kids, his life has not been easy. He held up a colored string, on the end of which he had tied a tiny puff ball, the kind you might use to make a craft project. He said, “Miss Elaine, ths is all I have to give you.” It was all she could not to burst into tears right there.

Then the next two gifts, a multi-colored eraser with a slightly used corner and a little pink bouncy ball, the kind you get from the 25 cent machine in the grocery stores. She said, “My Mom says we don’t have any money.” Oh the burdens these kids carry. She hears them all on the way to and from school. Sometimes she wishes she didn’t.

Another child came and presenter her with a bag, in it were two candles. Well, turns out there were supposed to be three but he held onto the third one all day. At the end of the day, he presented her with it. It smelled like sugar cookies. He might have thought of keeping it himself and maybe his conscience made him give it up. Maybe it was his sister who caught him.

These kids teach us what we sometimes forget, that the best thing you can give is sometimes all you have. Jesus is impressed with that. Just like that day in the temple when He saw the widow drop those two lowly coins in the offering box. He looked at His disciples aghast and astounded by her faith and generousity.

Those three humble gifts that are now prominantly placed where they will never be forgotten. In the stable, by the infant King. I hope I will always remember it when I go to place my “excess” in the offering. And most importantly that I remember the most important lesson of all, that He doesn’t need or want my money, He wants my heart.

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What can I give Him, poor as I am?
If I were a shepherd, I would bring a lamb;
If I were a Wise Man, I would do my part;
Yet what I can I give Him: give my heart.

Christina Rossetti

Merry Christmas, (and the cat’s in heat.)

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There’s a Rose in Bethlehem
With a beauty quite divine
Perfect in this world of sin
On this silent holy night

There’s a fragrance much like hope
That it sends upon the wind
Reaching out to every soul
From a lowly manger’s crib

Oh, Rose of Bethlehem
How lovely, pure, and sweet
Born to glorify the Father
Born to wear the thorns for me……..

Rose of Bethlehem, Lowell Alexander

It was a cold and foggy morning as we drove my brother’s dog Tyler to the groomers’ and I was thrilled. We don’t get much fog in Arizona and I miss it. I dashed out of the car to snap a couple of pictures as we pulled out. I thought of these song lyrics as I saw this rosebud bravely clinging to life in the cold damp air. All along the drive, they were in various stages of bloom. Kind of like us. When all seems hopeless, faith dares us to dream. We press on when despair threatens to press in and overtake us like the fog that surrounded us that day. But there’s a thing about fog that I love. It only allows us to see what’s right in front of us, and that’s more than enough.

Everything in the background ceases to exist and for a moment, ceases to matter. Kind of like when we keep our eyes focused on Jesus. We know the problems are still there, but they are only ghostly shapes off in the distance. When He comes into focus, fears fade away and all we see is the beauty of His light. He says, “Look into my eyes, my child and tell me if you need to fear any of this…….I am here, and I have promised to never leave you.”

It was a good trip back home. It was productive and I was happy to be able to help out, giving my Mom a temporary break as “chief cook and bottle washer” in the kitchen and also helping my Dad out in the yard. There were the daily after school trips to “In and Out” burger with my niece, (fries and a vanilla shake). On one such trip, a conversation ensued that prompted my Mom to tell Dad that “she could still divorce him at 85.” He laughed.

As I unpacked I noticed a sticker I brought home from there. It was clinging to the sleeve where Lauryn put it, laughing. She loves to put them on everyone else but doesn’t want any on herself. I didn’t have the heart to take it off.

My first night there, my brother had arranged a Birthday surprise for Lauryn. One of the biggest floats at the Festival of Lights parade was to stop in front of the house. At first, she wanted no part of it, characteristic of autism. They want to know the plan in advance, way in advance. We practically stood on our heads to get her to understand it wasn’t a whole parade, just one float.

By the time it came in all its glory, she was on the brink of meltdown mode, but that dispelled as soon as she saw it. It was like Disneyland on a semi; music playing and lights ablaze, I think we all turned into little kids. When she came outside, her eyes lit up and she jumped up and down in excitement, waving and saying, “Thank you, thank you!!!” It was priceless.

There were several trips to Wal-Mart and many more to the local S-Mart where my Mom knows all the checkers, and general discussions about the new Super Wal-Mart, which my Mom and Aunt both stated they will “not set foot in” because they are “just too big.” There was a Christmas concert at the church, which was outstanding. (Thank you Diane for picking us up, you are a blessing to our family.)

One night, driving around looking at lights my Mom and I got swept up in the Zion Reformed parking lot light tour display where they gave us an accompanying CD and handed out homemade cookies and hot chocolate complete with live nativity with a real donkey and the actual meaning of the 12 days of Christmas. As we drove around we noticed someone had placed a lighted wreath in each window of the parsonage. There was a soft glow coming through the stained glass windows and the church bells were tolling. It was impressive.

At the end, we got a lawn sign which said, “Jesus is the Reason for the Season.” If anyone had a doubt about the meaning of Christmas when they started the tour, it was left in a crumpled heap in the parking lot.

I spoiled all the animals too, as always. They ate well, just as mine do. Anytime they want. At some point during the trip we noticed that my namesake, Nori the cat, was acting more boisterous than normal. At one point she jumped on Mima’s back. (Queen Mother cat of the household). At around day 5 she had worked herself into a fever pitch, making everyone else in the household crazy. Turns out she was in heat. Or was. She had an appointment today to fix that problem for good.

As always, it was hard to leave, but also good to come home. Right now, every Christmas light in the house is on. Every tree, every wreath, every swag of garland, and with every flip of the switch, I am reminded of the Hope that entered the world via the manger. Of a God that looked down to see a hurting world and did something about it.

The Rose of Bethlehem still blooms in our hearts and our lives through Jesus, the Light of the world. Through Him, we can face tomorrow with hope.

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