Tuesday, December 25, 2012


It is a few moments away from Christmas day as I write this.  The house is quiet - and she who lives under  the bed has come out for awhile to be sociable.  If the legend of the animals was true, where they can all speak at midnight on Christmas Eve, I would ask her what the deal is - but since I have  a normal average run of the mill cat, I will just guess.

I have been pondering my word for 2013.  It has become my custom to pick a word to govern my thoughts for the year.  Last year, 2012 was "teachable" - and I concentrated on learning all He laid before me, trying to see the lessons in my days.  I've been prayerfully considering my focus for 2013, and the winner is:

(drum roll, please)                               "to life!"

I want to concentrate on everything from the smallest of joys to the most gigantic of crises.  I want to see and experience Life with Him, noticing the smallest of lessons.  Making it through the pain in His grace, shouldering the sorrows that are inevitable, enjoying each day as it comes.

This past year was, for me, painful physically and emotionally.  Yet He was watching over me - and I learned that I needed to rest in His promises - to trust in His words to me - to live in the moment.

There are several physical problems that are worrying my doctor.  I think she takes it personally when my illness starts taking tolls she never foresaw - but how could she?  My life is not in her hands - it is in His hands.  And if He so chooses, things will get worse, or they will get better.  I am losing my hearing, and possibly my eyesight, and my kidneys are not up to snuff.  Some laser repairs on my eyes are on the horizon, and my hearing loss is very irritating to the people closest to me.  Happily, they laugh with me when I repeat what I think I heard - sometimes is it far from what was really said!  But I've noticed when I watch my church's services via Internet (ccgreenvalley.org) I hear every word.  And so I do have things to celebrate, thanks to His mercy.

I have been thinking about that first Christmas so long ago.  The town of Bethlehem was a dusty little hamlet in that day, packed to the gills with travelers for the census.  It is still a dusty little hamlet to this day, swollen from time to time with pilgrims come to see "the cave" - now with a silver star overlaying the place where Jesus was born (on white marble, no less).  I have to laugh to see the elaborate changes made in that cave - Mary wouldn't recognize it!

I prefer to imagine it as it was 2000 years ago.  How tired and in pain she must have been from the long travel on the back of a donkey! How desperate Joseph must have been to find a place to stay to give her relief!  How confusing was it for Messiah, the coming King, to apparently be birthed in a stable.  Was Mary's heart envisioning a palatial birth up to the last minute?  For money and warmth to suddenly spring forth, assistance at the birth, a place in a palace to rest up?  And then at the purification to hear that a sword would pierce her heart someday.  Was that a literal sword, she must have wondered?  Or symbolic of some great sorrow?  She didn't know - nobody ever explained details to her.  She just bowed her head and submitted to the Lord, keeping these things in her heart.

After giving birth in a stable she must have wondered what other surprises awaited her!

And what of the mighty Pharisees?  When the Magi arrived a couple of years later and shook up Herod, he asked them where the Messiah was to be born.  The Pharisees told him Bethlehem.  5 miles away.

Right next door.

Did they even bother to look?  Supposedly they were awaiting Messiah themselves.  If someone came asking where He was, and I was waiting for Him, I think I would have gone 5 measly miles to see Him.

They didn't stir a muscle.  That tells me their attitude was locked in already.  They had no intention of supporting any messianic disturbances that could take away their power.  Power and pomp was what they lived for - don't bother them with details.  They'll take care of any messiahs when they have to.

And so they did.

5 measly miles.

I ask myself, how far would I have gone?  Would I have ignored the news, afraid of Herod's revenge if he thought I was shifting my allegiance?  They used to say it was safer to be Herod's pig than his relative - the pig was unclean so he left it alone.  His family aroused his suspicions - and once suspicious of someone, they were goners.

I've always wondered what Jesus thought of the world He created - and when He realized Who He was.  His communication with His Father must have begun as soon as He was able to understand.  Was he 5? 10? 13 and ready to be Bar Mitzvahed?

Did He know the details?  Or was it slowly unfurled before Him with the passage of time - the form of death He would endure? The suffering it entailed?  The betrayal by a friend?  With a kiss, no less!

