Resting in the Unrest

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 But I have trusted in your steadfast love;
    my heart shall rejoice in your salvation.
 I will sing to the Lord,
    because he has dealt bountifully with me. Psalm 13:1-6

I have been trying to write this post for a week now but time has been scarce. For some reason, it seems to march on even faster once December comes. We seek the quiet moments and they seem few and far between, and sometimes you just have to insist on them. This morning I fired up my heater in the shop and lit my little tree and I reveled in that magic moment when dawn just begins to color the earth. I thanked God for the knowledge that He hears me from His place of unapproachable light. He longs to hear our words, friends. As the candle flickered in the lantern on top of the roll around tool box, I keenly felt His presence.

Then I thought, celebrating Christmas really does set the tone for the rest of the year. And it’s not the gifts or the rushing around. It’s certainly not the road rage. It’s those unexpected moments that drop down when we least expect it. It’s your eyes welling up with tears when you listened to a Christmas song for the umpteenth time but this time you really felt it.

It’s going to a High School play watching kids act out “It’s a Wonderful Life.” It’s seeing that one kid beam with joy when he sees you there, knowing you’d come because you gave your word. How grateful I am to have a best friend who keeps promises to kids. It was well worth skipping the gym to go along because I ended up blessed. God loves to break us out of our little routines sometimes in order to give us something better.

Christmas is looking for those moments, having the faith that God will show up when He’s meant to. Even when things seem bleak and uncertain. For the world is just about as chaotic as it’s ever been, and I don’t think anyone would argue with that. The world needs Jesus now just as much as the first time He came. I think of the heartache and suffering just in my own little circle of friends and family.

Elaine’s Mom stands in the bathroom of the Alzheimer’s care-home and asks where the bathroom is and she asks, how long Lord?

Another friend had a bad fall. She’s been the caretaker of her husband for many years and now she is laid up. She asks how long, Lord? I could go on and on, but I won’t. I know you probably ask the same question. Feel the Psalmists words, they just might echo your own…..

“How long, Lord? Will you forget me forever?
    How long will you hide your face from me?
How long must I wrestle with my thoughts
    and day after day have sorrow in my heart?
    How long will my enemy triumph over me? Psalms 13:1,2

But look at how he ends the Psalm…….read the verse at the top again. That’s the answer my friends. That’s the victory and hope that we have as believers. We know that He will indeed show up, as He has every time in the past. Hope is the brilliant backdrop of our lives. When we look back at all our times of deliverance, our hearts overflow with gratitude, even in the midst of tears.

At Christmas, we wait in expectation for God to show up among the living, breathing hours of our days. And remembering that He already did, and continues to show up day after day. Year after year. Look for those moments, my friends. Collect them like snowflakes on your sleeve, each one is different, each one is a miracle.

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They met with Herod, they worshipped Jesus

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On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. Matthew 2:11

The three wise men met with Herod, but they worshipped Jesus when they finally saw Him. You meet with dignitaries, you meet with the President, the Queen……your boss. You worship the Lord when you recognize Him for who He is. And when the wise men saw  Him they knew.

They knew what they saw was truth, was real…….was worthy of worship.

Jesus birth was heralded with signs in the Heavens, a choir of angels, and stunned Shepherds………and if you think that was spectacular, just wait until He comes back.

I realize the birth of Christ does not fall on December 25th, and I know that some of the things we do to celebrate His birth are mixed in with other things that may not have anything to do with Jesus.

But God has called it all good, and when we worship with right heart motive God smiles.

And I am not stopping with Christmas, I plan to continue all year long.

I used to be really let down when Christmas was over, but I have learned to enjoy the quiet time right after the rush is through. To sit down and reflect on everything that just happened and to prayerfully contemplate on whatever God has for me in the New Year.

So tonight, I plan to calm down a little and light up every string in the house and sit by the tree……maybe drive around and view some lights.

To savor every moment.

The Lord has come……let earth receive her King again and again.

images from: http://www.freebibleimages.org some rights reserved

Christmas adds burden, Christ relieves them

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It’s as I am taking her clothes out of the dryer that it hits me. How sad it still is.

It’s been a year since Elaine‘s Mom went into Assisted Living. She still comes to visit through her clothes which I lift out of the dryer one after another along with my thoughts. I see her name, Joyce, printed on the inside of the neckline. That’s what you do once you go there. Things sometimes get lost. Clothes get mixed up like the identities, the individuals that reside there.

Will there be a time when I have my name written on my clothes? That’s a tough question that I would rather not answer.

I hope Jesus comes first.

Her Granddaughter offered to decorate her room for Christmas and she said, “I don’t believe in Christmas.” The Granddaughter recoiled……both shocked and saddened. E. was not surprised. The question remains: When do you stop trying to bring color into someone’s world when gray is where they are most comfortable? Celebrations and decorations make her ill at ease, she asks things like, “Who put those there?”

But bringing color is what we try to do because we think it will help.

Yet sometimes the best kind of helping means we meet them in their world, where they live.

