Thursday, December 31, 2009

A Special Gift

I sat at my dining room table, working on my computer. My youngest daughter skipped around the corner with a pink gift bag in her hand.

“Surprise, Mom! I have a late Christmas present for you!”

I began to open it up, only to find 2 more bags with tissue paper stuffed in them, inside the outer bag.

“I wrapped it in lots of packages, Mom. It’s a special gift I made for you.”

I finally found the little gift. A small shape made of little plastic balls stuck together in the shape of – well, she had to tell me – baby Jesus in the manger.

Her face was glowing. She was quite pleased with her gift. So was I.

A small handmade gift, of great value, was wrapped in layers and layers of wrapping.

That’s been my experience with God this year. As I look over the past year of heartache and sorrow, I realize that many times the gifts He has given me are not laying out in plain view. They have been covered up, and covered up, and covered up. They have been wrapped in all sorts of wrappings, and unlike the ones that my daughter presented to me, they have not always been very pretty or fancy.

But God is faithful to give good gifts. Helpful gifts. Lovely gifts. Valuable gifts.

Sometimes, dear reader, they are tucked deep down inside and they are not revealed on first look. Keep looking, though. Just like my daughters gift, I had to keep on unwrapping and unwrapping what she had wrapped around the gift. The end result was a treasure that she made, just for me.

God has surprises for you, as well. He has treasures of truth and gifts of love that He has hand wrapped in His perfect timing and His perfect way. Trust Him and wait patiently to see what He is giving you and believe that He, as you seek to know Him and love Him, will present to you special gifts that He has made just for you.

My prayer for you as we enter the New Year is that no matter what the wrappings may look like or how many there may be, that you will see and believe that God has good gifts for you.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

What a Mess!

We walked in to the family room. Strings, globs of strings and chunks of rubber dog bone were everywhere. What a mess!

“Ok, buddy,” I said to my 10 year old son. “Please! Help me clean up this mess the dog made, before we head to bed.”

“Why do we have to clean it up, Mom? Why can’t Courage clean it up? He’s the one who made the mess!” he said, with a chuckle in his voice.

“You’re right, William. He made the mess, but unfortunately we have to clean it up. He doesn’t know how to pick up string with his paws.”

And so it is with us, dear reader. Life can get pretty messy sometimes – either by our own doing or someone else’s. We need a lot of help and most of the time we really aren’t able to clean it up ourselves. Oh, we may try, but without the capable and wise hands of our Jesus, it’s just not possible. A dog doesn't have the ability in his paws to pick up chunks of bone and string and clean up, and we don’t often have the ability to clean up our messes with our own hands.

It’s humbling and yet reassuring at the same time. God is the only one who can help. Call out to Him and trust your mess to His sovereign plan. It will likely not be easy, but it will be worth it. When we step out in obedience and trust Him with our lives He transforms us into something beautiful, and that something beautiful looks like His son Jesus. Often times, it is a day to day decision. Waiting on God and seeking His will requires great patience and great strength. He is able and willing to give you both. Commit your life and your mess to Him – just for today – each day.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Merry Christmas

”They returned glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them” (Luke 2:17-18).

God chose shepherds to spread the Word. Shepherds were not fancy, and in fact, they were looked down upon. Maybe you feel that way sometimes, but be encouraged. God uses whatever He chooses to tell of His love, and He will use us, too.

The least of them were the ones who received the Word from God, via a magnificent heavenly display of angels. They heard the great news, dropped everything, and ran to see Him and worship Him. They sought the greatest gift and they found Him, After coming face-to-face with the Living God, they left glorifying and praising God for all the things they heard and saw, which were just as they had been told, and people were amazed!

May this be for you this coming year, as well dear reader. As God reveals the truth of His Son to you, go out and seek Him. Spend time with Him. Honor Him. Admire Him. And then, having heard and seen what God is doing in your life, spread the word about this child, this man, this God who came to save the lost. Glorify and praise Him by sharing the truths that you know of Him and the love that you have experienced from Him, to a hurting world.

Remember, you are loved with an unfailing love. Rest in that today, no matter your circumstances. Jesus came for you.

Merry Christmas!