These are all questions without answers for the moment.  But they leave a lesson of sorts with me: do I put off going to find Him - when He is a heartbeat away, not 5 miles?  All I need to do is call that Name, and He is here.  How much effort do I put in to know Him better?

Those questions do have answers - and I will be using my new word-of-the-year to explore them.  Endeavoring to lead my Life in larger than life sized letters; trying to experience Him in any way possible.  Walking through Life with Messiah, the Creator, my Savior.

"To Life!" "L'Chaim!"

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Where was God?

The whole world mourns with Sandy Hook CT today.

The homes of the children and the adults who perished echo with their absences.  The heart will forever long to hear, just one more time, those voices - their laughter, their nonsense. The words "I love you."

Even  the endless questions little ones can come up with.

Just one more time.

Well, today, we are the ones left with the questions.

I wonder what horrors and inner torture could drive someone only 20 years of age to do something like this.

I do not, however, wonder who gave him the idea.

I have noticed, over and  over, how the evil one loves to harm children.

And then I think of my Lord Who said, "Suffer(allow) the little children unto Me."  His arms were - and still are - open to all little children.  And when faced with such horrors we all, regardless of chronological age, become little children.  I know I needed to crawl into my Poppa's arms and cry.

The words that came out surprised me in a way.

I was crying "O Lord, forgive us!"

Forgive us for shutting You out.  Forgive us for endlessly demanding our "rights" - our right to kill unborn babies.  Our right not to be responsible for ill parents.  Our right to ignore You, to push You away, to demand You leave our civil life. Our right to teach children "situational ethics" instead of right and wrong.  Our right to absolutely state there are no absolutes.  Our right to do as we please - even when we know it is morally questionable or outright wrong. Our right to hold other people's lives cheaply.  Our right to defame the One Who holds each breath in His hand.  Our right to blaspheme and ridicule the Creator of all things.  Our right not to be restricted by "religion" or - horror! - have to look upon a cross or a creche in a public place.

Our strident cries of "How dare you judge me!"  "I don't believe there is a God."  "Separation of church and state!" echo through the universe.  (The Amendment was  actually made to insure there would be no government interference with the practice of religion - like, say, forcing churches to provide money for abortions against their beliefs.)

But we can look upon pornography - even porn that destroys little children.  We can watch movies with explicit sex and language that would have caused our parents and grandparents to turn crimson with shame (but then, what did they know?  They were so dumb they believed God created them, not primordial slime and a lightning strike)

And then we demand with shrill voices (when a Sandy Hook or a 911 occurs,) "How could a loving God allow this to happen?  How can God be good if He allows people to do such evil things? Where was God?"

Well, I can tell you where God was.

God was right there, not infringing on your rights .

God was honoring your strident demand:  "Thou shalt not rule over me."

And He was crying.

Friday, December 7, 2012

The simple elegance of grace

Looked up the definition of grace and it is "simple elegance or refinement of movement".  This, of course is the "secular" definition.

But it fits the "unmerited favor" of the spiritual definition as well.

The movements of God in my life have, truthfully, always been movements of simple elegance.  He blasted His way into my life in a way that was elegantly simple.  The difference He made is the difference between unsullied Light and unenlightened darkness. Black and White.  Elegant. Crisp.  Refined.  And, may I add, vivid.

If is as if He took a black and white painting - simple elegance - and added color in delicate hues, now pastel, now gloriously iridescent, now distilled and pristine.  Nuances galore - that refinement of movement coming into play.

And all of it unmerited favor.

I have been meditating a lot on gratitude and being thankful - not just for things, but for people and places and everyday miracles - like eyes that see, lungs that work, a heart that beats.  I've been reading a 21 day gratitude challenge and it's been illuminating as well as spiritually edifying (there's that refinement of movement again).  The author maintains that our emotions follow what we purpose in our hearts to do.  If we maintain that we will be grateful, darkness lifts and self-pity can be conquered.  It's not a snap-your-fingers type of thing, but a spiritual battle - a simple elegance of the soul that rightfully proclaims that each beat of the heart is a gift of grace. Why 21 days?  That's how long it takes to form a habit. She suggests journaling gratitude in 3 areas : physical, spiritual, and relational - and suggests sending a thank you note via snail mail to one person each of the 21 days as ways to fight self-pity, discontent,  and - in my case - complaints about physical pain or aches.  To consciously fight the darkness with the light of His presence; as the Psalmists says, "We enter in with praise and thanksgiving".