I have just been writing a memory for my Dad and it makes me feel like the keeper of the flame, because keeping those memories alive for another is to stand in a place of honor. The thought flows through my mind like a ghost……..how would it be to have your memory wiped clean? No memory of last year, or even 10 minutes before?

As I lift the clothes out, I remember how hard it was when she was here. So hard. And she is happier there. Her version of happy anyway. So E. continues to meet her in her world. She brings her Snickers because she likes those more than anything. She does what needs doing and she brings hope to the nurses and residents there.

You might think there is not much hope residing there, but hope sometimes comes when and where you least expect it. As E. stopped to talk to the lady who knits, she noticed lots of hats. The lady said, “I am knitting these for the kids…..the kids who have cancer. Is there any way you could see that they get there? To the sick children?”

E. said, her mind racing about when but knowing somehow she would find a way. “Yes, I will make sure they get there. And I will see if I can get a picture to bring back.”

Her face lit up. She is one who wants to bring color to others. Even though she can’t take them herself. Even there she carries hope.

Today, as I rush around and feel the stress of Christmas I remember that though Christmas and all that comes with the celebration of it might carry a weight, it’s only one I put on myself. For Christ never adds a burden, He only relieves it.

I suddenly remember why it is I am doing all this. I turn off the Christmas songs and turn up the praise songs. And I kneel on the dirty floor I still haven’t cleaned. And suddenly I am very happy I am making these cookies. I watch as they puff up in the oven. The stars, the angels, the bells, and the boot. I think of how Lauryn and I will decorate them when I see her. I smile.

I may or may not get to the floor. But somehow it no longer matters.

Born to give us second birth

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Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death. For what the Law could not do, weak as it was through the flesh, God did: sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and as an offering for sin, He condemned sin in the flesh, so that the requirement of the Law might be fulfilled in us, who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.

I wrestle with my flesh on many occasions throughout the day…….when I work it’s usually during my commute. From the time we’re born, we enter this battle, this war. The body wants to sit on the couch and not trudge down to the treadmill, or it’s too cold to walk. I can usually think up one excuse after another. The spirit wants to fill itself up with everything under the sun, except for what God wants.

He knew we could never fulfill His perfect requirements of Holiness. But there is One who could. And did.

For those who are according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who are according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit. For the mind set on the flesh is death, but the mind set on the Spirit is life and peace, because the mind set on the flesh is hostile toward God; for it does not subject itself to the law of God, for it is not even able to do so, and those who are in the flesh cannot please God. Romans 8:1-8

Many people are rushing out to buy lottery tickets right now. I can’t say I blame them. I am tempted to myself. Despite the fact that the Bible says not to chase after riches, something in me thinks that my life would be much better and less stressful if I could pay everything off and do the same for my family. To be able to leave the stress of my job far behind. But the truth is, what I value most in my life is something money can’t ever buy.

I already have the best gift……the only gift that matters in this life, because that gift has bought me eternal life with Him in the next. While this life is passing away like a vapor, that life stretches ahead further than my eye can see.

What more could I possibly want than what God has already given me? Nothing.

I am rich beyond counting, beyond measuring. Because He was born for my sacrifice. Yours, mine……ours. He is my riches. My only desire. It’s why He was born. It’s what I celebrate each and every day.

Long after Christmas is all packed away.

 

 

 

Holding out Hope for Christmas

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I never really understood it until I heard it explained out loud. As I heard them struggling to articulate it, that feeling of wanting to escape every Christmas, something about the way they explained it made sense. It clicked into place for me and I suddenly understood.

I realized that all my life, I hadn’t been sensitive enough to that. I remembered how each year my Dad would say that all he ever wanted to do at Christmas is go up to a quiet little cabin in the snow and decorate a little Christmas tree with pinecones and little red balls and nothing else. We all kind of made fun of him for that. It’s not what we wanted.

That little cabin held out hope for him. It was a way of wishing away all the bad Christmases he had as a child.The ones that always started out pretty good,until the drinking started. After that it turned into a screaming match between his parents. It was slamming doors and chaos and throwing things. And always, someone walking out the door. Hope dashed.

To far too many people, Christmas is a time that evokes very powerful emotions and feelings that they don’t want to bring back. And to be honest, even though I only have happy memories of Christmas, sometimes I want to cower in a corner at the madness it’s become.

It’s like the other day I set out to get gas and a few other items I had on my list. I went all the way to the service station and it was crazy. People were parked every direction and it was packed. And maybe it’s because this year I have made a concerted effort to be calm and slow down to not join in.

Something in me switched off and I just couldn’t do it.

I took a deep breath, turned the car around and headed back to my quiet corner of the world. I went to my little car wash and took my time drying off the car, chatting with the gentleman next to me. Then I took a little scenic drive and on the way home I got gas. My spirit lifted and my heartbeat slowed. I felt myself relax.

I set up the manger scene, and then I went inside to get a few things online. I thought about all the rushing around that was taking place at that very minute. Out in the world.

It was into this chaotic world of dysfunction that Jesus was born. And His earthly parents didn’t have it easy either. Joseph had his perfectly ordered world turned upside down when Mary presented him with the news that she was pregnant. And Mary……she couldn’t hide her condition. I am sure everywhere she went, there were whispers of scandal.