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Come Dance with the Prince

There is something in Christmas that takes us by the hand and walks us down memory lane. As we look back over the years, we may reminisce about sweet memories of Christmas joys and times that were filled with safe, secure, and unconditional love. However unfortunately, I think most have experienced either a mixture of joys and sorrows, perhaps even a life story that is infiltrated with pain and loneliness. Rather than feeling connected, we’ve felt disconnected; rather than seen and cherished, we’ve felt invisible; rather than included, we were excluded; rather than remembered, we may have been often forgotten and rather than being hopeful in a season that is decorated with hope all around us , we have felt hopeless. Maybe these things are even true for us right this moment.

Perhaps it is the music, the lights, the stories, the gifts, the decorations, the beauty – that makes our hearts yearn for love. And I believe that it is the love of God – Jesus – who takes our hand and takes us for a walk. As we walk, I think we begin to explore questions in our little girl hearts (and not so little girl hearts – I know it does in mine) that we have either not been willing to ask or courageous enough to ask, like: Am I beautiful? Am I worth a gift? Am I special enough? Am I worth being pursued? Am I worth fighting for?

We wonder, “Do dreams really come true?” We so desperately want to have hopes and dreams and the assurance of love, and yet, time and time again throughout our lives these desires have been dashed.

Well, I have good news of great joy!

There is a rescuing, powerful, gentle relentlessly pursuing love our hearts beat for and His name is Jesus. We’ve been rescued by love – we just miss it. Somehow, the very thing that opens our hearts at Christmas time (the beauty and festivities around us) also numbs our ability to remember. And we forget –

The Greatest Love Story Ever (not just told) but Lived.

It is an adventure story of a young Hero – the Prince of Peace – who comes from a far off land to rescue His lost treasure (that’s you and that’s me!) And Jesus, being the Prince of Peace that He is brings peace that makes you whole. It makes you complete. It is beyond understanding, and yet, even in a world full of chaos and strife and pain (whether in your home, in your heart or far away) it is a real peace. A tangible peace. A deep Peace. A forever Peace.

He left one castle – an incredibly beautiful, perfect place to rescue the one He loves. He came from a beautiful city, with walls of topaz, jasper and sapphire, streets paved with gold and gates of pearl. He came from a place where there was – is – no darkness. Just light – and lots of it! He left the light and entered in to the darkness on a night when no one was looking, other than Mary, Joseph and a band of smelly animals.

And Jesus came, willingly, humbly. He came and he lived, died, and lived again. He sacrificed it all for you and for me, because He loves us.

Dear reader, we often miss the tender, intimate, personal message that God has for us at Christmas. He sent His one and only Son, Jesus, to rescue you and to rescue me! It was not just a general rescue mission, but a personal one. He knows your hurts – whether they happened to you or whether you have caused them yourself. j

He has chosen you. You are the girl at the ball, who stands in the corner. He has come to make His way through the crowd to your heart and He says, "Come dance with Me.; come be with Me forever." Acknowledge His love and His power in your life this Christmas. Others may have failed you, but not Jesus. Take the hand of the Prince and dance with Him in the castle of your heart this Christmas, and all year through. Merry Christmas, dear one!

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Dealing with Discouragement

In the Christmas movie “It’s a Wonderful Life,” the opening scene is one of a snowy night in Bedford Falls. We hear the voices of people praying for George Bailey – people who love him and whom he has helped. In the next scene, we see stars in the galaxy and witness a conversation that appears to be between God and a senior angel, Joseph. They are discussing a man, George Bailey, whom people are praying for. The decision is made to send Clarence, an angel trying to earn his wings, to help George. Clarence is beckoned and arrives.

“Clarence, a man down on earth needs our help” God reveals.

“Is he sick?” Clarence replies.

“No, worse, “God responds, “He’s discouraged.”

All faulty theology aside (for instance, angels come with wings -- they don’t earn them), my own heart is stirred with the reality that when we are infected by discouragement it can be worse than physical sickness. It can permeate the core of our being and attempt to destroy our joy and our hope, perhaps even leaving us weak and wounded. Sometimes it’s related to something particular (a dream dashed, a conflict unresolved, a trial persisting) and other times it sprouts up by itself like a seed blown in by a storm, taking root whence we know not where it has come from. As powerful as fear can be in our lives, discouragement can be equally so. It disarms our ability to persevere and be strong, if we allow it settle in and take up residence in our hearts, and causes us to lose sight of the big picture.

However, there is hope and His name is Jesus. Jesus overcomes our discouragement when we relinquish it in to His capable hands, and I believe He can transform it and use it to develop patience in us (and perhaps a hundred other things).

James 5:7-8 says, “Be patient, then, brothers, until the Lord’s coming. See how the farmer waits for the land to yield its valuable crop and how patient he is for the autumn and spring rains. You too, be patient and stand firm, because the Lord’s coming is near.” Whenever we feel discouragement settle in, whether it is in regards to our ministry, our calling, our relationships, our finances, our families, or ourselves, we can try and look past it, focus on the Lord and the hope that of the work that God has promised to do in us.

Patience will grow in us when we respect who God is, trust in His timing and remember that He is coming back. Now, we celebrate the first Advent, but we look towards the second Advent when He will come again. It is easy for us (at least it is for me!) when it seems as if things are just not going as I hope or plan, to be discouraged – but I can be short sighted and need to remember that Jesus is coming again and all that is orchestrated now is for my good and His glory.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Needing to Make Room

“... because there was not room for Him in the inn” (Luke 2:7).

I have never kept an inn, but I do run a household that sometimes feels like an inn. People come and go, mostly my own, with distractions of all sorts always bombarding my heart, soul and mind. I have lists and lists of where I have lists. I keep them in my car, in my bathroom and in my kitchen, not to mention, in my mind. I write lists about things to do, people to call, bills to pay, groceries to buy, notes to send and things to write about. If I am not dealing with a list of responsibilities, my mind is full of thoughts and feelings. Something is always vying for my attention, in one form or another. Bottom line – there just is not a lot of room up in the old noggin’, or at least it seems.

There really isn’t mention of an innkeeper, per say in the bible. We imagine that someone must have let Mary and Joseph know that there was not room for them, probably an innkeeper. The census was drawing people in by the droves. The inn was most likely overcrowded – families reuniting (or fighting), food, music. The inn was too full. Mary and Joseph went out back and the greatest event of all time occurred in a lowly stable.

Why did God tell us that there was no room? What does He want us to learn from this detail? I’ve been pondering this short verse as I have been struggling with distractions today. My guess is that whoever turned Mary and Joseph away didn't even know that Mary was carrying the most precious gift of all.

This is the point that God has impressed on my heart today: The innkeeper, who most likely did not know about Jesus, did not make room for Him, but we do know Jesus and often times we still don’t make room.

God knows that we have the propensity to fill up our lives, not just now, but always, with busyness, thoughts and feelings. Distractions. Things. Stuff (as my 10 year old son would say). Items that divide our attention and prevent us from concentrating. Diversions. Oftentimes, my heart and mind feel as if they do not have room for one more thing – a “no vacancy” sign is ever flashing. It’s not that my intentions are not good – I desire to make room for Jesus -- but there are always the needs of the immediate, and let’s face it, there are lots of them.

Dear reader, perhaps you can relate. Life is full, and well, at Christmas time, it is over-flowing. The reality is that we can be distracted by responsibilities, by pleasures, and even by our pain. Our lists of “things-to-do” can be long, but our thoughts and emotions can be just as consuming, if not more so.

Jesus – Emmanuel – came to reside with us, but we just don’t take the time to make room for Him. “Stuff” gets in the way -- lots of stuff. We need to move some things out or move them over, make room for Jesus and abide with Him. And when we do that, He will help us care for the list of distractions – whatever they may be – responsibilities, pleasures and pain and bring us peace.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

The Christmas Story According to My Toddler

Several Christmas’ ago, I was standing by my kitchen sink early in the morning making muffins. I noticed the presence of my three year old son out of the corner of my eye. He was dressed in his jammies. A blanket, decorated with frogs, was draped over his head and shoulders in a standard shepherd like fashion.

“Hi! I’m Jonas,” he said in his gruff little voice.

I quickly tried to process toddler dialect. Jonas? Did he mean Jonah from the bible? No, it’s Christmas time; he must mean Joseph.

“Oh! Do you mean Joseph?” I asked.

“Yah, that guy. Jofus, “ he grunted as he pointed over his shoulder. “And that’s Mary right behind me.”

“Mary and Joseph! And what are you doing?” I queried.

“Taking care of some animals."

“And what else are you doing?” I asked.

“We’re camping.”

“And where are you going?” I continued.

“To a stable."

“And what are you going to do there?” I asked, curious about his rendition of the Christmas story .

“Fix it,” he said plainly. (That is when Bob the Builder was popular and fixing things was Bob’s job).

“And what else is Mary going to do there?” I asked, eager to hear my dear son express the true meaning of Christmas.

“Why, she’s going to have the baby Jesus!” he said.

Now, I was excited. I dried off my hands, knelt down next to him and held his little perfectly round face in my hands. I could hardly wait.

“Oh! William! And WHY is Mary going to have the baby Jesus?” I asked with great enthusiasm and passion.

His little blue eyes looked at me, peaking past the blanket, a bit confused at my question and said, “Well, because she’s a girl!”

I still chuckle every time I think of that story. What does one say after that? I’m not sure. I just hugged him and smiled, and it brings me joy to this day. Hope it made you smile, too.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

You are Loved

Black table cloths blanketed the tables. Votive candles encircled center pieces made of wreaths and hurricane glass containers filled with gold accents. Desserts were served with coffee and tea by waiters. Little gold wrapped gifts sat at each setting. A harpist played. Women talked and laughed and relaxed, taking a break from the busy holiday season. Even though a winter storm raged outside, women gathered to celebrate at our church’s Christmas Tea, in the atmosphere of this year’s theme “It Came Upon a Midnight Clear.”

I had the privilege of sharing the message this year. It brought me a great amount of joy to share with the women the truths that God revealed to me over the past years, especially in regards to His gentle, relentlessly pursuing, rescuing love. Although I did not share the details of my life story, I was able to speak from my heart -- a heart that is fully convinced of His great and faithful love. This is a bit of what I shared.

I believe that through the years, ever since we were little girls, our hearts beat for the assurance of love. The world has stolen from us the belief that we are loved, special and beautiful. We have been tainted and stained by hurtful experiences of either our own doing or the doing of others, and we (most of us) have slowly but surely believed a lie that we are none of the above.

But that is not true. When God looks at you, He thinks you are beautiful and you are special and you are valuable – because you are. You see, regardless of whether you are young or old, tall or short, have gray hair, brown hair, blond hair or red hair, He thinks you are beautiful and loves you. It does not matter the color of your eyes, the size of your dress, your shoe size, what you do for a living, how many children you have or the fact that you do not have any. It does not matter to Him whether you are married, divorced, single or widowed. It does not matter where you live – in a house, an apartment, or a car. He doesn’t mind if you have scars on your face or scars on your heart, He created you and loves you with all His heart, and that is what makes you beautiful.

In a world that has a warped image of beauty, listen to and believe the One who made you. You may not feel chosen, but He has chosen you. You are the girl at the ball, who stands in the corner. He has come to make his way through the crowd to your heart and He says, “Come dance with Me; come be with Me, forever.” You are His treasured possession. You have great value. You are a priority. Jesus loves you even when it feels as if no one does, or ever did. He is searching for you, even though to Him, you were never lost.

Our little girl hearts (and not-so-little girl hearts) yearn and long and sing, “’Someday my prince will come …. “ And the good news is – He has.

I will share more with you in the days to come, but for now, ask the Lord to help you believe how very much He loves you, regardless of your circumstances of today or your circumstances of your past. Place your heart, with all of the hurt, sorrow, loneliness, guilt, and even joy, into His gentle Hands and allow Him to rescue you, for you are loved.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Wonderfully Made

The photographer held her camera with confidence and creativity, clicking pictures of the children from every angle. The children, who at first were uncomfortable and hesitant, soon began to giggle and glow as their comfort level increased and they felt free to be themselves. It was an amazing transformation that I witnessed, and it was a gift.

I smiled, watching the whole event, taking in every moment. The children were dressed in long sleeved white shirts, jeans and wore (why do we say it this way?) bare feet. They were naturally beautiful. Now, I suppose like any mother, I’m terribly biased about how beautiful my children are but what I saw yesterday was deeper than that – it was an outward expression of their inner uniqueness, and that was beauty.

I was a bit unsure of how a photo session with five children would go. Needless to say, it was enough for me to decide what to have all five of them wear, appropriate for their ages and stages. We had not had the children’s pictures taken in years (I wish I was a mother who was more diligent about it, but I’m not) and so when the opportunity arose for them to be photographed by a professional, I thought I had best seize it and just weather the chaos.

But there was not chaos -- it’s true! There was joy, and lots of it! Each child, once they became comfortable with the photographer (a complete stranger at first) began to engage with her and react to her. The photographer was effervescent and delightful, popping her head in and out from behind her camera, relating to them, sharing stories with them and encouraging them with words like, “beautiful – fabulous – incredible – wonderful!” She praised them for their naturalness and for their joy. She laughed at their funny little mannerisms and encouraged them when they were playful and endearing with one another. Gradually, the children became more and more open and by the end of the session (1 ½ hours later) the children were begging her to take more pictures of them while they acted silly, sweet or sassy. The girls performed hand stands, wrapped themselves around each other in all sorts of configurations and modeled “attitude” poses with my reading glasses. The boys lounged on couches and against the wall looking cool, and even my 15 year old son (who has CP) propped himself up against the brick wall and flexed his much defined muscles in an atlas sort of pose.

I received so much joy watching each one of them express who they are and enjoy themselves.

I think that is how God feels sometimes with us. Psalm 139:14 says that we are “fearfully and wonderfully made.” I have been pondering that in light of the experience I had yesterday. If God in His great love takes the time to make each one of us unique, why do we spend so much time not appreciating our uniqueness?

I think that somewhere along the path to adulthood, some of us, sometimes, lose the ability to be comfortable with the unique being that God created us to be. We become stained and tainted by the world, and we shut our unique selves in to little boxes and fear that if we ever come out we will either be made fun of or criticized for being prideful. Our ability to be ourselves falters as our life experiences battle against who God created us to be.

Oh, we are not perfect, but we are unique. In some ways, it is about honoring our dignity and honoring God in appreciating how He made each one of us. We hesitate to be ourselves because we do not feel safe and secure; we fear. We feel judged, less than, ugly, inadequate, a failure, and we may end up even trying to be someone we are not. What a tragedy. We are our worst enemy and I think that the evil one rejoices (if that is possible of one so dark and demented) when we refuse to be who we are created to be with the gifts that God has given us.

When we appreciate ourselves in the Light of who God is, it is beautiful. It is as if He is the photographer, desiring to have us be who we are and we just stand there --- scared and insecure, rather than free and engaged with Him. But like the children, who opened up and were more comfortable the more they got to know the photographer, so can we begin to be more comfortable with who God created us to be and experience more freedom and joy in being ourselves, by spending more time with Him and allowing Him to work in our lives.

Dear reader, you were fearfully and wonderfully made and still are. God has created you with special gifts and a unique personality that only you have. And in it, He has a purpose for you to bring beauty to a hurting world and to reflect a dimension of Himself that only you can. Ask the Lord to show you who you are, if you are not sure, and be the best you that you can be for Him.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Learning to Enjoy God

We walked 3 blocks to the Jewel grocery store every day. We played Yahtzee, ate lunch on T.V. trays in the T.V. room (a bedroom that had been converted into a family living space), and went to the beauty parlor together, where she had her hair done once a week. We went to the Moose and saw her friends, where I was the “guest of honor.” She gave me small prizes (AKA junk) that she won at bingo and other games. I ate Brach’s candy with her in the car. She always made me peanut butter and honey on toast before I went to bed. She said funny, ordinary things that would make me laugh. I went to Marshall Fields with her to get a new slip and pantyhose (how’s that for an “old” word?). She rubbed my back at night; always called me “Dolly” and let me be me. I loved my grandma.

When I was a girl, I was crazy about my grandma. Every summer, I would go to spend one week with her and my grandpa. When I was with them, I felt special and like a priority. It’s not that they did anything extravagant (other than occasionally going to a Chicago Cubs or White Sox game – which was pretty special) but I loved being with them and we were very close, particularly my grandma and I. I miss her.

The thing about my grandma is that she was very present with me in and out of the activities of daily living. She listened to me, engaged in conversation with me and held me. I loved that about her and I enjoyed being with her. This challenges me to reflect on my relationship with the Lord. He is ever present (even more so than she could have ever been). He listens to me, speaks to me, and holds me. He is always available and never out of reach and He desires for us to be present with Him, as well -- to speak to Him, listen to Him, spend time with Him, share with Him our joys and our sorrows, and enjoy Him.

I want to be more aware of enjoying God. I want to enjoy him in the moments of each day. Enjoy His grace and great love for me. Enjoy the intricate and immense dimensions of His personality. They do not have to be big “over the top” experiences, just living life together. It makes for a relationship, a deep, never leaving, always abiding type of relationship.

Dear reader, you are a priority to God and He desires to be a priority to you. Take time in the little and big things of each day to acknowledge His presence and His love and affirm your love for Him. I learned from my grandma that it is in the little things that we are given opportunities to love and be loved. Make a conscious effort to grow in your relationship with the Lord in this way, as well. Enjoy Him!

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