Simple elegance.

I'm discovering that God's ways are just that.  Simple to grasp, elegant in their ease of understanding.  But my efforts at actually doing them are far from being refined movement.  More like fits and starts and falling over, getting up and dusting off the feeling of failure, and going at it again.

I was raised in a religion of fear - one mortal sin and the trap door to hell opened.  When Jesus bought me out of the slave market it took me awhile to realize all my future sins as well as past sins were already paid for.  Jesus taught me that He knew before He chose me exactly how much darkness and sinful ways lurked in the recesses of my soul - and still He chose me from before the foundation of the world.  All of my failures  and fits and starts and tripping in the mud, falling hither and yon were nailed to the cross.  What was important to Him was that I continue to get back up, confess it and repent, (washing off all the caked on mud,) and begin again on the narrow way.

Simple elegance.  Unmerited favor.  Refinement of movement.

Now, I cannot claim that "refinement of movement" stuff for my own yet, and  I think "simple elegance" will only be conferred upon me when I reach Home. But all three of those terms certainly fit my King.

So, I'm trying to form that new habit.  I have "thankfulness journaled" in fits and starts for awhile now, but not trying to hit all three categories every day.  I'm trying to be "present" with Him in the Word, in prayer, in gratitude.  To consciously realize that I am truly and actually in the Presence of the King of Kings, the Creator of the universe, the Savior of my soul.  And, for at least the next 21 days, I will journal with intent.

In a simply elegant refinement of movement, I will chronicle the unmerited favor in my life, one day at a time.

Care to join me?

Saturday, December 1, 2012

the first day of December

The first day of December always calls to me.

Time to sweep the stable clear of any impediments to the entry of the Child.  Am I harboring a grudge - unforgiveness towards someone?  Have I been judging anyone? Need to ask forgiveness?  Hiding some secret sin?  Allowing my heart to grow as cold as the bitter winds of winter?  Slacking off on the Word?  Skipping prayer?  Trying to clean myself up instead of bowing before Him and accepting His grace and forgiveness?  Allowing fear to rule me instead of faith.?

Someone shared a blurb on the web that brought me up short.  It said " Faith is the bridge between where I am and where God is leading me."

I found great wisdom in that little blurb.  As one who always seems to fight God's leading, leaving black heel marks on my Christian walk where He has had to drag me from one place to another, trust always seems hard for me.  Correction: recognizing God's hand in irritating places is more the problem.  Once I know He is in something (which should be recognized all the time!) I can take a deep breath and step off the cliff, trusting in the Everlasting Arms that are underneath me.  It's the recognizing part that throws me every time.

Why is it so hard for me to see His hand in the unpleasant/painful/irritating circumstance?  While I was still working, God moved my comfortable office to an uncomfortable office, working with a doctor I had difficulty relating to.

Hidden in that office was a Christian sister bereft of friends she trusted, in a hostile office environment.  We have been friends for over 20 years now.

Another time I had hurt my back and had to be on light duty.  I was moved to a tiny corner of an office worker's small office - and discovered not only another sister, but one who was a kindred spirit as well, and has been as close as an "official" sister to my heart for the last 30 years.

The only situation I recognized was my illness - and that probably because it was so serious I knew it was too big for me to handle!  I watched Seas galore part to allow me thru on dry ground, obstacle after obstacle removed from my path, blessing after blessing showered upon me.

So why haven't I learned?  Why do I still fret and gnash my teeth and froth at the mouth when something "small" disrupts my daily walk?

And why do I not recognize that with a God as Awesome as ours, they are all small?

This month will be full of hustle and bustle, hither and yon stuff.  For once, with my King;s help, I am purposing in my heart to lay it all at His feet - the small stuff as well as the gigantic stuff that immediately drops me face down before Him.  To take the irritation to Him. To take the daily hassles and arrows of hurt feelings and dark days to the One Who filtered each hurt feeling and hassle and arrow through loving hands.  It seems to me that our Papa loves to teach us through less than comfortable situations.  Somehow the pain seems to insure the lesson will be remembered.  And it reminds me that Jesus learned obedience "through the things He suffered."

After 20 years delivering babies, the Nativity holds great meaning for me.  I often think of the One Who cast aside His crown to be born a baby - to open His eyes for the first time not in a pampered palace nursery but in a cold stone trough, to get His first human-sized view of the world He had come to save.  A newborn is a sponge, soaking up every sound, every sight, learning from that first breath on, contrary to popular thought.  Newborns mimic facial expressions, begin babbling in vowel, accent and consonant sounds of their particular language, and come complete with behaviors designed to induce bonding: grasping fingers, focusing on black dots on white backgrounds so they establish eye contact immediately.   To facilitate this, they instinctively turn their heads to the right, whether they are right or left handed.  Since most people are right handed, they will most likely be held in the left arm - and when they turn their faces to the right, they will find eye contact.and, when combined with the rooting reflex, a source of nourishment.  All finely tuned behaviors our Father designed for His children.  Eye contact and touch are as necessary as food to the newborn,  Deprived of them they cannot process foods correctly. and find themselves swallowed by a syndrome known as, simply, " failure to thrive."

I think of how this birth-in-a-stable scenario must have confused Mary and Joseph - how could the Messiah not be born with pomp and fanfare?  How they must have wondered what the heck was going on - and felt shamed by how little they could give to this Amazing Child.  Did they miss a signal somewhere?  Surely God didn't mean for Messiah to be poor!  Why was life such a continual struggle when the King of all the earth had been entrusted to their care?  Their offering in the temple was two doves - a provision for the very poor to offer.  And soon there would be at least 6 more children - four brothers are named in Scripture, plus a mention of "sisters", plural, so there were more than one.  At least 7 children, including Jesus, would have to be provided for - plus a hasty trip into Egypt and then a move back to Israel.  The visit of the Magi (nowhere does it say three, nor does it call them "kings") provided an easily transported source of funds as well as prophetic gifts to the small family (Jesus is estimated to have been around two years old @ the time of their visit.) I can't imagine how confused they must have been - nothing would have made sense according tot the world's way of doing things.

And somehow, the world's way of doing things had gotten mixed up with the ways of the Israelites - so much so that rich people were considered to be special to God, no doubt holy.  By the same reasoning, the poor must be epic sinners or God would bless them with money.  So this Child King could not be the Messiah according to their thinking, He must be the child of some pretty horrible sinners (never ending whispers followed Him about how Mary got pregnant before she was married, thus the Pharisees would never lose their condescending attitude towards Jesus).

I have always wondered how the Pharisees could know Jesus had raised several folks from the dead and not recognize Someone with some pretty heavy credentials.  They couldn't deny the miracles - even the thugs they sent to arrest Him were thrown to their knees when Jesus answered their identification query with "I am"
And then He picks up the ear Peter chopped off and heals the guy - imagine it!  Blood spurting all over his tunic, one second screaming in pain, the next all healed up (I bet there wasn't even a scar!) - and still the guy roughly arrests Jesus!

I sit with open-mouthed amazement when I get to those parts in the Gospel.  How is it possible?

And then I look at those black heelmarks on my Christian walk.  How I so rarely recognize His hand while something is happening.  It's only when I have the distance of time and the Holy Spirit's ministering that I can make sense of what I see,  They didn't have the Holy Spirit leading, interpreting, guiding like I do.  And even with all that, I still miss the point so often in my life.  I truly depend on His mercies being new every morning. I draw great comfort in the fact that underneath are the everlasting Arms, and Romans 8:28 is a word I cling to.

And finally I connect the dots and realize that this is exactly why the Babe had to be born - and die for my sins, and the sins of the world.  Because we are so very dense when faced with circumstances not to our liking.  Because without the Holy Spirit living in us, leading and teaching us, opening our eyes, we would be without hope.

And hope is what that little Baby signified. "The hopes and fears of all the years."  They met in the little town of Bethlehem, one night long ago. And because of that, "whosoever will" may choose to actually meet the Creator of the universe, to be indwelt  by the Holy Spirit, and spend eternity in the presence of God.

Just think of it! What an Awesome God we serve!