And then she had to have her baby far away from her Mom and sisters, cousins and friends. In a cold stable.

But I think that is precisely why Christmas can hold so much hope for all of us.

I guess you could say that Mary and Joseph’s situation is ours too, for it’s in the middle of all that dysfunction and misery that God shows up. The light of Christ shines all that brighter amidst the backdrop of hopelessness.

That’s the great hope I hold out today. And I want you to know…….

If you are grieving this year, or desperately craving peace. If you are trying to bury pain or battling loneliness, either by yourself or in a crowd. If you are trying to outrun old memories that never seem to go away. If tears are falling. If you are spinning plates in the air trying to get things done, things you will forget about by New Year’s?

Just trust me on this.

Jesus is your answer. Always. He is our hope. Our Christmas.

Mine looked a bit different this year. The lights didn’t go up, but the manger scene did. The house is decorated to the hilt and I enjoyed every minute of it. I got to help some people out who needed it and went to hear the Phoenix Symphony perform Handel’s Messiah. We went to a wonderful High School Christmas play because one of E’s kids asked if she’d be there. What a blessing it was to see those kids perform.

I have slowed down and enjoyed every minute.

And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. Luke 2:10-11

Recalculating……..

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He whispered, “Remember the miracle.” And just then, I did.

Sometimes, well, all the time, God has to remind me to slow down. My mind leaps ahead to places He never intended it to go and jumps way too far ahead of everything else. I have to recalculate. It’s like when your GPS tells you to go a certain way, but you don’t want to go that way, so you go a different direction and then that voice: “Recalculating, recalculating, recalculating……..” Until it decides, “Hey I guess they really are going to go that way.”

This especially happens to me as it gets closer to Christmas, sometime around the 11th of December. I realize I haven’t checked nearly enough off that list I have in my head. And suddenly, my mind has veered off the path and careening wildly down a slippery slope. Someone somewhere hit a panic button and I find myself in stressful, chaotic, turbulent mode instead of where I was a week ago in quiet, calm, advent reflective mode.

So today, I am recalculating.

I will seek first the Kingdom. I will remember what He whispered about the miracle. Because we tend to forget so quickly.

Thank you, Lord for slowing me down again. Join me in pause mode, here.

I am getting small today again folks.

Take a moment to pray and thank Him for everything He is and everything He has done in your life……just yesterday.

“For a long time I have kept silent,
I have been quiet and held myself back.
But now, like a woman in childbirth,
I cry out, I gasp and pant.
I will lay waste the mountains and hills
and dry up all their vegetation;
I will turn rivers into islands
and dry up the pools.

I will lead the blind by ways they have not known,
along unfamiliar paths I will guide them;
I will turn the darkness into light before them
and make the rough places smooth.
These are the things I will do;
I will not forsake them.

But those who trust in idols: (my words in bold)

(money, possessions, tasks, perfectionism, electronic gadgets, knowledge, power, education, self-reliance)
who say to images, ‘You are our gods,’
will be turned back in utter shame.

Isaiah 42: 14-17

Image from creative commons images, some rights reserved by Gabrielle Ludlow

Finding the heartbeat of Christmas

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In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind…….John 1:4

It’s easy to miss it, amidst the rush and clamor. But the magic is there, underneath it, around it and through it and all over it. It’s life, and that life is why He came.

It’s our life He values…….mine and yours. And it’s every big and little miracle moment of our lives that He was born for.

Those big moments of our lives we tend to capture pretty well. We have diplomas and wedding albums and birth certificates and baby showers. But it’s those small moments He came for too.

Like when I lit the little Christmas tree in the shop where I pray. I think He smiles at those too.

During Christmas, I always feel a pressing need to slow down and capture each moment, kind of like how kids capture fireflies in a jar. My thoughts, like those fireflies, are beating their wings against the glass, hoping to be set free. Sometimes there’s almost a sense of urgency to it.

An urgency born of the realization that all these moments matter.

They do.

Maybe deep within us all there is a fear of losing them forever. Maybe that’s what makes some of us write.

As I shift in my seat, I hear the crinkle of yellow sticky notes in my back pocket. My firefly thoughts.

Those little scribbles I leave all over the house, as well as those that spill out of the pockets of my clothes, are my way of pulling over to the side of the road of my own life in order to let all the rest hurry careen by.

Because this is important, this Advent, and it’s not so much making it magic, but letting it happen.

The magic happens when we let go of unrealistic expectations of what we think Christmas should be so we can make room for what it really is; when we free ourselves and others of things they could never live up to and events what they could never be.

When we realize we are all just imperfect people looking for our particular version of God.

But God usually shows up differently than what we expect, and He always exceeds our expectations.

Stop, and listen to your life. And let Him in this season. You will be amazed at what He does.

Thank you Lord, for the miracle. You know the one I’m talking about. I haven’t stop breathing thanks.

 

photo credit: creative commons images: flickr: by Wendy. Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs License